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2. Victorious Service (Judges 6:25-7:14)

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Gideon, Lesson 2

January 19, 2020

There is a common misconception in evangelical churches that when you become a Christian, you have two optional plans. The most popular plan by far is the Convenient Plan. In this plan, you agree to go to church when it’s convenient, drop a few bucks in the offering when you can afford it, and live for the American dream of accumulating enough money and stuff to live a comfortable life. Under this plan if you have time, you may volunteer to serve at church, but only if it’s convenient. Your goal under this plan is to enjoy yourself, live a good life, and someday to retire and spend your last years finishing your “bucket list.”

The other plan is the Committed Plan. It’s far less popular than the Convenient plan. The Committed plan is only for gung-ho, “Green Beret” types. In this plan, you give up the American dream and any right to your own will for your life. You become a slave of Jesus Christ. Your aim is to seek first His kingdom and righteousness. You give away gobs of money to support the Lord’s work. You may even be called to give up the comforts of America and go live in a difficult or dangerous place to reach people for Jesus. It can be a hard way to go. But, remember, you signed up for the Committed Plan! You’ll have more rewards in heaven!

But Jesus was clear: there is only one plan. He summarized it in Luke 9:23-24: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.” The cross was not a piece of jewelry that you wore around your neck. It was a grisly instrument of death. Jesus meant that those who follow Him must die daily to self as they live to serve and glorify Him in whatever circumstances He chooses for them. To put it in other terms, there are no convenience volunteers in Jesus’ army. There are only conscripts who serve because Jesus has bought them and saved them from God’s eternal judgment with His blood. Now they belong completely to Him. They are His slaves.

The story of Gideon and his 300-man army poised to take on 135,000 Midianites (Jud. 8:10) provides some important truths about victorious service for the Lord. These truths are especially important in a time when many pastors drop out of the ministry due to burnout, moral failure, or other reasons and when most churches lack committed workers in various ministries. We need to know how to serve the Lord in victory over the overwhelming forces of darkness that surround us.

In our last study, we looked at Gideon’s calling and saw that he was an unlikely hero to lead Israel in victory over the Midianite horde. Although the angel of the Lord addressed him as a “valiant warrior” (6:12, which he would become), at that spiritually dark time in Israel’s history he was defeated, dense, depressed, down on himself, and doubtful of God’s promises. But God chose him and began to work with him to build his faith. In this section we see Gideon’s conditioning. The principle is:

To serve the Lord in victory over the forces of darkness, obey God’s Word, trust in Him, and seek His glory.

First, we need to understand what this story clearly illustrates:

1. The evil forces of darkness that the Lord’s servants face are many and are strong.

To review, the Midianites were a nomadic tribe that lived southeast of the Jordan River. Because of Israel’s idolatry and disobedience to the Lord, He sent this vast horde into Israel every harvest season. They would devour Israel’s crops like locusts and take their farm animals. Israel was reduced to hiding in dens and caves in the surrounding mountains. After seven years of this, Israel finally cried out to the Lord. He raised up Gideon to deliver them.

Midian is a picture of the evil forces of darkness that we face as we seek to serve the Lord in our current spiritually dark times. We still have it relatively easy in America as far as persecution goes. In the past few years our nation has grown noticeably more hostile toward our faith. But at least we do not face almost certain persecution or martyrdom if we take a stand for the Lord as many of our brothers and sisters in Muslim countries do. And yet we still are surrounded by unseen evil forces that oppose the gospel. The apostle Paul wrote (Eph. 6:12-13):

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.

If we try to battle these unseen spiritual forces of wickedness with human strategies or schemes, we will not win. And we won’t see victory if we volunteer to serve the Lord in a rush of emotional excitement without counting the cost. When Gideon sounded the trumpet to call Israel to battle, 32,000 signed up. But when they saw the enormity of the enemy, 22,000 had to admit that they were afraid and returned home. One of the biggest mistakes a general can make in warfare is to underestimate the power of the enemy. Our enemy is evil and he is strong. If we dabble in spiritual compromise or sin, we will be defeated. Our enemy is like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Pet. 5:8). So these principles of how to defeat him are essential for your spiritual survival!

