Okay so a lot of people weren’t here last week so a brief recap. We are now in the period of time where the Israelites are in the Promised Land. They don’t have a king, instead they are led by God through people called prophets, men and women who talk to God. At any one time there is one prophet leading the people of Israel and that person is sometimes also called a Judge, since people often went to prophets for judgement and the like.
Last week we talked about Deborah. This week we’re talking about Gideon. This is actually one of my favorite Bible stories because I feel it is so relatable and ridiculous and awesome all at the same time, so I hope you guys enjoy it.
So this is the set up for the story. The Israelites are being oppressed by the Midianites. If that name sounds familiar it’s because Midian is where Moses went when he fled Israel. This is a group of people that have been around for a while, and as often happened in the ancient world, there were skirmishes and fights and wars and one group would conquer the other. In the case the Midianites have conquered Israel for about seven years, and God has allowed it—the text says because Israel had done something bad, and God was trying to correct this course. Possible this was the period between Deborah being a judge and a new judge being established and the Israelites strayed. It’s heavily implied in this section and others that the Israelites basically started worshipping other gods, which is literally like rule one of the ten commandments.
So the Midianites are now in charge, because God wants to remind Israel who their true God is, and they have basically bankrupted Israel, stealing all their stuff and taking it for their own gain. And the Israelites aren’t happy about this so they’re crying out to God. “Please help us!” And God is like “Hey I’ve got you. I’ve always had you—remember Egypt. But you need to stop worshipping other gods.”
And as God does in this time, to save them, he chooses a prophet to lead them to freedom. He happens to choose a guy named Gideon. Let’s see how Gideon takes this news. Can someone read Judges 6:11-18?
11 Now the angel of the Lord came and sat under the oak at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press, to hide it from the Midianites. 12 The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior.” 13 Gideon answered him, “But sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our ancestors recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has cast us off, and given us into the hand of Midian.” 14 Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian; I hereby commission you.” 15 He responded, “But sir, how can I deliver Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” 16 The Lord said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike down the Midianites, every one of them.” 17 Then he said to him, “If now I have found favor with you, then show me a sign that it is you who speak with me. 18 Do not depart from here until I come to you, and bring out my present, and set it before you.” And he said, “I will stay until you return.”
When we’re introduced to Gideon he’s beating wheat in a wine press. Why is this important. What does it mean. Basically he’s doing a job that would normally be done in the fields in a safer area where the Midianites won’t see him. Because remember the Midianites are like locusts, if they see something they want—like wheat, aka food—they’ll just take it. So you have to do tasks like that in secret.
So Gideon is just minding his own business, basically doing his job when an angel appears to him. But he doesn’t realize it’s an angel at first—which is why he just calls him sir. And the angel is basically like “God is awesome and has our backs!” And Gideon is like “If God has our backs why are our lives so awful?” And then the angel is like “Welp, God has chosen you to be the next leader of Israel! Surprise.” And remember, Gideon thinks this is just a random dude, so he’s like “Whatever, man. I’m a nobody. Stop messing with me.”
But the angel is persistent, he’s like “God has our back.” And at this point Gideon is getting a little suspicious about who he is talking to so he’s like…”Okay, give me a sign who I’m speaking to. I need to know. But don’t you go and disappear on me while I go to get the stuff.” And the angel is like “Okay, whatever.”
Someone read Judges 6:19-23.
19 So Gideon went into his house and prepared a kid, and unleavened cakes from an ephah of flour; the meat he put in a basket, and the broth he put in a pot, and brought them to him under the oak and presented them. 20 The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened cakes, and put them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And he did so. 21 Then the angel of the Lord reached out the tip of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the meat and the unleavened cakes; and fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened cakes; and the angel of the Lord vanished from his sight. 22 Then Gideon perceived that it was the angel of the Lord; and Gideon said, “Help me, Lord God! For I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face.” 23 But the Lord said to him, “Peace be to you; do not fear, you shall not die.”
Gideon goes back to his house and basically brings back some food for the angel. The angel gives Gideon some specific instructions on what to do with the food and then BOOM. Spontaneous combustion of the food and the angel just vanishes from sight. Gideon is like “Holy moly, I was talking to an angel of God.” But then God (possibly in the form of an angel or possibly just directly talking to him) is like “don’t be afraid. We’re cool.”
Someone read Judges 6:24-27.
24 Then Gideon built an altar there to the Lord, and called it, The Lord is peace. To this day it still stands at Ophrah, which belongs to the Abiezrites.
