Gideon - An Unexpected Hero Audio
Gideon isn’t exactly your Hollywood image of a hero is he? In fact he’s the exact opposite. He’s much more the indecisive, timid type. He’s one of those people who want every ‘i’ dotted and every t crossed before they make a decision and even then they still have doubts. You can see the sort of person he is from the situation in which we find him at the beginning of this story. “11Now the angel of the LORD came and sat under the oak at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press, to hide it from the Midianites.” Just to make the situation clear, you need to understand that in those days wine presses were generally dug into the ground, so that if you got inside a wine press you’d be out of sight, in Gideon’s case from their enemies, the Midianites.
Yet the encouraging thing for those of us who relate to Gideon as this timid, nervous type, is that despite the unpromising material from which he was made, God takes him and makes him into a hero of Biblical proportions. So let’s spend some time thinking about the process through which Gideon was changed by God into a leader and saviour of his people.
- A Personal Encounter with God.
‘12The angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, “The LORD is with you, you mighty warrior.”’ Here he is, beating out the wheat in a wine press because he’s scared he might be seen by some marauding Midianites, and the angel of the Lord addresses him as a mighty warrior! You can imagine what he thought: “Who, me? No, you’ve got the wrong guy, fella. What you’re looking for is a hardened soldier. I’m no fighter. I’m the youngest in my family and they’re the weakest family in our tribe.”
Do you ever feel like that? Like you’re too weak to do what God’s asking you to do? I remember when I first started in a parish on my own, I felt a bit like that. But for some reason I was prompted to look at the first chapter of Joshua, where Joshua is told over and over again to be strong and of good courage because God is with him. This was a message to me to trust God to work through me in my ministry. And it’s the same here with Gideon.
In response to God telling him he’s with him, Gideon says: “If The LORD is with us how come we’re being oppressed by the Midianites?” But God is with them and he does have a plan for their salvation, a plan that involves Gideon. ‘14Then the LORD turned to him and said, "Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian; I hereby commission you."’ Then, despite Joshua’s protests he adds “I will be with you, and you shall strike down the Midianites, every one of them.”
Here’s the first step in Gideon’s growth into leadership: a personal encounter with God where God calls him to a task and where God promises to empower him for the task. We need to be careful that we don’t underestimate the importance of this sense of personal call. The New Testament speaks often of the Christian having been called to a life of service to God and to others. But as we think about our own personal call to discipleship let’s remember the example of Gideon. You see the thing about Gideon’s call is that the sort of person he was when God called him, the personal attributes he possessed, weren’t the issue, though, the self-effacing nature of Gideon may in fact have been an asset. But he didn’t have the natural prowess of a warrior, as a couple of the later judges did, nor any leadership qualifications for leading his people against the Midianites. Yet those very disadvantages were what enabled God to use him to show forth his glory. Listen to what Paul wrote in 1 Cor 1:27 "But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong." This is so often how God works, isn’t it? “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (Lk 1:52-53)
If you’re unsure of yourself, if you’re aware of your failings, then you’re just the sort of person that God can use. Let him speak to you and tell you what he wants you to do. Ask him to empower you for the task. Then remember how God spoke to Gideon, surrounding Gideon’s fragile ego with his divine ego: “I hereby commission you.” “I will be with you.” “I am with you, you mighty warrior.”
- Start where you are.
Before he sends him off to fight the Midianites God gives him a task to fulfil at home. First he has to go and remove the source of idolatry that’s present in his home town. You see, as much as Gideon’s family may have been followers of the LORD, they’d been led astray by the pagan worship of their neighbours. The culture in which they lived had convinced them that to succeed in life you needed to make offerings to Baal and Asherah, the local fertility gods. So Gideon’s family had their own family shrine.
Of course a similar thing has happened in our world. Not that we have shrines to our gods like they did, nor do we make regular sacrifices to the gods of our culture per se. But it happens nonetheless. Our gods are a bit more subtle, that’s all. They’re the gods of consumerism and affluence; the gods of pleasure and ease; the gods of economics and politics, of sport and healthy living. And all too often, Christians are as much caught up in these pursuits as the rest of the world. So it wouldn’t hurt for us to look at our own home town situation from time to time the way Gideon was called to, to see if there are things we need to clean up in our own lives, in our priorities and personal aims, in our family lives, before we go off fighting the enemies of the LORD.
It wasn’t an easy thing for Gideon to do, but he did it, even if it was with the help of 10 of his friends, and even if he did do it in the dark of night in case someone caught him at it. Do you get the feeling that Gideon’s the sort of person who when challenged to speak to someone about Christianity does it by dropping a gospel tract in their letterbox?
But despite the timidity of his actions, look at the effect it has on his father. It’s as though his father has been waiting for someone to do something about these idols. Perhaps timidity was a family trait! When the men of the town protest to Joash, he tells them that if Baal really is a god he can look after himself. But if anyone wants to take Baal’s side they’ll be put to death. Gideon’s action has reawakened Joash’s devotion to the LORD.
So God tells Gideon to start at home for a number of reasons. One is to clean up their own act before they start fighting their enemies. Another is to show him that he isn’t alone. There are others who care about serving God. Thirdly it shows him in a small way that when he acts God will bring him success.
- A Gift from God.
