Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Gideon Destroys Baal’s Altar

25 ¶And it came to pass the same night, that the Lord said unto him, Take thy father’s young bullock, even the second bullock of seven years old, and throw down the altar of Baal that thy father hath, and cut down the grove that is by it:
26 And build an altar unto the Lord thy God upon the top of this rock, in the ordered place, and take the second bullock, and offer a burnt sacrifice with the wood of the grove which thou shalt cut down. (Judges 6:25-26)

The very same day that the Lord gave the sign to Gideon that the call to deliver Israel was from God, the Lord tells him to go destroy the altar to Baal and cut down the grove that his father had, then built a new altar to Jehovah and offer on it his father’s second bullock that was seven years old.  Same night.  This is moving quickly, and it is also to clean out the disobedience in Gideon and his father’s house.  This suggests that for us to commit fully to doing right, we have to sacrifice our sins and things we’ve been doing wrong.

27 Then Gideon took ten men of his servants, and did as the Lord had said unto him: and so it was, because he feared his father’s household, and the men of the city, that he could not do it by day, that he did it by night.

Gideon did fear, but he goes and obeys anyway, which shows courage.  Doing it by night would probably be smartest anyway, since there wouldn’t be anyone else around to interfere.

Gideon’s home situation seems kind of complicated.  It is like he has some allies among the servants (or he is able to get them to help him), but he is worried about what his father’s household will say and what the townspeople will say.  Yet he doesn’t fear his father, but the Baal’s altar and the grove were on his father’s land, which makes me think his father allowed it there on sufferance and the townspeople used it regularly.  Maybe his father wanted it gone and didn’t have the guts to get rid of it himself.  It is also possible the altar was there before the Israelites moved in and they had never gotten rid of it, which might explain why it was on Joash’s land and Joash could come out against it.

28 ¶And when the men of the city arose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was cast down, and the grove was cut down that was by it, and the second bullock was offered upon the altar that was built.

It was the men of the city who were involved in Baal worship.  Joash and household were not there, so we can probably assume they weren’t involved.

What do they find?  Shock and amazement!  Baal has been destroyed!  It is fascinating that they don’t think this is another god moving in on Baal’s territory.  Instead, they go looking for a human agent.

29 And they said one to another, Who hath done this thing? And when they inquired and asked, they said, Gideon the son of Joash hath done this thing.

I guess the news of Gideon’s act is the kind of thing that spreads.  Whether it was an Israelite loyal to Jehovah who spouted it in triumph or someone shocked at Gideon’s act who wanted him to get in trouble, the thing could not be suppressed.

30 Then the men of the city said unto Joash, Bring out thy son, that he may die: because he hath cast down the altar of Baal, and because he hath cut down the grove that was by it.
31 And Joash said unto all that stood against him, Will ye plead for Baal? will ye save him? he that will plead for him, let him be put to death whilst it is yet morning: if he be a god, let him plead for himself, because one hath cast down his altar.
32 Therefore on that day he called him Jerubbaal, saying, Let Baal plead against him, because he hath thrown down his altar. (Judges 6:30-32)

The men of the city calling for Gideon to be brought out reminds me so much of the men of Sodom besieging Lot’s house to bring out the visitors.

The men of the town want to enforce the death penalty because Gideon has disrespected Baal.  Joash must choose between siding with Gideon and Jehovah or siding with the townspeople and Baal.  He chooses Gideon and Jehovah and he actually takes a hard line. 

Joash asks a great rhetorical question, “Will ye save [Baal]?”  The idea of man saving a god is ridiculous; if man saves god, then the god has less power than man and should not be a god at all.

His recommendation that pleaders for Baal be put to death immediately is a reference to the Law of Moses and how it required idolaters be slain.  It is though he says, “You want me to be hard on my son for disrespecting your religion?  You want to have a contest in zeal?  Two can play that game.  Our religion requires us to kill you for your idol worship.  After all, you’re constantly disrespecting our God and our religion!”

Joash challenges them to let Baal do the avenging; if Baal is a god, then he can take care of himself.  Baal is not the most patient of entities; if he existed, he wouldn’t hesitate to strike with lightening or something like that, especially since he’s supposed to be the god of storms.

What about Jehovah?  Suppose the same argument was made for getting rid of Jehovah’s altar?  “Jehovah can take care of himself; if he’s a god, let him plead against the perpetrator.”  Well, one thing we know about Jehovah is that He is patient.  We have already seen in the story of Gideon that Jehovah had already been pleading with Israel over their idolatry by delivering them into the hands of the Midianites. 

It is possible that Joash already had this perspective and had been patient with the idolatry of his townspeople, waiting for Jehovah to avenge Himself and saw Gideon’s act as the beginning of the that judgment.  So he challenges the townspeople to exhibit the same patience, the same watchful waiting, if they really believe in Baal-- “if [Baal] be a god, let him plead for himself, because one hath cast down his altar” (v31)  

(At the same time, however, I also get the idea that Joash could have been a little more proactive with eliminating the idolatrous facilities on his own property where he had the most control.  Sure, he can’t control what the townspeople worship, but he can keep that stuff off his own property.)

The result of Joash’s powerful defense is that Gideon has a lot of people watching him closely to see if anything happens to him for destroying Baal’s altar and the grove.  We can tell the story spreads because when Gideon spies on the Midianite camp in the next chapter, he hears men talking about him and how God is going to deliver the Midianites into his hand.  People he didn’t even know were seeing him as a favored instrument of God. 

Again, I think this is part of what the Lord meant when He promised Gideon, “I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man.”  Gideon had wanted know what he would use to save Israel, and God promised to be his weapon.  God was Gideon’s weapon, showing the Israelites and the Canaanites around them that Gideon was stronger than Baal because of the power of God.

What do we learn from this experience of Gideon’s? 
Get rid of the evils in our own backyards (or houses). 
When we are brave enough to choose the right, others around us see and are strengthened to choose the right too.
Not only do we have to choose the right, we need to defend others who choose the right. 
We learn Jehovah does plead with men to return to Him and that He can avenge Himself.  (This should also remind us to repent and prepare for the final judgment when all evil will be avenged and all good will be rewarded.)