The Israelites had messed up . . .again. This was a common theme throughout the book of Judges which would constantly lead to God bailing them out in one way or another. They cried out to God for deliverance. . . again. Another key theme to the solid devotion that they had to their God. I hope you picked up the sarcasm in that statement. The image of Israel that we see throughout the entirety of the Old Testament is just a beautiful image of us as people. If we are honest with ourselves and our relationships with God, we come to acknowledge that we are all like Israel. We are devoted to God for a while and then turn our backs on Him when something shinier enters our view. We hope that we will eventually live more days devoted than not but we can take confidence in knowing that the heart of God is to deliver his people when repentance is present.
The Israelites were having a hard time with their neighbors. Chapter six tells us that whenever they planted crops the Midianites and Amalekites would rush in and destroy every living thing that they came across. They’d destroy the plants and slaughter the livestock which left Israel impoverished. It left them hungry and with very little hope leading them to cry out to God for some kind of relief.
Now, many parents, when their kids were hurting or being picked, on I’m sure their first instinct was to rush out and save them. They’d hug them and tell them everything is going to be okay as they kiss them on their foreheads and hold them close, rocking them in an effort to console. As we imagine this picture of compassion and protection the way we would like it to be handled, we like to believe that God is the same way and will just rush to the rescue of His people Israel. The knight in shining armor to their damsel in distress.
God, however, responded a bit differently. In Judges 6:8-10 we see that God sends a prophet with a message to His people. The prophet tells the people, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. I rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians and I delivered you from the hand of all your oppressors; I drove them out 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.”
Ouch. This seems a bit harsh doesn’t it? The people were being oppressed and impoverished and God basically turns to them and says, “You put yourself in this situation. I brought you out of bondage and oppression and gave you everything you could ever need and more. All I asked is that you remain faithful to me and obey me and you’ll never be in want, you’ll be protected, and you’ll be at peace. What did I get in return? You spit in my face and went after other gods.”
Now, thankfully, our interaction and understanding of God doesn’t end here in this story. You see, God is incapable of ignoring the cries of His people. He is a god of justice, mercy, and forgiveness. So, everyone take a deep, thankful breath for this. When true repentance is present God cannot help but act. It’s in his nature and so he sets in place a plan to rescue His wayward people, once again.
Cue the entrance of an angel of the Lord. This is typically how the best stories of God’s deliverance goes. This angel comes and sits down under a tree near where Gideon, son of Joash, is threshing wheat in a winepress and rests his staff against the trunk. I can imagine he was probably sitting there for a bit, enjoying the shade, watching this young man work before finally speaking up. In verse 12 he does that when he says, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”
Kind of an odd greeting, but it’s enough to snap Gideon out of his work trance to notice the individual sitting behind him. His willingness to respond will serve as the first potential turning point in his life as Gideon engaged in conversation with this stranger who has shown up on is father's land.
Now, remember. Gideon is in the same culture that is crying out to God for deliverance in the midst of being trampled upon by the enemies of Israel. If we place ourselves in Gideon’s shoes and feel the defeat and hopelessness that they probably felt as a society, his response seems pretty appropriate for where they were in history.
In verse 13, Gideon responds by saying, “Pardon me, my lord, but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”
You can almost feel the skepticism in Gideon’s response. This stranger has come to him and said the Lord is with him but Gideon, like many people, failed to see tangible evidence of God’s working and so rejected the very idea that God was even concerned with His people anymore. In Gideon’s mind, “No powerful works equals no support from God.” To Gideon and, I’m sure, many others in Israel, God had abandoned them long ago and without the display of miraculous works God wasn’t even present among them anymore.
Now, I imagine this angel of the Lord looks at Gideon sympathetically but also with a slight smirk. He understands the pain and feelings of abandonment that Gideon has experienced and pauses briefly before uttering a response that is going to set up a major turning point in Gideon’s life. I imagine he stood up, walked over close to Gideon, looked him directly in the eye and with confidence says, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”
Okay, let’s pause here. I want you to see that this is the turning point for Gideon. He is now faced with a choice to either take confidence and follow through with what this stranger is telling him or to turn away and go back to threshing his wheat. In other words, Gideon now needs to put up or shut up. He’s brought this complaint to God, and God has offered, not just Gideon, but Israel a way out. Just as Moses was faced with this choice when he came upon the burning bush, Gideon now faces his own life altering decision and the opportunity to make this a milestone in his life. It’s important to reflect on this because some times we need to sit in the heaviness of such a decision and allow ourselves to try and feel what Gideon felt.
