The Book of Judges (9)

(Chapter 6 cont.)

GIDEON (cont.)

`And he (Gideon) said unto Him, Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? ... I am the least in my father's house' (verse 15).

Moses said exactly the same thing as Gideon. If ever there was a man born to lead, a man more fitted to command by reason of his natural abilities and strong personality and his upbringing and training, that man was Moses. Yet when in direct communion with the Lord, he realized his utter unworthiness and insignificance, as compared with the majestic power and might of the Covenant God of Israel.

Isaiah, Jeremiah, all the true servants of God, speak of their incompetence to act as God's right hand in delivering Israel from their enemies. Gideon was in good company then when he declared himself of no consequence to Israel. His objection, however, was soon answered by a repetition of the promise that God would be with him:

`And the Lord said unto him, Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man' (verse 16).

That unconditional promise, `Surely I will be with thee', these were words spoken to all the great servants of God whom He inspired to act on His behalf. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and Joshua, to each of them this glorious assurance was given. Never did He let them down.

These words remind us too of that great and wonderful promise to His people Israel, given to Ahaz in Isaiah chapter 7 -- `Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His Name Immanuel' -- God with us! Here was the amazing prophecy given concerning the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. While He lived among them in this land of Canaan, God was with this nation in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth. Scripture also reveals that they would not accept Him, but would crucify Him; that He would lay down His life as the One great Sin-bearer; that He would rise from the dead; that He would return to the glory, but would return again to the earth when the nation lifted up their hearts to Him and accepted Him as their Redeemer and Messiah. The few recognized Him, as Thomas did after His resurrection. Thomas's words were, `My Lord, and my God'.

What a difference that knowledge made in their lives! What a difference it should make in our lives when by faith we accept the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ! That One Who has redeemed us was none other than the Almighty God. `Surely I will be with thee'. Yes, we can say that those words are applicable to us Gentiles who are living today, we who are aliens, foreigners to the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise. As Paul puts it, `The Lord is at hand'. We can walk right through our journey in life with that joy in our hearts that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. The love of God has been shed abroad in our hearts.

`Gideon, you will have nothing to fear, for wisdom and strength will be supplied and enough soldiers to follow you, until My promise has been fulfilled', the Lord was saying, but this was the message that He heard! `If now I have found grace in Thy sight, then shew me a sign that Thou talkest with me' (`that Thou art Jehovah Who talketh with me') (verse 17). Give me some clear proof that it is no vision I am seeing.

`Depart not hence, I pray Thee, until I come unto Thee, and bring forth my present, and set it before Thee. And He said, I will tarry until thou come again' (verse 18).

`My present' -- my offering. The Hebrew word minchah , is the same word that is used for the offering brought by Cain and Abel, and many times in the Old Testament in connection with the worship of Jehovah. The Greek word used is sacrifice.

`And Gideon went in, and made ready a kid, and unleavened cakes of an ephah of flour: the flesh he put in a basket, and he put the broth in a pot, and brought it out unto Him under the oak, and presented it' (verse 19).

He was commanded to take the kid and the bread and to place them on the hard cold rock, and to pour out the broth upon it. Gideon did so knowing full well that this was no contempt upon his hospitality, but could well have something to do with the sign he had asked for. This was indeed the case, for in the Visitor's hand was held a staff, the ordinary accompaniment of an eastern traveller. With this He touched the flesh and the bread, and immediately fire came out of the rock and consumed both. Then He departed out of Gideon's sight -- He vanished. Here indeed was the sign of the mighty Jehovah's Presence.

Gideon would well know that water was brought out of the rock for the blessing of his forebears in the wilderness, and that fire symbolised His Presence to His people as they journeyed toward the promised land. In short he had been given a commission to deliver the nation from their oppressors by Jehovah Himself. This sign brought home to him a deeper sense than before of the grandeur of the Messenger Who had come to him.

As the significance of this sinks in, apprehension fills his mind, and we read in verse 22 of his cry of alarm:

`And when Gideon perceived that he was an angel of the Lord, Gideon said, Alas, O Lord God! for because I have seen an angel of the Lord face to face'.

