5: How to Overcome Earthly Things: Judges 6:1-16

Judges 6:1‑16  •  27 min. read  •  grade level: 8
THE MIDIANITES are a striking figure of earthly things.
They robbed the Israelites of the enjoyment of their God-given inheritance and made their lives a burden and a misery, and this is precisely what earthly things do for the Christian, when he is dominated by them.
Now the things of earth are not necessarily bad and grossly sinful. They are things which may be right and proper when kept in their right place, and they may include God’s temporal mercies to us: but if they become our object in life they crowd out the things of Christ and heaven, and as a consequence the sunshine departs from the life and the song from the lips, and soul prosperity is at an end.
Briefly summed up earthly things represent the “cares,” “riches,” “pleasures,” and “necessities” of this life. They embrace the sweet and bitter, the joy and sorrow, the prosperity and adversity of our existence here, and are found in the family, social, and business circles, and if the mind becomes absorbed with them, the seed of the Word is choked in the heart and does not bring forth fruit. This is evident from the Lord’s own words, “And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection” (Luke 8:1414And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection. (Luke 8:14)). “Take no thought [anxious care] for your life, what ye shall eat;... or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind [live not in careful suspense]. But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Luke 12:22, 29, 3122And he said unto his disciples, Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on. (Luke 12:22)
29And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind. (Luke 12:29)
31But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you. (Luke 12:31)
Those who know not God, and whose vision is bounded by the present the nations of the world seek after these earthly things (Luke 12:3030For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things. (Luke 12:30)). But as the eagle spreads his broad pinions, and soars above the earth, and bathes himself in the fair sunlight, so has the Christian received title and power to rise above the things of earth to enjoy the bright treasures of that place where Christ is pre-eminent. If, instead of fulfilling this high calling of God, he is found burrowing in the earth, there is neither fruit for God nor light for others, for these two things are intimately linked together by the Lord (Luke 8:15, 1615But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience. 16No man, when he hath lighted a candle, covereth it with a vessel, or putteth it under a bed; but setteth it on a candlestick, that they which enter in may see the light. (Luke 8:15‑16)).
Earthly things are set in contrast to things in heaven, and there is a constant rivalry between them. The things in heaven belong to the Christian, but the things of earth claim his attention and would exclude from heart and mind that which is his true portion; hence the need for the exhortation, “If ye then be risen with Christ... set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:1, 21If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. 2Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. (Colossians 3:1‑2)). The condition of those who mind earthly things is most serious, even though they are Christians, for the Apostle had to write, “For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ; ... who mind earthly things. For our conversation [or citizenship] is in heaven” (Phil. 3:18, 19, 2018(For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: 19Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.) 20For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: (Philippians 3:18‑20)).
How the Midianites Treated Israel
And they encamped against them... and left no sustenance for Israel... and Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites.”
The Midianites prevailed against Israel, and because of the Midianites the children of Israel made them the dens which are in the mountains and caves and strongholds (Judges 6:22And the hand of Midian prevailed against Israel: and because of the Midianites the children of Israel made them the dens which are in the mountains, and caves, and strong holds. (Judges 6:2)). In short, they hid themselves in the earth. God had set them in that land to be a witness for Himself, and if they had walked in His ways their light would have been kept brightly shining, and other nations would have learned how good it was to have Israel’s God. But they were no witness for God when hidden in the dens and caves of the earth; nor is there any light for God today in those of His people whose souls are under the power of the things of earth; their light is hidden instead of being set on the candlestick so that all may see the light.
God had brought His people into that land that they might enjoy it, and they found it to be a land flowing with milk and honey a land―of joy and gladness―where the corn grew in abundance and the cattle flourished upon its verdant hills. But when the Midianites invaded the land, and made their home there, all this was lost to hem, for they came up like grasshoppers, devouring every green thing, and the people of Israel were greatly impoverished, and utterly robbed of those blessings which God had given to them.
Christian, do you find yourself in a like situation? You have allowed the things of earth to occupy your thoughts and heart, and they have invaded the land in a multitude, and have crowded out the things that are brightest and best. You can look back to the time when the things of Christ and heaven were the joy and delight of your soul, but you have lost your taste for them, and the Holy Spirit has been grieved, and your soul has become greatly impoverished. You have no time now for quiet communion with the Lord, for the Midianites have come up “with their cattle and their tents as grasshoppers for multitude; and they have entered into the land to destroy it.”
