For the past couple of weeks we’ve been looking at some of the unlikely heroes in the book of Judges.
And of all the characters that we’ve looked so far, none of them have been the real famous Bible story characters that maybe some of you grew up with. If you went to Sunday school as a kid, you probably acted out the story of Joshua and the walls of Jericho – maybe you saw a puppet show about Noah and the ark – there was probably a flannelgraph illustration of Daniel in the lions den.
However, you likely didn’t see any puppets acting out the story of Ehud as he lost his dagger in the fat of King Eglon’s belly. You’re not likely to have seen a kids feature skit about how Jael hammered a tent peg through the skull of Sisera. These aren’t the kinds of stories that usually make it into the children’s Bible story books. But they are in the Bible – and they are important for us to study and learn from… Just maybe not when you’re 5 years old!
But today we’re going to look at another judge – and this one is a little more well-known then some of these others. His story isn’t quite so graphic, so you very well may have learned about him in Sunday School. Today we’re going to look at the life of Gideon.
And Gideon’s story begins just like all the other judges we’ve looked at so far. They all begin the same way…
You’ll remember the cycle of sin that we’ve been talking about in the book of Judges. Israel would sin and so God would allow their enemies to oppress them. And after several years of enduring this oppression, the Israelites would repent and cry out for God to save them. Which of course, God did by sending them a rescuer – that is, a judge – like Ehud or Deborah. But then, as soon as the enemy was defeated and that particular judge died, the Israelites would go right back into sinning again and the cycle would begin all over.
And so, it’s quite predictable, that after Deborah rescued Israel from King Jabin and his commander Sisera, that Israel would again sin, and God would allow another enemy to oppress them. And this time, the enemy was a doozy. If you have your Bibles you can turn to Judges chapter 6 – verse 1. It begins like this:
The Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight. So the Lord handed them over to the Midianites for seven years. 2 The Midianites were so cruel that the Israelites made hiding places for themselves in the mountains, caves, and strongholds. 3 Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, marauders from Midian, Amalek, and the people of the east would attack Israel, 4 camping in the land and destroying crops as far away as Gaza. They left the Israelites with nothing to eat, taking all the sheep, goats, cattle, and donkeys. 5 These enemy hordes, coming with their livestock and tents, were as thick as locusts; they arrived on droves of camels too numerous to count. And they stayed until the land was stripped bare. 6 So Israel was reduced to starvation by the Midianites. Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help.
I found it interesting that it took the Israelites 18 years of oppression by King Eglon before they repented and God sent them Ehud. It took them 20 years of oppression by King Jabin before they repented and God sent them Deborah. But it only took 7 years of oppression by these Midianies before the Israelites repented and cried out to God for help. Either the Israelites were quicker to learn their lesson this time or the oppression of these Midianites was extremely harsh. And judging from what we just read, my guess is probably the latter.
Verse 6 tells us that Israel was reduced to starvation by the Midianites. Which was kinda ironic because the idol that they decided to worship instead of the Lord was Baal. Baal was worshipped as the sun god and as the storm god—he is usually depicted holding a lightning bolt. It was believed that Baal had two main strengths – two areas of life that he influenced. One was war and the other was producing crops. So the Israelites believed by worshiping Baal, he would give them success against their enemies and he would make sure they had plenty to eat.
Well, Baal had failed them miserably. Isreal was completely at the mercy of their enemies and they had no crops. They were starving. So it’s really no wonder that they cried out to the Lord for help. Baal had failed them miserably. Life was pretty bleak and hopeless. Where else would they turn?
And unfortunately, sometimes, that’s what it takes for God to get people’s attention. They have to be in the most desperate situation – to have lost all hope – to have nothing left to rely on – before they turn to God.
You hear stories all the time of people who come to Christ when their marriages are falling apart or they’re financially hitting rock bottom or their lives are out of control because of addiction or whatever else. And those people are sure glad to have found Christ because of all that, but they sure wish they had come to Christ earlier and avoided a lot of that pain and suffering.
One of my own personal fears is that my own heart would grow cold and hard towards God. I fear that I would begin to ignore God, and that God would have to resort to more desperate measures to get my attention. I never want that to happen. I’d much rather listen to God’s gentle promptings – than to force him to smack me upside the head with a 2×4.
Cuz that’s what’s happening with the Israelites here. They wouldn’t heed God’s gentle promptings, so now God has smacked them with the 2×4, so to speak. They are starving and desperate – so they finally call out to God for help.
When they cried out to the Lord because of Midian, 8 the Lord sent a prophet to the Israelites. He said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of slavery in Egypt. 9 I rescued you from the Egyptians and from all who oppressed you. I drove out your enemies and gave you their land. 10 I told you, ‘I am the Lord your God. You must not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you now live.’ But you have not listened to me.”
