Time of the Judges – Part 2
|By: Dr. Michael Easley; ©2005|
|In times of prosperity and adversity we learn who we are – and whether or not we will trust God.|
Time of the Judges – Part 2
This message was recorded at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, North Carolina. Through the ministry of The Cove we’re training people in God’s Word to win others to Christ. It’s our goal to develop Christians who experience God through knowing Him better, knowing His Word, building godly relationships and helping others know Him. We trust that this message will strengthen your walk with God and help you experience Him right where you are.
Dr. Michael Easley: Well, how many of you slept well last night? How many of you did not sleep well last night? You know, I’m with the latter category. When Cindy and I were first married we moved to Dallas. I went to graduate school in Dallas and we lived with Cindy’s oldest brother’s in-laws. Does that make sense? A sweet couple. They were retired and every morning they had this little exchange, Al and Pam. Pam would cook bacon and biscuits and eggs and oatmeal every morning. She was,… a healthy breakfast Cindy says, put a banana in your cereal. That’s how Cindy does it, but Pam would cook a full breakfast. She’d cook a full dinner and we would sit down and I got spoiled. But Pam would have this same exchange with her husband Al every morning. “Al, how’d you sleep?” “Well, I didn’t sleep too well.” “When’d you get up, Al?” “Oh, I don’t know.” “I know when you got up. You got up at 3:30. Al, you know what your problem is? You have a guilty conscience; that’s what your problem is.” And without a beat he would say, “Pam, you know the reason you can sleep? Cause you have a bad memory.” Every morning they had that exchange. It was really delightful to watch.
Jeremy mentioned, we’re going somewhere in a hand basket and that’s really my introduction this morning. We live in a cultural context, every generation does, where we wake up in the morning and listen to the news. I don’t know what you do, but I listen to the news when I shave my mug, and I get my blood pressure going that way. I don’t need caffeine; I just turn the news on and it does the same affect with less chemistry. And I go, “Lord, why aren’t You doing something about this?” I read some of my news sources this morning and I get, I just, it’s like you can’t make this stuff up. You just can’t make this stuff up.
When we’re in a conundrum we want to step back and ask the question: well, where is God in these situations; why isn’t He doing something, is my approach. But perhaps the better question is: what’s my response in a culture of sin, politics and war? And God’s not pacing heaven’s floor wringing His hands and staying awake at night. Now, it’s anthropomorphism; of course He doesn’t need sleep, but you understand what I’m saying. God’s not worried about the affairs of man. Yet, I am very worried about the affairs of man and I’m very worried. And I know worry’s a sin. Call me a sinner. I’ll admit it. You don’t have to tell me. But I worry a lot about our culture, our world, our politics. I worry about the sin that we have gotten ensconced into, and it concerns me greatly.
If you have your Bible open to Judges I want to read a couple of verses from chapter 3 to orient us, and then I want us to look at the life of a foiled and wonderful leader that we know very well, Gideon. But turn to Judges 3 to begin with, and I want to read verses 1, 2 and 4. Again, chapter 1 is a bit of a summary overview, and in chapter 3 we are given, we call this the purpose clause of the book of Judges. So in chapter 3, verse 1, “Now these are the nations which the Lord left, to test Israel (that is, all who had not experienced any of the wars of Canaan).” Remember all those 20 and older are dead when they come into the possession of the land under Joshua’s leadership. Verse 2: “(Only in order that the generations of the sons of Israel might be taught war, those who had not experienced it formerly.)”
Now, you have to choke this down. God is saying the reason for the way the land is going to be occupied; He leaves these people groups in place lest the cities be overrun with foliage and animals and the buildings degraded. He leaves the cities intact with the Canaanite population groups and little by little they’re going in and fight and defeat and run them off. Jeremy and I had good conversation last night afterwards about, were they always exterminated or did God run them off? Probably both. And sometimes they would flee. But the point of it was to test Israel in order to teach them war.
And when you think of what they call dirty boots,… Any of you serve in the military? I love vets. Thank you, men and women, for your service to our country. I have the greatest respect; living in DC for that time just made me love the military so much. And we have this issue of dirty boots. And we don’t have men and women who are getting rank and flag and honor now who wear dirty boots. Now we do with Afghan and Afghanistan and Iraq and so forth, but for about a decade there we didn’t have dirty boots, so we were putting mostly men in flag positions, some women who had not had combat on the ground, dirty boots experience. And that was a very big concern for those in the defense world. And we see it in antiquity. You don’t know what you have, and you are going to have to fight your way and claw your way to get this land. “Now I’m going to be with you and I’m going to help you succeed.” But He’s going to teach them war.
Drop down to verse 4: “They were there,” and we’ve skipped over the listing of the Philistines and the Canaanites and Sidonians. Verse 4: “They were for testing Israel, to find out if they would obey the commandments of the Lord which He had commanded their fathers through Moses. The sons of Israel lived among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, the Jebusites; and they took their daughters for themselves,” and it starts the spiral down. So the purpose of the book of Judges is to teach the younger generation war. And not just how to kill people, but to teach them if you obey God at His command He will give you this land incrementally as you go through it.
And we’re going to see in our story today of an amazing way where Gideon’s men shed very little blood and dispossessed a huge population, a fierce army, because they do what God instructed. And one of the wonderful parts about the Bible: you rarely, if ever, find God doing the same thing the same way. He does it a different way. He always sort of puts man off.” Well, I know God’s led me this far and probably it will work this way.” Maybe not so much. Maybe it’ll work a new and different way.
Now, the Gideon cycle which begins in chapter 6 is the longest of the entire record in the book of Judges; Samson is a few verses shy. But the story of Gideon is one that we all know a great deal about. Gideon is a story of success that leads to failure. It’s a story of God choosing a man who has great courage, but also great conceit. And we want to get a little bit of the forest before we look at the trees. Over 100 verses in the Gideon account.