Oh, it is pitiful that this is the sad case of thousands of erstwhile flourishing Christians, who have been overcome, not by gross sinfulness, nor even worldliness, but by the “things of earth!” “The family, the business, the things of this life must be attended to,” they say, and, in consequence, the things of Christ, which are their true and proper portion as God’s people, are neglected, and mark well the three-fold result:
1. No fruit for God.
2. No light for others.
3. No sustenance for themselves.
The First Step to Deliverance
But in their distress Israel cried unto the Lord because of the Midianites, and that cry of need was the start of better things. They were brought to acknowledge that if God did not help them there was no hope for them; and this is an immense lesson for all to learn. Nor can it be too constantly emphasized that deliverance, in its every phase, must come from God our striving is futile. You may have made many attempts to rid yourself of the galling yoke of earthly things, but all in vain. If you have come to the end of your own resources, then you have reached the right place for blessing; for the end of your resources is the beginning of God’s, and to His there is no end. If your soul has become impoverished let Him hear your cry. He is unchanged; it is your own ways that have brought disaster upon you, even as the Israelites were suffering for their own disobedience (Judges 6:1010And I said unto you, I am the Lord your God; fear not the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but ye have not obeyed my voice. (Judges 6:10)).
In answer to their cry of need God raised up a deliverer for them, and of him we have a most interesting and instructive description. There are several things which stand out strikingly in his character and conduct to which attention must be called: He was able to preserve to himself some of the produce of the land of which the rest of Israel had been robbed.
He was greatly troubled because of the condition of God’s people.
He had low thoughts of himself.
The main incidents in his pathway to victory took place at night or in secret.
(1) Gideon is introduced to our notice whilst threshing wheat in the secret place, to hide it from the Midianites. This wheat was the true portion of the people, for it was the produce of the land which God had given them: for us it is a type of Christ. Israel had been robbed of their sustenance, but Gideon had been able to secure some, at least, from the thieves. He evidently valued that which he guarded so carefully and would not be robbed of it if he could avoid it. It was to that man the Lord could reveal Himself, and he could be called a mighty man of valor, for he had started along the pathway to final victory.
Do you appreciate Christ, and is it your habit to retire into secret, away from the stress and worry of everyday life, in order to feed upon Him and His things, which are your true portion?
Is it possible that you have to confess that you have no time for His things, and that from dawn to sundown you are fully occupied with the duties of the day? Then, indeed, you are under the galling yoke of these most tyrannical foes of your soul―earthly things.
Make time to feed upon Christ in secret. You will soon realize the good of it. The days will be brighter, the loads less heavy, your spirit less fretful, and, perhaps, that anxious look will depart from your face. In short, a new era will dawn for you if you will but turn aside to thresh the true Corn in the secret of God’s presence. You will need to guard these quiet moments jealously, for these earthly things will intrude themselves into the most sacred hours, if permitted.
It was whilst Gideon threshed the corn that the Angel of the Lord appeared unto him with the soul-thrilling announcement: “The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valor.” The one who could hold fast to what God had given could be thus addressed; the Lord was with him, and strength and courage must be his in consequence.
(2) But Gideon was not elated at the angel’s salutation. He thought of the state of the land, and he expressed his heart’s deep exercise as to it. The days were not as they once had been, and he felt it deeply. It seemed as though the Lord had forsaken His people, and he is greatly troubled because of it. He had wheat himself, but he was not satisfied to have this alone and remain indifferent to the impoverished condition of God’s heritage.
And the Lord looked upon him with evident satisfaction, and said: “Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the land of the Midianites: have I not sent thee?”
The one who truly gets to God about things must feel how lean of soul are many of God’s people, and how little the precious things of Christ are known and valued. Feeling this, he will not be satisfied to eat his portion alone. Ah, no to do so would be undeniable evidence of a heart at a distance from God. We cannot separate ourselves in thought from the rest of God’s flock; their poverty and their hurt is ours.
Gideon refused to separate himself from the rest of God’s people, for when the angel said, “The Lord is with thee,” Gideon replied, “If the Lord be with us;” and the more we appreciate Christ the more we shall love His people and long for the deliverance of every one of them from every yoke of bondage.
(3) The third feature in Gideon’s character was low thoughts of himself. He does not vaunt himself because of the way that he is addressed, but speaks instead of the poverty of his family, and of his own littleness; and this marked him still more decidedly as a chosen vessel unto the Lord; so that that which had already been announced can now be emphasized: “Thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man.”
Three things always go together, and are each a distinctive mark of the grace of God in His people. (1) Appreciation of Christ; (2) Love and care for His people; (3) Low thoughts of self.
