Monday, May 25, 2020

Spiritual Spring Cleaning-Judges 6:25-32

One of the many activities that people have given themselves to over the last couple of months is cleaning up in and around their homes. The quarantine and self-distancing measures have caused people to stare down messes of all shapes and sizes and do something about it. Perhaps in the place of the mess, renovations have taken place and other changes have been made where people live that have resulted in something better. In many cases, this has involved the dismantling and trading the old, obsolete, or outdated, for the new, preferred, or better. This concept of clearing away what is in one’s way so that real progress can be made transcends domestic living. In fact, there are spiritual applications for this concept that God’s people should not ignore. This is what is witnessed in Judges 6:25-32. Before progress can be made and deliverance can be achieved for God’s people in this cycle of the judges, the Israelites had to clear some things out of their lives—junk that was keeping them from living the lives that God intended for them. Gideon is called to lead the clearing effort in this passage and two series of events provide the room necessary for a spiritual overhaul to commence.

1) SERIES #1:  The Errand -6:25-27

After the confirming miracle and the private worship service held on a newly constructed altar Gideon built, God decides to send his chosen deliverer on an errand—“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,…” (6:25). God wastes no time in calling Gideon to act in view of his call (perhaps he is concerned that if given the opportunity to sit still too long he will require more coaxing to get going again). Typically in Judges, once the deliverer is called, the deliverance is executed. However, in this case, the natural progression of things is interrupted to deal with an abnormality.

God has a bone to pick in the form of an idol that has been erected on Gideon’s dad’s estate. This shrine needs to be torn down and it is time that Gideon live up to his name (“hacker” or “hewer”). Just what would Gideon be cutting down? An altar to Baal and an Asherah pole. Though these constructions were on his dad’s property, the response seen later from the townspeople suggests that they served as a community shrine to pagan Gods (yes, pagan shrines among God’s people). This particular shrine had an altar for Baal and an Asherah pole celebrating these Canaanite gods/goddesses. Such was an offense to God who is jealous for his glory and demands exclusive worship from his people. In this case, it was not enough for Gideon to build an altar to the Lord (see 6:24) if there was an altar of a competing god standing nearby (6:25). That simply would not do.
How would he go about taking down the altar to Baal and the Asherah? Using a seven-year-old bull from his father’s herd. Though the description given suggests that two bulls were involved, the task probably involved one bull that was vividly described in this unusual way. God does not just want any bull to be used in this effort, he has a particular animal in mind—the prize seven-year old stud. This, no doubt, was one of the best in daddy’s herd and, as we will soon see, a fitting sacrifice for the one true God.

In the place of this pagan shrine, Gideon is next instructed to “build an altar to the Lord your God on the top of this stronghold in an orderly manner” (6:26a). “By commanding Gideon to build the altar on this pagan site, Yahweh is order him to reclaim this paganized land for himself” (Block, Judges, Ruth, 267).  Notice, God does not want some altar to be thrown together haphazardly. He wants a proper altar placed in this conspicuous location “in an orderly manner” so that everyone in the community can see what should have been there to begin with.

Finally, God commands Gideon to really seal the deal by using his dad’s best bull, the very same one used to tear down the altar, as an offering to the Lord. He even wants Gideon to use the wood of the demolished Asherah pole as the fuel—“ and take a second bull and offer a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah which you shall cut down.’…” (6:26b)! This would prove to be the “ultimate indignity against the pagan cult” (Block, Judges, Ruth, 267).

God wants to send a message, loud and clear, to Gideon’s town and all of Israel: “I am the only one worthy of worship and it is time to clean house! Those false God’s you have endorsed have no place in my land and, in fact, they will be made into fuel for the sacrifices you ought to offer to me alone.” What a powerful statement this would be at the beginning of this cycle of deliverance. For God’s people to move forward, they had to get their junk out of the way and redirect their worship to God alone!

In their initial encounter the Lord forced Gideon to recognize his presence and power (see 6:19-24). Here, he pushes Gideon one step further by tasking him with this important errand and Gideon complies—“Then Gideon took ten men of his servants and did as the lord had spoken to him” (6:27a). However, before we rush to congratulate Gideon on what looks like immediate faithfulness, as the description continues, we see ambiguities in his character.

The text reveals, “and because he was too afraid of his father’s household and the men of the city to do it by day, he did it by night,…” (6:27b). On the one hand, we might say that before the night was over—the very same night the Lord appeared to him with this task—Gideon rushes to the place where his servants slept, woke them up, and employed them to complete the mission. However, on the other hand, we learn that the motivation for Gideon was NOT that he could not stand seeing this pagan altar any more than God could. Instead, he is fearful of the potential consequences from the citizens of Ophrah once they see what he has done. He would rather do God’s will under cover of darkness than in the light of day. This betrays that while Gideon feared the Lord to a point, he also feared man. The fact that Gideon is fearful of the response of the townspeople is tragic. After all, there was no good reason that God’s people, should be outraged by the destruction of a pagan shrine and rush to its defense. This shows just how rotten things were in the state of Israel during the days of the judges.

