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The Christian Counter

   
Gideon – Reluctant Warrior
Lesson 44
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The book of Judges describes the first 350 years of Israel’s experience in Canaan. The narrative begins during the time of Joshua (around 1398 B.C.) and ends just before Saul becomes Israel’s king (around 1043 B.C). During this period, the Lord Himself was Israel’s king. Unfortunately, His people did not give Him much respect. In fact, the last verse in the book of Judges closes by saying, “everyone did as he saw fit.” (Judges 21:25) After Joshua died, God called various men and women to be judges to guide and govern His wayward people, but they had limited success. Israel vacillated between submission to the Lord and rebellion against Him. Israel’s inclination toward rebellion was a constant problem. In fact, the Bible suggests that there were seven periods of apostasy, seven periods of servitude and seven restorations during the time of the judges! God is changeless and the carnal nature is predictable. The history between God and Israel was preserved in the book of Judges for thousands of years and like a mirror, it reflects how He deals with all nations and people. In the same way, Israel’s treatment of God reflects, like a mirror, how most of the human race treats God. Actually, the Bible tells the story of our lives, only it uses different names! If you and I had lived in those days, most of us would have fit right in with Israel’s “on again” and “off again” relationship with the Lord! If God had destroyed Abraham’s offspring at Mt. Sinai as He proposed to do (Exodus 32:10), and replaced Israel with the offspring of Moses, the results would have been the same – only the names would have changed. The Bible is an amazing book. It describes the present human condition with a thousand parallels from the past! When I study the Bible, I realize my own human nature is not that different from the antediluvians that scoffed as Noah built an ark. Sometimes, I am rebellious, like Israel. In some ways, I am blind, like the Pharisees. Other times, I am like the disciples and I do not understand the words of Jesus. In some ways, I am like doubting Thomas and impetuous Peter. When I am totally honest with myself, I realize that I have a lot in common with many Bible characters. In good ways and bad ways, they are like me and I am like them.

Two Nasty Problems

Seven cycles of “apostasy – servitude – restoration” in 350 years says much about the longsuffering of God, and also the inherent rebellion of humanity. Two problems plague the human race: Man’s first and greatest problem is his innate rebellion against God’s authority. The second problem is the ignorance between generations. On the topic of rebellion, we are spring-loaded from birth to reject everything that God wants of us. (Romans 8:7) For example, God insists that we rest on His Sabbath. “Wow! Look at the wonderful benefit God has set up for us! A day of rest each week. Thanks Lord!” Actually, our hearts respond with just the opposite reaction. It typically goes like this: “Whoa! I don’t know about the Sabbath rest thing. I have a job, family and friends to consider. Israel was no different and constantly struggled with their desire to abandon God’s Sabbath rest! (Ezekiel 20) Truthfully, before you break any of God’s commandments, you break the first commandment before any of the others! So, how is Israel’s apostasy different from our own apostasy? Refusing to obey God or justifying behavior that is contrary to god’s commands is the same as Israel’s rebellion. God knows that man’s propensity toward rebellion can be moderated through punishment, just as a good parent disciplines a child. In fact, if we were truthful, almost everyone will give in and say “uncle” if tortured long enough.

During the times of the judges, Israel experienced Gods judgments seven times and repented seven times, each time for the wrong reason! Have you ever heard someone say, “Lord, I will do anything you want, just answer my prayer”? This is the religious equivalent to saying “uncle.” Again, this response indicates submission to god, but for the wrong reason. When suffering accomplishes its highest calling, suffering from God brings us into humble submission. We pray as Jesus did when facing death, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)

Of course, God knew that the people of Israel repented because they experienced the hardships of His judgments. This is why God’s punishments were redemptive for many centuries. God designed His wrath to bring the nation of Israel to her knees so that she might look up and consider the wisdom of her King. Good discipline may be punitive, but it should also be instructional! “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11) Did you notice those last words, “for those who have been trained by it”? Some people are punished, yet they never get the point or learn the lesson. For example, more than 90% of certain classes of felons return to prison after being set free! In this case, discipline does not help if the lessons are not learned. This is why God has a second type of punishment called destructive punishment. When redemptive judgments fail, destructive judgments terminate the problem. For example, the world’s inhabitants went beyond the point of redemption in Noah’s day. If a worldwide, waist deep flood could achieve redemptive results; god would not drown the whole world and started over. God knew the cancer of sin and the redemption was out of the question, so He killed all but eight people and started over. God disciplined Israel with redemptive punishments for many centuries because He wanted Israel to wake up and observe the deadly consequences of sin. Eventually, God gave up and destroyed Israel as a nation in A. D. 70. God has a message for everyone on Earth about rebellion: Rebellion begins with forbidden pleasure or profit, which produces a harvest of sorrowful consequences and broken relationships. In the end, sin requires the penalty of death.

