|Judges - 08 Gideon|
Fourth Recovery under Gideon
Sardis and God’s Deliverance
Fifth Enemy: Ammon and the Philistines
The repetition of a sad, doleful comment impresses us when we read this book. Once again, “the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord;” (Judges 6:1). Only forty years of rest resulted from Deborah and Barak’s delivering work, and God’s people had lapsed so quickly into an evil condition again. After such a remarkable deliverance by God’s hand, one would think that an extended period of blessing would result, but that was not to be.
We notice that the nature of their evil is not defined in this passage, but typically in Judges, their doing evil primarily refers to their becoming involved in the idolatrous practices of the surrounding nations. This is the character of the first reference to this condition (2:11) and it likely was true during all their history. Of course, we know that idolatry of the nations also involved immorality and evil practices. It is natural for us to think that moral evil is what God hates more than all else, but in reality, spiritual evil centered in idolatry is even more serious in God’s sight. That is not to say that moral iniquity is not evil before God; we mean that God’s order emphasizes what may not seem to be significant to us. The law given by God through Moses began with commandments that were Godward before continuing with the commandments that affected their relations with men. The human heart seems to consider worship of objects apart from the Lord Himself to be of lesser gravity than moral depravity. We find that at the end of this book, Israel never acted to judge Micah’s idolatrous house, but in the matter of the brutal murder of the Levite’s concubine in Gibeah, the tribe of Benjamin was almost annihilated through extreme severity of judgment. It teaches us that our primary responsibility is to guard our hearts and lives so that the Lord alone enjoys preeminence; the remainder of our behavior will display proper order if this is the case.
Once again, the Lord delivered them into the hand of one of their enemies. It seems that the affected tribes were mainly those in the northern part of Israel and included Manasseh, Zebulun, Asher and Naphtali (6:35). In this case, the enemy was Midian (with Amalek, 6:3), and Israel served Midian seven years.
Midian’s Origin and Character
Midian was a nation that was related to Israel through its origin, having descended from Lot through one of his daughters (Genesis 25:2). The name means “strife” (BDB, Fausset, Smith). They were also linked with the nation of Moab many times in their history (Numbers 22:4, 25:6, 25:17) as well as by birth. Midian’s father (Ammon) was Moab’s brother by birth, (Genesis 19:37-38). Midian seems to have been primarily nomadic by nature while Moab was a nation more settled. They were quite rich through what they had gained by trading or even by plundering others when possible. In this chapter, we find that this was their practice (6:3-6) so much that they impoverished Israel by their raids at this time. It seems that they routinely raided the rich produce of the Esdraelon Plain (Valley of Jezreel, Judges 6:33) in the central area of the land of Israel during the time of harvest and deprived the Israelites of their food.
The meaning of their name and their activity suggest those sad occasions when strife comes in among God’s people. Those times always result in spiritual starvation among the saints. Midian, being a kindred nation to Israel, shows us that the strife can come from those who are near by, even related, and who have some things common with God’s people. In the spiritual realm, this is even sadder than opposition that comes from without. Such fighting and dissension among the saints results in their impoverishment. The ruin caused by Midian was only a precursor to that which Abimelech caused in chapter 9. That was clearly a case of fighting among the children of Israel, causing more serious harm than Midian. We also see more of this fighting at the end of the book when the tribes went to war against the tribe of Benjamin. This kind of action can happen on a local level with disastrous results. It happened in a larger sphere during church history, when there was division between churches with one seeking to have power over others. Paul warns the believers in Galatians 5:15: “But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.”
We think of the division that existed in the assembly in Corinth, to which Paul refers in 1 Corinthians 1:10-11: “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?” Also in 11:17-19 we read, “Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse. For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it.”
James warns the saints about fightings between the saints in James 4:1-4, and in all these cases, it seems to have been caused by departure in heart from the Lord resulted in a certain kind of spiritual idolatry being practiced. In an interesting way, F. C. Jennings (Judges and Ruth) links the three nations that are found together in this place with the verse cited above: “From whence come wars and fighting (Midian) among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members (Amalek); Ye adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world (Moab) is enmity with God.” There is a great deal of truth in that application!
No doubt this condition was (and is) due to a personal lack of subjection to the Lordship of Christ. In the larger sphere, it resulted from failure on the part of church leaders to understand the principle and practice of the sovereign control of Christ over His church (Ephesians 4:1-6, Colossians 1:18, Revelation 1:16, 3:1). It also comes from the idea, still perpetuated, that churches should form into groups or denominational systems. The teaching of God’s Word emphasizes the autonomy of the local assembly and the fact that each individual assembly, though linked with others because of spiritual fellowship enjoyed, is directly responsible to the Lord of the churches and not to some earthly head. The New Testament teaches nothing in addition to the existence of local assemblies that are responsible to the Lord.
However, we find Paul prophetically warning the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:28-30 that “after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” His prophetic view proved to be true very shortly, as church history attests. None of us are immune from this tendency of seeking to be “lords over God’s heritage,” (1 Peter 5:3), so Paul’s warning is apropos, “watch and remember.” (Acts 20:31).
Link with Sardis
Admittedly, the correlation of conditions described in Judges and those seen in the seven churches of Revelation 2-3 is not perfectly clear. This is also true in other suggested links between the church periods addressed in those chapters and other passages, including the parables of the kingdom of heaven in Matthew 13, comparison with some kings of Judah and Israel, etc.
However, without wanting to “push” this aspect too far, there are enough indications of similar conditions so that we have linked this period and condition with that which the Lord addresses in His letter to Sardis in Revelation 3:1-6 and to that period of church history that Sardis represents. Following the period of Roman Catholic domination, (Thyatira) with its strife, preeminence of a woman, confusion, and bondage of saints to men with their political intrigues and conflicts, God raised up exercised men who were like Gideon, men such as Martin Luther, John Calvin and Zwingli, along with others, to bring deliverance to His people. The Protestant Reformation, so called because of the protests of these faithful men against the abuses in the Roman Catholic religion, began in the early 1500’s and was led by men such as Martin Luther.
