Gideon

by Eric S. Love
podcast available, January 30, 2011

I believe God is moving us into a new time of grace to move in the power of the Holy Spirit. God is always moving us. The question is will we respond. We are going to look at this principle through the story of Gideon.

THE STORY OF GIDEON, IN A NUT SHELL

Gideon is not a likely leader – not a leader at all, in fact (unlike Deborah or Joshua). His whole story becomes a statement of God’s power.  (Judges 6-8)
God calls Gideon to be judge over his part of Israel. Gideon at first gives all the reasons why he can’t. Eventually, he becomes convinced; at least convinced enough to move.
First thing Gideon does is destroy the alter of Baal – and his people wanted to kill him for it.
He then leads Israel against the Midianites. Chapter 7 begins: too many soldiers (32,000) so he sent home any who were afraid (22,000 left). Still too many: kept 300 men who lapped water like dogs.
In this process, he asks God for two signs both involving a fleece. God fulfills both.
With those three hundred, Gideon over threw Midian at night using fire in clay pots, trumpets and 300 men shouting “a sword for the lord and for Gideon!”
Result: Midian is overthrown for good.


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The story of Gideon begins in Judges chapter 6. This entire period is a time following the death of Moses and Joshua when Israel was without a strong leader. Everyone did whatever they wanted to and, as a result, got themselves into trouble. They would call out to God for help and he would raise up a “judge” to lead them, often in battle against their enemies. But not until Samuel do any of the judges have a lasting effect on the heart and attitude of Israel.

Gideon is in the same company as Deborah and Barak, Samson, and Samuel (who was born shortly after Gideon’s time as judge, even though his story isn’t told until 1 Samuel). Israel is a loosely knit bunch of individual tribes at this point. With no central leader, there was no cohesion to the nation. Gideon lived in a region filled with Mannaseh (his tribe) and Ephraim. (So when I refer to Israel in this story, I am actually only referring to those two tribes.)

Where did Gideon’s strength as a leader come from and why did Israel (specifically Manasseh and Ephraim) not continue in the strength in which he led?

THE SPIRIT OF GIDEON

What did Gideon overcome, exactly?

His Own Fear (the thing in his own life which tripped him up the most)

We tend to give Gideon a hard time because of his fear. But if we look at Israel at the time, he was the only one to act in any way other than fear. He is credited as being afraid (seen first threshing wheat in hiding); however, that was the state of his culture. They were ALL afraid and hiding – because “the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts and caves,” ((6:2) that is, Ephraim and Manasseh (the part of Israel under Midian’s attack at this time).

Yes, his first reaction to God’s call was one of logical doubt. The angel of the Lord called him “mighty warrior,” and Gideon responded by saying “I am the least of my family; my family is the least of my tribe, and my tribe is the least of Israel... I’m the biggest nobody there is!”

The Lord, not the angel of the Lord, responded by saying to Gideon, “Go in the strength you have... am I not sending you?” (6:14) And that’s what he did. He moves. He acts.

Yes, his first task he completed in darkness so he wouldn’t be seen (destroying the alter to Baal and the Ashera pole where his village worshipped). Yes, he needed three signs throughout the story (fire consuming his sacrifice on a rock and the two fleece/dew signs). He did act out of fear.

But still, he did act. He went in the strength he had - even if his doubt tagged along - and he overcame his own fear. (In his case, the great tripper in his life was fear. It could have just as easily been apathy, bitterness, pride or rebellion. We have to find that thing which trips us up the most... that’s the thing we have to overcome if we are going to get anywhere.)

His Own Family & People (a cultural mindset)

He destroyed the Baal altar and Ashera pole in darkness because he knew his village would seek to kill him. And that’s exactly what they wanted to do. They sought his death, demanding it.

His father comes to his aid by saying, “Hey! He attacked Baal. What, do you think you need to save Baal? If he’s a god, he can save himself. Let him deal with Gideon!” Now, that may or may not have meant to be help. It doesn’t seem certain to me, but in any case it kept the men from destroying Gideon. In fact, they began calling him “Jerub-baal” which means “let Baal contend with him.”

Gideon had to deal with the response he would get form his own people. He had to overcome the mindset so well established among them they were willing to kill him over it.

Baal (false worship)

The third thing he overcame was the power of Baal. The influence of Baal over his culture and his own upbringing. He was as much a Baal follower as any of them before this story. He became a marked target for the false god - and he lived. Obviously. (Baal couldn’t kill him.) But the greatest power of that kind of deity (even in our own culture) is fear (the best example of such a false deity whose greatest power is fear is the misinterpretation of God by a fear driven Christianity and their religious spirit).

This was an attitude he overcame. It was a belief system. A religious system.

Midian (an ancient, kindred enemy)

Little is known about Midian. They are believed to have been a tribal group of Nomads who were distantly related to Israel through Abraham and his second wife, Keturah (Genesis 25:1). Up until this time, they have appeared all across southern Palestine and Sinai as well as in Trans-jordan: this is a large sweep of country. Although Moses father-in-law Jethro was a Midianite (and this is where Moses had his encounter with Yahweh), Midian was generally an enemy to Israel. And they attacked from a large section of country.

But the battle Gideon led against Midian is the last time they ever stand as a threat to Israel. They are referenced again later on in Isaiah as traders, but they are no longer enemies of Israel. Gideon doesn’t defeat them for a time, he defeats them finally.