The Lord had said to Moses, `No man shall see My face and live', but as with other of His servants God had assumed human form in order to make Himself known to them, so different to the glorious revelation of His glory given to Daniel, Ezekiel, John, Peter and James. Here in verse 23, `the Lord said unto him, Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die'. Even so the assurance is given audibly in order to allay Gideon's fear that He that came to use him in His service, did not intend that any harm should come as a result of this visitation. Rather it was to strengthen his faith, to revive his heart, and to teach him something of the amazing condescension of the great Jehovah in continuing to care for the nation of Israel.

This people deserved nothing from His hand. They walked by sight and not by faith. They refused to obey His commandments. They completely obliterated Him from their hearts and minds, and desiring something to worship they turned to the idols of wood and stone that were the gods of the ignorant heathen nations around them. Yet when the children of Israel were at their wits' end, degraded, defiled, overrun by their enemies, without hope, Godless in the world, when they at last cried to the Lord, He delivered them.

When we speak of forbearance, long-suffering, forgiveness and mercy, how totally inadequate are these words in describing the love of the Lord for His people. And today, how can we fathom the love of God, God Who took upon Himself human form in order to redeem mankind from sin? From sin that separated us from ever being able to come to Him and to stand in His presence, God Who came in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ to suffer, to die, to be raised again and to ascend up to the glory. We cannot hope to understand the wonder of this love, but we can by faith accept this way of salvation. Then comes the challenge as we walk, not now by sight, but by faith.

`Then Gideon built an altar there unto the Lord, and called it Jehovah-shalom: unto this day it is yet in Ophrah of the Abi-ezrites' (verse 24).

`Jehovah-shalom' -- the Lord gives peace. This is one of the Jehovah titles, Jehovah -- the Eternal -- the Immutable One; He Who was, and is, and is to come; the God in covenant relationship to those whom He has created, especially to the nation of Israel. There are nine other titles of Jehovah besides this one, but to Gideon He was indeed the God of Peace.

The memorial of this visitation which Gideon set up was a monument in the form of an altar. This would commemorate the Lord's acceptance of his offering, His condescension in coming to him, and His gracious forbearance in allowing him to commune with Him and not die. Surely it acted too as a spur and an inspiration to accept the challenge the Lord had given him, and to be faithful in carrying it out. His courage was to be tested that very night.

`And it came to pass the same night, that the Lord said unto him, Take thy father's young bullock, even the second bullock of seven years old, and throw down the altar of Baal that thy father hath, and cut down the grove that is by it:

And build an altar unto the Lord thy God upon the top of this rock, in the ordered place, and take the second bullock, and offer a burnt sacrifice with the wood of the grove which thou shalt cut down' (verses 25,26).

It is quite useless to speculate as to the exact manner in which the Lord spoke to him, and therefore undesirable. Suffice it to say that it was distinctly revealed to Gideon what God's command was. It was to smash the altar erected by his father for the worship of Baal. To what depths had the princes in Israel sunk that they could turn their backs on their covenant God, Who had done such marvellous things for them as a nation? That they could degenerate to the worship of idols of stone and wood! Yet who are we to cast stones at these people, when the so-called Christian nations of the world today are bowing down not to idols of stone, but to idols of gold and silver.

Gideon was commanded also to cut down the grove that was by the idol, the Asherah, the wooden pillar or stunted tree, that gross emblem of phallic mature worship, symbolised by the goddess Asherah, and worshipped in conjunction with Baal. Having completed this he was then to build an altar unto the Lord upon the top of this rock. The word translated `rock' here is the Hebrew word 'strong place', so could mean the citadel of Ophrah. It was to be in a most prominent position, in full view of one and all. A more accurate rendering of the words `in the ordered place' in verse 26 is `in an orderly manner', and some commentators think this refers to the materials used for the building of the altar.

God's command to Moses was, `An altar of earth thou shalt make unto Me, and shalt sacrifice thereon ... If thou wilt make Me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone ... neither shalt thou go up by steps unto Mine altar'. In other words, no human handiwork was to be used in approaching God in worship. Man's work in this sphere pollutes it.