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TEXT: Judges 6-8
SUBJECT: Judges #7: Gideon
Today, with God's blessing, we will move on in our study of Judges and have a look at one of its most wonderful-and heartbreaking-stories. Its main human character is Gideon who is both a man of faith and of folly, a Judge who both saved the people-and ruined them.
Before we get to his story, however, let's remember what kind of book Judges is.
If you look at a Bible handbook, you'll find Judges under the heading of History. It is put there because it tells what happened in the past, roughly from the death of Joshua to the birth of Samuel. The story it tells is not complete, but it is true-and not only true, but also useful, both to the people who first read it and to us as well. The two main characters in the Book are God and Israel. The people are prone to backslide, and the Lord is merciful to backsliders, first in bringing them to their senses (through chastisement) and then back to Himself (by sending the Judges to save them). The old story, therefore, is not really old, is it? For we too are prodigal sons, and loved by a Father who knows how to bring us home.
The Book of Judges, therefore, is a history book telling what happened more than three thousand years ago on the other side of the world, while at the same time speaking a fresh word to God's people in every time and place. Including ours.
If you went to a Jewish bookstore and picked up a Bible handbook, you would not find Judges classified as history, but as Prophecy. Along with Joshua, Samuel, and Kings, it belongs to The Former (or, earlier) Prophets.
No one knows who wrote the Book, but we know he was a prophet because he spoke for the Lord, and not as ordinary preachers or teachers do, but he spoke infallibly-saying just what the Lord wanted him to say, and nothing more. Prophecy (in part) looks to the future, and that's what we have in Judges. While it offers no detailed predictions, it hints at the future on every page. Because, on every page, it teaches the Lord will deliver His people from their sin and misery by sending a Savior.
The saviors back then were men of God who foreshadowed to the Man who is God, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Of the Judges who appear in this Book, none points to our Lord better than Gideon, who is both His type and His antitype. Before we get to his story, however, let's have a look at why the Lord sent him. If it sounds familiar and dreary, it ought to!
Our story begins in the last line of Chapter 5-
And the land had rest for forty years.
A generation before, Israel had forsaken the Lord and worshiped the gods of the land. This so provoked their God that He put His people under the heel of Jabin, king of Canaan, and the general of his armies, a man called Sisera. These men, with their allies, harshly oppressed the Jews for twenty years. When Israel repented at last, the Lord sent Deborah and Barak to save them, which they did, and then ruled in peace and justice for forty years.
These were good times for Israel, but the people didn't like good times. What they liked was their idols! And so, once again,
The children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord.
I'm sorry for repeating myself so often, but the key words are in the sight of the Lord, for this means they worshiped their gods without shame or fear. They didn't care if the Lord saw what they were doing; they may even have taken a perverse delight in it, like a little boy giving the finger do his dad and daring him to do something about it!
This is how far things had sunk in Israel. What the Lord complained of centuries later, applies here too--
I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me. The ox knows its owner and the donkey its master's crib, but Israel does not know, My people do not consider.
If Israel was not thinking about the Lord, He was thinking about them. If they would not respond to His kindness or to the gentle prodding of His Word, He'll get their attention some other way. The way He chose to wake them up was the Midianites.
The Midianites descended from Midian who was a son of Abraham, and who, for a time, lived up to their heritage. Moses married a Midianite woman, her father gave him good advice, and her brother served as a guide through the wilderness. Israel and Midian were natural allies.
Until they betrayed God's people. Their king helped Balak hire Balaam to curse Israel. When that failed, their young women seduced the Jewish men to commit fornication and to worship their gods. Had Phineas not stopped them, they would have destroyed Israel, to the last man. The Midianites were long-standing and bitter enemies. And now, they're at it again.
To rub it in more, they invited the Amalakites to join them on their raids, along with unnamed people from the east.
Their oppression of Israel lasted for seven years and it was extremely bitter. Every spring the Jews would plant their fields, and every fall the Midianites would swarm like locusts, taking every ear of corn, head of cattle, and anything else they could eat or carry off. Things got so bad that the people had to hide in caves and squirrel away their food and wine and anything else they wanted to keep.
