By Rev. Brent Russett – Asbury Free Methodist
January 29th, 2023 Judges 6:1-24
This morning I want to start a three-week series on the story of Gideon. There are so many cool stories in the Bible. But there are times in a person’s life and in the life of the church where certain stories bubble to the surface as “bang on appropriate” for the next stretch in the journey. I believe Gideon is that story for us.
The story of Gideon starts out messy, and it doesn’t end all that great, either. But we live in a messy world. As we get to the story of Gideon in the sixth chapter of Judges, the Israelites have already been through three cycles of turning away from God, being oppressed by an enemy, crying out to God, and then God sending a deliver. The story of Gideon starts a fourth such cycle.
I find that depressing and encouraging all at the same time. As I look back on my history, I see the same cycle. There have been times when I have been close to God. It seemed like every time I would open the Bible, God would speak to me. The power of the Spirit was evident, and miracles were expected. Then either something happens, or more often, there is a gradual cooling. Then the weeds of life grow up and ensnare me. Those weeds can be stress, or unconstructive habits, or bad attitudes. But over time, it feels like life slides into the pit. Something happens that wakes me up to look around, and I say this is not where I want to be; This is not where I should be. I cry out to God. And God delivers.
I don’t believe that life has to be this way. But I have experienced it that way. Have you been there? There have been cycles where you have been close to God, and your love grows lukewarm. If you have been there or are there, the story of Gideon is for you.
When we catch up with the nation of Israel in Judges chapter 6, they are at the bottom of the cycle.
Judges 6:1–5 (NIV)
The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites. 2 Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds.
Notice how they were oppressive.
3 Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. 4 They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. 5 They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count them or their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it.
The enemy was wrecking the country. They would steal or destroy the crops. They would kill the cattle and sheep and donkey. They left nothing. They ravaged the land.
But note the first response of the Israelites
Judges 6:2 (NIV)
2 Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds.
That is so much like us. In the face of the things in life that oppress us, we try to hunker down. We look for the mountain clefts to build a shelter in.
Our shelters just look different. We build shelters in front of the television to numb our minds and emotions. We build shelters in the refrigerator and take refuge in a sea of potato chips. We try to lose ourselves in the maze of extreme sports or in the crowds of going out with friends or hobbies. We can build a shelter in our office at work and live off the success there. These are some of the more socially acceptable ways of building shelters.
But we can also try to reinforce ourselves with alcohol or drugs. We can try to lose ourselves in sex or pornography. We can look for our thrill in gambling. There are all kinds of shelters that we can build in our world.
The Israelites were oppressed. Their response was to hide and build strongholds. But finally, it got so bad they couldn’t stand it anymore.
Judges 6:6 (NIV)
6 Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help.
The human response was to build shelters. The godly response was to cry to the Lord. There is a time when we become so impoverished that we finally turn. It would be better to turn sooner than later.
My question to you is, what is the Midianite in your life? Is it depression? Is it super-stress at work? Is it a bad marriage? Is it a bad relationship with somebody significant in your life? Is it your singleness? Is it your financial issues? Is it your family? Is it a boss? Is it an addiction? Is it an unhealthy habit?
Judges 6:7–8 (NIV)
When the Israelites cried out to the Lord because of Midian, 8 he sent them a prophet….
What, I wanted an army. I wanted a legion of Angels to come and smash those Midianites. When I cry to the Lord, I want him to come in power and deliverance. Instead, he sends a prophet.
The prophet basically says This is what God says; I told you not to turn to other gods, but you have not listened to me. They wanted an army, but what they got was truth.
But that is God’s way. You see, truth is the basis of repentance. And repentance is the basis of the power of God coming into a situation.
That is true of them, and it is true of us. The basis is the work of God happening in our lives in a significant way is truth and repentance.
Now that is often a hard concept for us to deal with because we like to blame. It’s not my fault that I’m in this situation. It’s the bosses. It’s the circumstances. It’s the pain.
Here is a list of statements made by motorists who were trying to explain why they had been involved in accidents:
The other car collided with mine without giving warning of its intentions.
A pedestrian hit me and went under my car.
Coming home, I drove into the wrong house and collided with a tree I don’t have.
