Cut It Down - Judges 6:25-35
Let’s remind ourselves a little of how we got to where we are in Judges 6.
Midian was oppressing Israel to such an extent that they were like the swarming locusts that come into a land and eat everything in sight leaving absolutely nothing behind.
In order to avoid being utterly destroyed, the people of Israel had carved out dens into the hillside in order to hide while Midian did their thing.
When the people cried out to the Lord, God sent a prophet to explain why this was happening: I have done all these things for you, I have rescued from Egypt, I have given you this land....and yet, you have not obeyed my voice!
Instead of additional pronouncement of judgment that we often see after prophet explanations of negative events, the narrator takes us to an expression of God’s grace on the people.
God visits Gideon.
Gideon, who is presented as a fearful man, is out threshing wheat....but he’s not out on the threshing floor. He’s doing it in secret to avoid being seen by the Midianites. He’s in the winepress in order to hide from the enemy.
There God speaks to him. Calls him a “Mighty Man of Valor” and declares that God is with him, and tells him that Gideon will strike Midian because God is with him.
Gideon is skeptical. He requests a sign, and God is gracious enough to give him that sign. Gideon realizes that he was in the presence of God and is understandably afraid for his life after an encounter with the almighty.
God reassures him. Peace be to you. Do not fear. You shall not die.
In response Gideon build an alter to the Lord in worship.
Last week we talked about how was all such a huge expression of God’s Grace. The people did not deserve God raising up another deliverer. The deliverer he did raise up
That brings us up to our text for today.
25 That night the Lord said to him, “Take your father’s bull, and the second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal that your father has, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it 26 and build an altar to the Lord your God on the top of the stronghold here, with stones laid in due order. Then take the second bull and offer it as a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah that you shall cut down.”
First we see that
God’s People Must Tear Down Idols
God’s People Must Tear Down Idols
God has called Gideon for a specific purpose: to rescue the people from the hand of Midian. But there is a problem.
The people have not obeyed the voice of the Lord. They are worshiping the false god Baal and his goddess mistress Asherah. We’ve talked before about the abject depravity that is represented by these false gods. They are the fertility gods. Worship involved sexual immorality with the temple prostitutes in an attempt to provoke Baal to the do the same with Asherah. These gods represent everything that is wrong with the Canaanite world around them. They represent everything wrong the the hearts of the Israel.
As we move through this book, one of the sub themes of the book is the Canaanization of the people. As the Israelites have lived in the land they were to live as God has directed. But what was the word of the Prophet who spoke of their sin?
10 And I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.’ But you have not obeyed my voice.”
The people are drifting further and further into their Canaanization and further away from their LORD.
In God’s covenant he made with Israel, he was very clear: if you follow after these false idols, you will be judged. But if you will return to me, I will restore you.
Thus we find the necessity to tear down the idol. Israel cannot worship both God and Baal. One has to go.
When Joshua first brought the people into the land he challenged them on this exact point. Turn with me for a moment to Joshua chapter 24.
14 “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Joshua throws down the gauntlet with with people. Choose this day whom you will serve.
Notice how they respond
16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods, 17 for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. 18 And the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”
Joshua knows that they will be tempted by the people of the land, so he challenges them. He wants them to be firm in their commitment.
19 But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. 20 If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.”
So the people double down on their resolve:
21 And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the Lord.” 22 Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” 23 He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel.” 24 And the people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey.”
The people made this commitment. Implicit within this is not only that they will observe that which the Lord commanded, but that they will also pass it down to their children. Immediately following this Joshua set up a monument that was to serve as a reminder of what they had committed to do. These monuments were to be reminders that their children would be instructed as to their significance.
Chose this day whom you will serve. You cannot serve both.
And so, as God raises up Gideon, he commands him: tear down that idol. I am your God. You shall have no others. This people cannot continually offer their worship to these false gods and expect that I will come to their rescue. One has got to go.
So Gideon is to take this specific bull. It is the second Bull, one that is seven years old, use it to tear down the false alter, and then build an alter to God and offer that same bull on the alter to the Lord.
