There are over 1.3 million people in Palm Beach County. We have about 85 people working in this congregation. Our goal is not to merely have a “church” here. We have a purpose to spread God’s glory. Our task to conquer evil and bring God’s grace to this area with such small numbers seems daunting. This purpose is especially formidable when we consider how small, weak and mistake prone we are as God’s instruments. It is for this purpose that we are going to join in a short study of Gideon together. My hope is that the story of God’s deliverance through Gideon will inspire us and tell us all we need to know about how to rely on God for our victory today.
Idolatry Brings Oppression (6:1-10)
The book of Judges is a sad turn for Israel from the momentous ending of Joshua’s lead. God’s blessing under Joshua’s leadership brought the destruction of many Canaanite nations. Though Israel renewed their covenant with the Lord before Joshua died, Judges tells the story of their perpetual idolatry. Israel quickly rejected the Lord’s command to destroy the remaining Canaanites living on their land. God removed his protection once Israel turned to Canaanite idols and a cycle of Canaanite oppression began. Whenever Israel cried to the Lord for rescue, God would send war leaders called “judges” to deliver the people from oppression.
In Judges 6:1 we are told that God sent the Midianites to oppress Israel because of Israel’s wickedness. The Midianites’ oppression sucked up Israel’s resources. Both the crop of the land and the livestock of Israel belonged to the Midianites. Israel could do nothing. The Midianites came in like an unstoppable invasion of locusts. As usual, the people of Israel cried out to the Lord for deliverance. Instead of immediately saving them, God sent a prophet. His message was simple: I delivered you out of Egyptian slavery, drove out the Canaanites, gave you their land, and commanded you to fear none of their gods. “But you have not obeyed my voice.”
We are often hard on Israel because we don’t understand idolatry. Worshipping Baal and the Asherah to receive extra protection and blessings was common in that culture. The Lord was just one God who delivered Israel from Egypt. They believed that worshipping other gods would bring different blessings. When Israel worshipped other gods, it didn’t mean they stopped believing in the Lord. It didn’t even mean that they stopped offering sacrifices to him. Throughout the Old Testament the Lord rejected Israel’s sacrifices because of their wickedness and idolatry. Regardless of culture, the Lord demanded an exclusive relationship with Israel. So he sent a prophet to remind them that their trust in other gods led to Midian’s oppression, not his negligence.
God gives the same answer today. When we hunger and cry for God’s deliverance, he usually doesn’t immediately remove our suffering. He is trying to teach us that our idols are the problem, not his provision. There is a natural deficiency with idolatry. The Lord promised his perfect provision, but Israel trusted incapable idols to find their fill. We rarely recognize the same idolatry in our own culture. Just as culture looked to the Lord and Baal and Asherah for blessings, America believes a combination of Christ worship and successful careers fills stomachs, builds houses, and offers happiness. Do you wonder why we are never filled? Why we wake up every morning expecting something better? There’s a reason why we aren’t content. It’s not because our job isn’t good enough. It’s not because our family or church is insufficient. It’s not because our home or location isn’t ideal. It’s not because we need a new toy. It’s because we expect physical conditions to bring contentment and fuller life. This is the embodiment of idolatry! It is the search to fill our soul’s hunger outside of the Lord. It’s no different than Israel bowing before Baal expecting more blessings. God’s answer to our soul’s affliction is the same answer he gave Israel through the prophet. I’ve already given you everything you need, but you have not obeyed my voice (cf. 2 Peter 1:3-7). Israel could not be a light to the nations for the Lord with idolatry in their lives, and neither can we. God demands exclusivity.
Weak Called Strong
Though Israel did not deserve deliverance, God put a plan in place to deliver Israel. We are given more details about the Lord’s calling of Gideon than is typical for judges. There is something special about Gideon’s story. Gideon is the exact opposite of what we expect out of a great deliverer for God’s people. Instead of being a strong man who defies his enemies, when we first meet Gideon he is hiding wheat from the Midianites in the winepress. Though Gideon is painted as a coward, he will be strong with the Lord on his side. This is emphasized when the angel of the Lord first calls out to Gideon as he is hiding wheat, “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.” Gideon is clearly confused by this. Gideon is the opposite of a mighty man of valor! Gideon has also lost faith that the Lord will deliver Israel. “Please, sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” Gideon doesn’t believe the angel for one moment. As far as Gideon is concerned, the Lord has completely forsaken Israel and isn’t coming back to save them. But the angel presses on and encourages Gideon to save Israel from Midian. Gideon is still in disbelief that he of all people is being told to deliver Israel. His clan the weakest in Manasseh and he is the weakest in his father’s house. Gideon essentially says he’s the puniest guy in all Israel. I love the Lord’s simple response to Gideon’s excuses, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.”
My perception has always been that God picked the strongest and most righteous men and women to save Israel. If they were strong enough and righteous enough, God used them. I believe we think this way because we read the stories about what God did through people and forget who they were before God’s help. Noah deserved the flood like everyone else. Abraham was from an idolatrous family and showed little faith when he first walked with God. Jacob was a lying cheat who stripped everything from his brother. Gideon is no different. Gideon is weak, cowardly, and faithless. “No, the Lord is not with us. He has forsaken us. People keep telling me how he delivered us from Egypt, but that Lord isn’t with us any more.” We later find out that Gideon’s family owns idols. Gideon is an idolater. He has no righteousness, innate strength, and no standing in his tribe that makes him able to lead God’s nation. Yet, God picked him.