I don’t know about you, but I’d be terrified. That’s a lot of responsibility to rest on a young man who, as far as we know, only knows farming. He doesn’t seem to be a warrior of any kind but this stranger seems to have labeled him this way. As a result of all this, I can understand Gideon’s response.
I imagine, with fear in his eyes, Gideon swallows deeply and responds, in verse 15, “Pardon, me my lord, but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” In other words, he responds with “Woah, woah woah, when I said Israel should be saved, I meant by someone else, not me.” In a matter of moments, Gideon goes from angry confidence to fearful avoidance.
Cue the sad trombone. Many of us would love it if these big characters in scripture responded with robust bravado. Bravery, courage, and confidence would be great to see because it reminds us of those stories we hear as kids or in Disney movies of the valiant knight, but that’s the beauty of scripture. The stories we have make it very clear that God is the hero and not mankind. Courage, strength, and victory comes through God while mankind is fearful, weak, and selfish. Gideon, like many others in the biblical stories, started making excuses for why he wasn’t the man for the job.
I think at this point, the angel of the Lord recognized the fear in Gideon’s eyes. I can also imagine that he inched a little bit closer to Gideon, probably breaking social distancing guidelines, placed his hand on his shoulder, looked him in the eye with only the peace and comfort that can come from God and responded in gentleness with, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.”
Decision time has come for Gideon. I imagine he breaks eye contact and looks off into the distance weighing out the decision before him. Fear is there but it starts to subside as something in the eyes and tone of the stranger brings about a sense of peace. What was once anxiety melts away to comfort and a sense of purpose for him. Gideon, being human however, still has a tingling of doubt and needs something to solidify the faith he so desperately wants to place in this calling.
After a few moments, Gideon finally looks the stranger back in the eye and responds, in verse 17, “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.” To which the angel agrees and Gideon rushes off to prepare a young goat and some bread without yeast to offer to the man who has taken his place back under the tree where he originally sat.
Gideon rushes off to prepare the offering and returns a while later with the goat meat stew and some unleavened bread. Keep in mind this probably wasn’t a quick process so I can only imagine the kind of internal dialogue taking place with Gideon at this point. Once he gets there, the angel instructs Gideon to set down the meat, pour the broth over it and set the bread beside it to which Gideon obeys.
Now, let me remind you, to this point Gideon believes he’s talking to some random person who just came and sat under his father’s tree. While the things this man has told him are a bit odd there has been nothing to imply that he is anything more than an eccentric traveler. That is all about to change.
Once Gideon lays out the offering as he was instructed to do, the traveler stretches out the staff he has with him and touches the meat and bread which triggers fire to flare from the rock it was sitting on, consuming the items. Once those items were gone, the angel vanished as well.
Wait. . . what?! Try, if you can, to put yourself in the shoes of Gideon. You’re standing there talking with this strange traveler and, after setting some meat and bread on fire, he just disappears. I would imagine Gideon experienced some shock as to what happened and stood there in stunned silence before it actually set in.
This incredible feat triggered Gideon’s response in verse 22 of chapter 6 where he exclaims, “Alas, Sovereign Lord! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!”
So we’re not confused here. This was not a remark of how amazing this experience was for him. This was a realization of total fear. Think back to this exchange. Gideon badmouthed God’s response to Israel’s suffering and basically accused him of abandoning His people directly to the face of one of His angels. Gideon was having a complete, terrified meltdown as he came to realize that this being had the power to end Him right there and yet did not.
Think back on your life to a time when you may have experienced a near death event or barely escaped from a situation that could have drastically altered your life. The fear, the adrenaline, the shock, but also the appreciation of safety is probably all that Gideon went through there. In the most basic understanding, he was freaking out and it was going to take a lot for him to calm down. He was, most likely, worried that this was going to get back to God and it was not going to end well for Him.
I can’t imagine his panic lasted too long, however, In verse 23 the Lord speaks directly to him and says “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.” This statement from the Lord, Himself, I imagine brought peace and comfort to Gideon as he came to realize that God is merciful and understanding. He recognized that even though, God had the authority to wipe Gideon out of existence because of his doubt and wavering, the Lord was patient. This did, however, trigger Gideon to build an altar to the Lord in remembrance of what had happened there. He gave it a name which served as a reminder that “The Lord is Peace” since it was here that in the midst of his doubt, calling, and panic God brought peace upon him for what was to come.