Some of these details might not strike us at first, but these actions all carry significant symbolic weight. While scholars debate the significance of this being the second bull, they all agree that there was religious significance. This wasn’t just an ordinary bull. This was a special bull. This was a specific bull.
It was any wood used to light the fire, but the wood from the very alter false gods that he had torn down.
This was not only a statement about needing to turn to the Lord, but it was a highly symbolic act as well.
Think about people who want to make a mockery of Christianity, so they tear down crosses, trample upon them and burn them. There is no doubt in our minds what they think of the cross, right?
That’s what’s going on here. Gideon is not just to replace the alter. He is to do so in a highly symbolic way that makes a massive statement about who is the one true God. This is to be a statement that communicates that there can only be ONE GOD is Israel!
This is the principle behind Jesus words in Matt 6
Matthew 6:24 (ESV)
24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other...
We would do well to consider this in our own lives. So often we are tempted to be more conformed to our own culture than conformed to the image of God. Often we make idols of all the things around us, be that money, which was Jesus’ point in Matt 6, or be that family, career, notoriety, being well-liked by others etc.
Most often we are tempted to make ourselves the idol. We worship ourselves and seek to serve our own interests with money, career, family, etc. We are called to die to self, to set aside the things that our flesh strives for in our own self-interest. We must put off the old man and put on the new.
Tear it Down. It has to go.
There may be principles here as well for how we engage the world around us. As we proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, we must be confronting that which is keeping others from following after Jesus Christ. Please hear me. I’m not calling us to be jerks by yelling about everything that sinners do. Sinners gonna sin. Heathens gonna heath.
But I do think this means that we cannot shy away from calling sin sin. We must be willing to speak the truth in love, which means that we will confront the sin that we see and seek to call sinners to repentance.
Often this will mean that we will be attacking the idols of the culture, the things that they hold dear that serves their own flesh.
Gideon is called to tear down the idol from his own culture.
And so, Gideon obeys....even if he has still not overcome all his fears.
27 So Gideon took ten men of his servants and did as the Lord had told him. But because he was too afraid of his family and the men of the town to do it by day, he did it by night.
The narrator of Judges doesn’t always give editorial comments to explain the actions and motives of the characters in the story. For the most part, he simply tells the story.
Here he gives us details of Gideon’s motives. He is still afraid. God has told him: I am going to a mighty thing through you! Gideon asks for a sign, and God gives it to him. And now he is still afraid!
It’s rather remarkable that Gideon ends up in the hall of faith in Hebrews 11, because he is painted as a man of very little faith. He’s a coward threshing grain in the winepress, he doubt the Word of the Lord and needs a sign, and now when God gives instructions, he obeys, but does it in a cowardly way.
I’m grateful for these details, because I am often a coward myself. Fear of man keeps me from speaking when I ought to speak. Fear of the unknown prevents me from taking actions I ought to take. And yet, God still used Gideon. So maybe there is hope for people like me.
Well, Gideon does what he was told to do, and it turns out, his fears were actually well founded. He was afraid of the people and what they might do if they caught him in the act, and he had good reason to be. Notice how the people responded.
God’s People Must Expect Opposition
God’s People Must Expect Opposition
28 When the men of the town rose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was broken down, and the Asherah beside it was cut down, and the second bull was offered on the altar that had been built. 29 And they said to one another, “Who has done this thing?” And after they had searched and inquired, they said, “Gideon the son of Joash has done this thing.” 30 Then the men of the town said to Joash, “Bring out your son, that he may die, for he has broken down the altar of Baal and cut down the Asherah beside it.”
Here we see that God’s people, when they are attack that which is held dear by the culture or even their own flesh, they must expect opposition.
When Gideon tore down that idol, it enraged the people. Who has done this thing?? How dare they??
Even thought Gideon had acted in secret, somehow the story got out, and he was charged. The people approach his father and demand accountability.
Now, what does the Law of Moses say about those who engage in idolatry? they are the ones who ought to be put to death, according to the law! The people have not only set up an alter to a false god, but they have put that god in place of the one true God, and have assigned the same penalty to blaspheming that false god that Yahweh demanded for idolatry.
They have turned the entire Law of Moses on its head.
