'THE LORD IS WITH YOU, O VALIANT WARRIOR'
By Steve Zeisler
When I was in grade school, I used to dread the coming of spring because
I had a bad asthma condition. I was one person during the fall and winter
months when pollen was not in the air- active, outgoing, and involved- but
quite another when the ragweed pollen began to fill the air, requiring me
to stay indoors and reduce my level of activity. I not only had a physical
problem, but also a psychological one. I withdrew from people and stayed
to myself. The pollen was like an army that was abroad in the air; it had
particular capacity to attack me.
I raise the subject of seasonal attack because it is exactly the problem
that beset Israel in the sixth chapter of Judges where we've come in our
study of this book. Verses 1-6:
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. And the
power of Midian prevailed against Israel. Because of Midian the sons of
Israel made for themselves the dens which were in the mountains and the
caves and the strongholds. For it was when Israel had sown, that the Midianites
would come up with the Amalekites and the sons of the east and go against
them. So they would camp against them and destroy the produce of the earth
as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel as well as no sheep, ox,
or donkey. 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
We are at the next example of the cycle of sin and loss that we see repeatedly
in the book of Judges. "The sons of Israel did what was evil in the
sight of the Lord," and the consequences descended upon them. The problem
of Midianite oppression, however, is different from domination by neighboring
Canaanites which we saw in the story of Deborah and Barak (Judges 4-5).
The oppression of the Midianites is more like having asthma attacks in the
spring. Raiders would arrive in Canaan at the time of harvest from some
distance away and devastate the land. They stole everything that had been
grown during the year and drove the Israelites into the mountains. The Israelites
were forced to retreat to caves with only meager portions that they could
carry with them. The Midianites and their allies would destroy everything
in sight and leave, only to return at next year's harvest.
They were successful because, like the Canaanites of chapters 4 and 5, they
had a weapon that was greater than any that Israel could muster against
them. The iron chariots that served Jabin and Sisera have their counterpart
in the camels of the Midianites. The invaders from the south could cross
the desert regions very quickly on their camels, devastate the people, and
leave. The text suggests not only the material problem of having their food
stolen from them every year, but also the psychological debasement that
took place each year. They were physically and psychologically living in
caves. Even during the months of the year when no enemy could be seen, they
knew that attack and defeat were coming, just as I knew the pollen would
come each spring. Such vulnerability is frightening. Verse 6 says that "they
were brought very low because of Midian."
It isn't difficult to draw an analogy to our lives. Many of us have areas
of vulnerability that result in repeated episodes of being "brought
very low." Even though the attack is not part of our daily experience,
the constant threat of attack can cause a loss of personal identity, value,
God speaks to us when we need him
Verses 7-10 begin the process of God answering the cry of his people:
Now it came about when the sons of Israel cried to the Lord
on account of Midian, that the Lord sent a prophet to the sons of Israel,
and he said to them, "Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, 'It was
I who brought you up from Egypt, and brought you out from the house of slavery.
And I delivered you from the hands of the Egyptians and from the hands of
all your oppressors, and dispossessed them before you and gave you their
land, and I said to you, "I am the Lord your God; you shall not fear
the gods of the Amorites in whose land you live. But you have not obeyed
The Prophet's Word
The first response of the Lord to the cry for help of his forlorn people
is to send a prophet. We saw this pattern in chapters 4 and 5 as well. When
Deborah is introduced as a person who would be a turning point in breaking
the bondage of the Canaanite coalition, the first attribute that is mentioned
about her is that she is a prophetess. We don't know much about this prophet
in chapter 6. He delivers the message and leaves the stage of history. But
it's critical to note the importance of the word of God in times of trial,
loss, and debilitation. God speaks to us when we need him. There is truth
in God's word that will strengthen us and set us upon a firm foundation.
Hope is born from hearing the word of God.
The prophet makes a very critical point in speaking to those who have lost
hope. He says to them: "The Lord your God is a deliverer. 'I brought
you out of Egypt; I brought you out of the house of slavery; I delivered
you from the Egyptians and all of your oppressors.'" This reminder
of God's commitment and power is a direct challenge to the might of the
Midianites. God required, however, one thing of them- that in the land of
Canaan they should not worship the gods of the Amorites. They were to completely
reject the despicable religion of the Canaanites. That's what he required,
but they did not listen to him.
