Discipline: 10. Gideon

Judges 6‑8  •  24 min. read  •  grade level: 10
In order to understand and appreciate Gideon's history and line of service, we must survey the condition of God's people when he was called out to be a witness and a servant among them.
Israel had been under the oppressive rule of Midian for seven years. For a perfect period they were ruled over by their enemies, because they had rebelled against the rule of God, and are thus taught in the land of blessing and privilege the contrast between the rule of God and that of man. We are always ruled by some one or some thing; and, if not by God, by that power which is inimical to God and his people; and to this power we are often brought into subjection, in order that we may learn how much better is the sway of God where our passions are controlled, than that under which our very nature is worn out and harassed. This is a discipline to which all the people of God are liable, and of which the Church has had bitter experience; for instead of enjoying her privileges and blessings, she has brought herself under the power of the world, to be harassed and disquieted, searching here and there in the dens of the mountains and the caves and strongholds, how to enjoy a momentary respite from the grinding oppression which has judicially been inflicted, because of her rejection of the Lordship of Christ.
The servant and the witness must always be equal to the state of things on which he is to act. He must have suffered with the people from the circumstances of trial; he must have known the depths of misery to winch they have been reduced; he must know what he is to emerge from, and reach unto, or he cannot witness or serve the people according to their need. He must have endured himself, and know the sorrow of the judgment, or he could not appreciate the deliverance which he is appointed to conduct. Paul was the most bigoted Pharisee, and of all. men knew most of the evil effect of their prejudices. Hence he was able, when taught of God, most effectually and accurately to expose and confute them. In nature he had gone into the depths of prejudices, that in grace he might leave none of them uncorrected or undisclosed; for the very evil our own nature has led us into, the Lord will use to make His servants skillful in denouncing and repudiating it. “When thou are converted, strengthen thy brethren.”
Gideon was thus prepared; not, as yet, by a knowledge of his own evil nature, but by a practical identification, in the circumstances in which the people of Israel were plunged through their own failure. He suffered with them, and no doubt had joined in their cry to the Lord on account of the Midianites. But before he, as the deliverer, is introduced on the scene, the Lord answers that cry by exposing to the people (by the mouth of a prophet) how they had departed from Him. (Judg. 6:8-108That the Lord sent a prophet unto the children of Israel, which said unto them, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, I brought you up from Egypt, and brought you forth out of the house of bondage; 9And I delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of all that oppressed you, and drave them out from before you, and gave you their land; 10And 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 6:8‑10).) The first great dealing of the Lord with the soul is to show it its dereliction and failure. The word of God pierces even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Its great action is to reveal to the soul its condition, and in the former dispensation the prophets acted the part which the word does now. By them the secrets of hearts were made known and convicted. So when the Lord has disclosed to the woman of Samaria her moral condition, she immediately pronounced Him a prophet.
Here, then, we find the people prepared for approaching deliverance by the conviction of their consciences; and this being done, the angel of the Lord immediately opens communications with the appointed deliverer, whose fitness for the work is evidenced by the position and occupation in which he is found. Gideon threshed wheat by the winepress to hide it from the Midianites.” This was characteristic of the man. The iron had entered into his soul, but his strength had not failed him in the day of adversity, and real strength is that which is equal to the demand for it, and the emergency tests an otherwise dormant ability. Gideon's energy eats equal to the emergency; he was strengthening the things that remain that were ready to die, and while evincing his faithfulness in that which is least, the angel of the Lord, after silently watching him, reveals Himself and addresses him thus, “The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valor.” A strange address apparently to a poor thresher of wheat! But the Lord estimates not as man; He knows the vessel which He can use, and what it is able to perform, as the apostle says, “He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry.” He designates Gideon “a mighty man of valor,” because He appreciated the efforts which Gideon used to maintain the residue of blessing's; and while thus employed, calls him to enter on a higher mission and a greater service.
