Trust God and obey His calling in your life1
Introduction: This chapter tells the story of God’s calling in Gideon’s life to deliver Israel from the Midianites. This account mirrors God’s calling in Moses’ life, and the initial failures of Moses’ faith. Like Moses, Gideon failed to trust God when He called Gideon into service. Yet, unlike Moses, Gideon was a flawed deliverer. He later descended further into sin after God used him. From Gideon’s calling and his initial response, God reveals seven lessons on trusting Him.
First, from the Jews’ oppression at the hands of the Midianites and the Amalekites after sinning, God reveals that ongoing sin will lead to ongoing suffering. Second, from His promise to deliver the Jews even though they failed to repent of their sins, He reveals that He is filled with mercy and grace when you call out to Him. Third, from His selection of Gideon as His deliverer, He reveals that He will lift up the lowly and humble to be His servants. Fourth, from Gideon’s demand for a sign in response to God’s calling, He reveals that true faith trusts in Him and His Word. Fifth, from Gideon’s obedience in destroying the altar of Baal and an Asherah pole, He reveals that true faith produces the fruit of obedience in destroying the idols in your life. Sixth, from the Jews’ attempt to kill Gideon for destroying their idols, He reveals that Satan will pursue you when you serve the Lord. Finally, from Gideon’s demand for two more signs after the Midianites and the Amalekites pursued after Him, He reveals that He is the God of multiple chances. Even when your faith fails you, He will give you multiple chances to return to Him.
Israel’s sin and their oppression under the Midianites. After Deborah and Barak’s victory over the Canaanites, the Jews returned to their sins. As a result, God placed them into bondage under the Midianites for seven years: “1 Then the sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord gave them into the hands of Midian seven years. 2 The power of Midian prevailed against Israel. Because of Midian the sons of Israel made for themselves the dens which were in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds. 3 For it was when Israel had sown, that the Midianites would come up with the Amalekites and the sons of the east and go against them. 4 So they would camp against them and destroy the produce of the earth as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel as well as no sheep, ox, or donkey. 5 For they would come up with their livestock and their tents, they would come in like locusts for number, both they and their camels were innumerable; and they came into the land to devastate it. 6 So Israel was brought very low because of Midian, and the sons of Israel cried to the Lord.” (Jdgs. 6:1-6). God had granted the Jews 40 years of peace (Jdgs. 5:31). Yet, this peace was a test that the Jews failed by returning to idolatry. By this point, the Jews had become trapped in a familiar cycle of sin. Each time they cried out from their sins, God sent a deliverer. Yet, each time He delivered them, they returned to sin (Jdgs. 2:19). For example, after Joshua’s death, they began to worship the Canaanite gods (Jdgs. 2:10-13). Likewise, after Othniel’s death, they returned to their evil ways and found themselves in bondage again (Jdgs. 3:12-14). They also turned to evil following Ehud’s death (Jdgs. 4:1). As God had done in the past, He allowed others to torment the Jews for their sins. This time, He used the Midianites. The Midianites were descendants of “Midian” through Abraham and his concubine Keturah (Gen. 25:1-2). Because Abraham was not meant to have children with others besides his wife, the Jews paid for his sins of the flesh. Initially, the Midianites were friendly to the Jews. Moses lived in Midian and married a Midianite named Zipporah (Ex. 2:21). Later, after Midianite women seduced a large number of Jewish men to worship their idol Baal-phegor through temple prostitution, the Jews killed an entire clan of Midianites (Nu. 31:1-54). The Midianites lived in the northwestern Arabian Peninsula where food was scarce. Here, God allowed the Midianites to pillage the Promised Land for the Jews’ food resources.
