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Encounters With God series: The Victory of Gideon – Judges 6-9

03 Nov

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The story of Gideon is one of faith and courage. Hebrews 11:32-34 (NIV)  And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, 33  who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34  quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.

Background: The Period of the Judges. The generation contemporary with Joshua was courageous, faithful, and, for the most part, free from the obstinacy and doubt which had dishonored their fathers. (Jud. 2:7) But as each tribe received its portion of the land, though, they became engrossed in establishing and cultivating it thus becoming self-centered.

Living among idolaters, whom they had failed to drive out, the Israelites copied their example, intermarried with them, and became contaminated by their abominations and idolatry. (Jud. 2:10-13). The people abandoned God and became their own standard of conduct.

“In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes’ (Judg. 17:6; 18:1;19:25). Each tribe took thought for itself how best to serve and maintain an adequate territory, so that separate interests of all sorts soon became prevalent, and regard for general welfare was more and more forgotten. This separation of the parts of the nation was aided by the early disunion and jealousies of the several tribes, no one of which held the preeminence …Then, too, the ancient inhabitants still retained their hold on large tracts, or on important positions  throughout  the country. The neighboring powers still looked upon the newcomers as an easy prey to incursion  and devastation, if not to actual subjugation. Nor did Israel escape the pernicious influence of idolatry, both of Canaan and the surrounding countries.” (Unger’s Bible Dictionary, pp. 617-618)

“The book  of Judges is one of  the saddest parts  of  the Bible, humanly  speaking. Some have called it the ‘Book of Failure.’ The last chapter of the preceding book, Joshua, anticipates continued blessing upon God’s people in the rest land of their inheritance (Joshua 24:19-28). But one does not proceed far into the account of Judges before he senses that all is not well.” (Jensen’s Survey of the Old Testament, p. 152).

Time span: Due to disobedience, Israel was in oppression. Out of the 350 years between the death of Joshua until Samuel the prophet, about 100 years were spent in disloyalty to God. The books of Judges and First Samuel present fifteen “deliverers who saved them from the hand of their enemies”. God raised up Gideon, a “mighty man of valor.”

Israel was in trouble because the people failed to: Complete the task they were given to do-drive out the other nations. Carry through with the lessons they learned in their reform. When God raised up judges to deliver them, the people only responded so far as it served their selfish ends of the moment.

They did not sincerely love God nor did they serve Him from the heart. When things got somewhat tolerable for them again they would swiftly abandon Him and go back to their old ways. Deal with a family, national, or community problem. They were so self­-centered that they did not seek solutions to their problems until they were desperate.

The judges were not judicial officials who presided over Israel’s courts. They were deliverers directed by the power of the Spirit of God, whom God raised up to lead Israel to freedom from opposing nations.

You have a garden, and you work hard all spring and summer to make that garden produce abundantly. But every year, just about the time you’re ready to gather in the harvest, your neighbors swoop down and take your produce away from you by force. This goes on year after year, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

If you can imagine that scenario, then you’ll have some idea of the suffering the Jews experienced every harvest when the Midianites made their annual raids. For seven years, God allowed the Midianites and their allies to ravage “the land of milk and honey,” leaving the people in the deepest poverty.

About the time of the eighth Midianite invasion, God called a farmer in Manasseh named Gideon to become the deliverer of His people. He was an idolater from the family of Abiezar. When he is first encountered, he’s a failure in unbelief…but when presented evidence he developed faith and yielded to the will of God.

Gideon started his career as somewhat of a coward (Judg. 6), then became a conqueror (7:1-8:21), and ended his career as a compromiser (8:22-35). But more space is devoted to Gideon in the Book of Judges (100 verses) than to any other judge; and Gideon is the only judge whose personal struggles with his faith are recorded. Gideon is a great encouragement to people who have a hard time accepting themselves and believing that God can make anything out of them or do anything with them.[1]

1. “Does God really care about us?” Judges 6:11-16 (NIV)
11  The angel of the LORD came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. 12  When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.” 13  “But sir,” Gideon replied, “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.” 14  The LORD turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” 15  “But Lord,” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” 16  The LORD answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.”

He displayed his loyalty to God and abhorrence of idols by throwing down the altars of Baal.

