Sunday, October 27, 2019

Showcasing the Greatness of God through Weakest of Thee - How Gideon Conquered an Army of 135,000 with just 300 Men

Today's Reading:
  • Judges 6:1 - 8:35
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Judges 6:1 - 8:35

Today's reading covers the story of Gideon.  We meet Gideon at the bottom of a wine press, where he was threshing wheat (6:11).  Gideon threshed wheat in a wine press in order to hide grain. This is because the Israelites were greatly oppressed by the Midianites, who ravished their land continuously, purposely removing any and all sources of food that could be found. 

The Israelites found themselves in this predicament for the very same reasons that they had been struggling throughout the entire book of Judges (and pretty much for their entire history from the exodus forward) - because they "did evil in the Lord's sight" and the Lord eventually handed them over to the Midianites (6:1-2). When the Israelites had everything taken from them, when they were broken, when they were hiding in caves, when their entire population was starving - then they cried out to the Lord (6:6).

The Lord, ever and always faithful, heard their cries.  An angel of the Lord came to Gideon and told him Gideon would be used by the Lord to deliver the Israelites (6:14).  Gideon then said some words that I want you to remember: "But Lord, ... how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!" (6:15) 

Eventually Gideon was convinced he was truly hearing from the Lord and made a call to arms. He amassed an army of 32,000 soldiers (7:3), but the Lord said that was too many men.  If that many men fought, they would claim the victory lie within themselves, instead of with the Lord (7:2). So Gideon obeyed, following the Lord's instructions on how to whittle down the army, until he had a mere 300 men (7:7). 

So here is Gideon, part of the weakest tribe of Israel, the weakest man in his own family, with an army of 300 soldiers against a combined army of 135,000 (8:10).  Gideon had his doubts leading up until that moment (6:17-22, 7:36-40), but he obviously had incredible faith, for he did as the Lord said.  Gideon surrounded the opposing army in the middle of the night, and, following the instructions of the Lord, managed to cause mass chaos and confusion throughout the opposing forces, until the entirety of the enemy's army was killed or fled (7:17-22). Gideon and his 300 men pursued the remaining army until all were captured or killed (8:4-12). 

Whenever we think to ourselves that we are weak, that we are worthless, that we cannot achieve the tasks set upon us to achieve - think of Gideon. God does not value us the same way we esteem ourselves.  This does not just apply to those who feel weak, insignificant, or less than others; it also applies to those who are strong and boastful of themselves - but for the opposite reason. God does not want things done for our own glory, but for His. That is the reason God knocked Gideon's army down to a mere 300 men.

After the wars were finished, Gideon had a sacred ephod made from the plundered gold (8:27).  That in itself was likely done with good intention. Great men like David wore an ephod (2 Samuel 6:14); it was a priestly garment that could be worn while worshiping the Lord. In this case, however, the ephod soon became a thing of worship to the Israelites and a crutch to Gideon and his family (8:27). The Israelites reduced the sacred ephod to an idol. Like the previous stories read in the book of Judges, the people lived in peace with Gideon for about 40 years (8:28). History repeats itself, however - because as soon as Gideon died, the Israelites started worshiping other gods and idols. Again.

My study bible had a small piece on Gideon that caught my attention.  It said that Gideon, who was dependent on visible signs (6:17-22, 7:36-40), eventually turned from worshiping the invisible God to worshiping idols.  Before I read that I never understood how people could worship all these things made of gold - how they could bow down to objects created by man and treat these things as their gods?  I now understand, in part, how that could be.

As a New Covenant Christian, I have the blessing of the Holy Spirit residing within me.  To me, it is a tangible thing I can feel.  That was not so under the Old Covenant - those people were reliant on prophets and judges and various men of God to communicate His commandments and decrees.  Without the Holy Spirit dwelling within my soul, perhaps I might desire something visible to worship.  I would like to say that isn't the case.  Where we have the Holy Spirit, the Israelites had miraculous signs that I can barely fathom. God's presence hung in a visible cloud within their people during their exile in the desert. Later, the Jews had Jesus Christ in the flesh. Even so, masses of people turned away from the Lord.

I do not know what my faith would be in a time that I did not live and in situations I did not encounter. It's easy to look back and judge, but that is a trap that keeps us from examining ourselves. Therefore let us learn from the past, so that we are not doomed to repeat the mistakes of others, while examining ourselves at the same time so that we are not blind to our own unrighteous and unfaithful behavior.

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