In Sardis, the Lord presents Himself as the one who has “the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars.” (Revelation 3:1). He is the One who exercises sovereign control over His church and over those who, like the stars, bear responsibility to guide in the dark night of its experience. His desire is to have His people subject to His sovereign control and not dominated by men who fit the characteristic of having “a name that thou livest, and art dead,” (Revelation 3:1).
Sardis seems to refer to the entire Protestant system that resulted from that great movement of God called the Reformation. We see that, like God’s work under Gideon, He raised up men who, though conscious of their own weakness, acted for God and in dependence on God to bring deliverance. However, this sadly only resulted in those and other men seeking to use political power to control what men believed and practiced, and this would be seen typically in the abominable conditions that resulted after Gideon’s death under Abimelech’s domination (Judges 9). The Lord says to the church in Revelation 3:2, that “I have not found thy works perfect before God.” Another translation indicates that the Lord is saying that in His sight, no works were perfect before God. This was the case in the Reformation, and it has resulted in men, as always, falling short of the Divine ideal and failing to respond perfectly to the desires of God’s heart. The fragmented state of Christendom today is only the result of men failing to return entirely to the basic principles of God’s Word with subjection to Divine authority.
However, the Lord also identifies among them in Sardis, a few faithful ones who he describes as “a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments,” (Revelation 3:4). Jotham, in Judges 9, would correspond with those who are identified as overcomers and who refused to be dominated by man’s rule as seen in Abimelech. During and following the Reformation period, there were those who stood apart from the state church system and who sought to remain faithful to the truths of God’s Word and show loyalty to the Lord in belief and practice. These included those persecuted believers identified as “Anabaptists” and others who were also fiercely persecuted and martyred by those in the “Protestant” camp, even as they had been by the Roman Catholic system. This condition of persecution and offense connected with faithfulness to the Lord has not changed, and no doubt, it will always be true until the Lord comes.
Again, directly referring this part of Israel’s history in Judges 6-9 to the time of the reformation, we think of the strife, wars and fighting that existed during that period. Time and space doesn’t allow a more complete consideration of the intrigues of the Roman Catholic system, fighting between the popes and the political powers, and the conflicts that also existed between the different parties of the reformation. It makes sad reading, considering what God intended to accomplish to bring deliverance to His people, but which fell so far short due to man’s failure. It was a period of conflict that robbed God’s people of their peace and prevented them from enjoying spiritual food and prosperity. We think of the Thirty Years Wars in Europe that had such a devastating effect on the populace, the wars in Bohemia, campaigns against the Albigenses, the Waldenses and other faithful believers, along with the inquisitions that resulted in many martyrs for the faith of Christ. Certainly it was a time of strife, conflict and confusion that arose from man’s greed for power and possessions derived from innocent men. The divisions among “Protestants” that exist today began, in part, at that early stage, and they continue to cause strife and division among God’s people.
However, like Jotham and others in Israel (Judges 9), the Lord recognizes and promises reward for the overcomers. He says that though they are despised and rejected presently, there will be a day of honor in the presence of the Father in heaven (Revelation 3:5). Their character of purity and fidelity to the Lord in life that was the cause of their suffering will then be expressed in the “white raiment,” and though driven out from among men and not permitted the recognition that was due to them, He says that “I will not blot out his name out of the book of life.” Heaven’s record of those who were severely afflicted for their faithfulness to the Lord will be revealed in the day of His glory. “Then shall every man have praise of God,” (1 Corinthians 4:5).
Midian’s Impact on Israel
Midian did not seek to destroy Israel; they only robbed them of all their crops and sustenance so that they were impoverished (6:6). In 6:7-10, God used a prophet to remind them of the reason for their condition; it was due to their disobedience to His Word. He was the first prophet sent to Israel during the time of the Judges, so his message was of vital importance. God was seeking to warn His people so that they might realize the basic cause of their distress. It was, as usual, their disobedience to His Word and unfaithfulness to His Person.
Whenever there is disobedience in our lives, there will be strife in our relationships with other saints. This strife will always rob the saints of their tranquility and spiritual food; they won’t receive the solid teaching of God’s Word nor will they be able to rest in the green pastures (Psalm 23). One has said that one of the very important functions of an elder is to provide and maintain peace among the saints in an assembly. This is verified by God’s shepherding work toward His people described in Ezekiel 34:15, “I will feed my flock and I will cause them to lie down.” God knows how important these peaceful conditions are among the saints, and no doubt, the devil knows it too, since he seeks to do all he can to sow discord among the brethren. May the Lord help us to be on guard against this tendency by “Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3).
Sadly, Israel’s resultant condition was worse than what they had ever experienced in their history. First of all, they were forced into hiding in dens and caves, living without the light upon them. This suggests that in their rejection of the light from God, they found themselves in the depths of darkness and poverty, a condition that is always the result of not “walking in the light” (1 John 1:6-7). In addition, God sent a prophet to speak to them rather than speaking directly (1:2) or through an angel (2:1). This indicates their distance from God, yet the prophet’s coming also suggests God’s mercy, that He had not totally abandoned them. In the third place, we notice the challenge the Lord brings them consisting of seven elements, all of them concerning what God had done for them, manifold demonstrations of His mercy and His power; yet (v 10), “ye have not obeyed my voice.” The cause of their condition was laid at their own feet. God had warned them long before, yet they failed to heed the warning that would have been the proper response to God’s mercies. Let us always ask ourselves if this might be the condition that we experience through our own failure: loss of light, felt distance from God, and the challenge of God that causes an awareness of our own failure.