Gideon threw down the altars of Baal. (Judges 6:25-31 (NIV) 25  That same night the LORD said to him, “Take the second bull from your father’s herd, the one seven years old. Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it. 26  Then build a proper kind of altar to the LORD your God on the top of this height. Using the wood of the Asherah pole that you cut down, offer the second bull as a burnt offering.” 27  So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the LORD told him. But because he was afraid of his family and the men of the town, he did it at night rather than in the daytime. 28  In the morning when the men of the town got up, there was Baal’s altar, demolished, with the Asherah pole beside it cut down and the second bull sacrificed on the newly built altar! 29  They asked each other, “Who did this?” When they carefully investigated, they were told, “Gideon son of Joash did it.” 30  The men of the town demanded of Joash, “Bring out your son. He must die, because he has broken down Baal’s altar and cut down the Asherah pole beside it.” 31  But Joash replied to the hostile crowd around him, “Are you going to plead Baal’s cause? Are you trying to save him? Whoever fights for him shall be put to death by morning! If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar.”

Since idolatry was the prevailing sin in Israel, here is Gideon’s chance to display his loyalty to god and his abhorrence of idols. Idolatry is a constant sin in all ages.

The symbol of idolatry had to be removed if Israel were to have hope. How do you define idolatry? Something that comes between you and God. Something that takes precedence over God.

2. “Does God know what He’s doing?” (Judg. 6:14-24)

Gideon’s first response was to question God’s concern for His people, but then he questioned God’s wisdom in choosing him to be the nation’s deliverer. The Lord’s statements recorded in verses 12 and 14 should have given Gideon all the assurance he needed, but he wouldn’t believe God’s Word. In this he was like Moses (Ex. 3:7-12), whose story Gideon surely knew since he was acquainted with Hebrew history (Judg. 6:13).

It has often been said that “God’s commandments are God’s enablements.” Once God has called and commissioned us, all we have to do is obey Him by faith, and He will do the rest. God cannot lie and God never fails.

Faith means obeying God in spite of what we see, how we feel, or what the consequences might be. Our modern “practical” world laughs at faith without realizing that people live by faith all day long. “If there was no faith, there would be no living in this world,” wrote humorist John Billings nearly a century ago. “We couldn’t even eat hash with safety.”

A.W. Tozer wrote, “All God’s acts are done in perfect wisdom, first for His own glory, and then for the highest good of the greatest number for the longest time.” That being true, who are we to question Him?

Gideon asked for a sign to assure him that it was really the Lord who was speaking to him (1 Cor. 1:22), and the Lord was gracious to accommodate Himself to Gideon’s unbelief. Gideon prepared a sacrifice, which was a costly thing to do at a time when food was scarce. An ephah of flour was about a half a bushel, enough to make bread for a family for several days. It probably took him an hour to dress the meat and prepare the unleavened cakes, but God waited for him to return and then consumed the offering by bringing fire from the rock.

God had to give Gideon a message of peace to prepare him for fighting a war. Unless we’re at peace with God, we can’t face the enemy with confidence and fight the Lord’s battles. It was customary for the Jews to identify special events and places by putting up monuments, so Gideon built an altar and called it “The Lord is peace.” The Hebrew word for “peace” (shalom) means much more than a cessation of hostilities but carries with it the ideas of well-being, health, and prosperity. Gideon now believed the Lord was able to use him, not because of who he was, but because of who God was.

3. “Will God take care of me?” (Judg. 6:25-32)

What kind of a day did Gideon have after his dramatic meeting with the Lord? Remember, he belonged to a family that worshiped Baal; and if he challenged the Midianites in the name of the Lord, it meant defying his father, his family, his neighbors, and the multitudes of people in Israel who were worshiping Baal. My guess is that Gideon had his emotional ups and downs that day, rejoicing that God was planning to deliver Israel, but trembling at the thought of being named the leader of the army.

Knowing that Gideon was still afraid, God assigned him a task right at home to show him that He would see him through. After all, if we don’t practice our faith at home, how can we practice it sincerely anyplace else? Gideon had to take his stand in his own village before he dared to face the enemy on the battlefield.

