Our Peace

| Judges 6:1-24

Week of March 25, 2018

The Point:  God’s peace helps us rise above our circumstances.

The Call of Gideon: Judges 6:1-24.

[1] The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD gave them into the hand of Midian seven years. [2] And the hand of Midian overpowered Israel, and because of Midian the people of Israel made for themselves the dens that are in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds. [3] For whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them. [4] They would encamp against them and devour the produce of the land, as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey. [5] For they would come up with their livestock and their tents; they would come like locusts in number–both they and their camels could not be counted–so that they laid waste the land as they came in. [6] And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel cried out for help to the LORD. [7] When the people of Israel cried out to the LORD on account of the Midianites, [8] the LORD sent a prophet to the people of Israel. And he said to them, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of bondage. [9] And I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you and gave you their land. [10] And I said to you, ‘I am the LORD your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.’ But you have not obeyed my voice.” [11] Now the angel of the LORD came and sat under the terebinth at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites. [12] And the angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, “The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valor.” [13] And Gideon said to him, “Please, sir, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” [14] And the LORD turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” [15] And he said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” [16] And the LORD said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.” [17] And he said to him, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, then show me a sign that it is you who speak with me. [18] Please do not depart from here until I come to you and bring out my present and set it before you.” And he said, “I will stay till you return.” [19] So Gideon went into his house and prepared a young goat and unleavened cakes from an ephah of flour. The meat he put in a basket, and the broth he put in a pot, and brought them to him under the terebinth and presented them. [20] And the angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened cakes, and put them on this rock, and pour the broth over them.” And he did so. [21] Then the angel of the LORD reached out the tip of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened cakes. And fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened cakes. And the angel of the LORD vanished from his sight. [22] Then Gideon perceived that he was the angel of the LORD. And Gideon said, “Alas, O Lord GOD! For now I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face.” [23] But the LORD said to him, “Peace be to you. Do not fear; you shall not die.” [24] Then Gideon built an altar there to the LORD and called it, The LORD Is Peace. To this day it still stands at Ophrah, which belongs to the Abiezrites.

“Getting Ready for Salvation [6:1-40].  The chapter opens with the same dreary notice of Israel’s idolatry [1]. This time Yahweh’s scourge is Midian. We have in verses 1-6 the most detailed description of Israel’s distress so far. Dire distress it was. Whenever the Israelites would plant their crops, Midian (along with Amalekites and the people of the East) would invade and devour the produce of the land [4], that is, probably pillage foodstuffs for themselves and allow their livestock to pasture on the rest. They appropriated Israel’s sheep, oxen, and donkeys. All this was what covenant breakers could expect, says Deuteronomy 28:29,31. For seven years they left Israel no sustenance [4] or means of sustenance. The same scourge and terror every year: invade from the east, cross the Jordan, hit the bread basket in the Plain of Jezreel. Sweep southwest as far as Gaza in Philistia, practicing their clean earth policy. Seven years of it. You are hungry, poor, and tired. Every year Midian’s buzzards come. You’re tired of rushing your family, livestock, and grain to the hills where you live a caveman existence till the foreign locusts get bored and move on to impoverish others. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to throw your wheat up into the wind out on the threshing floor, as a free man should [11]? And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel cried out for help to the Lord [6].

The Word That Criticizes Us.  Now we must hear the word that criticizes us [7-10]. Here Yahweh does the strangest thing; in fact, it appears ludicrous. Israel cries for relief, and the Lord sent a prophet to the people of Israel [8]. That would be like a stranded motorist calling a garage for assistance and the garage sending a philosopher instead of a mechanic. Israel needs deliverance and Yahweh sends a prophet; Israel asks for an act of God’s power and He sends them a proclaimer of His word who rehearses Yahweh’s grace [8b-9], repeats Yahweh’s demand [10a], and levels Yahweh’s accusation [10b]. Hence Yahweh sends a prophet because Israel needs more than immediate relief; they need to understand why they are oppressed. They must see that the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian [1] because they had not obeyed my voice [10b]. Surely God’s way with His people has not changed. Do we sometimes marvel at the ‘inappropriate’ answers God gives to our urgent need? Like Israel, we may want escape from our circumstances while God wants us to interpret our circumstances. Sometimes we may need understanding more than relief; sometimes God must give us insight before He dare grant safety. Understanding God’s way of holiness is more important than absence of pain. We may want out of a bind, whereas God wants us to see our idolatry. God means to instruct us, not pacify us. We should not miss the kindness of God in all this. One of the kindest things God does for us is to bring us under the criticism of His word to expose the reasons for our helplessness and misery. He does this by the preaching, counsel, or reading of His word. God shows His kindness to us when His word criticizes and corrects and imparts solid wisdom instead of instant deliverance.