If we divide 350 years by seven “apostasy – servitude – restoration” cycles, the average is one cycle every 50 years (which is approximately once per generation). Since generations of people come and go, the second problem God has with humanity is the “next generation.” A punished generation may repeat and learn from god’s discipline, but the next generation rarely reaps the benefits of discipline given to its elder generation! In fact, god has to start over with the next generation because it does not understand that god means what He says and is a powerful force. So, the younger generation arrives on the scene and makes the same mistakes as the previous generation and travels down a rebellious road, yielding to the temptations of sin. Then, the cycle of degeneration starts again. History constantly repeats itself because it is almost impossible for the next generation to possess the wisdom and experience of its elder generation! Therefore, the mistakes and the apostasy of the former generations are repeated by the next generation.

God keeps Vigil

With these thought in mind, I would like you to consider the story of Judge Gideon that indicates several end time parallels. The story begins during one of Israel’s suffering cycles – a time of servitude: “Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites. Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count the men and their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it. Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help.” (Judges 6:1-6)

When the majority of people in a nation become decadent and degenerate, the “Land-Lord of Earth” moves into action. God hates sin and will destroy people who insist on rebellion. In Israel’s case, God gave His land over to the Midianites for seven years. (If you want to know why the promised land is “God’s land” rather than Israel’s land, see Leviticus 18:24,25; 25:23.) God made Israel’s defenses weak and her borders porous. Israel’s “Homeland Defense Minister” could not stop the terrorists from Midian from entering the land occupied by Israel. The Midianites destroyed their homes, took their crops and killed their animals. God allowed the Midianites to decimate the promised land “that flowed with milk and honey” because He was displeased with His people. “When the Israelites cried to the Lord because of Midian, he sent them a prophet, who said, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. I snatched you from the power of Egypt and from the hand of all your oppressors. I drove them from before you and gave you their land. I said to you, “I am the Lord your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.” But you have not listened to me.’” (Judges 6:7-10) The words of the prophet address the core problem. Israel had abandoned God and His Sabbath rest and merged with mainstream religious practices. Israel worshiped the hedonistic gods of the Amorites (the Baals) because the Baals, unlike the God of Heaven, gave people the freedom to do whatever they wanted. Sexual immorality was not a controversial issue. In fact, it was considered entertainment, a popular part of fertility cult worship. The religion of the Baals was bewitching; a sensual religion that appealed to the carnal passions of its worshipers.

Restoration

When the seven years of Midianite occupation had been served, God changed Israel’s desperate situation. Israel was not allowed to weasel out of the punishment. “They did the crime; they did the time.” The ironic point about this turn of events is that god used the Midianites to punish Israel for their rebellion against Him, and then used Israel to destroy the Midianites because of their great sexual immorality and depravity! When the time came to set Israel free from the Midianite occupation, God chose the son of a prominent Baal worshiper to be a Judge for Him. (Imagine that!) Gideon was a timid, but sincere young man, who refused to worship the Baals. When the story begins, Gideon (in his early 20’s?) was threshing wheat in his hideout. “The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, ‘The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.’ ‘But sir,’ Gideon replied, ‘if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, “Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?” But now the Lord has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.’

[The Lord offered no explanation to Gideon why Israel was in the hands of Midian. God had already explained this through a prophet.]

“The Lord turned to him and said, ‘Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?’ ‘But Lord,’ Gideon asked, ‘how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.’ The Lord answered, ‘I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.’ “Gideon replied, ‘If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.’ And the Lord said, ‘I will wait until you return.’ Gideon went in, prepared a young goat, and from an ephah of flour he made bread without yeast. Putting the meat in a basket and its broth in a pot, he brought them out and offered them to him under the oak. The angel of god said to him, ‘Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on the rock, and pour out the broth.’ And Gideon did so. With the tip of the staff that was in his hand, the angel of the Lord touched the meat and the unleavened bread. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the angel of the Lord disappeared.” (Judges 6:11-21)

Theses verses give me goose bumps! I can imagine Gideon running around, trying to get his offering together. Then returning breathlessly, he puts the offering on a rock. The Lord stretches out His staff and “poof” – fire comes out of the rock and consumes the meat, bread – everything! The Lord suddenly disappears from view, but not from Gideon’s presence!

