"Then the Angel of the Lord appeared to him and said: 'The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.' Gideon said to Him, 'Please Sir, if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened? And where are all His wonders that our fathers told us about? They said, "Hasn't the Lord brought us out of Egypt?" But now the Lord has abandoned us and handed us over to Midian.' The Lord turned to him and said, 'Go in the strength you have and deliver Israel from the power of Midian. Am I not sending you?' " (Judges 6:12-14 HCSB)
You remember the story of the ugly duckling. Here was this misfit. All the ducklings made fun of him. Of course, he wasn’t a duck at all—he was a swan. Gideon was an ugly duckling. If there were ever an unlikely hero, it was he. But God knew what He would become through His grace.
Many of us may feel the same way. We look at ourselves and think, “I’m a spiritual wreck. What could I do for God?” You can make a difference! God doesn’t see what we are, but what we can become. We look and see problems, but He sees possibilities. Gideon’s story illustrates this.
To see the context, we should first consider ISRAEL’S DECLENSION. "The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord." (Judges 6:1a HCSB)
This is the fourth cycle in a downward spiral, marking Israel’s spiritual decline. Each departure from God seems deeper, with the corresponding discipline of greater intensity or duration—or both. These are not just reruns. The fact is you can never stand still spiritually. You are advancing or declining in your walk.
The nation's spiritual declension led to ISRAEL’S DISCIPLINE. "So the Lord handed them over to Midian seven years, and they oppressed Israel. Because of Midian, the Israelites made hiding places for themselves in the mountains, caves, and strongholds. Whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites, Amalekites, and the Qedemites came and attacked them. They encamped against them and destroyed the produce of the land, even as far as Gaza. They left nothing for Israel to eat, as well as no sheep, ox or donkey. For the Midianites came with their cattle and their tents like a great swarm of locusts. They and their camels were without number, and they entered the land to waste it. So Israel became poverty-stricken because of Midian..." (Judges 6:1b-6a HCSB)
When Israel turned from God, they turned to the worship of Baal, and his female consort Ashtoreth. These were Canaanite fertility gods. Their degraded worship featured all manner of sexual acts. The belief was that as the worshippers engaged in sex acts, Baal and Ashtoreth would make the land fertile, and crops abundant. So, we see it is a fitting discipline that God took their harvest away—a harvest they thought was given by Baal.
The Midianites had discovered a new weapon—the camel. Since Israel only had foot soldiers, they were easily outmaneuvered by the mounted Midianites. But, most importantly God wasn’t fighting for them, but against them.
Have you seen any "spoiled" children? They are sassy and selfish. How do they get that way? The parents basically give them whatever they want and don't correct them for their misbehavior. That's a formula for spoiling a kid. God has no “spoiled children” but disciplines those who defy Him. He loves us too much to leave us alone.
Notice how their declension brought discipline and resulted in ISRAEL’S DESPERATION "So Israel became poverty-stricken because of Midian, and the Israelites cried out to the Lord. When the Israelites cried out to Him because of Midian, the Lord sent a prophet to them. He said to them, 'This is what the Lord God of Israel says: "I brought you out of Egypt and out of the place of slavery. I delivered you from the power of Egypt and the power of all who oppressed you. I drove them out before you and gave you their land. I said to you: I am the Lord your God. Do not fear the gods of the Amorites whose land you live in. But you did not obey Me." ' " (Judges 6:6-10 HCSB)
Before, when Israel had cried unto the Lord, God would send a judge to deliver them. But, this time, He first sends a prophet. The people had regret, but God wanted repentance. They were sorry for what had happened to them, but God wanted them to recognize it was for their sins that they suffered, and their deliverance depended on their turning from sin. God isn’t a heavenly ambulance driver to be dialed when we are in trouble. He is the Lord God whom we must worship and serve!
Look at this chain of events: there is declension, discipline, desperation leading at last to ISRAEL’S DELIVERANCE. The rest of the story is about God raising up a man to make a difference. He still does. God uses men and women to accomplish his kingdom purposes--people like you and me.
Look at Gideon's commission, " The Angel of the Lord came, and He sat under the oak that was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash, the Abiezrite. His son Gideon was threshing wheat in the wine vat in order to hide it from the Midianites. Then the Angel of the Lord appeared to him and said: 'The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.' Gideon said to Him, 'Please Sir, if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened? And where are all His wonders that our fathers told us about? They said, "Hasn't the Lord brought us out of Egypt?" But now the Lord has abandoned us and handed us over to Midian.' The Lord turned to him and said, 'Go in the strength you have and deliver Israel from the power of Midian. Am I not sending you?' He said to Him, 'Please, Lord, how can I deliver Israel? Look, my family is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father's house.' 'But I will be with you,' the Lord said to him. 'You will strike Midian down [as if it were] one man.' " (Judges 6:11-16 HCSB)
Here is a defeated, discouraged man full of doubt and fear. He is like a fellow I heard about who went to a psychiatrist and said, “I have a terrible inferiority complex.” The doctor listened and gave his diagnosis. “I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is that you don’t have a complex. The bad news is that you are inferior!” Gideon scoffed at the idea he was a mighty warrior, but the difference that makes the difference is, “The Lord is with you!”