It kinda sounds like God is saying, “You guys getting exactly what you deserve.” I was the one who rescued you from slavery in Egypt – I was the one who drove out your enemies and gave you their land. I am the one who has rescued you time and time again… And still you insist on worshipping the false gods of the people around you – instead of me.” You’re getting exactly what you deserve.
And don’t forget, by this point, they’ve already been through this whole sin-oppression-rescuer cycle at least three or four times. God has sent them Othniel, and then Ehud, and then Shamgar, and then Deborah. And every time, they’ve gone right back into sinning as soon as that judge was gone. How many times do they expect God to have mercy on them?
Well, that’s the amazing thing about God. It seems his mercy has no limit. In fact, God describes Himself as a God of mercy. We read in Exodus about the time when God reveals and describes Himself to Moses. In Exodus 34, verse 6 we read…
6 The Lord passed in front of Moses, calling out,
“Yahweh! The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy!
I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.”
That’s how God describes Himself. The God of compassion and mercy. And God could have described himself in a number of ways – as the Creator, the eternally existing one, the righteous judge, the Holy One & the King of All. All of those are accurate, and yet, here God chooses to describe himself first and foremost as the God of compassion and mercy.
Is that how you describe God? If some just asked you out of the blue (like what I did with the kids earlier) – what’s your God like? What would be the first thing you would say?
I think for a lot of people in the world – when they think of God – the last thing they think of is mercy and compassion. Unfortunately, based on how they see some of his followers act, to them, God seems quick to condemn, short on grace, eager to point our failures, dedicated to punishing sinners and making them pay for what they’ve done. For a lot of people – even some Christians – that’s how they might describe God.
But that’s sure not how God describes Himself. That’s sure not what we see in the Scriptures.
16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” John 3:16-17
And you might say, well, doesn’t God punish sin? Yes, He does punish sin. In fact, the punishment for sin is death… But the good news is that the God of compassion and mercy already took care of your punishment when His Son Jesus died on the cross. All you need to do is believe and accept His forgiveness, because He is a God of compassion and mercy.
And that’s exactly what we see in our story this morning… Even though the Israelites deserved every bit of punishment that they were getting, God had mercy on them once again, and was preparing to send them a deliverer. Verse 11.
Then the angel of the Lord came and sat beneath the great tree at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash of the clan of Abiezer. Gideon son of Joash was threshing wheat at the bottom of a winepress to hide the grain from the Midianites.
12 The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!”
Pause here for a second. To be honest, that would actually be pretty cool. Scary, but cool! To have an angel of the Lord appear and say “Might hero – the Lord is with you.” Don’y you think that’d be awesome?
Well, as we’re going to see, I’m not sure Gideon was that excited. I don’t think he saw himself as the hero type. After all, here he is, hiding at the bottom of a winepress threshing grain. And for those of you that don’t really have a farming background – let me just tell you that the bottom of a winepress is not really the optimal place for threshing grain.
Usually, you’d thresh grain out in the open somewhere where you had room for your oxen and you could get a good breeze coming through. The basic idea of threshing is that you’d lay the stalks of grain on the ground or the threshing floor, and the oxen would thread out the grain – knocking the kernels out of the husks – and then you’d toss it all up into the air and let the wind carry away the chaff. So it would make sense to do all that out in an open field or something. But a winepress was really like a hole in the ground. No room for oxen. And no wind to blow away the chaff. But like we talked about earlier, these were desperate times.
Gideon was afraid of the Midianites, so that’s where he was – down in a winepress trying to thresh out the little bit of grain he had. So he really doesn’t strike you as the hero type – and Gideon himself is going to admit that in just a little bit.
But yet, that angel of the Lord seems to think different. “Mighty Hero” he calls him. It appears that God knows something about Gideon that even Gideon doesn’t know about himself. God sees him not as he is right now – but as He is going to be.
And that was pretty encouraging to me. God sees me, not as I am right now – but He sees me as I am going to be. He sees who I will become.
We’ve talked a little bit over the past couple of weeks about how God takes us as we are – with all of our faults and flaws – our weaknesses and our failures – He accepts us even though we’re a bit of a mess. But the cool thing is – He knows who we’re going to become. He sees us for who we will be. He doesn’t leave us in our mess. He transforms us into new people! Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:17.
“Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” 2 Corinthians 5:17
And maybe right now, all you see is the old person – the old life – who you are right now. But God knows exactly who you will become. And if God can look at Gideon down there hiding at the bottom of a winepress and He calls him a Mighty Hero – I wonder what God might call you?