2) SERIES #2: The Aftermath-6:28-32

Gideon’s fears are realized in the aftermath described in verse 28-32—“When the men of the city arose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was torn down, and the Asherah which was beside it was cut down, and the second bull was offered on the altar which had been built…” (6:28). Everything God had asked Gideon to do was accomplished by him and his band of merry men on that busy night. The message was sent, the goblet was thrown down, and the response from the people was as sad as it was expected.

Rather than be jarred into righteous worship and recognize this corrective step for what it was, “they said to one another, ‘Who did this thing?’ and when they searched about and inquired, they said, ‘Gideon the son of Joash did this thing’…” (6:29). Gideon’s nighttime activities could not be hidden and immediately the people seek to get to the bottom of the renovations that took place in their community without their approval and without their consent.

Once they learn who is responsible, “the men of the city said to Joash, ‘bring out your son, that he may die, for he has torn down the altar of Baal, and indeed, he has cut down the Asherah which was beside it’…” (6:30). These words are woefully ironic and betray the very real problem the people had with apostasy. What Gideon did was compliant with the law of God (Exod. 34:13; Deut. 7:5; Judge 2:2)

Exodus 34:13-“But rather, you are to tear down their altars and smash their sacred pillars and cut down their Asherim.”

Deuteronomy 7:5-“…you shall tear down their altars, and smash their sacred pillars, and hew down their Asherim,…”

Judges 2:2-“…you shall tear down their altars,…”

However, it is plain to see that the Israelites had either forgotten their own law or acted in voluntary defiance of this law (or some combination of the two) as they were ready to kill Gideon over what he did.  

This is proof positive that being faithful to the Lord and doing what He requires does not always win popularity contests, even among those who claim to be the people of God. There is such a thing as suffering for doing what is right (1 Pet. 3:17) and Gideon was experiencing that after completing his errand.

The next to speak is Joash. As the community leader, if there was anyone who could stave off a riot, it was he—“But Joash said to all who stood against him, ‘Will you contend for Baal, or will you deliver him? Whoever will plead for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because someone has torn down his altar,…” (6:31). The questions that Joash raises suggest that Baal should not need men to fight his battles for him (that is, if he is real to begin with). Joash also intimates that anyone who tried to vindicate Baal by hunting down Gideon would be dead by morning. Is Joash threatening to kill anyone who goes after his son? Or, is this Joash’s way of suggesting that Baal doesn’t need help? Did this betray Joash’s feigning confidence in Baal given that his altar had been destroyed? Regardless of the motivations guiding Joash, he concludes that if Baal is a god, let him contend for himself. This is a bold statement that brought people face-to-face with idolatry. After all, how good was Baal at defending his own altar to begin with? Not very good. Might this mean that confidence in Baal is misplaced? Something for Israel to consider before God delivers them from the hand of Midian.

The passage concludes with “Therefore on that day he named him Jerubbaal, that is to say, ‘Let Baal contend against him,’ because he had torn down his altar” (6:32). If the people trusted in Baal, they could also trust that Baal would take care of Gideon for them. However, as we will soon learn, Baal’s subsequent failure to defend his honor would demonstrate his weakness and unworthiness to be worshiped by Israel (Chisholm, Judges and Ruth, 277).

So What?

For the Israelites in Ophrah, a pagan shrine distracted God’s people from their worship of the one true God and stood in the way of their deliverance. What distracts you? What stands in your way? Perhaps today is a day to clean house, dismantle the idols, and in their place build altars to the one true God. Many people crave deliverance from this or that or believe they are ready to receive God’s blessing and answers to their many prayers. However, many of those same people are unwilling to remove the trash from their lives and clear out those things that God is displeased with. Friends, God is not content to be one of the many things to which you give primacy. He wants all of your worship and all of the glory from our lives. Today is the day to tear down the altar to Baal and the Asherah pole and in that space construct whatever will help us better worship and glorify the Lord.

Keep in mind that this task of idol dismantling does not always win you points with those around you. People, even those who claim to be God’s people, may have grown accustomed to that thing in your life that has stolen focus from the Lord so much so that they might miss it when it is gone. However, do not let this deter you from the errand that God would have us all run. It is time to tear some things down. It is time to clear the trash. Its time to redirect our affections and worship to the Lord Alone so that we might be better suited for what God would have us do in the next chapter of his story.

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