We split Gideon up into two teachings at CT, but would consider trying to cover the whole story in one night if we had to teach it again. These are full text outlines from CT, so discussion questions would need added to teach at home church.
Gideon part 1: Dealing with doubt
Intro (v. 1-10)
Hi everyone. We’re back in the book of Judges tonight. If you been with us for the past few weeks you know we’ve been studying the dark ages in the history of the nation of Israel. The book of Judges narrates what the bible refers to as the time of the judges – about a 300 year period between the deaths of Moses and Joshua and the anointing of the first king of Israel. During this time the nation was suffering from an acute lack of spiritual leadership. The people had thrown off the leadership of God and everyone did what was right in their own eyes. And the results were disastrous.
Ignoring God plunged them into the cycle of sin that repeats itself over and over again. God saves the people, the people forget about God, and God withdraws his protection and allows them to be conquered by one of the surrounding nations. After being oppressed for anywhere from a few years to several decades the people would finally cry out to God and he would raise up a judge to deliver the people out of the hands of their enemies. But soon they would forget about God and the cycle would repeat itself over and over… and over… and over… and over… you get the idea.
Last week we took a look at the first major judge – Deborah – along with her accomplices Barak and Jael. After leading the nation to victory and freedom we read that:
5:31 – Then there was peace in the land for forty years.
But they quickly returned to their old ways.
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.
You’ve gotta hate it when this happens. Every summer, I go out to harvest my tomatoes, my next door neighbor swoops in, picks them all and then steals my dog.
6 So Israel was reduced to starvation by the Midianites. Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help.
We see the cycle repeating itself once again.
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.”
Hey God! What about the part where you promise to save us? God? God?
Well, this isn’t the most comforting message God has ever sent to his people. In fact, it’s a rebuke. Which leaves us wondering – have they finally blown it? Or will God once again have compassion on his people and send a deliverer? Let’s read on.
The Call of Gideon (v. 11-24)
11a Then the angel of the LORD came and sat under the oak that was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite
God dispatches an angelic messenger, who grabs a seat under the mighty oak tree in Ophrah. The little town of Ophrah: known for its mighty oak tree and its book club.
11b as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press in order to save it from the Midianites.
So we meet our first character in the story – a guy named Gideon son of Joash. And our first look at Gideon is not impressive at all. In fact it’s pretty embarrassing. The angel of the Lord walks up behind Gideon son of Josah while he’s alone, hiding out in his dad’s winepress, threshing grain in the winepress, which was a common and necessary practice.
When the wheat was harvested, the kernel of grain needed to be removed from its stalk. But to go through by hand to do this was a very time-consuming process. But if they crushed the grain it would separate the stalk from the kernel, which would leave you with a pile of wheat and what they called chaff. Then they were left with the problem of separating the wheat from the chaff. Fortunately the chaff was a lot lighter than the grain, so they would take a pitchfork and throw the whole pile up into the air, where the wind would catch the chaff and blow it away and the heavier wheat would fall back to the ground. This is why the threshing floor would typically be located up on a hilltop where you could catch the wind.
Gideon on the other hand was down inside of a winepress, which would have been an excavated depression between two rocks. He would get almost no breeze down there, so what he was doing was almost completely ineffective. But I guess he figured it was better than being spotted by the Midianites, who would have come in and seized the grain, leaving his family to starve.
The people have given up almost all hope at this point. They are content to live in futility and simply try to slow the starvation process.
And then God enters the picture
12 The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!”
Well there are a lot of nicknames you might use for Gideon at this point. Mighty hero is probably not one that I would have picked. Unless God is using some sort of sarcasm, which he’s probably not. Apparently God sees something in this guy that he sure doesn’t see in himself.
13 “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’s like: “Really? The Lord is with us, huh? I’m not so sure about that, sir. If that’s the case then how do you explain everything that’s happening to us right now? It seems like just the opposite is true – that God has abandoned us.”
Notice the response here from Gideon. He’s certainly not buying what the angel is saying. But he’s also not completely unwilling to talk about it, because there is a part of him that has heard stories about God’s past miracles and he is wondering where this God is at. He’s even repeating word for word some of the things the prophet declared to the people a few verses earlier. It’s as if he’s already been thinking about this stuff and then opens up to this complete stranger almost immediately. You can see Gideon torn between two ideas inside his own mind. On the one hand: “God is like this.” But on the other hand: “There’s no way God can be like that.” What we see here from Gideon is a classic case of good, old-fashioned doubt.
