Behind the story of Gideon: a heart above God's

Behind the Story: God at work in a broken world  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  30:01
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In Judges 6-9 we read the account of Gideon. One of the most famous scenes from this account is Gideon's fleece as he sought reassurance from God. But is this really something we should be emulating, or is their something rotten underneath the cute story? Join us as we explore the ancient Israelite judge, Gideon.

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In 1998 the famous German car company Daimler-Benz, now called Mercedes-Benz, merged with the famous American car company, Chrysler Corporation. This always seemed like a strange match, due to the complete misalignment of the two companies’ cultures.
Daimler-Benz was a conservative, methodical, hierarchically structured company. Chrysler was a creative, loose (like their cars), flat structured company.
Within ten years, the companies had gone their separate ways.
You see, without cultural alignment, without the deep sharing of fundamental values and goals, we cannot work side-by-side with others. Even if billions of dollars are at stake.
This is true of friendship, marriage, business, churches and, of course, nation-building.
In the longest account in the book of Judges, the story of Gideon and his children, we discover how disastrously this sort of misalignment plays out for the entire nation.

Gideon’s story

Because this story is so long, we won’t be reading the whole account from the Bible. We’ll only look at the important beats.
Gideon was a member of the tribe of Manasseh, who lived at a time when the Midianites had descended on Israel like a plague of locusts. The Midianites were nomads, so they didn’t conquer Israel in the traditional sense. Judges says,
Judges 6:5 CEV
4 They rode in on their camels, set up their tents, and then let their livestock eat the crops as far as the town of Gaza. The Midianites stole food, sheep, cattle, and donkeys. Like a swarm of locusts, they could not be counted, and they ruined the land wherever they went.
The angel of God approached Gideon, who was trying to thresh wheat while hidden in a winepress. Not the most comfortable of activities, but Gideon’s doubting response to the angel’s greeting showed why he was hiding.
Judges 6:13 CEV
13 Gideon answered, “Please don’t take this wrong, but if the Lord is helping us, then why have all of these awful things happened? We’ve heard how the Lord performed miracles and rescued our ancestors from Egypt. But those things happened long ago. Now the Lord has abandoned us to the Midianites.”
The angel encouraged Gideon with a miraculous immolation of an offering, and Gideon gathered up enough courage to carry out God’s first request to tear down his family’s altar to Baal.
With that accomplished, the Holy Spirit “clothed” Gideon, and he called together the armies of northern Israel.
But then, at the last moment, it seems, Gideon had doubts. Let’s go to the Bible’s account.
Judges 6:36–40 CEV
36 Gideon prayed to God, “I know that you promised to help me rescue Israel, but I need proof. Tonight I’ll put some wool on the stone floor of that threshing-place over there. If you really will help me rescue Israel, then tomorrow morning let there be dew on the wool, but let the stone floor be dry.” 38 And that’s just what happened. Early the next morning, Gideon got up and checked the wool. He squeezed out enough water to fill a bowl. 39 But Gideon prayed to God again. “Don’t be angry at me,” Gideon said. “Let me try this just one more time, so I’ll really be sure you’ll help me. Only this time, let the wool be dry and the stone floor be wet with dew.” 40 That night, God made the stone floor wet with dew, but he kept the wool dry.
God was patient with Gideon, and encouraged by God’s evident power, Gideon allowed God to use him. God whittled down Gideon’s men, and implemented a plan of attack that prevented Israel claiming any part in the victory—they didn’t even have swords!
Judges 7:2 CEV
2 The Lord said, “Gideon, your army is too big. I can’t let you win with this many soldiers. The Israelites would think that they had won the battle all by themselves and that I didn’t have anything to do with it.
On the eve of battle, Gideon needed yet further persuasion, and God placed a dream and its interpretation in the mouths of Midianite warriors in camp, giving Gideon assurance that he would prevail. And so, at last, battle was entered.
Judges 7:19–22 CEV
19 Gideon and his group reached the edge of the enemy camp a few hours after dark, just after the new guards had come on duty. Gideon and his soldiers blew their trumpets and smashed the clay jars that were hiding the torches. 20 The rest of Gideon’s soldiers blew the trumpets they were holding in their right hands. Then they smashed the jars and held the burning torches in their left hands. Everyone shouted, “Fight with your swords for the Lord and for Gideon!” 21 The enemy soldiers started yelling and tried to run away. Gideon’s troops stayed in their positions surrounding the camp 22 and blew their trumpets again. As they did, the Lord made the enemy soldiers pull out their swords and start fighting each other. The enemy army tried to escape from the camp. They ran to Acacia Tree Town, toward Zeredah, and as far as the edge of the land that belonged to the town of Abel-Meholah near Tabbath.
This extraordinary rout of the enemy seems to have finally persuaded Gideon that God was on the side of the Israelites, and so Gideon took matters into his own hands.
He called the people to pursue the Midianites. And then, when some Israelites obstructed him in his pursuit, he returned, full of his triumph, and murdered them.
From there it was all downhill. Gideon made an idol and spent the rest of his life leading Israel away from God.
Judges 8:27 CEV
27 Gideon returned to his home in Ophrah and had the gold made into a statue, which the Israelites soon started worshiping. They became unfaithful to God, and even Gideon and his family were trapped into worshiping the statue. The Midianites had been defeated so badly that they were no longer strong enough to attack Israel. And so Israel was at peace for the remaining forty years of Gideon’s life.