The assignment wasn’t an easy one. God told him to destroy the altar dedicated to Baal, build an altar to the Lord, and sacrifice one of his father’s valuable bullocks, using the wood of the Asherah pole for fuel. Jewish altars were made of uncut stones and were simple, but Baal’s altars were elaborate and next to them was a wooden pillar (“grove,” Judg. 6:26; “Asherah pole,” niv) dedicated to the goddess Asherah, whose worship involved unspeakably vile practices. Since altars to Baal were built on high places, it would have been difficult to obey God’s orders without attracting attention.

Gideon had every right to destroy Baal worship because this is what God had commanded in His Law (Ex. 34:12-13; Deut. 7:5). For that matter, he had the right to stone everybody who was involved in Baal worship (Deut. 13), but God didn’t include that in His instructions.

Gideon decided to obey the Lord at night when the village was asleep. This showed his fear (Judg. 6:27); he wasn’t sure God could or would see him through. After all the encouragements God had given him, Gideon’s faith should have been strong; but before we judge him, we’d better look at ourselves and see how much we trust the Lord.

When ten other men are involved, it’s not easy to keep your plans a secret; so it wasn’t long before the whole town knew that Gideon was the one who had destroyed his father’s idols. The men of the city considered this a capital offense and wanted to kill Gideon. Gideon was no doubt wondering what would happen to him, but God proved Himself well able to handle the situation.

Joash, Gideon’s father, had every reason to be angry with his son. Gideon had smashed his father’s altar to Baal and replaced it with an altar to Jehovah. He had sacrificed his father’s prize bull to the Lord and had used the sacred Asherah pole for fuel. (See Isa. 44:13-20.)

But God so worked in Joash’s heart that he defended Gideon before the town mob and even insulted Baal! “What kind of a god is Baal that he can’t even defend himself?” asked Joash. “What kind of a god is Baal that he can’t even plead his own cause?” Joash asked.’ Because of this, the men of the town gave Gideon the nickname “Jerubbaal,” which means “let Baal contend” or “Baal’s antagonist.”

4. “Does God keep His promises?” (Judg. 6:33-40)

The Midianites and their allies made their annual invasion about that time as more than 135,000 men (8:10; 7:12) moved into the Valley of Jezreel. It was time for Gideon to act, and the Spirit of God gave him the wisdom and power that he needed. (See Judg. 3:10; 11:29; 13:25; 14:6, 19; 15:14.) As we seek to do God’s will, His Word to us is always, “Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit” (Zech. 4:6).

Gideon blew the trumpet first in his own hometown, and the men of Abiezer rallied behind him. Gideon’s reformation in the town had actually accomplished something! Then he sent messengers throughout his own tribe of Manasseh as well as the neighboring tribes of Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali. These four tribes were near the Valley of Jezreel, and therefore the invading army affected them most. Thus at Gideon’s call, 32,000 men responded.

But what chance did 32,000 men have against an army of 135,000 men plus numberless camels? (Judg. 7:12) This is the first mention in the Bible of camels being used in warfare, and certainly they would have given their riders speed and mobility on the battlefield. The Jews were outnumbered and would certainly be out-maneuvered, except for one thing: Jehovah God was on their side, and He had promised them victory.

Nevertheless, Gideon doubted God’s promise. Did God really want him to lead the Jewish army? What did he know about warfare? After all, he was only an ordinary farmer; and there were others in the tribes who could do a much better job. So, before he led the attack, he asked God to give him two more signs.

The phrase “putting out the fleece” is a familiar one in religious circles. It means asking God to guide us in a decision by fulfilling some condition that we lay down. In my pastoral ministry, I’ve met all kinds of people who have gotten themselves into trouble by “putting out the fleece.” If they received a phone call at a certain hour from a certain person, God was telling them to do this; or if the weather changed at a certain time, God was telling them to do something else.

“Putting out the fleece” is not a biblical method for determining the will of God. Rather, it’s an approach used by people like Gideon who lack the faith to trust God to do what He said He would do. Twice Gideon reminded God of what He had said (6:36-37), and twice Gideon asked God to reaffirm His promises with a miracle. The fact that God stooped to Gideon’s weakness only proves that He’s a gracious God who understands how we’re made (Ps. 103:14). Who are we to tell God what conditions He must meet, especially when He has already spoken to us in His Word? “Putting out the fleece” is not only an evidence of our unbelief, but it’s also an evidence of our pride. God has to do what I tell Him to do before I’ll do what He tells me to do!