This probably is a good place to stop and talk a little bit about doubt. A lot of people are confused about doubt. They think doubt is inherently bad or sinful, and when they feel doubts start to creep up in their minds and they try to ignore them or run from them or to beat them down with exhortations to try harder to believe. I think this approach is mistaken and stems a failure to understand what doubt is.
Doubt is to be “of two minds”
The word doubt simply comes from a latin word which means “two.” So when we talk about doubt we are simply talking about vacillating between two different ideas or perspectives within our own minds. Os Guinness puts it this way:
To believe is to be “in one mind” about trusting someone or something as true; to disbelieve is to be “in one mind” about rejecting them. To doubt is to waver between the two, to believe and disbelieve at once and so to be “in two minds.”… Doubt is not the opposite of faith, nor is it the same as unbelief. Doubt is a state of mind in suspension between faith and unbelief so that it is neither of them wholly and it is each only partly.
– Os Guiness, God in the Dark (Crossway, 1996), 23, 25
Doubt is a halfway stage. There’s no such thing as 100% doubt. At that point you’ve made up your mind and are no longer of two minds. So when someone says, “I’m doubting the existence of God,” that means something different than “I don’t believe in God anymore.” In the case of Gideon, he’s asking questions – some pretty tough questions – trying to reconcile the words of the prophets and his forefathers with the brutal oppression they were actually experiencing.
Doubt is normal
Keep in mind, doubt is normal. It’s something everyone experiences from time to time.
It’s kind of like getting sick. I mean, you can try to be one of those people who attempts to live life in a germ-free bubble. You know these people – the ones who buy their Purell at Sam’s Club (also leaving the bathroom using their foot to open the door). But ultimately those efforts tend to have a counter-productive effect, because you can’t run from all germs, and you end up leaving yourself with a compromised immune system that doesn’t know how to resist harmful bacteria.
You’ve just got to accept the fact that you’re going to get sick sometimes, and it will probably take you out for a few days, but it’s not the end of the world.
God wants to deal with your doubts
As we’ll see, the story of Gideon is not about you you should deal with your doubts as much as it is about how God wants to deal with your doubts. Doubt can be real helpful if handled properly. It shows us there is a weakness in our immune system and helps us develop the convictions to fight off that illness before it develops into full-blown unbelief.
In fact, I’ll bet for a lot of us here doubt was the thing that opened us up to God in the first place. You were living your life a certain way. You thought certain things were going to make you happy. You had a particular view of the world. And then something happened. The way you were living your life started to fall apart. Those things weren’t making you happy anymore. You ran across some new information that exposed major weaknesses in your previous worldview. You began to doubt your belief that you could run your own life sufficiently. Maybe that’s why you are here tonight. Like Gideon you’ve heard some things about God and you know your current life isn’t working out so well and so you’re just not sure what to think at this point.
So, how does God deal with Gideon’s doubts? Let’s read on.
14 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!”
Once again Gideon takes the angel’s statement and phrases it back to him in the form of a skeptical question. “Really? Rescue Israel? Me? Don’t you know how insignificant I am?” This is especially hard to believe when we take into account the vast size of the occupying force, which later is numbered at 135,000.
It’s not that hard to relate to this doubt either. “How can God work through somebody like me?”
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.”
17 Gideon replied, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me.
18a Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.”
God promises that he will be right there with Gideon empowering him to accomplish this task. And Gideon brings up yet another doubt: “How do I know that I have found favor with you God?” This word here for “favor” is one of the main Old Testament words used for “grace.” You see, Gideon knew how badly the nation had failed to be what God wanted them to be. And he knew that he as an individual had not lived up to God’s standard. So his question is a poignant one, one that may be on many of our minds as we sit here tonight: “God, could you really love somebody like me?”
If so, then please accept my offering.
18b And the Lord said, “I will wait until you return.”
19 Gideon hurried home. He cooked a young goat, and with a basket of flour he baked some bread without yeast.
Gideon hurries home to prepare the offering. He cooks up a goat and makes some bread. He seems a bit flustered and out of control here. A “basket” of flour is approximately 40 pounds of flour. In other words, Gideon makes a lot of bread.
19b Then, carrying the meat in a basket and the broth in a pot, he brought them out and presented them to the angel, who was under the great tree.
