Gideon

I’ve been reading the book of Judges lately, and just started reading the story of Gideon (Judges 6:11-24).  Mostly what I’ve always thought and been taught about Gideon is how he was a coward and fixated on his own lack of significance; there’s always been a sense about it of “Gideon was kind of a loser, but God used him anyway.”

Well, duh.  The more I read the bible, the more I see that the story is always “Fill-in-the-blank person is kind of a loser, but God used him or her anyway.”  I can say unequivocally the same thing about myself:  Cris has kind of acted like a loser a lot of the time, but God is her friend anyway and is helping her to be less and less of a loser the more she hangs out with him.

So I’m reading Gideon’s story from this perspective now, a more compassionate and humble view, and I see so much more than I used to.  I’m starting to see what Gideon did right, and how those actions were signs of why God chose Gideon to defend Israel.

When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

“But sir,” Gideon replied, “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?  Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?'”  (Judges 6:12-13)

There's this thing people do: when something is on your mind and you've been mulling it over a lot, whatever else people around you say or do, you tend to latch on to the parts that are related to what you've been thinking about.  You might even misinterpret things that sort of sound like the thing you've been thinking about, even if they actually weren't intended that way.  It's just how our brains work.  Whatever we soak our brains in is what tends to come back out.

When the angel greets Gideon, notice what he immediately says back.  He skips over the "mighty warrior" part and right away says "If the Lord is with us, where are his wonders?”  This is the response of a man who has been preoccupied with this question — if the Lord really is with us, why are we in deep trouble?  We have the stories about how the Lord supposedly helped our fathers, and supposedly promised to always help his people … so where is he?

Gideon isn’t only thinking about God’s presence, he’s thinking about God’s wonders.  He has listened to the stories of his people and knows that God often acts in impossible, miraculous ways.  He is wondering why God hasn’t worked the impossible to save them from Midian — and that’s exactly what God is about to do, via Gideon himself.  Gideon had a mindset that was in line with what God wanted to do.

The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand.  Am I not sending you?”

“But Lord,” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel?  My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”  (Judges 6:14-15)

Here’s one of the parts where I think Gideon is often scoffed at (and mostly, I’m guessing, by people who have never been in Gideon’s position).  God has just told him directly to go save his whole people from an enemy with impossibly superior numbers.  It was not unreasonable that Gideon experienced a moment of flabbergasted disbelief.

He did the right thing, though, by laying out his reaction in straightforward honesty before God.  The angel told him to go “in the strength you have” and save Israel, and he was saying, but I don’t have any strength.  I am a man of no standing in a family of little standing; there’s no reason for me to believe I can raise an army big enough to challenge the Midianites.

He is effectively saying, I don’t know how to do this.  It looks like you’re asking me to do the impossible, and I don’t know how to do that.  I don’t even know how to start.  That’s a valid question and a valid emotional response, and Gideon did the right thing by owning it.  He didn’t try to pretend he was something he wasn’t.  Gideon didn’t say “oh sure, God, piece of cake” when inside he was freaking out.  He was honest about the difficulties and God responded by honest reassurance — not telling him the whole plan, but reminding him of the most important part.  God was going to be with Gideon every step of the way, the God who worked wonders.  The Lord had done the impossible before, and through Gideon, he was about to do it again.

Gideon replied, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me.  Please do not go away until I come back and bring an offering and set it before you.”

Here’s another point where we get impatient with Gideon, when he asks for signs from God to confirm what God wants him to do.  We may be dismissive of him, but God knew full well who he was asking to save Israel.  He knew Gideon was going to ask for reassurance and confirmation of God’s will at the beginning.  We may see Gideon as faithless or doubting with his need for signs, but God knew him better than us.  God is more loving and patient than us, and more in touch with reality.

I don’t even think it really was faithless of Gideon to ask God for a sign. Asking for confirmation from God of his intentions and commands isn’t necessarily a sign of faithlessness or untrust.  It can also be driven by a desire to please God — to make sure our own intentions and desires aren’t in the way, clouding up our hearing.  It can be a real, sincere act of faith to ask God for guidance and confirmation, in full belief that God is able to make his will known.

For Gideon, I don’t know what his full intentions were, but I have a feeling they were mixed — part fear, part desire to be sure it was God asking him to do this impossible thing.  So he asks God for a sign.  He continues to be honest and straightforward with God in the asking, and perhaps most important, he does it by means of making an offering.  Gideon doesn’t stand there and demand answers from God before he puts anything on the line; he puts something of his own on the line first.  No matter which way the answer went, Gideon willingly gave up something of his own to find out.  God honors him by receiving his offering, and gives Gideon something amazing back:  Gideon experiences a miracle, one of the wonders of God.  God draws fire from a rock to consume his offering, and Gideon is launched on his career as a warrior and leader of Israel.

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