Learning from Gideon – Part 2
By Rev. Dr. Brent Russett — Asbury Free Methodist
February 5th, 2023 – Judges 6:25-40
I read this new take on an old song this week. Some of you will appreciate it.
Oh, the weather outside is frightful, and our joints are not delightful,
Since it is so freezing cold
We feel old,
We feel old,
We feel old.
It is good to be inside. Today we are continuing to learn from Gideon. The lesson that God teaches Gideon is that the issue is not the issue.
Let me bring those of you who were not here last week up to speed. The country of Israel had been taken over by the Midianites. They destroyed the crops; they killed the cattle. They stole whatever they could get their hands on. As far as the Israelites were concerned, the oppression of the Midianites was the issue.
I asked the question last week, and it is still a good question, “What are the Midianites 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? Most of us have things which challenge us, harangue us, things that cause us grief. What is your Midianite? If you have Midianites in your life, the story of Gideon has something profound to say to you.
In their desperation, the people of Israel cried out to God. They wanted a deliverer. They wanted to escape from their problem. But instead of a deliverer, God sent them a prophet. This is what God said to his people through the prophet.
Judges 6:10 (NIV)
10 I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.’ But you have not listened to me.”
We want deliverance; God speaks truth. But truth is the basis for repentance, and repentance is the basis for the power of God being brought to bear on our lives.
The Lord then sends an angel to Gideon. Gideon had his perspective on his life, the size of the problem, and the issues of the day. But the angel gave Gideon God’s perspective. Then he taught Gideon to hear the voice of God.
This is where we pick up our story this week.
Judges 6:25–26 (NIV)
25 That same night the Lord said to him, “Take the second bull from your father’s herd, the one seven years old. Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it. 26 Then build a proper kind of altar to the Lord your God on the top of this height. Using the wood of the Asherah pole that you cut down, offer the second bull as a burnt offering.”
Remember, the Midianites are still oppressing the Israelites. They were the enemy. As far as the Israelites and Gideon were concerned, they were the issue. But from God’s perspective, something else had to be dealt with before the Midianites could be dealt with.
When I ask people to describe, metaphorically speaking, the Midianites in their lives, there is usually one or two significant issues in their lives. Maybe it is habitual anger, or a bad marriage, or an estranged relationship. Maybe it’s problems at work or at school. Maybe it is an addiction. But when we start probing a little deeper, I find that the issue is rarely the issue.
As a pastor, I regularly notice this. If you are a counsellor, you know this. The issue is rarely the issue. And God knows it too.
To Gideon and to the rest of Israel, the issue was the Midianites. But God comes to Gideon and says, you know that altar that your dad built to Baal and the Asherah pole beside it. Well, tear those down, build an altar to me. Then take one of your dad’s bulls and sacrifice it to me.
Let me give you a little background. Baal was the god of the people of the region that the Israelites conquered by the help of the true God. Baal was the god of fertility and agriculture. Baal’s wife was said to be Asherah. Thus, the Asherah poles.
Most of the way through the Old Testament, if the Israelites were going to fall away from God, they were going to fall into Baal worship. It had happened before this in the early part of Judges, and it would happen after this all the way to the time of Jeremiah and the Babylonian captivity.
Now there were some things that were incredibly attractive about Baal worship. He dealt in things that were important to the Israelites. He was supposedly the god of agriculture and the ability to have children.
He wasn’t a god over all of life. The people worshiping Baal didn’t have to worry about pesky things like the 10 Commandments. All they had to do was to appease Baal, and they got what they wanted – good crops and children. Or so the belief went.
And appeasing Baal wasn’t so bad either. For the way to worship Baal was through ritualistic prostitution. Both male and female prostitution was part of the worship. It was an extremely sexualized culture that Gideon lived in. It was probably as sexualized or more so than ours is.
So, what kind of worship would be more fun, the traditional worship of going to the tabernacle and sacrificing a goat or going to Baal and worshipping in the way he wanted. (You Laugh) But you wouldn’t believe how many people I have seen stop coming to church over the years because they were sleeping with their boyfriend or girlfriend. The worship there was more fun.
But here is what you need to know about false gods like Baal or the false gods in your own life. They always want more and more.
Jeremiah 19:5a (NIV)
5 They have built the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as offerings to Baal…
Simple sacrifice became sexual sacrifice which became child sacrifice. Wherever there was Baal worship, there also seemed to be a lot of violence.
Now we can’t get on our high horse and say we are more civilized. —-
The sexualization of our culture has spawned an industry of abortion for convenience. It pressures our high school students to experiment – often to the detriment of their own mental health.
We live in a culture where adultery is almost expected and where homes are wrecked. Our culture has no right to judge the culture surrounding Baal worship.
One of the major differences, however, is the idols in our lives are not usually made of wood or stone. We don’t build physical altars.
But you need to know that idols can be made of anything. They can be made of religion, or people, or cravings, or ideals. We can make an idol out of money or power or comfort or people. An idol is anything that is more important in our lives than God. The number of different idols we can construct.
And here is the thing, more often than not, the Baals in our lives will seem unrelated to the Midianites in our lives. The things that are oppressing us will seem unrelated to the idols in our lives.
But when we cry out to God for relief from the oppression, he often points to another area first. He sends a prophet. He calls us to do something about it.
So, God says to Gideon in verse 25, go rip down your father’s altar to Baal.
Here is what you need to know. Many of our false gods are shared. Some of them will be transmitted through family. Some of them are held as a value in the community. Tearing them down may not be just a personal thing; it has a social impact.
Gideon here is being asked to go against his family system. He is asked to go against his family history. He has always known the family god. He is being asked to go against his family. And he is being asked to go against his community. That tends to make people upset.