The prophet is making an essential point. Verse 7 says that the sons of
Israel cried to the Lord on account of Midian, the yearly invaders from
the desert to the south. They said their problem was Midian, but the prophet
said their problem was their worship of Baal. The reason that they are weakened
before their enemies and unable to deal with their problems is that they
have chosen to worship and put their faith in something other than the true
God. As a result, they have become hollow and ineffective and are easily
The shortcomings of both our federal and state governments have been clearly
displayed this week. We have to recognize that, as a nation and culture,
we have put our faith in something other than God. We have chosen as a people
to worship human capability, whether it is economic, technological, or political.
We have put our faith in the ability of human beings to build up protections
to give us hope for the future and to put limits on sinful behavior. We've
trusted the governments and institutions of this culture to give meaning
to life, and they cannot do it. And there is a widespread sense of confusion,
powerlessness, and devastation.
Most of us have been astonished at the events of the Clarence Thomas confirmation
hearings. Consider the simple observation that the issues before the Senate
Judiciary Committee these past few days concerned a woman's claims of sexual
harassment, while Ted Kennedy sat as the rightful representative of this
society helping to decide this issue for the sake of the nation. We are
turning to the Senate and saying, "Help us, please. Make sense of this,
please. Lead us, please. Dispel the darkness, please." They cannot
do it, and our hope that institutions of government- human strength- can
give life is Baal worship.
The San Jose Mercury News reported that Tom Nolan, the openly gay supervisor
of San Mateo County, said to governor Wilson in a luncheon conversation:
"Do you know why the homosexual community is so furious over your veto
of AB101? Why the anger is so visceral? Why the response is so incandescent?
Because this is a community of people who have been rejected by their parents.
They were rejected by their peers growing up. They've been rejected by their
churches, and they were looking to the government-to you Governor Wilson-to
affirm them." To hope that the state government of California will
invent a civil right to answer a spiritual problem (healing broken hearts
and bringing personal renewal) is Baal worship. Baal worshipers place their
faith in things other than God- governments, organizations, or ideas. But
these things have no power to save. The only one who can meet these needs
is the living God. And that's the word of the prophet: "You're not
weak because your enemies are strong. You're weak because you have worshiped
Baal and Asherah. You have loved the gods of the Amorites and have put your
faith in something other than God. This is why your lives have been brought
The Call Of Gideon
How will our Lord deliver his people? First he sends a prophet to analyze
the problem, but the prophet is not enough by himself. Verses 11-13:
Then the angel of the Lord came and sat under the oak that was
in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite as his son Gideon was beating
out wheat in the wine press in order to save it from the Midianites. And
the angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, "The Lord is
with you, O valiant warrior." Then Gideon said to him, "Oh my
lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And
where are all His miracles which 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."
The angel of the Lord is a figure that appears in various places in the
Old Testament. In reality this is the Lord himself, before his incarnation,
taking the form of an angel and visiting the earth. The angel of the Lord
came to Gideon who was standing in the wine press, which was a small, circular
stone enclosure. He may have been in a stronghold where he would hide from
the Midianites. He was trying to tread on grain, as you would with grapes,
and separate the wheat from the chaff to produce a little handful of wheat.
Wheat was typically threshed by animals on a hilltop in the open. But no
one in Israel worked in the open like this because of the threat of the
Midianites. We have a picture of an individual hiding somewhere, near a
cave perhaps, treading out the grain with his own feet. And he's undoubtedly
thinking about what the prophet had said: "The God of Israel is a God
of power, deliverance, and authority." We can see that, as he's in
the midst of this effort, he's looking at himself and feeling degraded.
The angel of the Lord arrives, sits under a tree, and says to him, "Hail
valiant warrior. The Lord is with you." Gideon responds as a beleaguered
victim, not as a valiant warrior: "Where is God? If the Lord is with
us, where is he?" Verses 14-24:
And the Lord looked at him and said, "Go in this your strength and
deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you?" And he
said to Him, "O Lord, how shall I deliver Israel? Behold my family
is the least in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father's house."
