Salvation Preparation (Judges 6:1–40)

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Stuart Chase - 11 August 2019

Salvation Preparation (Judges 6:1–40)

Judges 6 is the story of God preparing his people for deliverance. We will see that he prepared them for deliverance in at least four distinct steps. These four things were necessary for God’s people to be properly prepared to receive the salvation that he offered, and they remain necessary for anyone who wishes to benefit from divine salvation today.

Scripture References: Judges 6:1-40

From Series: "Judges Exposition"

An exposition of the book of Judges by Stuart Chase.

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The Boy Scouts of America (recently renamed Scouts BSA when it was opened to young women) is well-known for its motto, “Be prepared.” Abraham Lincoln once said that if he were given six hours to cut down a tree he would spend the first four sharpening his axe. The philosophy is simple: prior proper planning prevents poor performance.

Perhaps you are familiar with the concept of the eight stages of exam preparation, which could well apply to the stages of preparation for any major event.

First, there is the plenty-of-time stage. The exam or event is a long way off. No need to start preparing now.

Second, there is the calm-but-curious stage. There is still lots of time, so it’s not even close to panic stations, but you’re curious about where friends, fellow students, or colleagues are in their preparation. Have they started yet? If so, how far are they? If you can find someone who hasn’t started preparing yet, you feel a little better about yourself.

Third, there is the getting-more-urgent stage. Here, worry starts to creep in. It’s similar to the second stage, except you actually start to worry a little when you learn that others have started their preparation the previous week.

Fourth, there is the do-something-else-that’s-productive stage. Here, you find anything to do but study: mow the lawn, clean the house, wash the dog … wash the neighbour’s dog. You’ll find anything to do to justify not starting your preparation.

Fifth, there is the denial stage. There’s not that much preparation to do, is there? You know the work. You’ve done this before. You convince yourself that there is no need to start preparing yet.

Sixth, there is the anger stage: How could they be so insensitive as to arrange the exam or event at such an inconvenient time? There are so many things happening around the same time. All those promptings from friends or colleagues from the last three weeks that you really should start preparing have now slipped your mind and you are justifiably irritated at the timing of the event.

Seventh, there is the panic stage. Anger has worn off, and now you are desperately wondering why you didn’t start preparation earlier. The textbook, or the to-do list is right in front of you now, and while you haven’t looked at it yet, you’re beginning to feel as if you should have started preparing months ago.

Eighth, there is the acceptance stage. Finally, you are done with excuses and you actually start to prepare, silently promising yourself for the umpteenth time that that this will not happen again.

Perhaps you can relate. We all know that preparation is key to success. Preparation is also often key to experiencing the full benefits of an offer that is made. We see that in Judges 6, where God took the time to prepare his people for deliverance. To experience the full benefits of the deliverance that he offered, they—and the deliverer that God was raising—needed to be properly prepared.

The story of Gideon is one of the best-known in the book of Judges, perhaps because Gideon was a leader to whom we can so easily relate. We know him as a flawed but faithful leader, under whose judgeship the power and sufficiency of Yahweh was clearly highlighted. His story spans chapters 6–8 of Judges, and we could well consider the entire narrative in a single setting, but we will instead take it over a few studies.

Someone has observed that Gideon begins as a coward (6:1–40), turns into a conqueror (7:1–8:21), and ends as a compromiser (8:22–35). If we assume this summary, our focus in this study will be on Gideon the coward, as seen in chapter 6. This chapter is really the story of God preparing his people for deliverance. It will be helpful for us to consider this salvation preparation on its own before we delve into the actual account of the deliverance in our next study in Judges.

As we consider chapter 6 together, therefore, we will do so asking, how did God prepare his people for deliverance? In answer to that question, we will see that he prepared them for deliverance in at least four distinct steps. These four things were necessary for God’s people to be properly prepared to receive the salvation that he offered, and they remain necessary for anyone who wishes to benefit from divine salvation today.

An Awareness of Sin

First, to be prepared for the deliverance that the Lord was providing, Israel needed to be brought to an awareness of sin (vv. 1–10). We need the same.

