500 (This is my 500th blog all time)
By Bob Mendelsohn
Given in Moscow, Russia
3 June 2014
Our campaign is entitled “The Sword of the Lord and of Gideon.” That sounds so military, it must make some nervous and others very comfortable. Everywhere I walk here in Moscow I see police and military personnel who make me feel like I’m in a police state. Most of us don’t have swords in our closet or in our homes. Most have never held a sword, either an old weighty army sword from Bible days or the newer fencing swords and epées used in university and Olympic competitions. So the image of a sword and God’s sword at that, is a bit unusual. Maybe if we spoke of the rifle of the Lord, or the ‘AK-47 of God’ that would be more contemporary, or perhaps atomic and nuclear bombs. But we are using Bible imagery and thus we will have to adjust ourselves and not adjust the book to our cause.
Where did this phrase originate? It’s from the story of Gideon and we will look at his adventure today and for two more days. Then later in the week we will look at other biblical judges like Ehud and Othniel, Deborah and Jephthah. And we will learn some lessons from each. But today we start our three days with Gideon.
Please read chapter 6 through Chapter 8 of the book of Judges.
The story today is found in chapter 6. It’s a very sad story to begin. As Jewish people we don’t like to read of our defeats, and certainly not self-causative defeat. We like it when there is ‘hatred without a cause” (Sinat chinam as we read in Psalm 69). Later in Jewish history, the rabbis tell us that “hatred without a cause” was the reason for the destruction of the 2nd Temple in Jerusalem. We don’t like it when bad things happen and we are the reason they happen. Why? It means we are not so good after all. It means when evil happens to us that we are evil ourselves and no one wants to think of themselves as needing repair and needing to be forgiven. But reality is on us.
And that reality says in verse 1: “Then the sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD gave them into the hands of Midian seven years.”
Many will question whether that’s fair. Is it right that some folks do evil and we all get punished for that? I don’t know about you, but that’s certainly what I remember from primary school as one of the greatest methods of sniffing out the culprit when something was damaged in school. The teacher would say something like, “OK, if no one will confess to doing the damage, then you will all be punished. Everyone will miss recess (or something equally valuable)” Finally someone would turn in the enemy of our free time and the punishment would be exacted on the one responsible. Perhaps the Bible informed my old teachers. When Israel sins, no matter how many that may be, and God considers it enough to bother Him, He will judge the entire nation. To be fair, he will also judge the ones who bring the judgment on Israel, but that’s another lesson. For now, Verse 1 is appropriate.
Then we read that God would use the Midianites to destroy the Jewish people’s crops for years, 7 years in fact,
For they would come up with their livestock and their tents, they would come in like locusts for number, both they and their camels were innumerable; and they came into the land to devastate it. So Israel was brought very low because of Midian, and the sons of Israel cried to the LORD. (.5-6)
How horrible. Do you have a garden in your backyard and have seen when certain animals come in and have their way with the fruit and vegetables. After all your hard work to make it nice and good. Imagine if you were the prime minister of Israel in those days and for years every time your people had a good crop coming in, that the enemies would invade and maraud and ruin the food supply. They killed all the cattle also. The economy would plummet; the wages would shrink; the trickle-down effect would be ruinous. Militarily we were a weak country then; everything stacked against us. And worse… it was our fault!
So God sent a prophet to the people of Israel. An unnamed prophet who reminds us of our history, that God delivered us from a terrible fate in Egypt (v. 8-9) and reminded us of his warning to avoid the gods of the peoples in whose land we were going to live. I’m not sure where the prophet went, but wherever it was, nothing changed. Maybe he went to the Tabernacle or to the leadership of the day, but wherever he went, nothing in Israel adjusted. He told us “Not to fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you live.” Then the prophet says “But you have not obeyed Me.” (.10) The Hebrew (and Russian) for this is you “did not listen to my voice.”
