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Lecture 3 (Week 4): Don’t Forget Who God Is

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We returned a week ago yesterday from a 10 day trip to the UK. Our daughter and her family are living there temporarily for her husband’s work, and so we went to see them. During the week while they were busy with school and work, Gary and I took a trip to Scotland.

On the screen is the Scottish monument to Robert the Bruce, or King Robert the 1st of Scotland. We weren’t very familiar with him, but despite the name of the movie, Robert the Bruce, not William Wallace, is actually the man the Scots call Braveheart. Robert the Bruce brought independence to Scotland in the first war for Scottish Independence. The 1314 battle at the site of this statue was the turning point of the war. Although the Scots were far outnumbered and out-armed, the English army grew fearful and panicked, fleeing the battlegrounds and giving Robert the victory.

It bore some similarities to Gideon’s battle. As you saw in your lesson, the Midianites and other groups from the East far outnumbered the men of Israel. In fact, the Bible describes their numbers as like locusts.

But earthly numbers don’t take into account who God is, and he brought victory over a mighty force.

With the story of Gideon a major theme of the book surfaces—God’s people did what was right in their own eyes. Go ahead and open your bibles to Judges 6.

Another cycle occurs. Israel worships idols and God brings discipline on them in the form of enemy oppression. But this time when Israel cried to God to rescue them, he sent a spokesman who reminded the people who God is. Look at Judges 6:8-10:

“This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of slavery in Egypt. I rescued you from the Egyptians and from all who oppressed you. I drove out your enemies and gave you their land. I told you, ‘I am the Lord your God. You must not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you now live.’ But you have not listened to me.”

The prophet reminded Israel who God is—a God more mighty than any earthly army, as he had already proven to them. But Israel had forgotten that and turned to idols to give them power. When God’s people do what’s right in their own eyes, it shows that they’ve forgotten who God is.

Today We’ll See Four Cautions To Consider—Four Ways That Our Thoughts And Actions Might Reveal That We Too Have Forgotten Or Ignored Who God Is.

We initially find Gideon hiding in a cave threshing wheat. Threshing doesn’t really work inside because it depends on the wind to blow away the chaff and leave the wheat behind. But the Midianites had been confiscating all the food that Israel produced. Isn’t it ironic that Israel was worshipping Baal and Asherath, gods of fertility, and so Yahweh brought in the Midianites to steal the harvest, leaving his disloyal people with little or nothing? Basically God said, “Your land will be fertile, but you won’t eat its produce.”

But as we’ve seen in every cycle, God mercifully raised up Gideon to rescue them. But this time God used a unique battle plan which showed off his power since they’d forgotten it. He had Israel’s so-called army go to war with only jars, torches and trumpets. Instead of Israel winning with lethal weapons, God himself brought the victory—proving his mighty power.

So let’s picture that army of 300 volunteers, chosen for how they drank water from a spring rather than for their strength. They know they’re up against thousands of well armed military. And yet, similarly to what happened with Robert the Bruce, the battle was won because in great confusion, the enemy army killed one other and the rest fled.

Our God is mighty. He can bring victory without a real army or even a battle, and he can take away the very things his people look to other gods to achieve.

1st Caution: When We Trust Earthly Strength And Methods To Win Our Battles, We’ve Forgotten That God Is Almighty.

As we apply that caution, we first look at the church and at ourselves as we do throughout this book. And we ask ourselves what earthly strengths and methods do we think church needs to reach people with the gospel? Funds, celebrities, large numbers, even our freedom? God needs none of those things. Who or what do we trust personally? I tend to trust my own judgment and skills. What about you?

Let’s continue the story.

Despite having seen God’s mighty victory, Gideon immediately forgot what he had just learned about God and his power. Instead of being motivated to serve and bring glory to God, his greatest concern was himself.

Nothing in the biblical record suggests that God told Gideon to call an army to chase the enemy as it fled, nor that Gideon even asked. In fact if we go back to Judges 7:7, God told Gideon, “With the 300 men who lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hand.” Gideon didn’t need more men.

Gideon was acting on his own. The fearful warrior now felt confident in himself and did what was right in his own eyes. His actions and words suggest that he was already consumed with serving self, the definition of pride.

So Gideon called on the tribe of Ephraim to help them pursue and kill the enemy army, but they were angry that they weren’t included in the original soldiers. Gideon gave them a wise answer, and they calmed down. Although he was acting on his own, he was at least dealing with Israelites as brothers.

But when Gideon requested help from the men of Succoth and the leaders at Penuel, they refused, saying Gideon hadn’t yet won the battle. But rather than trying to persuade them as brother Israelites, he made it personal, promising to make them pay for insulting him and refusing his requests.

Once the chase was over, Gideon returned to the two towns and punished them by flogging the leaders at Succoth with briars and then destroying the tower of Succoth and killing everyone inside the city. 

Why? Not because he was concerned with justice. This was personal revenge.

In Judges 8:18-21 we learn that Gideon suspected that the two kings of Midian had killed his brothers, and his chase appears to have been motivated to exact revenge. Sure enough, when he learned that they were guilty of his brothers’ deaths, he killed them, not because of the oppression they caused Israel, but for personal revenge. He told them that he was killing them only because of his brothers.

