1. The leadership of Moses and Joshua. This is followed by the relative independence of the twelve tribes. They are expected to govern themselves without a single leader – but they drift away from the law and become incapable of resisting the internal and external enemies. The Lord sends them judges to fight for them and during the life of each judge there is peace. When the judge dies, the people revert to their old ways. As chapter six opens, the people have been unfaithful after forty years of peace.
Typically, the peace lasts for a generation or two and then begins to unravel toward the end. The idols come back out. The old practices resurface and the parents begin to recognize the signs of the inevitable judgment – but they kick the can down the road and leave the consequences to the next generation.
2. The world of this story is dominated by fear. It is like a London fog in an old movie. You see the characters moving about but everywhere there is fear. We shouldn’t be surprised. If perfect love casts out all fear then wherever the love of God has departed fear and dread will take over.
Everyone is afraid. They are hiding from the Midianites in caves and clefts and strongholds. Gideon is hiding. He is afraid of his family. The people in his city are afraid. His son is afraid. Two-thirds of his army goes home because they are afraid. Even the enemy is routed by fear. Fear is everywhere and is the dominating feature.
This is, in a sense, a story about what happens in a culture overcome by fear. We feel it ourselves, I think. We live in a world that is not only uncertain, but afraid. We are afraid of what is happening – whether it be the global markets, global terrorism, global insecurity, global disruptions, global environment, etc. We pick up the newspaper and see the top ten stories are about violence and fear. That is the context in which we live our lives. We are not hiding in literal caves but we increasingly are creating cocoons for ourselves – homes, cars, schools, neighborhoods.
3. It is also the story of two invasions. The first is obvious. The Midianites regularly invade the land to ravage it. They wait until harvest and then prey on the defenseless and discouraged people. They do not invade to occupy. They only come to steal everything the land has produced during the year.
But there is a second invasion. It is the invasion of light into darkness and hope into despair. It is an angel of the Lord who comes to tell the disbelieving and skeptical Gideon two things. First, that God is with him. That’s a theme in Scripture, isn’t it?
Jacob in Genesis. Joshua. David. Isaiah. Jeremiah. Mary. the Disciples. Paul.
There is a difference between sending someone and being with someone. My first experience of going door to door witnessing. I was petrified and could not or would not have done it by myself. Someone went with me. “I’ll go with you” are some of the most comforting and encouraging words any of us hear…and that is what God says to Gideon. I am not sending you on your own. I will be with you. Maybe that is why God chose for Jesus a name that means just that – Emmanuel. God with us. I will go with you.
Second, that God sees in Gideon what he cannot see in himself – nor can anyone else. ”The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” Remember the story of Mark, the young, fearful, spoiled boy who deserts Paul? What is the end of his story? He is the founder of the Christian church in Egypt and patron saint of Venice. His symbol is the Lion. No one could have seen that. Only God.
“Go in the strength you have.” Not the strength of someone else. David could not fight in Saul’s armor. The particular strength you have is the particular strength that is needed right now. It doesn’t seem like much to you – and it is not – but it is the strength that will save Israel. It is not Samson or Joshua or Deborah or Othniel. It is Gideon.
We see this at the beginning of the battle with the Midianites when Gideon says, “For the Lord and for Gideon.” It was not just “for the Lord” and it was not his ego or pride that added “and for Gideon”. It was his own recognition that this was his role. When he snuck down to the camp with his servant (because he was afraid to go by himself) he heard the men talking about him. It was him they recognized by name. “This can be nothing but other than the sword of Gideon, son of Joash, the Israelite. God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands.” Andrew MacLaren “He did not think much of himself—he reckoned himself to be the least of all his father’s house and that his father’s house was little in Israel—but the foes of Israel had taken another gauge of Gideon—they had evidently the notion that he was a great man whom God might use to smite them and they were afraid of him.”
That changed Gideon. He saw himself differently…and he needed to.
“What is the one thing people need from you right now – even if it makes you uncomfortable?” That is what a consultant asked me years ago and it took me time to come up with the right answer. I was with a young leader this week who is facing that very question as her ministry grows. She lacks nothing but more money – but she does not want to be the one to raise the money. She needs to find the answer to that question and accept the responsibility.
4. What was wrong has become protected and what was right is now a crime. Look at 6:27 – 32. The people are so far removed from God that they are no longer hiding their sin. They are punishing those who call it into question or call it sin. I keep going back to Psalm 12:8: “The wicked freely strut about when what is vile is honored among men.” It is the inevitable result of abandoning obedience to God. Evil is good and good is evil. Tolerance becomes tyranny.
5. The turning point. It is the same for Gideon as it is for all the Judges. In spite of their flaws they are anointed. They are not elected. The Spirit of the Lord comes on them. Again, anointing is not just for the moment. It lasts a lifetime. It brings not just spectacular experiences but permanent responsibility and duty. The anointing is for the balance of their lives – not just special times. As long as they are alive Israel is faithful and protected.