Remember that Baal was confined to only a part of life: agriculture and children. Many would have kept worshiping the true God too. Gideon’s family probably did not see that as problematic. His community didn’t see it as problematic.
Our culture prides itself on being pluralistic. So, we think we are good at living and let live. So, you can be a Christian, just don’t say anything about it. If you even suggest that you are not going to sleep together with your significant other before you a married, you are going to catch all kinds of flack.
In some places, if you suggest that there is more to life than money or you will be helpful to someone with no thought of return, they will look at you like you have two heads.
Depending on your friend group, people will wonder about you if you don’t participate in gossip or if you don’t go out and get drunk or high on the weekend.
There are many who would tell you, you can be a Christian if you want – just as long as you behave like us.
But the Bible is clear,
Galatians 5:19–21 (NIV)
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
The Bible is clear, we cannot behave like the world. We have no business judging those in the world. But to love Jesus and to follow Jesus means that there will be times when you cannot do what the world around you is doing. Sometimes being loving and compassionate will bring you accolades. Sometimes it will get you crucified. Jesus experienced both.
All I am saying is that when you start to deal with idols in your life, don’t expect the world around you to stand up and applaud. Or if you have a family like Gideon’s, don’t expect your family to stand up and applaud.
Let’s say you are trying to deal with your tendency to gossip or get rid of hatred, or you are trying to stay away from envy, and because of those things, you choose to abstain from some conversations or refuse to go to some places, you are going to be like Gideon.
You are going to go against the system. And even though pluralism is vaunted in Canada, you will quickly find out that we don’t live up to our ideals. When we suggest, even by our actions, that some things are wrong for us to participate in, then people who do those things will feel like you are judging them. To suggest that anything is wrong in our culture seems to be social suicide.
Well Gideon knew he was getting himself into a hornet’s nest. So, he did what God commands as subtly as he could
Judges 6:27 (NIV)
27 So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the Lord told him. But because he was afraid of his family and the townspeople, he did it at night rather than in the daytime.
But when the towns folk woke up, they noticed. They investigated. One of the servants must have spilt the beans.
Judges 6:29–30 (NIV)
29 They asked each other, “Who did this?”
When they carefully investigated, they were told, “Gideon son of Joash did it.”
30 The people of the town demanded of Joash, “Bring out your son. He must die, because he has broken down Baal’s altar and cut down the Asherah pole beside it.”
When you go against the system, the system wants blood. But help comes to Gideon from an unlikely place. Joash was Gideon’s father, and he was also the one who had built the altar to Baal in the first place. He was also the owner of the bull that was sacrificed. But despite all of that. Joash came to Gideon’s rescue.
Judges 6:31 (NIV)
31 But Joash replied to the hostile crowd around him, “Are you going to plead Baal’s cause? Are you trying to save him? Whoever fights for him shall be put to death by morning! If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar.”
He basically said, – Do you not think that Baal can take care of himself. In fact, if you kill Gideon, you are insulting Baal because he can defend himself. You should be afraid if you kill him because then Baal will kill you.
From that day, Gideon was given a new name Jerub-Baal which means let Baal contend with him.
People, if you are battling with the Midianites, and God points out an Asherah and a Baal, you need to deal with those before you are going to be able to deal with the Midianites. Because what you think is the issue may not be the issue. You want the power of God to work in one area of your life, but you are stopping him from working in those areas because of the idols in other areas of your life.
Are there things in your life that you are putting ahead of God?
Here is what you need to know about God. He is a God who wants to deliver you. He wants to free you from the Midianites in your life. God wants to set his people free. God is not a God of oppression but of freedom.
But God knows that to be set free of the Midianites in your lives, you have to be set free from the Baals in your lives. Turning away from the idols of our lives and turning towards God – in other words, repentance – always precedes deliverance. Repentance always precedes deliverance.
The people of God could not be deliver from the Midianites until they took care of Baal. You will not be delivered from what is oppressing you unless you take care of the idols in your life.
Now let me put in a disclaimer here. Idols are not the only reason we stay in bondage. The Bible says because of a lack of knowledge, my people perish. There was also the Word of God to Paul when he asked to be set free from his thorn in the flesh, where he was told my grace is sufficient for you.
To put it another way, having issues in your life does not necessarily mean that there are idols, but having idols in your life does mean that you will have issues.
Jesus came to set people free. It is what the cross is all about.
Are you willing to ask Jesus if there are idols in your life? If you are not, I can guarantee that there are idols in your life. But if you are willing to ask, I know that God is willing to reveal those things to you.
This morning we are going to celebrate communion. Before we celebrate together, I want to give you a chance to examine your heart.
Communion in our church is open to anyone who has received Jesus into their life. If you love Jesus and you are doing your best to love those around you – then you are welcome at this table.
But the Bible says that we should examine ourselves.
Create in me a clean heart
Sermon Questions – February 5th, 2023
The Issue is rarely the Issue. Judges 6:25-40
Learning from Gideon
1. What are you giving thanks for this week?
2. What are you praying about this week?
3. Read Judges 6:25-32 – How would you describe Gideon’s personality?
4. Read Verses 25-26. What does this tell you about who the Israelites were worshipping?
Do you think they saw the connection between the oppression of the Midianites and idolatry?
5. Read Jeremiah 19:5. What does this tell you about Baal worship? The sermon said, “What you need to know about false gods is that they always want more?” Give examples of how that is true.
6. List some of the idols that are prevalent in our culture.
7. Read Judges 6:27-30. What Gideon did had social implications. (His family and his community.) Now Read Galatians 5:19-21. How could non-participation in these things have social implications?
8. Do you expect the people around you to applaud when you do what is right?
9. God had Gideon deal with the altar Baal before he dealt with the Midianites. What is the principle here?
10. How do we deal with the idols in our lives?