25 That night the Lord said to him, “Take your father’s bull, the second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal that belongs to your father, and cut down the sacred pole that is beside it; 26 and build an altar to the Lord your God on the top of the stronghold here, in proper order; then take the second bull, and offer it as a burnt offering with the wood of the sacred pole that you shall cut down.” 27 So Gideon took ten of his servants, and did as the Lord had told him; but because he was too afraid of his family and the townspeople to do it by day, he did it by night.
So God then gives Gideon instructions. He’s like “Hey, your dad has this alter to Baal. That’s not cool. Remember the whole first commandment about not having other Gods? Yeah, so I’m going to need you to tear down that alter and build me a new one.”
Gideon gets a direct order from God. Seems like a no brainer that he would do what God says and he does….but not right away. Gideon is terrified what everyone is going to do to him if they see him doing this thing, because that alter to Baal would be sacred to his family and neighbors—even though they’re all Israelites who are supposed to be worshipping God. So Gideon does it, but under the cover of night.
How do you think people are going to feel when they wake up the next morning and see their alter gone? [Let them answer.] Yeah I think they’ll be pretty upset. Let’s see. Can someone read Judges 6:28-32?
28 When the townspeople rose early in the morning, the altar of Baal was broken down, and the sacred pole beside it was cut down, and the second bull was offered on the altar that had been built. 29 So they said to one another, “Who has done this?” After searching and inquiring, they were told, “Gideon son of Joash did it.” 30 Then the townspeople said to Joash, “Bring out your son, so that he may die, for he has pulled down the altar of Baal and cut down the sacred pole beside it.” 31 But Joash said to all who were arrayed against him, “Will you contend for Baal? Or will you defend his cause? Whoever contends for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been pulled down.” 32 Therefore on that day Gideon[c] was called Jerubbaal, that is to say, “Let Baal contend against him,” because he pulled down his altar.
People are furious when they wake up and see their alter is gone. They immediately what to know who did it. And somehow they find out it was Gideon. Maybe one of the servants who helped him told, maybe someone saw them, I don’t know but I doubt it was Gideon who went forward and boldly declared it to be himself. The townspeople go to Gideon’s dad and are like “Give us your son because we’re going to kill him for what he did.”
Now Gideon’s dad doesn’t seem cool with this plan so he offers an alternative plan. He’s like “Well, shouldn’t it be Baal who cares that Gideon took down his alter? If that’s the case, we should let Baal take care of Gideon. After all if Baal is a god than he’s powerful enough to do whatever.” And the people are basically like “I guess that makes sense.”
Someone read Judges 6:33-35?
33 Then all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the east came together, and crossing the Jordan they encamped in the Valley of Jezreel. 34 But the spirit of the Lord took possession of Gideon; and he sounded the trumpet, and the Abiezrites were called out to follow him. 35 He sent messengers throughout all Manasseh, and they too were called out to follow him. He also sent messengers to Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, and they went up to meet them.
So the Midianites are amassing, maybe to take the Israelites again, maybe to do something else. And Gideon feels the spirit of God come upon him and basically he sounds a trumpet and send out messengers and brings together a whole army to follow him. Which seems like a pretty brave move for the guy who took down an alter in the middle of the night to do. Maybe Gideon has learned bravery?
Let’s read Judges 6:36-38.
36 Then Gideon said to God, “In order to see whether you will deliver Israel by my hand, as you have said, 37 I am going to lay a fleece of wool on the threshing floor; if there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will deliver Israel by my hand, as you have said.” 38 And it was so. When he rose early next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water.
Gideon has not in fact learned bravery.
Gideon is literally amassing an army to take down the Midianites and he’s like “I don’t know God. Are you sure you mean me? Are you sure you want me to do this? I’m not sure. Sooooo I’m going to do a little test.” He puts a fleece of wool out and is like “If when I wake up it’s wet with dew but everything else is dry, then I know. I know you mean me.”
And of course God means him so the fleece is wet the next morning and the ground is dry. So Gideon should be good now, right? He should be like “Alright God! Let’s go defeat some Midianites.”
Yeah, no. He’s not like that.
Someone read Judges 6:39-40:
39 Then Gideon said to God, “Do not let your anger burn against me, let me speak one more time; let me, please, make trial with the fleece just once more; let it be dry only on the fleece, and on all the ground let there be dew.” 40 And God did so that night. It was dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground there was dew.
