In those days there was no king, everyone did what was right in their own eyes (Judges 17:6; 21:25). Before the Israelite monarchy (ca 1000 BC), there was no human king in Israel. God was Israel’s King. During Israel’s time of disobedience and crisis, God would send prophets to warn them and when they refused to repent of their sins – as was often the case – God would send foreign nations to capture and oppress them. However, when the Children of Israel cried out to God and repented, He would raise up judges by the Holy Spirit, a military leader (Judges 3:9-10), to deliver His people. In this way God would demonstrate to the Israelites and foreign nations that He alone is the undisputed protector, defender and deliverer of the nation of Israel.
According to the Scripture, God created us as free-moral agents, with the ‘ability and right’ to govern ourselves according to our own conscience. Each person can choose to obey God and reap His benefits or disobey God and succumb to the consequences…a desire to either seek the truth or suppress the truth (see Romans 1:18; 2 Thessalonians 2:11). In Part 2 of this series, we will look at the life of Gideon (Judges 6-8), whom the Angel of the Lord calls, ‘Mighty Man of Valor’ and comforts him with these words, ‘…do not fear’ (Judges 6:12, 23).
Gideon of the tribe of Manasseh, who becomes a notable judge for forty years in Israel, was called to deliver his people from the affliction of the Midianites (Judges 6:11-14; 8:28). An initial reading of his dialogue with the Angel of the Lord doesn’t evoke a sense of valor, but rather of a diminutive and frightened man who is seeking any excuse to disqualify himself as candidate for the mission (incompetent to complete the task) God has called him. It’s no wonder Gideon is overcome with fear when he is called to deliver the nation of Israel. The Midianites have prevailed against the Israelites for at least seven years and as means of protection and survival the children of Israel are forced to live in dens, caves and strongholds in the mountains (comparable to many US courts attempting to oppress our religious freedoms in America today).
On the surface, Gideon’s questions and arguments with the Angel of the Lord appear to be reasonable. 1) If the Lord was with us why is all this happening? (Judges 6:13), 2) My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, I’m the least in my father’s house (vs 15), and 3) Gideon, hoping his petition is denied, requests the Angel to accept his offering (vs 17-21). Once the Angel of the Lord accepts his sin and peace offering (see Leviticus 4:27-28 & 7:11-12), Gideon presently convinced the Lord is leading him – is now ready to fulfill his first task – tearing down the altar of Baal that his father erected. He takes 10 men with him and they destroy the altar at night.
It is important to understand that the request for Gideon to destroy the pagan altar was not a simple one because in ancient times, communal gods were extremely sacred and the mutilation or destruction of them would demand swift and even harsh reprisal (see Genesis 31:19, 29-32; Acts 19:24-28, 34). Yet, notice how God is working in Gideon’s life – as He also works in our lives “when we feel incompetent to complete the task.” God frequently starts with a small task to test and see if, despite our fears, we are willing to obey Him and then He moves us gradually along to even bigger tasks.
The greatest task for Gideon is still yet to come. However, God is with him every step of the way (Judges 6:14, 16). Gideon, often like us, though believing in God is still somewhat fearful about moving forward in his newly given task. The destruction of his father’s pagan altar was definitely a simpler task compared to developing a successful military campaign against the Midianites. Still unconvinced and fearful, Gideon seeks a series of signs from God as proof. Everyone is familiar with Gideon’s ‘putting out the fleece’ (vs 36-40) to prove that God is with him.
Gideon’s ‘fleece’ requests are answered by God. So, Gideon rallies the troops calling together thirty-two thousand Israelite soldiers. The Lord says to Gideon, “too many” because Israel will claim the glory in victory. Gideon announces all that are afraid can go home. Ten thousand fearful soldiers pack their bags and go home leaving only twenty-two thousand troops. But the Lord again tells Gideon, “too many” and He brings the Israelites down to the lake to drink water. Gideon is told by the Lord, “Everyone who laps from the water…putting their hands to their mouth” will go into battle (Judges 7:4-7). God is going to save the Israelites with a measly three hundred troops against the overwhelming military superiority of the Midianites and the Amalekites who are as numerous as locusts, and as the sand by the seashore in multitude.
Gideon’s restored trust in God gives new boldness and courage as he is now confident – with God’s help – he will secure a great victory over the Midianites. Gideon divides his men into three groups of one hundred soldiers. As they get to the edge of the enemy camp, with a trumpet and lamp in each of hand, Gideon orders his men to do as he does; ‘blow the trumpet’ and ‘break your torch pitchers’ and then shout, “the sword of the Lord and of Gideon.” God was with Gideon. Apparently, “the Lord set every man’s sword against his companion throughout the whole camp; and the army fled…and the men of Israel…pursued the Midianites.” What is most significant about this entire story is noted here, “Thus Midian was subdued before the children of Israel, so that they lifted their heads no more. And the country was quiet for forty years in the days of Gideon.” (Judges 8:28).
Isn’t that like God? We too are ‘mighty men and women of valor’ even when we feel incompetent to complete the task. Why? Because, as with Gideon, it is our dependence and trust in God that gives us the ability to bring down all the strongholds in our lives and in our culture that attempt to destroy us. We are able. The question is: Are we willing?