The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD gave them into the hand of Midian seven years. And the hand of Midian overpowered Israel, and because of Midian the people of Israel made for themselves the dens that are in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds. For whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them. They would encamp against them and devour the produce of the land, as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey. For they would come up with their livestock and their tents; they would come like locusts in number—both they and their camels could not be counted—so that they laid waste the land as they came in. And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel cried out for help to the LORD.

When the people of Israel cried out to the LORD on account of the Midianites, the LORD sent a prophet to the people of Israel. And he said to them, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of slavery. And I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you and gave you their land. And I said to you, ‘I am the LORD your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.’ But you have not obeyed my voice.”

(Judges 6:1–10)

As was the case in earlier chapters, the people of Israel cried to Yahweh out of distress. There is no indication that their cry was one of repentance, and indeed Yahweh’s response to the cry in this particular text highlights the absence of repentance, but the Lord used their misery as an opportunity to point them to their sin. We see this in at least two ways.

The Consequences of Disobedience

First, Yahweh pointed his people to their sin through the consequences of their disobedience.

The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD gave them into the hand of Midian seven years. And the hand of Midian overpowered Israel, and because of Midian the people of Israel made for themselves the dens that are in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds. For whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them. They would encamp against them and devour the produce of the land, as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey. For they would come up with their livestock and their tents; they would come like locusts in number—both they and their camels could not be counted—so that they laid waste the land as they came in. And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel cried out for help to the LORD.

(Judges 6:1–6)

We have read on several occasions already of the oppression that Israel faced at the hand of foreign nations, but this is the most detailed description to date of what their oppression looked like. The author here describes the oppressors’ scorched earth policy, which repeated itself year after year for seven years.

Every year, Israel would plant crops. Every year, at harvesttime, Midianite-Amalekite forces would sweep through from the east, pillaging foodstuffs and appropriating Israel’s farming equipment for themselves. This happened year after year for seven years.

Try to put yourself in Israel’s shoes. For seven years, you are hungry, tired, poor, and afraid. Every year, you prepare to rush your family, with whatever you can salvage, to the nearby hills, hiding in caves while the Midianite-Amalekite buzzards pillage your home and fields. Every year, once the locusts have moved on, you return home to rebuild and start all over, knowing that you will face the same threat next year. There is never sufficient to meet your needs. Your children are hungry and you are unable to provide what they need. You long for freedom but it seems little more than a pipe dream.

This is not the life that the Israelites expected in the land of milk and honey, but if they were biblically literate, they would recognise that it is precisely the life that God had promised them. Yahweh had warned of the consequences of covenant-breaking:

You shall grope at noonday, as the blind grope in darkness, and you shall not prosper in your ways. And you shall be only oppressed and robbed continually, and there shall be no one to help you. You shall betroth a wife, but another man shall ravish her. You shall build a house, but you shall not dwell in it. You shall plant a vineyard, but you shall not enjoy its fruit. Your ox shall be slaughtered before your eyes, but you shall not eat any of it. Your donkey shall be seized before your face, but shall not be restored to you. Your sheep shall be given to your enemies, but there shall be no one to help you.

(Deuteronomy 28:29–31)

Is it any wonder that “the people of Israel cried out for help to the LORD”? And while their cry fell short of genuine contrition and repentance, it was a necessary start. God designed the covenant curses as a way to point his people to their sin and their need for a deliverer. Their misery was intended to be redemptive. We should recognise the same design in our misery.

While not all affliction is the direct result of sin, God does often allow us to grow miserable in our sin—and his design in such misery is always redemptive. Wiersbe says it well: “Unless our suffering leads to repentance, it accomplishes no lasting good; and unless our repentance is evidence of a holy desire to turn from sin, not just escape from pain, repentance is only remorse.”

The writer to the Hebrews explicitly instructs us to recognise this design: “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” He urges, “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed” (Hebrews 12:5–13). The misery that we experience as the consequences of our sin should point us to the need for, and the promise of, deliverance in Jesus Christ.

The Confirmation of Disobedience

Second, there was a prophetic confirmation of Israel’s disobedience.