Well, interestingly enough, Gideon doesn’t question the angel of Lord about calling him a mighty hero – but it seems Gideon’s issue is that the angel was claiming that God is with them. Look again at verse 12.
12 The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!”
“Sir,” Gideon replied, “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about? Didn’t they say, ‘The Lord brought us up out of Egypt’? But now the Lord has abandoned us and handed us over to the Midianites.”
Gideon seems to just rip into this angel for saying that God is with them. It almost comes across like he’s pretty angry with God. And you can understand why. There he is, starving, hiding in the bottom of a winepress – trying to keep what little food he has from being stolen. He feels abandoned by God. And this angel just appears and says “Mighty hero – the Lord is with you!”?? And Gideon basically says “Really? It sure doesn’t feel like it!”
But it’s interesting to note that Gideon begins by asking, “If the Lord is with us, then why has all this happened to us?” Based on his reaction and by this questions, it seems that Gideon had only heard half of the story from his ancestors. He heard about how God saved them from the Egyptians. He heard about the miracles. He heard about how the Lord would be with them. But apparently his parents and his grandparents left out a few details. They had failed to mention that in the midst of all these miracles, God had also commanded them to worship only Him.
If they followed God – then God would be with them and would bless them. But that if they abandoned God, then God would abandon them. If they didn’t want God in their life – then God would grant their wish and he would step back and allow enemies to come in and oppress them – which was exactly what was happening. But it seems Gideon’s folks left that part out when they were discussing things around the dinner table in Gideon home.
And why do you suppose they left that part out? Could it be that, as we’ll see in a few verses, that Gideon’s own father had set up some idols to the false gods of Baal and Asherah. No wonder they didn’t want to talk about God’s command to worship only Him. It might be a tiny bit awkward to teach your kids to worship only God while you’ve got these other idols set up in the backyard.
And as I was thinking about this, it made me think about that I teach my children. Do I teach them all of the Bible – or are there parts that I conveniently leave out? We all have our favourite verses and favourite stories – and those tend to be what we talk about the most. But what about our unfavourite verses? The verses that point out the sin in our lives? The verses that convict us? Do we teach those to our children too? We have to. We can’t just pick and choose what parts of the Bible we’re going to teach. It’s our responsibility to teach them the whole thing – even the parts that make us uncomfortable. Because if we don’t, we’re just setting up our children to make the same mistakes that we’ve made -which is pretty much what we see happening throughout the book of Judges. I sure don’t want that to happen to my kids.
Well, God was going to address the failure of Gideon’s parents in just a bit, but for now, here’s what He says in Verse 14 now.
Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go with the strength you have, and rescue Israel from the Midianites. I am sending you!”
15 “But Lord,” Gideon replied, “how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!”
Again, Gideon doesn’t really seem to be the hero type. His family is the weakest in his tribe, and he’s the weakest in his family. So what makes God think that Gideon can be this great hero? Look at the next verse.
16 The Lord said to him, “I will be with you. And you will destroy the Midianites as if you were fighting against one man.”
The key is not in Gideon’s strength. The key is in God’s strength. God promises that He will be with Him. And if God is with him, who can be against him? When we talked about Ehud two week ago, we saw this same thing. God chooses the weak things of this world to show His strength. We don’t need to be the best. We don’t need to be the strongest. We don’t need to be the smartest. We just need to be obedient. God told Gideon – go with the strength you have. And that’s all he asks of us too. Just to go in the strength we have – knowing that God is with us.
And so that’s what Gideon did. And here where God deals with the failures of Gideon’s parents. Jump down to verse 25.
That night the Lord said to Gideon, “Take the second bull from your father’s herd, the one that is seven years old. Pull down your father’s altar to Baal, and cut down the Asherah pole standing beside it. 26 Then build an altar to the Lord your God here on this hilltop sanctuary, laying the stones carefully. Sacrifice the bull as a burnt offering on the altar, using as fuel the wood of the Asherah pole you cut down.”
27 So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the Lord had commanded. But he did it at night because he was afraid of the other members of his father’s household and the people of the town.
So still it seems that Gideon isn’t really the hero type. He’s still afraid. But He is obedient and that’s what counts. Because this one little step of obedience would change everything. Verse 28
Early the next morning, as the people of the town began to stir, someone discovered that the altar of Baal had been broken down and that the Asherah pole beside it had been cut down. In their place a new altar had been built, and on it were the remains of the bull that had been sacrificed. 29 The people said to each other, “Who did this?” And after asking around and making a careful search, they learned that it was Gideon, the son of Joash.
30 “Bring out your son,” the men of the town demanded of Joash. “He must die for destroying the altar of Baal and for cutting down the Asherah pole.”
