For the past couple of weeks we’ve been looking at some of the unknown heroes and zeros of the book of Judges. We started with Ehud – the left-handed man who rescued the Israelites by defeating King Eglon. Then we looked at Deborah, Barak, and Jael last week as they defeated King Jabin and the commander of his armies – Sisera. But today we’re going to look at another judge – one who is a little more well-known then some of these others. Today we’re going to look at the life of Gideon.
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 send their enemies to punish 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 judge – that is, a rescuer – 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. Sin, oppression, rescue, sin, oppression, rescue.
And so, it’s quite predictable, that after 40 years of peace after Deborah rescued Israel from King Jabin and his commander Sisera, that Israel would again sin, and God would have to send 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.
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 7.
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’re getting exactly what you deserve.” After all I’ve done for you – rescuing you from slavery in Egypt – driving out your enemies and giving you their land. 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’s sent them Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, and 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.
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.
7 I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations.
I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin.
Don’t ever think that you’ve sinned so much that God won’t forgive you. Don’t ever think that you’ve committed a sin so terrible that God won’t have mercy on you. He is a God of compassion and mercy. Yes, He does punish sin – and yes, the punishment is death… But the good news is that Jesus already took your punishment when He died on the cross. All you need to do is accept His forgiveness, because He is a God of compassion and mercy.
But getting back to our story… Even though the Israelites deserved every bit of punishment that they were getting, God had mercy 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. That would be cool. To have an angel of the Lord call you a mighty hero. That’d be awesome. I know there are a couple of the teenage boys that would be all over that. Levi & Ben, in particular, would love nothing more than for an angel of the Lord to call them mighty heros and send them off to battle.
But 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 the 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. But because He was afraid of the Midianites, that’s were he was. Not really your hero type.
So Gideon responds to the angel this way.
“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.”
It’s interesting that Gideon would have to ask, “Why has all this happened to us?” 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 ancestors left out a few details. His parents and his grandparents had failed to mention that in the midst of all these miracles, God had also commanded them to worship only Him. And that if they worshipped other idols, He would send enemies to oppress them – which was exactly what was happening. But it seems they left that part out when they were discussing the Bible around the dinner table in Gideon home.
And why do you suppose they did that? Could it be that it was because, 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 ackward 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 favorite verses and favorite stories – and those tend to be what we talk about the most. But was about our unfavorite 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. 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 just need to be obedient. And that’s just what Gideon was. 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 one little step of obedience has done? Let me share with you three things that I can see happening.
Gideon’s step of obedience began a change in his family.
Notice what Gideon’s father says 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 He 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 saved, 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 mother down the street. You see, those are exactly the kind of little steps of obedience that begin to change a town. 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. He was a zero if we ever saw one. 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. His 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.
What happened to the zero? That one little first step of obedience began a chain reaction that transformed Gideon from a zero into a hero. What little first step of obedience is God asking you to take?
Is it the first step of accepting Christ as your Savior and making the decision to live for Him?
Is it the first step of confessing that hidden sin and starting to make things right?
Is it the first step of volunteering at the food bank or the soup kitchen?
Is it the first step of giving away that big chunk of money to someone in need – and trusting God to provide for you?
Is it the first step of telling your neighbor that you believe in 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.
One of my scariest first steps was taking the job of assistant pastor of a little church in a little town called Mirror. I had never pastored before. I didn’t have pastoral training – I didn’t have BA of anything. And yet, God asked me to take the first step of moving my family to Mirror and helping out this little church of seniors, Waddys, and Dustin. It was a pretty scary first step. But imagine all the blessings I would have missed out on had I not taken that first step of obedience.
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. You will never regret it.