MELVIN M. NEWLAND, MINISTER
RIDGE CHAPEL, KANSAS, OK
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TEXT: Judges 6:1-40 (NLT); Judges 7:1-25 (NLT); Matthew 6:31 (NLT);
ILL. Chuck Swindoll, in his book, "Living Above the Level of Mediocrity," tells about a church in the Soviet Union during the days of the Iron Curtain that was forced to meet secretly because house church services were illegal.
They tried to be as inconspicuous as possible as they gathered on Sunday to worship the Lord, so they came at different times & casually entered the house until all had arrived. Then they would lock the doors, pull the curtains, & quietly worship the Lord.
But one Lord's Day, right in the midst of their worship, two soldiers broke into the house, & at gunpoint commanded the Christians to raise their hands & line up against the wall. Then they told them that they had a choice, either to renounce Christ & leave, or to stay & suffer the consequences.
Several hurriedly left. They waited a few moments, which seemed like an eternity to those still lined up against the wall, & then the soldiers said, "This is your last chance. You may either renounce your faith in Jesus Christ & leave, or stay & suffer the consequences."
Another left, & then another, almost hiding their faces in shame as they left. But the rest remained, children standing beside their parents, trembling in fear, some even crying.
After all had left who chose to leave, the soldiers closed the doors, turned to those remaining & said, "Now keep your hands up, but this time in praise to our Lord."
The soldiers explained that some time earlier they had been sent to another house church to arrest the Christians there. But in the process, they had heard the gospel & had accepted Jesus as their Lord & Savior, too.
But as they explained to these Christians who had stayed behind, "We have learned that you can't trust anybody who is afraid to be true to his faith."
PROP. The story of Gideon, found in Judges 6 & 7, is a great example of just an ordinary man who faced fear & overcame it with God's help. He learned to trust God, & became a man of impressive courage.
I. A TASK FROM GOD
A. The story begins with an angel appearing to Gideon to give him the fearful task of leading Israel into battle against the Midianites. The Midianites were ruthless raiders who came in swarms to terrorize the Israelites, invading their land, stealing their crops & cattle, & burning their homes.
Judges 6:5 says, "These enemy hordes ... stayed until the land was stripped bare." And Gideon was afraid, for vs. 11 tells us he "was threshing wheat at the bottom of a winepress to hide the grain from the Midianites."
Wheat was usually threshed above ground where the wind could blow away the chaff. But Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress, a large cistern or hole in the ground, to keep the Midianites from seeing him & stealing his grain.
While Gideon was down there Judges 6:12-15 says, "The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, 'Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!' 'Sir,' Gideon replied, 'if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?'
'And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about? Didn’t they say, ‘The Lord brought us up out of Egypt’? 'But now the Lord has abandoned us and handed us over to the Midianites.'
The angel replied, 'Go with the strength you have, and rescue Israel from the Midianites. I am sending you!' 'But Lord,' Gideon replied, 'how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!'”
APPL. Sometimes we, like Gideon, think our feelings of inadequacy exempt us from involvement. In fact, we like to think that our lack of confidence impresses God because we're so humble.
But humility is not low self-image. Humility is discovering the gift God has given you & using it for His glory - not for your own.
Then the angel answered Gideon, "I will be with you. And you will destroy the Midianites ..."
SUM. It's been said, "God plus one equals a majority." That's true even if the one on God's side is weak & uncertain. God was going to use one man - Gideon - to save His people.
II. A TEST FOR GOD
A. But Gideon wasn't convinced, so in vs. 17 he asks, "If you are truly going to help me, show me a sign to prove that it is really the Lord speaking to me." And God did.
When Gideon placed his offering of meat & bread on the rock before the angel, the angel took the tip of his staff & touched the sacrifice & fire flared from the rock & consumed it all. Then the angel disappeared & Gideon exclaimed, "I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!" (Judges 6:22).