Gideon was evidently a man who had pondered over the ways of the Lord, for his reply is, “Oh, my Lord, if the Lord be with us, why is all this befallen us, and where be all His miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the Lord bring us out of Egypt, but now the Lord hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites?” In this rejoinder we see that he not only knew how the Lord had dealt with Israel. in time past, but also the judicial position in which they now were. He saw God alone on either side. Consequently the angel “looked upon him,” or was turned towards him, and commissioned him to “go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites; have not I sent thee!” The servant of God must know and believe that God is the power winch alone can set up or pull down; it is the foundation-stone in the soul for any deliverance. “Twice have I heard this, that power belongeth unto God.”
Gideon knew this; but there is a great difference between owning all power as belonging to God, and seeing it acting on our behalf; and often the consequence of the former conviction is to make us feel our own powerlessness the more; which, unless we can rest on God's acting for and through us, will produce despondency. Gideon cannot see how the link can be established between God and man, so that man can be made the administrator of God's power and will, and pleads his own insignificance and insufficiency. And the Lord, in order to establish this link in his soul, gives a promise: “Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man.”
Great as was this promise, Gideon could not yet appropriate it; however wonderful and suited, he could not embrace it, until he feels in his own soul the link between himself and God, and is assured of his own acceptance, and therefore he exclaims, “If now I have found grace in thy sight, show me a sign that thou talkest with me.” And then having brought his offering and set it forth according to the angel's directions, as we read in verses 18-22, the Lord accepts the offering, causes it to be consumed by miracle and disappears from Gideon's sight, thus giving him an unquestionable proof not only of His own presence and power, but of His servant's acceptance with Him. he had sought a sign to enable his soul to trust in the promised succor of God; in a word, in order that he ought to depend on Him in the great service appointed to him. For as a fallen man estranged from God, he could see no ground for dependence, and the acceptance of the sign is almost too much for him. The Lord's manifestation of Himself convinces Gideon of His nearness to him which naturally must be death to him, and of which he has the sense; so that he exclaims, “Alas, O Lord God! for because I have seen an angel of the Lord face to face.” The word of the Lord now calms and settles his soul. “Peace be unto thee, thou shalt not die;” and thereon Gideon builds an altar, which denotes the relation in which he now stands with God, and which is the groundwork of his soul before he enters on his service. The altar or place of access is Jehovah-Shalom.
Thus is Gideon prepared for the work unto which he had been called, and it is profitable for every servant, in moral power to ascertain how far he has been prepared in like manner for service. I have dwelt thus minutely on the preparation, because, if the soul has not found an assured acceptance and rest with God, it cannot be free, because unembarrassed by its own interests, to engage in the interests of the service unto which it is called.
Many attempt to serve the Lord, hoping thereby to acquire rest and peace for their own souls. Consequently they continue, and value the service, according as it contributes the desired relief; for it is true that every true soul, acting for God, must establish the sense of relationship with Him; but when. this is the object, the service is diverted from its true aim, and the proper spring of it is lost. Service must be undertaken by one happy in God, and therefore happy to be a fellow-worker with Him; and it must be pursued and executed quite independently of its effects on myself, and entirely with respect to the will of God. Again, others do not attempt to serve, because they allege they have no ability, and their minds when engaged in divine things are invariably engaged about themselves. They either do not know where to find rest and peace, or having found it, they do not believe in it; that is, they do not walk in the power of it—that power which faith confers.
Gideon having learned to worship God at Jehovah Shalom, (for the name of the altar indicates the worship,) he is directed as to his line of action “the same night.” Mark, blessing is never deferred when we are ready for it. Night is not the time for action; and man might say, “To-morrow thou shalt have it;” but with God the very moment we are ready for it, that moment we receive it. As with Isaac, as soon as ever he had reached Beersheba, the true place of separation, the Lord appeared to him “that same night;” or as with Jacob, when he went on his way from Padanaram, “the angels of God met him.” The moment we get on God's line, that moment we find ourselves in the light and strength of God. “In the same night” Gideon is directed to be a witness of the grace he had learned, and after this manner:— “Take thy father's young bullock, even the second bullock of seven years old, and throw down the altar of Baal that thy father hath, and cut down the grove that is by it.” His own home is the first circle in which the true servant will testify the great realities of his heart and service, and the power and distinctness with which this is done defines and prefigures his future course and ability. The Lord Jesus opened the divine record of His mission in “Nazareth, where he was brought up.” Barnabas brought Saul from Tarsus. So here now, Gideon in a bold, determined manner is to declare to his father's house, and through it to all his city, the light which had dawned in his soul, at once demanding from him, and empowering him to bear the testimony. The false worship in his father's house he was utterly to abrogate and abolish.