Gideon is like “I guess the whole fleece being wet thing could have been a coincidence, so why don’t we try this again. Please do the opposite this time. Fleece dry and ground wet.” And I’m sure in heaven God is rolling his eyes but he’s like “Ok, Gideon, let’s do this.” So the fleece is dry and the ground is wet.
At this point Gideon seems to get the message that indeed God has chosen him. So can someone read Judges 7:1-3?
1 Then Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the troops that were with him rose early and encamped beside the spring of Harod; and the camp of Midian was north of them, below the hill of Moreh, in the valley.
2 The Lord said to Gideon, “The troops with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand. Israel would only take the credit away from me, saying, ‘My own hand has delivered me.’ 3 Now therefore proclaim this in the hearing of the troops, ‘Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home.’” Thus Gideon sifted them out;twenty-two thousand returned, and ten thousand remained.
So Gideon gathers all these troops. Basically he gathers 32,000 men and God is like “You know, this army is too mighty. If you have that many men, people may actually believe it’s the might of the men and not God who delivered you. And that’s not what I want. So why don’t you tell everyone who is scared that they can go home.”
I’m sure at this point Gideon was like “Does that include me?” And God was like “No.” The Bible doesn’t say that but I could totally see it happening.
Anyway, twenty-two thousand men leave leaving ten thousand behind.
I’m sure at this, Gideon is getting a little nervous but like “ten thousand isn’t too bad for an army.” Can someone read Judges 7:4-8?
4 Then the Lord said to Gideon, “The troops are still too many; take them down to the water and I will sift them out for you there. When I say, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go with you; and when I say, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.” 5 So he brought the troops down to the water; and the Lord said to Gideon, “All those who lap the water with their tongues, as a dog laps, you shall put to one side; all those who kneel down to drink, putting their hands to their mouths, you shall put to the other side.” 6 The number of those that lapped was three hundred; but all the rest of the troops knelt down to drink water. 7 Then the Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred that lapped I will deliver you, and give the Midianites into your hand. Let all the others go to their homes.” 8 So he took the jars of the troops from their hands, and their trumpets; and he sent all the rest of Israel back to their own tents, but retained the three hundred. The camp of Midian was below him in the valley.
So ten thousand men and God is like “Nope, still too many. Let’s winnow it down some more.” Which I’m sure promptly caused Gideon to cry. I would. So God tells them to go to the water and everyone who drinks like a dog by putting their head in the water should be put on one side and the others who drink like civilized people on the other. And then! Does God choose the civilized people? NO. He chooses the ones who lapped like dogs. Says send everyone else home.
Three hundred men, Gideon is left with. THREE HUNDRED. If I was Gideon we would be cueing a freak out at this moment.
As if that wasn’t enough does God have Gideon hand out swords to everyone? No. Instead he gives them trumpets and jars—which will also be referred to as pitchers. So basically water carrying clay jars. What the heck are they supposed to do with trumpets and jars against the army of Midian?
Someone read Judges 7:9-14.
9 That same night the Lord said to him, “Get up, attack the camp; for I have given it into your hand. 10 But if you fear to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah; 11 and you shall hear what they say, and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to attack the camp.” Then he went down with his servant Purah to the outposts of the armed men that were in the camp. 12 The Midianites and the Amalekites and all the people of the east lay along the valley as thick as locusts; and their camels were without number, countless as the sand on the seashore. 13 When Gideon arrived, there was a man telling a dream to his comrade; and he said, “I had a dream, and in it a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian, and came to the tent, and struck it so that it fell; it turned upside down, and the tent collapsed.” 14 And his comrade answered, “This is no other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, a man of Israel; into his hand God has given Midian and all the army.”
It’s the time to attack the camp and God is like “hey Gideon it’s time, but if you’re scared you should go down into the enemy camp with your servant—cuz I know you’re scared and won’t want to go alone. Then afterward, you’ll feel better.”
I’m sure Gideon was like “yeah right, God” but he does it anyway. So he goes down with his servant to this enemy camp and then he hears two men talking about a dream. And one of them literally says “That’s because God is going to deliver Midian to Gideon.”
Talk about a confidence booster!
Someone read Judges 7:16-22.
16 After he divided the three hundred men into three companies, and put trumpets into the hands of all of them, and empty jars, with torches inside the jars, 17 he said to them, “Look at me, and do the same; when I come to the outskirts of the camp, do as I do. 18 When I blow the trumpet, I and all who are with me, then you also blow the trumpets around the whole camp, and shout, ‘For the Lord and for Gideon!’”
