Sermon preached by Dan Leafe Anchor Fowey, May 2023
If only the book of Judges could have finished in chapter 5!
“So may all your enemies perish, O LORD! But your friends be like the sun as he rises in his might.
“And the land had rest…”
Chapter 5 vs 31. Israel were God’s friends and were strong like the rising sun. The land and its people are at rest- secure under the rule of God.
“And the land had rest for forty years”.
But only forty years. And it did not have to be this way. We know that there is a cycle that starts with the judge Othniel. When Ehud becomes the judge (chapter 3 vs 12) it is said, “And the people of Israel again did what was evil…”. And the same with Deborah and Barak, (chapter 4 vs 1), “And the people of Israel again did what was evil…”.
But you will see there is no “again” in chapter 6 verse 1 “The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD”.
That’s all. No “again”, it was not inevitable. The cycle of sin and misery could have been broken. The forty years could have stretched to eighty years, or a hundred years or simply a whole new future for Israel. Things could have been different this time, but they weren’t, the magnetic pull of Canaanite worship was too strong, and Israel was too used to giving in to it.
Just forty years and then chapter 5 vs 1 for seven years like a massive swarm of locusts (vs 5) the Amalekites of chapter 3 are back, this time with the help of the Midianites and others. They come and go as they wish and ravage the land. Israel is made homeless (vs 2) and hungry (vs 5). They are unstoppable and (vs 2) “overpower” Israel. They even have a new secret weapon (vs 5)- the first recorded deployment of a cavalry of camels. The peoples’ animals are stolen and instead the people live like animals. But it did not have to be so. They did not have to do it “again”. Sin is never inevitable.
Sin is never inevitable. But also, sin is never irredeemable.
Eventually (vs 6) Midian brings Israel low enough to cry
“…out to the LORD…”.
And the LORD answers- first 7-10 but not with a judge. Before any judge God sends a prophet, who reminds Israel both of who he is of their sin in the light of that. vs 10 they have disobeyed the voice of the God who had rescued, redeemed, reconciled and restored them. “But you have not obeyed my voice”.
Again, perhaps it’s what isn’t here matters. Surely it should read, “But you have not obeyed my voice” THEREFORE. Therefore, I will judge you, therefore you must repent, therefore I will do what I’ve done before. But there is no, therefore.
That is because we haven’t arrived at that point yet. The most important issue has not been resolved. ‘But you have not obeyed my voice’. That is the issue, how will the voice of God be treated?
And so what follows is a series of challenges to Gideon on behalf of Israel as to how the voice of God will be treated.
The Angel of the LORD makes two important statements of fact. First, (vs 12), “The LORD is with you…”
This is, of course the great covenant promise of the Covenant making God. “I will be with you”.
So. Challenge#1: Will Gideon believe the voice of God or his fear that God has failed? tis 13, “Please sir, if the LORD is with us, why then has this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us?”
If God is really still with Israel, if he remains the same promise-keeping God, why are things not as good as they were a few hundred years before? The years when (vs 13) the LORD brought them out of Egypt in what we call the exodus? Much more so- why are they now so much worse and deteriorating year by year? This is supposed to be the land overﬂowing with milk and honey, but it is overﬂowing with nothing but Midianites and hunger.
Another translation says, “Where are the wonders out fathers told us about”?
And Gideon essentially blames God- why has he not kept his promises. Does not all they have experienced over the last seven years prove that God is unfaithful?
Of course, it does not- it shows that the people have been unfaithful- the covenant includes sanctions as well as blessing and God has been faithful to it but his people have only listed to that part of his voice they liked. They have ignored (vs 10) that they must not fear other Gods or there will be trouble.
Israelite culture has gone to the dogs- they are a supposedly Godly nation who are now worshipping the false Gods of the Canaanites alongside Yahweh. The culture is obsessed with worshipping Gods of the most common trio of all -money, sex and power. And so, it is an impoverished culture ever more beholden to its idols and betraying its covenant God with them.
I think we understand Gideon. Why has our so-called Christian nation become neo-pagan in its idolatry and superstitions? If God is still with us, why aren’t we seeing revival- a new Wesley or Whifield or Haslam, or Fowey’s own Jonny May. Where are the signs and wonders and miracles and conversions our fathers and mothers told us about? How has the culture of money, sex and power overwhelmed us?