God delights in doing the impossible with the improbable. He says to 99 year old childless Abram, “I’m changing your name to Abraham—father of many nations.” Jesus looks at a a shaky saint and sees a solid servant, “Simon, you are Peter, the rock!”
Gideon's commission was followed by his confirmation. In Judges 6:17-40, Gideon asks for a sign, and God accommodates his weak faith with a wondrous flame, "Then he said to Him, 'If I have found favor in Your sight, give me a sign that You are speaking with me. Please do not leave this place until I return to You. Let me bring my gift and set it before You.' And He said, 'I will stay until you return.' So Gideon went and prepared a young goat and unleavened bread from a half bushel of flour. He placed the meat in a basket and the broth in a pot. He brought them out and offered them to Him under the oak. The Angel of God said to him, 'Take the meat with the unleavened bread, put it on this stone, and pour the broth [on it].' And he did so. The Angel of the Lord extended the tip of the staff that was in His hand and touched the meat and the unleavened bread. Fire came up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened bread. Then the Angel of the Lord vanished from his sight. When Gideon realized that He was the Angel of the Lord, he said, 'Oh no, Lord God! I have seen the Angel of the Lord face to face!' But the Lord said to him, 'Peace to you. Don't be afraid, for you will not die.' So Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and called it Yahweh Shalom. It is in Ophrah of the Abiezrites until today." (Judges 6:17-24 HCSB)
Next, God will prepare him for battle by leading him to a victory of faith and obedience at home, "On that very night the Lord said to him, " 'Take your father's young bull and a second bull seven years old. Then tear down the altar of Baal that belongs to your father and cut down the Asherah pole beside it. Build a well-constructed altar to the Lord your God on the top of this rock. Take the second bull and offer it as a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah pole you cut down.' So Gideon took 10 of his male servants and did as the Lord had told him. But because he was too afraid of his father's household and the men of the city to do it in the daytime, he did it at night.
When the men of the city got up in the morning, they found Baal's altar torn down, the Asherah pole beside it cut down, and the second bull offered up on the altar that had been built. They said to each other, 'Who did this?' After they made a thorough investigation, they said, 'Gideon son of Joash did it.' Then the men of the city said to Joash, 'Bring out your son. He must die, because he tore down Baal's altar and cut down the Asherah pole beside it.' But Joash said to all who stood against him, 'Would you plead Baal's case for him? Would you save him? Whoever pleads his case will be put to death by morning! If he is a god, let him plead his own case because someone tore down his altar.' That day, Gideon's father called him Jerubbaal, saying, 'Let Baal plead his case with him,' because he tore down his altar." (Judges 6:25-32 HCSB) What we are in private determines our usefulness to God in public.
Gideon is still unsure, however, and puts out the fleece, "All the Midianites, Amalekites, and Qedemites gathered together, crossed over [the Jordan], and camped in the Valley of Jezreel. The Spirit of the Lord took control of Gideon, and he blew the ram's horn and the Abiezrites rallied behind him. He sent messengers throughout all of Manasseh, who rallied behind him. He also sent messengers throughout Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, who [also] came to meet him. Then Gideon said to God, 'If You will deliver Israel by my hand, as You said, I will put a fleece of wool here on the threshing floor. If dew is only on the fleece, and all the ground is dry, I will know that You will deliver Israel by my strength, as You said.' And that is what happened. When he got up early in the morning, he squeezed the fleece and wrung dew out of it, filling a bowl with water. Gideon then said to God, 'Don't be angry with me; let me speak one more time. Please allow me to make one more test with the fleece. Let it remain dry, and the dew be all over the ground.' That night God did [as Gideon requested]: only the fleece was dry, and dew was all over the ground." (Judges 6:33-40 HCSB)
This isn’t the way God wants us to find His will. We have the Word of God to show the will of God. We have the Spirit and don’t require a sign. Yet, God is long-suffering with us! A group was discussing the wonders of the world, and one was asked, “What do you consider the greatest wonder of the world?” His answer: “That God would put up with a man like me!” That God puts up with people like me is remarkable! Our faith may be small, but God’s faithfulness is substantial!
Gideon's commission led to confirmation and from there to his conquest. We see this in section 7:1-8:21. 1 John 5:4b says, “And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” That spiritual principle is illustrated in Gideon's story. Here are a few quick, but vital lessons of faith.