Israel has been punished with sin in a miserable way. It surpassed the previous discipline at this point, and they’re living in caves and in hollers and in holes in the ground. And it’s a picture of how bad things are. They’re living in the dirt. They have fled to the mountains, if you will. And the Judean wilderness is not a pleasant forest environment where there are plush opportunities. It’s a very difficult place to live. The deeper they go into sin the heavier God’s hand, which is still true today I believe. So they incline their heart to idolatry and to Baal worship.
And the Baal worship is, not to be too graphic, but the gods of Baal and Ashtaroth were basically phallic symbols, male and female sexual symbols. And Baal was the fertility god and his sperm would fertilize the land and give it crops. And it was the consort of Baal and the Ashtaroth that the Canaanites believed in. And so that’s where they’re getting co-opted, and that’s why God doesn’t want them intermarrying with the Canaanites, because they’re going to not just their gods, but the immoral relationship with these gods. And in chapter 6, verses 1 and following, “The sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.” And I refer you to that card again. I’ve got every time on there that phrase,… on the back there. You’ll see, “they did what was evil in the sight of the Lord,” and so each one of those is another time we see the cycle reengaging in the story line.
So here we are in the sixth chapter when “they did evil in the Lord; and the Lord gave them into the hands of Midian seven years. The power of Midian prevailed against Israel. Because of Midian the sons of Israel made for themselves dens which were in the mountains and caves and the strongholds.” If you’ve been to Masada in Israel, it’s a Hebrew gloss. It’s matsad, and the word means stronghold or high place. And if you travel there and walk around there are hundreds of caves that they’ve uncovered, probably many, many more that can hold a few people to hundreds of people. And so these strongholds were all through the Judean wilderness. And so they’re living in these strongholds and caves.
“For it was when Israel had sown that the Midianites would come up along with the Amalekites.” So the Midianites and the Amalekites conspire against Israel. And verse 4, “They would camp against and destroy the produce of the earth as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel, no sheep, ox or donkey. They would come with their livestock, their tents, and look like locusts for number, and their camels were innumerable; and they came into the land and devastated it. And Israel was brought very low because of Midian.”
You just plant a crop; you just plant the herd. I don’t know about your area, but we have deer in Brentwood, and there’s no predator for deer in Brentwood and Franklin. They’re all over the place, wild turkeys are everywhere. It’s kind of like here when you drive around. And if you have a garden you’re just feeding the deer. That’s all you’re doing. Well, you multiply that times your crops and herds being destroyed and decimated and so we have the picture being set up for when we’re going to meet Gideon.
Verse 6, they were brought low, “and the sons of Israel cried out to the Lord.” This is the cry and the cycle. They’re crying out to God. Verse 7: “Now it came about when the sons of Israel cried to the Lord on account of Midian, the Lord sent a prophet to the sons of Israel.” He’s unnamed. We don’t know anything about him. “And he said to them, ‘Thus says the Lord your God, “It was I who brought you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of slavery. I delivered you from the hands of the Egyptians and from the hands of all your oppressors, and dispossessed them before you and gave you their land, and I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you lived. But you have not obeyed Me.’”’” We’re reminded again this is the same song, 18th verse. I told you this, I told you this, I told you this, and I told you when you disobeyed Me there’d be consequences and you would be under the hand of the scourge of the Midianites.
Now we introduce Gideon. “Then the angel of the Lord,” and again I take this as a theophany or a Christophany, meaning a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ. When He wrestled with Jacob, when He shows up and talked with Abram, these are pre-incarnate appearances of Jesus. And the definitive article “the angel of the Lord” is generally a clue that this is Jesus. “The angel of the Lord came and sat under the oak which is at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press in order to save it from the Midianites.”
Just a quick pause there. Again, how many of you have been to Israel? You’ve seen wine presses and olive presses, okay. The olive presses are a little different. Wine presses were larger, and the imagery here is to show how impoverished and bad things are. That he’s gleaning out a little wheat, there’s no wine. There are no grape harvests to make wine.
And probably under the cover of where this particular wine press was, Gideon, who’s a warrior—and I don’t mean this to be chauvinistic—is doing woman’s work. This is how bad it’s gotten that he’s just getting a little wheat, beating it out in an abandoned wine press because there are no grapes, there are no vineyards. They’ve been destroyed. And it’s a picture of basically a gleaner, someone who’s just trying to get by on a little handful of grain so that they can live. And so we have this, this great warrior is doing women’s work just to try to survive. And not meant to be chauvinistic, just to give a picture of how bad things are as they’re hiding in caves.
“The angel of the Lord appeared to him,” verse 12, and “the Lord is with you O valiant warrior.” And there’s the comedy. What’s a warrior doing beating out wheat in an abandoned wine press? “Then Gideon said to him, ‘O my Lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us?’”
Back to my question: why are things the way they are? Why is our political, not just our country, but the world in such upheaval? Why has the Brotherhood taken over Egypt? We had a malevolent dictator for how many years prior to him and it’s gotten worse. It’s going to get worse in Syria. It will get worse in Lebanon. It will not get better. This is not going to calm down. It is going to get worser and worser. And Gideon asks the same question we ask. I find comfort in there’s nothing new. The world hates God. Why should we think it’d be any different?
Notice He says in verse 12, Jesus says, “The Lord is with you.” Gideon says in verse 13, “If the Lord is with us,…” Don’t miss that. He continues, “Where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about?” I heard the rumors. I’ve heard the stories. I haven’t seen it happen. “Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt? But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hands of Midian.”
Do you think that you feel that way sometimes about your country? “Where is God?” I remember when the revivals were happening in Korea. I think it was Billy Graham— probably someone here could correct me—who said that the Holy Spirit had left the United States and moved to the Asian people; not literally, but it’s a good picture, because we saw all these Asian people groups coming to Christ like crazy during that period of time. And the burned-over district of the United States doesn’t care anymore, as Jeremy put it so well.