Unrepentant sin may cause God to remove His hedge of protection. The Midianites’ attacks on the Jews’ food stocks fulfilled a curse that Moses had previously warned of: “I, in turn, will do this to you: I will appoint over you a sudden terror, consumption and fever that will waste away the eyes and cause the soul to pine away; also, you will sow your seed uselessly, for your enemies will eat it up.” (Lev. 26:16). “Your ox shall be slaughtered before your eyes, but you will not eat of it; your donkey shall be torn away from you, and will not be restored to you; your sheep shall be given to your enemies, and you will have none to save you.” (Dt. 28:31). “A people whom you do not know shall eat up the produce of your ground and all your labors, and you will never be anything but oppressed and crushed continually.” (Dt. 28:33). The prophet Jeremiah later again warned that sin would allow the enemy to invade and plunder the Promised Land: “They will devour your harvest and your food; they will devour your sons and your daughters; they will devour your flocks and your herds; they will devour your vines and your fig trees; they will demolish with the sword your fortified cities in which you trust.” (Jer. 5:17). Although sin will not cause you to lose your salvation, it can cause you to lose God’s hedge of protection. Are you standing outside of His protection in your life?
God’s mercy and grace in promising to save the Jews. As He had done previously, God heard the Jews’ cries for help from their oppression. Even though the Jews failed to repent of their sins, He showed His mercy and grace in promising to deliver them: “7 Now it came about when the sons of Israel cried to the Lord on account of Midian, 8 that the Lord sent a prophet to the sons of Israel, and he said to them, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘It was I who brought you up from Egypt and brought you out from the house of slavery. 9 I delivered you from the hands of the Egyptians and from the hands of all your oppressors, and dispossessed them before you and gave you their land, 10 and I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you live. But you have not obeyed Me.’’” (Jdgs. 6:7-10). In the similar account leading to Moses’ calling, God responded to the cries of His people in Egypt out of love and compassion: “The LORD said, ‘I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings.’” (Ex. 3:7). He had also responded previously to their cries of oppression in the Promised Land: “When the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge and delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed and afflicted them.” (Jdgs. 2:18). “Many times He would deliver them; they, however, were rebellious in their counsel, and so sank down in their iniquity. Nevertheless He looked upon their distress when He heard their cry; and He remembered His covenant for their sake, and relented according to the greatness of His lovingkindness.” (Ps. 106:43-45). This same love caused Jesus to come to Earth and allow Himself to be killed so that undeserving sinners might be delivered (Jo. 3:16). If God has rescued you from the pain of your sin, how are you thanking Him? (Ro. 12:1-2).
Show gratitude for the price Jesus paid for your deliverance. Like the Jews, believers frequently cry out from the consequences of their own sins. Like the Jews, Jesus has freed you. Yet, unlike the Jews, He wants you to show your gratitude by living a changed life for Him: “and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” (2 Cor. 5:15). “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Cor. 5:17; Ro. 6:4). “and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” (Eph. 4:24). Are you living a transformed life by turning away from the old things of the flesh?
God’s selection of Gideon as His deliverer. Instead of choosing a mighty warrior to deliver the people, God chose the youngest son from one of the least respected families from the tribe of Manasseh: “11 Then the angel of the Lord came and sat under the oak that was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press in order to save it from the Midianites. 12 The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, ‘The Lord is with you, O valiant warrior.’ 13 Then Gideon said to him, ‘O my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.’ 14 The Lord looked at him and said, ‘Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you?’ 15 He said to Him, ‘O Lord, how shall I deliver Israel? Behold, my family is the least in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father’s house.’” (Jdgs. 6:11-15). In that time period, the oldest son would typically receive any special honors in the family. Thus, as the youngest son, Gideon would not have expected God to use him. Although the text later reveals that Gideon’s family had servants (Jdgs. 6:27), his clan was one of the least respected within the tribe of Manasseh. As we will later learn, Gideon’s family also worshiped Baal. They even built an altar to help others do so as well (Jdgs. 6:26). Like Moses, who committed murder and worshiped Egyptian gods in Pharaoh’s court, Gideon thought there was no way that God would call a lowly sinner like him to be His deliverer: “But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?’” (Ex. 3:11). As the youngest son in his family, David also questioned the calling in his life: “But David said to Saul, ‘Who am I, and what is my life or my father's family in Israel, that I should be the king's son-in-law?’” (1 Sam. 18:18). “Then David the king went in and sat before the LORD, and he said, ‘Who am I, O Lord GOD, and what is my house, that You have brought me this far?’” (2 Sam. 7:18). Yet, that is exactly what God does. He calls the lowly sinners to become His servants. Are you responding to His calling in your life?