19 So Gideon and the hundred who were with him came to the outskirts of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, when they had just set the watch; and they blew the trumpets and smashed the jars that were in their hands. 20 So the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the jars, holding in their left hands the torches, and in their right hands the trumpets to blow; and they cried, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” 21 Every man stood in his place all around the camp, and all the men in camp ran; they cried out and fled. 22 When they blew the three hundred trumpets, the Lord set every man’s sword against his fellow and against all the army; and the army fled as far as Beth-shittah toward Zererah,[a] as far as the border of Abel-meholah, by Tabbath.
So Gideon goes back to his camp and divides his people up. And he gives them the battle plan which boils down to this: They’re going to make a lot of noise.
They’re going to blow trumpets. They’re going to smash their clay pitchers. They’re going to shout “FOR THE LORD AND FOR GIDEON.”
The 300 dudes are like “Cool.” And they do it. And it works. “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” they shout, while blowing trumpets and smashing pots. And the Midianites, they just flee. They run in terror.
Gideon then sends out some messengers and make sure they capture the leaders of the fleeing army. Which they do. And they kill them and they win.
This is probably an even crazier battle plan than Jericho and it works. 300 men, no weapons between them, and they win. And no one doubts that it’s God’s might and not Israel’s that brought the Midianites down that day.
This ridiculous winning strategy is one of the reasons why I love this story but it’s not the only or most important one. I think there is something critical in the story of Gideon. Something people often overlook.
There are multiple verses in the Bible about how we shouldn’t test God. Deuteronomy 6:16, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” Isaiah 7:12 “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to test.” Luke 4:12 “Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” And yet…yet Gideon tests God three times. Once he tests the angel, asking him to prove who he is. Twice he puts out a fleece for God, asking for a different sign.
And each time God just patiently does what Gideon asks, proves that Gideon is the one God wants and is talking to.
The night of the battle when Gideon is undoubtedly uncertain if they’re going to be able to win with 300 men and no weapons, God doesn’t rebuke Gideon and say “Hey why are you so unfaithful? Just believe and do what I say!” No, instead God tells him to go down to the other camp and gives him yet another sign that Gideon will prevail.
He even lets him take his servant with him! Which not two chapter earlier, Deborah rebuked Barak for being scared to go alone, and here God is telling Gideon it’s ok. It’s okay to be scared, take your servant.
Why is this different? Why is this story different?
Gideon is constantly described as being afraid. He’s hiding in a winepress when the angel finds him. He’s too afraid to take down the alter during the day so he does it at night. He’s too afraid to go to the enemy camp at night. He also thinks he’s nothing special, tells the angel that it can’t be Gideon the angel means will save Israel because Gideon is a nobody, a nothing.
Is Gideon a coward? Some have described him as such, but coward makes it seem so selfish. As if Gideon is only concerned for his own safety, and I don’t think God would be so patient with such a selfish desire. So why is God so patient with Gideon when we’ve seen him be so impatient with everybody else?
I read this story and all I saw was anxiety. Gideon is afraid, he is anxious. It’s not just a selfish fear for his own life, he literally believes he can’t be the man God means, that if God puts his faith in Gideon that Gideon will fail God. And to me, Gideon just screams of a textbook case of anxiety.
Anxiety isn’t just being worried. We all worry. Anxiety is a level of worry and uncertainty that most of us can’t understand. An anxious person often needs constant reassurance, needs to be told multiple times not to worry about a thing.
This isn’t faithlessness, this is mental illness. And I think that is why God is so patient with Gideon. It’s not that Gideon doesn’t believe. It’s that Gideon is so anxious he can’t be sure that the signs really mean what they mean or if his mind is playing tricks on him or if he’s remembering wrong. If this was just plain old-fashioned testing, I think God would get angry with Gideon. But instead God holds Gideon’s hand through this whole process and constantly reassures him, never rebukes him. And he leads Gideon to a victory that Gideon could have never imagined.
God met Gideon where he was at. God saw this anxious man and said, “This is the one I want to lead my people” and because God knew about Gideon’s anxiety he was patient and compassionate. God always meets us where we at and he can use us no matter what may be wrong with us.
And God knows any mental illness we may have is not faithlessness. Brokenness, just like a broken bone or an illness, but not faithlessness. And God has always been willing to work with broken people.
And that’s why the story of Gideon is so important.