Sunday, May 11, 2014

Gideon’s Debate with an Angel and the Sacrificial Sign

11 ¶And there came an angel of the Lord, and sat under an oak which was in Ophrah, that pertained unto Joash the Abi-ezrite: and his son Gideon threshed wheat by the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites.
12 And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him, and said unto him, The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour.
13 And Gideon said unto him, Oh my Lord, if the Lord be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt? but now the Lord hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.
14 And the Lord looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?
15 And he said unto him, Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.
16 And the Lord said unto him, Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man.
17 And he said unto him, If now I have found grace in thy sight, then shew me a sign that thou talkest with me.
18 Depart not hence, I pray thee, until I come unto thee, and bring forth my present, and set it before thee. And he said, I will tarry until thou come again.
19 ¶And Gideon went in, and made ready a kid, and unleavened cakes of an ephah of flour: the flesh he put in a basket, and he put the broth in a pot, and brought it out unto him under the oak, and presented it.
20 And the angel of God said unto him, Take the flesh and the unleavened cakes, and lay them upon this rock, and pour out the broth. And he did so.
21 ¶Then the angel of the Lord put forth the end of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the flesh and the unleavened cakes; and there rose up fire out of the rock, and consumed the flesh and the unleavened cakes. Then the angel of the Lord departed out of his sight.
22 And when Gideon perceived that he was an angel of the Lord, Gideon said, Alas, O Lord God! for because I have seen an angel of the Lord face to face.
23 And the Lord said unto him, Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die.
24 Then Gideon built an altar there unto the Lord, and called it Jehovah-shalom: unto this day it is yet in Ophrah of the Abi-ezrites.  (Judges 6:11-24)

This is a really interesting story to me, especially because Gideon has these miraculous things happen in his life and on the surface, he seems to be reluctant to believe them.  It demands our examination.

Gideon’s request for a sign is often called unbelief, but if you look carefully, he has a good reason for it.  He says, “If now I have found favor in thy sight, then shew me a sign that thou talkest with me.” (v17)

This strikes us as strange because we think, “The angel is right there.  It should be obvious he’s talking to Gideon.”  But Gideon wanted to know this was from the Lord and not a false prophet or false spirit.  Apostate religion and idolatry was rampant in the land, and Gideon’s caution marks him as one who wants to be spiritually discerning and cautious.  I think he would like to believe that he could make a difference and be an instrument of the Lord in effecting the deliverance of Israel from the Midianites (who were ravaged the land and destroyed their crops), but he recognizes that this might be a false guide gratifying his vanity and vain ambition.

Gideon does not only ask for a sign.  He also brings an offering, a sacrifice of cakes made from an ephah of flour (about a bushel) and the flesh of a kid (a young goat).  Considering the people were greatly impoverished by the attacks of the Midianites, this sacrifice was very generous.  It is also somewhat similar to what Gideon would bring if he went to the tabernacle.  To me it seems to indicate that Gideon was living the principle “faith precedes the miracle.”

The angel tells him to put the cakes and flesh on a nearby rock and pour out the broth, possibly over the whole to soak it.  Then the angel touched the flesh and bread with his staff and fire “rose up…out of the rock, and consumed the flesh and the unleavened cakes.  Then the angel of the LORD departed out of his sight.” (v21)  While it says fire came out of the rock, I think what really happened was the touch of the angel’s staff caused the meat and cakes to catch fire and burn, which means the angel was a person of such intense glory that even the touch of his accessories incinerated things. 

Gideon’s subsequent terror is understandably like Ether’s.  He automatically thinks he has been presumptuous, talking and questioning the glorious personage as if he were a normal person when the being was clearly capable of great destructive power.

22 And when Gideon perceived that he was an angel of the Lord, Gideon said, Alas, O Lord God! for because I have seen an angel of the Lord face to face.
23 And the Lord said unto him, Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die.