Gideon, An Overcomer in Poverty and Strife
It is always good to see a believer thriving and going on despite adversity. We can see other instances of this characteristic; one exemplary individual is Boaz who, at the end of the period of famine, was a “mighty man of wealth” (Ruth 2:1). Believers can either succumb to the surrounding straitened conditions, or they can rise above them, mounting “up with wings as eagles.” Isaiah 40:31. They can accomplish this through waiting on the Lord, that is, depending on Him to give strength to accomplish all that is necessary through them.
When we first see Gideon, he is a man who was threshing wheat. We learn that the man God is going to use to restore food to His people is one who is exercised to get food personally. Other translations tell us that he was threshing wheat “in” the winepress. Evidently the Lord is telling us that the winepress was not being used for its intended purpose. Wine speaks of joy and the fruit of the vine indicates the fullness of God’s blessing to His people. There was no joy among Israel under these conditions of strife and poverty. There may not have been joy, but Gideon was determined to secure something of the blessings of the land for himself, no matter what might be the condition of others. A lesson we can learn from this is, if your heart is not joyful because of problems and difficulties, do what is within your power and get food for your soul. Joy will come in its time when deliverance has been accomplished.
Do we not learn from Gideon that a believer cannot properly blame others for the lack of spiritual food? God has placed us in a land of spiritual plenty, (“the heavenlies”) giving us every resource so that we might nourish our souls and feed richly on what He has provided through His Word and in Christ Jesus. Sometimes we hear saints complain about their circumstances, such as problems that exist in their assembly and the lack of teaching to help them spiritually. Yet, they seem to make no effort to glean for themselves from the same rich and abundant resource that others have to draw from. Gideon’s only concern and complaint was in response to the salutation of the angel of the Lord with respect to the prevailing condition of his day. How could this condition coexist with the Lord being with them? His response seems like more than a complaint; it was the voice of perplexity. If the Lord was with them, why was all this happening to them? However, the Lord didn’t say, “the Lord is with ‘you,’” but “the Lord is with thee,” selecting Gideon out from the multitude of Israel. Could we see from this that one who is expressing personal exercise to feed his soul in the midst of strife and famine can know the Lord’s presence and experience His blessing?
The Angel of the LORD
The angel identified Gideon as the man who had the Lord with him, but Gideon was thinking of his people and he responds, “us.” This is a man who can be used to deliver God’s people: a man who is feeding himself by exercise and one who is thinking of the welfare of the Lord’s people more than his own. This is the kind of spirit that stands in direct contrast with those who were causing their distress, those who were more concerned about self and what they could get than with the condition of the people of God.
The address by the angel of the Lord also indicates that the Lord was anticipating what Gideon would be through God’s power in his life. He is “thou mighty man of valor,” (6:12) though there is no indication that he had ever fought a fight nor conquered a foe. He would prove himself to be exactly what God had called him as he submitted himself to God’s hand to be used. He manifested the spirit of a mighty man of valor, one who willingly moved against an overwhelming number of the enemy and conquered them. He already was displaying the character of an overcomer when he was threshing wheat in the winepress despite the extremity of the day.
Where Gideon Was when Called
We also notice just where Gideon was when God met him. In the elements of the scene, we see a mixture between what speaks of strength and what speaks of weakness. The angel of the Lord (Jehovah Himself) came and sat under an oak, speaking of strength, signifying, possibly for us, the strength that we find in the “tree.” It was in Ophrah, a name that means “dusty,” and it is not hard to see that the condition of Israel had brought them, and Gideon, into a dry, dusty condition of extreme humiliation. The oak belonged to Joash (indefinite meaning, possibly “despairing one,” or “helped by Jehovah”), suggesting the weakness of one who can do nothing without the help of the Lord. He was the Abiezrite, “father of help” and Gideon’s name means “cutter down.” These all point to him being a man who occupied a place of humility and dependence on God, and this proved to be his characteristic in his service as Israel’s deliverer. One would understand that, in any day, it is a very difficult task to deal with strife and division among saints. The only man who can be of help in this situation is a man who is meek, a man who is humble, and one who is depending on the Lord for the strength to accomplish such a great, important task.
God’s Estimation of Gideon
We have noted that the Lord’s salutation indicates that Gideon was “a mighty man of valor,” (6:12). These were not empty words, since a man who is thus occupied has the potential to be used of God in a larger sphere. He was not cowering in the caves and dens and saying that all was hopeless and that there was no use trying to do anything. He was doing what he could and he did it effectively so as to gain from it. This character was the Lord’s estimation of him at that time, but it was also an indication of what God would make him and how God would use him.
Our strength does not lie in personal ability or might; we must constantly learn and relearn that it is going “in this thy might” in order to accomplish anything for God. His might was his dependence on God that came because of knowing his own weakness. The might of God became his own might personally. It was to be real in his own soul so as to be effective in his life and service for God. Gideon was fully cognizant of his own smallness and incapability as we read his words in verse 15: “wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” His response seems to indicate that the other members of his family looked down on him, evidently standing alone for the Lord against the worship of Baal, and considered him the least of the family. If this is true, they had little respect for a man seeking to be faithful to the Lord. That attitude has not changed to this day. This response is also much the same as Moses’ when God called him (Exodus 3:11). God’s answer is always the same, “Surely I will be with thee,” (Exodus 3:12, Judges 6:16) and we have the same promise from the same God today, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” (Hebrews 13:5) This is our strength to overcome and to be a blessing to God’s people, and it is a promise that is good right up to the coming of the Lord (Matthew 28:20). Once again we see that confidence in self is a disqualifier for the Lord’s service.
