February 17, 2015.
Daily Reading: Judges 6-10.
Background: Judges 1-5.
Concepts and Connections.
1. The charge of the Lord: At the beginning of this chapter, we see that the vicious cycle that would occur time and again in Israel during the time of the judges has once again begun with the people forsaking the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and turning to the gods of the inhabitants of the land that they did not drive out. For this reason, the Lord gives them into the hands of the people of Midian, who would encamp against them and devour the produce of their land. They would take all the sustenance of the land, and they and their camels were seemingly innumerable. Realizing that their troubles had come because they had forsaken the Lord and turned to other gods, they cried out to the Lord that He might have mercy on them and save them from the hand of the Midianites. But the Lord sent a prophet to Israel to give them a strong charge that was being laid against the by God. The Lord recounted what He had done for them in bringing them out of the hands of the Egyptians and all who oppressed them, showing Himself to be the Lord their God and telling them that they were not to serve the gods of the Amorites. Then He told them what they had done: they had not obeyed the voice of the Lord, but rather they had indeed went to worship the gods of the people of the land where they dwelt. Though we will see that the Lord would indeed raise up a champion because He heard the voice of the people who cried out to Him, the first thing He did was send a clear message to His people, that they might reflect on what they had done and work to not do it again. Unfortunately, they would not learn from their mistakes as we will learn in later chapters. Let us not make the same mistakes of the children of Israel here, and when God convicts us of sin, let us repent and not go again to it. The proverb says that this is like a dog returning to his own vomit (see Proverbs 26:11 and II Peter 2:22).
2. Rising of a champion to save: Fortunately for the children of Israel, the Lord is a God of mercy and forgiveness, a God who loves His people. When they return to Him in repentance, He would avenge them. After all, that was the point of giving them into the hands of their enemies: to show them that they had forsaken Him and that He was not pleased with their actions. Thus, the people cry out, and the Lord goes to a man named Gideon. However, when the angel of the Lord first comes to Gideon to tell him that the Lord is with him, Gideon questions the angel, asking why the Midianites were oppressing the children of Israel if indeed the Lord was with them. He even accuses the Lord of forsaking His people! It would seem that Gideon didn’t hear the message of the prophet, or didn’t grasp what was bing said. Regardless, the angel of the Lord ignores the questions and tells Gideon to go and save Israel because the Lord had sent him. Though Gideon was bold in questioning, when he is told to do something about it, he looses all confidence in himself. How could he save Israel? There are two lessons that we can take from this part of the story. The first is, if the Lord is with you, what seems impossible (such as Gideon taking on the innumerable people and camels of Midian) becomes not only possible, but guaranteed (so long as we follow the will of God). Secondly, sometimes the burden of change to get out of a bad situation falls on our own shoulders, though the strength of God. Gideon had no problem complaining about his situation to the angel of the Lord, even accusing the Lord of forsaking His people. But what was the answer he was given? “Go do something about it. God is with you.” The call to action falls on us to do something to change what needs to be changed and make a difference amongst the people of God. It is our responsibility to make things happen, for God is already doing His part working through us. It is not by our strength, but it is through our obedience to His word.
3. If he is a god, let him contend for himself: There is an interesting concept that is brought up in the middle of Gideon’s rise to become a champion of Israel. Before he leads the people, God tells him to destroy the alter of Baal and cut down the Asherah and in their place build an alter to God, burning a bull for sacrifice with the wood from the Asherah that had been cut down. Gideon did this at night for fear of the people, but in the morning when they saw what had happened, they were very angry and searched out who had done this thing. When they found out that it was Gideon, they went to his father and told him to bring Gideon out so that they could kill him. Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, Joash stands up for his son by asking a question that has noteworthy implications. Why did Baal (or the Asherah) need the people to defend him? If he was a god, he should be able to defend himself. Then Joash calls on Baal to contend for himself, which is why Gideon was also called Jerubbaal, which means ‘Let Baal contend against him.’ How often do we try to defend God? How often do we try to justify/reconcile/harmonize hard sections of scripture so as to refute what the world has to argue about it? Now, this is not to say that we should not defend our faith, always ready with an answer of the hope that is within us (see Colossians 4:6 and I Peter 3:15), but rather we do not actually need to live in worry about defending God. God is truth, and He is very capable of defending Himself. When we try to come up with ways to defend His word, sometimes we do more harm than good. Let us therefore teach the truth of God’s word, and stand by it in its entirety, in firm faith and trust. The word of God will always stand.