After this, obedience and faith in God came easier for Gideon. As the story continues God tells Gideon to tear down the altar to Baal and the Asherah pole and build a proper altar to the God of Israel and sacrifice a bull on it. Gideon obeyed and, out of fear of the people, accomplished the task at night but the people knew who had done it. When called to account, Gideon’s father stepped in and told them to let Baal fight his own battles if he’s all that powerful and Gideon got a cool new nickname, Jerub-Baal which meant “Let Baal contend with him.”
Later on God would lead Gideon and 300 soldiers to defeat the Midianites by using their own confusion leading to a victory for Israel which would deliver them from their oppression once more.
This story of Gideon reveals to us a few very important things about allowing God to transform turning points into milestones. There is no doubt that this event in Gideon’s life changed him. If any of us encountered something as dramatic as this, I would hope it would have a deep and lasting positive impact on our lives.
The first thing is that we don’t need to hide how we may feel about God from Him. Gideon seems to have settled on the idea that God had abandoned Israel and he responded to the angel with exactly how he felt. He was willing to settle for his stake in life and he wasn’t happy about it but it was what it was. This was all put out there in his discussion with the wandering angel.
If you weren’t sure already, God knows how you feel about him but sometimes I think we try and hide it from ourselves. We live in a state of delusion about what we really think about God and it hinders us from truly interacting with Him as we are. Even if we do know how we feel, we follow the “Fake it to make it” principle which leads to a bitter and empty spirituality. Sometimes it is necessary for us to enter our prayer closets and tell God exactly how we feel. If you’re disappointed in him, let him know it. If you’re pleased with him, let him know it. If you’re angry with him, let him know it. If you’re awed by him, let him know it. You get the idea. In order for us to even begin to recognize when we’ve arrived at moments like Gideon did, we need to be honest with ourselves and with God about how we feel about Him.
Secondly, recognize your part in all of it. As people we like to believe that when we go through tough times it’s someone else’s fault. It’s difficult to take the blame for things that we have done because we don’t want to admit that we’ve failed. In Gideon’s mind it was God that had done Israel wrong and not the other way around. He seemed to believe that God just did wonders all the time without any real part played by the people of Israel. In reality, however, there was a part that needed to be played and that was repentance for straying from God.
I think what Gideon experienced in his time is very similar to what we encounter in our western civilization today but to a much larger degree. With advancements in medical technology and over saturation of experiences we’ve lost touch with the awe of God. We don’t witness his power like it used to be experienced because we live a comfortable lifestyle. If we are honest with ourselves, as a society, we haven’t faced hardships all that much to the degree that many others in the world have. We live relatively at peace without much threat of war or extreme famine and we are blessed by that but it’s made us apathetic. Until we open our eyes and realize that we have muted God’s power in exchange for technological advancements, it’s going to be hard to notice God’s presence even though He is with us at all times.
That being said, we don’t want to assume that just because we don’t experience great powers from God that He isn’t working and present. God was obviously present in Gideon’s day because he heard the cry of His people. In the same way, though we may not see the move of God’s hand in tremendous ways we can have confidence that He is working and available at all times.
Finally, we need to be more aware of when these moments come our way. There is no formula for knowing when these transitional moments are going to take place in our lives. The best that can be offered is by taking time to look back at the most influential times in your life and evaluating why they were so significant. Ask yourself questions like “Why did this event stick with me?” “What did I learn from this or how did this shape me?” “How was my life different after this event and in what ways has God grown me through it?” “How can that event be used in a way to further God’s kingdom moving forward?”
No one does things perfectly and if you feel you’ve missed taking advantage of milestones in your life it’s nothing to beat yourself up over. Start where you are and make it a priority each day to try and pinpoint the highlight of that day or week. Talk with God about how significant events in your life can be used to further His kingdom in some way. Talk with others about this same thing if you are getting stuck or having a hard time hearing from God. Like Gideon, make yourself physical reminders of those milestones to serve as triggers which will force you to recall what you learned about God through such life defining moments. Every time Gideon saw that altar he was reminded that the Lord brings peace. He would be transported back to that day when he encountered an angel of the Lord, told him what he thought about God, and lived to tell about it because of God’s amazing mercy.