Yet Gideon desired to be sure that this commission was actually from the Lord, Jehovah. More than once we find him exhibiting a certain degree of hesitation, wanting some kind of vindication and assurance that he could actually depend on the Lord at any particular step. One could criticize him for being a man of “little faith,” as the disciples were by the Lord (Matthew 6:20, 8:36, 14:31, 16:8). However, at the least, he, like the disciples, was doing what was right by following the Lord and depending on His power. His little faith did not disqualify him from service. The vital criterion is not the amount of faith that one possesses anyway; it is the possession of genuine faith that makes the person usable in the hand of the Lord (Matthew 17:20). On the other hand, if we were in Gideon’s position and were facing such an arduous, dangerous task, we would want to be certain that we had the mind of the Lord and could be sure that He was with us. He needed to know that this was more than a vision or just an impression of his mind, but that the Lord was actually sending him to do battle with the Midianites. He knew the extent of their forces.
Gideon and His Altars
It is noticeable that Gideon began his service for God from the point of three sacrifices, and every sacrifice was entirely for God. He gave the Lord what was due to him, the worship that Israel had deprived the Lord from receiving for many years. He offered a kid with unleavened cakes of flour. It is touching that he would feed the Lord (as did Abraham in Genesis 18) and that the Lord would condescend to “eat” (or receive) what he brought. Of course, we see that his offering speaks figuratively of Christ in His perfect acceptability to God. The kid was the burnt offering, the bread was a meal offering, and the broth expressed the drink offering being poured out. All of these speak of Christ in His sacrificial work to bring about reconciliation between God and man, restoration of a relationship that had been broken by sin. And sin, of course, is what always breaks relationships. It seems that it is only through one’s apprehension of the vastness of the work of Christ and its purpose that we can be used of God to see those results applied to the Lord’s people when there are “Midianite” conditions existing among us.
The Lord accepted Gideon’s sacrifice and demonstrated the reality of that acceptance by causing what he offered to be consumed with fire out of the rock upon which it had been laid. The same typical act of acceptance took place in the life of Manoah and his wife in 13:19-20. Because of the consuming of his sacrifice, Gideon knew it was the Lord speaking to him. The thought of seeing the Lord face to face filled him with reverential fear at the thought, but the Lord’s word spoke peace to his soul. In the case of Manoah, it was his wife who possessed the intelligence to calm his fears, but here it was the Lord who spoke to Gideon. We think of others whose fears were stilled by the still, calm voice of their Lord, the One who speaks peace to His people. God’s dealings with Gideon were not intended to consume him but rather to strengthen and encourage him.
Then Gideon displayed his positive response to what God had shown him. He built an altar (no mention of a sacrifice upon it.) This altar expressed his attitude of worship toward God and his personal willingness to sacrifice himself for the fulfillment of God’s purpose. If he had been getting food for himself at the cost involving great difficulty, now he would express his devotion to God in worship and make himself available to the Lord for service as an expression of his fidelity.
More than that, he called the altar “Jehovah-shalom,” meaning “Jehovah (is) peace.” It means more than “Jehovah send peace,” as if he were only anticipating that peace would result from the Lord working for them. It signifies that the Lord Himself is the peace that is needed by His people. All that we need is found in Him, and when He has His rightful place in our lives, then peace will result. It is wonderful to have “peace with God” through salvation (Romans 5:1), it is even more to have the “peace of God” in our souls (Philippians 4:7, Colossians 3:15), but how much more to know and have “the God of peace,” (Hebrews 13:20). The people of Israel were longing for peace, but not until Jehovah-shalom had His proper place in their hearts would they have that peace that they longed for. The little expression at the end of Judges 6:24 indicates that this is an abiding principle. It is “unto this day,” and even in our lives this is a truth that we need to recognize.
Then Gideon began to receive instructions from the Lord. On the ground of his first feeble responses to the truth that the Lord had manifested to him, he now began to be used as a channel for the Lord to bring blessing to His people. However, notice: his first action must be in his own home and where he lived. There was idolatry in his own family and among his people. There was a rival altar and an opposing form of worship that he must eradicate first. This also tested the extent of his obedience to the Lord. Would he act faithfully for God in a place where he would be known and where others would seek to oppose him? He must, if he was to be used of God in any effective way. One cannot begin service for God in a public sphere if he is not being faithful to God in his private life. If one’s home is not right, then how can he be effective in God’s house (1 Timothy 3:3-4)?
Gideon’s First Act
We notice that he must throw down the altar of Baal before he can erect an altar to the Lord. The two cannot coexist, though there were those who sought to do so among Israel. “The Lord thy God is a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 6:14-15), and He would not tolerate other gods worshipped alongside Himself. He alone is God, and there is none beside Him (Isaiah 45:6). The Lord said, “Ye cannot serve God and mammon,” (Matthew 6:24). This is another lesson that we all need to learn and never forget. The world and its worship cannot coexist in our hearts with God’s worship and service if God is to use us in any effective way. One must make a choice and throw down all that stands in opposition to the Lord. This seems to indicate a violent act, but that is exactly what the Lord said in Deuteronomy 12:2-3, and it may take violent self-judgment to actually carry out this essential expression of our fidelity and obedience to Him.
Some would criticize Gideon for carrying out this act at night. It would seem that he was afraid of men, that he was doing it in a way that would avoid confrontation with others. Possibly, but on the other hand, how could he ever accomplish this destructive act during the day? Would not the men of the place oppose him and prevent him from obeying the Lord? We would take it that Gideon knew the opposition, yet was determined to act on God’s command. He was, in this way, like Joseph of Arimathaea (John 19:38), who was a secreted (hidden) disciple in view of the work that the Lord had for Him. If the Jews had known what Joseph intended to do, they would have done all to stop him from giving the Lord an honorable burial. Other passages and his action clearly indicate that he was not fearful nor a secret disciple (Luke 23:51), any more than was Nicodemus.
