Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Call of Gideon: Startling Leadership, Stunning Reversals (Judges 6:36-7:23)

Gideon provided startling leadership to the people of Yahweh during some of their darkest days. This startling leadership led to a stunning reversal of fortune. Before, the Midianites exercised impoverishing control of Israel. No one, Midianite or Israelite, could even imagine a change in this relationship. Yahweh, however, could. Soon enough, Israel stood triumphant over Midian.
If we read this story through the dominant Olympian worldview of our culture, we might assume that Yahweh called Gideon to lead Israel because he had the needed knowledge, skills, experience, and character to do so in dramatic fashion. This assumption would be completely false. What Gideon had, and understandably so, was an Olympian personality filled with fear. This fear was based on his very real weakness and that of his clan and nation. It was Yahweh’s persistently pursued call that gave Gideon the constantly renewed courage he needed to accomplish the stunning reversal of fortune that Yahweh sought.
Yahweh’s call and Gideon’s response displaced Gideon’s Olympian fear with Yahwistic courage. Let’s reflect on how that happened.

1. First conversation: surprising words
The angel of Yahweh appears to Gideon and says to him, “[Yahweh] is with you, you mighty warrior” (Judges 6:12 New Revised Standard Version, here and following). Gideon flatly denies this statement. Yahweh can’t be with him because he has clearly abandoned his people to Midian for the last seven years.
Yahweh ignores the comment. He never defends or explains his actions. Instead he simply follows his previous announcement with the command, “Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian; I hereby commission you” (6:14).
A little exasperated perhaps, Gideon points out that he can’t deliver anyone because he and his clan are simply too weak.
Unperturbed, Yahweh repeats, “But I will be with you” (6:16).
With that, Gideon moves beyond flat rejection. Still, he doesn’t move so far as to simply trust that this is the angel of Yahweh himself who is speaking to him. He’s not convinced that the words he is hearing are true. Gideon wants the angel to show him a sign, something he can see, to prove that the words he’s hearing are true. Don’t we all.
The angel of Yahweh agrees and shows him a sign. No doubt now! Except now Gideon is terrified that, having seen the angel of Yahweh face to face, he’ll die.
Our inexhaustibly patient lord assures him, “Peace be with you; do not fear, you shall not die” (6:23). It’s a wonder Yahweh gets anything done through us at all. 

2. First unexpected adventure: publicly challenging the Olympian gods
Now that Yahweh has Gideon’s attention, he wastes no time. That very night Yahweh launches Gideon into his first completely unexpected and life-changing adventure. He tells Gideon to publicly mark his complete rejection of the Olympian gods by pulling down the altar dedicated to Baal (the Canaanite name for Jupiter), to cut down the pole dedicated to Venus beside it, to build an altar properly dedicated to him (Yahweh), and to sacrifice a bull as a burnt offering on it using the pole of Venus as firewood.
Gideon does as he is told, but because he was too afraid of his family and the townspeople to do it by day, he did it by night (6:27). Despite Yahweh’s constant assurances, Gideon still fears his Olympian neighbors. Because of Yahweh’s constant assurances, Gideon witnesses to Yahweh anyway.
Surprisingly, Gideon’s Olympian father comes to his defense. He turns away the anger of his fellow Olympian neighbors toward Gideon with a simple argument: “If he [Jupiter] is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been pulled down” (6:31).

3. Second unexpected adventure: publicly challenging hordes of Olympian minions
Disappointed with this response, the Olympian gods decide to challenge Gideon and his god with overwhelming force. They gather all their hordes of people living east of the Jordan and have them set up camp together in the Valley of Jezreel.
The Olympian gods fail to frighten Yahweh with all this excitement. Yahweh doesn’t allow them to frighten his servant Gideon either because the spirit of [Yahweh] took possession of Gideon (6:34). We usually link possession with the very unholy spirit of Satan taking control of a person to their harm. Here Yahweh’s spirit strengthens Gideon’s resolve and, so empowered, Gideon rallies four of the tribes of Yahweh’s people to his cause.
Gideon, however, still fears that Yahweh will not save him or his people from harm. Gideon is still relying on sight and, seeing that huge menacing army of his enemies, believes more in its visible power than in Yahweh’s invisible freedom.
Yahweh again freely chooses in love to show Gideon the signs he asks for. One night there is dew on a fleece alone; the next night, it is everywhere but on the fleece. Gideon, reassured yet again, moves Yahweh’s tribal armies into position to engage the Midianite hordes.
Now it’s Yahweh’s turn to ask a sign of Gideon. Yahweh knows that Gideon, and those with him, are fearful of attacking the vast hordes of Midian and their gods. What does Yahweh do? He has Gideon tell the 32,000 Israelites who are with him, “Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home” (7:3). Right away 22,000 of them go home.
Wanting to make an important point, Yahweh presses Gideon much harder. He has Gideon sift his soldiers once again. This time only 300 remain. He assures Gideon that with only these 300 he will triumph over the huge menacing army of Midian and its gods.
That same night, Yahweh is ready to break Midianite power. Fearful Gideon doesn’t have the chance to ask Yahweh, once again, for a sign. Yahweh anticipates the need and says to Gideon, “If you fear to attack, go down to the camp…and you shall hear what they say, and afterward your hand shall be strengthened to attack the camp” (7:10-11).
Gideon is strengthened by what he hears. In the middle of the night, Gideon’s 300 men encircle the camp, blow trumpets, smash jars, and hold torches aloft. This throws the whole Midianite army into a panic. They recklessly start attacking each other, then survivors quickly flee back across the Jordan (7:22).

4. Conclusion
Gideon and his tiny army of 300 triumphed over the Midianites who had easily and mercilessly enslaved the whole people of Israel for seven years. Despite Gideon’s chronic yet understandable fear, Yahweh was able to call and enable Gideon to accomplish his will: the liberation of Israel from its enemies and their Olympian gods. Yahweh was able to call and enable Gideon to be a startling leader bringing about a stunning reversal of fortune.
As persons called to be prophetic witnesses to Jesus Christ, we too are a small, weak, and fearful bunch. We have no Olympian power and, as long as we remain faithful witnesses to Jesus, we never will. Nonetheless, just as Yahweh called and enabled Gideon to triumph over Olympian hordes and their gods, so Jesus now calls and enables us to be bold witnesses to him. As we do so, then, as with Gideon, Jesus will use our witness to free Christians and churches from their blind devotion to and enslavement by those same Olympian gods.

Copyright © 2015 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.