When the people of Israel cried out to the LORD on account of the Midianites, the LORD sent a prophet to the people of Israel. And he said to them, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of slavery. And I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you and gave you their land. And I said to you, ‘I am the LORD your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.’ But you have not obeyed my voice.”

(Judges 6:7–10)

Take a moment to put yourself back in the shoes of the Israelites. After seven years of consistent fear, poverty, and misery, you cry to Yahweh for help. You have heard something about his great deeds to past generations, which perhaps leads you to expect some flash of miraculous deliverance. Instead, “the LORD sent a prophet.” How anticlimactic! It’s like calling the AA for assistance for a roadside breakdown and being sent a politician.

What we must recognise here—and what Yahweh wanted Israel to recognise—is that, at least immediately, they needed a prophet more than a deliverer. They needed more than immediate, political relief; they needed to understand their sin. They needed to understand why they were being oppressed.

Sometimes, this is why God’s answers to our prayers seem so “inappropriate.” We want immediate, circumstantial deliverance, but actually that is not what we need. Often, we first need to look below the surface to learn why we are being oppressed. This is not to suggest that all suffering is necessarily the direct result of immediate sin, but it may well be, and when it is, “understanding God’s way of holiness is more important than absence of pain. We may want out of a bind, whereas God wants us to see our idolatry. God means to instruct us, not pacify us” (Davis).

One of the kindest things that God does for us is to bring us under conviction of sin. Without conviction, we will never come to a place of repentance and forgiveness. We must be willing to expose ourselves to the means that God uses to highlight this conviction—regular Bible reading, regular preaching, healthy relationships within the local church, etc.—for without this conviction, we will never understand our need for the gospel.

But there is a second principle that is highlighted here, which is a consistent theme throughout this chapter: Israel needed the revelation of the divine more than an experience of the divine. They needed God’s word more than an experience of God’s power. We will see this theme hinted at time and again in this chapter.

The Provision of a Saviour

The second major thing that the Israelites needed if they would benefit from divine deliverance was an awareness that God had provided a deliverer. We need the same.

Now the angel of the LORD came and sat under the terebinth at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites. And the angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, “The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valour.” And Gideon said to him, “Please, my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” And the LORD turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” And he said to him, “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.” And the LORD said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.” And he said to him, “If now I have found favour in your eyes, then show me a sign that it is you who speak with me. Please 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 till you return.”

So Gideon went into his house and prepared a young goat 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 terebinth and presented them. And the angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened cakes, and put them on this rock, and pour the broth over them.” And he did so. 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. Then Gideon perceived that he was the angel of the LORD. And Gideon said, “Alas, O Lord GOD! For now I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face.” But the LORD said to him, “Peace be to you. Do not fear; you shall not die.” 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.

(Judges 6:11–24)

In the account before us, God appeared to his chosen deliverer—Gideon, the son of Joash—and commissioned him to deliver Israel from Midian. But the account of this call comes rather abruptly—one might say unexpectedly.

Verse 10 ends with the accusation that the people had not obeyed God. The customary formula would be for the Lord to next say how he will judge Israel for that disobedience. Ordinarily, prophetic denouncements are followed by a “therefore” detailing how God will judge the disobedient parties. Not so here. Instead, the prophet rebuked Israel and an angel immediately appeared to Gideon to promise deliverance.

This reveals something of the character of the God who saves us. When he ought to destroy us, when we expect judgement, mercy flows instead. The God of the Bible is slow to anger (Exodus 34:6) and “does not enjoy bringing affliction or suffering on mankind” (Lamentations 3:33, CSB). When we are lifeless, helpless, and hopeless, God, who is rich in mercy, steps in to provide salvation (Ephesians 2:1–4ff). Israel did not deserve the grace that God showed here, but he showed it anyway.

Wiersbe said that Gideon started out as a coward, and there is some merit to that, but the text before us goes a little deeper than that.

When Yahweh appeared to Gideon, he was beating out wheat in the family winepress. This was hardly the ideal place to beat out wheat, but it was the safest place to do it out of Midian’s sight. His plan was to beat out the wheat as best as he could and hide it from the soon-arriving invaders.