20 The angel of God said to him, “Place the meat and the unleavened bread on this rock, and pour the broth over it.” And Gideon did as he was told.
21 Then the angel of the Lord touched the meat and bread with the tip of the staff in his hand, and fire flamed up from the rock and consumed all he had brought. And the angel of the Lord disappeared.
What just happened here? If you know the background, you know that God had set up an entire system of sacrifices that were intended to teach the people an important lesson about sin. From the very beginning of Scripture God had been telling people that sin brings death. Under the sacrificial system the guilty worshipper would come before God knowing that he should have been wiped out a long time ago. He would offer an innocent animal as a sacrifice. Symbolically then, the animal would die in the worshipper’s place. The message that everyone got is that (1) Sin brings death and (2) As an act of sheer grace and mercy God has allowed you to live. You aren’t good enough, but I forgive you anyway.
God accepted Gideon’s offering, which means that God accepted Gideon. This is what God was trying to communicate to Gideon, as is demonstrated by the next few verses:
22 When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he cried out, “Oh, Sovereign Lord, I’m doomed! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!”
He’s freaking out.
23 But the Lord said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.”
24 So Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and called it The Lord is Peace. To this day it stands in Ophrah of the Abiezrites
God has accepted Gideon’s sacrifice, an offering made as an act of faith. And as a result Gideon doesn’t have to worry that God is going to kill him even though he knows that’s what he deserves. Instead he can be confident that he now has peace with God.
By setting up this altar Gideon was making a public declaration of his newfound faith in God. Ophrah was militantly committed to the practice of Baal worship, and there probably wasn’t an altar to God anywhere else in town. In a relatively short period of time Gideon’s doubts have subsided and he seems pretty convinced of his newfound faith.
Yes that was a pretty significant day in Gideon’s life: a visit from God, a newfound faith, and a revelation that God had chosen him to be the deliverer of Israel. As Gideon went to bed that night he was probably surprised to find out that his day wasn’t over just yet.
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.”
It wasn’t enough just to set up an altar to God. Now God wanted him to pull down his own father’s altar to Baal and to build another altar to God on that same location. This is pretty scary. It’s one thing to become a follower of God. But a whole new set of doubts can resurface when God calls you to take scary steps of faith – especially steps that are guaranteed to create tension between you and your family.
It’s important to note that this is one of the ways you can tell the difference between honest doubt and pretend doubt.
With pretend doubt, your doubt is nothing more than a ruse – a smokescreen to keep you from believing or taking any action.
Maybe you have interacted with people like this before. They have all kinds of questions and doubts about God. They might even call themselves “seekers” or “open-minded.” And then you give them answers to their questions – good answers. And then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, they come up with more questions. And you answer those, and then all of a sudden they have a whole different set of questions. Pretty soon you realize – this isn’t doubt at all. They have already decided on unbelief, and these doubts are just walls to keep from having to believe.
Personal example – talking with Ben Rutt
On the other hand, with actual doubt, with people who are honestly wrestling between two minds, once they get satisfactory answers they are willing at least to take the next step God puts before them.
I hope you realize that some of your doubts will only be resolved once you take the next step. Reason alone is never enough to prove God beyond a shadow of a doubt. Like Gideon you need to take an action step in order to add personal experience to the reasons and truth you already have.
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.
Gideon doesn’t waste any time. Perhaps as early as that very night he wakes up 10 of his servants and does everything God commanded. Granted, he did it at night, at least he did it! This is a major step up from threshing wheat in a winepress.
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.
So Gideon’s father wakes up the next morning, looks out back and notices that something is missing. “Gideon? Have you seen Ferdinand? You know, my second bull? The one that is seven years old?” Then he looks out in the side yard and sees the Baal altar pulled over and what is left of Ferdinand lying on an altar to Yahweh that has been built in its place. Well, this threw the whole town into an uproar and they determined to get to the bottom of this.
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!”
32 From then on Gideon was called Jerub-baal, which means “Let Baal defend himself,” because he broke down Baal’s altar.
Surprisingly, Joash defends Gideon…
Even though Gideon has a long way to go he has made pretty great strides in a short period of time. When we first met him he was hiding in a winepress threshing grain. And before long – maybe only 24 hours later – he has become a public follower of Yahweh and his nickname is Baal-slayer. He’s actually starting to resemble, well, a mighty hero.
