Gideon Grows Weaker Still

Gideon was surely puzzled at God’s move to weaken his army, the band of men who were going to save Israel. Yahweh instructed Gideon to diminish his force by sending all those who were trembling in fear to go home, leaving the army twenty-two thousand men lighter. As he watched the men file away, Gideon surely thought that God would be satisfied until the word came from Yahweh, “There are still too many men.”


The fearful, hesitant Gideon is faced again with the challenge to trust Yahweh in his weakness. He is far from the bold warrior of legend, being dragged against his will into this leadership, God has diminished the force that has followed him and now, Yahweh demands further attrition from his forces. While thoughts of turning and running back to Ophrah must have coursed through his mind, the Judge follows the Lord’s lead and invites his men to the spring for a drink. It is here that Yahweh will sift them out for him.

Yahweh will sort out the fighters based on the way they drink; some like dogs, plunging their face into the water and others, lifting the water to their vigilant faces and drinking from their cupped hands. Does God favor one method over the other? Contrary to many who have interpreted the scriptures through the centuries, the text does not give us this option. Yahweh’s method and choice of the warriors is purely his arbitrary choice and we must respect it. Certainly, Gideon does. In the arbitrary nature of the decision is the secret that God wants to convey; the 300 are not a sign of Israel’s strength, they are a sign of her weakness in the face of Yahweh, the one who can truly save.

This episode in the Gideon cycle explains so much in our own lives. How many times have we followed the leading of God only to find Him putting up barriers in our way, weakening us? Probably more than we would like. In some cases, we find that after we have accepted one barrier or humbling we find another one put in our way. We question whether or not we are truly following the proper leading. Perhaps the question should be, are we thoroughly dependent on God? Are we still hoarding some of the glory for ourselves?

Gideon Grows Weaker

Finally, the account of Gideon’s judgeship reaches the point of action in its mission to save Israel.

Early in the morning, Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) and all his men camped at the spring of Harod. The camp of Midian was north of them in the valley near the hill of Moreh. (Judges 7:1)

His fearful, sputtering start is behind him now. God has shown patience with His Judge; the questions of God’s covenant integrity, the self-centered sacrifice, the undercover operations against Baal, and the hesitant deal making. Gideon and his army are now camped opposite the enemies of Israel, preparing for the battle of redemption. And, at first light, they…

…stopped to count noses!

image Well, God did. When we read the account in English we can lose some of the wordplay that paints a truer picture, one that we have come to expect with Gideon at the center. Gideon and his army are camped at Harod which means trembling in Hebrew. His opposite number is camped near Moreh, a close cognate to mora’ or ‘fearful.’ So we envision ‘trembling’ Israel facing down the ‘fearful’ Midianites. As He overlooks this impending confrontation, God does something that we can all probably relate to, he makes Gideon even weaker.

To ensure that the glory for the victory and the subsequent worship are appropriately assigned, Yahweh tells Gideon that his army is far too large. The temptation will be to claim the victory of their own hands rather than to God so Yahweh reduces the force. Anyone trembling with fear at the coming war is excused and we witness 22,000 soldiers turning and accepting the reprieve. Did this decrease the trembling factor of the remaining army? We are not told but we can place ourselves in Gideon’s position. We are called to fulfill a purpose of God and yet, at every turn, the Lord weakens us such that our only hope is further dependence on Him. Do we have sufficient faith to take the next step?

Gideon’s Double Fleecing

Gideon gained a prescient new title, Jerub-Baal, as the Israelites wisely decided to allow the false god Baal to fight on his own behalf after the destruction of his sacramental objects. This gave the people the opportunity to reexamine their allegiance to this idol and their true relationship with Yahweh without having to stake the position of disowning Baal. We are witness to the difficulty that people have in extracting themselves from sin, it is nearly impossible without the divine intervention.

image And God provides. The Holy Spirit comes upon Gideon and with Him the holy wisdom and courage to blow the war horn to summon Israel against their gathering enemies. The tribes recognized that this was a Holy calling and, without a second thought, they came to Gideon to begin the arduous process of reclaiming Israel in the name of Yahweh. The momentum is building, the Spirit is ready to lead, Gideon is empowered and…

He stops!