The enemies were not in one corner of Israel, but pretty much covered the whole land.
This was bitter medicine for the people to take, but it was also effective. After seven years of taking it.
The children of Israel cried out to the Lord.
Why did it take them so long? Why didn't they repent the moment they saw the Midianite armies crossing the border? Or, at least the first winter they did without? It took them so long to repent for the same reason it takes so long for you and me to do it: because they were stubborn, because they liked their sins, and because they hoped to have it both ways: they wanted blessings without obedience.
If their repentance was long in coming, at least it came. Has it come for you? If it hasn't, there's a Proverb you need to hear, 29:1-
He who is often reproved and hardens his neck, will suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.
Israel was nearly destroyed by its hardness of heart, but not quite. They finally cried out for mercy-and they got it-but first they got something else-
The Lord sent a prophet to the children of Israel, who said to them: 'Thus says the Lord God of Israel: I brought you up out of Egypt and out of the house of bondage; and I delivered you out of the hands of the Egyptians and out of the hands of all who oppressed you and drove them out before you and gave you their land. Also I said to you, I am the Lord your God; do not fear the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But you have not obeyed My voice'.
This seems slightly out of character for God. If the people are repenting of their sins, why is He rubbing it in? I'm not sure I can answer this, but I suspect the people were not seeking the Lord so much as they were seeking relief. Before they could have it, however, they had to come clean with God. Jeremiah 3:12-13 speaks to this effect-
'Return, backsliding Israel', says the Lord, 'and I will not cause My anger to fall on you, for I am merciful', says the Lord, 'and I will not remain angry forever. Only acknowledge your iniquity, that you have transgressed against the Lord your God.and you have not obeyed My voice' says the Lord.
The Word that came to Israel was entirely negative. God saved them from Egypt and gave them a land and they repaid Him by worshiping idols and willfully breaking His Law. That's what the prophet said! But there's more to what he said than what he said. The rebukes of heaven are laced with promise. When the Lord threatens to damn us, He does it so we will repent and not be damned. That's what He did for Nineveh (much to Jonah's aggravation), that's what He did in our text, and in our lives. He bruises only to heal.
If Israel is a prodigal, he is also a son. When the son cries to his Father, the Father answers him. The Lord is going to raise up a man to save His people. The man's name is Gideon.
Gideon is a poor farmer who is threshing wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites. While beating the grain fine, a man appears to him who is not a man. He is the Angel of the Lord whom I take to be the Lord Himself. The Man greets him with words that sound a lot like mockery-
The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor!
If the Lord is with us-Gideon sneers-how come He's not saving us?
He is saving you-the Man assures him-and He's doing it by.you!
Now Gideon knows the man is jesting, for he's a nobody in Israel. Which is just the sort of man God wants.
Something in the Man's tone of voice (maybe) gives Gideon pause. Maybe He is a Messenger from God. If He is, stay for supper!
The Man agrees, Gideon cooks the best meat he's got,bakes a loaf of unleavened bread, and brings it to the man who's now sitting up a big tree. The Man asks him to set the meat and bread on a rock and pour the gravy over it. This is not the usual way of serving dinner, but this is no dinner: it's a sacrifice.
The Man touches the food with His staff and fire comes out of the rock to burn it up. When Gideon turns back to the Man, He's gone, and now he's sure the Man was no man at all-
Alas, Lord God, for I have seen the Angel of the Lord face to face.
Since no man can see God and live, and Gideon has seen God, he feels he's going to die. But the Lord speaks to him (from heaven, it seems) and assures him he won't.
Gideon then builds an altar to the Lord calling it Jehovah-Shalom, that means 'the Lord is peace'.
Gideon, the nobody of nobodies, has been chosen by God to save his people from their sins.
Before he saves the nation from idolatry, however, he first has to save his own family. The Lord tells him to cut down his family's idol, build an altar to the Lord and offer his father's most expensive bull on it.
