Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Scripture: Judges 7:2-4, 13-15; 8:22-25
When Gideon heard the telling of the, dream and its interpretation, he worshiped; and he returned to the camp of Israel, and said, "Get up; for the LORD has given the army of Midian into your hand." —Judges 7:15

7:2 The LORD said to Gideon, "The troops with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand. Israel would only take the credit away from me, saying, 'My own hand has delivered me.' 3 Now therefore proclaim this in the hearing of the troops, 'Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home.'" Thus Gideon sifted them out; twenty-two thousand returned, and ten thousand remained. 4 Then the LORD said to Gideon, "The troops are still too many; take them down to the water and I will sift them out for you there. When I say, 'This one shall go with you’ he shall go with you; and when I say, 'This one shall not go with you,' he shall not go." 13 When Gideon arrived, there was a man telling a dream to his comrade; and he said, "I had a dream, and in it a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian, and came to the tent, and struck it so that it fell; it turned upside down, and the tent collapsed." 14 And his comrade answered, "This is no other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, a man of Isiael; into his hand God has given Midian and all the army." 15 When Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, he worshiped; and he returned to the camp of Israel, and said, "Get up; for the LORD has given the army of Midian into your hand." 8:22 Then the Israelites said to Gideon, "Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also; for you have delivered us out of the hand of Midian." 23 Gideon said to them, "I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the LORD will rule over you." 24 Then Gideon said to them, "Let me make a request of you; each of you give me an earring he has taken as booty." (For the enemy had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.) 25 "We will willingly give them," they answered. So they spread a garment, and each threw into it an earring he had taken as booty.

Chapters 6 and 7 of Judges present a wonderful interplay between God and Gideon. Gideon is a runt in every way; he is the least of his family, and his family is the weakest clan in the tribe of Manasseh. An angel appears to Gideon and assures him that the Lord is with him, and calls him a mighty warrior, even as Gideon is hiding in a wine press. Gideon responds, "If the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our ancestors recounted to us?" (6:13). Gideon gathers troops to prepare for battle. Judges 7:3 indicates that there were 32,000 troops, but this is likely a mistranslation of the word eleph, which can mean a thousand. However, it is commonly used to indicate a certain number of people in a company of troops under one leader, varying from five to fourteen men. Rather than 32,000 troops, we should understand this to be thirty-two military units, totaling no more than three hundred soldiers. The original Hebrew version of this final scene of troop reduction is obscure and doesn't answer the question of whether the stronger or weaker warriors remained to fight. Those who lap like dogs are chosen. Whether they were the stronger or weaker war- riors is not important; the point is that Gideon's force is so small and powerless that victory can come only from the hand of God.

  After all that God has done, the Israelites ask Gideon to rule them as their deliverer. Gideon properly responds that dominion is not his, but the Lord's, and that the Lord has dominion. Yet, Gideon asks each one in the group to give one earring from what they have collected in their victory, and using this gold he makes an ephod—a fancy garment worn, only by a chief priest. He places the ephod in his hometown, and we read, "All Israel prostituted themselves to it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family" (8:27). Of all the judges thus far, Gideon has had the most interaction with the Lord, the best reason of any to worship God alone, and yet he is the first judge who is still alive when the people return to idolatry, worshiping an idol of Gideon's own making. The one who destroyed his own father's altar to Baal has constructed a new altar that becomes the ruin of his family.

Gideon is minding his own business doing his duties when God calls him to lead a revolution. Gideon feels inadequate, and he was. He didn't have any particular gifts for military strategy or physical achievement. We don't even know if he believes in God! Gideon raises a good question: if the Lord is with us, then why does our life stink? It's a good question.

Gideon's skepticism is understandable. He wants to put God to the test. Especially when we feel that God is calling us to do something difficult, or something that we might not want to do, we test God, too. "OK, God, if you want me to go to seminary..." "God, if you want me to become an elder,..." "God; if you want me to..." Gideon sees sign after sign that God is with him, and that God is calling him to break the yoke of oppression of the Midianites. Wouldn't it be nice if we could put out our own fleeces to discern God's will.

We want clear signs from God. We are eager to see signs in many things—fortune cookies, horoscopes, and dreams. We might even open our Bibles to a random page in hopes of hearing God's specific answer to our questions! We believe that God is still speaking to us today, but with all of the voices around us, how do we discern? How do we learn to listen and follow God's lead? For one thing, we need to put ourselves in positions in which we are poised to hear. We need to study Scripture, pray, and worship. We need to be in community and in conversation with other people of faith. We need to talk with people who know us well.

One major lesson we can learn from Gideon's story is the importance of following God's will through discernment and testing. Another lesson from the story is that we must rely not on our own strength or wisdom, but on God's strength and wisdom. We learn from Gideon's example that God comes to us in our weakness, and often uses precisely, our weaknesses to show God's strength. When God calls us to do the impossible, it is accomplished only through God's strength.

God might winnow our resources, thereby opening us to experience God's presence in a way that otherwise wouldn't be possible. If we have all the strength and resources that we need, we might pat ourselves on the back without seeing God's hand at work. When we are following God's will, we will be called to do things that we cannot do on our own. Like Gideon, we must always remember to give God the glory, rather than holding up our own hands in victory.

Why would you follow Gideon, the self-described weakest link?
We might not be called to thin out the troops, but what if we were called to thin out other needed resources? Would we have faith to give to God out of our retirement savings?
What are ways that we seek to discern God's will for our lives today?
How do we know where God is calling us to act?
How do we stay on guard against the temptation to make a name for ourselves, or to leave our mark rather than God's mark?

Loving God, you have created us and called us by name, and we are yours. Prepare us to answer your call in our lives, whatever that may be. We thank you for the gifts and talents that you have given us, and we pray that we would use them to your glory. Keep us ever vigilant to serve you above all others. Amen.

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