Let’s analyze how God dealt with Gideon’s doubts.
- Rom 1:21
- “Rebellion against God does not begin with the clutched fist of atheism, but in the heart of a man for whom ‘thank you’ is redundant.” – Os Guinness
- Public proclamation
- Roland Allen, Spontaneous Expansion of the Church – p. 15
The expression of his experience intensifies it; it renews it; it repeats it; it enlightens it. In speaking of it he goes through it again; in setting it before another he sets it before himself in a new light. He gets a deeper sense of its reality and power and meaning. In speaking of it he pledges himself to the conduct and life which it involves. He proclaims himself bound by it, and every time that his speech produces an effect upon another, that effect reacts upon himself, making his hold upon his truth surer and stronger.
- Action steps (commitment/ growth)
- Guinness, p. 118
The question the doubter does not ask is whether faith was really useless or simply not used. What would you think of a boy who gave up learning to ride a bicycle, complaining that he hurt himself because his bicycle stopped moving so he had no choice but to fall off? … Similarly faith must be put to use, or it will become useless.
- Personal encounter
- The stuff on discerning God’s will was OK. That was the only real practical section.
- I couldn’t find the heat on the last portion of Gideon’s life – the stuff about self-reliance. I need to find a way to go a little deeper with that and get more practical. Maybe something about how God takes us out of our comfort zone to show us our need. That’s why we need to follow him to increase our dependence.
- Also add some stuff on how to deal with success; common pitfalls and why and how to avoid. Also why is success so dangerous?
Hello. Welcome back for another week in our study of the book of Judges. Where each week we’re transported back to an ancient time – the dark ages in the history of Israel. Where the people had abandoned God’s leadership in their lives and everyone did what was right in their own eyes.
Last week we saw that the Israelites were in yet another cycle that repeats itself throughout this book. They had forgotten about God and come under the cruel oppression of the Midianites. But God saw their pain and had compassion on them and decided to visit a man named Gideon who God had chosen to deliver His people from the hand of Midian.
Now, Gideon was a fearful man. When we first meet him he’s alone in a winepress threshing grain, hiding from the Midianites like a scared little kid. There was a part of him that believed in God and he had heard about what God could do. But he also had serious doubts. And last week we saw God go through a process of dealing with Gideon’s doubts, accepting him, reassuring him, calling him to take action and in turn trust God more as he saw God come through. Now, this week we’re ready to see Gideon step forward and play the role God has called him to play.
6:33 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 took possession of Gideon.
The Spirit of the Lord – we’ve seen Him before. This is where Gideon goes all Incredible Hulk and becomes a new man empowered by God, doing things he never dreamed of doing before.
34b He blew a ram’s horn as a call to arms [make the sound of a ram’s horn], 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.
Men began to gather from every tribe and village in all of northern Israel, pouring into Gideon’s army by the thousands. By the time it was all said and done this fearful man had assembled an army of 32,000 warriors, ready to follow Gideon to their deaths.
And that’s when Gideon began to have second thoughts.
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.”
Gideon begins to wonder to himself: “God, what are you doing here? Are you really going to come through for us? Am I just like the pied piper, playing my ram’s horn and leading these men to their deaths?” He knew that as large as his force was, the enemy force was 135,000 strong – that’s four times as many troops as Gideon had. Not to mention their superior weapons and their fierce war camels. And nothing strikes fear into the heart of a warrior like an attack camel.
So Gideon decides to use a practice that is still used by many Christians today – he puts out a fleece to get confirmation from God.
You know how this works and you’ve probably done it yourself on one occasion or another. It’s where you say, “God, if you really want me to date this girl OR go to this college then prove it to me by doing X.” Usually we’re not as bold as Gideon. We don’t ask God to defy the laws of physics, like make “my cell phone levitate.” (or something funnier) It’s more like “make the next four stoplights turn green for me,” or “make me get a text message at exactly 9:10 pm.”
This is especially attractive because many of us are at a point in our lives when we are being called upon to make major decisions that will affect the course of the rest of our lives and we feel pretty confused about how to go about doing it. We see Gideon’s example and that sounds like a good idea to us – something we’re already inclined to come up with on our own. So we go for it.
Well, I’ve got some news for you. Fleecing God is a terrible way to figure out God’s will.