In other words, God is taking this disobedience personally. All we had to do was listen to his voice. It’s not about doing duties; it’s about a personal relationship with the Almighty. And if we do not listen to Him, it hits him hard. He knows He is most glorified on the earth when we listen to Him. He knows He receives glory when we are satisfied in Him and when we enjoy His presence. That’s when everything works best. For us and for him. But our rebellion messed everything up.
So what does God do to solve this problem of Israel’s disobedience? He sends someone else (not a prophet this time)-- his angel to Israel. Only where does the angel visit? The Temple? (There was none yet). To the Tabernacle? No. To the priests? Not a chance. He sent the angel or messenger of His life to a father and son team (Joash and Gideon). And due to the marauding situation, Gideon is down in the stable keeping things neat and tidy and away from the Midianites. He’s in the barn; he’s a farmer, a country worker and is not stationed with the troops. That’s why the opening line of the angel is so unusual, “The LORD is with you, O valiant warrior.” (.12)
Valiant? The Hebrew word is ‘chayil’ and can mean ‘excellent’ (Prov. 31), capable, and powerful…but never does it mean you are a good farmer/ warrior. In fact, if I read this correctly, it’s almost an insult; like a bit of a laughing angel who says, “You, (laughing inside) yes, you, there with the winnowing fork in your hand, you are a mighty warrior. Oy.”
To make matters worse Gideon responds with four doubts about God and the situation. In other words Gideon is not even a man of faith yet, much less war. But, and here’s the point for us here on the battlefield of Moscow, God didn’t really care if Gideon (or if you) are a warrior already. He wants to use people and He will use whoever is nearby for His purposes. If you are near, and if you are ready to serve Him, He will use you. He doesn’t need Reinhardt Bonnke or Billy Graham. He doesn’t need you to be the Apostle Paul or Avi Snyder. He needs you to be near Him and available. Amen?
Now in today’s story Gideon starts as a coward. Let’s see where he goes in the unfolding story.
I said he doubted God four times. See if you can write these down and check your own heart at times, too.
Then Gideon said to him, “O my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles that our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.” (.13)
His first doubt was in the love of God. Does God allow these bad things to happen to us because He hates us? Has God abandoned us? If God is really near and cares, then why does all this evil overtake us? (.13)
His second doubt can be summarized in God’s wrong choices. What? You want who to bring the message? You are choosing me? You’ve got to be kidding. I’m nobody; I’m not even from a good family and I’m the youngest one among them. So I doubt this is really God and if it is, I think he’s not very good at choosing servants to represent him. (.14-18). Gideon like Moses and Abraham in days gone by, doubted the choices of God.
Doubt #3 is found in verse 25 and following in the altar destruction scene. His doubt was in the protection of God. He destroyed the idols in his father’s house (which might be where the apocryphal story of Abram and Terah came from) but he did it at night, lest anyone see that it was he who had done this. His fears of retribution and his doubt in the protection of the Almighty were showing, if nothing else.
The fourth and most memorable doubt is in the story of the wet and dry fleece. His worry/ his doubt/ his fear was that God would not really come through for him, that is, that God would not be faithful to keep His own word which He had uttered. Gideon doubted the faithfulness of God.
If any of these stories is new to you, and even if they are somewhat familiar, please read them again in light of what I’m teaching you today, and see the wonderful and awesome faithfulness of the Lord to Gideon (sometimes Jerubbaal)
God did so that night; for it was dry only on the fleece, and dew was on all the ground. (Verse 40)
All together this chapter reminds me as we learn of the cowardice of Gideon that God was not looking for champions who were noble, who were smart, who were able… He was looking for available soldier wannabes who could attend to His business. He’s looking for men of faith, who want to be what God wants us to be. If that’s you, and it is because you are here in Moscow, then like Gideon, when sometimes we get it right, and sometimes we don’t, we can go out in the strength of the Lord and proclaim to the people of Israel the wonderful truths of our God.
To Him and to Him alone be glory in our community now and forever amen.