Gideon obeys; but he does it by night, fearing to do it by day. Here is an inroad of nature. His faith was as yet not such as to enable him to testify openly and boldly; but what his faith did enable him to do, that he did.
Even where the word of God is received and obeyed, there is often a deficiency in the testimony. Many a true soul is not prepared to testify as openly as he might. It is better when obedience and testimony go together; but though the flesh may hinder testimony, it cannot prevent, obedience, if there be faith. Paul was both a minister and a witness. It is the highest privilege for a servant, not only to obey, or minister, but to be able to testify of his identity with the ministry. If flesh works—if our own nature is allowed a voice—our testimony is compromised; we have lost our self-possession, and the personal control which is necessary for a witness. But faith insists on obedience; even in secret. In our patience we must possess our souls. Practically, our hearts and minds must be kept in peace, or we cannot, without loss of testimony, perform the very acts of faith. The emotions of the flesh are no excuse for not obeying what we have faith to do. We may submit, on account of them, to lose the higher place of testimony, but nothing must hinder obedience to God's word. Moreover, if we are faithful, without affection, our acts will declare themselves, and thus testimony will follow, though it did not accompany them. Thus was it with Gideon. And, on the outset, he learns the hostility of his own people to faithfulness for the truth. But how little the world knows that its evil opposition always evokes from God's witness an amount of power more than sufficient to suppress it! The cry of the populace for the execution of Gideon is met by the challenge of Joash to let Baal plead for himself, if he be a god; and Gideon is surnamed Jerubbabel, in consequence of this challenge.
How graciously and wisely the Lord was preparing His servant for the work in His counsel assigned to him! And how identical are his dealings with ourselves! His purpose is to assure the soul that, as surely as Christ hath triumphed over every power of evil, so surely may we conclude that every expression or manifestation of evil is properly only a guarantee to us that there is a power at hand for us more than superior to it. And, furthermore, the greater the amount of the evil opposition, the more marked and manifest will be the power which will overcome and silence it. We should comfort ourselves in every circumstance of life, that “when the enemy cometh in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord raiseth up a standard against him” —a branch of truth most important to the faithful servant in times of difficulty, and, therefore, implanted by the divine hand in the soul of Gideon, and now to be declared when all the Midianites and the children of the east were gathered together, and pitched in the valley of Jezreel. “Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, and Eliezer was gathered unto him.” He had already passed through the two great experiences of soul which qualified and prepared him for his work—the first his own relation to God established at the altar, Jehovah-Shalom; and the other in his faithfulness to the truth of God, in the utter annihilation of all false worship. Thus qualified, he enters his public service. But here again, although he has gathered by divine energy the men of Abiezer, Asher, Zebulon, and Naphtali around him, and prepares for acting in sight of the foe, he has to learn that, unless he be assured of God's support, he cannot proceed.
