Wednesday, June 8, 2011

One of my Old Testament Heros

The story of one of my favorite OT hero’s is inspiring. It’s not David or Esther. It’s Gideon, a very ordinary man who learned an extraordinary lesson that still inspires God’s people.

            Gideon was a farmhand who lived in a chaotic time in Israel when the nation was so weak it did not even have a king. When the country was threatened by their powerful neighbors, the Midianites, God chose the improbable Gideon to lead the army assembled to fend off the enemy.

            The scene for the battle is set:  135,000 Midianites encamped in a broad valley, with Gideon at the head of 32,000 troops just north of there. And God speaks to Gideon:  “The people who are with you are too many for me to give them victory over the Midianites. They might think that they have won by themselves and give Me no credit …”  
            Too many—32,000 against 135,000?!  But at God’s order, Gideon announced that those who were afraid could leave and go home. And 22,000 did just that!  So Gideon now heads 10,000 Israelites to go up against an opposing army.

            God again speaks to Gideon: “the number of people is still too many for me to give them a victory…bring them down to the water and I will test them to chose who shall stay with you”.  What a test for Gideon, even to trust that he was not on a fool’s errand, that God was not setting them up to fail.

            Gideon led his men to the nearby springs and told them to drink. Most of them got down on their knees to drink, while a few lapped water scooped up in their cupped hands. “Surely God will dismiss these few oddballs,” Gideon must have thought, “and leave me with the majority.”

            But God’s decision was just the opposite! God seemed to prefer the 300 who did the unusual, or who did not think of themselves first, but kept a watchful eye even while drinking water. So Gideon was left with 300 men—a force one percent of its original size, with a ratio of some one to 400 fighters!  

             God now declared, “This number is just right. With 300 people I will save you, and give them victory over the Midianites.”  When he then instructed Gideon to move forward for battle, God must have sensed his anxiety and doubt. That night he told Gideon to go down to the enemy’s camp and “You will hear what they are saying, and then you will be bold and confident.”  So, under the cover of darkness, he took his trusted aide and slipped down to spy on his opponent.

            Gideon got to the camp just in time to hear one soldier telling another his dream: “I dreamed that a loaf of barley bread rolled into our camp and hit a tent. The tent collapsed and fell on the ground.”

            “Aiiee!” said his friend, “this has to be the sword of Gideon the Israelite!  It can’t mean anything else! God has turned Midian—our whole camp—over to him!”          Finally Gideon understood—none of what he had happened was just coincidence or unlucky accident.  The 300 men, the risky spying mission, then overhearing the dream and learning of his enemy’s weakness and fear—it was all God’s doing to give them wisdom and understanding that would lead to victory.

            With new faith, Gideon bowed in worship. Then with new confidence, he rushed back to rally his people: “Get up!  The Lord is giving you victory over the Midianite army!”  You can read this story in Judges 6 and 7, how Gideon used his new found trust in God to inspire his people to rout their enemies and save the vision of the Promised Land.

Today we encounter numerous Midianites: the great needs of people, the uncertain economy, the changing political and social climate. Today the resources may seem too few to meet the need and accomplish the mission.  I hope the story of Gideon will inspire us to remember:

  • That God’s people have been in this position before
  • That the direction of our vision is right
  • That the resources needed—including the talents of each other—are at hand, and they are enough

All this is true for us, as it was for Gideon, when we trust, not in our power or might, but in the Spirit of the Lord of all—all time, all peoples, all justice, all assets, all visions, all hope.

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