Here we discover the secret of the great heroes of the Bible. What is it made them great? Was it their natural ability? Was it expertise they learned from good teachers or mentors? Was it their training? These are the sorts of things the leadership gurus will tell you today and some of them may be true up to a point. But none of them is the critical factor. No, in every case, the real secret is that God chooses to equip people in special ways for his work. “33Then all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East came together, and crossing the Jordan they encamped in the Valley of Jezreel. 34But the spirit of the LORD took possession of Gideon; and he sounded the trumpet, and the Abiezrites were called out to follow him.” Suddenly, this timid, scared little man becomes a powerful leader of his people. He blows the trumpet and 32,000 men come out to fight with him. So what is it that’s made the difference? You see it there, don’t you? The Spirit of the LORD came upon him. The Spirit of the LORD took possession of him, empowered him. Now let’s not miss the fact that this is the same Spirit who empowers us today. Jesus told his disciples: "Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned." (John 16:7-11) And he said: "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."" (Acts 1:8) If you’re worried about whether you’re up to the challenge of being Jesus’ disciple then take courage from the example of Gideon, the mighty warrior; mighty only because of God’s mighty power which enabled him to do great things.
- A Special Assurance from God
This is perhaps the best known part of this story of Gideon. Despite all that he’s seen, Gideon still isn’t ready to go out and face the enemy. It isn’t that he doubts the call of God, notice. He knows God has called him to lead his people. He just wants some added assurance that he’ll be victorious. Isn’t it good to know you don’t have to be a particular personality type to be used by God? It isn’t just those who are always sure of themselves that God can use. God equally uses those who need multiple signs, who are emotionally vulnerable, who suffer from anxiety and depression and self-doubt. And so God gives Gideon the sign he asks for - twice. What we find here is another example of just how patient and long-suffering God is; how often he allows for our shortcomings; how often he condescends to deal with us in a way that allows us to serve him despite our failings.
But at the same time we need to be careful that we don’t see this request by Gideon as a model for seeking God’s guidance. You hear people talking about the need to put out a fleece if you want to know what God wants you to do. But the danger with that advice is that it ignores the facts of this situation.
First, this is a one-off event. You don’t find this sort of guidance being used anywhere else so it’s dangerous to make it into some sort of model.
Second, this is an Old Testament event. That is, it happens prior to Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit. Remember that Jesus promised he’d send the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth. So Paul, in Colossians 1 prays that “God will fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” So to suggest that the use of fleeces is a normal method of guidance would seem to deny the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.
Thirdly, the fleece wasn’t a way of finding out God’s will at all. Gideon already knew what God wanted. What he needed was reassurance that God could do what he promised. He wanted his confidence boosted by this supernatural act. So his asking for the fleece was in fact a sign of the weakness of his faith. The fact that God did what he asked wasn’t to show us how to determine God’s will. It was an example of how patient and kind God can be to those he loves. So don’t use this as a model for seeking guidance. Rather learn to trust God to do what he promised.
Which is the point of the last step in Gideon’s growth as a leader.
- Learning to Trust God against the Odds
Gideon prepares to go forth against the enemy with the 32,000 men who have answered his call, but God stops him. He says: “The troops with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand. Israel would only take the credit away from me, saying, ‘My own hand has delivered me (7:2).’” Gideon and the people of Israel need to learn this important object lesson. The victory they’re about to win will be won by God, not by their own strength. So he begins to whittle away their numbers. First he tells any who are scared to go home. That gets rid of 22,000. They were the honest ones! But even 10,000 are too many. They might still be enough to think it was their own strength that won the battle. So he gets them all to drink at a stream and those who lap the water from their hands are picked while those who kneel down to the water are sent home. Now let me suggest it wasn’t the fact that these 300 stayed alert as they drank that mattered. What mattered was that God only wanted 300 of them in his army. This was going to be the Magnificent Seven magnified a thousand times. Humanly speaking the odds were impossible. But what mattered was that the victory be seen without doubt the result of God’s actions. Their war cry says it all: “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!” As they fought, it was for the LORD that they were fighting. And it was the LORD who would give them the victory.
In fact that’s the case throughout the book of Judges. Always it’s the power of God that brings victory. The Judges are people who bring victory through God’s power and who in the end give God the glory.
So what can we learn from this story of Gideon? There are some obvious parallels aren’t there? We too have a battle to fight against God’s enemies, against the idolatry of our world, against the powers of evil that oppose the Church at every turn, against forces that oppose truth and righteousness. We too feel inadequate to the task. So what can we learn from Gideon?
We can learn the importance of recognising the personal calling of God. Let’s be aware that each one of us has been called by God to a life of discipleship, a life of service to the living God. That’ll find its outworking in different ways for each person, but the call is just as real for each of us, despite any differences there might be. Then we need to learn to begin where we are. It’s no use trying to fix the rest of the world if our own home base is polluted by sin. Let’s first remove the log from our own eye before we start looking for faults in others. Next, ask God to equip us for the task with his power. Ask him to fill us with his Holy Spirit so we can know what to do and where to go. And ask for the assurance that only his Spirit can give.
Finally, let’s learn to trust God. This is a very important lesson to learn when you’re part of a small Christian church in the midst of an increasingly non-Christian population. And it’s equally important to know it individually when you’re living and working in a world that’s opposed to the gospel. That is, the battle is his: we don’t need superior firepower of our own when God is fighting alongside us. As Paul says in Rom 8: ‘If God is with us, who can stand against us?’ Recognise God’s call, clean up your own act first and trust God to give you what you need for victory.