Verse 14: “The Lord looked at him,…” It’s quite chilling; you might have in your margin a little note there by the word “looked” and it’s “turned.” And you can almost see this, in my sanctified imagination, the angel of the Lord walking and talking. Gideon’s down on the ground beating out wheat looking up, having this interchange. He doesn’t know who the guy is. He’s just having a caring conversation and the Lord turns and looks at him. It’s a chilling passage to me. “He looked at him and said, ‘Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you?’ He said, “Then my Lord, how shall I deliver Israel? Behold, my family is the last in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father’s house.’ But the Lord said to him, ‘Surely I will be with you.’”
There’s the word again, if you’re a Bible note taker; verse 12, verse 13 and verse 16. “I will be with you, and you shall defeat Midian as one man.” Note, if you and I understood that God is with us how would it affect our daily interactions with our kids, our grandchildren, our work, the nonbelieving world, if I really understood He is with me? He is. He’s with you in your practice, in your job, your teacher, your retirement, your relationship with your kids, your grandkids, your neighbors, your hobbies. He’s with you. Would it reframe the way you and I look at our lives if we understood that?
“Gideon said to Him, ‘If now I have found favor in Your sight, then show me a sign that it is You who speak with me. Please do not depart from here, until I come back to You,’” and he’s going to prepare an offering. In verse 19, “He went and prepared a young goat, unleavened bread,” so forth. Verse 20: “The angel of the Lord said, ‘Take the meat and unleavened bread and lay them on this rock, and pour the broth.’ He did so. The angel of the Lord put out the end of his staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened bread; and the fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened bread. And the angel of the Lord vanished from his sight. And Gideon saw that he was the angel of the Lord, and said, ‘Alas, O Lord God! Now I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face.’ The Lord said to him,” and obviously now he’s either referring back to what happened or he says in absence, he hears a voice, “‘Peace to you,’ shalom, ‘do not fear; you shall not die.’ Gideon built an altar there and to the Lord and named it “The Lord is Peace,” shalom, Yahweh, “And to this day it is there.”
Verse 25, “The same night the Lord said to him, ‘Take your father’s bull’” —there’s a lot of jokes about that phrase—“Take your father’s bull and a second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal which belongs to your father.’” Time out! Gideon’s father is what? A Baal worshiper. “Take the bull and another bull, tear down your father’s altar.” And you’ve got to love the justice here. “Cut down the Asherah pole,” and that would be the pornographic pole of the god Asherah. Let’s leave it at that. “And build an altar to the Lord your God on top of the stronghold in an orderly manner, and take the second bull as a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah.” So you’re going to cut down the idol of the Asherah and use it for fire to burn this bull to Me.
“Then Gideon took ten men and the servants as the Lord had spoken to him because he was too afraid of his father’s household, the men in the city to do it by day, he did it by night.” I don’t hold him in contempt for that. He still did it; and I think the lesson is he was afraid but he obeyed. Sometimes it’s hard to obey. We’re fearful. You’re not going to die. I’m going to do something through you, but it doesn’t take the fear away.
Verse 28: “And the men of the city arose in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was torn down, the Asherah which was beside it was cut down, the second bull they offered on the altar had been built. They said, ‘Who did this thing?’ And when they searched and inquired they said, ‘Gideon, the son of Joash.’ So the men in the city went to Joash, “Bring out your son that he may die, for he’s torn down the altar of Baal, and indeed, he’s cut down,…” and this is his own altar. I mean, you’ve got see a little; this is just snotty. I mean, let’s just call it what it is. It’s a little snotty. This is his backyard, not theirs, but they’re all in an uproar about it.
Well, Joash as we might said, has had a “come to Jesus” moment in the night. Verse 31: “He said to all who stood against him, ‘Will you contend for Baal, or will you deliver him? Whoever will plead for him shall be put to death by morning. But if he is a god, let him contend for himself, because someone has torn down his altar.’” He got a great education in that 24 hour period. If he’s really Baal, then Baal can take care of himself. And then we get the phrase “Jerubbaal,” the one who contended with Baal or the Baal contender. And that becomes Gideon’s nickname as the story progresses.
Verse 33: “Let him contend with God. Then all the Midianites,” verse 33, “and the Amalekites and the sons of the east assembled.” Now we’ve got troops amassing. “And they crossed over and camped in the valley Jezreel.”
Two things I did need to tell you: the valley of En-Harod and the valley of Jezreel are still there today. And for those of you who haven’t been to Israel, it is God’s will to go to Israel before He returns because you need a preview of what it used to look like so you’ll see what it’s like in the new kingdom. But you go to Israel and we take you to En-Harod and we take you to the Jezreel Valley on a couple of times. The En-Harod we know is the spring of Gideon because you can’t move springs. And the valley of Jezreel is the valley of Jezreel because you can’t move a valley as big as Jezreel.
And these were two very important militaristic places. And so we take groups all the way over to En-Harod. In fact, last year, it’d been closed for about a year and half, two years while they were updating it. And I took a group last year and we had pulled it off the tour and I said, “Would you call them and just see if the Ministry of Tourism had opened it up?” And they said, “Well, they haven’t technically, but it’s open today.” We were the first bus in; it was so sweet. We were the first bus in to go see En-Harod and it is; you know the story too well. But we got to go to En-Harod. So these are geographic places today that we could say you know, this is Washington DC and the Potomac. They haven’t moved. They’re still there to this day and it gives great credibility.
And when you see the Jezreel Valley, what’s known as the King’s Highway, this would be, when you travel anywhere that doesn’t have a road system you travel in the easiest place to walk. So valleys or beside river beds or wadis they’re called, wide bottom dried out gulches, that’s where. You don’t travel up in the heights and the crags and the highlands. You go where the trails are. And so there’s a natural land formation known as the King’s Highway or the International Highway where you go north and south through the land of Israel. And the Jezreel Valley is a big part of that.
It’s a very fertile place even to this day. They have tilapia farms. They grow all sorts of grains and crops there along with fish. It’s a gorgeous area and it’s strategically a very important military vantage point because if you have a height advantage over a valley, if you’re at Megiddo, Har-Megiddo looking over the Jezreel Valley you can see the troops coming. And if you’ve got troops in the valley you control when the enemy approaches with spot, with your spotters keeping that valley safe.