But the Lord said to him, "Surely I will be with you, and you shall
defeat Midian as one man." So Gideon said to Him, "If now I have
found favor in Thy sight, then show me a sign that it is Thou who speakest
with me. Please do not depart from here, until I come back to Thee, and
bring out my offering and lay it before Thee." And He said, "I
will remain until you return."
Then Gideon went in and prepared a kid and unleavened bread from an ephah
of flour; he put the meat in a basket and the broth in a pot, and brought
them out to him under the oak, and presented them. And the angel of God
said to him, "Take the meat and the unleavened bread and lay them on
this rock, and pour out the broth." And he did so. Then the angel of
the Lord put out the end of the staff that was in his hand and touched the
meat and the unleavened bread; and fire sprang up from the rock and consumed
the meat and the unleavened bread. Then the angel of the Lord vanished from
his sight. When Gideon saw that he was the angel of the Lord, he said, "Alas,
O Lord God! For now I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face."
And the Lord said to him, "Peace to you, do not fear; you shall not
die." Then Gideon built an altar there to the Lord and named it The
Lord is Peace. To this day it is still in Ophrah of the Abiezrites."
God Begins With Individuals
The first thing God does for his needy people is to send them a prophet.
The next thing he does is to remind the individual man, Gideon, of his personal
love for him. It's hard to read these paragraphs without being touched by
the humility of God. We see him come to us where we are when we're hurting
and care for us individually by name. He might have shouted from heaven
or sent a legion of angels. He might have done something dramatic with an
earthquake or the weather. But he brings hope to his people by reminding
them that he knows them where they live in the midst of their hurt and that
he loves them there. The Lord sits under a tree and talks to a man who doesn't
believe in him. He is even willing to wait while Gideon rushes off to prepare
the sacrifice. He wants us to understand his personal concern and love for
each of us. Verse 14 shows this deep, personal love: "The Lord looked
at him and said, 'Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand
of Midian.'" The care communicated in the Lord's gaze is as important
as the spoken command. God's love for Gideon is deeply personal.
Earlier this week, as I spoke with a friend, a woman came into the church
looking for another address on this street. She looked around the room and
asked if we did weddings here. I told her that we did, and she proceeded
to tell us her story of how she fell in love with her fiance. Later, I shared
with her that we didn't have weddings here without communicating our concern
for the spiritual life of those getting married. I told her that God knew
her, loved her, and cared about her marriage. Some of the news was arresting
to her and some was attractive. Like Gideon, she has to decide how to respond
to the news that the living God is not just an idea of ancient history or
a matter of concern only for those who are peculiarly religious. It is good
news that requires a response from each individual heart.
The first statement of the angel of the Lord is, "The Lord is with
you, O valiant warrior." He doesn't start listing the sins of Gideon
and itemizing his failures. He doesn't start with any negatives at all.
Gideon, however, didn't believe either part of God's statement. He didn't
believe that God was with the people anymore, and he certainly didn't believe
that he was a valiant warrior. He protested by his actions and finally said,
"Yeah, but I come from a small family, a small tribe. My father's a
nobody. I'm the youngest in my family." And yet God saw him as both
his friend and as one who could be raised to greatness.
Will we accept the responsibility to tear down altars of compromise
in our lives?
Gideon said, "There are no miracles." The Lord said, "I'm
with you." Gideon responded, "You're not with us." He changes
the object of God's attention from singular to plural. Gideon's response
demonstrates that he doesn't understand that God's attention is directed
at him as an individual, not at the entire nation. Gideon wanted miracles
to descend on the nation as a whole to overthrow the Midianites. But God
begins with individuals.
We are too often like Gideon in this regard. Are we waiting for God to fix
Washington, Sacramento, or San Francisco? The word of the Lord to Gideon
is, "You go forth. It's your turn. You take on the Midianites."
