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Gideon’s Impossible Situation

As most of you know, we have been looking at some of the unlikely heroes in the book of Judges over the past several weeks. And so far it’s been quite a colorful journey for us. We’ve seen our left-handed hero, Ehud, defeat the fat King Eglon. We witnessed the leadership of Deborah, the one and only female judge, and with that we saw Barak following God’s leading, so long as his conditions were met. Another unlikely hero in that story was Jael who took out Sisera with her weapon of choice – the tent peg, and then last week we started looking at Gideon – the least in his clan, the weakest in his family, hiding out in the bottom of the winepress. And yet, God was able to use every single one of these people for His glory. In-spite of their weaknesses, and perhaps sometimes because of their weaknesses, God was able use them to rescue his people – showing them mercy time and time again.

And so today we are going to continue looking at the life of Gideon. We never got a chance to finish the story last week, and actually, we’re not going to finish it this week either. Gideon’s story is almost a mini-series in itself – there are several little stories within the whole story and we’re not going to go through all of them, so if you want to know the whole story, you’re going to have to read through it on your own some time maybe this week. And I would encourage you to do that, actually. Gideon’s story begins in Judges 6 and goes through to chapter 8 – and if you’re really ambitious, you can read about Gideon’s son Jotham in chapter 9.

But for today, we’re going to start right where we left off last time – at Judges chapter 6, verse 33. And in case you missed last week. God has just commissioned Gideon to rescue his people from the Midianites. Step #1 was to get rid of the false idols that the Israelites had been worshipping. God told Gideon to tear down his father’ altar to Baal and the Asherah pole beside it, and so, although he was afraid, Gideon took that first step of obedience and did what God asked. As a result, God began a change in his family, a change in his town, and a change in Gideon himself. And we’re going to see the further results of those changes today. So we start now at verse 33…

33 Soon afterward the armies of Midian, Amalek, and the people of the east formed an alliance against Israel and crossed the Jordan, camping in the valley of Jezreel. 34 Then the Spirit of the Lord clothed Gideon with power. He blew a ram’s horn as a call to arms, and the men of the clan of Abiezer came to him. 35 He also sent messengers throughout Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, summoning their warriors, and all of them responded. Judges 6:33-35

Now I’ve got to point out a couple of things before we go any further. First of all, when Gideon sounded the call to arms – who was it that came to him first? The clan of Abiezer. If you remember from last week, Gideon was the son of Joash of the clan of Abiezer. In other words – the first people who rallied to his side were his family! There are probably a few lessons that we could learn from that – but I just wanted to point that out in light of our lesson last week – how Gideon’s first little step of obedience began a change in his family. It changed his father – Joash, who used to worship Baal – and in fact, it seems like Gideon’s obedience has had an impact on his entire clan. I thought that was pretty cool.

When we decide to follow God, we have no idea how much it will impact our entire family. I know lots of you have family members who are not following the Lord right now. Be encouraged by this verse. Maybe it won’t happen over night – maybe it won’t happen for decades –  but your obedience to God can make a huge impact on your family. Perhaps that’s our Mother’s Day encouragement for today – be faithful and obedient to God – and who knows what God may do in your family through you over time.

Secondly, verse 34 I thought was really cool. It says…

“The Spirit of the Lord clothed Gideon with power.” Judges 6:34a

Now in the Old Testament, often whenever God wanted to do something really important through someone, He empowered them with his Holy Spirit.

We see this here with Gideon, we are going to see it with Samson a little later on in this series, we see it with some of the prophets. We see it with a few of the Kings of Israel. But often in the Old Testament, when God has a mission for someone – something in particular he wants them to accomplish, he empowers them with His Holy Spirit.

And that empowering looked different for different people. For Samson, if you know his story, the Holy Spirit gave him a supernatural strength. For Bazalel (the guy who crafted all the items for the tabernacle) the Holy Spirit came upon him to give him a supernatural skill. For others it was a supernatural courage or boldness. For still others the Holy Spirit gave them specific words to say in certain situations. There were lots of different ways that the Holy Spirit empowered people – but the bottom line was that God enabled them to do things that they otherwise could not have.