Gideon’s problem

Why did Gideon go so wrong?
Well, let’s think about Gideon’s attitude toward God. When did Gideon seek God?
The only time in this whole tragedy that anyone sought God or asked God anything was when Gideon had doubts before going into battle. But, rather than asking clarifying questions, or seeking reassurance, Gideon arrogantly demanded that God prove his command over nature by keeping a fleece wet or dry.
Let me be perfectly clear: Gideon’s fleece is not a good model for Christians to follow. Gideon didn’t lay out his fleece for clarification or direction. He wasn’t really interested in what God wanted. His only question for God was, “How can I trust you?”
Is that a model we want to be following?
You see, Gideon never aligned his desires or goals with God’s. Gideon’s heart and mind were steadfastly his own, and he obeyed God when it suited his own purposes and ignored him otherwise.

Skeptics’ problem

I don’t know if you’ve talked to many athiests or self-proclaimed skeptics, but their primary demand of God is: prove you exist!
What a bewildering demand! Atheists, like all of us, are surrounded by proof. In fact, their own existence is proof of God’s existence. Yet they shake their fist at God and demand that he prove his reality. Their perspective is too narrow to comprehend reality.
They refuse to recognise the miraculous fine balancing of the universe, the extraordinary design of the DNA of every living creature, the stunning complexity and robustness of the earth’s ecosystems. Blinded to this by fantasies about blind chance and deep time, they can’t see God. What would happen if they were honest about these things. If they grappled with things like the existence of objective morality, or the reality of logic and its independence from matter? Doubt would be much harder to sustain.
And yet, how treacherous is our own hold on this larger reality of God and his creation! How often do we get distracted by the latest Netflix show, the rising price of food, our latest work project, our child’s emotional struggles, our relationship stuff-ups, or any of the thousands of distractions the world throws our way each day?

