Title: From Worrier to Warrior
Text: Judges 6:11-12, 25-32 and 34 (Scripture Reading 6:1-16)
Thesis: God meets us where we are and empowers us to become who we are to be.
Series: The Bible in 90 Days Whole Church Challenge
Last week we wandered with the people of God on their journey of faith through the desert. In our story today, they are living in the land God promised to Abraham and his descendants. In our reading we went with them as they, under the leadership of Joshua, conquered the peoples living there and settled in the land. In the middle chapters of Joshua the conquered lands were divided up and assigned to each of the tribes of Israel so that each tribe had its own territory or region. They were a loosely organized federation of tribes, so to speak.
Our story today takes place during what we call the “Era of the Judges.” During this time, Israel had no elected or appointed leader. What they did have were “judges.” These judges were not judges as we think of judges or political leaders… they were individuals whom God called out to lead the people of Israel during times of crisis and oppression which generally followed what may be thought of as a cycle of sin and restoration.
During times of prosperity the people of Israel would slip into sin. God would then punish them which would lead to their repentance and prayer that God would rescue them. God would then call out a judge who would defeat their enemies and restore them in God’s favor and blessing.
The judge in our story today is Gideon. Gideon was an unlikely candidate for the role to which God called him, but he is a model of how God meets us where we are, tests or proves us and then empowers us to overcome the obstacles in our lives.
In order to appreciate our story today we need to understand what may be called a cycle of sin and rescue. In the book of Judges we read that following the death of Joshua, the Israelites had no specified leader. The Lord was their leader.
And people being people, the Israelites soon fell into a cyclical pattern of behavior. They would begin with the blessing of God upon them and they would enjoy a period of peace and prosperity. Then they would sin and God would make them suffer the consequences of their sin, which generally meant they would be oppressed by another people. After a period of oppression the people would come to realize their folly, repent of their sin and cry out to God to rescue them. Then God would raise up a “judge” who would lead the Israelites to war against their oppressors and God would free them and restore them to a time of blessing, peace and prosperity.
So the cycle ran as a loop every few years…
• PROSPERITY: The Israelites enjoy prosperity and peace.
• SIN: The Israelites fall into sin.
• PUNISHMENT: God punished the Israelites.
• REPENTANCE: The Israelites repented of their sin.
• RESCUE AND RESTORATION: God rescued them and restored them… another period of prosperity and peace would ensue and so on.
The story of God’s dealing with Israel should be a sobering reminder that the God of Grace we know in the New Testament does not just sweep sin under the rug. Christ died for all the sin of all men of all time, I Peter 3:18. In Romans we are reminded that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and that the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ. (Romans 3:23 and 6:23) God takes sin seriously. And the clear teaching of Galatians 6 regarding our reaping what we sow ought to be sobering as people and as a nation.
While we each may ponder our own short-comings with considerable unease – when one gives thought to our corporate sin as a people there is cause for alarm. If God were to exact the same expectations on us as he did with the Israelites, we would likely find ourselves smack-dab in the middle of the punishment cycle.
It does not take a rocket scientist to see that corporate and individual greed is rampant in our culture. Our culture is marred by deep seated anger, incivility and violence. Racism remains alive in all its ugliness. Unborn innocents are aborted on demand. Sexual immorality in all its forms and perversions are prevalent with the open practice of pre and extra-marital sex, pornography, homosexuality and same sex marriage. We chalk the death of innocent civilians up as “collateral damage” in wartime. We would never bow before foreign gods but we bow before the god’s of power, influence, materialism and pleasure. As we have been reading through the Old Testament I have been sobered by the numerous references to God’s concern for the poor and the alien who lived among the Israelites and wonder how we stack up in our provisions for the poor and the strangers among us. God’s penchant for justice is evidenced in his expectations regarding the forgiving of debt and the restoration of property and the creation of “cities of refuge” or sanctuary where people were safe from vengeance and retribution until there was a fair trial. It could be said that there is more justice in our country for some than for others.