And Gideon protests. We're told in the story of the altar that Gideon eventually
began to fear God more than he feared the Midianites. He realized that he
had argued with the living God. And wonderfully, when the fear of God began
to overtake Gideon, the peace of God began to surround his heart. As Gideon
feared the living God, God said, "Peace be with you. I will take care
of you. I mean you only good, not harm." And he named the place "The
Lord is Peace."
The story continues in verses 25-32:
Now the same night it came about that the Lord said to him,
"Take your father's bull and a second bull seven years old, and pull
down the altar of Baal which belongs to your father, and cut down the Asherah
that is beside it; and build an altar to the Lord your God on the top of
this stronghold in an orderly manner, and take a second bull and offer a
burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah which you shall cut down."
Then Gideon took ten men of his servants and did as the Lord had spoken
to him; and it came about, because he was too afraid of his father's household
and the men of the city to do it by day, that he did it by night.
When the men of the city arose early in the morning, behold, the altar of
Baal was torn down, and the Asherah which was beside it was cut down, and
the second bull was offered on the altar which had been built. And they
said to one another, "Who did this thing?" And when they searched
about and inquired, they said, "Gideon the son of Joash did this thing."
Then the men of the city said to Joash, "Bring out your son, that he
may die, for he has torn down the altar of Baal, and indeed, he has cut
down the Asherah which was beside it." But Joash said to all who stood
against him, "Will you contend for Baal, or will you deliver him? Whoever
will plead for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let
him contend for himself, because someone has torn down his altar."
Therefore on that day he named him Jerubbaal, that is to say, "Let
Baal contend against him," because he had torn down his altar.
The same night that Gideon received the peace of God in his heart and appreciated
the message of hope, the Lord said, "Now go to your father's house
and tear down the altar to Baal and build an altar to me there." Gideon
was not to begin by raising an army. He first had to deal with the compromise
in his own home, with the worship of false gods, and with the loss of integrity
that had overtaken his own family (evidently, Joash, his father, was the
priest of Baal worship for Abiezer). Gideon obeyed the Lord, albeit fearfully.
And the next morning there are angry threats issued against Gideon. Interestingly,
it is Joash who says to the angry neighbors, "If Baal's a god, let
Baal fight for himself." Nothing happens to Gideon because Baal is
a false god; he can't defend himself. Gideon takes on the name Jerubbaal,
meaning "one who contends with Baal." And eventually it comes
to mean "the one who conquers Baal"---the Baal-buster. Having
trusted God and found his courage to stand against false worship, Gideon
becomes a man of character, authority, and strength in the eyes of the people
Gideon is the leader of the movement away from Baal worship. It started
with the prophet raising the hopes of people again that God was strong.
Gideon, pondering the words of the prophet, met the living God and learned
of God's love for him. He was then called on to deal with the compromise
in his own life, and ultimately he became the one who led the rest of his
nation to face the forces that had brought them low.
Let me conclude by setting the scene for the decisive battle which we will
consider in the next message. Verses 33-34:
Then all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the sons of the
east assembled themselves; and they crossed over and camped in the valley
of Jezreel. So the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon; and he blew a trumpet,
and the Abiezrites were called together to follow him. And he sent messengers
through Manasseh, and they also were called together to follow him.
Pollen season has arrived; the enemy has come in. The first people that
responded to Gideon's call were the Abiezrites, the people of the town who
had been influenced by his obedience. Members of the other tribes joined
him as well. Gideon's first steps of faith have begun a process of renewal
in God's people. The stage is set for the decisive intervention of the Lord.
We live in times where there is more concern about the future of this nation
than at any other time that I can remember in my lifetime. People wonder
if the center will hold, for there is recognition everywhere that we have
trusted agencies and ideas that have not produced strength and well-being,
nor can they do so. We have hoped that Baal would save us from the Midianites,
but Baal cannot save us from anything. Before us is an opportunity to have
an influence on our world as Gideon had on his. Will we each accept the
responsibility to tear down altars of compromise in our lives? Will we testify
to an increasingly frightened and oppressed culture that there is only one
God worthy of our worship and that he loves us? Will our actions indicate
that we are Baal-conquerors and that our testimony is true? May God grant
that it be so.
Catalog No. 4305
October 13, 1991
Copyright © 1991 Discovery
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