6. The battle itself. It is one of our first examples of asymmetrical warfare. “You strike at the core of their identity. What they see as their great strength becomes their point of vulnerability. You find that and capitalize on it.”
The core of their strength was their trust in an overwhelming force and their ability to settle in with no resistance from the people.
Everything Gideon did reversed that. I don’t think he had a plan before he went into the camp and I think this is when he first understood what the angel said at the beginning. “Go in the strength you have” Sometimes that unique strength does not come to us until the final moment or in a flash of inspiration. But it was a strength that would have not worked with a large force. .He used a small force of men to capitalize on the fear that was already in the enemy camp. He did it without conventional weapons – trumpets, jars and torches. It was our first sound and light show. Their swords were not drawn. They had the element of surprise in their favor. Just as Gideon did when he tore down the idols he used the advantage of night. There was mass hysteria and they attacked each other while the Israelites looked on. “Great armies, once struck with amazement, are like wounded whales. Give them but line enough, and the fishes will be the fishermen to catch themselves.” It must have been a great comfort to Gideon to think that the Midianites dreamed about him and that their dreams were full of terror to themselves. He did not think much of himself—he reckoned himself to be the least of all his father’s house and that his father’s house was little in Israel—but the foes of Israel had taken another gauge of Gideon—they had evidently the notion that he was a great man whom God might use to smite them and they were afraid of him. He that interpreted the dream made use of the name of, “Gideon, the son of Joash,” evidently knowing a great deal more about Gideon than Gideon might have expected. “This,” said the soldier, “is the sword of Gideon, the son of Joash, a man of Israel: for into his hand has God delivered Midian and all the host.”
The War of the Worlds was an episode of the American radio drama anthology series Mercury Theatre on the Air. It was performed as a Halloween episode of the series on October 30, 1938 and aired over the Columbia Broadcasting System radio network. Directed and narrated by Orson Welles, the episode was an adaptation of H. G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds. Some listeners heard only a portion of the broadcast, and in the atmosphere of tension and anxiety leading to World War II, took it to be a news broadcast. Newspapers reported that panic ensued, people fleeing the area, others thinking they could smell poison gas or could see flashes of lightning in the distance. Some people called CBS, newspapers or the police in confusion over the realism of the news bulletins. Initially Grover’s Mill (the site of one of reports in the drama) was deserted, but crowds developed. Eventually police were sent to control the crowds. To people arriving later in the evening, the scene really did look like the events being narrated, with panicked crowds and flashing police lights streaming across the masses. There were instances of panic throughout the US as a result of the broadcast, especially in New York and New Jersey.
Within one month, newspapers had published 12,500 articles about the broadcast and its impact. Adolf Hitler cited the panic, as Richard J. Hand writes, as “evidence of the decadence and corrupt condition of democracy.”
We have many examples of mass panic and hysteria – especially when people are predisposed to it. God may have dispersed that same dream around the entire army. The sound of 300 men shouting may have had the same effect the rebel yell did on Union soldiers. “The sound made by victorious Confederate soldiers was so singularly unique, so unforgettable, so commanding, that some federal units became demoralized and fled when they first heard it.” However he did it, it worked and they were routed and destroyed.
7. We are not all Gideons – just as we are not all Moses or Joshua or Samson or David – but the Lord is with us in the same way. I do believe we live in a world that is penetrated and defined by fear and uncertainty. Everyone is looking for a large force that will defeat the enemy. I believe God is calling us to go in the unique strength we have, to first destroy the idols we all have in our tents and lives and then recognize that God is with us. He has not sent us to be courageous on our own. We may not be confident but we are protected. We may not have the advantage of numbers but we follow a God who will use our limitations to prove we have not done this on our own with our own devices or be able to boast that our own strength has done this.
8. But there is also a warning. Judges 8:22-27:
22 The Israelites said to Gideon, “Rule over us—you, your son and your grandson—because you have saved us from the hand of Midian.” 23 But Gideon told them, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The LORDwill rule over you.” 24 And he said, “I do have one request, that each of you give me an earring from your share of the plunder. ” (It was the custom of the Ishmaelites to wear gold earrings.) 25 They answered, “We’ll be glad to give them.” So they spread out a garment, and each of them threw a ring from his plunder onto it. 26 The weight of the gold rings he asked for came to seventeen hundred shekels,[b] not counting the ornaments, the pendants and the purple garments worn by the kings of Midian or the chains that were on their camels’ necks. 27 Gideon made the gold into an ephod, which he placed in Ophrah, his town. All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family.
His success led him and his family into a snare. They turned something good (the ephod) into an idol. It’s as relevant today as it was then. Just read the account of Penn State taking down Joe Paterno’s statue today. Something good was turned into an idol and a “culture of compliance” created a snare not just for Paterno and his family but the whole community. It’s strong language but a school did “prostitute” itself by worshiping the football program.
Be careful with your success.