Gideon: Fraidy cat turned fearsome warrior. His story is one of my favourites. A young man from an oppressed nation is called by God to lead his people into battle. That’s the short version. But Gideon represents those of us who question our abilities, our heritage, who we are, and why we’re here. He wasn’t about to step out of his comfort zone and risk failure and humiliation. Not without assurances. I so relate! However, God not only appointed Gideon on an arduous adventure, he stacked the odds against him numerous times.
We first meet Gideon during a dark time in Israel’s history. The Midianites (a tribe descendant from Abraham and his wife Keturah) became harsh and hostile toward the Israelites. It’s interesting to note Moses, when he fled Egypt and wandered the desert, was welcomed into a Midianite camp and married Zipporah, daughter of the tribe leader Jethro. But roughly 500 years had passed and a lot had happened. Now we see the nation of Israel reduced to hiding in caves and scavenging for food. Here we find Gideon threshing his wheat at the bottom of a winepress to hide it from raiders. I picture a skinny teen, apprehension in his brown eyes, his wearied shoulders hunched over his labour. This was a kid who didn’t take risks, didn’t rock the boat and simply survived.
I find the sequence of events interesting. Judges 6:11 records the angel of the Lord sitting beneath a tree next to the winepress. I wonder how long he sat and watched Gideon, sizing him up with gentle eyes, knowing what was in store for this young man. The angel then appeared to Gideon and addressed him in a booming voice: “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!” Gideon isn’t convinced. “If the Lord is with us why are all these bad things happening?” he asks. I’ve asked the same question. If you love me so much why am I heartbroken? Why aren’t you answering my prayers? Why am I sick? Why? Why? Why? God answers Gideon’s question with a command: “Rescue Israel. I’m sending you.”
It’s easy to ask God why. Quite another to answer the call to fix the problem. We can find a million reasons why we’re not qualified. Gideon objects with self-assessments of “weakest” and “least.” God saw Gideon as how He made him, not as Gideon saw himself. It must be part of our imperfect nature to see the worst in ourselves. I know I focus on every shortcoming, imperfection and flaw. Physical, mental, financial, I’m guilty of seeing the inadequacy in my life. And so we see here, Gideon is no different. God saw the mighty hero he created and appointed. Gideon focuses on his weak clan within the tribe of Manasseh.
A quick history lesson: Manasseh was one of Joseph’s (remember the coat of many colours?) two sons who he brought to Jacob (at this point renamed Israel) to be blessed. Manasseh, the older of the two should have received the first and greater blessing. But Jacob reversed course and placed his right hand (symbolic of the greater blessing) on the younger brother Ephriam. Thus Manasseh was lowered in position beneath his younger brother. Add to that Gideon’s clan was the poorest and smallest. Finally, Gideon tells the angel he is the “least” of his family. Youngest? Smallest? Maybe he stood in the shadows of his brothers, watching the others in his clan make better grades, date pretty girls, spar flawlessly. He saw their well muscled biceps and then looked down at his scrawny arms. Overlooked for more risky tasks, he was relegated to the bottom of a winepress to separate grain. But God sought this young man out. He called him up, not just for a dangerous task, but to “rescue Israel from the Midianites.” Not only that, he promises Gideon that he would obliterate the enemy as if he “were fighting against one man” (Jdg 6:16).
Each time God instructs Gideon he reminds him from whom his strength will come: ” . . . the Lord is with you” (Jdg 6:12) “I am sending you!” (Jdg 6:14) “I will be with you . . .” (Jdg 6:16). Those are the reminders I need. I can’t trust my own reckless emotions and I’m often paralyzed by imperfections. I see myself as the weakest in my “clan” so how could I be asked, much less expected, to accomplish great and heroic tasks? Gideon is commanded to remove his father’s idol and use the Asherah pole (a tree or pole used to worship the goddess of fertility) as firewood! What a bold statement. Gideon doesn’t say no, but he wants assurances. He wants the angel to wait while he prepares an offering. When he returns, sure enough the angel is still there (Jdg 6:17-19).
So Gideon does as he is told, but at night. It seems he still doesn’t trust the full power of God. But I have to ask myself, how often do I water down God’s calling on my life? A text instead of a talk. Heroism gives way to hesitancy. I’m fine to follow God’s direction, as long as there’s little to no risk. It does seem at first Gideon will pay the price for his insolence. But he is protected. And it’s a good thing too. Gideon was destined for great things. Knowing Gideon’s heart, God girded his confidence with incremental challenges and success. What an encourgement! I don’t need to move to a remote village in Africa to minister to the tribe there. I can feed the homeless in my city. Or pray with a friend over the phone. God is so patient with Gideon, and with me, as we grow in faith and courage.
Next we see Gideon overcome by God’s Spirit so that he blew a horn calling Abiezer’s clan to arms in a defence against an alliance threatening Israel. I love how the NLT version puts it ” . . . the Spirit of the Lord clothed Gideon with power” (Jdg 6:34). Even as he is mustering his troops, Gideon again asks God for reassurance. For God to cause a piece of wool to be wet while the ground remained dry overnight. Sure enough the wool was not just wet, but saturated with enough water to fill a bowl. What a great way God goes above and beyond to show himself faithful. But Gideon isn’t convinced:
“Please don’t be angry with me,” he says. “Let me use the fleece for one more test. This time let the fleece remain dry while the ground around it is wet with dew.”
And God “did as Gideon asked.” Wow. I’m blown away by God’s patience, his love, his gentle kindling the flame of faith in Gideon. One of the ways I ask for confirmation is the opening and closing of “doors.” With the prompting of the Holy Spirit my prayer is that if I’m going in a direction God doesn’t want, to close the door and open another. We see where God closed the door for Paul to enter Asia on his second missionary journey (Acts 16). When we are truly seeking God’s heart in everything we do we can be confident he will guide, steer and prompt us to keep our feet on the right path
Knowing God is leading the army, Gideon sets out with 32,000 men. We know the Midianite army and their allies numbered about 135,000. So already he’s working with 4 to 1 odds. Before they reach their enemy, God instructs Gideon to let anyone who is afraid return home. He doesn’t want anyone to think Israel had any advantage other than God’s power. So Gideon is left with 10,000. Still too many. With a test on drinking habits God has Gideon send his men to the river. From there the men who scoop water to drink from their hands are to remain and fight. The others, those who drink with their months in the stream, are sent home. We don’t know why this was the criteria. Maybe those who cupped the water showed their wariness and therefore were more prepared soldiers. Whatever the reason, Gideon now led a squad of three hundred. 450 to 1. You ever feel like the odds are stacked against you? Bank account drained, medical bills piled, car broke. I know I’ve felt like there was no possible light at the end of a long, murky, uneven tunnel. I’ve despaired at crushing heartache and impossible odds. Like I was fighting 450 well-armed warriors. God knows Gideon’s heart. He doesn’t wait for Gideon to ask for validation:
“Get up! Go down to the Midianite camp, for I have given you victory over them! But if you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah. Listen to what the Midianites are saying, and you will be greatly encouraged. Then you will be eager to attack.” Jdg 7:9-11
Sneaking to just outside the Midian bivouac, Gideon overhears an enemy soldier fearfully recounting a dream in which they are defeated by the Israelites. Reassured, Gideon takes his 300 men, launches the attack and claims the victory for the Lord. It’s a supernatural win with an unconventional strategy. I encourage you to read it here.
It’s just the way God had it planned all along. Walk in faith, face giants and claim unmistakable victory by God’s power. The bills get paid, the money comes, transportation is provided. I realize the dark tunnel is an express train passage, I just have to hop on and ride it to the top.