B. Then God told Gideon to prepare another offering, "Pull down your father’s altar to Baal, and cut down the Asherah pole standing beside it. Then build an altar to the LORD your God here on this hilltop sanctuary...
"Sacrifice the bull as a burnt offering on the altar, using as fuel the wood of the Asherah pole you cut down.” (Judges 6:25-26).
When an Asherah pole stood next to an altar of Baal it indicated that this was a place of pagan prostitution. So God was instructing Gideon to destroy the symbols of idolatry & immorality & to burn the Asherah wood as a message that a time for repentance had come.
Vs. 27 says, "So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the LORD had commanded. But he did it at night because he was afraid of the other members of his father’s household and the people of the town.
The next morning, when the townspeople found out what had been done, they were upset & demanded of his father, "Where is Gideon? We've come to kill him."
C. Joash, Gideon's father, was courageous. Although it had been his own altar & Asherah pole that Gideon had destroyed, Joash seems to have been the first to repent & turn back to the Lord.
Judges 6:31 tells us, "Joash shouted to the mob that confronted him, “Why are you defending Baal? ... If Baal truly is a god, let him defend himself and destroy the one who broke down his altar!”
You see, courage can be contagious. One person standing up against evil can inspire others to do the same. And they needed to be inspired because vs. 33 says, "Soon afterward the armies of Midian, Amalek, and the people of the east formed an alliance against Israel and crossed the Jordan, camping in the valley of Jezreel."
Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon, & he sent messengers all over northern Israel calling them to arms. To his amazement, 32,000 men responded. They were ready to fight! All they needed was a leader to lead them.
APPL. It's a sobering day in the life of a young leader when he or she realizes, "People are following me. People are listening to what I say. They are doing what I ask them to do. I'm making a difference!"
D. But Gideon was still afraid, & he asked God for another sign. Vs's 36-37 says, "Then Gideon said to God, “If you are truly going to use me to rescue Israel as you promised, prove it to me in this way. I will put a wool fleece on the threshing floor tonight.
"If the fleece is wet with dew in the morning but the ground is dry, then I will know that you are going to help me rescue Israel as you promised."
The next morning, God had dramatically answered his request. Gideon wrung out a bowl full of water from the fleece! But then he had second thoughts.
Vs. 39 says, "Then Gideon said to God, 'Please don’t be angry with me, but let me make one more request. Let me use the fleece for one more test. This time let the fleece remain dry while the ground around it is wet with dew.”
In other words, "Reverse the process, just to prove it really was a miracle."
Vs. 40 says, "So that night God did as Gideon asked. The fleece was dry in the morning, but the ground was covered with dew." There was no mistake. God truly was with Gideon!
III. A TRUST IN GOD
A. So now it was time for Gideon to demonstrate his trust in God.
Judges 7:1-2 says that Gideon & his army got up early & went as far as the spring of Harod. There the Lord said to Gideon, "You have too many warriors with you. If I let all of you fight the Midianites, the Israelites will boast to me that they saved themselves by their own strength.'
Now let me condense the rest of the story for you. God told Gideon, "You don't need a powerful military; you need a confident spirit. So let's begin to trim down your troops. Tell them that anyone trembling with fear may go home."
So Gideon did, & 22,000 went home, & Gideon's heart must have sunk! Big numbers almost always represent strength to us. A loss of more than 2/3rds of your army would be devastating. But God said to Gideon, "There are still too many. Take them down to the water & I will sift them out there."
"When they get to the water, watch how they drink, & send back those who kneel down at the water to drink. The ones who lift the water to their mouths & lap it from their hands you keep." Only 300 men lapped the water from their hands.
"The Lord told Gideon, 'With these 300 men I will rescue you and give you victory over the Midianites. Send all the others home." (Judges 7:7).
Only 300 were left out of the original 32,000. But Gideon did as God said. He sent the others home, but he kept all their ram's horn trumpets.