So this is a massive group of troops, verse 33. Verse 34: “The Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon; he blew a trumpet and the Abiezrites were called together to follow him. He sent messengers throughout Manasseh, and called them together and he sent messengers to Asher, Zebulun, Naphtali,” so the tribes respond and they come. Verse 36: “Gideon said to God, ‘If You will deliver Israel through me, as You’ve spoken, behold I will put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor.”
Now, let me just talk a little bit about this fleece principle. One of the challenges,… let me ask it this way. How many of you have heard the expression, or maybe yourself have said. “I put a fleece before the Lord?” And we talked about the fleece. Now, that’s all fine, well and good. John Hannah, who’s a professor at Dallas Seminary where I attended had a wry expression. He said, I’m going to write a book one day called Misapplied Verses God Has Greatly Blessed. And this is one that I put up at the top there. The fleece is not something that we apply today. The fleece is the idea, a sheep skin was laid out, and you know the story. It’s wet one day and dry the next.
But let’s back up. Was God unclear about what He had told Gideon? Was Gideon unclear about it? So before we lay a fleece of some, you know, “I don’t know what to do. I’m going to lay fleece.” You know what to do. Gideon knew what to do. So I think the application of a fleece is a bad application. And if it worked out and God blessed it, God blessed a misapplied verse. But it’s not contextually or a biblical principle what we would ever lay a fleece. Now if God told you and He appeared to you and told you something and we didn’t commit you for it, and you know there were some other tests we might digress into, then maybe we could, you know, talk about a fleece. But it doesn’t happen that way.
The fleece lesson to me is God was kind to Gideon even when Gideon knew what to do. He was scared. He was afraid and God was kind. And I tie that back together; you will not die, go in peace, do what I’ve told you to do. It’s going to be alright. But we’re still afraid.
One of the things I often tell our congregation when I try to engage this culture, Jeremy’s reference to stand up again. Why is the only thing you can vilify Christianity today? God help you if you say something bad about the Qur’an, but you can put Robert Mapplethorpe’s art on display in the New York Museum of Pornography with the crucifix and no one’s going to riot in the streets. No one’s going to put bonfires in front of the Met. No one’s going to throw rocks and pelt the police and set a flag on fire.
I don’t think American’s are cowards or stupid or whatever. I think it’s the nature of Christianity that we will be persecuted. And I’m not saying we’ve become civilly disobedient. We might have to one day. Right now I think we don’t need to, but maybe one day we do when they tell me I can’t explain this Book and talk to you about it, when they tell Jeremy he can’t sing songs to Jesus, when they tell us we can’t assemble and they intrude into our homes and churches, then I’ll be one of the first to stand up and civilly disobey. And I’ll see how many in the 4,000 front will follow, all eight of us. It has a way of thinning the ranks, doesn’t it? But I do believe you can be gentle and firm and smile and speak the truth.
I was talking to a city official some time ago over in another state and he said he’d become a City Council, and a palm reader wanted to open a shop in this particular municipality. And he was an attorney and he was the one who actually read the city codes, and the city code said that you can’t have witchcraft or divination or this type of thing in the town, an old city charter of course. And so he goes to the city attorney and he says, “Look, you know, we can stop this little shenanigan.” And he says, “Oh, that’s too controversial. We can’t do that. We can’t do that.” He says, “No, it says right here you cannot, they can fight the law if they want, but we can apply this law.” “No, it’ll be unpopular. We need to let them alone.” He goes, “I don’t think we should do that.” So the city attorney wouldn’t help the elected councilman support the law.
And the new councilman just thought, he was naïve enough, so he says, “I even went and had this big meeting and, you know, hundreds of people come out for these meetings.” And he said the attorney and the proprietor who wanted to open this occult Wiccan, palm reading shop stood up and talked about their plans. And he said, “I just read the statute. I read it out loud. And I looked at the client and his attorney and they talked a few words and they said, ‘We withdraw our proposal.’” And it was over. That simple!
Now it doesn’t always work that simple. We know that, but where are the men and women who speak the truth, who are gentle and firm and smile? We, a number of us, have friends around the country who are in political office, and Christian officials take a beating like you wouldn’t imagine. And they say some dumb things sometimes, no doubt. But if we don’t support them, who will? And if we don’t support them, why can we expect someone else to go run? And I’m not a dominion theology guy. I don’t think if we get more and more Christians in office it’s all going to be happy and hunky-dory. But I sure want more and more believers, men and women who have fiber and believe the God of His Word and stand for principles and morality and decency and fairness and justice and the rule of law and the judicial branches we have, the executive legislature. I want men and women who are going to fight for those things. And if we don’t somehow smile and be gentle and firm and kind and don’t back down, then mea culpa on us.
So the story of the fleece to me is not so much the literal application there, and the fleece is never found again in the Bible. But I do think it is a good reminder that God is kind to us when we’re afraid, even when we know what we need to do.
Well, the army; let’s jump over to chapter 7. What are we going to do? “Jerubbaal,” the one that contended with Baal, “(that is Gideon) and all the people who were with him,” chapter 7, “rose early and camped beside the spring of Harod.” I should have brought pictures. “And the camp of Midian was on the north side of them at the hill of Moreh in the valley. The Lord said to Gideon, ‘The people with you are too many for Me to give Midian into your hands, for Israel would become boastful, saying, “My power has delivered me.” Now therefore come, proclaim in the hearing of the people whoever is afraid and trembling let him return and depart.’ 22,000 people returned.” That’s pretty significant. They’re gone. We’re out of here. I’m done. I’m going home.
“10,000 remained. The Lord said to Gideon, ‘There are still too many; bring them down to the water and I will test them there. Therefore it will be that of he whom I say “This is the one,” he shall go with you; everyone whom I say, “This one shall not go.”’” Verse 5, “He brought them down to the water and the Lord said to Gideon, ‘You shall separate everyone who laps the water with his tongue as a dog laps, and everyone who kneels to drink.’”
