The Gospel According to Gideon

The Gospel According to Gideon

The Gospel According to Gideon.

“Then Yahweh turned to Gideon and said, ‘Go with the strength you have, and rescue Israel from the Midianites. I am sending you!’ ‘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!’ The Lord said to him, ‘I will be with you…'” (Judges 6:14-16).

The era of the Judges was a difficult period in Israel’s history. After taking the Promised Land for God’s chosen people, Joshua died and it was time for the Israelites to develop their unique national culture based on the worship and obedience of Yahweh. Unfortunately, this newfound national life disintegrated while they were possessing the land. There was moral and spiritual anarchy as the Israelites fell into idolatry, mixing worship of the Canaanite god Baal with Yahweh. Morally, “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (17:6). So the people had to endure constant oppression from their enemies as punishment for getting on such an evil track. The repeating cycle of sin, oppression, and salvation continued for 400 years. To bring order out of the chaos, God would occasionally raise up military leaders who would save the Israelites from their enemies. These national military leaders were called Judges. God intervened out of sheer grace during this era, and one time involved a clever, skeptical man named Gideon, who was Israel’s fifth judge.

 In Judges 6 we find Gideon, the youngest member of an insignificant family in Israel. He was a farmer by trade, and by nature lacked confidence. Gideon was a bit on the timid side, and seemed to be a natural skeptic, perhaps even pessimistic. His nation of Israel was slowly starving to death because of their enemy the Midianites, a marauding force that often swept into Israel and stole their crops and livestock. This frightening state of affairs had been going on for seven years, and Israel was helpless with these devastating attacks. If the Israelites were honest with themselves, they would have connected the dots and acknowledged this as God’s punishment for their pagan idolatry. But this knowledge didn’t make life any easier for the Israelites.

Gideon was understandably fearful, but he also had a clever and resourceful streak. He decided to use the family winepress to serve as the place where he would secretly thresh his wheat. A winepress during that time was either a large pit dug into the ground or a wide vat carved out of a boulder in the ground, and it was big enough for several people to stand in and crush grapes. Gideon was afraid that some Midianite attackers would see him thresh his wheat out in the open and take away his wheat crop. So he was hiding in the winepress, threshing his wheat, in the protective barrier of the winepress. Gideon’s humility in recognizing his low stature in Israel actually was of spiritual benefit to him. Now the Lord knew Gideon was a ready receptacle for His power. A basic principle of the Kingdom is that “His strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9).

The Gift of Weakness. Gideon saw himself as weak, as insignificant, as powerless in the face of the Midianites. Gideon fleshed out this spiritual principle in his life, that God’s power hits its stride when he is at his weakest. This Scripture meditation helps to explain Gideon’s effectiveness as a warrior and leader: “I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me: ‘My favor and lovingkindness are enough for you; My merciful love is all you need. In fact, my strength comes into its own in your weakness. My power shows itself most effective when you are weak.’ Therefore, I will all the more gladly glory in my weakness and infirmities, so that the strength of Christ Jesus may pitch a tent over me and dwell upon me. Now I take limitations in stride and with good cheer, taking pleasure in opposition, in bad breaks, in insults, in weaknesses, in perplexities, in distresses, and in all kinds of hardships. I just let Christ take over! For when I am weak in human strength, then am I truly powerful in divine strength. The weaker I get, the stronger I become.” (a weaving together of the Message, NIV, and the Amplified Bible versions, 1 Corinthians 12:7-10). Yahweh told Gideon to go in the strength that he had, no matter how little strength that was, and He would make up the difference.

Suddenly the Angel of Yahweh appeared to Gideon, calling him a “mighty warrior, valiant hero” as he fearfully threshed his wheat. (6:12). The Angel said that Yahweh was with him. Gideon was doubtful, and he wasn’t sure if this was really a heavenly Messenger or just a human visitor. Gideon complained that if the Lord was truly with him and his people, He sure had a strange way of showing it. Look at the Midianites, Gideon blurts out. He then gathered his courage to point out, it looks like Yahweh has abandoned us! The Angel made it clear, though, that Yahweh wanted Gideon to lead the rescue efforts, and God would be with him all the way. The Messenger even performed a miracle to convince Gideon of his divine calling, a little matter of a fire coming from out of a rock. (6:21). Yahweh saw something in Gideon that even Gideon didn’t see. Yahweh saw courage and valor and leadership.

