Pastor Craig Carter
Having finished reading through the Old Testament Book of Joshua in our Summer Book Club, we are now turning our attention to the Book of Judges.
Our Adult Discipleship Director, Mindy Clemons, an Asbury Theological Seminary student, pointed out in a message last week that Judges chronicles a sad time in the history of the nation of Israel. Following their invasion and conquest of the Promised Land, God’s people turned from the Lord and rebelled against His commands. As a result, they suffered the consequences of their disobedience and ended up defeated by their enemies and in a state of despair and distress.
But God doesn’t give up on His own, so He raised up a military or moral leader, called a judge, who brought deliverance and peace. This cycle was repeated over and over for a period of 350 years and became more dangerous and destructive with each succeeding generation.
The opening chapters of Judges follow this familiar pattern. After Joshua’s death, the Israelites compromised with their culture, forgot the Lord, and chased after other gods. Their sin and rebellion subjected them to attacks from their surrounding enemies. But God rescued His people through the leadership of judges like Ehud, Othniel, and Deborah.
That brings us to Judges chapter six where we meet a man named Gideon, son of Joash. His story, told in the next three chapters, reads like an action movie. Gideon plays the role of the unlikely hero who rises to the challenge against all odds to accomplish the impossible.
Gideon gives us another portrait of what genuine faith looks like. In fact, he is listed in the Hebrews 11 “Hall of Faith,” along with spiritual giants like Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Joseph, and Moses.
How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them … Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. (Hebrews 11:32-34 NLT)
That adequately describes Gideon and his exploits. So let’s see what we can learn from him about how to live by faith.
Gideon’s story of faith teaches us to…
1) Appreciate Adversity
By appreciate, I mean to understand or value, not to enjoy or welcome. It’s like music appreciation class … you don’t have to like all types of music, but you should hold it in proper regard.
When we are introduced to Gideon, he and his people were experiencing great adversity. Following 40 years of peace brought by the godly leadership of Deborah, Israel had fallen back into the familiar pattern of sin and disobedience. As a result, they were subjected to repeated torture at the hands of the Midianites. The Midianites were nomadic people who would swoop in at harvest time like “locusts,” ravaging the land, devouring the crops and stealing livestock, leaving the Israelites starving with their homes in ruins.
After seven years of such cruel conditions, they cried out to God. Seven years! Perhaps you can relate to their stubbornness and ideas of self-sufficiency?
In this case, the adversity faced by the nation of Israel was of their own doing … and apparently Gideon was an innocent bystander. So we need to understand that sometimes the difficult circumstances we face are a direct result of our sin and disobedience, but sometimes they aren’t.
If they are, we need to start trusting and obeying God.
But if they aren’t, we should keep trusting and obeying God
In either case, according to Scripture, God allows bad things to happen because it is the environment in which He does some of His best work. As we’ve noted before, life is a test and times of difficulty give us the opportunity to turn toward God or away from Him.
As C.S. Lewis said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain. It’s his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
So adversity is the proving ground for faith that ultimately brings glory to God. Throughout the Bible we discover that trials lead to triumph.
Abram had to leave his homeland to form a great nation.
Joseph was left for dead and thrown into prison before reaching the palace.
Moses spent 40 years on the “backside of the desert” prior to leading Israel out of slavery.
Speaking of deserts, remember that Jesus spent 40 days there prior to His public ministry. He came out different than when He went into that harsh environment: “Then Jesus returned to Galilee, filled with the Holy Spirit’s power.” (Luke 4:14a NLT)
As one author puts it, “A desert can lead to a destiny.”
God oftentimes uses adversity to prepare His people for greater accomplishment. If you don’t believe that, just ask Gideon and if you don’t believe him, ask Jesus. He had to endure the cruelty of the cross before conquering death and the grave.
If you’re experiencing difficult circumstances, welcome to the human race and anticipate how God is going to show up and use the situation for good.
A second thing that Gideon’s story of faith teaches us is to…
2) Accept our Identity
In the midst of his suffering, the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon and said, “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!” (Judges 6:12 NLT)
Mighty hero? Let’s consider what Gideon was doing when the angel appeared. Scripture tells us in verse 11: “Gideon…was threshing wheat at the bottom of a winepress to hide the grain from the Midianites.”
When the angel informed Gideon that he was going to lead the Israelites to a marvelous victory over the Midianites, listen to his perception of himself: “But Lord,” Gideon replied, “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!” (Judges 6:15 NLT)
In other words: “I’m a teeny-tiny fish in an itty-bitty pond!”
Instead of arguing with him, the Lord simply replied, “I will be with you. And you will destroy the Midianites as if you were fighting against one man.” (Judges 6:16 NLT)
It didn’t matter how Gideon felt about himself or what he thought about his situation. All that mattered was what God thought … and knew to be true. So the Lord prophesied over Gideon a new identity.
He does the same for us. God looks beyond our faults, failures, and shortcomings and declares who He knows us to be and who we will become with His help.
God called Abraham the father of many nations before he had any children.
He proclaimed Moses to be the deliverer of Israel even though he was an aging, lonely shepherd.
The Lord named Peter a rock upon whom He’d build His church when he was still messing up every situation and misunderstanding every teaching.
Listen to what God’s Word says about you and me who believe in Jesus Christ…
We are the beloved children of God having been adopted into His family.
We are His friends who can never be separated from His love.
We are justified, forgiven, and set free from all condemnation.
We are more than conquerors.
We are His masterpieces, created by God to do good works.
We are royal priests and citizens of a holy nation.
Sometimes we need to be reminded who we are when the winds of the world challenge our faith. So don’t ever forget … you’re a blood-bought, Spirit-filled, heaven-bound child of God equipped with spiritual armor and every weapon needed to tear down the strongholds of the enemy!