And again, it’s a simple imagery, and when you go to spring of En Harod and the water is still coming up out of there, there’s these interesting snails, little black snails. I’ve been going for, I don’t know, 14 now years, little black snails. They’re all over the one indigenous area, but, and we always illustrate it. We get down and the one who, you know, the old western, and the guy throws his head in the ground and then drinks like, versus the one, you know, cups it and brings it up like this. And I think we push the Bible sometimes too far. Was that because they were warriors and they’re keeping watch on things? That’s how it’s typically explained. The others were just so thirsty they dove in. In my sanctified imagination, I think they’re all still significantly scared and I think those guys are on the lookout. They’re on the lookout going “I’m keeping my eye peeled here just in case somebody comes.” We can’t know for sure and we can be guilty of over reading into the text.
Verse 7: “The Lord said, ‘I will deliver you with 300 men who lapped.’” And so God uses this interesting way to thin the herd. Verse 9, “The same night came about the Lord said to him, ‘Arise, go down against the camp, for I have given it into your hands.’” Done deal. You’re not going to die. You’re going to go in peace. This is going to work. It’s a done deal. Verse 10: “But if you are afraid, go with Purah your servant, go down to the camp, and you will hear what they say.’” Now this is one of the greatest stories in all the Bible to me. The Midianites are camped by the hundreds of thousands along with the Amalekites against this now small band of 300 men with Gideon.
Alright, so verse 11, he went down with Purah his servant. Verse 12: “The Midianites and the Amalekites and all the sons of the east were lying as numerous as locusts, their camels without number, as numerous as the sand on the seashore.” Some of you have seen these movies where they use computer graphic interface imagery and they make these, you know, like Lord of the Rings. I mean, you can’t count them, the hundreds of thousands. And that’s in my mind what it would be like. They come up over this cliff and as far as they can see, campfires and camels and troops, and, I mean, you know it’d be scary.
And so here’s Gideon with Purah and they’re peering over the side. And then, lo and behold, verse 13, “When Gideon came, a man was relating a dream to his friend. He said, ‘Behold, I had a dream; a loaf of barley bread was tumbling into the camp of Midian and it came to the tent and struck it so that it fell and turned it upside down so the tent lay flat.’ And his friend replied, ‘This is nothing less than the sword of Gideon, the son of Joash, the man of Israel; God has given Midian and all the camp into his hand.’”
Now stop! What are the chances of just happen to crawl up a particular knoll at a particular time of night and he and Purah, looking over this, you know, innumerable group of enemies, and they hear this story related to them? I mean, if this didn’t encourage them; this is what I call a class A miracle; right time, right place, end of story. And this crazy dream that this guy interprets, and even named him, “And, oh by the way, it’s Gideon, the son of Joash,” lest there be another Gideon we might confuse him with.
Verse 15: “Gideon heard the account of the dream and its interpretation, he bowed in worship.” Don’t miss it. Don’t miss it. He bowed and worshiped, verse 15. I can see his hand in the dirt, his face in the dirt. He’s crawled up the knoll. He’s overlooking the area of the Jezreel Valley; just had their fill of water below, and he puts his head in the ground and says,… What did he say? “Why did I doubt? Why am I afraid? What more could You tell me? You showed up. You consumed the offering. You told me I wouldn’t die. You told me to go in peace. You told me to destroy my father’s altar, nothing happened to me. I contended with Baal. They give me a nickname ‘the Baal contender.’ I kind of like that after all. I kind of like that. (mumbles) I’m the Baal contender. You used me to do that.”
I’m going to take you in; you’re going to destroy your enemy that’s destroying the land. But you can’t do it with a lot of people. We’re going to use a pocket full of people. And if you’re afraid, oh the fleece. Okay, one more time, Lord, the fleece, dry this time, wet that time. Okay, I’ll give it to you. If you’re still afraid Gideon, go up. And he bowed and worshiped. I think God is incredibly kind to this valiant warrior, nevertheless, he’s human and he’s afraid.
“He returned to the camp,” verse 15, “of Israel and said, ‘Arise, for the Lord has given the camp of Midian into your hands.’ He divided the 300 men into three companies, trumpets, empty pictures and torches.”
And again, we know the story well; let’s just sort of summarize it. Whether the torches were on fire in the pitchers or not is a bit of logistics question. Either the pitchers were really big or something. Some believe the pitchers were just carrying the torches until such a time they had lit them. But you’ve got a little bit of a problem because they’ve only got 300 people and they’ve got to spread out with the appearance that they’re leading, let’s say, at least 100, if not 1,000 warriors, because that’s the intimidation factor of what God’s using is deceit and trickery on Israel’s part. Come at night; you come with these torches. We’re going to crash the torches which are going to sound like a lot of noise coming and they’re going to all be shouting, “The sword of the Lord and Gideon, the sword of the Lord and Gideon.” And then the troop, as you know, will turn on each other and fight.
So let’s jump to the story, verse 20, the last part, “‘A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!’ Each stood in his place around the camp; the army ran, crying as they fled. They blew the 300 trumpets, the Lord set the sword of one against another throughout the whole army.” So they’re friendly fire. They’re killing one another as the Israelites are blowing the trumpets, breaking crockpots and holding torches.
Verse 23: “The men of Israel were summoned from Naphtali, Asher and all Manasseh,” and now we have the tribes. “They pursued Midian. Gideon sent messengers throughout all the hill country of Ephraim saying, ‘Come down against Midian, take the waters before them, as far as Beth-barah and the Jordan.’ All the men of Ephraim were summoned, they took the waters as far as Beth-barah and the Jordan. They captured the two leaders, Oreb, and Zeeb, and they killed,” the irony here is rich, “They killed Oreb on the rock of Oreb, and they killed Zeeb in the wine press of Zeeb.”