And so for Gideon, based on how afraid he was before, it seems like the Holy Spirit gave him a supernatural courage and boldness – and perhaps as he rallies the troops, even specific words to say to pass that boldness and courage on to them. We don’t know exactly what the Holy Spirit did in this empowering of Gideon, but I mention it because what is super cool, is that every one of us – every follower of Jesus Christ, has that same empowering of the Holy Spirit.

In the Old Testament times before Jesus, God sent the Holy Spirit only to a select few and usually for a select time – to accomplish some particular task. But in the New Testament time – now after Jesus – God has sent the Holy Spirit to dwell permanently within every believer.

God’s Holy Spirit dwells within each one of us to enable us to do things that we otherwise couldn’t, so that we can accomplish the task that God has given us. We read in Acts 1, just shortly after Jesus’ resurrection – that he promises his disciples that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon them. Look at Acts chapter 1, verse 4:

4 Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before.5 John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

6 So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”

7 He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:4-8

God had an important, specific task for each of the disciples – they were to be his witnesses – telling people everywhere about Jesus. And to empower them for that task, God would send them the Holy Spirit. And that’s exactly what happened. If you read through the book of Acts, you see the disciples telling people everywhere about Jesus with a supernatural boldness and courage – even though they were beaten, thrown in prison, and some were even killed. And these are the same guys that, before receiving the Holy Spirit, ran away when Jesus was arrested, they denied that they even knew Jesus, and were hiding in fear behind locked doors after Jesus resurrection. But now, empowered by the Holy Spirit – their courage and boldness exploded! They couldn’t stop talking about Jesus to anyone who would listen. Just read through the first few chapters of Acts. It’s incredible.

And perhaps even more incredible – is that God has given His Holy Spirit to us as well. We read in Acts 2:38…

38 Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 This promise is to you, to your children, and to those far away—all who have been called by the Lord our God.” Acts 2:28-39

That’s us. We are those far away. As Christians today, we are ‘all who have been called by the Lord our God.’ If we have put our faith in Jesus Christ, then God has given us the Holy Spirit to empower us to be his witnesses. He gives us supernatural boldness and courage and the right words to say as we tell people about Jesus. And that’s only a part of what the Holy Spirit does.

Now… I realize this rabbit trail is beginning to wander far away from the story of Gideon, but if you want to know more, I’d encourage you to come out to Justified on Tuesday nights. One of our major upcoming topics is the Holy Spirit and what He does in our lives! It such a privilege for us to have God’s own Spirit dwelling within us – empowering us to do what we otherwise couldn’t. And not just for a one-time mission – like with Gideon – but He is with us always – helping us to live the life that we simply couldn’t live without Him.

But before I get completely lost on this rabbit trail, I’d better get back to our story of Gideon. So after the Holy Spirit of God cloths Gideon with power, and he sounds the call to arms – his family shows up, as do a whole bunch of other guys – ready to fight the Midianites. But even then, Gideon wasn’t completely sure that all of this was a good idea. He still had some doubts, so he had one more conversation with God. verse 36

36 Then Gideon said to God, “If you are truly going to use me to rescue Israel as you promised, 37 prove it to me in this way. I will put a wool fleece on the threshing floor tonight. If the fleece is wet with dew in the morning but the ground is dry, then I will know that you are going to help me rescue Israel as you promised.”38 And that is just what happened. When Gideon got up early the next morning, he squeezed the fleece and wrung out a whole bowlful of water.

39 Then Gideon said to God, “Please don’t be angry with me, but let me make one more request. 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.” 40 So that night God did as Gideon asked. The fleece was dry in the morning, but the ground was covered with dew.

Judges 6:36-40

Now I should probably point out that not everything recorded in the Bible is recorded as an example for us to follow. Just because Gideon proposed these very unusual tests for God, and God agreed to them – doesn’t necessarily mean we should do the same. We talked about Barak two weeks ago – and how he put conditions on his obedience to God. That’s not what this passage is encouraging us to do.