When God is with you, the enemy cannot defeat you (Rom. 8:31)2
Humble yourself in faith and He will also use you. Like Moses, Gideon, and David, God will also use you when you humble yourself before Him: “He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble.” (Lk. 1:52). “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” (Jam. 4:10). “So that He sets on high those who are lowly, and those who mourn are lifted to safety.” (Job 5:11). A nation will also be healed when it humbles itself before God: “and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chron. 7:14). Do you walk with humility and give God credit for your successes?
God sees you for what you will become, not what you are. This account is also remarkable because God called Gideon a “valiant warrior” at a time when Gideon was beating his grapes in secret because he feared the Midianites (Jdgs. 6:12). Jesus also looked upon Simon and renamed him Cephas or Peter: “He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).” (Jo. 1:42). Even though Peter was a failure while Jesus lived on Earth, Jesus saw him for the man of faith that he would become after denying Jesus at the time of his death: “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” (Matt. 16:18). God also sees you for the person that you will become in Him, not according to your past or present sins. Are you stepping out in faith for God to transform you?
Jesus’ promise to be with Gideon and empower him. In response to Gideon’s humility, the Lord promised to be with him: “16 But the Lord said to him, ‘Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat Midian as one man.’” (Jdgs. 6:16). Because this was the Lord who spoke, it had to be one of many occasions when Jesus made an appearance in the Old Testament, called a “Christophany”. It could not have been God the Father because no one has ever seen Him (Jo. 1:18). Jesus appeared to Hagar (Gen. 16:7-14; 21:17-19). He appeared to Abraham (Gen. 18:1-33). He wrestled with and blessed Jacob (Gen. 32:24-30; Hos. 12:2-5). He was also the “I AM” who spoke with Moses at Mount Horeb (Ex. 3:13-15; Jo. 8:57-58). He was also the commander of God’s army at Jericho, who told Joshua to remove his sandals in His presence (Josh. 5:13-15). He was also in the furnace protecting His servants in the book of Daniel (Dan. 3:25). He appears in both the Old and New Testaments to reveal that He does not change with time: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Heb. 13:8). As He did with Gideon, Jesus also empowered others. For example, He empowered Moses: “And He said, ‘Certainly I will be with you, and this shall be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain.’” (Ex. 3:12). He also promised to be with Joshua: “No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.” (Josh. 1:5). He has also given you His Spirit of strength, not fear: “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” (2 Tim. 1:7). Do you trust His Spirit to allow you to act boldly for Him?
God’s mercy and grace in response to Gideon’s lack of faith. Although Jesus promised to empower Gideon to free the Jews, Gideon failed to trust Him by demanding that He produce a sign to confirm His Word: “17 So Gideon said to Him, ‘If now I have found favor in Your sight, then show me a sign that it is You who speak with me. 18 Please do not depart from here, until I come back to You, and bring out my offering and lay it before You.’ And He said, ‘I will remain until you return.’ 19 Then Gideon went in and prepared a young goat and unleavened bread from an ephah of flour; he put the meat in a basket and the broth in a pot, and brought them out to him under the oak and presented them. 20 The angel of God said to him, ‘Take the meat and the unleavened bread and lay them on this rock, and pour out the broth.’ And he did so. 21 Then the angel of the Lord put out the end of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened bread; and fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened bread. Then the angel of the Lord vanished from his sight. 22 When Gideon saw that he was the angel of the Lord, he said, ‘Alas, O Lord God! For now I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face.’ 23 The Lord said to him, ‘Peace to you, do not fear; you shall not die.’ 24 Then Gideon built an altar there to the Lord and named it the Lord is Peace. To this day it is still in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.” (Jdgs. 6:17-24). Gideon’s request for God to consume a blood and bread offering followed a similar procedure for offerings set forth in the Torah (Lev. 6:21). Yet, his (1) demand for a sign and (2) his fear that God’s Spirit would depart showed a weakness in his faith. He was, however, in good company in doubting God’s calling. Moses repeatedly questioned God’s calling (Ex. 3:11; 4:10, 13). He also demanded a sign so that others would believe that God had sent him (Ex. 4:1). David also felt the need for a sign of God’s confirmation: “Show me a sign for good, that those who hate me may see it and be ashamed, because You, O LORD, have helped me and comforted me.” (Ps. 86:17). Likewise, Thomas demanded to see the holes in Jesus’ hands to confirm that He had risen from the dead (Jo. 20:25; Mk. 16:11-14). God’s offer of peace showed His mercy and grace in forgiving Gideon for his lack of faith. Jesus also offered peace to Thomas instead of rebuking him. “Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, ‘Peace be with you.”’ (Jo. 20:26(b)). If you have failed to trust God, do you thank Him for His mercy and grace?