How vacillating and humbling is the secret history of the soul, so graciously detailed for us with reference to this faithful servant; though, outwardly, naught can be discerned but boldness and energy, as is true often with ourselves! And well it is for us that we have to do with a God as gracious and considerate of our weakness as had Gideon. By peculiar signs and intimatious the gracious Lord confirms His servant's mind in the verity of those promises which he ought to have rested in at once, in mercy giving and repeating every proof or evidence required. It is a very different thing to seek for a sign to establish belief in God, and to seek for one to confirm us in the rightness of the path on which we have entered, and of God's support in it. The former the Lord will not grant or allow.” There shall no sign be given you,” He says to the Jews, when they asked for a sign as a ground of belief. The divine path must be begun and entered on in faith, and without signs; bat the Lord continually vouchsafes evidences to confirm the soul that is in the right path, and that it will succeed therein. The soul, when really depending on God, and entering on any signal work, seeks not to be conscious of its own ability, but of God’s—God's, if I may so say, in the abstract, i.e., that it has to do with One whose power, and ability to apply that power, is equal to any demand. This is the discipline which establishes the soul, and fully places it in the line appointed. In different ways it is granted to every servant; but the sense communicated to the soul is this—that God's power is versatile according to the requirement of it, and able and ready to interrupt any established order of things to manifest His will. This, I repeat is learned in many ways—sometimes practically, sometimes didactically. It may be learned by a soul realizing the wonders of prophecy. One walking in faith, and following out in spirit the great actions there foretold, roust be impressed with the majesty and disposability of the power of God; and when thus impressed and confirmed, as by a light shining in a dark place, it will be prepared to confront the hostilities in the path. Or it may be learned in a humbler way, and through the weakness of our faith, as, no doubt, it was with Gideon. Flaws in our faith become more apparent as the strain on us is greater. And how many break down in their course, because they have not learned the universality and ready applicability of God's power.
Gideon finds what we shall all find—that God is gracious enough to instruct him in this point, in any way that he may suggest, or which will establish it most clearly to his own satisfaction. Whether it be dew on the fleece only, and dry on all the earth beside, or dry on the fleece only, and dew on all the earth, God vouchsafes it, and Gideon is confirmed.
Thus ready, “he rose up early, and all the people that were with him, and pitched beside the well of Harod.” Here the Lord interposes, in order to declare the work as His own. Israel must have no room to vaunt against God, and say, “Mine own hand hath saved me.” Consequently Gideon must proclaim in the ears of the people, “Whoever is fearful and afraid, let him return and depart early from Mount Gilead.” It must have been a trial to Gideon's faith to see 22,000 of the people retire from his standard: but this is ever the demand where there is faith. If he have believed, he must not be confounded because he sees the means, which he had expected to secure the desired end, almost entirely melt away, But Gideon is now strong in God, and through God's gracious dealing and education, and he is not discouraged; nor need he be, for it is better for a man of faith to be in company with a few faithful, than with many who are weak and wavering. But though less than a third of the original number remained, even that number the Lord pronounces “too many;” and He orders that the whole remaining company be put to the test, in order to sift it, and prove who was really fit to war and testify for Himself. This test is a simple and unimportant one to man's eye, but searching in its spiritual application. Like all the arrows in the divine bow, which by one cast made sure aim, and effect what all man's efforts and discernment could not, it discerned the thoughts and intents of the heart. It proved whether they were wholly set on the one object—the one mission; or whether they could be distracted from it for a moment in order to take natural refreshment. This was the meaning of the test of the water. And what a result! 9070 were found not whole-hearted: they went on their knees to drink. Though doubtless most anxious for success, that purpose and anxiety did not entirely overrule the desire for personal refreshment. And 300 only are found so single-hearted, that they will but take what is necessary to sustain them, and hurry on! Alas! if such a test were put to us, how few of us would be numbered in Gideon's band! Many of us might rank with the 32,000 who set out with him, or even the 10,000 who have stood the first sifting; but how few have that abnegation of nature which would enable us, regardless of personal need and refreshment, to hurry on, and fight the good fight of faith. It may be but taking a little more of nature than what is necessary for us. There was but a little difference in those who lapped and those who went on their knees to drink. And surely water was a necessary refreshment for thirsty warriors. But the manner of taking it laid bare the condition of the heart; and it teaches us this great lesson, that unless we make the Lord and the Lord's glory our sole object and aim, He cannot use us as deliverers, though He may graciously allow us to share in, and benefit by, the deliverance which He has wrought by more faithful hearts.
