This is one of more than fifty stories in Mike’s new book on Faith throughout the Bible. It will be available in late Summer—God willing.
Israel occupied the promised land and lived in freedom for a while, but as the old generation that saw the miracles of Moses died out, the next generation knew only what they had heard from their fathers. Within fifty years the new generation was attracted to the exciting worship of the Canaanites and bowed down before statues made of wood and stone.
God removed his protective grace and allowed their enemies to oppress them. Through the suffering, they were awakened to the possibility that they were worshipping the wrong gods. When the Israelites discovered the promises of Jehovah recorded in Scripture, they would repent and put away their false gods, at which time Jehovah would raise up a man, or in the case of Deborah, a woman, to lead the people in victory over their enemies. That cycle was repeated four times during the first 250 years. Their failure to pass on the faith of their fathers tells us how difficult it is to pass faith to one’s children. Each generation must discover God for themselves. The second generation inherits the forms of faith but not faith itself.
So, it happened again. “And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD: and the LORD delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years” (Judges 6:1). The people of Israel were overrun by their enemies, and the survivors retreated to the wilderness where they lived in the rocks and caves, hoping the Midianites would not discover them.
Then, about 1145 BC, the text says, “And Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites; and the children of Israel cried unto the LORD” (v 6). That is what God was waiting for. They recognized their need for God and prayed unto him. The first step must be taken by the guilty sinner. He must seek God. “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. And I will be found of you, saith the LORD . . .” (Jeremiah 29:13–14).
The people lacked faith in God’s commitment to them; they did not believe enough to stand up to their enemies and claim the land God had given them, so he sent a prophet to build faith by reminding them of what God had done in the past. “[T]he LORD sent a prophet unto the children of Israel, which said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I brought you up from Egypt, and brought you forth out of the house of bondage; And I delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of all that oppressed you, and drave them out from before you, and gave you their land; And I said unto you, I am the LORD your God; fear not the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but ye have not obeyed my voice” (Judges 6:8–10). By recounting how God had fought for their fathers in miraculous ways, the prophet was revealing to the people the power of God. “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). “And they that know thy name will put their trust in thee: for thou, LORD, hast not forsaken them that seek thee” (Psalm 9:10). To know God’s name is to know his reputation, which is found in Scripture and in the testimony of those who have experienced his wondrous works. Reading and believing the Word of God builds faith in God.
A man named Gideon was threshing his wheat in a secluded spot to prevent the Midianites from taking his grain, when “the angel of the LORD appeared unto him, and said unto him, The LORD is with thee, thou mighty man of valour.” (Judges 6:12) Gideon was not chosen at random. God chose him to lead an army in battle because of qualities he already possessed. God recognized him as a man of valor. Valor is defined as “Strength of mind in regard to danger; possessing courage and bravery.”
Though known by all as a man of valor, Gideon was not yet a man of great faith. “And the LORD said unto him, Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man.” (V 16) Gideon wondered if he could trust this stranger telling him to go fight an entire army of more than a hundred and twenty thousand, so he asked for a sign that this was indeed God’s word. When he prepared food for his guest, the stranger told him to place it upon a rock and drench it with liquid. Then when the visitor touched the wet rock with his staff, it burst into flames, completely consuming the food; and then he disappeared, leaving Gideon trembling with fear, afraid he would die. “Gideon said, Alas, O Lord GOD! for because I have seen an angel of the LORD face to face. And the LORD said unto him, Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die” (Judges 6:22–23).
Then God told him to destroy his father’s altar, which was used by the community to worship false gods, and to cut down all the lovely trees that adorned that unholy sacred place. They always placed their icons in an aesthetically designed garden, located on a hilltop to enhance the worship experience. You see that even today in people’s yards and in special places in their homes. They were breaking the first two commandments Moses had given them: “Thou shalt have no other gods” and do not make any graven images. God hates images made of him or of the saints when used as aids to worship. Pure faith in the invisible God employs no images. To do so is a graven sin.
Gideon knew they would kill him for desecrating their church. At the very least, he would have been labeled an iconoclast and banished. His faith was small, so he took ten servants and went in the middle of the night. They tore down every stone in that artfully constructed garden and cut down every tree and trampled every flower. They upturned every cobbled path and chipped away every mosaic. The images of the gods were broken into pieces. Then they built an altar unto Jehovah on the heap of ruins and offered his father’s prized bullock to God.
