Friday, May 8, 2015

The Call of Gideon: Surprising Words (Judges 6:1-24)

In the Book of Judges, we read of how the people of Yahweh routinely abandoned Yahweh to worship the six false gods of Olympianity. Of course, once they did that, the Olympian gods and their minions made life difficult for Yahweh’s people. Yahweh’s people would then cry out to him for help. Mercifully enough, Yahweh would raise up a leader through whom he would free his people from their slavery.

One such leader called by Yahweh was Gideon. By reflecting on his call, we may gain some understanding of how Jesus enjoys relating to us. We may especially appreciate that Jesus brings into our lives surprising words, unexpected adventures, sudden reversals, and startling leaders.

Around 1250 BC, the people of Yahweh did what was evil in the sight of [Yahweh], and [Yahweh] gave them into the hand of Midian seven years (6:1 New Revised Standard Version, here and following). Israel was greatly impoverished because of Midian; and the Israelites cried out to [Yahweh] for help (6:6).

So, in typically Olympian fashion, the Midianites, once they found themselves in control of the Israelites, used that control to enrich themselves at the expense of the Israelites. Nothing new there.

Worse, from an Olympian point of view, the Israelites had no hope. Clearly the Olympian gods were not going to help them. They had no Olympian allies. They themselves lacked the needed resources to help themselves. They were doomed to disappear unless Yahweh, the one true god of freedom and love, freely chose in love to liberate them once again despite their rejection of him.

This Yahweh chose to do. Let’s pay close attention to how he did this.

The Israelites had been suffering severe oppression for seven years. Without direct divine intervention, this oppression was going to continue until they disappeared. There was no guarantee that there would be any divine intervention at all. If Yahweh did intervene, there was no knowing when he would do so.

That’s the hard part: waiting. Waiting for help, not knowing when it will come, not knowing if it will come, while circumstances grow increasingly difficult.

Then suddenly, one day, for reasons known only to Yahweh, the angel of [Yahweh] came and sat under the oak at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, as his son Gideon was beating out the wheat in the wine press, to hide it from the Midianites (6:11).

Then the angel of Yahweh spoke his surprising words to Gideon. “Yahweh is with you, you mighty warrior” (6:12). Two surprises here. First, that Yahweh speaks at all. Second, that he calls Gideon a mighty warrior. If Gideon is one, it is only because these words make him so.

This second point is important. In our self-centered Olympian way, we think in terms of morality. We imagine that Yahweh only calls moral heroes to his service. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Yahweh calls anyone he wants, whenever he wants, to do whatever he wants. No one he calls deserves it. No one he calls is up to the task before the call. It is his surprising words alone that enable the person called to accomplish the vocation they are called to.

Even after hearing these words of Yahweh, Gideon is not so sure he's such a mighty warrior. He complains that Yahweh has not been with the people of Israel for some time now.

Then come more surprising words. [Yahweh] turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. I hereby commission you” (6:14).

Gideon is still not confident. He complains of his own weakness and that of his family. Gideon points out to Yahweh that he and his family have no power. They are marginal in an Olympian society based on power. Yahweh assures him: “But I will be with you” (6:16a). Note that Gideon only has Yahweh’s word for that. No demonstrations of power from the god of freedom to prove the truth of his word.

But Yahweh does give him a sign. Gideon is warming to this visitor. To be sure his growing trust in him is not misplaced, Gideon asks the visitor to wait until he brings him a present. The visitor agrees to this. Gideon goes inside his house, brings back some meat and unleavened cakes, and puts them on a rock for his visitor. Then the angel of [Yahweh] reached out the tip of his 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 [Yahweh] vanished from his sight (6:21).

Good enough! Gideon heard the very surprising words of Yahweh and affirms them as his own. Now the unexpected adventures begin.

Copyright © 2015 by Steven Farsaci.
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