“When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he exclaimed, ‘Ah Sovereign Lord! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!’ But the Lord said to him, ‘Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.’ So Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and called it The Lord is Peace….

“That same night the Lord said to him, ‘Take the second bull from your father’s herd, the one seven years old. [Evidently, the first bull was their best breeding bull.] Tear down your father’s alter to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it. Then build a proper kind of altar to the Lord your God on the top of this height. Using the wood of the Asherah pole you cut down, offer the second bull as a burnt offering.’ So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the Lord told him. But because he was afraid of his family and the men of the town, he did it at night rather than in the daytime.

“In the morning when the men of the town got up, there was Baal’s altar, demolished, with the Asherah pole beside it cut down and the second bull sacrificed on the newly built altar! They asked each other, ‘Who did this?’ When they carefully investigated, they were told, ‘Gideon son of Joash did it.’ The men of the town demanded of Josash,’Bring out your son.  He must die, because he has broken down Baal’s altar and cut down the Asherah pole beside it.’ But Joash replied to the hostile crowd around him, ‘are you going to plead Baal’s cause? Are you trying to save him? Whoever fights for him shall be put to death by morning! If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar.’ So the next day they called Gideon ‘Jerub-Baal,’ saying, ‘Let Baal contend with him, because he broke down Baal’s altar.’” (Judges 6:22-32 insertion and italics mine)

The Lord used this notable incident to let Israel know that He had chosen the young, timid Gideon as a leader. This action by Gideon was completely out of character! However, when God’s Holy Spirit power rests on a willing heart, there is no limit to what God can accomplish! Gideon’s father (a member of the elder generation) recognized the power of god upon his son and he successfully defended his son’s behavior! (I believe Gideon’s father’s conscience condemned him in his heart for worshiping Baal.) God chose the weakest man in town to send a signal through the land that He was about to rescue His people. A few days later, this signal made perfect sense!

The Sword of the Lord and of Gideon

“Now all the Midianites, Amalakites and other eastern peoples joined forces and crossed over the Jordan and camped in the Valley of Jezreel. [They were intent on plundering the possessions of the Israelites.] Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him. He sent messengers throughout Manasseh, calling them to arms, and also into Asher, Zebulon and Naphtali, so that they too went up to meet them. Gideon said to god, ‘If you save Israel by my hand as you have promised – look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.’ And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew – a bowlful of water.

[The ever-timid Gideon needs assurance, so he asks the Lord for a sign. God faithfully responds.]

“Then Gideon said to God, ‘Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece. This time make the fleece dry and the ground covered with dew.’ That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; and the ground was covered with dew.

[Again, the ever-timid Gideon needs assurance. God patiently responds.]

“Early in the morning, Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) and all his men camped at the spring of Harod. The camp of Midian was north of them in the valley near the hill of Moreh. The Lord said to Gideon, ‘You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength had saved her, announce now to the people, “Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.”’ So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained.

[The ever-timid Gideon begins to have heartburn. “Lord, too many soldiers?” How can an army ever have too many soldiers?]

“But the Lord said to Gideon, ‘There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will sift them for you there. If I say, “This one shall go with you, “he shall go; but if I say, “This one shall not go with you,” he shall not go.’ So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the Lord told him, ‘Separate those who lap the water with their tongues like a dog from those who kneel down to drink.’  Three hundred men lapped with their hands to their mouths. All the rest got down on their knees to drink. The Lord said to Gideon, ‘With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the other men go, each to his own place.’ So Gideon sent the rest of the Israelites to their tents but kept the three hundred, who took over the provisions and trumpets of the others.

“Now the camp of Midian lay below him in the valley. During the night the Lord said to Gideon, ‘Get up, go down against the camp, because I am going to give it into your hands. If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah and listen to what they are saying. Afterward, you will be encouraged to attack the camp.’ So he and Purah his servant went down to the outposts of the camp.

[An ever-timid Gideon needed more assurance. Notice how the Lord assures Gideon of victory over the Midianites and use the enemy to confirm to Gideon what the Lord is going to do!]

“The Midianites, the Amalekites and all the eastern peoples had settled in the valley, thick as locusts. Their camels could no more be counted than the sand on the seashore. Gideon arrived just as a man was telling a friend his dream. ‘I had a dream, ‘he was saying. ‘A round loaf of barley bread came tumbling into the Midianite camp. It struck the tent with such force that the tent overturned and collapsed.’ His friend responded, ‘This can be nothing other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands.’ When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he worshiped God. He returned to the camp of Israel and called out, ‘Get up! The Lord has given the Midianite camp into your hands.’


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