The LORD’s answer to Gideon’s first argument and to us is already there in vs 12, the covenant God does not fail his people “The LORD is with you”.
Challenge #1: Will Gideon believe the voice of God, or his fear God has failed?
I said there were two statements of fact. vs 12, the Angel of the LORD calls Gideon, “… O Mighty man of valour”.
At this moment Gideon is threshing wheat in a wine press. Wheat is normally threshed in the open to let the breeze separate the heavier wheat from the lighter husk, but Gideon is literally and metaphorically in a hole. He has access to a threshing floor- we read about it in vs 37 but instead he is in a pit designed for treading grapes.
Some people think that the Angel of the LORD is taking the mickey- the so-called mighty warrior is just a mighty worrier hiding his grain (vs 11) from the invaders. But I can’t see that. I don’t think God is particularly mickey- taking of his friends and there is something quite sensible, even a bit inventive in how Gideon is threshing his wheat.
And even more than that the Angel, now identified as the LORD himself, (vs 14) says it again, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian”.
It’s not a Joke, God means it but challenge #2 is will Gideon believe the voice of God or when he fears his own frailties?
His reaction is in verse 15, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house”.
Again, what Gideon says in not untrue- the nation has gone to the dogs, and he is not a rich, powerful or important man. But as Philip explained to us last week that is manifestly not the point. That point was not who Gideon was but how God might use him. What God might make him to be.
Challenge #2 Will Gideon obey the voice of God when he fears his own frailties?
Of course, we know, worrying that you’re not up to it is exactly the qualification for God’s looks for in his leaders. It was what Moses had said and Gideon has just talked about what happened when Moses led Israel. If he’d thought about it, Gideon might also have remembered that it was true of judges in Israel’s recent history.
The LORD’s answer to Gideon’s second argument is the same as his answer to the first, vs 16, the covenant God does not fail his people (vs 16), “But I will be with you”.
Whether Gideon was actually a man of valour is not the point- maybe Gideon himself didn’t know- the land had been at rest for forty years and no one had fought in the last forty-seven. Obviously, he had his doubts but that didn’t ma_er. What mattered was not whether he was a great soldier but whose army he was in.
One of the memories of Gafcon23 that will live longest in my mind involves Philip.
When some of left the Church of England one of the hardest things was not comment in the town but friendly fire from those who we thought would support our stand for the truth once for all entrusted to the saints.
One of the most prominent clergymen in the Church of England said to Philip about his decision that “a good soldier does not abandon his post”. It was an accusation of cowardice and treason. It was, as you will understand, an incredibly hurtful thing to say. And, all the more so, because of the quarter from which it came.
Philip told this story as he spoke at Gafcon about the griefs of having to do what he and some of us did.
The chairman of the session was a guy called Glenn Davies, who was Archbishop of Sydney and is now the Bishop of the Diocese of the Southern Cross that we prayed for last week. I was watching him as Philip told his story and could see just what he thought of that comment.
Once Philip had finished his presentation, Archbishop Glenn, in front of everyone, said,
“The ‘friend’ who said you had left your post forgot that you were not in the army of the Church of England but the Army of the Lord”.
That was a public, a very public exoneration of Philip but again, that’s not the point. The point is are we doing what the Lord is doing? Are we puttng our hand in his? Are we marching with him? Or are we trusting our own strength and the ways of the world?
The third challenge Gideon faced came quickly and it came very close to home:
Challenge #3 is will Gideon obey the voice of God when he fears his family?
In vs 19-24 Gideon makes a gesture of hospitality to his guest typical for his culture. In return his guest burnt the cakes (vs 21). The lavishly sacrificial meal offered was turned into a sacrificial offering. Fire normally rises, the descent of fire is a sign of the acceptability in heaven of the sacrifice- think of Elijah at Mount Sinai, think most of all of Pentecost.
But such a demonstration of grace and power also produced the third challenge. It produced (vs 24) an altar to the Lord quite rightly marking that, “The LORD IS PEACE”, and not least that Gideon had not come to the harm he feared. But the altar stood with another altar (vs 25), an altar to Baal sanctioned by Gideon’s father, Joash. For God situation could not stand (vs 25), “Take your father’s bull, and the second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal that your father has, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it…”.