First of all, Gideon wasn’t using the fleece to determine God’s will. He found that out when God sent an angel who had a long conversation with him and explicitly told him that God wanted him to deliver Israel from the Midianites. Gideon even points this out “that you are going to help me rescue Israel as you promised.” Gideon was scared and was asking God to confirm the already revealed course of action. And he may have been looking for an excuse to get out of it.
Second, we see that fleecing God is really doesn’t help that much anyway. (read on…)
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.
So even after God answered Gideon’s sign, Gideon still wasn’t convinced. And if you’ve tried fleecing you probably know this.
For one, you can always doubt these things. “I did get a text message at 9:10, but I receive about 1000 text messages per day. So it’s really not that miraculous after all. Hey God, how about you make me not get a text message at 9:30, and then I’ll know this is really from you.” This is probably what happened to Gideon. Maybe somebody wet the fleece while he was sleeping. Maybe this would have happened anyway.
Or sometimes you get a partial answer to your sign. Three lights are green and the fourth one turns yellow as you are going through it. Does that count? Does a text message at 9:09 count?
Even after God answered his sign twice we don’t have any indication that his fears were alleviated, and we know from just a few verses later that Gideon was still real scared about the whole thing.
Another reason why fleecing is bad is because it’s you making God jump through your hoops. You can see that Gideon realizes he’s not supposed to be doing this – groveling and apologizing and asking God not to be angry. He realizes that he’s putting God to the test, something that was explicitly forbidden in Scripture (read Deut 6:16). It puts God in a weird position where you’re forcing him to answer or act in a certain way, and you have no idea how your demands might affect other things God is doing. You are not in a position to be bossing God around like he’s some local deity.
Instead, if you want to know God’s will for your life here are a few things you need to understand:
- God wants a relationship with you
- God reveals his general will to all believers
- Get into his word and start acting on what you find there
- Gideon’s revelation was verbal, but he also had very limited access to God’s written word
- Love God, love God’s people, love outsiders
- g. taking a job that removes you from fellowship with other believers
- Get into his word and start acting on what you find there
- God reveals specific direction for your life gradually
- God is probably not going to show you a vision of your future
- It could terrify you. The power of God can take you a long way and enable you to do things that far exceed your current abilities.
- Could stifle moment-by-moment obedience – could feel locked in, like that’s our destiny no matter what
- God is probably not going to show you a vision of your future
- Could stifle moment-by-moment faith & trust. No need to trust him each moment for fresh guidance
- Would stunt the growth of our decision-making faculties
- Would make things seem boring. There’s no sense of curiosity or anticipation about where our life is headed.
- Get input from godly people
- God only told Gideon his plan and the rest had to follow him in this crazy plan
- Requires a predisposition to follow (John 7:16-17)
- God is more committed to you than you are to Him
- This story is less about Gideon’s commitment to God and more about God’s commitment to Gideon with all of his fears and hang-ups
- Quotes from M. Blaine Smith, Knowing God’s Will
- On the one hand it is clear from the Bible that we are to have a healthy fear about the possibility of our sin interfering with God’s will… But on the other hand, it is equally clear that we are not to be obsessed with a fear that loses sight of the fact that he who is in us is greater than he who is in the world. In fact, it can certainly be said that if we have a healthy concern about sin in our lives, there is no need for extreme fear. The biblical picture of guidance is one of God’s taking the person who has a basic desire for his will and working out a plan in that person’s life which is realized to an important extent in spite of his or her weakness and sin.
- What this boils down to is that if our basic disposition is to do God’s will in the first place, we may be confident that he will take us to the key points in his plan, even though we may reach them in a wayward manner. While we need always to be doing battle with sin in our lives, the battle should be carried on in a spirit of victory rather than a spirit of defeat. Our search to know and do God’s will should be carried out in an attitude of tremendous security, not one of neurotic anxiety.
7:1 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.
Gideon’s like, “What!? We barely have a shot with 32,000!” And God’s like: “Yeah I know. That’s why we need to send some home. Because you think you still have a shot.”
2b If I let all of you fight the Midianites, the Israelites will boast to me that they saved themselves by their own strength.
3 Therefore, tell the people, ‘Whoever is timid or afraid may leave this mountain and go home.’”
So Gideon goes to the troops and says, “Hey guys, apparently God thinks that anyone who is afraid should head home. Although I know that this army doesn’t have anyone cowardly enough to run home to mommy.”
3b So 22,000 of them went home, leaving only 10,000 who were willing to fight.