At this point in the conversation Gideon panicked… He knew that he had seen the divine Angel of Yahweh face-to-face, and he said he was doomed. Gideon knew this was not just any angel. Gideon knew this was an unusual representative of Yahweh, and we know Him as Jesus. The Angel told Gideon to be at peace… “Fear not, you will not die.” (6:23). Because of Gideon’s fear of the holy presence of God, Yahweh confirmed His offer of peace, and the Angel asked Gideon to lose that fear. After years and years of being bullied by the enemy, Yahweh’s peace efforts convinced Gideon of His divine presence.  And so, at that very spot where the Lord caused fire to come out of a rock, Gideon built an altar and named it Yahweh-Shalom, the LORD-is-Peace.

The Angel of Yahweh, that mysterious heavenly Messenger that appears and then disappears in many stories in the Hebrew Bible, has long been considered by many scholars to be none other than Jesus Christ. Early Church theologians, and many others since then, have recognized that this unique Angel not only represents Yahweh, but also speaks for Yahweh, and is seen by witnesses as being Yahweh Himself. We do know that Scripture is clear… no one can see God face-to-face and survive the experience. And we do know that God is a Spirit. So, logically, any manifestation of God in the form of man is Jesus in His pre-incarnate state.

Fear Not. It’s okay to be a bit skeptical at first if you hear what appears to be a word from the Lord. “Test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).  And “Test the spirits to see whether they are from God.” (1 John 4:1). Once you are convinced that you have heard from God, “Be shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16). It is a virtue to be faithful, and it’s a sin to be spiritually gullible. Depend on God’s sufficiency and the wisdom of the saints around you, and your fears will evaporate. Ask God to keep speaking to you as you walk with Him, and He will keep shining His light on your path.

Yahweh-Shalom, LORD-is-Peace. Shalom (peace) ranks the highest of all values in the Hebrew Bible, according to Jewish scholars. Shalom is the most important goal in all of life. “Rabbinic teaching describes it as the only vessel through which God’s blessings can flow into this world.” (Rabbi Arthur Green, These are the words: A Vocabulary of Jewish Spiritual Life).

One wonders if perhaps these accolades to peace are a little overwrought, until one sees the full Hebrew meaning of shalom. As it turns out, peace in the Bible is a dazzling diamond with many facets, many aspects which fill out its full meaning.

SHALOM: the joining together of opposites, the holding together of separate pieces; harmony, completeness, wholeness; the resolving of conflicts, the healing of division; an abundance of well-being, health, flourishing; tranquility, contentment, freedom from disquiet or disorder.

In other words, peace is one of the greatest gifts that God can give us. With the Prince of Peace, we are able to enjoy a taste of heavenly shalom now… full reconciliation with God; flourishing in mind and spirit; an inner harmony that heals us and joins together loose ends in our spirit; an outer harmony with others that enjoy resolved conflicts; a tranquil heart of contentment and trust; an inner assurance that all will be well. The official Jewish version of the Hebrew Bible, the Tanakh, records that shalom can be summed up with the words, “All is well.”

By naming that altar LORD-is-peace, Gideon made a powerful statement of faith in Yahweh, that Yahweh would bring peace to him and to his people in Israel:

(1) Peace of Heart. Gideon needed immediate reassurance that he wouldn’t die after seeing Yahweh and His angel. He needed to know that he was not doomed after seeing them face-to-face. Gideon was afraid of Yahweh’s holy presence, and he needed a heavy dose of courage from heaven.

(2) Peace to Israel. After seven years of judgement and intimidation. God will bring victory over their enemies. God will help Israel flourish once again. God will resolve this painful conflict by overcoming the Midianites and bringing peace to the land.

(3) Peace with God. After surviving through these years of trouble, Gideon needed to know that he and Israel was at peace with God. Gideon needed to confirm that God had not abandoned them, that Yahweh would be with them. After Gideon’s conversation with Yahweh and His angel, there was a strong sense of reconciliation with God.

(4) Peace of Mind. Gideon was at first very uncomfortable with being the lead warrior in Israel’s rescue. He had been at loose ends for seven years, and was certainly feeling unsure of himself, scattered and unsettled. Gideon was living a life of fearfulness after all this time of being bullied by their enemies. God’s promise of His presence and strength started to bring to Gideon a measure of tranquility and contentment. He started to ease into trusting God despite his skepticism. Gideon wasn’t fully there yet, but he was on the way to trust and faith.

The First Test. That very day Yahweh gave Gideon his first assignment. Gideon needed some early success, some positive experience to bolster his self-confidence and get him on the right track with God. This was actually an important test as well, to discover if Gideon was committed and faithful to the extent that he can trust God and be trusted by Him. Gideon was tasked with the job of pulling down his father’s altar to Baal, which was in the middle of town. And He told Gideon to cut down the Asherah pole standing next to that altar. Gideon proved his mettle and did exactly what the Lord had asked him to do. Despite the fact that, fearfully, he waited until the middle of the night to accomplish this task, Gideon nonetheless passed his first test with flying colors. But his assignment wasn’t complete just yet. Gideon was then told to build a sanctuary out of that very site, constructing an altar for sacrifices. He was even instructed to build the sacrifice fire using the chopped pieces of the Asherah pole. Yahweh wanted to sanctify what was once a pagan site, and Gideon was only too happy to help in that process. Gideon, at this point, is hitting his stride and is building his confidence and his trust in Yahweh.