The Grace That Holds Us.  Secondly, we must see here the grace that holds us. There is something strange about the prophet’s preaching in verses 8b-10. He didn’t finish his sermon. We find in these verses an introductory formula, a rehearsal of Yahweh’s grace, a reminder of Yahweh’s stipulation, and an accusation. But the prophet ends his sermon there. The next thing we know the angel of the Lord came and sat under the terebinth at Ophrah [11]. That is wholly unexpected. After hearing the prophet accuse in Yahweh’s behalf, But you have not obeyed my voice [10], we expect him to go on to his punch line, which would normally be an announcement of judgment. For example, in Jeremiah 11:9-11, Yahweh makes a threefold accusation against Judah and Jerusalem [10] and immediately launches into behold I am bringing disaster upon them [11]. Or try Jeremiah 25:1-11, where the prophet accuses Judah of not listening to Yahweh [3-7], and then with his dreadful therefore proceeds to announce that Yahweh will bring all the tribes of the north against Judah [8-11]. The problem with this prophecy in Judges 6 is that after verse 10b we are all tensed for the proper ‘therefore,’ which does not come. The judgment that should be announced is omitted. Instead the Angel of Yahweh goes to coax a man to deliver Israel. How like the God of the Bible whose covenant love is so mighty over us! When He ‘ought’ to destroy He delivers yet again; when He has every right to shatter He nevertheless prepares to save. How slow to anger [Ex. 34:6] indeed! How loath He is to strike His people [Lam. 3:33] even when justice begs for it. That is why Ephesians 2:4 grips us so. There we are dead in the trespasses and sins, helpless, hopeless (children of wrath) – But God, being rich in mercy [Eph. 2:1-4]. No one could ever have invented a God like this; it would be too much for guilty, sane folks to hope for, a God who bridles His judgment to hold us in His grace. He is the God who displays Himself on the pages of Judges 6.

The Promise That Equips Us.  Thirdly, we must hear, in verses 11-24, the promise that equips us. The promise is simply, The Lord is with you [12]. Such a promise raises all sorts of problems for Gideon. If Yahweh were with them, why was Gideon beating out wheat in this winepress [11]? If Yahweh were with them, why did the Midianite wave come over them every year? If Yahweh were with them, where were all His anti-Egyptian-like deeds? If Yahweh were with them, why had He abandoned them to Midian [13]? Incidentally, Gideon’s perspective in verse 13 shows how necessary it was for Israel to have the prophetic interpretation of verses 8-10. Sometimes we must be told: Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear [Isa. 59:1-2]. Gideon still protests against Yahweh’s commission. Gideon is utterly inadequate: his clan is the weakest in Manasseh; he is the youngest in his father’s house [15]. Against Gideon’s inadequacy Yahweh stacks His adequacy – and it is simply the same promise of verse 12 only in its classic form. Everything that Gideon needs is supplied in this brief statement: But I will be with you [16]. The statement has a history. It seems to be Yahweh’s trump card placed down in front of either unwilling or hesitant servants. In face of Moses’ resistance, Yahweh had insisted, But I will be with you [Ex. 3:12]. After Moses’ death had apparently left a giant hole in Israel’s leadership, Yahweh had reassured Joshua with Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you [Joshua 1:5], In all their dilemmas, quandaries, and crises, this has ever been the word of the covenant God to His servants [Gen. 28:15; 46:4; Deut. 20:1; Ps. 23:4; Isa. 41:8-10; 43:2,5; Matt. 28:20; Acts 18:9-10]. But I will be with you. Basically, God has nothing else or more to offer you. You can go through a lot with that promise. It does not answer your questions about details. It only provides the essential. Nothing about when or how or where or why. Only the what, or, better, the Who. But I will be with you. And this is enough. Gideon, however, needs assurance that this promise is really God’s promise: Show me a sign that it is you who speak with me [17]. Gideon evidently had some clue about the dignity of his Visitor; his respectful lord (sir) [13] becomes Lord (Yahweh) [15]. Gideon shows how highly he values Yahweh’s promise by wanting to be sure it is Yahweh’s promise. There must be no mistake, no illusion. He must know it is God’s word or at least that it comes with God’s authority. Gideon proposed that his offering become the laboratory for God’s assuring sign. His Visitor agreed to wait [18]. The day was certainly not cluttered with appointments and deadlines. Gideon did not hurry. It takes time to butcher and prepare a young goat and to bake unleavened bread [19]. But with meat in a basket and broth in a pot Gideon at last returns. He arranges the items as his Guest directs. The Angel of Yahweh touches the meat and bread with the tip of his staff – fire, disappearance, realization [21-22]. Here is an amazing paradox. Gideon must have assurance of Yahweh’s promise [16], but, when the assurance comes, it terrifies rather than fortifies him: Alas, O Lord God! For now I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face [22]. The narrative makes clear the identity of the Angel of Yahweh with Yahweh Himself [see 11,12,14,16]. Gideon must have assurance but there is a problem with the assurance. This assurance does not settle but alarms him. We western Christians do not understand Gideon’s agony. This sort of talk [22] is strange to us, because we have no real sense of the terror and awesomeness of God, for we think intimacy with God is an inalienable right rather than an indescribable gift. There is nothing amazing about grace as long as there is nothing fearful about holiness. But, thankfully, Gideon knew better. Nothing is more assuring than God’s I will be with you; nothing is more overwhelming than the fact that it is God who says it. It is only God who can speak peace to the trembling [23-24].