Gideon obeys the Lord, but being the man that he is, he does it in the dead of night-
Because he feared his father's household and the men of the city too much to do it by day.
A couple of lessons here: First, before you go about to set the Church or the world or the galaxy right, start with yourself and your family. The poet James Russell Lowell chided the reformers of his day who Set about reforming everyone but themselves.
A second lesson is a bit more encouraging: God uses cowards! If pigeons and turtledoves could be offered to Him, chickens can be too! I admire men like Joshua, David, and Paul, but I have a hard time relating to them. They never seemed afraid of anything-iron chariots, Philistine giants, angry mobs, Caesar! I don't have an ounce of that heroism in me! So it's good to know a man like Gideon can do something for the Lord too!
The next morning, Gideon's neighbors come to worship their idol and.it's cut to pieces! When they find out who did it, they intend to cut him to pieces, too, but his father stops them with a strong door and an even stronger argument-
If Baal is god, let him plead for himself!
From that day on, Gideon was nicknamed Jerubbaal-'Let Baal plead against him!'
While all this is happening in Gideon's hometown, the Midianites are gathering at the border to strip the land bare. When God sees them, His Spirit comes upon Gideon with great power. He blows a trumpet to gather the men from his town and sends messengers to some other tribes. Inspired by his boldness, the people come, 32,000 men answer the call to arms.
While they're marching to their general, the general is shaking in his boots (or sandals, as the case may be!). He knows what the Lord wants him to do, but he's not sure the Lord will be with him. This is plain and simple unbelief. Back in v.16, the Lord promised to be with him and give him victory. But that was days ago and maybe the Lord has changed His mind.
Gideon asks for a sign: a fleece is put out on the threshing floor. If the Lord is really with him, let the fleece be wet with dew and the ground dry. The next morning they were. Now the man is ready to rumble! Not quite. The next night he sets out the fleece again, and this time, it's got to be dry while the ground is wet. Okay.
How patient the Lord is with this fool! And not only this one, but with the fools in this room as well!
Fortified by these signs of God's presence and promise, Gideon is ready to play the man. For now. Later he loses his nerve and needs another sign (but we'll get to that later!).
When Gideon sees the army that has gathered to fight for him, he must have happy with the turnout. But the Lord isn't. 32,000 was not the number He was looking for. The Midianites are so many and fierce, He needs fewer men to win the war. He tells Gideon 'Send everyone home who is scared', and 22,000 take the offer and run.
Ten thousand are now left, and this number is also way too big. Why? Because if they win the war they'll think, well, they won the war. But this is God's war, not theirs!
The men are told to march down to the river and have a drink. Most of them lie flat on their bellies and drink straight from the river. A few others cup the water in their hands and drink with their heads up.
The 'few others' are chosen for the army. There are 300 of them. People have speculated on why they were chosen and what-if any significance-the way they drank water had in choosing them.
I believe their posture said something about the men. The men who put their heads down were not paying attention, while the men who kept their heads up were. Israel will beat the Midianites by surprising them. But surprising them depends on exact timing. And exact timing depends on keeping your head up!
9,700 men were sent home and the 300 must have wondered what they had gotten themselves into!
THE SWORD OF THE LORD
The Midianites, the Amalekites, and the People from the East had gathered in a valley not far from Gideon, and their numbers were staggering. When Gideon saw the armies, he nearly fainted, until God told him to sneak into a camp and listen in on a conversation the soldiers were having.
One man told his friend he had a dream in which a loaf of barley rolled into camp and knocked down the tent. What in the world could this mean? His friend replied-
This is nothing else than the sword of Gideon, the son of Joash, a man of Israel;for into his hand God has delivered Midian and the whole camp.
The conversation said two things: first, God had revealed Gideon's victory to his enemies, and secondly, they were scared out of their wits. At long last, Gideon believed the Lord and went back to his camp brimming with confidence.