The first lesson concerns the examination of faith, "Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and everyone who was with him, got up early and camped beside the spring of Harod. The camp of Midian was north of them, below the hill of Moreh, in the valley. The Lord said to Gideon, 'You have too many people for Me to hand the Midianites over to you, or else Israel might brag: "I did it myself." Now announce in the presence of the people: "Whoever is fearful and trembling may turn back and leave Mount Gilead." ' So 22,000 of the people turned back, but 10,000 remained. Then the Lord said to Gideon, 'There are still too many people. Take them down to the water, and I will test them for you there. If I say to you, "This one can go with you," he can go. But if I say about anyone, "This one cannot go with you," he cannot go.' So he brought the people down to the water, and the Lord said to Gideon, 'Separate everyone who laps water with his tongue like a dog. Do the same with everyone who kneels to drink.' The number of those who lapped with their hands to their mouths was 300 men, and all the rest of the people knelt to drink water. The Lord said to Gideon, 'I will deliver you with the 300 men who lapped and hand the Midianites over to you. But everyone else is to go home.' So Gideon sent all the Israelites to their tents but kept the 300, who took the people's provisions and their trumpets. The camp of Midian was below him in the valley." (Judges 7:1-8 HCSB) An examination would be given to see what soldiers were ready for battle. Only those who kept at the ready with vigilance were ready for victory. If someone threw down their shield and plunged their head into the water, they would be exposed to attack. The one who knelt, cupping water into his hand, kept his head up, looking around, ready to spring into action--only 300 did so.
It would be a minuscule militia. The fact is, you cannot be too small for God to use, but you can be too big! He will not share His glory.
Next note, the encouragement of faith, "That night the Lord said to him, 'Get up and go into the camp, for I have given it into your hand. But if you are afraid to go to the camp, go with Purah your servant. Listen to what they say, and then you will be strengthened to go to the camp.' So he went with Purah his servant to the outpost of the troops who were in the camp. Now the Midianites, Amalekites, and all the Qedemites had settled down in the valley like a swarm of locusts, and their camels were as innumerable as the sand on the seashore. When Gideon arrived, there was a man telling his friend [about] a dream. He said, 'Listen, I had a dream: a loaf of barley bread came tumbling into the Midianite camp, struck a tent, and it fell. The loaf turned the tent upside down so that it collapsed.' His friend answered: 'This is nothing less than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has handed the entire Midianite camp over to him.' When Gideon heard the account of the dream and its interpretation, he bowed in worship (Judges 7:9-15a HCSB)
Gideon had seen his army, already outnumbered, shrink from 32,000 to 10,000 to 300! God gave him encouragement in His task. We can be encouraged by the promises of God, such as, “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4b)
The effect of faith is witnessed in 7:15b-8:21.
We see faith charging, "He returned to Israel's camp and said, 'Get up, for the Lord has handed the Midianite camp over to you.' Then he divided the 300 men into three companies and gave each of the men a trumpet in one hand and an empty pitcher with a torch inside it [in the other]. 'Watch me,' he said, 'and do the same. When I come to the outpost of the camp, do as I do. When I and everyone with me blow our trumpets, you are also to blow your trumpets all around the camp. Then you will say, "For Yahweh and for Gideon!" ' Gideon and the 100 men who were with him went to the outpost of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch after the sentries had been stationed. They blew their trumpets and broke the pitchers that were in their hands. The three companies blew their trumpets and shattered their pitchers. They held their torches in their left hands, their trumpets in their right hands, and shouted, 'A sword for Yahweh and for Gideon!' Each Israelite took his position around the camp, and the entire [Midianite] army fled, and cried out as they ran. When Gideon's men blew their 300 trumpets, the Lord set the swords of each man in the army against each other. They fled to Beth-shittah in the direction of Zererah as far as the border of Abel-meholah near Tabbath. Then the men of Israel were called from Naphtali, Asher, and Manasseh, and they pursued the Midianites. Gideon sent messengers throughout the hill country of Ephraim with this message: 'Come down to intercept the Midianites and take control of the watercourses ahead of them as far as Beth-barah and the Jordan.' So all the men of Ephraim were called out, and they took control of the watercourses as far as Beth-barah and the Jordan. They captured Oreb and Zeeb, the two princes of Midian; they killed Oreb at the rock of Oreb and Zeeb at the winepress of Zeeb, while they were pursuing the Midianites. They brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon across the Jordan. (Judges 7:15b-25 HCSB)
Then, we have faith criticized, "The men of Ephraim said to him, 'Why have you done this to us, not calling us when you went to fight against the Midianites?' And they argued with him violently." (Judges 8:1 HCSB) Any time you try to do something for God, you’ll be criticized. Don't be surprised by this, nor discouraged.
