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1 July 2007 Strength in weakness (1) GIDEON am

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STRENGTH MADE PERFECT IN WEAKNESS (1)

Gideon – “Go in the strength you have”

11 The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. 12 When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

13 “But sir,” Gideon replied, “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.”

14 The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

15 “But Lord,”a Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

16 The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.”

                                                                                        Judges 6

All the characters in this dark book of Judges are imperfect, and, viewed from a human perspective, entirely flawed.  But this is not history from a human point of view – and Gideon, the subject of our thoughts this morning, is a striking example of God transforming the weak things of this world to confound the strong.  Gideon is a good example of our theme text for today “strength made perfect in weakness.”  The theme is summed up in the text:

14 The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

What strength?  To which God answers emphatically “Mine”.

I want to summarise the familiar narratives of Judges 6 and 7 in these points:-

    Gideon as he was

    Gideon’s experience of God’s grace

and

    Gideon goes on with God.

Gideon – as he was

There is surely a touch of irony in the Angel of the Lord’s words to Gideon

“The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

Here is Gideon threshing wheat in a winepress to avoid the Midianites seeing him – not an outstanding example of strength.

But

1.               He was a product of his times

And the times were dark indeed.  God’s people were on the seesaw of apostasy – only turning to God when things got really bad.  We too – if we are honest – are a product of our times too. And they are often just as dark, just as apostate – just as inclined to call on the Lord only when there is a crisis.

2.               He was aware of the conflict of faith          6 v13

 

13 “But sir,” Gideon replied, “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.”

Gideon has some knowledge of the nation’s spiritual history. He looks back on the great days of the past and wonders why they are so different now.   He concludes that the LORD has abandoned them.

There is something very compelling about such reasoning

3.               He is aware of his personal weakness        6 v15

 

15 “But Lord,” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

He is REALLY weak – really unpromising – not worth much really.     Perhaps it’s just as well he begins there – because God can do something with those who acknowledge their weakness.

4.               He is full of “If”s and “But”s       13, 15, 17, 36…

 

I’m beginning to feel at home with Gideon.  Of course there is just a hint of ambition.

When God says “the LORD is with you mighty man of valour” his response is less about lack of valour – and more about reasons for failure.  I think Gideon did entertain at least the possibility that someone might get them out of this mess with the Midianites.

5.               He is afraid of being known for his faith     6 v27

 

27 So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the Lord told him. But because he was afraid of his family and the men of the town, he did it at night rather than in the daytime.

Like Nicodemus – this was a man who preferred to express his spiritual views under cover of darkness.

The remarkable thing about that is that God graciously accepted it as obedience!

6.               A man constantly in need of reassurance            6 v36

36 Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised— 37 look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing-floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.” 38 And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew—a bowlful of water.

39 Then Gideon said to God, “Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece. This time make the fleece dry and the ground covered with dew.” 40 That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew.

These are the most striking examples of his need for reassurance – and Gideon is remembered as much for his fleeces as for his victory over the Midianites.  As we shall see this is more about God’s grace than Gideon’s faith.  But there is in his manner a kind of boldness – or cheekiness if you like. He pushes at the boundaries of what God allows.

But there are other examples of Gideon not acting until he is sure – the number of his fighting force – and especially the dream before the battle.

I may hope to have a more immediate faith than Gideon – especially as a NT believer – but I recognise the need of this man for reassurance.

Gideon experiences God’s grace 

This is the heart of the narrative. Gideon learns that it is all about God and only incidentally about Gideon.

1.               God’s presence               6 v12

12 When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

2.               God’s power                   6 v16

15 “But Lord,”a Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

16 The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.”

3.               God’s peace                   6 22-24

22 When Gideon realised that it was the angel of the Lord, he exclaimed, “Ah, Sovereign Lord! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!”

23 But the Lord said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.”

24 So Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and called it The Lord is Peace. To this day it stands in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

4.               God’s Spirit                    6 v34

34 Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him.

That was always what distinguished the leaders called Judges. It is what distinguishes all who since the Lord came follow His instruction.

5.               God’s patience                6 39-40

39 Then Gideon said to God, “Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece. This time make the fleece dry and the ground covered with dew.” 40 That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew.