4. Asking for signs: It would seem that the faith of Gideon is not always the strongest, perhaps from a lack of confidence in himself or a fear of the enemy. On multiple occasions Gideon asks for a sign that he might know that what he had been told was indeed the truth. On one occasion, Gideon even asks for a second sign, granted in a reserved manner, after being given the first sign that he asked for, just so that he could be sure. The interesting part of the story is that God gives Gideon the sign he asks for every time. When Gideon asks for a sign to know that what the angel of the Lord said to him was true, he sees his gift of food to the angel burnt up and the disappearance of the angel. When Gideon asks God to make the fleece wet with due and the ground around dry, God does it. When he asks for the opposite, God does it. When he is too fearful to go down to battle, the Lord tells him to go down by night and gives him a sign even through the words of the enemy (see chapter 7)! God was more than willing to show Gideon who He was and that He was with him. Though this story may not necessarily teach that we should always asks God for a specific sign when we aren’t sure that He is with us (though the topic of asking for signs and casting lots to ascertain the will of the Lord throughout scripture poses some interesting questions), it should serve for us to know that God is in control and that He will lead those who are willing into His will. He will guide our steps if we lean on Him and trust in His ways. Let us ever look to God for guidance.
Salvation is through the Lord’s power, not man’s: If you ever doubt the power of the Lord, this is a very good story to which to go. Gideon as we know has been sent by the Lord to deliver the people of Israel out of the hand of the Midianites. So, as one would expect for a man who is about to go to war with a numerous enemy, Gideon sends a call though Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali to gather troops (see chapter 6) to prepare for battle. However, when the army set out and camped before they got to the camp of Midian, the Lord told Gideon that the number that he had with him were too many. This was not to say that God couldn’t have used the full number that Gideon had gathered (around 32,000 men), but rather that He did not want the people of Israel to think that they had over come the hand of the Midianites by their own might. God leads Gideon through a series of was to filter out some of the men of war until the final number that God will use against the Midianites (who, as we will remember, seem innumerable) was 300 hundred. It is interesting to note that the men that God told Gideon to send home were those who were fearful, and those who knelt down to drink instead of drawing the water to their face, possibly indicating their alertness to their surroundings. Nevertheless, the Lord told Gideon to take only these 300 men to fight against the Midianites, and that is what Gideon did. We need to understand that salvation comes only from the hand of God, regardless of our efforts and actions. The will of the Lord will prevail against all other forces, no matter how many ‘soldiers’ He has, so to speak. This story is not unlike the story of the chariots of fire that surrounded and protected Elisha and his servant from the army that came to take Elisha captive (see II Kings 6:8-23). The Lord is always in control.
1. When taunting comes back to bite you: Just as the Lord had promised to Gideon, He was with him as they went to war with the men of Midian and He had given them into their hands. The men of Midian fled from the 300 men of Gideon and the Israelites pursued them across the Jordan. When they came to the city of Succoth, Gideon’s men were exhausted and hungry from the pursuit and they asked them for some bread to eat. However, the officials of Succoth mocked them because they had not already taken the kings of Midian into their hands and they would not give them anything to eat. In a similar manner, the men of Penuel, the next place that Gideon’s men came to, said the same thing to Gideon and his men. For this mockery and inhospitality, Gideon told each place that he would come back with punishment after he had defeated the kings of Midian, and this is exactly what he did. When the Lord gave the two kings of Midian into the hand of Gideon, he returned to Penuel and Succoth and did exactly what he said he would do, teaching them a lesson. Though we live in a very different context than Gideon did, this story does lend itself to the idea that our inhospitality and mean actions will likely come back around to bit us.