I pulled away from the side of the road, glanced at my mother‑ in‑law, and headed over the embankment.
The pedestrian had no idea which direction to run, so I ran over him.
The indirect cause of the accident was a little guy in a small car with a big mouth.
We like to blame. And maybe it is 90% the other person’s fault and 10% our fault. But until we deal with stuff, which may only be 10%, we shut out the power of God working in the situation. In fact, it is usually not what other people do to us that puts us in bondage. It is our responses to our circumstances that usually damages us the most.
We have been introduced to the situation. The Midianites are running all over the land, and the Israelites are oppressed. God has sent truth. Now we are introduced to Gideon.
As we meet him, Gideon is threshing wheat in a winepress as a way of hiding it from the Midianites. Usually, when you thresh wheat, you do it on the top of a hill, so the wind can blow away the chaff. Chaff is like the husk around the kernels. But even on top of a hill, threshing is a dirty job. But Gideon is doing it in an enclosed winepress. The air would be grey with dust particles. His clothes would be covered with dirt. His face would be streaked with the black dust attaching itself to his sweat and then his sweat running down his face. He is trying to keep himself from coughing.
And then an angel shows up to this guy who is hiding, who is coughing and says –
Judges 6:12 (NIV)
12 … “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”
I am sure that Gideon felt like anything but a Mighty Warrior. I am sure he feels helpless in the face of the invading hoards. I am sure that he feels impotent in the face of the 132,000-person army that camped a little ways away. And yet the angel of the Lord calls him a Mighty Warrior.
People, there is your perspective, and there is God’s perspective. There is your perspective on the Midianites in your life and God’s perspective. There is your perspective on the kind of strength you have, and there is God’s perspective. And almost without fail, when you are going through the dark times of the soul, God’s perspective of you is loftier than your perspective of you.
In fact, God would turn to you this morning and call you by name and say, you mighty warrior. I am sure many of you would say, but you don’t know how I blew it last week. You don’t know how much I have failed. You don’t know how my life seems to have been swarmed with problems, with thoughts, with crisis. But that is your perspective. God has a different perspective. He sees the full armour of God he has given you. He sees the power of the Spirit that lives inside you. He sees the potential of the promises that he has put in your hand. And he says to you, The Lord is with you, you mighty Warrior.
Judges 6:13 (NIV)
13 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”
The Lord had just said to him The Lord is with you”. And Gideon responds by saying the Lord has abandoned us. Gideon was judging God on the basis of his feelings and the circumstances he could see. But the Lord knows differently. Never judge God from your limited experience.
But we do it so often. We don’t feel God; we don’t see God. Life is hard. God has abandoned me. God is against me.
You will notice that the Lord’s reply in verse 14 doesn’t try to argue with Gideon. His assurance comes in the form of a command and a question.
Judges 6:14 (NIV)
14 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?”
God will not argue with your lack of faith. He issues a command and asks a question. He will say, “take this step of faith,” and asks, “Will you trust me?”
God’s command to Gideon is to go in the strength he has. That is often the command that God will give to you.
God doesn’t ask you to do what you can’t. He asks you to use what you have for him right now. God is not looking for superhuman effort. He is looking for obedience.
But Gideon is not convinced. He sees the army of 132,000 and asks, (Verse 15) How can I save Israel? He goes on to say he comes from a weak clan and the weakest family. In other words,
God, I’m not leadership material.
The point, though, is not who you are. The point is who you are with God.
Judges 6:16 (NIV)
16 The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.”
People, when it comes to the Midianites in your life. It is not about the size of your problem, it’s about the size of your God. It’s not about the past record of failure. It’s about the promise of God for the future. It’s not about how weak you feel. It is about who you are with God. And as is rightly said, “God plus one is a majority.”
Note the flow of the story. The Israelites tried their own ways to deal with the Midianites, and they built strongholds. Finally they got so desperate they cried to the Lord. When they did God sent a prophet to speak truth which became the basis for repentance. Then God sent an angel to speak his perspective. Now we move into the next part of the story. Learning to hear the voice of God.
Judges 6:17 (NIV)
Gideon replied, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me.
I love that line. The Lord shows up in person and gives instructions, and Gideon says give me a sign that it is you who is speaking. Isn’t that just like us? We think we know what God is saying, but we are unwilling to trust what we know.