As he was beating out the wheat, the angel of the Yahweh (who is later revealed to be Yahweh himself (vv. 14, 16), came to sit under a nearby tree, watching him work. There is some hint of comedy in the account that follows.

Imagine Gideon, already on edge, beating out the wheat, perhaps anticipating a Midianite attack at any moment. Suddenly, out of nowhere, an angel appears to him and says, “The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valour.” I imagine this sudden appearance scared the poor farmer out of his wits.

The thing that immediately strikes us is the appellation of Gideon as a “mighty man of valour.” It is almost comical to hear these words uttered, given what we know of the man. But that is not what arrested Gideon’s attention—at least not immediately.

The thing that got under Gideon’s skin was the angel’s promise: “The LORD is with you.” His response is stark: “Please, sir, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us?” We should not read this “please, sir” in a meek, Oliver Twist-like voice: “Please sir, may I have some more?” Instead, we should read it with a tone of frustration indignation: “Oh, please! The LORD is with us? Really? That’s what you’re leading with?”

There is an undertone of accusatory anger in Gideon’s words. Yahweh was with them? How could that possibly be? If Yahweh was with them, why were the Israelites crawling around like rats in the caves? If Yahweh was with them, why did they have to hide food from the Midianites? If Yahweh was with them, why was Midian so dominant? If Yahweh was with them, where were all his Egypt-like deeds that he had done for their fathers? It hardly seemed like Yahweh was with them. Indeed, it appeared very much as if Yahweh had “forsaken” them by handing them over to Midian.

Here, again, we see a hint of the recurring theme that the people needed revelation more than experience. Gideon seems to have been blissfully unaware of the covenant curses that were clearly outlined in the law. Evidently, he needed the corrective of vv. 8–10 as much as anyone else did. It was not Yahweh who had forsaken them, but they who had forsaken him.

We will see hints of this as we make our way through this chapter, but Gideon seems to have been a man who was not known for deep meditation on the Scriptures. This is not surprising, given that he was raised in an idolatrous home. His religion was experience-based rather than revelation-based, which explains his wavering faith. When he had an experience, his faith was bolstered; when that experience was forgotten, he found himself in need of encouragement again. This is what his pagan upbringing had taught him: that the gods were sufficient when they showed their power. He needed to learn that the God of the Bible is always sufficient, and the surest way to learn that is to meditate regularly on his revelation. As Laura Smit rightly notes, “An awareness of YHWH’s presence cannot be lasting if it is grounded only in experience; it must be grounded in meditation on the law.”

How is your faith grounded? If your faith is only grounded in God’s mighty acts, don’t be surprised when it wavers. Consistent faith comes only through deliberate, consistent exposure to God’s word.

Gideon’s anger was tempered in what follows as he slowly came to a realisation of who he was talking to. Rather than answering his accusations, the angel gave him a commission: “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” This last question—“do not I send you?”—seems to have arrested his attention. The angel was speaking like Yahweh himself. Who was this messenger? Sensing that the messenger was more significant a person than he initially imagined, he immediately began to recognise his own inadequacies. He was nobody of any significance; how could he possibly save Israel (v. 15)? But the messenger spoke again, and this time there was no mistaking his claim: “But I will be with you.” Earlier, the promise was that Yahweh was with him; now “I” will be with you. Could this messenger be Yahweh himself?

Gideon’s whole demeanour was now different. If this was Yahweh, he certainly deserved more respect. But was it? His experiential religion needed a sign to confirm. He therefore offered some hospitality—costly to him at a time when food was scarce—and rushed off to prepare a meal, while the messenger waited. When he returned with the meal, the angel instructed him to put the meal on a nearby rock and pour the broth over it. He then touched the meal with his staff. The food immediately burst into flames and the angel vanished. There could be no mistaking it now: The angel was Yahweh himself, and Gideon was absolutely distraught.

As if that were not enough, a voice suddenly spoke out of nowhere—“Peace be to you. Do not fear; you shall not die”—again scaring the poor man witless. But the message was assuring, and so Gideon hastily constructed an altar in recognition of the Lord his peace.