Asaph’s struggle

This struggle to trust God--to align our hearts and minds with his--is common to all humanity. Not just Gideon. Not just contemporary atheists.
We see it reflected in one of the beautiful Psalms of Asaph, Psalm 73. Here Asaph describes how he almost lost faith because he was distracted by the apparently wonderful lives of the wicked.
Psalm 73:1–7 NLT
1 Truly God is good to Israel, to those whose hearts are pure. 2 But as for me, I almost lost my footing. My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone. 3 For I envied the proud when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness. 4 They seem to live such painless lives; their bodies are so healthy and strong. 5 They don’t have troubles like other people; they’re not plagued with problems like everyone else. 6 They wear pride like a jeweled necklace and clothe themselves with cruelty. 7 These fat cats have everything their hearts could ever wish for!
Have you ever felt like this? Have you struggled with the burden of your faith as you look with envy at those around you whose lives seem so effortless and joyful? What is the point of bearing your cross each day when those who ignore Christ can be carefree and enjoy life?
Asaph finds himself questioning the whole point of his obedience to God. But let’s see how he handles this...
Psalm 73:13–28 NLT
13 Did I keep my heart pure for nothing? Did I keep myself innocent for no reason? 14 I get nothing but trouble all day long; every morning brings me pain. 15 If I had really spoken this way to others, I would have been a traitor to your people. 16 So I tried to understand why the wicked prosper. But what a difficult task it is! 17 Then I went into your sanctuary, O God, and I finally understood the destiny of the wicked. 18 Truly, you put them on a slippery path and send them sliding over the cliff to destruction. 19 In an instant they are destroyed, completely swept away by terrors. 20 When you arise, O Lord, you will laugh at their silly ideas as a person laughs at dreams in the morning. 21 Then I realized that my heart was bitter, and I was all torn up inside. 22 I was so foolish and ignorant— I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you. 23 Yet I still belong to you; you hold my right hand. 24 You guide me with your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny. 25 Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth. 26 My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever. 27 Those who desert him will perish, for you destroy those who abandon you. 28 But as for me, how good it is to be near God! I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter, and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do.
Asaph managed to grasp the big picture, and he clung to that. And that saved him and brought him back into relationship with God.
But what was the turning point? What was it that helped him come back to God and God’s big-picture view of reality?
We find the turning point in verse 17:
Psalm 73:17 NLT
17 Then I went into your sanctuary, O God, and I finally understood the destiny of the wicked.
He went into God’s sanctuary. He sought out God in God’s house. He went to spend time in God’s presence.

The rough road of the world

We, too, need to spend time in God’s sanctuary. Whether that be time in prayer, in reading his word, here in church, in immersing yourself in his nature, or in communing with your brothers and sisters in Christ.
Let me explain with an analogy.
When you put your car in for a service, you may have noticed that every so often it comes back having had a “wheel alignment.” Anyone noticed that?
Why does your car need a wheel alignment? Don’t car makers know how to manufacture vehicles with their wheels already aligned?
The reality is, in order for you to survive driving at insane speeds (like more than 40kph), your car has this technology called a “suspension” which irons out the bumps in the road. But over time the bumps and curves and occasional collisions with the kerb which we subject our cars to, bend the suspension components and the wheels need to be realigned, so that they perform and wear correctly. If you failed to realign your wheels your car could eventually become dangerous and even undrivable. Notice that this diagram shows that there is a “correct” alignment. This is defined by the manufacturer—you don’t get to define your own correct alignment.
And the Christian life is the same. We need regular alignment by and to God in order to keep us connecting correctly with reality, especially that largest part of reality that is God himself. The knocks and bumps of this broken world will throw us out of alignment with God, and so if we don’t come back to him and submit to his gentle, but sometimes painful realignment, we’ll end up like Gideon.
How did Gideon end up? If you read on in Judges, you’ll find that Gideon had seventy sons with Israelite wives, and then one son, Abimelech, with a Canaanite woman from Shechem. In a story of Shakespearean tragedy, Abimelech slaughters his seventy brothers in order to become king of Shechem (and hopefully all Israel), but is then betrayed by the leaders of Shechem. It all ends terribly, with Abimelech burning the leaders alive in a tower they took refuge in, and Abimelech himself dying after his skill was crushed by a millstone dropped from the tower by a woman. Oh, and to add the final, tragic touch, it was his armor-bearer who killed him, at his request, so that he would not be killed by a woman.
That’s what happens when your alignment gets really bad!
So, let’s keep booking in for service, eh?
Let’s pray,
Lord, we know that you a pure, and that you’ve given us new hearts through our Lord Jesus. Please refresh our hearts and continue to purify us and align us with your loving purposes. We yearn for the peace and joy that your love brings, and yet we are often torn by the temptations of the world. Protect us from temptation, lead us away from evil, guide us in your ways and bring us home to you.
In Jesus name we pray,
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