Now certainly, when we believe that God wants us to do something, its ok and good confirm that God is actually leading us to do that. But proposing these conditional tests for God is not usually how we get that confirmation. Now, unlike in the time of Gideon, we have God’s Word. We can look to the Scriptures to see if what we think we should do lines up with what God has clearly stated in his Word. And most of the time, that’s all the confirmation we need. God’s will for our lives is not a mystery. God’s actually very clear in his Word how he wants us to live.

But that being said, I think this passage illustrates for us just how incredibly patience and understanding God is with those who need that extra encouragement in their faith. There are times when God says “Hey – just trust me.” But there are also many times when God confirms for us that we can trust him.

The story of how Camp Little Red got started is a good example of this. A few of you know that Camp Little Red was actually started because Camp Chestermere down by Calgary was running at full capacity and so they started talking about starting a new camp. Of course, this would be a major undertaking and would cost a lot of dollars. Well, in the middle of the meeting where they discussing all this – wondering “Can we do this? Should we do this? Is this really God’s leading?” – a phone call came in. It was a businessman who felt that God wanted him to donate $30,000 to the camp. Well, that certainly seemed like God’s confirmation to that board and shortly after Camp Little Red was begun.

Now God doesn’t always do things like that. But often, when God asks you to take that first little step of obedience – and you do – He’ll confirm his leading. Maybe not by a wet fleece, maybe not by $30,000 – but its often through the little things. Maybe through something someone says – or maybe through a verse you happen to read, or maybe by some “coincidence”… God’s pretty creative and He can speak to us through all kinds of things. And when we combine that with what we already know through reading God’s Word, we can be pretty confident as follow God’s leading.

And that’s exactly what Gideon does. He didn’t have the Bible, but through those fleeces, God gave him an unshakable confidence that God knew what He was doing. And so we read in chapter 7, verse 1 now…

So Jerub-baal (that is, Gideon) and his army got up early and went as far as the spring of Harod. The armies of Midian were camped north of them in the valley near the hill of Moreh. 2 The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many warriors with you. If I let all of you fight the Midianites, the Israelites will boast to me that they saved themselves by their own strength.

Judges 7:1-2

Now this is almost comical. Does God know human nature or what? Gideon’s army wasn’t really that large – we read later on that it was only about 32,000 men. But still, God knew that if Gideon’s army wiped out the Midianites – they would praise Gideon for his masterful plan and cunning tactics, or the soldiers for their brilliant swordsmanship, or the archers for their skillful shooting. They would boast about themselves – rather than praise God! And don’t we do that today too? We are so quick to take credit for what God does.

God blesses us financially and we credit it to our hard work and good financial planning. God blesses us with long life and good health, and we credit it doctors and medicine, workout programs and healthy eating. God blesses our church, and we praise our pastors & our musicians & our programs. But who deserves the credit for all these things? It’s God!

God supplies our every need and quite often an abundance more. Its God who heals our bodies and gives us every breath. It’s God who grows His church and draws people to Himself. It’s God – not us. He deserves all the credit for every good thing in our lives.

“Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father.” James 1:17

God is the source of every good thing we enjoy. And it’s important that we give him the glory and the credit and the thanks for all of it.

Now in Gideon’s case, God wanted to make sure that he Israelites could clearly see that this victory would come through God – and only through God, so here’s what God said to Gideon. Verse 3.

Therefore, tell the people, ‘Whoever is timid or afraid may leave this mountain and go home.’” So 22,000 of them went home, leaving only 10,000 who were willing to fight.

Judges 7:3

That’s quite a downsizing, isn’t it? Especially considering the size of the enemy army… Remember from last week how many there were? The Bible doesn’t give us a specific number, but it says just their camels were as numerous as the sands of the seashore. Do you know how much sand is on the seashore?

I had a friend who one day wanted to figure out just how much sand was on the seashore. So he took a pill bottle and started counting individual grains of sand and putting them into the pill bottle. Well, after a very long and tedious time of counting these little grains of sand, He gave up. He had reached 10,000 grains of sand – and they had just barely covered the bottom of the pill bottle. That’s amazing, isn’t it? I want you to think about that the next time you read that passage in Psalm 139 that says how God has more thoughts about you than there are grains of sand! Pretty incredible!