To Gideon also, as well as his followers, must this sifting have been a test of faith, for the decrease of numbers must have cast him still more in dependence on God; and many would be confounded by such searching education: but the untaught one is never equal to the trials of warfare. “The same night,” (for now that the company is prepared, there must be no delay,) the Lord tells him, “Get thee down into the host,” &c., but with peculiar graciousness and willingness to meet and invigorate any wavering in Gideon's faith, he adds, “If thou fear to go down, go thou with Phurah, thy servant, and thou shalt hear what they say,” &c. How manifold are the ways of the Lord on behalf of His servants! In the enemy's camp the interpretation of a dream announces Gideon's success, and he hears how they already reckon on their own overthrow. And, surely, with ourselves these evidences of coming confusion in our daily foes might often be gathered if we would but hearken to them. If we did, we should perceive that these intimations are afforded us not without an object, and that object is to encourage us in a bolder perseverance. Gideon was greatly encouraged by this. The God of the dew was again brought nigh to him, and he worshipped, and returned in full assurance of victory ere the conflict had begun. The details of that conflict (or rather conquest, for it was a pursuit rather than a fight) I need not dwell on, except to say, that it. was truly strength made perfect in weakness. Lamps within the pitchers—treasures in earthen vessels, and trumpets to announce that their cause was the Lord's—were the only weapons of the little band until the enemy's swords were all turned against themselves. Gideon's success was complete, and he was proved a ready instrument in God's hand to effect deliverance for His people. But what varied discipline he required before he was so! How little does one know of the antagonism of our nature to the will of God, who thinks that service can be undertaken without that self renunciation, which can only be learned by experimental knowledge of the superiority of God's ways and counsels! We never surrender what we value until we find a better; and man is so full of himself and his own will, that until he finds the superiority of God's, and this, through slow, painful and varied processes, he can be neither an obedient nor a suitable servant; i.e., one who carries out the mind and intentions of his Master. Jonah was taught obedience in the whale's belly, because he learned there to be reliant on God solely: but the gourd taught him the mind and nature of God. The true and disciplined servant always finds a way to do his work, however difficult it may appear. The greater the difficulties, the greater must be the evidence that our resources are of a different order and character from those arrayed against us, and this will be found true in very small matters as well as great ones.
The Midianites being overcome, Gideon was to meet with another difficulty and one of a different order; i.e., to encounter the opposition of those who rank as his friends, an order of opposition which it requires more wisdom to surmount than even that of acknowledged foes. The manner in which he deals with the two classes of his contending brethren is instructive to us to notice. With the men of Ephraim, (chap. viii.,) who chide him for not calling them to the battle, he takes the lower place—that of grace, the true, wise and godly position to hold towards those who seek to be conspicuous. Gideon might have replied that himself and the 300 were specially called and chosen of God; but he does not, and leaves the Ephraimites to the satisfaction of that measure of honor which God had put upon them. But towards the men of Succoth and Penuel, who refused to supply bread to the “faint yet pursuing,” he acts very differently. They must receive no quarter. Their conduct in refusing sustenance to the 300, when contending with the enemy, was antagonistic to the cause of God and taking the part of traitors to His name and glory. The principle is the same in both dispensations. There are cases which we must meet and deal with in grace; but we are, on the other hand, earnestly to contend for the faith. “I would, (says the apostle) they were even cut off who trouble you.” “If any man bring not this doctrine, (i.e., of Christ,) receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed.”
In chap. viii. 22, once more and for the last time, Gideon is presented to us in a new and peculiar line of discipline. Great services often engender self satisfaction and desire for an exaltation which the unspiritual are too ready to accord to us. The multitude solicit Gideon to rule over them, but he replies, “will not rule over you; the Lord shall rule over you.” How could he take the place of that God who had so blessed and honored him.” So far he spoke in the wisdom of the Spirit, but his request for the errings of his prey evinces a covert desire to commemorate his services, though he had refused the place of power and dignity. What could such a desire produce but a snare, whether in the form of an ephod or anything else? And such it was to Gideon and to his house.
What a lesson and warning for us to see a servant of God after such protracted teaching and forming for the work, in a moment as it were, lose himself; and after attaining so high and distinguished a place through service, sink from human gaze behind a cloud; It teaches us that, though we may refuse a public place of exaltation, still we may not be proof against the most subtle and more dangerous snare of supposing that the memorials of our service can in any way contribute to the worship of God; for this is using service as a medium for self-exaltation, which thing must “become a snare to us and to our house.”