Tear down, Build up. Take off, Put on. There was another important reason behind Gideon’s first assignment. He had to tear the evil down before he could build the good. Before the good could come into play, the bad had to be disposed of. Like a new set of clothes that Christians are expected to put on, a new faith wardrobe, we need to take off before we can put on.  Before we put on, we have to take off. We need to strip ourselves of the old Adam as we put on the new Adam. To put off our old garment is to repent, to confess our old nature to God. Our new set of clothes represents repentance, our confession, our desire to strip off the old and put on the new. God’s grace is the only power strong enough to enable us to take off and put on. Gideon tore pagan altars down before he could build up the new sanctuary.

“Fill your thoughts with heavenly realities, and not with the distractions of the natural order. It is time to put off anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, blasphemy, and dirty language. Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful behavior and all its wicked deeds. So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust and evil desires. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3).

“You’re done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire. Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with His label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete.” (Colossians 3:7-8, Message).

Clothed with Power. At this point, Gideon knew he had to start rallying the troops. He needed to gather some Israelite fighting men to go against the enemies that were camping along their border. What happens next is significant. The different versions of the Bible put it this way: The Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon; the Spirit of the Lord clothed Gideon with power; the Spirit of the Lord enveloped Gideon; the Spirit of Yahweh empowered Gideon; the Spirit of the Lord came over Gideon; the Spirit of the Lord clothed Gideon with Himself and took possession of him. The Hebrew word here literally means “put on.” So the Holy Spirit came onto Gideon as a garment. And Gideon was privileged to put on this powerful garment, enabling him to meet these challenges facing Israel. There was no other way to victory. Gideon was impotent without the Lord’s empowerment.

The Fleece. Every once in a while, Gideon’s lack of self-confidence would surface. Right after he powerfully blew his trumpet to gather the troops, he apparently needed some reassurance that God would be on his side in the coming battles. So he put Yahweh to the test. In His mercy, Yahweh patiently obliged Gideon and agreed to communicate through this homemade test. It could be that Gideon’s faith was declining and he needed God to strengthen his faith before the fighting began. Gideon placed a fleece, a clipping of wool, on the threshing floor. As the Tanakh says, “If dew falls only on the fleece and all the ground remains dry, I shall know that You will deliver Israel through me, as You have said.” Well, that’s what then happened. But Gideon wasn’t satisfied. Now for the reverse sign… “Let the fleece be dry, while there is dew all over the ground.” God obliged, and Gideon was convinced. He would now move forward into battle.

The Fleece and the Incarnation. The Eastern Orthodox Church has maintained that this scene with Gideon is actually a beautiful picture of what happened at the Incarnation. The dewy fleece is symbolic of Mary conceiving Jesus in her womb. An old Orthodox hymn puts it this way… “He shall come down as rain upon the fleece; As dew upon the fleece, you have descended into the womb of the Virgin, O Christ.” The Church has stated that there is meaning beyond the fleece miracle itself. The dew is the Son of God, the fleece is Mary, the result is the Incarnation, “through which all can be saved.”

Too Many Troops. In Judges 7, we see the ingenious way Gideon assembled the troops to fight while listening to the Lord’s instructions. Gideon’s battle cry on his horn was an excellent way to gather his warriors. The problem was, Yahweh thought Gideon did too good of a job. There are too many troops, says the Lord. This is a holy war, the troops shouldn’t get the credit for the eventual victory. People might claim the glory due to Me. That’s not good. I want everyone to acknowledge that the Lord secured the triumph. This was not man’s doing. So Gideon is instructed to winnow out the men. If any of the troops are even a little fearful or timid, tell them to go home. So 22,000 troops left, while 10,000 remained. There are still too many troops! People might think they have earned the victory without God’s help. So continue to sift the troops in your brigade, Yahweh tells Gideon. The troops were taken to a nearby stream to get a drink of water. Now notice all those troops who get down on their knees and drink with their mouths directly in the stream. Those warriors are excused. Tell them to go home. And all those fighters who cup water in their hands and lap it up with their tongues, they remain to fight. That is the way to fight effectively, ready to engage in combat if an enemy should come up behind them while drinking. These are my fighters, says the Lord. Gideon ended up with only 300 troops against the many thousands of the Midianites. Now I know, says Yahweh, that no one will boast about saving themselves by their own strength and numbers. The fighting troop was reduced from 32,000 to 300 men. There will be no doubt that the victory was from God. God’s strength does not lie in numbers. Sometimes God reveals His power in the unimpressive. The one God will always outnumber the countless enemy.