God Must Have His Rights
Gideon was still in much ignorance as to who conversed with him, but it is pleasing to see that when the right moment came, he could bring forth the unleavened cakes, the fine flour, and a kid of the goats. The Lord accepted his offering, and said unto him: “Peace be unto thee: fear not: thou shalt not die.” With increasing light there was increasing faith and vigor on Gideon’s part, for he built an altar unto the Lord and called it “Jehovah-shalom,” which means, “The Lord send peace.” He took his stand upon God’s own gracious words to himself, and claimed peace for all.
The building of that altar meant that God should have His rights those rights―of which He had been robbed for so long a time; and it is when God has His rights that He can send peace.
This, then, was the man whom God could use for the delivering of His people, and the marks of grace and faith in him are figurative of that state which must characterize us if we are to be delivered and deliverers. The man whose soul is fed upon the things of heaven will be a worshipper of God, for his heart will be filled with the things of God; and he it is who can raise the altar with a divinely given intention to render to God what is His; nor will he yield mind and heart and time to occupation with the things of earth.
Thus far the activities and progress of Gideon had been in secret and with God; we now come to his first blow at the dominion of the enemy.
An altar to the false god, Baal, had been raised in the land, and it was in consequence of this that they were suffering under the tyranny of the Midianites. Baal is the god of the sun. The sun sets forth the influences that rule the day, and the altar of Baal in the land is typical of the things of earth having ascendancy in the hearts and minds of God’s people. This altar had to go to make room for God’s altar, for the two could not stand together.
In the same epistle in which we are exhorted to set our affections on things above, not on things on the earth, we read― “That in all things He might have the preeminence.” If we are to be free from bondage and walk in liberty, Christ must be pre-eminent. O Christian! does your heart respond to this? He is truly worthy of this place, and if “in all things,” then, surely, in your heart and life. If the influences of the day and the things of this life have the ascendancy with you, then the things of Christ are displaced; the false god, Baal, has raised his head in the midst of your life, and, as a consequence, you are joyless and fruitless. Oh, cast down that altar; do it at once; make Christ everything. “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”
But, mark well, it was the man who had been in secret with God who could overthrow the altar of the false god; and you can have no power against these foes except as, you have to do with God in secret.
An Absolute Necessity
We will now pass on to the very interesting incident recorded at the end of chap. 6:33-40. The Midianites, with their allies, the Amalekites (a figure of the flesh), came forth to fight against Gideon. This was natural and is so today. You may be sure that, if you have drawings of heart heavenward, you will have to contend with these combined powers, for the flesh loves not the things of Christ, but finds its satisfaction in the things of the earth.
But Gideon was not afraid; he blew the trumpet of warning, and gathered the people of God together, but ere he undertook to go forth to battle, he had again to speak with God in secret. In the secret of God’s presence he desired the performance of a miracle, and that of a very peculiar kind. A very paltry one, says the scoffing critic. A very essential one to us, if we are to be victorious, is our reply. Gideon’s request was that the fleece should be saturated with that of which the earth knew nothing― “let the dew be upon the fleece only and all the earth dry.” The character of the animal is known by its fleece. Then the fleece shall represent our character in this world; but let us remember that character is formed from inside from―what the heart and mind dwell upon. Are we prepared to say to God: “Let the dew be upon the fleece; let us be saturated, baptized, entirely characterized by that which the earth does not possess?” That is Christ, surely; and it is only as our hearts and minds feed upon Him that we shall bear the heavenly character and stand out distinctly from what is of the earth. You may tell me that such is your desire, but that all your efforts in that direction have been entirely in vain. And let me assure you that your efforts always will be fruitless. You cannot perform a miracle, and to bring that about of which we speak is impossible except by the power of God.
Gideon did not propose to do this thing himself, but he yielded the fleece to God and asked Him to bring it about. And this is the secret: “Yield yourselves unto God,” and you will prove that what is impossible with men is possible with God. It is His delight, in perfect grace and by the power of the Spirit, so to fill our hearts and minds with Christ that we may bear His character in a world which knows nothing about Him. But Gideon did more than yield the fleece to God; he also displayed energy and desire in connection with this matter, for he rose early on the morrow to see the answer of God to his prayer.
God grant that we may show the same energy in our spiritual desires. We are oftentimes―alas! too often―satisfied with longing and praying, both right, but we must go further; there must be the surrender of ourselves to God; there is no substitute for this; and then the earnest seeking and waiting for the result.