This is what sin does. It temps us. It tells us that evil isn’t so bad. This was the devil’s ploy in the garden: Adam was to lead His wife and together they were to have dominion over the animals, but Satan turned it on its head and the animal commanded the woman who gave to the man. Scripture warns us:
20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!
This is what has happened to the people. They have taken the law of God, turned it on it’s head and now they demand blood.
One of the subthemes throughout the bible is the opposition to God’s people. Whenever reform takes place, there are those who resist, who love their sin and desire to hang on to their pathway of death.
This is true when the sins of our culture is confronted. This is true when sin is confronted in our own hearts. Even when we desire to kill sin and tear down the idols, the flesh wants to hang on, and old habits can die hard.
Nevertheless, the idols must go, and we must recon with the fallout. Our natural tendency will be toward fear, just as Gideon’s was. But will we do what is right?
How did Gideon’s Father respond?
31 But Joash said to all who stood against him, “Will you contend for Baal? Or will you save him? Whoever contends for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been broken down.” 32 Therefore on that day Gideon was called Jerubbaal, that is to say, “Let Baal contend against him,” because he broke down his altar.
Gideon’s father defends his son as if to say “hey. He clearly acted in a way that was to make a statement about who the one true God is. If Baal is worth his weight, then let him defend himself. If he is all that and a bag of chips, let him prove it. Let Baal defend his own honor.
This line of reasoning wins the day and the people appear to be satisfied for now.
This is similar reasoning that was used in the New Testament when the Apostles were proclaiming the Gospel of Christ and the Pharisees wanted to destroy the disciples
34 But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. 35 And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. 36 For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice,
Ultimately, in the end, truth will win out. It might not be in the immediate moment. In might not be in your lifetime. But we know that God will be vindicated and every false idol and thought and word will be brought to ruin. There will be a day when every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord!
Until then, God’s People are called to speak truth and let the chips fall where they may. We are called to be obedient and let God handle the rest.
Well, the story of Gideon is moving in certain direction. Gideon has demolished the alter and set up Yahweh’s in its place. He is being prepared for another task: the deliverance of the people. It was after these events that Midian returned looking for their usual spoil at the expense of the Israelites.
And now, we finally get a glimpse of this man of valor that the Lord spoke of, but not because of Gideon. It’s because of the Lord.
God’s People Are Divinely Equipped for Their Mission
God’s People Are Divinely Equipped for Their Mission
33 Now all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East came together, and they crossed the Jordan and encamped in the Valley of Jezreel. 34 But the Spirit of the Lord clothed Gideon, and he sounded the trumpet, and the Abiezrites were called out to follow him. 35 And he sent messengers throughout all Manasseh, and they too were called out to follow him. And he sent messengers to Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, and they went up to meet them.
Gideon is clothed by the Spirit. He was divinely enabled for the task of deliverance. In what seems like an uncharacteristic stroke of courage and bravery, he sounds the trumpet and calls out the tribes to himself to assemble an army to fight Midian.
Not so he could do it in his own strength. But clothed in the Spirit.
God equips his people for the task to which he calls them. God had given Gideon a task and given him instructions. He then gave him His Spirit in order to accomplish the task.
This is encouraging because our tasks are often difficult. But God is faithful to His children, and will equip you. Often we look for our equipping in all the wrong places. We look to ourselves. We look to the world.
God wants us wholly dependent on Him and Him alone, and the next sections of the story of Gideon will underscore that point. God is the one who saves. God is the one who equips you for righteousness. It’s all of GRACE! And since it’s all of grace, he who called you is faithful. He will do it.
We must remember this as we confront idols in our lives and in the culture around us. We must remember this as we anticipate the opposition of the flesh. We must remember that God is the one who works in us both to will and to do for His Good pleasure.
Gideon was a man who was born, lived, and died before the cross of Christ. We stand here today on this side of cross knowing that all these things are possible because of what Christ accomplished. Idols are only destroyed by the power of the cross. Opposition is only overcome by God’s grace provided through the cross. The Spirit’s enablement is only possible because of the new life we have through the cross. Courage in the face of certain death is only possible because of the cross!
May we have the courage to do what is right, because of the cross.