The Victory is Won. It didn’t matter that the Midianite horde looked like a swarm of locusts, or that their camels were past counting, like grains of sand on the seashore. The Midianites grew fearful because of the Lord speaking to one of them in a dream. and they were ready to flee. They were afraid of Gideon’s troops, even though they didn’t know a thing about them. Gideon gave each man a horn and an empty jar with a lit torch inside the jar. At the signal, everyone was supposed to blow their horns and shout, “For God and for Gideon!” When Gideon’s fighters came to the edge of the camp, they blew their horns, then smashed their jars, revealing the torches in the night. They were all stationed around the camp, so it looked like the enemy camp was surrounded. The enemy panicked and ran for their lives, even killing themselves in the process. Gideon’s clever strategy made the enemy think there were more troops than there actually were. The enemy was routed, and the victory was the Lord’s. A miracle, and the Israelites did not have to fight. The glory goes to Yahweh. (Judges 7:9-22). Throughout this battle, Gideon continued to have the Holy Spirit envelop and clothe him in the power of the Lord. The Holy Spirit was his spiritual armor.

Battle-Tested. How can we apply this battle scene to our Christian walk? We are not usually fighting physical enemies, but what kind of battles do we engage in? Maybe out battles are more personal and require us to be more on the offensive, fighting against our ego and pride, our anger and our self-indulgence. Maybe our battles are more interpersonal, warring against our impatience and a critical spirit, our unforgiveness and a judging spirit. There is no doubt that woven into all these battles is the fact of spiritual warfare. In these battles, we put on our armor, ready for battle: truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the Word of God. The constant battle strategy in all these battles is prayer… pray to lose your temper; pray to practice self-control; pray to become a more loving person; pray for God’s protection against the powers of darkness. If there’s one consistent quality of Gideon, it is that he listened to God, he obeyed Yahweh, he received his battle plans straight from the Lord. May that be true for us as well.

Treasure in a Jar. St. Paul seems to allude to one of Gideon’s battle props in 2 Corinthians 4:7. He talks about each of us being like a common clay jar that carries within a burning torch, the burning light of God’s glory in Christ. Jesus is our treasure in an earthen vessel, a pot that has cracks to reveal God’s light within us. And the purpose of this treasure in our clay jar is the same purpose that lay in Gideon’s victory over the Midianites… “That the excellence of the power may be of God, and not of us.” Paul follows this up with observations regarding our battles in life: “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed – always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.” (2 Cor. 4:8-10). As with Gideon, victory comes only in the power of God and His grace. We may participate in these battles, but only the Lord determines the outcome.

Deliverance. The 300 mighty men of Gideon may not have lifted a sword in that first big battle against the Midianites, but they certainly lifted their swords plenty when they pursued the enemy in their desire to completely wipe them out from the face of the earth. After delivering Israel from their enemies, the people wanted Gideon to be their king to rule over them. Gideon’s response was commendable: “I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you. The Lord shall rule over you.” (8:23).

Poor Judgment. Gideon then had a weak moment. He gathered all the gold the people could find after receiving the spoils of all those victories, and he made a golden ephod. It was a dazzling garment meant to serve as a memorial to remember God’s victories for them against their enemies. It was to commemorate their deliverance, reminding the people of their hard-fought freedom with the help of God. But the people turned it into an object of cultic worship. “And Israel played the harlot with it there, so that it became a snare to Gideon, his household, and the people.” (8:27). After all that God had done through Gideon, the people still had a weakness for pagan idolatry. Gideon may have meant well with his golden ephod memorial, but it turned out to be a tragic mistake. It opened the way to somehow encourage the people to exchange one Lord for another.

It appears that Gideon may have had mixed feelings about that king’s crown. He inevitably established quite the royal harem, with many wives and concubines, and he personally produced 70 sons, not counting the daughters! Gideon even named his one son Abimelech, which means “my father is king.” Gideon’s victorious life in the military did not necessarily transfer over to his daily life. Poor judgment seemed to follow him. Winning one battle doesn’t’ mean we win every battle. Gideon’s self-indulgence was apparent to his dying day.

Short Memories. Gideon must have been an effective leader, though, because Israel lived in peace for forty years until his death. One wonders if there was any significant changes being experienced at the heart level of the people during Gideon’s time, because as soon as he was dead and buried, they once again “played the harlot” and made Baal their god. “The Israelites did not remember the Lord their God, who had delivered them from the hand of all their enemies on every side.” (8:34).