Taking ten men (suggestive of the witness of the Law being fulfilled), Gideon threw down the altar of Baal and cut down the grove of wooden idols (Asherim) that was by it. These represented the male and female elements of Baal worship, and both had to be destroyed. He offered the second bullock of seven years upon the altar according to the ordered manner (given by God). That bullock speaks of Christ as the second Man, the first order of things having been set aside due to its failure. The first is always natural, of this world, while the second speaks of that which is spiritual, from heaven (1 Corinthians 15:47, John 3:6). We see that, as the bullock of seven years, it was identified with the experiences of God’s people. It had lived the entirety of its life under the conditions of Midianite oppression. We learn that the Lord knows the extremities of His people in their every circumstance, as we learn from Hebrews 2:17-18, 4:15-16. For this reason, He is able to sympathize perfectly with the conditions that we face.
Then, notice that the initiation of God’s work to save His people was based on a burnt offering, not a sin offering. This expresses in an interesting way the fact that God’s work to display His mercy to His people depends on the knowledge of their full acceptance in Christ, that He has made us “accepted in the beloved,” (Ephesians 1:6). How good it is to realize that our standing before God and God’s desires toward us are not dependent on what we are or do, but all depends on Christ and what He is and has done for us. They had not confessed sin directly, but they had cried unto the Lord for deliverance (6:6-7), so God would work on His own behalf to accomplish it.
As is always the case, the opposing camp expressed its displeasure with an act of faithfulness to the Lord, but it was silenced by the succinct words of Gideon’s father (6:31). That is, if Baal is a god, then let Baal deal with the man who has thrown down his altar. It was not for men to defend him. Of course, Baal was powerless and they knew it, so their mouth was stopped and there was no further objection. As a result of this event, he received the title, “Jerubbaal” since he had been victorious in the struggle with Baal, and Baal was proven to be powerless. It reminds us of the great event on Mt. Carmel, when Elijah contended with the forces of Baal and also was victorious by the power of God (1 Kings 18). We learn that a child of God, exercised to act faithfully for the Lord’s honor against whatever would challenge the Lordship of Christ, will have the joy of seeing every enemy vanquished as a result.
In this act of Gideon, we see a suggestion of the movements of the Holy Spirit during the days of Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and others. It was a time of “cutting down” the idolatrous system that had been erected by the Roman Catholic religion, and it was an act of faithfulness to the Lord and the truth of His Word. It was a time of great fear and trembling, when men went against the existing mode of worship, false though it was. Yet it was a time when such men, guided solely by God’s Word and desiring to deliver God’s people, were bold to express their readiness to be those who “hazarded their lives for the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Acts 15:26) by their acts. We admire them and feel a sense of indebtedness to them; but are there those in our day who are also willing to stand boldly against every element that raises itself against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:5)? They are needed today as well!
Assurance of Gideon’s Faith
Now, it appears that Gideon was prepared to move in obedience to God’s call. He was not like Barak, who would not go unless Deborah would go with him. No, Gideon has more than that; we read in Judges 6:34 that he was “clothed with the Spirit of God” (as we read in the margin of the Newberry Bible and in other translations such as English Standard Version and the Literal Translation by Jay Green). It is as if God said to Gideon, “You feel yourself so weak and insufficient for this task? I will invest you with power by My Spirit and you will be empowered, invincible in battle, and more than sufficient for the task that lies ahead.” Would that not be enough to enable any weak believer, sufficient to make that one strong to do exploits for God? That would be better than “Saul’s armor” would have been for David! Well that he refused it, for he had something far better. He could say to Goliath, “I come to thee in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied” (1 Samuel 17:45). He was clothed with God’s power to accomplish an impossible task for God and His people.
Think of Paul’s last word to the Ephesian assembly: “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and the power of His might.” (Ephesians 6:10). What we always need is the power of God, and many passages from God’s Word remind us that while the arm of the flesh and the power of man are vain, there is always more than enough power with God to enable the weakest believer to accomplish great things for God (Psalm 68:11, 108:12, Philippians 4:13). The same power that clothed Gideon is available to us in our service for God today. May we avail ourselves of it in our dependence on God to work!
Leadership in Gideon
We find Gideon calling the northern tribes of Israel to follow him to battle. It was one thing to anticipate going against the Midianites and the Amelekites prior to this point, but now he is committed to action. There are men following him and looking to him for leadership. Is it any wonder that Gideon felt the need to be absolutely sure that he was moving in the mind of God when he called these tribes to warfare? Consider his situation and enter into his thoughts at this particular juncture, realizing that he had not received any direct command from the Lord to call them. This seems to indicate to us that we need to make sure of the Lord’s mind at every step of the process of arriving at any decision in our lives, especially one of this magnitude of importance.
It would be very easy to criticize Gideon for his request of the Lord concerning the fleece. It is better to see that, as someone has put it, Gideon waited to be fully assured that he was moving in the current of divine sovereignty. It was important to be sure that what he was about to do was not an act of his own emotional state, nor was it from any sense of personal importance. Rather, in view of the coming conflict, he was determined to be sure that this was truly God’s will. Great things were at stake and he dared not make a mistake in this action. Twice he asked, and while there is, no doubt, a typical meaning to the dew on the fleece and then on the ground, let us simply notice that it verified to his mind that he could move forward with complete confidence in God.
George Muller expressed the truth that in coming to any decision, what is important is to seek to bring oneself to the point of being willing to move in whatever direction the Lord indicates. Only when we are sure that we are not acting of our own volition can we have assurance that what we are doing is of God and is His will for us at that particular point of time. As a result of this night experience of Gideon (the second of four nights in his life: 6:27, 38, 40, 7:9), he was absolutely prepared for the conflict, and so much so, that he could willingly submit to God’s choice and face the swarms of the Midianites with only 300 men.
Who will go? Who will stay?
Is it not a principle of Scripture, that God often tests His people by very small things, those things that may seem insignificant or inconsequential to us? Those tests determine if we go to the battle for God or if we are sent home. We would all want to be included, no doubt. However, we could be disqualified beforehand by matters that were not considered important enough in our minds, but indeed, they were important to God.