The appropriate response to criticism is by faith calming, "So he said to them, 'What have I done now compared to you? Is not the gleaning of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abiezer? God handed over to you Oreb and Zeeb, the two princes of Midian. What was I able to do compared to you?' When he said this, their anger against him subsided." (Judges 8:2, 3 HCSB) (8:2-3). “A soft answer turns away wrath.” (Proverbs 15:1a).
Then, there is faith completing, "Gideon and the 300 men came to the Jordan and crossed it. They were exhausted but still in pursuit. He said to the men of Succoth, 'Please give some loaves of bread to the people who are following me, because they are exhausted, for I am pursuing Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian.' But the princes of Succoth asked, 'Are Zebah and Zalmunna now in your hands that we should give bread to your army?' Gideon replied, 'Very well, when the Lord has handed Zebah and Zalmunna over to me, I will trample your flesh on thorns and briers from the wilderness!' He went from there to Penuel and asked the same thing from them. The men of Penuel answered just as the men of Succoth had answered. He also told the men of Penuel, 'When I return in peace, I will tear down this tower!' Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor, and with them was their army of about 15,000 men, who were all those left of the entire army of the Qedemites. Those who had been killed were 120,000 warriors. Gideon traveled on the caravan route east of Nobah and Jogbehah and attacked their army while the army was unsuspecting. Zebah and Zalmunna fled, and he pursued them. He captured these two kings of Midian and routed the entire army. Gideon son of Joash returned from the battle by the Ascent of Heres. He captured a youth from the men of Succoth and interrogated him. The youth wrote down for him the [names of the] 77 princes and elders of Succoth. Then he went to the men of Succoth and said, 'Here are Zebah and Zalmunna. You taunted me about them, saying, "Are Zebah and Zalmunna now in your power that we should give bread to your exhausted men?" ' So he took the elders of the city, as well as some thorns and briers from the wilderness, and he disciplined the men of Succoth with them. He also tore down the tower of Penuel and killed the men of the city. He asked Zebah and Zalmunna, 'What kind of men did you kill at Tabor?' 'They were like you,' they said. 'Each resembled the son of a king.' So he said, 'They were my brothers, the sons of my mother! As the Lord lives, if you had let them live, I would not kill you.' Then he said to Jether, his firstborn, 'Get up and kill them.' The youth did not draw his sword, for he was afraid because he was still a youth. Zebah and Zalmunna said, 'Get up and kill us yourself, for a man is judged by his strength.' So Gideon got up, killed Zebah and Zalmunna, and took the crescent ornaments that were on the necks of their camels." (Judges 8:4-21 HCSB) Faith finishes the job.
Alas, the story has a sad, final chapter. It doesn't end as we wish it would. The Bible is honest--sometimes brutally so, disclosing not only the champion's victories, but their vices, as well Gideon's commission, confirmation and conquest was followed by his compromise.
This is what we read:
"Then the Israelites said to Gideon, 'Rule over us, you as well as your sons and your grandsons, for you delivered us from the power of Midian.'
But Gideon said to them, 'I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you.' Then he said to them, 'Let me make a request of you: Everyone give me an earring from his plunder.' Now the enemy had gold earrings because they were Ishmaelites.
They said, 'We agree to give them.' So they spread out a mantle, and everyone threw an earring from his plunder on it. The weight of the gold earrings he requested was about 43 pounds of gold, in addition to the crescent ornaments and ear pendants, the purple garments on the kings of Midian, and the chains on the necks of their camels. Gideon made an ephod from all this and put it in Ophrah, his hometown. Then all Israel prostituted themselves with it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his household.
So Midian was subdued before the Israelites, and they were no longer a threat. The land was peaceful 40 years during the days of Gideon. Jerubbaal [(that is, Gideon)] son of Joash went back to live at his house.
Gideon had 70 sons, his own offspring, since he had many wives. His concubine who was in Shechem also bore him a son, and he named him Abimelech. Then Gideon son of Joash died at a ripe old age and was buried in the tomb of his father Joash in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.
When Gideon died, the Israelites turned and prostituted themselves with the Baals and made Baal-berith their god. The Israelites did not remember the Lord their God who had delivered them from the power of the enemies around them. They did not show kindness to the house of Jerubbaal ([that is,] Gideon) for all the good he had done for Israel." (Judges 8:22-35 HCSB)
Gideon refused to accept the position as king, but then started to act like one. He didn’t finish well. He became enamored with the blessings of victory rather than the Blessed One who brought the victory. Gideon is guilty of materialism--covetousness---which is idolatry. This not only led to his downfall, but paved the way to the nation plunging back into sin. There are no spiritual heights so great from which we may not fall. Here is the sobering warning, "So, whoever thinks he stands must be careful not to fall. No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape so that you are able to bear it. Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry." (1 Corinthians 10:12-14 HCSB)
If Gideon could have such experiences with God and become ensnared by the Devil, I can--and so can you. Trust in the Lord and not your own strength.