We want to notice a couple of things here.

First, we should notice that Gideon does not appear to be the sharpest tool in the theological shed. All his “why” questions were easily answered if he was familiar with Scripture. But it seems that he was largely ignorant of the law, which no doubt played into his fear. As we have already observed, confidence in the Lord comes from meditation on the word of God. Gideon’s religion was far more pagan than it was biblical, which explains, in part, the lack of confidence he displayed even in the face of sure promises. If we are not grounded in Scripture, we will hardly display much confidence in our faith.

But further, we must note that Gideon had all he needed here: “I will be with you.” What a promise. God has nothing more to offer. But we need nothing more. While we love to have all our questions answered and all the details laid out for us, more often than not God doesn’t do that. He simply promises to be with us and allows us to move forward on the strength of that simple, yet profound, promise.

If we will be prepared for deliverance, we need to know that has provided the Saviour that we need. Gideon was a flawed saviour, whom God used to deliver Israel from politico-military oppression. But God has provided a greater Saviour. Jesus Christ is the perfect Saviour, who alone is fit to deliver us from the oppression of sin.

As we come to an awareness of our sin, we will recognise that our need for a Saviour goes far deeper than Israel’s political need. The sin by which we are oppressed leaves us hopeless before God, but as only Yahweh was able to provide a deliverer for Israel, so Yahweh alone can provide a deliverer for his people from sin. And he has done so in the person and work of Jesus Christ. To benefit from the salvation he provides, we need to acknowledge our inability to save ourselves and to look to the only Saviour that Yahweh has provided for sinners.

As we will see in a moment, Gideon was not the only one who realised that God had chosen him to be Israel’s deliverer. In short order, his fellow-Israelites would come to the same realisation. But before that happened, the Lord had another lesson to teach Gideon—and, by extension, all Israel.

An Understanding of Allegiance

A third thing that was necessary for Israel to experience divine deliverance was an understanding of the allegiance God required. Gideon needed to learn this lesson first, and he needed to teach it to Israel. Simply put, he and his fellow-Israelites needed to learn that they could not serve two masters.

That night the LORD said to him, “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 and build an altar to the LORD your God on the top of the stronghold here, with stones laid in due order. Then take the second bull and offer it as a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah that you shall cut down.” So Gideon took ten men of his servants and did as the LORD had told him. But because he was too afraid of his family and the men of the town to do it by day, he did it by night.

When the men of the town rose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was broken down, and the Asherah beside it was cut down, and the second bull was offered on the altar that had been built. And they said to one another, “Who has done this thing?” And after they had searched and enquired, they said, “Gideon the son of Joash has done this thing.” Then the men of the town said to Joash, “Bring out your son, that he may die, for he has broken down the altar of Baal and cut down the Asherah beside it.” But Joash said to all who stood against him, “Will you contend for Baal? Or will you save him? 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 broken down.” Therefore on that day Gideon was called Jerubbaal, that is to say, “Let Baal contend against him,” because he broke down his altar.

(Judges 6:25–32)

The cause of Israel’s affliction was idolatry, and for deliverance to happen, they needed to be delivered from their idolatry. God would not tolerate worship of any other gods. Gideon had constructed an altar to Yahweh, but an altar to Yahweh could not exist alongside an altar to Baal. The two were mutually exclusive.

Yahweh instructed Gideon to destroy the altar to Baal that his father had built. If he was going to lead his people, it must begin at home. If he could not manage his own household, how would he manage the church of the living God?

This was no easy task. Destroying the altar of Baal was sure to raise the ire of Baal-worshippers. It was a capital crime in Baal religion to destroy an altar, and Gideon was understandably nervous. Indeed, too afraid to do it in the open, he obeyed under the cover of night. But that is okay—what mattered was not heroism but obedience. Yahweh had told him to destroy the altar. He had not told him he could not be afraid. Gideon obeyed the Lord, and there are no grounds within the text for criticising him for the fearful way in which he did so.