Gideon had 32,000 men (7:3) and one can imagine him looking at them and thinking that possibly he had a chance against the might of Midian, though they were like grasshoppers in the valley for number (7:12). Yet God looked at them differently; He said to Gideon that there were too many (7:2). God was going to win a victory by a method that would not allow men to receive any glory at all. So, Gideon had to send home all that were fearful and afraid. This expressed the truth of the Lord’s instruction in Deuteronomy 20:8, “What man is there that is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return unto his house, lest his brethren’s heart faint as well as his heart.” Amazing, isn’t it, that there were 22,000 men out of that number who went home? That meant that 69% of his force left at once! They were disqualified because of lack of confidence in God, fearfulness because they were looking at self and not at the Lord of hosts. It is always that way, isn’t it? The large percentage of men who went home indicates to us the sense of overwhelming futility that most of Israel felt when they thought about battling Midian. They felt that it was hopeless, so why should they become involved when it would mean nothing but loss? When we look at ourselves, we feel that we can do nothing. We’re prone to say, “What’s the use, we are so small and helpless. Let’s just go home and forget a battle.” The result is that we give up before we even start and likely never attempt to do anything for God.
Now Gideon was looking at 10,000 men. Was he thinking that he still had sufficient men to win a battle? Didn’t Barak defeat Sisera and the Canaanite army with 10,000 men (4:10)? Surely he could do the same. No, there were still too many men. God was going to do a far greater thing than what He did with Barak. So now the men are given the opportunity to drink from the brook. Notice that Gideon wasn’t even told what the criterion of the test would be. He didn’t know; only God knew what was being observed from on high. Some evidently stooped down and drank deeply from the brook. That was the natural way, the way they were accustomed to drink in moments of tranquility, without any enemy to fight. What was the natural way of drinking was what disqualified them from the battle. Those who lapped the water that they brought up to their mouths with their hands were the ones chosen for the battle. They were exercising control over what they drank. These were the ones who expressed their consciousness of a warfare that called for alertness on their part. They weren’t on vacation or unconcerned about the imminence of the battle. Rather, they were aware of the present danger and consciously prepared to go forward.
Perhaps those who drank deeply of the brook would suggest those who were told in Deuteronomy 20:5-7 that they had to return home from the battle. They had other elements of life, legitimate, no doubt, but because of their occupation with them, they were to go home. These other occupations included having built a house but not having dedicated it, having planted a vineyard but not having eaten of it, or having betrothed a wife but not having taken her. Is it not possible that aspects of our lives that are not settled or put into their proper priority in relation to the eternal can hinder our ability to be engaged in the Lord’s battles? How sad to be rejected from service for Him, not because of sin, but because our lives are not devoted entirely to the Lord and His service, with other elements in their proper place!
Do we realize that our little actions, our drinking of the natural streams of life and how we partake of those things that we feel are personally necessary, are all being weighed and assessed in the Divine balance? None of these men were fearful or afraid, so they all wanted to go to the battle. They had confidence in God and eagerness to face the foe. However, how they drank of the water determined if they went or stayed behind.
This also seems to coincide with the teaching of Paul to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:4, “No man that warreth (actively engaged in battle) entangleth himself with the affairs of this life…” That is not to say that there is no need to care for the necessary aspects of our life, but it teaches that the primary focus of attention must be the battle in which we are engaged. Distractions can only hinder effective involvement for the Lord.
Is it not true that there are many of the Lord’s people with plenty of enthusiasm and confidence along with a strong desire to go work for God? There is no limit on their ability, and gift is evident. However, there may be little things in their lives that are not judged; there are desires and activities that keep them too involved with personal satisfaction and imbibing of worldly elements that will prevent them from being chosen. May we all seek by God’s grace to be included and approved in view of being used!
Two groups stood before Gideon. It wasn’t his decision that determined which group went with him. Likely he was looking at 9700 men. We all would! But God told him to send them home. Just 300 men to use against an innumerable host of the enemy. That was less than 1% of the original army! Impossible! But, “with God, all things are possible.” It’s sad to think that a vast majority of believers may never engage in any actual conflict against God’s enemy. They may be faithful in so many ways, consistent in attending the meetings of the assembly and even participate in some way. Yet excessive involvement in earthly, fleshly, worldly attractions keeps them from being used as God would otherwise desire. What would hinder our lives from being instruments of service or otherwise prevent our engagement in the spiritual battle that rages all around? It would be a terrible loss, when the days of warfare are ended, to stand in our Lord’s presence, having allowed trivialities to hinder or prevent us from being used or chosen for God’s work.
Victory Accomplished by God’s Means
Now Gideon was small enough for God to use him. There was a time in Israel’s history when, through overconfidence, they had only sent 3,000 men to fight at Ai (Joshua 7:4). But their overconfidence resulted in a sad defeat, a rout from a small force at that city. In this case, it was not man’s overconfidence, but it was God’s directive, and there is obviously a vast difference! Yet, knowing Gideon’s need for assurance, God graciously gave him a further indication of victory before he engaged in the battle. It is good to remember that the Lord “knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust,” (Psalm 103:14).