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.
So Gideon’s probably relieved, thinking, “Whew. We only lost 300 more guys. Maybe God will stop discharging my men.” But God says, “Actually we just lost 9700 troops.”
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.”
You see, when God decides to do something big he needs to first make sure that there’s no way we can take credit for it. In fact, God isn’t worried at all with the size of the opponent. As far as he is concerned the biggest threat in this battle is the pride of his people. He knows the heart of man. He knows that our own “strength” just makes it harder to depend on him or even listen to him. I like how the apostle Paul puts it.
2 Cor 12:9-10 – He has said to me, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
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!
13 Gideon 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!”
Obviously! I mean, how else would you read that? I mean come on. It’s a loaf of barley!
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!”
So… God sent Gideon an angel, then anointed him with the Holy Spirit, gathered an army of 32,000, spoke directly to him four times, wet a fleece, dried a fleece, and torched 40 pounds of bread. And he wouldn’t believe. Then Miss Cleo comes up with the most random interpretation and all of a sudden he’s Rambo!
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!’ ”
Well that last part is a little weird. The Midianites obviously knew his name, and he was the anointed judge, so maybe he’s going for the intimidation factor. But this whole set of instructions does seem a little bit Gideon-centered. It kind of makes you wonder if the power is starting to go to his head.
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.
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!”
So all of a sudden the Midianites were woken from a deep sleep to the sound of 300 ram’s horns and the sight of torches on every side. They may have also used the torches to burn some of the tents on the perimeter.
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.
So this wasn’t really much of a battle. It was more like a death metal concert: a long, loud noise and then people trampling each other and lighting things on fire.
22b 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.
23 Then Gideon sent for the warriors of Naphtali, Asher, and Manasseh, who joined in chasing the army of Midian.
That’s also a little weird. Didn’t God just command Gideon to send all of those warriors home? When did he authorize Gideon to call them back into the battle? Wasn’t God’s primary concern the Israelites’ pride?
24 Gideon also sent messengers throughout the hill country of Ephraim, saying, “Come down to attack the Midianites. Cut them off at the shallow crossings of the Jordan River at Beth-barah.”
25 They captured Oreb and Zeeb, the two Midianite commanders, killing Oreb at the rock of Oreb, and Zeeb at the winepress of Zeeb.
And they continued to chase the Midianites. Afterward the Israelites brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon, who was by the Jordan River.
So the enemy has been defeated, their commanders have been killed and God has once again delivered the Israelites through Gideon. The story began with Gideon hiding in a winepress, and it seems to come to an end here, ironically, with the opposing commander being beheaded in a winepress.
And you know what? I wish the story ended there. I wish the next verse was something about there being peace in the land and the people following God and tearing down the rest of the altars to Baal just like Gideon did back in Ophrah.
But that’s not the end of the story. As Gideon stood there by the Jordan river with his exhausted troops and saw his men bring back the heads of those two commanders, no doubt applauding the mighty commander, the valiant warrior from Manasseh… something happened in Gideon’s heart. He decided that he wasn’t done fighting. He decided that he had some unfinished business to take care of.
8:4 Gideon then crossed the Jordan River with his 300 men, and though exhausted, they continued to chase the enemy.
5 When they reached Succoth, Gideon asked the leaders of the town, “Please give my warriors some food. They are very tired. I am chasing Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian.”
6 But the officials of Succoth replied, “Catch Zebah and Zalmunna first, and then we will feed your army.”
Maybe they didn’t think Gideon could finish off those kings and they were afraid of being punished by Midian for helping out their enemy when Gideon finally lost. They were playing it safe here and still had their money on Midian.
7 Gideon said, “All right, when the Lord has given Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, then I will thrash your bodies with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers.”
8 From there Gideon went up to Peniel and again asked for food, but he got the same answer.
9 So he said to the people of Peniel, “After I return in victory, I will tear down this tower.”
10 By this time Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor with 15,000 warriors—all that remained of the allied armies of the east, for 120,000 had already been killed.
11 Gideon circled around by the caravan route east of Nobah and Jogbehah, taking the Midianite army by surprise.
Is it just me or is this Midianite army pretty easily surprised? It sounds like they need to lay off the caffeine for a little while.