Displaying full allegiance to the God of the Bible is not necessarily an easy thing to do, but God doesn’t always call us to do easy things. Obedience isn’t always simple. Sometimes it is difficult to obey. Sometimes it is scary. Sometimes it is costly. But full allegiance is displayed in willingness to obey, even when it is not easy or convenient.

When word leaked out about Gideon’s involvement in the destruction of the altar, a strange thing happened: His father started talking sense, and Israel started seeing sense. Initially, nobody knew who had destroyed the altar—except the ten servants who had assisted Gideon on his nighttime mission. Evidently, one of the servants ratted him out. The son of the altar owner had destroyed his father’s own altar, and according to the laws of Baal-worship, he must die. But suddenly his father, who worshipped the god whose altar his son had destroyed, experienced a corrective in his theology: “Will you contend for Baal? Or will you save him? 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 broken down.” And not only that, but the people started seeing sense too: “Therefore on that day Gideon was called Jerubbaal, that is to say, ‘Let Baal contend against him,’ because he broke down his altar.” This nickname was a way of mocking Baal: Gideon has won the battle; let Baal challenge him to a rematch—if he dared! The fact that so many were later willing to follow Gideon into battle highlights the fact that the people saw him as God’s appointed leader and were now willing to follow him in forsaking Baal and worshipping God. The allegiance that started in his own heart soon took root in his home and in his village. It was now time for the rest of Israel to follow suit.

Let us pause for a moment to reflect on the sudden corrective in Joash’s theology. Crises have a way of making us talk sense. I recently listened to an interview with Peter Lynas, who serves with Evangelical Alliance in Northern Ireland. Lynas is at the forefront of contending for social issues on behalf of the church there. During the interview, he was talking about Evangelical Alliance’s advocacy for a biblical sexual ethic in the face of societal pressure for the transgender movement. In the last few years, he said, people in Northern Ireland have been supporting the transgender push to allow children to self-identify and to transition at will. But in recent months, when some of the schoolboys who now identify as girls have started to compete against girls in sports, parents are suddenly asking questions. “Boys shouldn’t be allowed to compete against girls!” argue the same parents who have been pushing to promote self-identification. The philosophy sounds great in theory, but when the actual implications come to the surface, suddenly reason returns. Suddenly parents remember that there isa very real distinction between boys and girls. A moment of crisis returns reason to the forefront.

Something similar happened here. A mere man took on a god and came out on top. People started seeing the folly of idolatry. If the god could not even defend himself against Gideon, what sort of a god was he? Surely not one who deserves allegiance. When our idols fail to deliver on what they promise, we soon begin seeing through them.

This is why it is so important for Christians to stand firm on God’s revealed truth. Godless worldviews will never ultimately last, and when they inevitably come crashing down, Christians with a biblical worldview need to be there to pick up the pieces.

Anyway, the scene highlights for us the choice now placed before the people of Israel: Continue to worship impotent Baal and live in bondage, or forsake Baal, cling to Yahweh, and experience his deliverance.

The demand that Yahweh placed upon Gideon was meant as an example to all of Israel, and serves as an example to us. If Gideon would deliver God’s people, he must be completely devoted to God. But if the people would benefit from deliverance, they must likewise be completely devoted to Yahweh.

The call to salvation is a call to forsake other allegiances and devote oneself entirely to the Lord. Other gods may be tolerant; the God of the Bible is not. He demands complete allegiance. For Gideon, that meant destroying an altar to Baal. For the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17–31), that meant demolishing the idol of his wealth—though, sadly, he walked away unwilling to do so.

If you will benefit from the salvation that the Lord offers, you must be willing to walk away from whatever idols get in the way of your complete devotion to him: money; possessions; career; relationships; etc.

Ask yourself the hard questions to identify your idols—Do I love or treasure anything or anyone more than God? Do I prioritise anything or anyone before God? Does anything bring me more pleasure than the things of God? Do I place my identity in anything over my status as a child of God? Do I look to anything or anyone to meet my needs instead of God? Do I seek fulfilment or satisfaction from anything outside of God? Do I seek comfort outside of God?—and then be committed to demolishing those idols in allegiance to the one, true God.