The barley loaf is an imagery of there’s not enough food for them to eat. And so this guy has a dream that there’s so much abundance, this huge loaf comes down and destroys them. You’re trying to destroy their grain and keep them from survival. A huge loaf of bread’s going to come down and destroy you. You’re beating out a wine press; I’m going to kill you with the wine press because you have taken away our vineyards. And so there’s a lot of talionic justice, eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth. What you did to us we’re going to do in greater return. And the next account of Gideon we see him taking some interesting, I would call liberties with that, but we must move on.
Chapter 8. When success becomes failure yet again. “The men of Ephraim said, ‘What is this thing you have done, by not calling us when you fight against Midian?’ and they contended,” and here’s the irony, same word, Baal contender; now the Jews, if you will, are contending with their own people.
Now, I’m not going to go into this text in detail, but basically what they’re saying is, “You didn’t call us to the fight. Why didn’t you call us to the fight?” Now I think one of the principles of this whole passage is you’ve got a valiant warrior who’s beating out wheat and he’s afraid. “Who am I? The least of these, I’m the youngest one.” And God says, “I’m going to use you. You won’t die. Go in peace. This is going to work because I’m going to be with you. I’ll be with you. I’ll be with you. I’ll be with you.” And He assures him of that. And then He says you can’t go with 30,000 warriors. We’re going to take 22,000 away. We’re going to take another; now we’re down to 300. We don’t want you to have the pride to think that Israel did this on their own. We want you to know that Yahweh did it through you and you’re trusting Yahweh.
And now they’re kvetching because they weren’t invited to the ball. Isn’t that the way it works? Leadership, no matter how it’s executed, always has critics. You can win the war and loose diplomacy in the same time. They defeated Midian. They defeated the Amalekites. They defeated the marauders who were destroying their crops and ruining their vineyards and taking their flocks, and they’re kvetching because they weren’t invited to the war party.
Now what we do see in Gideon here is a stroke of genius in his diplomacy in the first few verses, but I want to jump to verse 4. The 300 men are crossing the Jordan and they’re pursuing; weary, yet pursuing. Notice that phrase in verse 4. They’re tired, but they’re still fighting. He comes to Succoth and he wants bread and they won’t give him bread because they fear that if they don’t destroy Zebah and Zalmunna the kings of Midian, they’re going to come back and the backlash is you helped Gideon and we’ll kill you for your assistance of Gideon.
And so verse 7, “Gideon says, ‘Alright, when the Lord has given Zebah and Zalmunna into my hands, I will thrash your bodies with the thorns of the wilderness and briers.’” And this is where we start seeing Gideon get a little edgy. He’s done very well up to this point. “He went there to Penuel,” or some of your Bibles say Peniel, “and spoke similarly to the men of Penuel.” And they answered the same thing, basically. And he says, “When I return, I’ll tear down this tower.” So you won’t feed us; I’m going to come back and drag you through the briers. You think you’re something and we’re not going to win. That tower you think you’ve built, made a name for you, I’m going to come back and destroy your tower. So Gideon’s getting a little bit juiced up here, let’s say.
Verse 10: “Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor,” and we get the list of it. Verse 11, “Gideon went up by the way of those who lived in tents and the camp was unsuspecting.” Verse 13: “Gideon the son of Joash returned from the battle by the ascent of Heres. And they captured a youth from Succoth.” And there’s a lot written about this young man. The best Old Testament scholars believe he was probably an accountant or a city official of some kind because he knew the leaders, the 70 elders of the city, 77. Some Bibles say 70. And he writes down the list of this. Remember in George W. Bush’s time we had the cards, the deck of cards looking for, these are the bad guys. Well, we’ve got the 70 cards and here they are in the Old Testament. Nothing new under the sun. So they go after these leaders.
Verse 16: “He took the elders of the city, and through the thorns of the wilderness and briers, he disciplined them, and the men of Succoth. He tore down the tower of Penuel,” just like he said, “and he killed the men of the city. And he said to Zebah and Zalmunna, ‘What kind of men were they whom you killed at Tabor?’ He said, ‘They’re just like you, resembling the son of a king.’” This will come into play in a minute. “He said, ‘They were my brothers, and the sons of my mother. As the Lord lives, if only you had let them live, I would not kill you.” And he asked his firstborn to do the deed. He can’t do it. Verse 21: “Zebah and Zalmunna say, ‘Rise up yourself and fall on us; as a man.’ So Gideon arose and killed Zebah and Zalmunna, and took the crescent ornaments which were around the camels’ necks.”
Don’t read too much into it, but the crescent ornament is still used today by Islam. It is used, of course this predates much, long, long before Islam was around, but the crescent is an Arabic, an old, you know, even in South Carolina still uses it. Whenever I see that I always look twice, you know. Sorry for the digression.
Twenty-two: “The men of Israel said to Gideon, ‘Rule over us, both you and your son, also your son’s son.’” They liked the guy. “But Gideon said to them, ‘I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the Lord shall rule over you.’” Oh, if it just stopped here! Oh, if it just stopped here! We give him a little slack for getting mad at Penuel, but it doesn’t stop. But that verse 23, if they’d just stayed there, that would be the high point of the book of Judges. It’s not about me. God is your King. God is your Judge. I’m a temporary tool of the Master. I’m a temporary judge to goad you into action and into warfare because you wouldn’t do it. You wouldn’t obey Him and you consorted with all the Canaanites and inter-married your daughters and got involved in idolatry and you forgot the ways of the Lord, your God, so I’m going to take you into war.
Why? Why did we begin? To teach you to trust God, not to be a great warrior. You can’t fight these people on your terms. They’ll destroy you. If you live in sin, you’ll be destroyed. If you do it My way, with My judge I’ll take you through it. I want to be your judge, we might paraphrase God saying. Let Me be your judge. Obey Me. Follow Me. I’ll protect you. We’ll go into the land. You’ll succeed. You’ll nibble away at it. You’ll get cities and vineyards and homes you didn’t build and crops you didn’t plant and trees you didn’t plant and you’ll have the fat of the land and I’ll give it to you if you’ll obey Me and do it My way; you’ll live in peace. If you’re not going to do it that I’ll have to take you through the hard way. You’re going to have to fight. It’s going to be scary, but I’ll be with you and you’ll succeed if you do it My way.