Gideon learned that if there were 22,000 of his men who were fearful without cause, in the camp of Midian, there were many more men who feared with good reason. It only took the recounting of a dream and its interpretation to reinforce Gideon’s faith so that he could return to his small band without any fear. The dream, (7:13-15) one concerning a barley cake rolling into a tent, suggests the lowliness and humility of Gideon. It was only a cake that would feed the common people, the poor of the land--that was what he was. He began his history by threshing grain for bread, and now he will begin his victory by being reminded that he is only a cake of barley bread. He began by telling the Lord, “I am the least in my father’s house.” (6:15) and now he was reminded of it again. None are too low for the Lord to use, are they? We can easily be like Saul, when God had to tell him that he was too big for God to use any longer (1 Samuel 15:17-19). May the Lord preserve us from being “high-minded.” (Romans 11:20)
In this case, we remember, the enemy represents the element of strife and division that can cause problems among the saints. What kind of man can God use in this case? It would have to be a lowly man, one who is conscious of his own smallness and weakness. What kind of weapon would be effective? Previously, the deliverers of Israel had their weapons-- a dagger, an ox goad, or a sword. But there was no sword in Gideon’s hand, neither in those of his men. Two hands, both filled, one with a torch inside a vessel and the other with a trumpet. (This suggests the principle of consecration, the “filling of the hands for God.”) However, these instruments were not of much account as offensive weapons. But when overcoming strife among saints, we don’t need swords or daggers in that sense. The spiritually applied Word of God as a “sharp, two-edged sword” would be effective (Hebrews 4:12, Ephesians 6:17), but it must be used in dependence on the Spirit of God. Perhaps swords and daggers are part of the problem. There is a need for a lowly, humble man, leading a small band of men who are united and carrying inoffensive, but effective weapons.
His men acted in unison under his leadership. Gideon was always a man who sought to unify God’s people. He could do it, because he was one who always gave a soft answer, a humble response. The wise man said in Proverbs 15:1, “A soft answer turneth away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger.” His men were following his example and acting under his command. Submission to godly leadership is a key to overcoming strife and division, is it not? He set the example for them to follow, and they obeyed and imitated him in what he did. They were united and God used them.
It may seem foolish to use weapons like these to overcome a strongly-armed enemy. But we think of Paul dealing with division and strife in the assembly in Corinth. How did he do it? He used an argument that seemed foolish to the wise men of the world. It was the preaching (the message, word) of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:18). How insignificant in their eyes, but he could declare that “to us who are saved, it is the power of God.” Then we learn that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men,” (1 Corinthians 1:25) and he reminded them of their beginning, what first brought them salvation and joy in knowing Christ as Savior. In this way he brought them back to the ground of their unity in Christ. Paul was using the lamp in a broken pitcher (making little of himself) and sounding the trumpet of the clear message that had brought about their salvation. He reminded them of something very similar in 2 Corinthians 4:6-7 when he speaks of the light shining out of darkness and the vessel being insignificant in itself. As a vessel, he had brought the light of the truth to them through much suffering and affliction, being conformed to the dying of Jesus, and here he was sounding forth the clarion call of that message to deal with the division and strife that existed in their midst. Certainly, this is the way a humble man, a broken vessel conformed to Christ, would go about reconciling his brethren and delivering them from the evil of this enemy.
We see that for Gideon and his men, there was no battle to be fought. They “stood every man in his place round about the camp,” (7:21) and the Midianites fought with each other in the ensuing confusion. Now we can see why only 300 men were needed! God was fighting for them, and He caused Midian to fight against themselves. All Gideon and his men had to do was to obey the Lord’s command and the Lord did the rest. One could suggest that the enemy of saints, at heart, is fearful; the slightest indication of God’s power puts them to flight and God wins a mighty victory. We compare this to David’s victory over Goliath and the result among the Philistines; “when the Philistines saw their champion was dead, they fled” (1 Samuel 17:51). All depended on one man, and when he was defeated, the rest had no heart for battle.
Gideon was not a man who kept every aspect of the battle to himself. He included his brethren, others of the children of Israel, as much as possible. We see that he called others, including Ephraim to take part in the final conquest and to share the glory of the victory. This is a mark of a man who can unify the Lord’s people. He is not selfish, wanting all the credit for any achievement that has been accomplished. He would include all the Lord’s people in the spoils of war. The Lord has done this for us; He has led captivity captive and has given gifts among men, bringing us into a place of honor and acceptance with Him (Ephesians 4:8).
However, the attitude of others, such as those of Ephraim, who were not called nor included in the battle at the first, becomes clear at this point. In chapter 12:1, we learn that the same tribe also attacked Jephthah in the same way. It seems that their pride couldn’t allow the possibility that they were not given a prominent place in any activity of the nation. However, in contrast to Jephthah, who retaliated against the children of Ephraim and killed his own brethren, Gideon again employed the “soft answer” and as a result, he turned away their wrath. A man that will unite the saints is one who is glad to give the credit to others, even if they were not as completely involved as he was. They had taken the princes of Midian (7:24-25) and Gideon credited them with a greater work than his. Gideon restored unity and removed strife, but sadly, Jephthah produced strife and division among the people. We can do either one or the other, depending on how we respond to the slights and criticisms of others.
Strife and division among the saints is often caused by a desire to get all the credit and by failure to recognize the contribution of our brethren. If we relate this to the days of the reformation, as characterized by Sardis, is it not also true that there was contention on many points and from many sides at that time? We think of the fighting between those who followed Luther and some of those who were called Anabaptists (most of these being faithful believers who refused to take arms to defend themselves). The number of areas of contention between those who were involved in the reformation were numerous and many lost their lives as a result. Those of the Reformation who had “protested” against the abuses of the Roman Catholic system and had based that protest on “sola scriptura” (Scripture only) persecuted those who sought to act on the same principle of “thus saith the Lord.” Depending on the power of the state to enforce their edicts, they killed, oppressed, and persecuted those who believed that only genuine believers in the Lord Jesus Christ should be baptized, not infants. As a result, the movement that began so well ended in a kind of corruption similar to what had been protested against, and it resulted in oppressing all those who disagreed. It is sad to consider how often this kind of rivalry and bitter fighting can ruin a work of God to bring deliverance to His beloved people.
Then Gideon encountered others who were less interested in the defeat of the enemy than his army was. The men of Succoth and Penuel and their princes represent those who refuse to become involved, even refusing to give sustenance to those who were involved in pursuing the enemy. They were not as bad as the princes of Midian who were the avowed enemies of God and His people; these were just indifferent and had no desire to become involved in any way. They expressed their disdain for his army and they made clear their lack of confidence in his ability to achieve victory over the army of the foe. As a result, they came under the discipline that they deserved, in addition to their losing any honor of being participants in the work of God.