We are tempted at this point in the Scriptures to marvel at Gideon’s lack of faith as we read the twin accounts of laying out a fleece to determine God’s true intent. This idea of the weakness of faith is magnified by the preceding appearance of Yahweh which we expect would be sufficient for anyone. Our temptation usually stems from weaknesses and soft spots in our own faith. The Holy Spirit gives us a clear direction for our lives and we hesitate, looking to the heavens for a Theophanic indicator, a sign that assures us that this call is from God. When we perceive that a sign is not forthcoming, our hesitation is justified and we sit.

We join Gideon in our imperfections. In order to fulfill his purpose in the kingdom, Gideon must not rely on his human confidence but rely completely on God. The Lord is patient in bringing him to this point, just as he will be patient with our doubts. Only when we are completely reliant will he move us forward to achieve His ends.

Gideon’s First Step of Obedience II

The smoke was probably still rising when, as the Bible records,

In the morning when the men of the town got up, there Baal’s altar, demolished, with the Asherah pole beside it cut down and the second bull sacrificed on the newly built altar! (Judges 6:26)


In the fog of their dual allegiances, the men of the town were angered and fearful of this affront to Baal. Who would do such a thing they cried, the author answering emphatically, Gideon. This made the act even more heinous in their eyes; the citizens shocked that someone in the caretaker’s family would commit this desecration. Reading from our distance, we’re left to wonder why Israel couldn’t see how their worship of Baal had broken the covenant with Yahweh. Is it possible that, despite all of our sophisticated understanding of our faith, we could find ourselves similarly spiritually blind?

The answer is yes, of course we could. Modern Christianity often allows us to live other than fully committed in a life that spreads our allegiance and worship between multiple ‘gods.’ We find ourselves becoming more ‘of’ the world, thinking that our covenant with God enables Him to look the other way. We should learn from history.

Joash, Gideon’s father, ends the scene with a theological lesson. If Baal were a real god, he suggests, why must we take action on his part? A real god can certainly take care of himself and Gideon will be properly punished. But, if Baal is not the god that we think he is…

Gideon’s First Steps of Obedience

The divine fire that consumed Gideon’s offering reignited his fear as well. Suddenly realizing who he he was facing, Gideon wailed about his imminent destruction upon seeing the face of the Lord. God’s response expresses his desire, saying “Shalom!” Be at peace and without fear. Gideon’s response is worship, building an altar and giving it the name that we can hang on to this day, the Lord is Complete Shalom.


The Lord wastes no time in revelry of the worship. He calls and Gideon obeys. While his response to the appearance of the Lord is to be properly pious, the fear in his heart remains. The first steps of obedience that he must take are to follow the Lord’s instructions in destroying the altar to Baal and the Asherah pole that stands beside it. Not just any altar, but one constructed by his own father.

It would be one thing of God to ask him to challenge the status quo in an anonymous fashion, you know, go knock down some stranger’s altar; cut down the pole in some distant faceless village. It is another thing entirely to confront those closest to you and stand up in obedience to their beliefs and behaviors. We’re called to act in this same obedience even when confronted by our family and friends. There may be an enormous cost to pay but what choice do we have? We can attempt to evade the responsibility much as we saw Gideon do. Will God give up? No. We can claim fear and weakness. Will God give up and move on? No. We can even go so far as to demand a sign in our ferret-like attempt to squirm away from the call but God will not be deterred in His purpose. Yes, there may be an enormous cost to pay but in light of the cost that was paid on our behalf, can you argue any further?

Gideon acts in obedience, carrying the theme of the entire book of Judges. He demolishes the altar and topples the Asherah pole, using it as fuel for another sacrificial fire. He is still fearful, acting in the dark of night, but he takes those first few important steps. He has counted the cost and decided for the Lord. He has decided to cut through the duality of Israel – calling out to God for redemption while continuing the Baal worship in its midst – and at personal risk, follow God in obedience. What will the morning bring?

Gideon’s Call from Weakness II

Even the most devout among Christian believers will have moments of struggle and doubt. While our minds may fully grasp the promise that God does indeed hear our prayers, we are challenged by the silences that we encounter from time to time. There may be longer periods – ‘seasons’ is the popular way to refer to them – where we perceive God to be silent on all things. We feel overwhelmed by life and its inherent  challenges and wonder why God doesn’t step in and alleviate some or all of them. In extreme moments of despair, we may look around and consider the possibility that God has abandoned us. Such was the fuel for Gideon’s doubt and his question to the Lord, “…why has all this happened to us?”