2. The downfall of Gideon and the people: The story of Gideon starts out with him doing so well. He answers the call of the Lord to rise up as a champion to deliver Israel from the hand of their enemies, and the Lord grants him great success. He brings peace to the land. Even when the people try to make him a ruler over them, he refuses and asserts that the Lord is their ruler. Then things take a turn for the worse, as Gideon, seemingly out of nowhere, asks for the earrings of the spoil that they had just taken so that he can make an ephod (which was set up as an idol, perhaps even an metal idol of the Lord of Israel). This ephod became a snare to Gideon and his family, as well as all the people, for they worshiped it as a god. Thus, the vicious cycle that the children of Israel were caught up in during the time of the judges started over again, as the people forsook God after He had delivered them from the hand of their enemies. It is important to note here that even something that we don’t necessarily mean to become an idol (it would seem that the ephod of Gideon wasn’t made with the intention of falling away from the Lord) can indeed become a snare to us if we are not careful.
Judgement will come: After Gideon dies, one of his 70 sons, Abimelech, rises up in a quest for power and convinces the people of the land (and hiring worthless men) to kill the rest of the sons of Gideon so that he can be the sole leader. Abimelech is successful in his quest, though the youngest son of Gideon, Jotham, manages to hide himself and escape to Beer after challenging the intention of the people for setting up Abimelech as their leader. This is a rather lengthy chapter that details interesting stories of Abimelech’s rise to power, his dominance and subsequently his downfall; however, though it is lengthy, there is one take home message that the whole story concludes with: God’s judgment will find you out. Abimelech’s story starts out with evil, as his lust for power drives him to murder the rest of his brothers and manipulate the people into following him. For three years Abimelech ruled over Israel, but in those three years, God drove a wedge between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem, using each party’s pride and arrogance against them, culminating in somewhat of a civil war between those who were on the side of Abimelech and those who were with the leaders of Shechem. Though Abimelech gains the upper hand, killing many of his enemies, his life ends when a woman upper millstone on Abimelech’s head and crushed his skull (Joab, the commander of David’s army, cites this story in his message to the king after Uriah the Hittite is killed in battle, see II Samuel 11:14-21). He called one of his men over to kill him with a sword before the blow of the woman killed him. The final message, however, was that the Lord had returned to both Abimelech and the men of Shechem on their heads. The judgement of the Lord does not miss His mark.
The cycle that frustrates God: Though it should not be unexpected at this point in the book of Judges to find the children of Israel again falling away from the Lord after two more judges, Tola and Jair, lead the people, there is an interesting insight in this chapter to how God felt about the cycle that they had succumbed to. Due to their abandonment of God, they were given into the hand of the Philistines and into the hand of the Ammonites, and were oppressed for 18 years. Finally, the people realize their sin and cry out the the Lord their God and confess that they had sinned against Him. What does He say? He replies with the great things that He has done for them in the past, starting with Egypt and then citing several of the other enemies that He had delivered them from. Then He says that He will not deliver them because of their abandonment of Him. We can see from this story the great distress that the Lord is feeling for His people. He wants to save them, and He indeed would heed their cry of repentance, putting away the foreign gods from before themselves, due to His character of mercy and foreignness, but they keep forsaking Him and worshiping other gods of the land. God is not an impersonal God who does not care about His people, but rather He is a loving God who is grieved when His people fall away from Him (see Isaiah 54:6, 63:10 and Ephesians 4:30). Thus, when His children would repent, He would raise up a deliverer to save them. Let us learn from this that sin does not simply end in the judgement of God, but it also grieves His Spirit. God does not want us to turn away from Him, but He has given us that choice. Let us make the right choice (see II Peter 3:9).
Tomorrow’s Reading: Psalm 18-20.
Break the cycle.