Gideon spent two days playing the fleece game with God at the threshing floor. The first night, he asked God to make the fleece wet but keep the ground dry (in this incident the Bible uses “floor” and “ground” interchangeably) and God did it. The second night, the test was much harder; for he wanted the threshing floor to be wet but the fleece dry. The ground of a threshing floor is ordinarily very hard and normally would not be greatly affected by the dew. But the next morning, Gideon found dry fleece but wet ground.

There was nothing for Gideon to do but to confront the enemy and trust God for the victory.

Sifting for service in Gideon’s army – his army began with 32,000 men: Judges 7:1-3 (NIV) Early in the morning, Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) and all his men camped at the spring of Harod. The camp of Midian was north of them in the valley near the hill of Moreh. 2  The LORD said to Gideon, “You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her, 3  announce now to the people, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.'”

The first test (fearful and afraid): So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained.

The water test—only 300 qualified: 4  But the LORD said to Gideon, “There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will sift them for you there. If I say, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go; but if I say, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.” 5  So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the LORD told him, “Separate those who lap the water with their tongues like a dog from those who kneel down to drink.” 6  Three hundred men lapped with their hands to their mouths. All the rest got down on their knees to drink.

7  The LORD said to Gideon, “With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the other men go, each to his own place.”

 8  So Gideon sent the rest of the Israelites to their tents but kept the three hundred, who took over the provisions and trumpets of the others. Now the camp of Midian lay below him in the valley. 9  During that night the LORD said to Gideon, “Get up, go down against the camp, because I am going to give it into your hands.

10  If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah 11  and listen to what they are saying. Afterward, you will be encouraged to attack the camp.” So he and Purah his servant went down to the outposts of the camp. 12  The Midianites, the Amalekites and all the other eastern peoples had settled in the valley, thick as locusts. Their camels could no more be counted than the sand on the seashore.Gideon’s victory over the Midianites.

Judges 7:13-25 (NIV)
 13  Gideon arrived just as a man was telling a friend his dream. “I had a dream,” he was saying. “A round loaf of barley bread came tumbling into the Midianite camp. It struck the tent with such force that the tent overturned and collapsed.” 14  His friend responded, “This can be nothing other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands.” 15  When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he worshiped God. He returned to the camp of Israel and called out, “Get up! The LORD has given the Midianite camp into your hands.” 16  Dividing the three hundred men into three companies, he placed trumpets and empty jars in the hands of all of them, with torches inside. 17  “Watch me,” he told them. “Follow my lead. When I get to the edge of the camp, do exactly as I do. 18  When I and all who are with me blow our trumpets, then from all around the camp blow yours and shout, ‘For the LORD and for Gideon.'” 19  Gideon and the hundred men with him reached the edge of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just after they had changed the guard. They blew their trumpets and broke the jars that were in their hands. 20  The three companies blew the trumpets and smashed the jars. Grasping the torches in their left hands and holding in their right hands the trumpets they were to blow, they shouted, “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!” 21  While each man held his position around the camp, all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled. 22  When the three hundred trumpets sounded, the LORD caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords. The army fled to Beth Shittah toward Zererah as far as the border of Abel Meholah near Tabbath. 23  Israelites from Naphtali, Asher and all Manasseh were called out, and they pursued the Midianites. 24  Gideon sent messengers throughout the hill country of Ephraim, saying, “Come down against the Midianites and seize the waters of the Jordan ahead of them as far as Beth Barah.” So all the men of Ephraim were called out and they took the waters of the Jordan as far as Beth Barah. 25  They also captured two of the Midianite leaders, Oreb and Zeeb. They killed Oreb at the rock of Oreb, and Zeeb at the winepress of Zeeb. They pursued the Midianites and brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon, who was by the Jordan.

“The battle is the Lord’s” today. There is a need for people of deep faith and courage who will go out against the “giants” of today. The “giants” of today include: Worldliness. Compromise. Indifference. Lack of growth.

[1] Bible Exposition Commentary (BE Series) – Old Testament – The Bible Exposition Commentary – History.

 
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Posted by on November 3, 2016 in God

 

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