Ferdinand Bol (1616-1680) “Gideon and the Angel” (etching 1640)3
Gideon’s obedience in destroying the altar of Baal and the Asherah pole. After Gideon’s initial lack of faith, He then showed faith by destroying an altar to the Canaanite god Baal and a fertility cult poll to their fertility goddess Asherah: “25 Now on the same night the Lord said to him, ‘Take your father’s bull and a second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal which belongs to your father, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it; 26 and build an altar to the Lord your God on the top of this stronghold in an orderly manner, and take a second bull and offer a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah which you shall cut down.’ 27 Then Gideon took ten men of his servants and did as the Lord had spoken to him; and because he was too afraid of his father’s household and the men of the city to do it by day, he did it by night.” (Jdgs. 6:25-27). Gideon’s family had been compromised in their faith by worshiping both Yahweh and Baal. Gideon’s father built the altar to Baal (Jdgs. 6:26). This makes God’s calling to Gideon all the more remarkable. Gideon most likely doubted God’s calling because of his family’s sins in leading others astray in Baal worship. Gideon showed great faith by answering God’s calling and smashing the altar that his father had built. This lesson from Gideon is that God calls upon believers to first put their own house in order before they can help others.
Pieter Aertsen (1507/8-1575) “The destruction of Baal’s altar (drawing est. 1550-55)4
Smash the idols of the flesh in your life. The Canaanites built Asherah polls to encourage their god Baal to have sex and allegedly bless the land with fertility. The Canaanite temple prostitutes worked in these temples and sought to entice the Jews to be with them. Through Moses, God previously commanded the Jews to tear down these sex idols: “But rather, you are to tear down their altars and smash their sacred pillars and cut down their Asherim.” (Ex. 34:13; 23:24). “But thus you shall do to them: you shall tear down their altars, and smash their sacred pillars, and hew down their Asherim, and burn their graven images with fire.” (Dt. 7:5; 12:3; 16:21). “then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, and destroy all their figured stones, and destroy all their molten images and demolish all their high places;” (Nu. 33:52). Like Gideon, God called you when you were still a sinner. Although the idols of the flesh today are different, the message is the same. You are also called upon to destroy the idols in your life. If your phone, your computer, or your TV causes you to stumble, will you remove them?
