Dare not to be a Gideon. Judges 8.1-21 – RBT notes, 10th April

imageSuffering is often a powerful test of who we really are. Suffering exposes our values, our faith and our hearts. When we first meet Gideon he is suffering, facing powerful enemies, hardship and poverty. This suffering exposes the bitterness and unbelief of his heart. Back in 6.13 we learn that Gideon understands what God is doing (judging His disobedient people), but angrily resents it. Sounds like you and me often when we suffer: we do know that God is in charge, but we really don’t trust how He uses His sovereignty when our lives our tough. Suffering often exposes our resentments.

There is another test, which is arguably more effective for exposing who we really are: and that is success. It’s as we experience success that we discover if we really are humble, thankful, and trusting. Success tests us to see if we are proud, and if we will grow proud with our successes. We see how success brings this exposure again and again in the world as well as in the Bible. In the world, we’ve lost count of honourable politicians who’ve worked so hard to enter public office, but who then fail once they’ve achieved the position they’ve sacrificed to win. In the Bible, it’s when the people enter the Promised Land and have initial successes in their conquest, that they soon give into complacency and false religion.

So it is in Judges 8. God has done the impossible, and destroyed an unconquerable force through a little squad of soldiers. Israel is on top of the world! And Gideon’s currency has rocketed, too, as the leader of the nation. So they’ll live godly and happy lives ever after, won’t they? Will they heck!

Success so often brings squabbles, pride and unhappiness. First it’s the Ephraimites (8.1). They’re cross at other people’s success, and bitter that they didn’t have a slice of it for themselves. Wise Gideon turns aside their accusing and angry question with a gentle answer (vv.2-3, cf Prov.15.1), and the situation is diffused. That’s just the beginning, though: next up it’s the men of Succoth, followed by the men of Peniel (vv.6-9). They all give the same sour-feared reaction and refusal to help Gideon and his men in this mop-up operation against the fleeing Midianites. Are they reasonable? No, they’re envious. They envy Gideon’s success, and probably resent what will be Gideon’s increasing power in the nation which will threaten theirs.

After another astonishing success (vv.10-13) Gideon catches up with the men of Succoth, and then of Peniel, and does exactly what he threatened he would; there’s humiliation, and bloodshed (vv.13-17). After putting some of God’s covenant people to the sword, Gideon does the same to God’s enemies (vv.18-21). And this is Gideon’s career. From frightened farmer, he’s shaped into being a man of action, and then with success comes this bloody chapter. What do we make of it?

Firstly, remember that those Israelites who opposed Gideon were wrong. Gideon was God’s leader, so they needed to swallow their pride, and envy, and follow him. But what about Gideon? Was the sword God’s instrument against these albeit stubborn people, or only Gideon’s? Maybe the writer is giving us a clue that he at least doesn’t approve of this judgement: we see Gideon acting alone. No one stands with him as he crushes the disobedient. We find him here at the end where we met him at the beginning, all on his own.

It seems then, that he is another victim of success. Success has many casualties. Success can bring out pride, and selfishness. Success rarely brings us to our knees, at least, not until we’re broken by it. Jesus never trusted success in His earthly life, and never sought it according to the world’s standards. His success was His faith, and His humble service to God in order to redeem lost people.

Success is overrated. Seek God, not success. And if success ever comes your way, never let it capture your heart. Dare not to be a Gideon.

‘A Sword for the Lord’ Judges 7 – RBT notes, 9th April

 

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The dreaded day has now come for Gideon and his countrymen. Gideon has faced his unbelief, he’s faced his fears, and he’s stood face to face with God. He’s stood up to false gods and their worshippers. Now he must stand in battle against the Midianites. If ever he needs to know that the Lord is with him, it is now. Here’s a simple analysis of a famous and treasured story:

 

A Stripped-down Army

Too many soldiers will mean too little confidence in God. I’m sure that no one in this army believed that they were anywhere near large enough to face the locust-like Midianite hordes. God did, though, and stripped them down, so that the remaining 300 were less than 1% of the original army. But 300 (v.7)! What was God thinking?! Don’t get distracted by the strange selection process (possibly, the men with cupped hands raised to their mouths were more battle-able, as they were perhaps more alert to danger by not drinking with their faces down to the water). The fact is that God was pleased to send a ridiculously understrength army to win His victory.

 

A Strange Dream

While the Israelites are having nightmares, a Midianite is having a very strange dream. Remember how the Angel of the Lord met Gideon when he was threshing wheat? Well, now the Midianites will face a rolling barley loaf, smashing their camp into bits. One man has grown to be a warrior, the leader of an army whose real Head is the Lord God of Armies. And do you know what? It was a dream from heaven (vv.13-14).

 

Psychological Warfare

If the army selection process is strange, and the dream is also strange, then the details of jars and lights and trumpets are not. If you can’t win by brute strength (and 300 brave souls couldn’t), then you must win by stealth and strategy. And by psychology. So Gideon’s strategy is clever, and devastating. In the early hours, with the Midianites in the deepest sleep, Gideon’s army blasts their senses, with sudden light, shouting and the blast of 300 trumpets. The Midianites are confused, terrified, and in sudden flight. It’s a genius strategy, and its deadly (vv.21-25).

 

So?

This was some victory. It was an amazing triumph by a tiny squadron of soldiers against the local super-power. God took on a mighty army with a weak army and a frightened leader, and made sure of victory. ‘But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him’ (‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭1‬:‭27-29‬). He chose the Cross for His Son, the ultimate place of weakness, and transformed it into a victory for all who trust in Him. Today He chooses weak believers to be victors in His strength. Hallelujah! ‘A sword for the Lord, and (if you believe Him) for you!’

Getting back on the horse

After a few months away from blogging I’ve found my way back! I’ll be putting snippets up here of what I write and preach, and find interesting and useful from elsewhere. This will also be the place for news about Gospel Yorkshire and the Yorkshire Gospel Partnership.

Probably most useful of all, I’ll be posting the daily Bible reading notes I write. At the moment they’re primarily used by the Hope Church Huddersfield community as we follow the Reading the Bible Together scheme (info about that is here). I’ll soon upload here notes on the books we’ve already studied. Please check back!