12 Zebah and Zalmunna, the two Midianite kings, fled, but Gideon chased them down and captured all their warriors.
13 After this, Gideon returned from the battle by way of Heres Pass.
14 There he captured a young man from Succoth and demanded that he write down the names of all the seventy-seven officials and elders in the town.
So he seizes a teenager and bullies him into giving him a list of all the leaders of Succoth.
15 Gideon then returned to Succoth and said to the leaders, “Here are Zebah and Zalmunna.
When we were here before, you taunted me, saying, ‘Catch Zebah and Zalmunna first, and then we will feed your exhausted army.’ ”
16 Then Gideon took the elders of the town and taught them a lesson, punishing them with thorns and briers from the wilderness.
17 He also tore down the tower of Peniel and killed all the men in the town.
Well, God never told him to do any of this. In fact, after Gideon crosses the Jordan River we never hear the voice of God. At some point the Spirit of God who clothed Gideon before his great battle quietly slips off of Gideon’s shoulders and into the background, never to appear in Gideon’s life again.
What we see from Gideon is cruel, power leadership. This isn’t winepress Gideon. This is King Gideon. And after brutally punishing the cities that didn’t help him during the pursuit he is finally ready to deal with the kings of Midian. You can imagine Gideon bringing out these men in front of all of his troops, no doubt tightly bound, and forcing them to drop to their knees in humiliation.
18 Then Gideon asked Zebah and Zalmunna, “The men you killed at Tabor—what were they like?”
“Like you,” they replied. “They all had the look of a king’s son.”
19 “They were my brothers, the sons of my own mother!” Gideon exclaimed.
“As surely as the Lord lives, I wouldn’t kill you if you hadn’t killed them.”
Well this just confirms what we’ve suspected all along. Gideon has hijacked the army of God and is now using it to carry out his own personal vendetta. This is not about liberating God’s people for the glory of God. This is about punishing Gideon’s enemies for the glory of Gideon. King Gideon.
20 Turning to Jether, his oldest son, he said, “Kill them!”
But Jether did not draw his sword, for he was only a boy and was afraid.
21 Then Zebah and Zalmunna said to Gideon, “Be a man! Kill us yourself!”
Are you strong Gideon? Are you a man? Show us how strong you are!
21b So Gideon killed them both and took the royal ornaments from the necks of their camels.
The apostle Paul wrote, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” And I think you could say the opposite is true as well: “When I am strong, then I am weak.” Too strong to need God or even to give him a second thought.
22 Then the Israelites said to Gideon, “Be our ruler! You and your son and your grandson will be our rulers, for you have rescued us from Midian.”
That’s funny. I thought God was pretty clear that He delivered the people. Wasn’t God worried this would happen?
23 But Gideon replied, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son. The Lord will rule over you!
24 However, I do have one request—that each of you give me an earring from the plunder you collected from your fallen enemies.”
25 “Gladly!” they replied. They spread out a cloak, and each one threw in a gold earring he had gathered from the plunder.
26 The weight of the gold earrings was forty-three pounds, not including the royal ornaments and pendants, the purple clothing worn by the kings of Midian, or the chains around the necks of their camels.
27 Gideon made a sacred ephod from the gold and put it in Ophrah, his hometown.
But soon all the Israelites prostituted themselves by worshiping it, and it became a trap for Gideon and his family.
Well, it was nice that Gideon had torn down the altar to Baal in his hometown of Ophrah. But the last state is worse than the first. Their little town became a center of idol worship for all of Israel.
30 He had seventy sons born to him, for he had many wives. [just like a king would have]
31 He also had a concubine in Shechem, who gave birth to a son, whom he named Abimelech [which means “my father is king”]
This is hypocrisy at its finest. He fails to correct their false praise – attributing to himself what God has done, which is a real danger when you start serving God.
Maybe some of you can relate to this. Like Gideon, you continue to pay lip service to God but deep down your heart is far from him. And back in your hometown you’re strutting around in your purple robes with your pendants and your royal harem and your golden idol, king of your own world.
Hosea 13:5-6 – I cared for you in the desert, in the land of burning heat. When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me.
And here’s the most out of place verse in the entire chapter. (eliminate this?)
28 That is the story of how the people of Israel defeated Midian, which never recovered. Throughout the rest of Gideon’s lifetime—about forty years—there was peace in the land.
Let’s draw some conclusions here
- Be willing to follow God
- When you stop following, you stop depending on Him
- God leads you to your point of weakness so you can be strong in Him