The Jews’ attempt to kill Joshua for destroying their idols. Even though the Jews cried out for deliverance, they tried to kill the person that God’s sent to deliver them from their bondage: “28 When the men of the city arose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was torn down, and the Asherah which was beside it was cut down, and the second bull was offered on the altar which had been built. 29 They said to one another, ‘Who did this thing?’ And when they searched about and inquired, they said, ‘Gideon the son of Joash did this thing.’ 30 Then the men of the city said to Joash, ‘Bring out your son, that he may die, for he has torn down the altar of Baal, and indeed, he has cut down the Asherah which was beside it.’ 31 But Joash said to all who stood against him, ‘Will you contend for Baal, or will you deliver him? Whoever will plead for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because someone has torn down his altar.’ 32 Therefore on that day he named him Jerubbaal, that is to say, ‘Let Baal contend against him,’ because he had torn down his altar.” (Jdgs. 6:28-32). As one commentator notes, “The sentence that should have been imposed on idolaters is pronounced upon the one who destroys the idol! The Canaanization of Israelite society appears complete, leaving the reader amazed that Yahweh was still interested in delivering them!” (Daniel Block, The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, Judges, Ruth, Vol. 6, B & H Publishing Group 1999 p. 268). Only Joash, Gideon’s father, realized the error of their ways. He pointed out that the Jews were advocating for Baal against the Law given through Moses. Although it might be tempting to mock the Jews for their foolishness, their actions foreshadowed a different kind of idolatry that has taken hold today: “For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” (Ro. 1:25). Certain parts of the Bible are called hate speech today. Quoting from the Bible can draw scorn and ridicule in many places today.
The Jews also attacked Jesus when He challenged the false beliefs of that day. The angry mob was no doubt influenced by Satan. The people’s attempt to punish Gideon for his actions foreshadowed the persecution that Jesus faced when He preached the righteousness of His kingdom. “For this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath.” (Jo. 5:16). After Pilate declared Jesus innocent, the crowds demanded that He be killed anyway. “And all the people said, ‘His blood shall be on us and on our children!’” (Matt. 27:25). If you are grateful for what Jesus did for you at the cross, are you following after His righteousness?
Satan will also seek to persecute you when you stand for Jesus. When you seek to do His righteousness, others will also reject you: “You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.” (Matt. 10:22; Mk. 13:13; Lk. 21:17). “Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name.” (Matt. 24:9). Will you stand for Jesus, even if others ridicule you for believing in Him and the morality of the Bible?
Gideon’s demand for a second sign in response to the enemy’s planned attack. Even though Gideon showed great faith in destroying a Canaanite altar, his faith failed when he learned that the Midianites and the Amalekites sought to kill him. Instead of trusting God, he demanded a second and a third sign to confirm God’s calling: “33 Then all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the sons of the east assembled themselves; and they crossed over and camped in the valley of Jezreel. 34 So the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon; and he blew a trumpet, and the Abiezrites were called together to follow him. 35 He sent messengers throughout Manasseh, and they also were called together to follow him; and he sent messengers to Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, and they came up to meet them. 36 Then Gideon said to God, ‘If You will deliver Israel through me, as You have spoken, 37 behold, I will put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then I will know that You will deliver Israel through me, as You have spoken.’ 38 And it was so. When he arose early the next morning and squeezed the fleece, he drained the dew from the fleece, a bowl full of water. 39 Then Gideon said to God, ‘Do not let Your anger burn against me that I may speak once more; please let me make a test once more with the fleece, let it now be dry only on the fleece, and let there be dew on all the ground.’ 40 God did so that night; for it was dry only on the fleece, and dew was on all the ground.” (Jdgs. 6:33-40). Gideon had no reason to doubt God. Through the power of the Spirit, 32,000 men responded to his call to battle (Jdgs. 7:3). These men appeared even though many of them had just called for his death for destroying an altar to Baal. Gideon failed to show faith in this account a total of three times. The first was with his initial calling (Jdgs. 6:17). Gideon then gave God two separate tests with the fleece. God showed that He was true to His Word. He also showed His mercy and grace by doing what Gideon requested without rebuking him. Despite Gideon’s weakness in his faith, God also showed His mercy and grace with the undeserved honor of listing Gideon amongst the heroes of the faith in the Bible (Heb. 11:32). God’s grace shows that He can use you, even when you repeatedly fail Him.
God will also give you second and third chances. Thankfully, God will give you many chances to turn back to Him when your faith fails: “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9). “Therefore the LORD longs to be gracious to you, and therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you.” (Is. 30:18). God has given you many chances to serve Him. Are you abusing His mercy and grace?
Image credit: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/GOLpQJKbUW8/maxresdefault.jpg↩︎
Image credit: Ferdinand Bol: Gideon and the Angel (artbible.info)↩︎