In our story the Israelites are in the “punishment” phase of the cycle. Their sins have caught up with them and they are suffering the consequences. And now, they are crying out to God for deliverance.
Gideon happens to be the judge at the center of our story today. He is an unlikely candidate for the role of deliverer and yet God worked with him and as the story progresses we see Gideon transformed into the leader God needed for the hour.
How did this transformation of character take place? How did God turn Gideon the worrier into Gideon the warrior? It began with an encounter.
I. God meets us where we are.
(11) Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep if from the Midianites. (12) When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” Judges 6:11-12
It was a perilous time, as is much of Israelite history. As earlier mentioned, the Israelites had sinned in the eyes of God and the consequences of their sin was a seven year period of oppression by their neighbors. In verse three it says: Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country, ravaging the land. So the Israelites had moved from their homes into mountain caves and strongholds.
This kind of scenario is far-fetched for us. Living here in metro- Denver, we can’t identify with their story. And yet, it a story not unheard of in our time.
I have been reading Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. It is the story of a former mountain climber’s desire to help the poorest of the poor in the most remote parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan by building schools for the children. Tom Brokaw describes the book as “Thrilling… proof that one ordinary person, with the right combination of character and determination, really can change the world.”
This story takes place along the LOC (Line of Control) between India and Pakistan. For years and years the Indian and Pakistani governments maintained border outposts opposite each other. Every day they each would lob a couple of shells over the border just to let each other know they were there. But in April of 1999, the Pakistani Prime Minister decided to test India’s will and eight-hundred Pakistani militants crossed the LOC. India had a will to fight so they immediately ordered their air force to bomb in retaliation. During the spring and summer of that year 250,000 shells, bombs and rockets rained down on the villages on the Pakistani side of the LOC. As is always true in any conflict… it was the civilians on both sides of the LOC that suffered the most.
Fatima Batool tells of the first time she heard the “whump” of an Indian artillery battery and the shell whistled gracefully as it fell out of the blue sky where she and her sister were sowing buckwheat in their family plot. As the whumps and whistles and explosions continued she described how she and her sister joined the “stampede of panicked villagers, running toward the caves where they could escape the sky.” The villagers soon learned that the only safe place was to be in a hole in the ground and the only safe time to be out of the caves was under the cloak of darkness. (Greg Mortenson and David Relin, Three Cups of Tea, Penguin Books, 2006, PP 211-224)
In our story today, Gideon is threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. Normally a farmer in Gideon’s day would thresh his wheat on a threshing floor, which was a circular stone floor, in the open and exposed to the wind. When the wheat was tossed into the air the chaff would blow away and the heavier wheat grains would then fall back to the floor. The Israelites were living in caves and sneaking about in secrecy so their enemies would not swoop in and take what little they had.
There are two truths we need to note:
A. God meets us where we are in regard to what we are or our spiritual state.
We do not have to be all cleaned up and shiny for God to rescue us from our sinfulness and shameful behavior. As in the case of the Israelites, sometimes we have to be beyond shame before we will seek the help we need. When we have sunk low enough and are sufficiently crushed by the consequences of our sin and circumstances… then we will seek help.
God is always reaching out to us. His helping hand is always extended. He is always waiting for us to reach out and grasp his hand of forgiveness and restoration. The bible says in Romans 5:8, “God demonstrates his love for us in this way: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Personally or individually and as a people or nation, God will meet us where we are. If we have wondered from the path, so to speak, the bible says, “If we confess our sins God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I John 1:9
God also meets us where we are in temperament.