6.               God’s encouragements            7  9-14

Now the camp of Midian lay below him in the valley. 9 During that night the Lord said to Gideon, “Get up, go down against the camp, because I am going to give it into your hands. 10 If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah 11 and listen to what they are saying. Afterwards, you will be encouraged to attack the camp.” So he and Purah his servant went down to the outposts of the camp. 12 The Midianites, the Amalekites and all the other eastern peoples had settled in the valley, thick as locusts. Their camels could no more be counted than the sand on the seashore.

13 Gideon arrived just as a man was telling a friend his dream. “I had a dream,” he was saying. “A round loaf of barley bread came tumbling into the Midianite camp. It struck the tent with such force that the tent overturned and collapsed.”

14 His friend responded, “This can be nothing other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands.”

15 When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he worshipped God. He returned to the camp of Israel and called out, “Get up! The Lord has given the Midianite camp into your hands.”

That blend of risk + obedience + encouragement  is the strength that Gideon has.

Just for the time – just for the day.

Gideon goes on with God    

So let’s see what is meant by our text – in the light of what Gideon is – and what God is – and how God can transform him:

14 The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

Notice the graphic touch  “the LORD turned to him…”  eye to eye.  And much later another weak man will see Jesus looking at him and go out and weep bitterly.[1]

To know God in such a way as to see the way He turns to us!![2]

GO … am not I sending you?

This is worked out in at least three ways:

1.               By a stand against apostasy                     6 v25

2.               By obedience against all odds                   7  v1-8

And

3.               As an example to others                          7 v17

BY A STAND AGAINST APOSTASY     6 v25

25 That same night the Lord said to him, “Take the second bull from your father’s herd, the one seven years old. Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it. 26 Then build a proper kind of  altar to the Lord your God on the top of this height. Using the wood of the Asherah pole that you cut down, offer the second bull as a burnt offering.”

27 So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the Lord told him. But because he was afraid of his family and the men of the town, he did it at night rather than in the daytime.

Whether or not Gideon would want to start in immediately and deal with the Midianite mess – God has other priorities.  Before he can serve in this outstanding way he must prove his spiritual credentials.

“Build a proper kind of altar…”

If you are going to overcome weakness and make the most of the strength you have you must set your heart right before God – and before others.

BY OBEDIENCE AGAINST ALL ODDS       7 v1-8

7 Early in the morning, Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) and all his men camped at the spring of Harod. The camp of Midian was north of them in the valley near the hill of Moreh. 2 The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her, 3 announce now to the people, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’ ” So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained.

4 But the Lord said to Gideon, “There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will sift them out for you there. If I say, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go; but if I say, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.”

5 So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the Lord told him, “Separate those who lap the water with their tongues like a dog from those who kneel down to drink.” 6 Three hundred men lapped with their hands to their mouths. All the rest got down on their knees to drink.

7 The Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the other men go, each to his own place.” 8 So Gideon sent the rest of the Israelites to their tents but kept the three hundred, who took over the provisions and trumpets of the others.

Right, so we have our spiritual allegiance sorted – now let’s weigh up our fighting resources.

This well known narrative reinforces the second strand of GOING ON WITH GOD.

Get to see your resources as God sees them.

 

It’s often a whittling down process.  It is a divine principle that He acts by the few so that no one will boast he won the battle on his own.

It is strange isn’t it that the man with so little has to reduce his fighting force so much!

AS AN EXAMPLE TO OTHERS          7 v17

15 When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he worshipped God. He returned to the camp of Israel and called out, “Get up! The Lord has given the Midianite camp into your hands.” 16 Dividing the three hundred men into three companies, he placed trumpets and empty jars in the hands of all of them, with torches inside.

17 “Watch me,” he told them. “Follow my lead. When I get to the edge of the camp, do exactly as I do. 18 When I and all who are with me blow our trumpets, then from all around the camp blow yours and shout, ‘For the Lord and for Gideon.’ ”

Following that wonderfully dramatic encouragement Gideon is a CHANGED MAN.

True valour is knowing that God always wins – and translating that into actions which will raise the morale, direct the spiritual lives, and focus the attention of others.

Cf 8 4

4 Gideon and his three hundred men, exhausted yet keeping up the pursuit, came to the Jordan and crossed it.[3]

That is surely “Going in the strength you have…”


----

a Or sir

a Or sir

[1] Luke 22 61

[2] 2 Cor 4 6  6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”a made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

[3]The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1984; Publsihed in electronic form by Logos Research Systems, 1996 (electronic edition.) (Jdg 8:4). London: Hodder & Stoughton.

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