But that kinda gives us an idea of the kind of odds that Gideon was looking at. Here was his little army – enough to cover the bottom of the pill bottle – against the rest of the entire beach. If they actually win this battle, they are gonna have to recognize that it was only through a miracle of God. And yet, look what God does in the next verse. Verse 4.

But the Lord told Gideon, “There are still too many! Bring them down to the spring, and I will test them to determine who will go with you and who will not.” 5 When Gideon took his warriors down to the water, the Lord told him, “Divide the men into two groups. In one group put all those who cup water in their hands and lap it up with their tongues like dogs. In the other group put all those who kneel down and drink with their mouths in the stream.” 6 Only 300 of the men drank from their hands. All the others got down on their knees and drank with their mouths in the stream.

 7 The Lord told Gideon, “With these 300 men I will rescue you and give you victory over the Midianites. Send all the others home.”

Judges 7:4-7

Can you imagine that? Gideon started with 32,000 men – and against that huge swarm of Midianites – He probably still thought it would take a miracle. Then God whittled him down to just 10,000 men. Gideon must have through that God was REALLY stretching it then. But now after this little water break, God knocks them down to just 300 men.

That would be like God asking the men of Penhold to go up against the entire armies of China. Do you see how insane this is? There is no possible way that they can defeat that huge Midianite army with just 300 men. Unless God steps in.

And that’s such an awesome phrase – Unless God steps in.

How many times have you been in a situation that is absolutely impossible – unless God steps in? Perhaps there is stuff in your life right now where that phrase applies. Like…

  • I’ll never get out of this financial hole that I’m in – unless God steps in.
  • I’ll never kick this habit or break this addiction – unless God steps in.
  • My son or my daughter will never come back the Lord – unless God steps in.
  • This messed up relationship will never improve – unless God steps in.

I’ve got good news, people. God loves stepping in. He loves doing the impossible. He loves doing the things that no one else can do so that He, and He alone, gets the credit.

That’s exactly what we see here in the story of Gideon. God’s rigged it so that victory is absolutely impossible – unless He steps in. Which He does – pick it up now in verse 8.

So Gideon collected the provisions and rams’ horns of the other warriors and sent them home. But he kept the 300 men with him.

   The Midianite camp was in the valley just below Gideon. 9 That night the Lord said, “Get up! Go down into the Midianite camp, for I have given you victory over them! 10 But if you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah. 11 Listen to what the Midianites are saying, and you will be greatly encouraged. Then you will be eager to attack.”

   So Gideon took Purah and went down to the edge of the enemy camp. 12 The armies of Midian, Amalek, and the people of the east had settled in the valley like a swarm of locusts. Their camels were like grains of sand on the seashore—too many to count! 13Gideon crept up just as a man was telling his companion about a dream. The man said, “I had this dream, and in my dream a loaf of barley bread came tumbling down into the Midianite camp. It hit a tent, turned it over, and knocked it flat!”

 14 His companion answered, “Your dream can mean only one thing—God has given Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite, victory over Midian and all its allies!”

Judges 7:8-14

Now that is an interesting interpretation of this dream that this companion gives to the dreamer. I think that if I were that companion I would have said something like, “Your dream can mean only one thing – that you’ve got a serious craving for a toasted barely bread, an apple turn-over.” That might be a little less discouraging to the guy. Because, come one, if you’re a Midianite, that’s not exactly the thing you want to hear just before you go into battle. But over-hearing this conversation certainly encouraged Gideon – look now at verse 15.

 15 When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he bowed in worship before the Lord. Then he returned to the Israelite camp and shouted, “Get up! For the Lord has given you victory over the Midianite hordes!” 16 He divided the 300 men into three groups and gave each man a ram’s horn and a clay jar with a torch in it.

 17 Then he said to them, “Keep your eyes on me. When I come to the edge of the camp, do just as I do. 18 As soon as I and those with me blow the rams’ horns, blow your horns, too, all around the entire camp, and shout, ‘For the Lord and for Gideon!’”