31 But Joash shouted to the mob that confronted him, “Why are you defending Baal? Will you argue his case? Whoever pleads his case will be put to death by morning! If Baal truly is a god, let him defend himself and destroy the one who broke down his altar!” 32From then on Gideon was called Jerub-baal, which means “Let Baal defend himself,” because he broke down Baal’s altar.
Do you see what’s going on here? Do you see what that one little step of obedience has done? Let me share with you three things that I can see happening.
#1. Gideon’s small step of obedience began a change in his family.
Notice what Gideon’s father says to the towns people in verse 31… “Why are you defending Baal?… If Baal is a god, let him defend himself…” It almost seems that he’s not so sure anymore that Baal is a god. Sure, he was the one who build the altar to Baal in the first place, but it seems that Gideon’s act of obedience to the Lord has caused him to have change of heart.
The Bible doesn’t tell us what happened to Joash after this, but I would speculate that He didn’t go back to worshiping Baal. I don’t think He rebuilt Baal’s altar or put up another Asherah pole. I would guess that this one step of obedience by Gideon brought about a change in his father’s life and that family began worshipping the one true God. I don’t know for sure, but the story sure seems to lean that way.
And you know, I’ve seen that very thing happen to people today. There is a girl I know that went to Camp Little Red and accepted Christ as young kid. None of her family were Christians, but she went home and although she wasn’t perfect, she lived her life the best she could in obedience to God. And for the first several years, it didn’t seem to make much impact at all on her family. But finally after years of this faithful obedience to God, something changed in her family and now both of her parents have given their lives to Christ.
Our obedience to God can bring change to our families.
The second thing that happened because of Gideon’s step of obedience was a change began in his town.
You see, at first, the town’s people were going to kill Gideon for destroying Baal’s altar. But after Joash’s challenge to let Baal defend himself, they agreed. So I imagine they sat back and waited to see what terrible thing Baal would do to Gideon, because He destroyed his altar. But nothing happened. In fact, as we’ll see next week, Gideon only prospered and eventually led the Israelites to victory over the Midianites. And so, because of Gideon’s one little act of obedience, the whole town got to see that Baal was no god at all. In verse 32 we see that Gideon got a new name “Jerub-Baal” – meaning “Let Baal defend himself.” And I think they called him that because every time they saw Gideon, they were reminded that Baal didn’t do anything to defend himself – because he was no god at all. Gideon’s step of obedience began a change in his town.
Can that happen in our town too? I think it certainly can. If God could begin to change Gideon’s town through his one little step of obedience, think of what God can do in our town when the whole group of us take those little steps of obedience? God might not ask you to tear down your neighbor’s idols, but He might ask you to mow your neighbors lawn… He might not ask you to offer a sacrifice in the town square, but He might ask you to offer a casserole to the young single mom who just moved in down the street. You see, those are exactly the kind of little steps of obedience that begin to change a town. The may seem small and insginificant, but those are the ways that God makes Himself known through us.
So Gideon’s little step of obedience began to change his family, it began to change his town, and also, it began to change him.
Remember when we first met Gideon? He was hiding in the bottom of a winepress. His family was the least in his tribe, and he was the weakest in his family. But this one step of obedience began a chain reaction that would change all that. We’re going to look at the rest of the story in more detail next week, but let me give you a quick summary…
In just two verses from where we left off, we read that the Spirit of the Lord took hold of Gideon. His courage and his boldness exploded. He sounded the call to arms and gathered up an army. Then following God’s instructions, he sent away most of them and his remaining band of three hundred men defeated the Midianites whose camels – just the camels – were as numerous as the sand on the seashore. He chased down the Midianite commanders and captured and killed them. At the end of the story the people of Israel ask him to become their king.
Man! What happened to that guy? That one little first step of obedience began a chain reaction that transformed Gideon into the most unlikely hero.
And I wonder, what little first step of obedience is God asking you to take?
- Is that first little step simply accepting Christ as your Savior and making the decision to live for Him?
- Is that first little step confessing that sin that you’ve been hiding or ignoring and starting to make things right?
- Is that first little step forgiving that person that hurt you – letting go of that bitterness and asking God to heal that relationship?
- Is that first little step maybe giving away that chunk of money to someone in need – and trusting God to provide for you?
- Is that first little step being bold enough to tell your friends at school or at work that you believe in and want to follow Jesus Christ?
First steps can be scary. Gideon was afraid when He tore down those idols – so much so that He did it in the middle of the night. But without those scary first steps, you never get to see where God will lead you. How He will change you. How he will use you in ways you never imagined possible.
What little first step of obedience is God asking you to take? Can I encourage you – take that first step. Don’t let fear hold you back. If God is leading, He’s already got the path all marked for you – you just need to take that first step of obedience and follow Him.