When the people rose in the morning, they were horrified and angry. They recognized the crude altar as dedicated to Jehovah, for the stones were uncut, just as they were picked up from the ground, and the altar was without adornment, as God had previously commanded (Exodus 20:25).
There is a tendency to call a structure “God’s house” and treat it as sacred. “Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands . . .” (Acts 7:48).
Through diplomacy, Gideon survived their plot to kill him and went forth to gather men to battle against their enemies. But at the last minute Gideon had doubts that it was God who had spoken to him. That is a healthy trait. Too many people think God spoke to them when it was emotional zeal. So Gideon asked God for confirmation. “Behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said. And it was so: for he rose up early on the morrow, and thrust the fleece together, and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water” (Judges 6:37–38).
Then Gideon got to thinking that maybe that was a natural phenomenon peculiar to a fleece. “And Gideon said unto God, Let not thine anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once: let me prove, I pray thee, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew. And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground” (Judges 6:39–40). It is encouraging that God lists Gideon as an example of exemplary faith. The path to faith is not always straight.
So Gideon now has confidence it was God who had spoken. Note that faith did not originate in this farmer. He brought to the table his willingness and confidence in God, but it was God who built him into a man of faith. He, like us, believed God could; he just didn’t know if he would, especially through him.
When he gathered twenty-two thousand volunteers to go into battle, “the LORD said unto Gideon, The people are yet too many; bring them down unto the water, and I will try them for thee there . . .” (Judges 7).
So God devised a method to weed out the vast majority, leaving only 300 soldiers to go up against more than a hundred thousand Midianites.
On the eve of battle, Gideon again became fearful. So God took steps to assure him and his small band of men. He told Gideon to slip down into the valley and sneak up on the enemy camp to hear what they were saying. “And when Gideon was come, behold, there was a man that told a dream unto his fellow, and said, Behold, I dreamed a dream, and, lo, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the host of Midian, and came unto a tent, and smote it that it fell, and overturned it, that the tent lay along. And his fellow answered and said, This is nothing else save the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel: for into his hand hath God delivered Midian, and all the host. And it was so, when Gideon heard the telling of the dream, and the interpretation thereof, that he worshipped, and returned into the host of Israel, and said, Arise; for the LORD hath delivered into your hand the host of Midian” (Judges 7). Gideon had heard the enemy trembling in fear from the nightmares God had given them. He was so overwhelmed with the power and provision of God that he broke out in instant worship of God Almighty. I think he wanted to shout and dance, but he had to stay quiet. That has been my experience a few times in church.
God told him to station the 300 men on the hills surrounding the enemy camp, each with a lamp concealed under a clay pitcher, and a trumpet in the other hand. Upon Gideon’s signal they all broke their pitchers at the same time, revealing the lamps, and shouted together, “The sword of the LORD and of Gideon.” And they just stood there blowing trumpets as they intermittently shouted and waved their lamps in the air. The Midianites panicked and ran around in the dark, killing one another. Before it was over, 120,000 perished, but none of Gideon’s 300 died. And there followed 40 years of peace.
The most important lesson concerning faith that we can glean from the story is the source of faith. When Gideon fell short on his faith, which he did repeatedly, he did not turn within to conjure up more faith. He did not stir up his emotions with music and a crowd to affirm his pronouncements. Nor did he wallow in self-incrimination and seek to change something within himself; he went back to God, to the original source of his faith and sought confirmation as to the certainty of God’s will. If he was sure God said it and that he heard it correctly, he was filled with battle-ready faith. There is no place for psyched-up self-hypnosis in the Christian faith.
A second lesson is that faith is best when the odds are against it. God did not want Gideon to go into battle with his 22,000 against 120,000, for if they had won the battle with those odds against them, they would never have stopped bragging. It would have proven they were the best and bravest warriors ever. So God took steps to crush all human confidence, pushing them into a corner that was impossible. Faith starts with the impossible draped in God’s words. Remember, faith is not about an inner resource; it is about a trembling, insecure, doubting soul being persuaded by God Almighty to just trust him and step out.
The story of Gideon is the story of us all. We believe God is able, but we doubt our understanding of what he has said. We have faith in God but not faith in our faith in God. So we delay and look for more proof. God is patient, as he was with Gideon, repeatedly providing assurances of his will. Gideon was never cocky. His heart was always open and willing. Beware self-assured “prophets” who know what God’s will is for you. And always remember, God’s plan never lacks God’s supply.