And the LORD looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee? (Judges 6:14 KJV)
I’ve had Gideon’s story come up a couple of times recently. Surprisingly, though Gideon is mentioned in the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11 (v. 32), most people wish to key on how “faithless” and “fearful” Gideon was and how we should not imitate his (lack of) faith.
It seems to me that modern preaching, wishing to “be relevant”, chooses to harp on morality. While the Bible does teach us to live out the faith we have, preaching morality reverses the biblical order. The “relevance” of morality makes for an easy point. We want to hear about morality because it is an action point we can do. Morality is also something we can look outside us and with alternating satisfaction or contempt see those other people who do not measure up. I remember the church I used to attend where we all stood to hear the one Bible verse read and then the sermon started with some CNN report or USA Today article flashed up on the screen. Part of me wanted to continue standing during the CNN article since that was going to be the source of our “relevant” sermon.
In Gideon’s case, we are taught that he was fearfully hiding from the Midianites, faithlessly arguing with the angel, testing God by asking for signs, in cowardice only obeying God at night, etc. While the teacher may make comments about God making Gideon something in spite of all his weaknesses, the point is clear: Gideon is a negative example. God would have an easier time if only you do the exact opposite of what Gideon did – and, as you know, making it easier on God is the goal of the Christian life (I mean, hasn’t he been through enough already?).
Besides the fact that I believe this preaching is not from the biblical story, I challenge the idea that it is “relevant” preaching, being based in sinless perfection rather than grace and morality rather than the Gospel. It is preaching to flesh rather than faith. To the surprise of the hearers of modern preachers, Gideon is in the “Hall of Faith”; the Angel said Gideon had might.
Now the angel of the LORD came and sat under the terebinth at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites. And the angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, “The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valor.” And Gideon said to him, “Please, sir, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” And the LORD turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” (Judges 6:11-14)
This blog series has been my attempt to bang out a workable idea of what Faith is. In the blog Faith: The Substance, I defined Faith as taking God’s words seriously – as if they matter – in a world where it is not obvious that God’s words matter. I suggested that the OT equivalent to our NT word “faith” is the expression “Fear of the Lord”. Taking that thought to the story of Gideon, there are repeated evidences of Gideon taking God seriously.
In this first incident of the Angel appearing to Gideon what is the “might” ascribed to Gideon? I think it is found here: And Gideon said to him, “Please, sir, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” (Judges 6:13) Gideon knew the history of his people. He had been told the stories growing up and he knew they were not just stories, but God working in the nation and he longed to see Him at work in his day as well. The words of God mattered to Gideon.
In his day, it seemed by looking at the circumstances, that God’s words were so many nice moral stories. I once shared the Gospel with a woman who responded “That’s nice, but I’m living a real life here.” Life is real and it screams that you would be a fool to not put all your attention right here, right now. The life of faith knows that life is real and God is also real and what God says matters in the reality of our lives.
This statement also reflects that Gideon had listened to the prophet God had sent to Israel. the LORD sent a prophet to the people of Israel. And he said to them, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of bondage. And I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out 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 dwell.’ But you have not obeyed my voice.” (Judges 6:8-10) God’s words mattered, whether by the stories or by the present actions of God. I saw a cartoon of a doctor standing next to a monk, packing up his doctor’s bag. The monk is saying, “What do you mean, ‘don’t expect any miracles’? Why shouldn’t I expect any miracles?”
The life of faith remembers that God has worked, sees God working and expects to see God work. Reading the life of Gideon, we see that he lived a life of faith. His mention in Hebrews 11 is no fluke. The tendency to tear apart his actions to expose his “weaknesses” where the Bible does not, robs the church of an example of a life of faith lived by one of us in world just like ours.