Israel had devolved into an apostasy of previously unheard of depths explaining God’s distance from His people. The cycles in Judges of apostasy and repentance are demonstrated by the repeated chastening that God allows to be visited upon the land. True to human nature, the Israelites fail to consider their personal contributions to the times of silence and simply point out that maybe, perhaps, God has just given up on them despite the Covenant. Being able to consider the scriptures from our distance of time, the source of their troubles is obvious but to the Israelites living in the middle of it, not so much.

The problem with apostasy is one of degree, as we see with the Gideon cycle. Where brief periods of separation bring us to repentance, longer periods bring on bigger problems. Israel’s apostasy in the Gideon cycle is so deep and prolonged that even the proper method of worship has been forgotten. Gideon demands a sign as proof of the legitimacy of his calling and he will prepare an offering to see if it is accepted in a divine fashion. Gideon’s struggle with proportion makes its first appearance as he goes about preparing his test offering.

Forgetting the proper forms of worship offering spelled out in the Law, Gideon’s preparations are based solely on his own evaluation of what is appropriate. He prepares bread, for example, from nearly a bushel of wheat. He brings this and a goat to the Lord as his offering to which God shows patience. This could have gone two ways as we look at it now. God could have refused the flawed, human oriented offering or He could do as He did and sanctify the offering but creating an altar for it’s proper presentation. The consuming fire convinces Gideon of exactly who stands before him.

We talk much about proper worship today, perhaps banking on the fact that God will accept just about anything as a form of worship. I wonder if our own apostasy leads us to believe this and stretch the boundaries of worship further and further from God and closer to ourselves. We trust in God to know what’s in our hearts and ignore the outer trappings that we bring Him as worship. Gideon certainly did and God demonstrated patience with him. Is there a point where we take it too far?

Gideon’s Call from Weakness

Many people, maybe most people, have had the experience of crying out to God for an answer. Why has all this happened to me? Perhaps our eyes and voice have been pointed skyward where we exclaim, I thought you loved me! Often, we sense a silent response, our own voice echoing and fading away. When Gideon rehearsed the lamentations of Israel to the Angel who had appeared to him (Judges 6:13), the response he received was anything but.

He was commissioned to save Israel.

Similar to the calling of Moses, God again selects the weak and unsure to serve his purposes. The call does not invite a decline — “Go in the strength you have…Am I not sending you?” – yet Gideon like Moses before him demurs, citing his weakness. Don’t read past this. Note that God has anticipated the negative response that Gideon will attempt and defers it before he even voices the words. The Lord sends him in his own strength.

How many times have we failed to move on a divine initiative and failed to fulfill our purpose because we refused to move in our own strength? When the Lord calls he supplies. When He calls us to service in any capacity he supplies all the strength we need, often before we even sense the call. Did Moses and Gideon simply want to avoid getting involved or did they genuinely feel inadequate? The text suggests the former but we shouldn’t discount the latter. Certainly God may call us to a serve a purpose that we find distasteful and would like to avoid. Thinking once again that God doesn’t know our hearts, we attempt to evade the call by proclaiming our weakness. God knows and simply says “god in the strength you have.”

He doesn’t leave it there however. The Lord promises that He “will be with you.”

Have we not received the same promise in the form of the Holy Ghost? Does not God’s Spirit indwell us morning, noon, and night imbuing us with strength, wisdom, and assurance as take the first steps in fulfilling our calling? We know the answer to be true and yet we continue discover the depths of our own Gideon-like doubt when we demand signs that God is truly calling us to the vocation ahead of us. Will a sign fortify us or is there another reason that seek to avoid the mission?

Gideon’s Call III

image Surely when God’s prophet voiced His indictment of the Israelites, punctuating it with the damning statement “But you have not listened to me” (Judges 6:10), the people of Israel must have been in shock. Had they finally pushed the Lord too far? The unforgiving rebuke indicated the possibility. We are given no indication of the Israelites response but feelings of abandonment would not have been out of the question.

