Gideon got a visitation, a compliment, and a mission. And, he really wasn’t ready for any of these things. Still, God transformed him into one of the true faith heroes of the Bible.
His story falls in the midst of the book of Judges, a series of stories that relate the tortured cycles of Israel’s history following the conquest of the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua. Judges relates the struggles Israel brought themselves under as they neglected God’s Word and His worship. The key phrase repeated throughout the book is this one: “There was no king in Israel; everyone did that which was right in his own eyes.”
Gideon was a man just trying to get by, as all in Israel were doing during this particularly dark period of oppression. The Angel of the Lord appeared in Judges 6 as Gideon was beating out wheat. Unusually, Gideon was doing this work at the winepress, not at the threshing floor. Here, he could hide the bit of flour he produced from the voracious Midianites. It was something of a bold move considering the circumstances of that hour.
A Wilderness at Home and at Heart
The disobedience of Israel brought the tribes under the control of Midian for seven years. These years were marked with famine for God’s people who were being held hostage in their own land. Whenever Israel’s fields were ready to harvest, the enemies swarmed into Israel as locusts with tents, livestock, and camels and consumed everything worth eating.
As a result, many in Israel headed to the hills to hideout in the caves and the woods. They were in the wilderness again, but this wilderness was a wilderness in their own land.
Israel had wandered for 40 years until God brought them into Canaan and prospered them in the battles to gain control of the territory. Now, a different manner of wandering was going on among Israel; this was a wandering of minds and hearts. They had stopped looking to the Lord as their God and were not listening to His voice.
Desperate, the people of Israel cried to the Lord. God heard them, and He sent a prophet and raised up a warrior, a reluctant warrior it turns out. The warrior was Gideon.
The Reluctant Warrior
“The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valor” (Judges 6:12). This was how the Angel of the Lord greeted Gideon. At once, Gideon questioned the Messenger. “The Lord is with us? Really? Then where are the wonderful works He did for our fathers?”
Give Gideon credit, he spoke honestly about his feelings. He felt forsaken by God. What he and all of Israel were truly feeling was the weight of consequence. It was the people who had forsaken the Lord, not the other way around.God's answer to Gideon's insecurity was this: 'I will be with you.' Click To Tweet
Israel needed a man to stand up and God chose Gideon to be that man. Gideon had hard time believing it and responded pretty much as Moses did at the burning bush. “Me? Deliver Israel? My family is the lowest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house,” Gideon said. His attitude was “I can’t.” Remember Moses told the Lord that his tongue was too slow and that He should find someone else (see Exodus 4:10). Moses’ attitude was “I can’t.”
God’s answer to Gideon’s insecurity was this: “I will be with you.”
This marked a turning point for Gideon. He made an offering and built an altar to God and His confidence in God grew. Gideon would ask for some signs of confirmation — the wet fleece/dry fleece challenges (see Judges 6:36-40) and the barley cake dream (see Judges 7:9-18) served to strengthen Gideon’s faith.
So strong did his faith become that Gideon could watch as the Lord whittled his army from 32,000 to 300 men. With those 300, Gideon staged a daring nighttime attack armed with only trumpets, jars, and lamps. The trumpets were blown, the jars shattered, and the lamps lifted high. It all resulted in the enemies’ spectacular self-destruction, a tremendous triumph brought about by the arm of the Lord.
Needed: A Change in ‘I’ Sight
What happened to Gideon? He learned and moved away from his “I” problem. His first reaction was “I can’t,” but he came to trust in this reality: God can.
Gideon saw himself as too small. We should not confuse small-thinking about ourselves with humility. The humble person recognizes the immensity of God and casts himself and his cares upon the Lord.
Standing at the other end of the spectrum is the “I can” problem. This involves thinking too highly of ourselves and our abilities. This is best represented by the Apostle Peter in the gospels. Peter was so sure of his allegiance to Jesus that he vowed that he would follow Christ to the death.
How did that turn out? Not so well for Peter. Jesus was arrested and chained and Peter denied knowing Him three times. The incident broke the Apostle’s heart and turned him. By the end of his life, Peter had such confidence in God that he did die for Christ as a martyr in Rome.
The answer for our “I can’t” and our “I can” issues is simple really. We need to learn more about who God is.
In recognizing His power and faithfulness, we keep our insecurities from creating an inferiority complex in our hearts. In realizing that we are nothing without Him, we prevent an exaggerated sense of self from erecting a pride complex.
Gideon’s mind on his mission began to change when heard God say, “I will be with you.” The Lord is with us. Great is His faithfulness and fresh are His mercies toward us every day. May we live in this knowing that God can, God does, and God will.
For more about Gideon, Peter and this subject, listen to “I Can, I Can’t,” a message from Thomas Schaller, pastor of Greater Grace Church in Baltimore.