His Own Vanity

Beginning in chapter 8, Israel begins to beg him to be their ruler, to be their King essentially. He refuses, saying only the Lord would rule over them. As a man who considered himself to be the least of the least of the least, this proposition must have been tempting. But he seems to have made the right choice. He refused the position, stating a basic principle that would be reinforced by God through Samuel later on: that God should lead Israel (this also eludes to the danger in them wanting leadership without direct interaction with God... this was a dusty old sin in Israel, beginning when they chose Moses as a mediator between them and God out of fear rather than interacting with him personally).

Even though he overcomes vanity (and maybe this again was his fear that kept him from becoming King), he still fell again into the thing which would destroy him and any lasting work of his career as judge.

THE INADEQUACY OF GIDEON

Following Israel’s call to him to be their leader, Gideon asks one thing of them: that each one give a gold earring from the spoils - Midianites were known for wearing gold earrings. Each one did. Gideon had them fashioned into an ephod, which became a problem since “all Israel prostituted themselves by worshipping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family” (8:27). In got worse: after Gideon’s death, Israel “prostituted” themselves again to Baal and did not honor Gideon’s family. Blood shed and a curse followed because of one of his sons (who killed 70 of his other sons).

An ephod was a shoulder strap used in the priestly garments - it connected the breastplate - which held the urim and thummim (which were the lots of divination to seek the guidance of God). Because of this association, the ephod became spoken of sometimes as an image of divination, even though it was never actually an instrument of it. The ephod in this case became a graven image (and this would happen later on as well, apparently as the result of Gideon’s precedence).

Here is the connection: the ephod was part of the priestly garment used in the tabernacle for sacrifices. The only sacrifice we offer today is the sacrifice of ourselves: worship. (Romans 12:1 - we are living sacrifices as an act of worship.) This symbol became an object, essentially, of a type of witchcraft where an object of worship became what was worshipped, even considered to be a means for understanding the heart and purposes of God (divination). There is little difference between this and the golden calf following the Exodus from Egypt. The main difference is that this looked so much like true worship (because it actually came out of it) that is was harder to see the difference. There’s a greater danger in this kind of idolatry.

And it was a form of witchcraft: diving information apart from interaction with God. That’s scary.

THE CRUX

Gideon did not win victory over Midian through a strength of arms but by faith and a skillful plan. His story in Judges is a testament to the power of God, not the power of man.

He was the 5th son in his family, which was the last of his line and the most insignificant. But he was also the 5th judge of Israel. That is significance. The number 5 symbolizes grace. Gideon stepped into a new time of grace when he became judge. He overcame his own fear, his own culture, false worship, an ancient, kindred enemy and his own pride. He ended a fierce conflict for Israel, one that had been raging for a long time.

This is all the scriptural context for the story. Here is a prophetic look at it:

Within his name is the word “eon.” This is a power existing from eternity; an emanation or phase of the supreme deity (definition in philosophy); in geology, it is a major division in geological time. This is a prophetic description of what Gideon became. He moved in the power of God into a new time, a destiny whose strength and clarity were not confined by cultural or personal fear, generational curses, a religious spirit, or even simple logic. Gideon represents a shift in how Israel walked with God in the Spirit.

So what went wrong? He took something used in worship and made it an object of worship. We can easily look around us at the denominational churches we came out of and recognize the danger of this: worshipping the order of worship and tradition, worshipping the high associated with the Spirit, worshipping the concepts and ideologies of God. But can we see the same threat in ourselves: worshipping the act of worship?

You see a recurring theme in the Old Testament: Israel doesn’t always war against pagan, foreign enemies. Sometimes, he wars against nations so closely connected to his past and where he’s been that it’s almost as if he is warring against his own reflection. Midian in the book of Judges, Moab and Ammon later on. All were descendants of Abraham and Lot. All had origins that were good. God spoke to Moses in the burning bush while he lived with the Midianites. He married a Midianite. His father-in-law, who was a Midianite, saved his butt. God protected Moab and Ammon when Israel was taking Canaan because of the connection in their heritage.

But no matter how good these peoples may have started out in Israel’s story, after a while they became a real danger. There is always a danger when we begin to rely too heavily on our traditions and experiences with God rather than following God personally.

We become relaxed to the point of being careless. This is how it looks at River: We come late. We go through the motions of worship without engaging any real depth of our own spirits, much less the Holy Spirit.

We cannot afford to make the mistake of thinking that just because we are in worship that what we are doing is worship.

Teri spoke recently of movement. Here, again, we see this principle: “Go in the strength you have.” Go. Move. Do not become idle in your place of comfort. Do not mistake a token of worship for being God. (The music isn’t God. The sound isn’t God. The movement isn’t God. These are our responses to God.)

I believe God is moving us into a new time of grace. I do. But I also believe that God is ALWAYS moving us. His Spirit is breath, and breath is movement. We cannot afford to become so taken by what God does that we stop following God in what he is doing.

We are at a point of shift. We can either move into a new time of grace or we can move into a place of idolatry. We can move in the power of God by engaging His Spirit in worship or we can  set up our own brand of worship as a graven image, seeking connection with Him through a form of witchcraft so craftily veiled that it looks like the real thing.

THE CHALLENGE

Move. Respond to God. Engage His Spirit in spirit and truth. Move with the shift in the Spirit by actually making a shift in the natural. Push deeper. Go longer. Allow God to move us, both corporately and individually (if you don’t engage God and move individually within a larger context of a corporate body that IS engaging God and moving, you will become angry and bitter and which actually become a distraction at best and a division at worse).

God is merciful. He calls us until we respond.

Eric Love, 2/3/2011