B. Now let's notice 2 things Gideon did that helped conquer his fear.
1. First, he trusted God completely. He'd seen enough to be convinced God was with Him. That's what God asks of us, too. Jesus tells us, "Don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ (Matthew 6:31 (NLT)
How many years must God provide for us before we're convinced that He will supply our needs?
2. Secondly, Gideon was obedient. When God instructed him to go, he went - even though he was afraid. Courage is not the absence of fear; courage is being afraid but proceeding anyway!
C. Judges 7:9-10 tells us, "That night the LORD said, 'Get up! Go down into the Midianite camp, for I have given you victory over them!
"But if you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah. Listen to what the Midianites are saying, and you will be greatly encouraged. Then you will be eager to attack."
Gideon didn't say, "Oh, no, that won't be necessary, Lord." Instead, that night, he & his servant sneaked down to the edge of the enemy camp, where they overheard two enemy soldiers discussing a weird dream.
One soldier said, "I had this dream, and in my dream a loaf of barley bread came tumbling down into the Midianite camp. It hit a tent, turned it over, and knocked it flat!"
"His companion answered, 'Your dream can mean only one thing - God has given Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite, victory over Midian and all its allies!' (7:13-14)
D. Judges 7:15 says, "When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he bowed in worship before the Lord."
Now it was time for boldness. When he returned to the camp, he awakened the troops. “Get up! For the LORD has given you victory over the Midianite hordes!” (Judges 7:16)
He gave every man a torch, with instructions to put the torch inside a clay jar. Every man was also given a ram's horn trumpet. Then Gideon told them, "Keep your eyes on me. When I come to the edge of the camp, do just as I do." (7:17)
IV. THREE QUALITIES OF AN EFFECTIVE LEADER
Now notice, 3 essentials of an effective leader stand out in Gideon. First is a reassuring confidence - "We're going to do it!"
Second, there is a clear communication - "This is what you are to do."
Finally, there is a positive example - "Do as I do." Gideon had now become a mighty warrior!
The Israelites silently surrounded the Midianite camp. At a given signal, all 300 men smashed their clay jars, waved their flaming torches, & shouted "A sword for the Lord & for Gideon!" (vs. 20), instantly awakening the sleeping enemy. Then they blew their trumpets, making the loudest racket they could make.
When the suddenly startled Midianites saw the torches & heard the awful racket, they panicked. They thought they were surrounded by a powerful army.
Vs. 22 says, "When the 300 Israelites blew their rams’ horns, the Lord caused the warriors in the camp to fight against each other with their swords."
Those who survived fled for their lives. Gideon & his mighty 300 were victorious, & God was once again honored in Israel.
ILL. Years ago, when many other young men were enlisting or being drafted, Roy Coop was a student in a Bible College preparing to be a preacher.
Some of his former high school classmates were critical of him for not enlisting. They accused him of "ducking his duty" & "taking the coward's way out."
One day, Roy approached a group of his former classmates, & one said, "Here comes chicken Roy! He went off to Bible College because he's afraid to fight for his country!"
Roy Coop straightened his 6'2" frame that supported a muscular 200-pound body & replied, "I joined an army that the rest of you don't have the guts to join!"
It takes courage to enlist in the Lord's army. It takes courage to live counter to the popular trends of this world today. But many are doing it!
What enemies are you facing? What has made you feel defeated & discouraged? Perhaps today is the time to take a stand. God is coming to you in this moment & saying, “The Lord is with you, Mighty Hero!”
“Who me?” you might answer. “If you are with me then why am I going through all this?”
But God is calling you to victory. He is calling you to leave your doubt & walk in faith. He is calling you to be a doer, not a complainer.
We keep wanting God to do something without our help. We keep wanting somebody else to do it. But God wants to use you & me. He always works through people.
God called Gideon a mighty warrior, but that was not who he was at first. It was who he would become - with God’s help. God looked at his potential rather than his weaknesses.
That is what God is doing now if you will walk in faith & do what He is calling you to do. The Lord challenges us, “Go with the strength you have...for I am sending you!”