There always seem to be those who, while agreeing with the principles of those who are involved in doing the Lord’s will, don’t want to make the effort that would be needed to obey God’s Word themselves. Many believers know and agree with the principles of the local assembly as taught in the New Testament, but they would rather stay in the comfortable places they are accustomed to rather than to “come ye out from among them, and be ye separate,” (2 Corinthians 6:17). As a result, they fail to become identified with those who, with all their confessed failures, seek to be obedient to the Lord’s command.
Gideon’s Refusal of Kingship
Gideon had displayed honorable qualities throughout his life and service for God. Now he refused, correctly, the honor of becoming Israel’s king. In Judges 8:22, the men of Israel not only wanted him to rule over them but they included his sons into the future, so that he would have established a line of kings in Israel. Men would always exalt the one who has been used in a particular way to deliver them, forgetting that it was God who had done the mighty work. There are denominations of Christians today that identify themselves by the name of some great man who has been used of God in the past. This is only a means of dishonoring the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
A dynasty of kings would also remove the problems that entered their experience between the particular times of each judge, and surely this would be the answer to many of their problems. It is always a tendency to make a man great, looking to him to accomplish what is needed rather than depending on the Lord and His power. As a result, a system of rule and organization is set up that is not taught in God’s Word. Gideon was right in his response; the Lord was the one to rule over them.
It is sad that at the close of Judges, we are often reminded that because there was no king in Israel, “every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” Though Gideon expressed no desire to be their king, he gave his son, Abimelech, a name that meant, “My father is king.” Why did Gideon give him that name? Was there some thought lurking within him that secretly longed for that place and authority that he had refused publicly? Whatever was the reason, it is clear from subsequent history that Abimelech wanted to be king and would stop at nothing to achieve that power and position. It is a natural tendency to want power and control over others. This tendency will be seen in its stark clarity when the “man of sin,” the Antichrist, takes his place to rule in the widest sphere over men in the future (2 Thessalonians 2:4). Those who have that ambition always cause great harm to the saints of God and damage the honor of the Lord’s Name rather than delivering and helping the saints.
Gideon’s Last Test
Gideon passed every test triumphantly, except the last one. It is very sad to see a man who had displayed such qualities of humility, dependence on God, and faithfulness fail at the very last. Why would he ask the men for the golden earrings and then make an ephod with them? An ephod was part of the garment of the High Priest, so it seems that Gideon was arrogating to himself a priestly standing. He had refused the kingship, but now he reached for the priesthood. Perhaps the priesthood had fallen into such disrepute at this time that he felt that, since God had spoken to him directly, he could function in this way to receive messages from God to guide the people. In addition, we know that he had offered sacrifices on the altar in the same place where he put the ephod (8:27); did he intend to continue to function as a priest and then the ephod would be part of that worship? Perhaps it was intended to remind him and Israel of the great victory that God had wrought to deliver His people. Whatever might have been his reason, it is clear that his action was a snare to him and to Israel.
Chronologically, it seems that Micah’s house of idols and the false priesthood that he set up in Mt. Ephraim (Judges 17) had already taken place, since it seems to coincide with events of Judges 2. That would have set a precedent for Gideon, but it was a bad precedent, if that was the case. It was contrary to God’s order that had given that office to the family of Aaron, so that making and having an ephod was an empty gesture. In addition, it was contrary to the principle of submission to God’s order that had characterized his life to this point. It only teaches us that one may serve well and faithfully his entire life and yet fail at the end. How important it is to walk carefully and to avoid turning aside from the will of God in any way! It also points to the failure of those who were involved in the reformation that had brought deliverance to God’s people in that era. There was failure to realize that the Divine order was for the priesthood of all believers and the liberty was theirs to function in this way. That violation of the principle of priesthood has resulted in havoc and perpetuation of error in the practices of Christendom to this day. How important it is to follow the clear and simple teaching of God’s Word so that testimony for God might be preserved and passed on to future generations in all its faithfulness for their blessing!
The sad commentary at the end of chapter 8 and the sadder story that begins chapter 9 shows the general tendency of the human heart. On Gideon’s part, it is a solemn warning of the danger of taking our ease and indulging fleshly desires in the latter stages of life (Judges 8:29-31). Is it not remarkable that God uses his name “Jerubbaal” at this point? Had he lost his character that had been linked with his victory over God’s enemy? Had he overcome (symbolically) strife that caused poverty and suffering only to be overcome by another enemy, that of fleshly ease at the end? God points out that he had “many wives,” something that was never the mind of God. More than that, he had a concubine in Shechem. This was only about 6 miles from Ophrah, but she was kept there, separate from the rest of his family. That relationship resulted in a son called Abimelech, whose sad history occupies the next chapter. Perhaps this indicates that after one accomplishes a mighty victory through God and has been used of Him, there can be a “let down” in our guard that results in failure. Then on the part of Israel, we read in Judges 8:33, that “as soon as Gideon was dead, that the children of Israel turned again, and went a whoring after Baalim, and made Baal-berith (lord of the covenant) their god.” It is as if the children of Israel were only waiting for the day when Gideon would pass off the scene and almost immediately, they turned again to the idolatry of Baalim worship and forgot the Lord and Gideon. Does it not emphasize to us the fact that when men’s eyes are on human leaders rather than on the Lord, their willingness to follow will continue only as long as that leader lives? May the Lord help us to understand and appreciate the fact that the Lord is the Ruler over His people and regardless of the passing of human leaders, He is the One to whom we owe allegiance and must seek to follow faithfully.
May the Lord help us, by way of these few comments on the life and service of Gideon, to learn something of our responsibility to act faithfully for the name of our blessed Lord.
Other pages in this section
|< Prev||Next >|