Summary: Gideon moved from being a defeatist and doubter to being a doer.
TAKING A STAND
In the mountains of East Tennessee, there is a beautiful little church with a strange name. On the sign out front the name is artfully written: “Compromise Church.” There is a story behind the name. The church had been built early in the 20th century and the congregation could not agree on a name. One group of people wanted to call it one name and another group was determined to call it something else. The conflict in the church became so severe that it threatened to break up the church family. In the end they called it the “Compromise Church” in order to avoid the conflict. Unfortunately, “Compromise” is the name of many churches, not because they are trying to avoid conflict, but because they have accommodated to the culture. They want to be well thought of, and have compromised with the world.
In a sense that is what had happened in the life of Israel. The people of God had been delivered from the slavery of Egypt, but that had been a long time ago. The people who crossed the Red Sea and the Jordan River were all gone, and the memory of what God had done was fading. They did not drive the pagan nations out of the land of promise as the Lord told them to, and instead they had accommodated to the culture of the people around them. The Lord had warned them in the first part of the book of Judges: “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land that I swore to give to your forefathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.’ Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? Now therefore I tell you that I will not drive them out before you; they will be thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you” (Judges 2:1-3). And that is exactly what happened. Even though the people continued to worship the Lord, they also worshiped the gods of the other nations. Next to the temple of the true God they placed the images of Asherah and Baal. They had effectively become the “Compromise Church.” It was not that they had completely abandoned God, they still worshiped him, but they wanted to incorporate the other gods into their lives as well — and they were so spiritually blind that they did not see the contradiction. That’s what compromise was in their situation: the willingness to live with obvious contradiction. They worshiped Asherah and pretended that she was the consort of the God who led them out of Egypt. They compromised their faith by worshiping them both. The worship of Asherah and Baal included the worst kind of lewd and obscene practices, and also included human sacrifice. Now the worship of a holy God was practiced along side the most unholy acts imaginable — and no one seemed to notice. The theme running throughout the book of judges is stated several times: “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25, KJV).
It was into this kind of world that Gideon was born. His father was thoroughly compromised, worshiping both God and Asherah. And, as far as we know, Gideon was doing the same. But he did not stay compromised. This morning I want us to take a look at the various stages in Gideon’s life that brought him from being a worshiper of Asherah to being an exclusive worshiper of God. He went from a person who was a part of his culture to one who took a stand against his culture — from one who was a part of the problem to one who became a part of the solution.
The first stage in Gideon’s life was that: Gideon was a defeatist. It was depressing to live under the kind of conditions he faced. The situation looked impossible. His life was miserable because of the oppression of the Midianites who occupied Israel. The Midianites had a distinct military advantage. Other nations had chariots, but the Midianites had camels. They could move in quickly from the desert and devastate a region and go back just as quickly. For seven years they had been coming into Israel and taking or destroying all the crops and running back home. The land became desolate and the people were oppressed.
In the opening scene we find Gideon threshing what little grain he has been able to gather in a winepress. It was a pit carved out of rock where grapes were pressed for their juice. It was an extremely inconvenient place to thresh grain, but he was hiding from his enemies. Normally, grain was threshed on the top of a hill, or out in the open, where the wind could blow away the chaff. But Gideon is in hiding. His spirits are in the pits as well as his body. Things could not get much worse. People were subsisting, and some were not even able to survive. What the people failed to understand was that the problem was not the Midianites — the problem was the Israelites. The only reason they were oppressed was not because the Midianites were cruel, but because they had forsaken the Lord. The Midianites had grown strong because Israel had grown weak spiritually, and the Lord was using the Midianites to awaken them to just how far away from God they had gone. Their situation socially was a sign of where they were spiritually. They loved other gods and it led to oppression.