An Assurance of Sufficiency

The fourth thing that Israel needed—beginning, once again, with Gideon—if they would experience divine deliverance was an assurance of Yahweh’s sufficiency.

Now all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East came together, and they crossed the Jordan and encamped in the Valley of Jezreel. But the Spirit of the LORD clothed Gideon, and he sounded the trumpet, and the Abiezrites were called out to follow him.  And he sent messengers throughout all Manasseh, and they too were called out to follow him. And he sent messengers to Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, and they went up to meet them.

Then Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said, behold, I am laying 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 save Israel by my hand, as you have said.” 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. Then Gideon said to God, “Let not your anger burn against me; let me speak just once more. Please let me test just once more with the fleece. Please let it be dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground let there be dew.” And God did so that night; and it was dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground there was dew.

(Judges 6:33–40)

The story now shifts ahead to harvesttime, when the Midianites arrived for their eighth annual raid. By now, Gideon was recognised as Yahweh’s appointed leader, and so when “the Spirit of the LORD clothed” him and he summoned Israelite forces to join him, people responded.

As we have seen, however, experience is a fickle foundation for assurance, and despite his previous experiences with Yahweh, Gideon, was not quite ready to march into war. He required reassurance again. This is another hint that Gideon was not accustomed to regular meditation on God’s word. Gideon’s faith was bolstered in times of intimate experience of the Lord, but assurance stemming from experience rarely lasts. To quote Laura Smit again, ‪“An awareness of YHWH’s presence cannot be lasting if it is grounded only in experience; it must be grounded in meditation on the law.”

Since Gideon, raised in a home in which idolatry was practiced, was not accustomed to meditating on the law, he found himself in need of assurance once again. There follows the well-known account of his sign of the fleece.

While this account is not intended to offer us a pattern to follow, some have gone a little far in their criticism of Gideon. Some have accused Gideon of a near complete absence of faith, but the text does not support that. What we see here is not an absence of faith, but what Davis has called “caution of faith.”

If faith is defined as acting on God’s word because of confidence in God’s character, Gideon certainly acted in faith: “If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said, behold I am laying 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 save Israel by my hand, as you have said.” Gideon was willing to obey because he was acting on what God had revealed to him. He had faith, but his faith needed bolstering.

Gideon lived where you and I so often do: in need of bolstered faith. Bumper sticker Christianity—God says it; I believe it; that settles it—is not always realistic Christianity. We would love to claim that we are men and women of faith who never doubt God’s care for and promises to us, but actually we are far more like Gideon than we like to admit. And while Gideon’s situation is not our own, we can be thankful that God is often willing to stoop to reassure us, even when we have his settled promise on the matter.

If we are honest, we will admit that we often live in the space that Gideon found himself: knowing what God said, and wanting to believe him, but struggling with uncertainty and in need of reassurance. Thankfully, we serve a God who is willing to reassure, if we will but go to him and ask for the reassurance that is often necessary for us to embrace afresh his deliverance. In fact, while his word ought to be—and is—sufficient, are we not thankful that God has given us visible signs in bread and wine, which serve to bolster our weak faith Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day?

Often, reassurance comes within the context of community, when we see or hear God at work in the lives of others and are reassured that the same God who worked so mightily for them can do the same for us.

Conclusion

The God of the Bible is a God who has provided deliverance from sin and death through the gospel of his Son, Jesus Christ. In order to benefit from that deliverance, you need to (1) be aware of your sin before a holy God, (2) be persuaded that he has provided a deliverer from sin, (3) be prepared to follow this God in complete allegiance, and (4) be assured that he is sufficient to save to the uttermost those who come to him in faith and repentance. Non-Christian, will you do that today?

But Christians need these truths as much as non-Christians, because Christians need the gospel as much as non-Christians. Are you willing to recognise the sin that continues to plague you, and for which you need forgiveness and cleansing? Are you persuaded that Jesus Christ and his gospel are sufficient to deliver you? Are you prepared to daily take up your cross and follow him in complete allegiance? And are you confident that he is able to fully save you as one who has come to him? Let Gideon’s story encourage you today.