Gideon had one more request to make before he took the field; it was that the fleece might be dry and all the earth wet. Here we have the negative side of the matter, which naturally follows the positive. It shall mean for us: Let us be free in heart and character from that with which the earth is saturated; let its maxims, principles, hopes and aspirations have no place in our lives, for these things can only mar our enjoyment of Himself. His cross has separated us from them, and we must be free from them practically if we are to represent Him aright.
It is interesting to note that it was in the threshing floor that these desires were expressed in the place where Gideon had first met the Lord and where he had shown his appreciation of God’s blessing; and we may also be sure that these desires are the true and natural outcome of feeding upon Christ in the secret of God’s presence, away from the influences of the day and the intrusion of earthly things.
From this point onward Gideon went forward to victory. He had had much to do with God in secret, and in the strength and courage and wisdom gained there he was able to plan his campaign against the foe.
But there are still further lessons for us to learn ere we come to the final deliverance of the people, and these lessons do but emphasize what has already been before us.
The Testing of the People
The people were too many; and there was the danger of their taking the credit of the victory to themselves, and falling thereby into a worse state than that in which they had been. More than two-thirds of them were cowards; their own skins were of more value to them than the fight of the Lord, and they were glad to return to their own homes. Do we shrink from exercise of soul? Do we seek ease and comfort rather than conflict, which we must have if we are to be overcomers? We may go on with meetings and services, read books and discuss doctrines, but, are our souls braced up in divine courage? If not, we are unsuited for the fight, and until our souls are truly revived we are disqualified for it.
Ten thousand yet remained, who were not cowards as were their former comrades; but the greater part of them were not such as God could use; so to them was applied a further and severer test.
“Bring them down to the water, and I will try them there,” is God’s command. Water is one of the greatest of God’s mercies, and in this instance an abundant supply was brought within reach of the host, and by the way they treated it their fitness to be God’s warriors, or otherwise, was manifested. Nine thousand seven hundred stooped down to get as much as they could, and, for the time, seemed to forget the fight. On the other hand, three hundred took just that which would meet their, present necessity, and no more: the fight of the Lord controlled them, and all else was kept in abeyance.
The True Use of God’s Mercies
Here we see the true use of the mercies of God. We need food and clothing and shelter, and these are all put within our reach. How shall we treat them? If our object is to obtain as much of these things as possible we have become their servants, and are amongst those who cannot face the foe, for we have begun to mind earthly things. If on the contrary these things are used only as God’s mercies to us, and we are content with such things as we have, remembering that we are here not to accumulate treasure on earth but for the testimony of the Lord, then shall we prove ourselves to be fit vessels for His service.
This commendable trait is manifested still further in the valiant three hundred, for they carried their victuals in their hands, enough for their need and no more. They were the right men for the war, who would not allow themselves to be entangled by the affairs of this life.
The Munitions of War
They were a strangely equipped army as they went out to the fight; their weapons were contrary to all accepted: ideas, and their tactics such as could not be learned in the military schools; but they were men with the single eye and obedient and confident withal, and that was all they needed to be.
They were single-eyed men, and their gaze was fixed upon their leader, for his command was: “Look upon me.” If they had looked upon the foe they would probably have been discouraged by the number of them; but to look upon the foe was no business of theirs, for their God-given captain claimed their attention and commanded their obedience, and while they looked on him “they stood every man in his place,” and, standing each in his place, they became a compacted, undivided company.
Their weapons of warfare were strange, trumpets, pitchers, only held to be broken, and lamps. They carried no sword of tempered steel with them, but their battle cry was a glorious one, and proved that they were men assured of victory. And, indeed, they were not disappointed, for as they cried, “The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon... the whole host of Midian ran, and cried, and fled,” (ch. 7:20, 21).
In Paul’s second letter to Timothy we have the New Testament counterpart of this. The letter has been called a dark one, and truly there is a dark side to it, for in it there is plainly set forth the terrible departure from the truth of the professing Church: the result of first minding earthly things.
The state of things described in the third chapter of this letter could scarcely be worse, and yet we have there a true picture of the professing Church today, and it is evident that if the Church or any section of it is our hope and refuge―our place of salvation―then we are lost indeed. But Paul looked not in that direction; he looked above the scene of conflict and failure and fixed his eye upon a risen Christ at God’s right hand, and the result of this steadfast gaze was continual triumph. So that, viewed from this point, this letter is one of the brightest in the Book, for the failure of men only serves to throw into bright relief the faithfulness and stability of the Lord.
