Summary: Faith does not rest on the heart like foam on beer, said Martin Luther. Gideon's faith is active in this episode as he the spiritual idolatry of his own people.
How was your first day of school? Did the teacher give you a test? Were you assigned any projects? Did you get any homework at all? In my experience the first day of school was a day to get books, meet the teacher, and catch up with friends. It was probably one of the easiest days of the school year. The same is often true about the first day on the job. I spent my first days on the job here assembling office equipment and putting my books on the shelves. There was nothing too difficult about that.
Gideon’s first day on the job, on the other hand, started with a bang, literally. His opening gambit was to smash the family’s pagan altar. How did Gideon handle this assignment? Was he a warrior or a worrier about it? Let’s find out as we continue our sermon series on the life of Gideon.
We learned last week that Gideon lived 3,150 years ago during a time when the Israelites lived in fear of a nomadic people called the Midianites. For seven years the Midianites raided Israel forcing the people to hide in caves. The Israelites finally called to the Lord for help and God sent the Angel of the Lord to appoint Gideon to lead the charge against the Midianites. Before Gideon engaged the Midianites, however, there was another, more serious enemy that needed to be dealt with: Israelite idolatry. In fact Gideon’s father owned and operated a local shrine to the Canaanite gods, Baal and Asherah. Hours after the Angel of the Lord set Gideon apart for service, God commanded Gideon to destroy this shrine and in its place build an altar to the Lord and sacrifice one of his father’s bulls on it. What a first assignment! I can’t imagine a rookie police officer being sent to raid the headquarters of a drug king on the very first day of his job. Only Gideon’s assignment was more difficult because he wasn’t being sent to trash a shrine owned by some punk; he was to destroy his own father’s handiwork.
Before we talk about how Gideon handled this task, let me make these observations. With this first assignment God was impressing upon Gideon that Israel’s greatest enemy was not Midian but their own lack of spiritual integrity. Oh sure, the Midianites were not being very loving by raiding Israelite territory, but before the Israelites could complain about the Midianites’ sin, they needed to come to term with their own sins.
In the same way our greatest enemy is not the weak economy, pimples, or the threat of cancer. Our greatest enemy is our own sinful nature that is so easily wooed by the devil and this world. And so while it’s easy to rail against those who promote abortion or those who dump shopping carts into the river, God wants us first to take a good long hard look at ourselves and ask: “Do I put God first in everything that I do? If someone were to get hold of my daytimer, would it be obvious to them that I value highly God’s Word and jealously guard my time to speak to him in prayer? If they were to look at my to-do list, would they conclude that I live for myself or for others? And what if others could see my heart? Would they see it smile or frown as I do the dishes, change the oil, or take out the garbage?”
“Oh but God doesn’t expect us to be fanatics about obeying him, does he?” He does. That’s why he told Gideon to not only tear down the family altar of Baal but to chop up the wooden idol of Asherah and use it as firewood. There was to be no going back to that way of life. And when did this command come? Not months or even days after Gideon’s calling but mere hours. In other words Gideon was to make a complete and immediate break from the sinful past.
Do we do the same with our idols? Do we smash them to pieces or do we just put them into storage so that they end up being retrieved and played with later? For example you may own a video game that glorifies violence and cheapens God’s gift of sexuality. You know you shouldn’t be playing that game but because you don’t throw it away, it keeps finding its way back into your game console. And don’t say you’ll get around to tossing that game sometime this week. Do it as soon as you get home! God wants and deserves immediate and complete obedience.
So did Gideon follow through with his opening gambit? He was nervous about it and so he did the deed at night for fear of what his father and the townspeople would say. Ah, Gideon the worrier, you might surmise. I suppose but keep in mind that these were the first faltering steps of faith. And if Gideon had only been a worrier, he would have done the deed in secret, like a punk who smashes a bus shelter when no one is around to catch him. As it was, Gideon recruited ten servants to help him. Obviously, Gideon wasn’t trying to keep his identity a secret. And why should he? He had God’s guarantee of safety. Really? Sure. Remember, God had called Gideon to lead the Israelites against the Midianites. Since that hadn’t happened yet, God was obviously going to keep him safe from being lynched for tearing down the altar of Baal.