The Demand That Commits Us.  In verses 25-32 Yahweh lays down the demand that commits us. He instructs Gideon to destroy his father’s Baal altar and Asherah pole. And in its place to build an altar to Yahweh using the wood from the Asherah pole to build a fire. Why such a demand? Because two altars cannot coexist side by side. You cannot have an altar to Yahweh [24] and an altar to Baal [25]. They are mutually exclusive. The demand placed on Gideon was meant as a paradigm for Israel. Yahweh was preparing to deliver them. But Israel must be properly prepared for such deliverance. God cannot safely trust His good gifts to those not fully given to Him. Jesus did not hand the rich man a decision card and tell him to check the box beside ‘follow me.’ Instead he exposed the moral man’s transgression of the first commandment and called on him to smash his idol – then he could follow Christ [Mark 10:21]. There can be none of this double-heartedness – not for Gideon, nor for Israel, nor for the rich young ruler, nor for us. Such is Yahweh’s demand on Gideon and Israel. If Yahweh is to be their Savior, Baal must go. Baal may be tolerant, but Yahweh is jealous. There can be no limping between two different opinions [1 Kings 18:21]. Judges 6 and Matthew 6 agree: no one can be a slave of two masters [Matt. 6:24]. For Gideon and for us those times come when our commitment to the living God can no longer remain hidden, when we must declare ourselves, when we must burn our bridges and, if need be, stand alone against the religious, social, cultural expectations of the community. Gideon did as the Lord had told him [27]. Some may blame Gideon for demolishing Baal’s altar by night, fearing relatives and city fathers. I doubt that it matters. Did God tell him to do it by day? Did God tell him he couldn’t be afraid? Or did God simply tell him to do it? Evidently, obedience was essential and heroism optional. Nothing had so shaken Ophrah in all the village’s history! What a furor as the town councilmen sipped their warm goat’s milk in the town gate that morning! Lord Baal’s altar wrecked, Lady Asherah’s pole hacked to pieces and used for firewood – they’d never known such sacrilege. Wait until they catch the rascal who did it. Somehow word leaked out and the village fathers pay Joash a call, demanding he turn over his son for execution. Crises sometimes cause people to talk sense – at least Joash found it so [31]. The writer of Judges must have smiled as he recorded the biting satire of Joash’s words. ‘If Baal is God,’ so ran Joash’s new theology, ‘he doesn’t need any help from Ophrah’s town council to maintain his honor; he should be perfectly able to zap my son himself.’ So the issue presses Israel: either continue to prop up Baal [31] or worship at the altar of Yahweh [24,28].”  [Davis, pp. 91-100].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What was the purpose of God first sending a prophet to the sons of Israel instead of a deliverer? What was the prophet’s message to the people? Why was it necessary that the people learn this lesson before God delivers them?
  2. What are Gideon’s objections to this service? What is God’s response? Is this not God’s response to each of us? What is His promise (the Lord is with you)? This promise is meant to sustain Gideon in fulfilling his God-given task. Think about how this same promise is meant to sustain you as you seek to honor God in the way you serve Him.
  3. Why must Gideon tear down the Baal altar and the Asherah pole? Why was this necessary before God would use Gideon to deliver the Israelites? What does this command to Gideon tell us about how we can be used by God?

References:

Judges, Ruth, Daniel Block, NAC, B & H Publishing.

Judges, Dale Ralph Davis, Christian Focus.

Judges and Ruth, Kenneth Way, Baker Books.