Believe it and then…
3) Act with Authority
Through his encounters with the Lord, Gideon’s faith began to grow. Faith doesn’t grow on trees, nor is it ordinarily birthed in an instant. It involves a slow, oftentimes painful, process that grows and grows until we are ready to be used by God.
So if you still have fears and doubts, that’s okay … just ask God to replace them with faith and dependence on Him. It’s even okay to ask for a “sign” — as Gideon did on several occasions — but just be careful how you do it and the credence you give to it.
Since faith is to be accompanied by obedience, Gideon first followed the Lord’s directive to tear down pagan altars in his father’s home and sacrifice the family’s prize bull. Gideon did so, but under the cover of night (rather than broad daylight as instructed) and he took ten servants with him (instead of doing it alone because he was afraid).
Lesson for us: before we can do great things for God, we first need to get our own house in order. Are there any sins you’re clinging to? Do you have any idols that need to be knocked down? Have you committed any acts of disobedience that need to be confessed?
Then, Gideon was ready to take on the Midianites with an elaborate and unorthodox plan. Starting with 32,000 troops, God told him that was too many lest they think they won the battle themselves. Did I mention they were up against 135,000 Midianites?
Gideon gave everyone the opportunity to opt up and 22,000 did, leaving the 10,000 bravest soldiers.
The Lord is always looking for a faithful remnant of people who are willing to fight for Him and who are not dependent on their own resources and abilities. But God said, “That’s still too many!” so a test was constructed to weed out more. The Lord told Gideon to have the warriors go and drink from a spring and those who knelt and drank from cupped hands were kept. Through this test, 9700 soldiers were eliminated from the ranks.
The remaining 300 were divided into three groups. They invaded the enemy camp under the cover of darkness, blew ram’s horns, broke clay jars and held torches in their hands. This tactic threw the Midianites into a panic that caused most of them to kill each other and then the Israelites swooped in to mop up and finish off the rest.
They beat the long odds of 450:1. That’s not a bad payoff if you’re a betting man, but it’s a sure thing when God says it.
The lesson for us? We are to act boldly on His Word!
It’s not careless to give away 10% of your income when God says tithe.
It’s not foolish to pray for a miracle when God says He will heal.
It’s not crazy to quit a job when God calls you to preach or be a missionary.
I know all three are true because I’ve done them all and God came through every time.
The Israelites tried to make Gideon their ruler but he refused and said, “The Lord will rule over you!” (Judges 8:23b NLT)
Gideon lived happily ever after and Israel enjoyed peace in their land for the next 40 years until he died. Then, guess what? The Israelites again forgot the Lord and sinned! That’s another story for another day, but Gideon’s story of faith should inspire and motivate us to act with our God-given authority.
It’s the message Christ left with His disciples just prior to His departure from this world. He told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples…” (Matthew 28:18-19a NLT)
His hearers took the Lord’s words to heart as the first followers of Christ acted on that authority and boldly proclaimed the gospel, cast out demons, and healed in Jesus’ name against all odds and in the face of fierce opposition. People of faith have followed the same course of action throughout church history.
It’s the notion that fueled the Methodist revival that changed the moral landscape of two continents and led to the formation of our denomination. Our founder, John Wesley, once said: “Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin, and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen; such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven on Earth.”
Lord, make us people of faith like Gideon, the first disciples, and the early Methodists and do it again!
Let me close by showing you how that is a distinct possibility right here, right now. Is there any doubt that our church has faced some adversity in recent years? We have experienced a category 5 hurricane that destroyed our church buildings, then numerous delays in rebuilding, and then just as things were starting to get better, a global pandemic.
But those trials and tribulations helped us become who we are today. And who is that? The Body of Christ, united by the Spirit, highly favored by God. More than ever we realize that our identity is not tied to a building(s) or to a slate of programs, but is rooted in Jesus Christ Himself.
As a result, while fewer in number, we are stronger in faith and willing to act on it. We’ve been generous to others while going without ourselves, we’ve reached out in love to our community and world even though we also needed care and were hurting.
I am convinced God wants to act in even bigger and bolder ways through our church. I think we’ve seen just a glimpse of it in recent weeks as we’ve prayed for victories over sin and sickness and freedom from hurts, habits, and hang ups. Like it was for Gideon, the first step is getting our own house in order.
I firmly believe God can and will use our church family to change our community and world in profound ways if we’ll just trust Him and obey. I don’t know exactly what that looks like but neither did Gideon when he first encountered the Lord’s presence. And just as God did for Gideon, He’ll reveal His plans and strategies for overcoming the Enemy as we follow His instructions one step at a time.
I want to invite you to become a Gideon … although not the type we normally associate with that name. Volunteers with an organization known as The Gideons International place Bibles in hotel rooms and other locations – about 70 million Bibles per year in fact. They’ve distributed more than two billion Bibles since their founding in 1899. Their symbol of a clay pot and torch is reminiscent of what Gideon and his army used.
That’s a fine Christian organization but I’m inviting you to become a person of faith like Gideon in the Book of Judges. In fact, the Gideons International consider themselves those sort of persons. They describe their link to the story of Gideon in this way:
“Gideon was a man who was willing to do exactly what God wanted him to do, regardless of his own judgment as to the plans or results. Humility, faith, and obedience were his great elements of character … ready to do God’s will at any time, at any place, and in any way that the Holy Spirit leads.”
I don’t know about you, but that’s who I want to be. Give me 100 or 200 or 500 folks like that and I believe God can and will use us to “shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven on Earth.” To Christ be the glory! Amen.