Oh, if it had stopped in verse 23! “Yet Gideon said to them, ‘O, I would request you, each of you give me an earring from his spoil.’ (They had gold earrings, because of the Ishmaelites.)” That’s another story. “They said, ‘Surely we will give them to you.’ They spread out a garment, every one of them threw,” I mean, wouldn’t you be willing to give a little token to the judge who…? I mean, of course you’d give him a few bucks; he helped us out.
Well, there are a lot of people involved as we’re going to see. This man becomes a millionaire in our terminology in a few minutes. “Surely we will give them. The weight of the gold earrings he requested was 1,700 shekels of gold.” We won’t do the calculations, but let’s just say he was a millionaire. “Besides the crescent ornaments and the pendants and the purple robes which were on the kings of Midian.” Why did they take the king’s garb? For only one reason. Yeah, you don’t take the king’s garb. You kill the king and bury him in them, melt the silver and gold down, maybe.
Verse 27: “Gideon made it into an ephod, and placed in his city, Ophrah, and all Israel played the harlot with it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his household. Midian was subdued before the sons of Israel, they did not lift up their heads anymore. And the land was undisturbed for forty years.” So even in spite of Gideon’s choice at the end, they have 40 years of rest.
“Jerubbaal,” that’s Gideon, the one who contended with Baal, “the son of Joash went and lived in his own house. He had seventy sons which were his direct descendants, he had many wives. His concubine who was in Shechem also bore him a son,” Shechem is a big long story for another seminar, “And he named him Abimelech.” You know what “Abimelech” means? Melech, Melchizedek, melek, “m-l-k” means king. “Abi,” you hear the name “Abi” in Jewish name, “Abi” means the son of or a child, or if you want to paraphrase it, “my daddy is the king.” He names his boy “my daddy is the king,” Abimelech. You see that purple robe and those crescents and that gold and that ephod become a trap and a snare even to, “now I did contend with Baal. I did go tear down my father’s altar and cut of the Asherah and burned it down.”
And I suspect the stories got bigger and bigger. “And I put that fleece out and God answered it. We went up on, we heard that story on the ridge and we went to 300 men and God delivered us with 300 men and I don’t want to be the king. I don’t want to be the king. But give me a little gold, give me a little gold.” And the licentiousness or playing the harlot with it; they’ve done this before, haven’t they. How many days out of the exodus did they make a golden calf? And it’s always a snare and always a trap, and it’s a tragic end.
And it gets worse. “Then Gideon, the son of Joash died at a ripe old age and was buried in the tomb of his father Joash, in Ophrah of the Abiezrites. Then it came about as soon as Gideon was dead, that the sons of Israel again played the harlot with the Baals and made Baal-berith their god. And the sons of Israel did not remember the Lord their God, who had delivered them from the hands of their enemies on every side; nor did they show kindness to the household of Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) in accord with all the good that he had done to Israel.” Success becomes failure.
A number of lessons for you and me. One, because we’re so prone to pride I think God dismantles the things in which we trust. Bernstein was once asked what is the most difficult instrument to play in the orchestra? And without pause he said, “Second fiddle.” He said, “I can find many musicians who want to be first chair, but none who volunteer to be second chair.” Because we are prone to pride it is a hard thing. I have come in my life to believe that pride and shame are one coin with two different sides. And we all have issues of pride, things we’re proud in and the other side of that things that we are ashamed about. And sometimes it’s the same issue, just taken a little bit too far, and twisted a little bit.
And it seems to me the longer I live and some of you are far more mature in the faith and you’ve known the Lord a lot longer than me, could speak better to this issue. But the older I get it seems God is, how do I say this without sounding depressing? God is wearing us down so that the props are gone and I can only trust Him. And I think a big part of that is pride. Because when you get a little older and you’ve got enough water behind you, and miles behind you, you know a lot, and you know a lot about the Bible. You, some of you, know these stories better than me. And you’ve seen God work in remarkable ways and you’re financially successful. You’ve got a comfortable life. You come and do as you please. You can do what you want.
And if you interact with people that are less fortunate than you it only fuels that little noise in your head. You know, “I have done pretty well. Give me an earring. I can do this.” I’m not saying we can’t live a good Ecclesiastes life. Don’t hear that. I think you have the freedom and the liberty to enjoy the good stuff of life. I’m not saying that. But you and I have to deal with the demons of our pride and how God will dismantle them. And when He takes all the props away, that’s when we start to trust Him.
Secondly, true courage is not self-confidence, but God confidence. True courage isn’t even saying, I can see how God has brought me this way, this long, this far, and therefore I can have great confidence that He’s going to use me again. That’s still kind of conflicted with pride. True confidence is confidence in God at His word. There are three things that are eternal: God’s word, God’s people and God’s Spirit. Everything else will perish. And you and I rest our confidence in Him, not in our past or in our past successes. You know, if I had to go to war, there are people in Washington DC whom I would call. I have many friends who have been career military men and women, and I would call them and say, “I don’t know a thing about it, but I’ll go with you. You tell me what to do.” I’d put my confidence in them.
When I had my last back surgery I interviewed four surgeons. I went back to,… God’s been very kind to me and I have some very nice connections with some very important doctors around the United States. And with a phone a call I am seeing the lead complex spine surgeon in all these places that might take the average person five, six, eight months to get an appointment. And, you know, I’m going to use it because I’ve got it; I’m sorry. And so I called these friends and I get to see these premier doctors. We flew into Lacrosse and Mayo Clinic and we went to Northwestern Leola and we stopped. We were going to Cleveland. We heard all the same diagnosis and they all said the same thing. They had different approaches, but I knew what was in my future.