The neat thing about this is even with this show of power, the angel of the Lord, which we must suspect is Jehovah Himself, did not threaten Gideon in any way to get him to take this job of delivering Israel.  Instead, He worked to show Gideon his potential, and He issued the call and promised His presence and support all along, using all edifying building methods.  There was no coercion, or threatening, or condemning.

This experience with the power of God builds Gideon’s testimony.  He had perceived before that the Lord had delivered the Israelites into the hands of the Midianites, and he saw his sacrifice was accepted.  Even though the angel was not there, Gideon felt the voice of the Lord through the Spirit saying, “Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die.” (v23)  This peace taught him that following Jehovah and sacrificing brought peace.  So he built an altar as a memorial to remind himself of that and next was willing to obey the Lord’s instructions to destroy the idolatrous worship facilities—the altar to Baal and the Asherah grove—and build up an altar to Jehovah and offer a sacrifice there.

It is also neat to see the conversation that Gideon had with this angel of the Lord before the sign.  Gideon asks some very good questions that go right to the heart of his concerns.

First the angel says, “The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour.” (v12)

Gideon doesn’t feel very valiant or mighty at this point, though.  There he is, threshing in the wine press to hide the grain from the Midianites.  He probably thought, “If I’m so brave, why do I have to hide my food like this?”  He says to the angel, “if the Lord be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt? but now the Lord hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites” (v13)

His question, “Where are the miracles?” is an excellent question and you have to give him credit that he sees the ascendency the Midianites have gained over Israel not as a sign of Baal’s power as an idolater might, but as a sign of God’s leaving Israel to themselves.  Previous to this conversation, a prophet had declared to Israel that they had not obeyed the Lord’s command to not fear the gods of the people around them, so he should have known that Israel’s idolatry was instrumental in Israel’s defeats.

The answer given to Gideon’s question is very interesting.  “Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?” (v14)  You wonder where the miracles are, Gideon?  You are the miracle.  Sending you is the beginning of more miracles.

You can tell Gideon is really thinking about that, and he is very aware of his limitations.  He asks another good question.  “Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” (v15)  Save Israel with what?!  I’m poor!  I don’t have much to fight with!

The answer comes, “Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man.” (v16)  I the Lord am your weapon, Gideon.  With me, you’ll hit them as easily as you could hit a single person.

Of course, this is where Gideon wants the sign that this is really the Lord talking.  But the Lord’s promise that He will be Gideon’s weapon is fulfilled.  We see it as he breaks down his father’s altar to Baal and cuts down the grove and his father declares Baal must avenge himself and nothing happens.  We see it also in the battle cry, “The sword of the Lord and of Gideon!”

Here are some important principles I notice:

Idolatry and sin brings defeat. – The miracles disappear when commandments are broken.  They may disappear so gradually that we don’t notice.

Sometimes God calls us to be the miracle. – These are the kinds of miracles that happen not because we are capable and competent but because we are inadequate.  If we were capable, it wouldn’t be a miracle.

God calls, encourages, promises to be with us, and gives us an idea of what we can become with His help. – His stretching is edifying and challenging and may even be chastising, but not in a way that will take away our hope.

It is okay to turn to the Lord with questions about how we are to overcome our inadequacies for the callings He gives us. – We have to have some awareness of the problem before we can ever be open to getting it fixed.  Honest questions asked with faith open us up to revelation.

Seeking discernment in what guides we listen to is a good thing. – Discernment is a safety measure because an ego desperate for validation can be fooled, as can a frustrated, chafing, impatient soul.

Sacrifice comes before signs are given. – You have to meet God halfway.

It is God who gives peace. – God’s peace transcends what seems logical.  It defies understanding and is out of all proportion to the acts that brought it. 

Many church callings I was given I have gone into them feeling very inadequate.  I could say with Gideon, “Wherewith shall I…?” But I have seen the Lord opening the way, making me equal to the task that I couldn’t do before.  The Lord has helped me through callings of being ward organist, bear den leader, Sunday school teacher for 16-17 year olds, and primary chorister.

I am sure you have seen that in your life too.  Will you share with me some ways you’ve seen this happen?