We do the gospel a great disservice when we don’t emphasize the weakness of the people God called to his service throughout the Bible. If we don’t recognize how weak and sinful men like Abraham and Gideon were before God called them, we won’t recognize our weakness. The world perceives this as self-righteousness and hypocrisy. The decision to sacrifice one’s life to God is already difficult, we make it impossibly difficult when we act as if people must meet a certain standard to be called to God’s service. This flies in the face of everything God is about. God accomplishes his purposes through the weak and faithless sinners we are. God is glorified because he turns the useless into useful accomplishers of his purpose and reflectors of his glory. Missing this fact shows we don’t understand the gospel nor how we fit into it. It shows we don’t recognize how much God loves a weak, uneducated sinner. Ultimately we deny God’s power to use anybody in any situation for his glory and purposes. I love how Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 1:26–31 NLT, “Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God. God has united you with Christ Jesus…. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin. Therefore, as the Scriptures say, “If you want to boast, boast only about the LORD.””
God’s prerequisites to being called by him are simple. We must be weak and sinful. You don’t have to live up to any standard to be called to become a saint. God desires all of his sinful children to come to him for his glory. He works a massive project on our dead lives, not us. This should cause us to trash not only all of our pride, but all of our excuses that we cannot be God’s instruments. We can fill God’s ears with excuses of our weakness and inaptitude like Gideon did, but God’s simple response to us is the same as it was to Gideon in 6:16, “But I will be with you.” It does not answer the “how,” but it is all we need to know. It is exactly what Gideon needed to know (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:9).
Faith Wrecks Idols
As the story continues, we get a view into what God wants to do with the weak and sinful when he calls them. Once Gideon realized he was speaking to an angel, he wanted a sign to be sure that the Lord truly is calling him. Gideon prepared food, set it before the angel, and the angel caused fire to consume the food in an instant. This sign was confirmation for Gideon of the Lord’s call. The story now turns its focus toward preparing Gideon and Israel for deliverance from Midian. Canaanite idols still stand among Gideon’s family. The Lord will deliver Israel from the Midianites, but there must be no confusion about who is delivering Israel. It is the Lord God who delivered Israel out of Egypt and it is he who will deliver from Midian, not some idol. God commands Gideon to destroy his father’s altar to Baal and the Asherah pole and make a sacrifice to the Lord in their stead.
Gideon is fearful. That morning he was hiding wheat from the Midianites and believed the Lord had deserted his people. Now the Lord has asked him to destroy the idols he has known his entire life. Israel believes these idols are the only hope they have left. Remember, Gideon was not a well-respected leader perfectly positioned for some revolutionary change. Gideon is nobody. No matter how fearful Gideon was, the Lord’s sign and encouragement caused Gideon to have the faith necessary to accomplish this task. Gideon obeyed and used his father’s bulls to destroy his father’s idols. He then sacrificed one of his father’s bulls to the Lord. It’s like using your father’s putter to destroy the television during football season.
The men of the city were furious when they found out Gideon was the culprit. They came to Gideon’s father and attempted to kill Gideon. I love how Gideon’s father handled the situation. Gideon’s act of zeal for the Lord emboldened his father to defend both Gideon and the Lord. He promised death to any who touched Gideon. Essentially, he told the men that Baal would take vengeance if he truly were a god. Gideon’s act emboldened his father and much of Israel. Gideon sent out messengers throughout the tribes to gather against Midian and 32,000 men came. One day Gideon was nobody; the next he became a symbol of zeal for the Lord against idolatry and Midian.
This is what true faith in the Lord accomplishes. God desires to create in us a zeal for him that is strong enough to conquer the idols in our lives and in others’ lives. Consider the great work that God can do through us if we will have this faith that causes us to worship the Lord alone! It will take incredible zeal and faith. The rubber meets the road when God tells us that we have idols in our lives right now that we must abolish. Is our exclusive covenant with God worth it, or not? If we are worshipping our wealth and our careers, we must turn away from our idolatry. It may be our right as Americans to pursue all the gusto of this life, but worshipping the Lord alone means giving up those rights. It’s not just enough to recognize the idolatry in our household, it means obliterating the idolatry. What great faith this takes! Idols are difficult to remove because they are firmly planted in our lives. The rich young ruler was required to sell his wealth. Gideon was required to destroy his fathers prized images. It takes great strength, but the strength is not ours. It is the strength of the Lord that works through Gideon and that works through us. This is what makes the angel of the Lord able to say to Gideon in all of his weak faithlessness, “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor… Go in this might of yours… I will be with you…” Do not fear. If we have faith, put away our idols, and worship the Lord alone – he will provide. (Cf. Matthew 6:33; Hebrews 13:5-6)
If we will stand firmly against idolatry we will lead other people to trust in the Lord alone. We do not need great strengths or talents or righteousness. We simply need to rely completely on the Lord for our victory. God’s work through Gideon and work through us reminds me of what God said in Isaiah 55:1–5, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know, and a nation that did not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.” We are weak. Idols bring us even further down. God offers true strength to raise us up as leaders and lights to the world. Next time, we will continue our study of Gideon and discover just how much God can accomplish through the weak.