So when I decided to go ahead, okay now it’s time to have this big surgery, I interviewed four physicians in Nashville. And I talked to doctors around the country about these different approaches, which, because there they fused my neck and it’s a big deal. I won’t bore you with it, but it’s a big surgery. And so everybody has an opinion. It’s like the rabbi, you put four rabbis in a room you have eight opinions. And you get four or five surgeons you’re going to have about eight opinions. And so as a consumer and the patient and the one who lives with what they do to you, you better know what they’re going to do to you, because they’re not God. They cut, but the body heals, so you have to make a decision what you’re going to do.
So I weighed all the options. I read extensively. I talked to surgeons who had done the surgery and I went back to these four physicians. And there was one of them, I mean, within five minutes, he’s not going to be my doctor. There was another one who was talking about, well, let’s try this. If this doesn’t work, in four months we’ll do this. Nope, I’m not going to do this twice. Dr. Joseph Chang at Vanderbilt, a very humble Chinese American man; he explained all the options to me. He listened to the things that I had researched. And was talking to one of our docs yesterday, about, you know, doctors like you if you’re not telling them what to do. But if you know your situation they like that you’re learning about it. And it was obvious he liked that I knew a little bit about what I was facing.
But he’s the surgeon, not me, and all he does is the neck. He doesn’t do anything in the lower back. He’s so specialized; all he does is cervical surgeries. He wasn’t selling me anything. And after every appointment I have with him, even two weeks ago, my two-year follow through, his last question to me still remains: “Do you have any other questions?” And as I leave he always says the same thing: you have my email, you have my phone number, you have any questions or new symptoms or problems you call me and I will see you.
Do I have confidence in Joseph Chang? Absolutely. I was in a brace from here to here for six weeks. I believe in the doctrine of purgatory. I was in this brace, it was one step below the halo. Praise God that was an option. He said, “It probably won’t happen, but if you wake up with a halo on, it didn’t go like we hoped.” But that’s where they drill holes in your head and they put, you’ve seen those things, some of you. Yeah, they’re lovely. So this was a step below that and it took about eight weeks to recover. And when they took the brace off I was like the great bobble head. And, you know, long story short to bore you, but all that to say I have confidence in Dr. Chang. And when, not if, when I have the next round of surgeries which are in my future, he’ll be the first guy I talk to.
Now why am I telling you these stories? If I have confidence in a person in the military, if I have confidence in a person in the medical field, I have confidence in the person who refinanced my mortgage, I have confidence in whatever, you trust them. In a sense, I remember asking another physician, I said, why does it matter if I have confidence in my doc? When I’m under general anesthesia they could dress me up like tin man and I wouldn’t know it. I mean, what does it matter if I have confidence in him? He said, “Michael, they have clinical studies that prove when patients have confidence in their surgeons they get better.” And the neuroscience, and the positive mental attitude, no matter what you want to quantify it, if you have confidence in your doctor, and even if it doesn’t go well, it’s like, you know I know he did his best. I know she did his best.
Now take that over in your relationship with Christ. Do you have confidence in your Savior? In a culture of sin, war, and politics like we’ve never seen, that He’s still the sovereign. And what’s He requiring of you and me? Faithful obedience in the right direction. That’s all He’s requiring. Do you believe Me at My word? Do you obey Me? I’ve given you My Spirit now. You don’t have the liability Gideon did. I’ve given you My very Spirit. You don’t need a fleece. If you and I obey the moral will of God and follow Him as best we can, by faith, keep our short sin list, we confess our sins quickly, we are living a life of faith, and that is what He requires and what He longs for us to have.
Where do I get the idea that I’m anything? But I have confidence in my Savior. He knows your fears. He knows your longings. He knows our country better than we do. He knows what goes on on the 17 acres known as the White House and the accompanying buildings. He knows what goes on in Libya. He knows what goes on in Iran and Iraq. He knows what goes on in Gitmo. He knows what goes on in smoke-filled rooms where decisions are made, and He’s not pacing heaven’s floor. He’s a wonderful compassionate Father. The test becomes for you and me as believers is, can we trust Him in the middle? In between is always the challenge, is it not?
I don’t trust God when I have money and health and my wife and I,… Cindy and I have a great relationship. We love each other like crazy. Thirty-two years of marriage; I can’t believe she’s put up with me that long. I can’t believe that we have the friendship that we have after 32 years of marriage. Some of you have outmatched me there. But I can’t believe it. I would rather be with Cindy than anybody. Not all marriages can say that. I know that’s a great blessing. And we know each other very, very well. My four children, on the other hand, I can’t wait for them all to leave and go away. And I don’t want grandchildren right now. Some of you say, “You’ll be fine when it happens.” Let me take it by faith, okay. Let me have my delusion for a while. I want to be selfish and just have my wife to myself and let them go away. I like Bill Cosby; go forth this day. I want them to go forth. I see them less and they cost me more every time I see them.
The dangers and power of success are always right there. So how about me? And I want to finish well just like you want to finish. The two tests, to me, boil down to prosperity or adversity. I think it’s that simple. Adversity humbles us. It reduces us. It makes us dependent on God. Prosperity inflates us, builds our self-worth, makes us independent from God. Adversity causes us to ask for help. Prosperity makes us dependent on our own accomplishments.
You see, when I have my health and just Cindy and we have money and we’re doing what we want to do, I don’t really trust God. I really don’t. Maybe you do; you’re a better person than me. You’re a better Christian than me. But when I can check the boxes, when I’ve had a decent night’s sleep, when the medications kick in, in the morning, when Cindy and I haven’t had words that day, when we go out for a dinner, just the two of us, with some of our close friends, when the weather is fall in Nashville and I’m sitting on my porch and my children are all gone from my presence, I’m a happy guy.
When my children are making poor decisions and breaking my heart, when my health is in the drink, when my pain is uncontrollable and Cindy and I are having words, when there’s problems in the church where I want to go, you know, I want to go send Guido and Sal to deal with that guy in the church, instead of having to love him. When there’s money problems, that’s when I have to trust God. Am I wrong? Maybe you’re different than me. I don’t trust Him when the checkmarks are all there. I have to trust Him.
Now here’s the scary corollary; does He then allow adversity in life so that we trust