2. To serve the Lord in victory over the forces of darkness, obey His Word.

This is the main lesson in Judges 6:25-35. The Lord begins with a difficult command to Gideon (6:25):

Now on the same night the Lord said to him, “Take your father’s bull and a second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal which belongs to your father, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it; and build an altar to the Lord your God on the top of this stronghold in an orderly manner, and take a second bull and offer a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah which you shall cut down.”

Gideon’s father, Joash, had built an altar to Baal. Next to it he had erected a pole called an Asherah that represented a Ugaritic goddess who was the consort of El and mother of Baal. But this wasn’t just a private altar because when Gideon destroyed it, the men of the city demanded that he be killed. It was a community worship center for the false gods of the Canaanites. According to Deuteronomy 13, the men of Gideon’s village, not Gideon, should have been put to death because of their idolatry. Gideon’s obedience teaches us five things about obedience:

A. Obedience begins when you begin to follow the Lord as your God.

In verse 26, the Lord commands Gideon to build an altar “to the Lord your God.” Gideon apparently had resisted the example of his father and the townspeople to worship false gods. Following the Lord must be a personal decision, even if it means going against the beliefs and practices of your family or your culture. But following the Lord as your God means obeying Him.

B. Obedience must begin at home.

Gideon had to overcome his fear to tear down the family idol. If he had done it in broad daylight, the men of the town would have stopped him, so he did it at night. An altar to Baal discovered by archaeologists near Ophrah was 26 feet square and four feet high, made of stones cemented by mud (Gary Inrig, Hearts of Iron, Feet of Clay [Moody Press], p. 100). So Gideon needed the help of ten servants to tear it down. God also commanded him to erect an altar to the Lord and to sacrifice his father’s seven-year-old bull on it.

Obedience to God’s Word is often a radical action because your example confronts the idolatrous ways of the world around you. Gideon’s obedience could have resulted in his being disinherited, kicked out of his family, or killed. But genuine obedience always must begin at home. As C. H. Mackintosh put it (Miscellaneous Writings, “Gideon and His Companions” [Loizeaux Brothers], 2:36), “Those who see most of us should see most of Christ in us.”

Thankfully, Gideon’s father had a change of heart and came to his defense when the men of the town demanded his death. From this bold act of obedience, Gideon got a nickname, Jerubbaal, which meant, “Let Baal contend against him.” Since Baal didn’t do anything when Gideon tore down his altar, the men of his town probably joined Gideon when he gave the call to battle against the Midianites.

C. Obedience must be total, not partial.

Gideon didn’t compromise by building an altar to the Lord next to the altar to Baal. That would have sent the message to the town, “Both are legitimate options; take your pick.” The Lord is the only true God; He demands total obedience, which means destroying all our idols.

D. Obedience requires courage to confront the idolatrous culture around us.

When you confront the sacred idols of our culture, you will catch flak. I’ve written numerous letters to the editor of our local paper against the abortion movement. Invariably, I catch flak for it from someone because I’m tearing down his or her idol. The same is true when you call the LGBT movement what the Bible calls it: sin. They hate you when you tear down their idols! But we cannot obey God without confronting the idols of our godless culture.

E. Obedience requires decisive, Spirit-powered action, not mere good intentions.

Verse 34 reveals the power for Gideon’s actions: “The Spirit of the Lord came upon him.” (Literally, the Spirit clothed him.) That Hebrew phrase is only used one other time when the Spirit clothed Zechariah to confront King Joash’s idolatry (2 Chron. 24:20-21). He was stoned to death as a result. The Spirit’s clothing these two men was a special anointing for a specific task. While we cannot do anything to obtain such a special anointing, we are commanded to walk by means of the Spirit (Gal. 5:16) and to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18). We do this by yielding to the Holy Spirit on a moment-by-moment basis, allowing Him to control our lives.