Oh, the new altar at Ophrah would not be the only one. No, there would be altars where there had always been altars, but they would be dedicated to the worship of the one true God built (vs 26) on a stronghold, a fortress and consuming the Canaanite idols and their altars. Israel’s root problem was not the Midianites but their addiction to evil and especially the worship of Baal. There could be no having the Lord as their deliverer while they had Baal as a god. The Lord would not be part of a gang of gods.
Well, it would happen but only if Gideon feared God more than he feared his family. That is his issue (vs 27)- he’s not in fear of the wrath of Baal but in fear that his family (vs 27) will side with the town.
Oh, how true that is. The town thought there was simply no place for a single-minded believer like Gideon in their midst. He was a dangerous, expensive, embarrassment to the town and their religious practices. Have you read Fowey Facebook?
But Gideon pushes through his fears and becomes Jerubbaal- the man who fought Baal and won. It was only a small victory. Ophrah was only one town, and a small relatively obscure one at that.
Philip is fond of quoting, Luke 18 and who am I to disagree? vs 29 and 30, Jesus said, “…Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house, or wife or brother or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this life, and in the age to come eternal life”.
That is true, it was true in Gideon’s experience. The things he immediately received were public vindication, rather like Philip, but much more, much more important and special vs 24 he was clothed in the Spirit of the LORD for the tasks ahead. When we think about the promise of blessing Luke writes about in chapter 18, we might remember that just eight chapters later in his second volume Luke writes about how that promise was already being spectacularly fulfilled in the coming of the Holy Spirit on all believers.
Lastly, there is a fourth challenge in Judges chapter 6,
Challenge #4 will Gideon obey the voice of God when he has little faith?
Gideon has spoken with the LORD face to face (vs 22), he has had his sacrificial meal accepted, he has begun to obey, even if like Nicodemus, he did it at night, his father has rallied round, he has been publicly vindicated and clothed by the Spirit of the LORD.
So, what does he do? He starts to doubt God again. Specifically, he again starts to doubt God’s voice.
Vs 36- “…If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said…”. Yes, God has said he will save Israel because vs 12 “The LORD is with you”. Yes, God he has said Gideon is the man vs 13, “Go is this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do I not send you?”.
But it wasn’t enough for Gideon. Part of us might say, “Honestly, how could Gideon be like this?”, then we’d remember our countless spiritual privileges and continuing lack of faith in God’s word. Or we might go a lttle further and think, “Well, yes I am just like Gideon, but I’m not called to lead the armies of the LORD”.
Aren’t you? How do you know? As we’ve said, that is the whole point. It isn’t about us. It is about what God is wishes to do through us in the power of the Spirit of Christ. It isn’t even about whether we will go with him. It is about whether we believe he is going with us.
Gideon shouldn’t have done what he did- vs 39- he knows that. But in his defence, he is not rejecting what God has said and asking for a different way forward he is only seeking for reassurance before leading an rag-tag bunch of untrained amateurs against the might of Midian. And, again, in fairness to Gideon he didn’t run with his fears back to his wine press or his cave, he went to God with his fears. It was actually an exercise in listening to God again.
And God is gracious- he was gracious in kicking this whole thing off – he took the initiative to go to Gideon, not the other way around, he was gracious in dealing with Gideon’s fears, he was gracious in accepting his sacrifice and not taking his life. This is the God we have- a two fleece God. Gracious enough to let the fleece be flipped over, despite the first fleece vs 38 not just having dew on it but being totally sodden. A two-night God. Gracious to strive with Gideon for two nights.
And, again, that’s the whole point. It isn’t about how much faith Gideon had, or we have. It isn’t about whether he was a bit more or a bit less lacking in faith than the next guy. That is all immaterial, it is, as Philip said in our weakness that God is seen. Through the cracked pot and the ta_y carrier bag his triumph shines out.
Friends, go from here in the knowledge that sin never inevitable and never irredeemable. Go in the knowledge that as we hear the voice of God, he has not failed us in our time, we need not fear our frailties or our family, we need not fear our little faith. For he goes with us, for it is his army, for he is gracious, for he will do it.