The answer is not long in coming. Gideon, the son of Joash the Abiezrite, is furtively threshing wheat to keep its existence a secret from his oppressors when the answer arrives in the form of the Lord himself. He greets his soon-to-be judge by calling him a “Mighty Warrior.” We should read and reread this short collection of sentences. In response to their fear of being finally abandoned by Yahweh, the Lord responds by personally interceding in the lives of His people. This intercession brings with it a promise for the future as God identifies with “what can and will be” in Gideon rather than what is. Gideon is hiding from the Midianites and will soon demonstrate his hesitance and fearfulness but God knows him better as His Mighty Warrior.

Where the Lord announces his immediacy and support, Gideon responds in light of his current humiliating position by questioning Him. “If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?”

Haven’t we all been here, maybe more than once?

But then, as Gideon continues his diatribe directed at the Angel of the Lord, we discover either an ignorance of the true spiritual condition of Israel on Gideon’s part or a more troublesome denial that Israel was [doing] “evil in the eyes of the Lord.” Gideon selectively remembers the long picture of history as his people were redeemed out of Egypt but neglects more recent history in the great things that God had done through the preceding Judges.

One of the most highly developed human skills that we possess is our ability to deny our own contribution to our condition. We insist that God live up to his assurances that He will hear our prayers and respond when we are in need, but we often overlook how our own behaviors may have led us right to this very spot. God is not deceived by our hearts but we can count on the same first lesson that Gideon learns; God knows what we can be.

And He will not stop working in us until we have achieved that purpose.

Gideon’s Call II

“Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help.” And how did He respond in this Judges cycle to the cries of his wayward people? He might have supernaturally repelled the oppressors or even moved his people to a new land and safety. But He doesn’t, he sends prophet with a word for the Israelites. As we see in his words, the prophet does not bring a comforting word. Instead, he brings a fiery reminder of what the Lord has already done for the people.


The prophet reminds Israel of their previous bondage to the oppressor Egypt and how the Lord lifted them from this slavery to free them into a land of their own. Implicit in this reminder is the ever present reminder of their being sustained by this same Holy Hand. In case the Shema had been forgotten, the prophet further reiterates the loyalty requirement of their covenant. The Israelites are to worship Him alone and have no other gods, specifically taking the gods of the land they now inhabit. Through lowered eyes, Israel listened to this prophet but his final words caused them to pause and lift their gaze directly to him. God’s words were foreboding,

“But you have not listened to me.”

This was not the response they wanted or expected. Rather than deliverance, God has sent an indictment for their breach of the covenant. The duality of the human nature expects the scolding while justifying the behavior that has brought about the rebuke. God’s word has shaken this foundation though. In his statement of their refusal to listen to His commands He is stating that they have sacrificed their right to be delivered from their current travails.

Has God finally wearied of His people? Is God’s patience finite with respect to this hard headed people? What of us? Modern idolatry may take different forms but it is no less an affront to our Holy God who demands single minded devotion. Many a Christian may wonder why the response to their prayers is silent when they continue to chase after the alluring things of this world. We would do well to examine our end of the covenant rather than wonder why God does not respond as we expect. If we “have not listened” and have gone our own way, do we have the right to expect that God will automatically respond to our cries? Our relationship with God is never automatic.

Gideon’s Call

Reading through the Bible, we can often find it difficult to transition from the dynamic history of Joshua to the short cycles of the Book of Judges. If we are asked to outline it, we generally do well in identifying some of the better known judges like Samson or Deborah because their accounts have illustrated many truths through years but what of Tola or Ehud, the left-handed man?


Judges can challenge us because of the number of different vignettes and Hebrew heroes that we encounter and the repeated cycles of obedience/blessing and disobedience/curse. Why can Israel not see that their preservation relies on obedience to the covenant between themselves and God? Do we have a perspective that the immediacy of history did not offer the Israelites? The inclusion of this compendium of stories in the Hebrew scriptures serves the purpose of allowing God’s people to view the stories in light of historical revelation. Perhaps there is more to be derived from this section of the scriptures than an initial reading might reveal.

The accounts of the Judges describe a humankind that has failed in its imagehood. They show a people who repeatedly decide that they want to be god rather than reflect Him in accordance with their calling. Because of their failure to uphold their end of the covenant, the Israelites find themselves subjects of invading forces. Before Gideon is called, the people of Yahweh had been given by their God into the hands of the invading Midianites. So deep was their fear that they sought shelter wherever they could, including burrowing into caves and mountain valleys. The invaders swept through the land destroying crops and livestock in their wake.

It may have been this reality that cause the Israelites to reconsider their status before God and to cry out to Him.