Once Gideon obeyed the Lord by destroying his father’s idols, he had to rally the troops to go against Midian. This shows us that victorious service is not just individual. We must serve in conjunction with all the saints as we each use our gifts for God’s kingdom. Victorious service begins with obedience to God’s Word.

3. To serve the Lord in victory over the forces of darkness, trust in God.

As Hebrews 11:6 puts it, “Without faith, it is impossible to please Him.” Remarkably, three very flawed judges, Gideon, Samson, and Jephthah, are all listed in Hebrews 11:32 as men of faith. Gideon’s story teaches us that …

A. God takes us where we’re at and works with us to build our faith.

When the angel of the Lord first met Gideon, he was fearful of the Midianites and wondering why God had abandoned His people (Judges 6:13). The angel commanded Him to go and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian, assuring him that God would be with him and that he would defeat Midian as one man. But now, Gideon says to God (Jud. 6:36-37), “If You will deliver Israel through me, as You have spoken, behold, I will put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then I will know that You will deliver Israel through me, as You have spoken.” God graciously granted Gideon’s request on this and on his second fleece request, even though Gideon acknowledged that the Lord had grounds to be angry with him (6:39).

Suffice it to say that putting out a fleece is not an approved method for determining the will of God! This is especially true when God has clearly spoken in His Word. I’ve had young women tell me that it was God’s will for them to marry an unbelieving man (even though God clearly forbids it) because they had prayed about it and felt a peace about it! Just because God was gracious to Gideon’s weak faith does not mean that we should imitate him!

God also built Gideon’s weak faith by gradually reducing his army from 32,000 down to 10,000 and finally to 300 men. This also would have built the faith of the remaining 300 as they saw the odds against them grow beyond any human hope for victory! Then the Lord graciously gave Gideon an unasked-for sign to strengthen his weak faith. He directed Gideon and his servant to go to the outskirts of the Midianite camp where, in God’s gracious providence, they heard a soldier recounting a dream about a loaf of barley bread upending and crushing a Midianite tent (Jud. 7:9-13). Barley bread was the food that poor people ate. And, as C. H. Spurgeon humorously observed (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit [Pilgrim Press], 31:657), “If I had to cannonade an encampment I should not try to bombard it with biscuits.” The dream pictured impoverished, weak people conquering a powerful foe. The Midianite soldier’s friend rightly interpreted the dream (Jud. 7:14), “This is nothing less than the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel; God has given Midian and all the camp into his hand.”

The Bible has many examples of the Lord graciously working with His servants to build their weak faith. With the conniving Jacob, He gave the dream of the ladder reaching into heaven. Later, the angel of the Lord wrestled with Jacob and disabled his strength so that he had to trust the Lord in his fearful encounter with his powerful brother, Esau. The gospels reveal how Jesus patiently worked with the often dense and unbelieving apostles to bring them to stronger faith in Him. I confess that when I began to follow the Lord, it was for the very immature and selfish reason of wanting Him to give me a satisfying marriage. But He took me in my weakness and has progressively revealed more of Himself to me over the years.

B. God has to teach us that our trust must be in Him, not in any human methods or techniques.

At first, Gideon probably thought that 32,000 was an insufficient army to battle 135,000 Midianites. But God told him that they were too many. He needed to send the cowardly home (Deut. 20:8). They had their focus on the huge enemy, not on the all-powerful God. And, fearful unbelief is contagious. Gideon probably watched with growing alarm as the ranks dwindled to 10,000. But maybe he still thought, “With God’s help and a good strategy, we can still win.”

But God said, “You’re still too many.” So He had Gideon test the soldiers by the way they drank water from the brook. There is debate about the meaning of this test as to whether it was purely arbitrary or whether it winnowed out the less vigilant. But whatever the meaning, by reducing the army to 300, the Lord was teaching Gideon and the remaining troops that they could not trust in any human methods or techniques. They had to trust in God alone. We are all prone to trusting in the latest methods or techniques, whether for success in ministry, marriage, child-rearing, or whatever. While some methods and techniques may be helpful, be careful to put your trust in the Lord, not in the method.