The first sign that God was speaking was persistence.
Judges 6:18 (NIV)
18 Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.” And the Lord said, “I will wait until you return.”
When God speaks, it is his habit to be persistent. Gideon was worried that when he left the room, the Lord would disappear, and he would be left alone. So, he asks for the sign of persistence.
When you feel like God is asking you to step out in faith. This is usually a worthwhile sign for you to look for. If that persistence in the voice of God is there, it is a good sign that this is the voice of God, and you need to respond.
Gideon went away and came back, and the Lord was still there. Gideon brought the Lord bread and meat. Now, remember, the country is in the middle of a famine. It cost Gideon something to bring this meat and bread to the Lord. Moving out in faith usually does cost something.
If you think you are going to move against the Midianites of your life without cost, then you need to rethink. It will cost. Not as much as the Midianites are costing you, but it will cost you.
Gideon brought his offering before the Lord and
Judges 6:20–21 (NIV)
20 The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And Gideon did so. 21 Then the angel of the Lord touched the meat and the unleavened bread with the tip of the staff that was in his hand. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the angel of the Lord disappeared.
The second sign that it was the voice of God was that the offering was received. The rock caught fire. It consumed the sacrifice. The third sign was that the angel disappeared.
People, when you start following the voice of God, when you start stepping out in faith, strange things start to happen. Start expecting the unexpected. Things that the rest of the world would call coincidences start to pile up. God is at work. Take steps of faith and see what God will do.
Judges 6:22 (NIV)
22 When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he exclaimed, “Alas, Sovereign Lord! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!”
When Gideon finally figured out that this was the angel of the Lord. He started to get scared. When you start knowing that you are dealing with God, there is a knowledge of the sacred that comes over you. You are not playing at life anymore; you are living in the presence of the living God. Gideon was starting to figure he was toast.
This the fear of the Lord. It is something that is lacking in our day. But it is needed to move forward. But as soon as Gideon starts to realize what is going on, the Lord speaks to him again.
Judges 6:23 (NIV)
23 But the Lord said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.”
Notice now that the angel had disappeared, (Verse 21) but he still heard the voice of God. If you take steps of faith when you hear the voice of God that is persistent, God will be able to speak to you more subtly. The Lord’s message is peace.
Judges 6:24 (NIV)
24 So Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and called it The Lord Is Peace. To this day it stands….
The text says, the altar stands to this day. It was a substantial altar. Gideon was always going to remember what God had said to him.
How about you? You see the Midianites in your life, and you know that you have built caves for yourself. You are doing your best to avoid them. But God wants more for you – he wants to deliver you.
I know you want him to come in power, but usually, he comes with the truth. The truth about who he is and who you are. He calls us to repent. That simply means, instead of heading to the caves, we are going to head for God.
At this time, there will be all kinds of excuses. But what he will call you to is simple obedience. He takes you right where you are and works with what you have. He is going to speak to you. It will become your choice. Will you follow? This morning, I know that this message is resonating with some of you. You know God is speaking. The question is, “Will you follow?”
Sermon Questions – January 29th, 2023
Learning From Gideon – Judges 6:1-24
1. What are you celebrating today?
2. What/Who are you praying about/for?
3. Read Judges 6:1-5. The sermon used the Midianites as a metaphor for the challenges, battles, and difficulties we face. What kinds of things might these things be?
4. What was the first response of the Israelites to the attack of the Midianites? (vs 2) How do we do the same thing in a different way when life gets hard?
5. Read Judges 6:6-8. What was the second response of the Israelites to the challenge of the Midianite oppression? How did God answer that prayer? Do you think the Israelites got the answer they wanted?
6. Why is a truthful perspective on our lives important? What response is God hoping the Israelites will have? How does this apply to our lives?
7. Read Judges 6:11-12 Is how Gideon described in verse 11 congruent with how he is described in verse 12? What is the difference? How does this apply to us?
8. Read Judges 6:13-14. How would you describe Gideon’s faith? How does God respond to this faith, or lack of it? How does this relate to us?
9. Read Judges 6:17-23. Gideon asks for a sign that God is talking to him. What are the signs that are given? How do they help us is learning to hear God’s voice.