 19 It was just after midnight, after the changing of the guard, when Gideon and the 100 men with him reached the edge of the Midianite camp. Suddenly, they blew the rams’ horns and broke their clay jars. 20 Then all three groups blew their horns and broke their jars. They held the blazing torches in their left hands and the horns in their right hands, and they all shouted, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!”

 21 Each man stood at his position around the camp and watched as all the Midianites rushed around in a panic, shouting as they ran to escape. 22 When the 300 Israelites blew their rams’ horns, the Lord caused the warriors in the camp to fight against each other with their swords. Those who were not killed fled to places as far away as Beth-shittah near Zererah and to the border of Abel-meholah near Tabbath.

Judges 7:15-22

And although the battle rages all the way into the next chapter, we can see how this story is going to end. The Israelites are victorious, the Midianites are wiped out, there is peace in the land for as long as Gideon lives. Mind you, of course, as soon as Gideon dies, they forget all about God and go back to worshiping idols and the cycle of sin begins again – but that’s a story for another week.

For now, let me point out just one little lesson from this story, and then we’ll be done. We talked earlier about some of the impossible situations we find ourselves in – situations that are hopeless… unless God steps in. And I believe that God brings these situations into our lives for a purpose. He certainly had a purpose in whittling Gideon’s army down to just 300 men from 32,000. But what’s the purpose in our situations? Why does God make us go through such difficult and sometimes even painful situations? I think there are a number of reasons why – but let me give you just one to think about this morning.

That is: Impossible situations cause us to put our trust in God.

When you’ve got just 300 men and your facing an army of hundreds of thousands – you have to put your trust in God. There are no other options. As long as Gideon had a large army, He could have tried to do it on his own. He could have come up with his own battle plans – maybe tried to make an alliance with another nearby nation. But when God took him down to just 300 men, he had no other options but to put his faith in God.

And maybe that’s why God has allowed some impossible situations to come into your life. As long as we’ve got other options, we tend to leave God out of it. We try to make it through on our own strength. So in order to get our attention, sometimes God takes away those other options. He puts us in a place where all we can do is look to Him.

When Allison was a baby – still less than a year old, she became very ill. She had been looking pale and acting pretty sluggish and so we took her to see the family doctor. He did some blood tests and sent them to the lab and we went home. That night, the doctor called back with the results and said we needed to take Allison to the hospital right away. We took her into the Red Deer hospital and after the doctor there checked her out, they told us there were going to send her to the Intensive Care Unit in the children’s hospital in Calgary because her red blood cells where rapidly breaking down and they had no idea why. So they flew her down to Calgary in the STARS ambulance – got her into ICU – and they still couldn’t figure out what the problem was.

And I tell ya, that’s an impossible situation. To have your little girl laying there in ICU in the children’s hospital knowing that there is nothing you can do for her. Knowing that there was nothing the doctors could do because they couldn’t figure out what was causing it. All we could do was look to God. At the time we were working full-time for Camp Little Red and so along with our friends and family, we had all kinds of camp-connected people praying for us – asking God to step in on our behalf.

And don’t you know it, God stepped in. She started getting better – the doctors never did figure out what caused it – their best guess was a spider bite. But whatever it was, God used that impossible situation to draw us – and many others – to put our faith and trust completely in Him.

What’s your impossible situation? I’ve already mentioned a few possibilities – financial problems, addictions, relationships, health – you know your situation. Could it be that God has allowed this to happen to draw you closer to Him? Could it be that He’s just waiting for you to come to the end of your rope so that He can step in and you can trust fully in Him?

You know, some of us are slow learners. Some of us are like the Israelites – as soon as God rescues us from an impossible situation – we forget about putting our trust in Him and we go back to our old ways – and so guess what happens? God allows another impossible situation to remind us to put our trust in Him.

Can I encourage you this morning – what ever impossible situation you’re in – whatever difficult circumstance you’re going through – Will you put your trust in God? Will you stop trying to fix the problem on your own and let Him step in? Let God get your attention. Let God show you how powerful He is, how much He loves you, how much He cares for you. Will you put your trust in God?

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