Paul’s Battle-Cry
So Paul had a battle cry just as had Gideon. He could link himself with the Lord’s testimony and cry; “The testimony of the Lord and of me His prisoner;” and he who had such a battle cry could say, “I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.” He could also say at the end of the fight, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”
He had stood in his place, like Gideon’s men, because he knew the might and the grace of his great Leader, who had crushed the foe and triumphed over death; and you may be sure that, as we remember Jesus Christ raised from the dead according to Paul’s gospel, and have our eyes fixed upon Him in whom all God’s intentions of blessing are secured, we too shall be able to stand, “every man in his place.” Nor shall we stand with fear and dread and depression, for our hearts will be maintained by the triumph of the Lord, and as we stand thus in our place we shall sound the Christian’s battle cry with confidence.
The Testimony of the Lord
The testimony of the Lord is the blessed truth as to His victory, and that all the grace of God is in Christ, where no foe can spoil it. It is the proclaiming of the great fact that God has not been foiled, but that all His purposes of grace are held securely in the hand that smote the power of death. In short, it is the glorious gospel of God concerning His Son, as the risen Man, through whom all God’s will is accomplished. The knowledge of this gospel makes us triumphant, nor shall we preach it with shame of face, for it is not about us but about. Christ; not about the Church but about the mighty Saviour the Son of God.
May we be truly controlled by the spirit of love and power, and of a sound mind, that we may determinedly go on with this glorious preaching. We may feel ashamed of the Church as a witness for Christ here, and ashamed of our own wretched selves, but here is something of which we need never be ashamed, for it is the very power and wisdom of God.
The Pitchers and the Lamps
The men who cried, “The sword of the Lord and of Gideon,” were the men who held their light in earthen vessels, and those vessels had to be broken for the light to shine out. The shining of this light in the darkness had to accompany the battle cry, and the blowing of the trumpets. Allusion is made to this in 2 Cor. 4:77But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. (2 Corinthians 4:7). Believers possess a wonderful treasure; it is the knowledge of God in their hearts. This glorious light is shining in all its perfection from the face of Jesus Christ, and it has shined in our hearts; but if it has shone in, it is in order that it might shine out again. The light must not be hidden; it must shine forth from the earthen vessels that hold it. This can only be in the power of God: human effort is entirely vain.
The light shone in Paul; his manner of life was in keeping with the testimony which he bore, so that if he preached that all blessing was in Christ in glory he did not look for it on earth. He looked not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. Eternal, not temporal things, commanded his soul, and thus was he a victor indeed delivered himself and able to deliver others also.
The shining of the light and the going forth of the testimony must go together. To this the Lord has called us, and it is our privilege to connect ourselves with the name and testimony of the Lord. But let us bear in mind that if we are occupied with earthly things the light will be obscured, and we shall cease to care for the testimony of the Lord.
Here are the things that led to the overthrow of these foes by Gideon’s army.
They were courageous men (ch. 7:3).
They took only of such things as they needed (v. 6).
They were obedient to the commander (v. 17).
They let the light which the pitchers contained shine out (v. 20).
They shouted the battle cry (v. 20).
They stood every man in his place (v. 21).
God grant that the blessed antitype of these things may mark every one of us.
A Warning
There is much more in Gideon’s history that is of deepest interest and instruction which does not come within the scope of our talk: of one thing, however, we need to be warned.
The Israelites would have made Gideon their king: they speak of him as their deliverer, and seem utterly to fail to own all as from God (ch. 8:22). History repeats itself, for the hearts of men are the same, and in the Church many have fallen into this snare. Men have been raised up of God to help and deliver His people, and many have admired and followed them, and even gone so far as to call themselves by the name of the vessel whom God has used, thus making him a king over them. Against this we are warned in 1 Cor. 1 and 3, and there is more need for the warning today than ever; for, instead of looking and cleaving to the Lord alone, the bulk of Christians are looking here and there for someone whom they may call the man of God for the time, from whom they may get guidance and light. Gideon stood true in this test and said, “The Lord shall rule over you.”
The men of Shechem did not heed the wise words of Gideon, for at his death they made his son Abimelech, their king, with the result that he destroyed them, and they destroyed him.
The ninth chapter of Judges records for us the bitter harvest of his pride and their folly, and teaches us to beware of trusting in man the bramble of Jotham’s parable, Judges 9 and especially so when it is a question of God’s things.
The Lord alone is our sufficiency. His love and grace and power can never fail. He is the true Vine, the Olive and the Fig Tree of which Jotham spoke in contrast to the useless bramble. Yea, all His people’s need is found in Him.
“May we with HIM be satisfied,
And triumph in His Name.”