It was all about Gideon, not God or his people. Seeking revenge is about self, not about God.

2nd Caution: When We’re Motivated By Our Own Interests, We’ve Forgotten That God’s Kingdom Is Preeminent.

And again I ask myself questions: As the church are we more concerned to protect our position than God’s reputation? Are my prayers more focused on what I want God to do for me or for God’s kingdom to come within me even if that means my life isn’t as easy? Sadly, I’m guilty of forgetting who God is and the priority of his kingdom over my concern for self.

It’s not surprising that after the battle, the men of Israel asked Gideon to become their king. Gideon answered well, but his actions that followed proved his words were empty. Look at Judges 8:24-27:

But Gideon replied, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son. The Lord will rule over you! However, I do have one request—that each of you give me an earring from the plunder you collected from your fallen enemies.” (The enemies, being Ishmaelites, all wore gold earrings.)

“Gladly!” they replied. They spread out a cloak, and each one threw in a gold earring he had gathered from the plunder. The weight of the gold earrings was forty-three pounds, not including the royal ornaments and pendants, the purple clothing worn by the kings of Midian, or the chains around the necks of their camels.

Gideon made a sacred ephod from the gold and put it in Ophrah, his hometown. But soon all the Israelites prostituted themselves by worshiping it, and it became a trap for Gideon and his family.

The ephod was a piece of linen clothing worn by the High Priest of Israel and on it were the Umin and Thumin, which were used to discern God’s will. The text doesn’t tell us so we can’t be sure, but I lean toward the thinking that Gideon made it so he could continue being that guy, the one who hears from God. That’s how he become famous, so it makes sense that this would ensnare him. Gideon is about Gideon. God didn’t need an ephod to speak to Gideon, but Gideon needed an ephod to manipulate God into speaking to him.

Gideon’s pride become even more apparent when he acted like the kings of that day— fathering 70 sons and Abimelech, son of his concubine. Abimelech’s name, meaning “my father is king,” tells us that although Gideon refused the people’s offer to be king, he considered himself one.

Gideon forgot that it was God who raised him up in the first place. He liked the people’s praise and attention and the power that came with being king.

Caution #3: When We Seek A Name Or Power For Ourselves, We’ve Forgotten That God Exalts.

Leaders, both in and out of the church, often use their power and position for themselves, even abusing others for their own gain. The world says promote yourself to achieve God’s purposes. It says that God needs leaders with big names. If we as the church buy into the world’s thinking, we’ve forgotten who God is. I confess that I have to fight the voices that whisper that I should do more to build a platform—because after all, it’s for God. But I know that for me, it’s a temptation to elevate myself. When that happens, I remind myself that God has always opened doors without my pushing. He elevates. I don’t need to.

So let’s not forget that God is almighty, his kingdom is preeminent, and he can and will exalt according to his will.

Back to the story. Just as we’ve seen in other cycles, the land had peace as long as Gideon lived, this time for forty years. After his death, however, Israel again forgot that God alone is God and turned to idols.

And we see the seeds of Gideon’s pride take root in his son Abimelech.

Abimelech convinced his mother’s relatives in Shechem to support him to be their leader. He appealed to their family ties, suggesting that he was their guy, the one who would take care of them, the one on their side as opposed to his brothers. So the Shechemites gave him money with which he brought in worthless people as allies. Then he killed his brothers, so they couldn’t oppose him. The town made him king anyway, after all he was on their side.

But somehow Abimelech failed to kill his youngest brother Jotham. One day Jothan showed up and cursed Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem. He told them a parable in which the trees, obviously the people of Shechem, allowed a worthless tree to rule them—representing Abimelech of course. Jotham cursed the trees with destruction if they weren’t acting in good faith, which I would call integrity, when they made Abimelech their leader and looked the other way concerning his murders.

For three years nothing happened, and I can only imagine that the people of Shechem believed they’d made a good choice and that God was on their side. But then God repaid them for their actions as well as their inaction concerning the murders. In the end Abimelech killed the Shechemites and was killed himself in the town of Thebes. The people’s lack of integrity and acceptance of murder as a means to their ends came back on their heads. God is holy and will judge his people.

Caution #4: When We Make Alliances With Earthly Leaders Or Powers To Save Us, We’ve Forgotten That God Is A Holy King.

My guess is that 90% of us are either in the group panicked that the country might become socialist or the one panicked it’s becoming a dictatorship. We may feel that our side must win the next election or the country’s doomed. Panic reveals that we trust in our earthly alliances rather than God.

The United States may become socialistic; we may be ruled by a dictator and lose our democracy. But God is on his throne. He isn’t nearly as concerned about this country as he is about his kingdom. As aliens on earth, our primary concern shouldn’t be America or the world situation, but God’s work in the hearts of his kingdom people who live out the gospel.

Our hope is not in the United States of America, but in our God who doesn’t need earthly powers to do his work, accomplish his will and care for his people so that we flourish spiritually.

I fight those feelings just as many of you, but my faith tells me this: With our future in the hands of God, I can be at peace. My fear comes from forgetting who God is. My concern should be to worship my King and do his kingdom work as long as I live no matter our national circumstances. I must remember that God is the almighty king and he alone is trustworthy.

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