So to serve the Lord in victory over the overwhelming forces of spiritual darkness, obey His Word and trust in Him. Finally,

4. To serve the Lord in victory over the forces of darkness, seek God’s glory.

It’s easy to get excited about some ministry or cause for Christ and sign up as a volunteer, especially when many others are doing the same. Perhaps the 32,000 hoped to be heroes when they returned home after winning the war. But it’s another thing to persevere over the long haul in the face of huge and frightening opposition. So all the fearful returned home. They probably had reasonable excuses to give to their hometown people about why they returned: “Gideon is crazy to think that he can win with a poorly armed and untrained army against 135,000 experienced Midianite warriors. It’s a suicide mission!” But their focus was not on God and His glory; it was on self-preservation.

To serve the Lord in victory over the forces of darkness, you can’t ride on group enthusiasm. You can’t be focused on protecting yourself. You have to realize that serving the Lord is spiritual warfare against the unseen forces of darkness. Your focus has to be on seeking God’s glory, even if you end up getting wounded or killed in battle. Otherwise, when the battle heats up, you’ll run for cover.

Numbers or human methods don’t matter to the Lord. He can win the battle with no soldiers, as He would later do when King Hezekiah prayed and the Lord killed 185,000 of Sennacherib’s troops in one night (2 Kings 18-19). Or, He can use 300 courageous, trusting men to rout 135,000 Midianites. But however He does it, He wants the glory to go to Him.

During my years of serving as a pastor, I’d often get ads inviting me to some conference put on by a megachurch promising similar results if I used their method for church growth. But if you use a “proven method” that works for others and it works for you, guess where the glory goes? The method gets the glory! If you obey God’s Word and trust in Him when there is no human explanation for victory, then He gets the glory. So my “method” for church growth was to try to do what the apostles did (Acts 6:4), “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

Years ago, Stacey King played on the Chicago Bulls with the legendary Michael Jordan. One night, Jordan scored 69 points and King scored one. He facetiously said later, “I’ll always remember this as the night that Michael Jordan and I combined to score 70 points” (Reader’s Digest [10/1991], p. 22). Well, the Lord is pleased to use weak people to win the victory. As Gideon’s army would shout (Jud. 7:20), “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” But we need to make sure that everyone knows, “The Lord scored 69 points; I only scored one. He should get all the glory!”

Conclusion

To apply this message, the first question to ask is, “Have you put your trust in Jesus Christ and begun to walk with Him as your Lord?” Is the Lord your God? You can’t serve Him rightly until you first have come to the cross as a guilty sinner and trusted in His sacrifice for you.

Then ask yourself, “Where and how am I serving the Lord?” It’s more of a mindset than a formal position of service. Each day, whether it’s with your family, at work, at school, or wherever the Lord has you, yield yourself to His Spirit and ask Him to use you as a channel of His grace to others. As 1 Peter 4:10-11 states,

As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

You are a steward or manager of God’s manifold grace. You don’t have to be perfect or have arrived at some high level for Him to use you. Begin where you’re at. Do what His Word commands as it pertains to your current situation. Trust Him, even if what He is calling you to do is way beyond your ability. As you see Him work, your faith will grow to trust Him more. To serve the Lord in victory over the forces of darkness, obey Him, trust Him, and seek His glory above all. He is gracious to work with us in our weakness!

Application Points

  1. Why is it important to recognize that you are not wrestling against flesh and blood, but against the unseen forces of darkness in heavenly places (Eph. 6:10-20)?
  2. Where specifically does God want you to obey Him right now? What steps do you need to take to do it?
  3. What are you trusting God for that is way beyond your human ability to accomplish?
  4. How should you respond when someone compliments you on how you served in some capacity? Is it always necessary to say, “The Lord did it,” or can you just say, “Thank you”?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2020, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Christian Life

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