B. God meets us where we are in regard to who we are or the way we are wired.
Gideon had low self-esteem. He regarded himself as being from the weakest clan and the least member of his family. Judges 6:15
Gideon was a worrier. He wasn’t all that sure that God was on their side to begin with and before he would act to obey God he needed a couple of signs just to be sure it was God who was urging him and not the lasagna he had eaten the night before. God demonstrated extraordinary restraint in his dealing with Gideon, a man who could not and would not move ahead without God really proving his Word was true. You know the story of the fleeces… “If your Word is true then I will place a fleece of wool on the ground and tomorrow morning I want to fleece to be dry and the ground around it to be covered with dew. Then I will know for sure.” Then the next day he says, “Lord, just to make sure, tomorrow I want the fleece to be wringing wet and the ground around it to be bone dry. Then I will know for sure.”
Contrary to what some scholars say, the fleece was not a positive thing. It was not intended to be a model for us in discerning the will of God. The fleece was reflective of a shaky faith… a faith uncertain that God could or would do what God said he would do.
Comedian Ken Davis likens putting out a fleece to a guy driving down a road who sees a bakery coming up on the right. So he prays, “Alright Lord, if there is a parking space open in front of the bakery when I drive by, then I will know it is your will for me to go inside and get a donut.” And sure enough, on his fifth time around the block, he saw an open parking space.
Gideon was way too nervous… he was the epitome of a low self-esteemed, worry wart. He was a shrunken man with a shrunken god. And it is apparent that Gideon was living in survivor mode.
But God persisted and Gideon went on to become the man God encouraged him to be. The angel of the Lord did not interrupt his threshing there in the winepress and say, “Hey wimpy guy, what are you doing hiding out in a winepress?” God’s words to Gideon were words of encouragement. He said, “The Lord is with you mighty warrior.”
Application: God comes to us as we are, in Gideon’s case, a rather unlikely to ever be a super hero type who had neither self-confidence nor courage. God sees potential. God sees what we can become as we let him do his transforming work in our minds, hearts, and lives.
Transformation of life and character is what God is into. In Romans 12:2 he instructs us, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is… his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
The next step necessary in changing Gideon and us from worriers into warriors is testing.
II. God prepares us with a test.
(25) Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it. (26) Then build a proper kind of altar to the Lord your God… use the wood of the pole and offer the bull as a burnt offering. (27) So Gideon did as the Lord told him. Judges 6:25-32
I don’t know who said it but I remember someone saying, “Not every game counts but every game matters.”
Denver Broncos preseason games with the S.F. 49ers, the Seattle Sea Hawks, the Chicago Bears and the Arizona Cardinals were a warm up for the regular season. The Broncos began practicing at their Dove Valley Training Camp in preparation for the preseason games in which everyone was given playing time. It is not so important to proven players who are assured of their position on the team, but to those who are working to earn a place on the roster, practices and scrimmages and preseason games are the places they showcase their skills and are tested, so to speak, to see if they were kept or cut on Saturday, September 5th. The pre-season activities may not have counted for many players but they all mattered.
The practices and the preseason games prepare players for the games that will count.
In our story today, God did not send Gideon out to play in the big game before he was ready. God gave him a pre-season game to test his will. God sent Gideon to tear down his father’s altar to Baal and build a new altar to God in its place; and then to cut down the Asherah pole beside it, chop it up into kindling for the offering of his father’s second bull.
Baal was a god worshipped by many ancient peoples in Mesopotamia. The worship of Baal was associated with prostitution and the practice of sexual immorality somehow tied to the notion that human fertility as practiced through sexual immorality made the earth fertile, producing an abundance of crops. The worship of Baal was directly linked to the local economy.
The test was to tear down his father’s worship space and build a new one for Almighty God and then to offer his father’s prized bull on that altar as a burnt offering to God.
The story reveals that Gideon did it but he wasn’t particularly straight forward about it. He took ten men with him and did it under the cloak of darkness because, “he was afraid of his family and the men of the town.” And rightfully so, we are all painfully aware of what happens when someone acts in such a way as to disrupt the economy.
When the community figured out that it was Gideon who had torn down the altar to Baal, they went to his father and demanded that he be brought out and put to death for his sacrilege. Interestingly enough, his father suggested that if Baal were really a god, then Baal could defend himself if someone breaks down his altar.