The three hundred men were armed with three weapons: lamps, bugles, and swords. Over the lamps they put clay pots to hide the light. When Gideon gave the signal, they broke the pots (which must have made an awful racket), the lamps lit up the whole camp, the bugles sounded, and the men shouted-
The sword of the Lord and Gideon.
Panicked by the sudden noise and light, the men drew their swords and stared killing each other! As the Midianites fled, other Jews joined the in the rout and the oppressors of Israel were thrown out of the land once and for all.
But this is not all. The Israelites chased them past the Jordan River and kept plundering them till there was nothing left to plunder.
On that long chase, Gideon came to the Jewish cities of Succoth and Penuel, asking for food. Not knowing if he would win or not, they would give him none, and they would be punished for their indifference. The leaders of Succoth would be whipped with thorns and the tower of Penuel would be torn down on Gideon's return.
When he came back from the war, Gideon did both of the above, punishing the Lord's People for their sinful neutrality. They thought they could serve two masters, but nobody can do that. They are either for the Lord or against Him. In choosing to do nothing, they showed they were against Him. And the paid for it.
After all of this, the two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, were taken and executed by Gideon himself.
THE JUDGE AND THE JUDGE
In his great victory over the Midianites, Gideon was a forerunner of our Lord Jesus Christ. The similarities are not accidental.
They came when God's People were at their lowest point. The Midianites had made the land flowing with milk and honey into a wasteland. Sin had done even more damage to our souls. When things couldn't get any worse, God provided a Savior.
They were weak men from weak families and weak nations. But it was in their weakness that God showed His Almighty Power. Three hundred soldiers against tens of thousands in Gideon's day, and with our Lord it was one Man opposed by the whole human race and every devil in hell! Thus, it was not our Lord's strength that saved us-though He often showed it in life-but His weakness, in becoming the most helpless of men, a Man on the cross.
They defeated their enemies and disciplined their people. The Midianites, the Amalakites, and the People from the East were annihilated. But Gideon did not destroy the men of Succoth and Penuel (though they deserved it). He disciplined them and brought them to back to their first love.
These are three of the ways Gideon points us to Christ. But others way have to be noted too.
While part of Gideon's life was wonderfully successful, the other part was a huge failure. It starts-as it often does-with a victory. When the war was won, the people offered him a crown, which he firmly refuses-
I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the Lord shall rule over you.
These are stirring words, but they are not sincere. Near the end of the story, we find that Gideon had seventy sons. Now, how do you suppose a man fathers that many children? He does it with a harem, that's how! In the Orient of those days, what kind of man had a harem? A king.
While refusing the title, therefore, Gideon was living like a king. This is not speculation, for his sons thought his rule would fall to them when he died, and-to some degree-it did.
Don't misunderstand me: There is nothing wrong with a king for Israel. In fact, the Book of Judges is all about what happens to a people when they don't have a king! But the King would be chosen by God-and not elected by the people, no less self-appointed.
That's what Gideon had done, in effect: become a king.
Kings not only marry a lot of women, but they also set up monuments in their honor. Gideon did this, too. The enemies of Israel wore gold earrings, and as a reward for leading the charge, Gideon asked for them. He got more than sixty pounds of gold, and with it he.relieved the poor? No. He made an ephod, which is some kind of image. Before long both Gideon's family and the whole nation began worshiping it. 8:27 says it-
Became a snare to Gideon and to his house.
Gideon's folly reminds us that we don't just need a king, we need God's King. At their best, other kings are weak and foolish, and kings are seldom at their best. Lord Acton said,
Power tends to corrupt;
Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
There are exceptions to the rule, but so few they only prove it. Only One Being can be trusted with absolute power, and that Being is God. And this is who our Lord Jesus Christ is! The Nicene Creed calls Him,
Very God of very God.
If Gideon was a savior, he is not the Savior. That title belongs to someone else, to Jesus Christ, who will save you from enemies worse than Midian and give you a rest Gideon never could.
Therefore, I invite you to accept the mercy offered in the Gospel.
Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ,
And you will be saved.
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