Application: Gideon’s test was essentially a test of Lordship. God wanted to see if he was Lord in Gideon’s life in Gideon’s own back yard. Could Gideon put God first in his life at home with his family and in the community in which he lived? God was to be the number one influence in Gideon’s life and Gideon needed to take Baal down and raise God up. Perhaps the question for us is a similar one, what do we need to take down in order that God may be raised up as the guiding influence and Lord of our lives?
So after we have met with God and been proven through testing, God transforms us from being worriers into warriors by empowering us by his Spirit.
III. God empowers us for battle.
(34) Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon, and he blew the trumpet, summoning the Abiezrittes to follow him. Judges 6:34
In the last verse of our text today, Gideon has passed his first preseason test of character and now it is time for him to go to battle for real. You can read the rest of the story of how God had Gideon pare down his army of thirty-two thousand soldiers to a mere three-hundred men and of how God used Gideon and those three-hundred men, armed with torches inside clay pots and trumpets, to miraculously rout of thousands of their oppressors. The three-hundred surrounded the Midianite camp of one-hundred and thirty-five thousand sleeping soldiers in the middle of the night and when signaled, simultaneously shattered the clay pots, hoisted their torches and blew their trumpets. The Midianite army was so startled by the sight and the sounds that they panicked and essentially annihilated each other.
When God first came to Gideon he was a shrunken man with a shrunken god. But in time the wimpy worrier became a warrior who was willing to do the unthinkable… go to war with three-hundred men armed with clay pots containing burning torches and each man a trumpet against one-hundred and thirty-five thousand well-armed combatants skilled in tribal warfare. I know it is a ridiculous scenario… it is not the way we do life much less war.
Application: Maybe we can reduce all the details down to a simple statement, “Ultimately, God is enough!” With God nothing is impossible and we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength.
In the story “Joe Versus the Volcano” Tom Hanks plays the role of a young man who is totally disillusioned with life anyway and then his doctor informs him that he has a rare disease and will die in six months. It is a weird tale in which “Joe” agrees that in exchange for all the money he can spend, he will agree to sacrifice himself by jumping into an island volcano, in order to appease the island people’s gods.
While on their way to the island their boat sank. So, “Joe” played by Tom Hanks and “Patricia” played by Meg Ryan find themselves floating on four large pieces of luggage they have tied together as a raft. Night falls and their situation is very bleak to say the least. And then out of that stark darkness a brilliant moon rises directly in front of them and “Joe” stands to his feet on that tiny raft.
It is a breathtaking visual to see “Joe” silhouetted in front of the moon. In the scene he raises both hands over his head and on his face is the look of complete awe. And then he sinks back to his knees and he prays with heart-felt reverence, “Dear God, whose name I do not know. Thank you for my life. I forgot how big [you are]…” (Joe Verses the Volcano, Warner Brothers and Amblin Entertainment, 1990, written and directed by John Patrick Shanley)
I have talked about the smallness of a man but this story is really about the largeness of Almighty God. And it is the gradual realization of that largeness that transformed Gideon from a worrier into a warrior.
In closing I ask that you consider three questions:
Do you need a meeting with God and a word of encouragement?
If God’s relationship with Gideon serves as an example to us… I think we may assume that God believes in us. We may not be great warriors, so to speak, but God sees your potential and wants you to become the person you are capable of being.
The second question is…
Are you in a time of testing where you need to surrender completely to God?
If God’s relationship with Gideon serves as an example to us… perhaps God is testing you to see who or what occupies first place in your life. What do you need to tear down in order that you may raise Christ up as Lord of your life in all things?
And the third question is….
Are you in a battle and need to be empowered by God?
If God’s relationship with Gideon serves as an example to us… you may feel like you are fatigued and exhausted as you may be facing or are already engaged in battle. You need to be empowered by God. Today you need to pause for a moment to acknowledge your weariness and to ask the Spirit of the Living God to be your strength.