Monday, May 25, 2020
Trust and Obey: It's That Simple! Judges 6:19-24
I don’t know about you but I’m the type of person who enjoys figuring things out. I analyze, and over analyze all the time and find it difficult to function when things simply don’t make sense (at least to me). Imagine how frustrating this proves in the season we find ourselves in with this pandemic! To wear a mask or not to wear a mask. To open or not to open for in-person gatherings. To travel or not to travel. To go to the store or order for delivery. The decisions and rationale behind them are endless. However, one thing I’ve learned and relearned over the years that has brought me much peace happens to be taught in the passage that we find ourselves in today in Judges 6:19-24 and that is this: one must not have everything figured out, one must simply obey the Lord and do as he says. Let’s watch as 5 actions are taken that will prepare Gideon for his task in Judges.
1. Preparations are Made-6:19
Last time we left Gideon he had gone home to prepare an offering to bring back to the angel of the Lord who had interrupted his chore of threshing wheat in the winepress. This he did to see whether the Lord had really chosen him to be a part of the deliverance of the people of Israel. Gideon’s idea was that if this messenger was still there when he got back, that was confirmation of God’s choosing. As we pick things up in verse 19, we learn that instead of what many might associate with a traditional offering/sacrifice, Gideon prepares a meal—“Then Gideon went in and prepared a young goat and unleavened bread from an ephah of flour,…” (6:19a). Perhaps this what Gideon believed was an appropriate offering in this troublesome period of Israel’s history. Remember, the people of God are far from the Lord and one cannot assume that many have a thorough understanding of what to present to the Lord in such a situation. That said, the fact that Gideon selects a “young goat” means that he is not just randomly choosing something to offer. Also, an ephah was a massive quantity of flour—probably capable of making ten flat cakes of eight or ten inches in diameter each. These clues suggest that Gideon is doing the best he can to bring something presentable and high quality to this heavenly messenger.
The text goes on to say that Gideon “put the meat in a basket and the broth in a pot, and brought them out to him under the oak and presented them,…” (6:19b). Again, it is not absolutely certain what Gideon believed he was offering in this scenario. Is this supposed to be a tasty meal (Gen. 27:9), a valuable gift (Gen. 38:17), a sign of renewed devotion (Judg. 15:1), a worthy sacrifice (Judg. 13:19), or some combination of these options (Chisholm, Judges and Ruth, 274)? The confusion surrounding what Gideon brought betrays one of two things. Either this is all Gideon had to offer in place of what he knew would make good sacrifice (i.e. the best he could do with what he had) or it is a reflection of Gideon’s ignorance concerning sacrifices (demonstrating just how far from God the Israelites had fallen during this period). Regardless of what this is, Gideon brings something and makes good on his promise to return. A perfect/expected/normal offering it is not, but an offering it is.
2. Instructions are Given-6:20
As Gideon presents the food, the messenger of God makes the most of the humility and vulnerability that Gideon demonstrates and assumes a more authoritative role in the narrative. He commands Gideon “Take the meat and the unleavened bread and lay them on this rock, and pour out the brother” (6:20). These instructions make it clear that no matter what Gideon thought he was bringing to the angel of the Lord, it would now be a sacrifice as rocks were often used as altars (1 Sam. 14:32-34) (Walton, Matthews, Chavalas, IVPBBC, 254). Here, God demonstrates his ability to take what is being offered—no matter how peculiar—and turn it into something pleasing to him. In this case, he takes a meal of peculiar proportions and decides to transform it into a sacrifice.
After receiving the instructions to place what was brought on the impromptu altar, Gideon dutifully complies (“and he did so”) (6:20). It is worth noting that this is one of the ONLY times in Gideon’s saga that he immediately and willingly obeys instructions without any hesitation, reassurance, or added coaxing. Perhaps he does not perceive this messenger as a threat or cannot possibly imagine what harm there is in putting some food on a rock. While it is a small act of obedience with very little risk, it is worth commending Gideon here for quietly following orders (because Lord knows it is a rarity in Israel in this book).
3. The Sacrifice is Received-6:21
What happens next is the “main event” of this passage—“Then the angel of the Lord put out the end of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened bread…” (6:21a). Though this sign may be peculiar to us today, in the ancient world when a presumed deity consumes something a worshiper brought, this was a sign that the one offering the meal had found favor in sight of that deity.
As far the Old Testament is concerned, the presence of fire is often associated with the presence of Yahweh. God appeared to Moses in a burning bush (Exod. 3:2), Sinai was ablaze with God’s presence (Deut. 4:11; 5:23), God sent fire down on Elijah’s offering on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18:25), the wrath of God is compared to a fire (Psalm 21:9; 58:9), and the list goes on and on. These references, along with what takes place here in Judges 6, demonstrate that God often manifests himself as a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29)—at times to confirm his presence and power and at other times to project his wrath. By miraculously setting fire to Gideon’s meal, the Angel of the Lord confirms that Gideon has, in fact, received undeserved favor from the Lord. This would have gone a long way in answering any questions Gideon had (see 6:17) about God choosing him as Israel’s next deliverer.
Before we see what happens next, let us appreciate the implications of what has just occurred in this pivotal moment in Gideon’s life. He offered what he could, though peculiar and imperfect, in obedience to the Lord, and the Lord, by setting fire to it, confirmed that he was pleased with what was brought. This reveals that even here—deep in the Old Testament world—it was not ultimately about what was brought to the Lord, but that it was brought and faithfully offered. Consider this. What did Noah have? His Family? And yet he showed up when called and was used of God to build an ark to save humanity. What did Abraham have? Old age and a barren wife? And yet he showed up with his wife and was used of God to start a nation. What about Moses? He had a rap sheet, studder, and staff. Nonetheless, he showed up to Pharaoh’s palace and God used him to lead his people out of Egypt. How about David? He had seven older, stronger, brothers. And yet it was David who showed up to the battlefield and was used of God to kill Goliath. In each of these cases, God was not looking to these people to be a savior (God was going to take care of that). He was simply looking for them to show up! God had already promised to more than make up for Gideon’s weaknesses (see 6:11-18) as he would be used to deliver his people. God just wanted Gideon to follow his instructions. In this first test, Gideon had passed and a miraculous and confirming sign emerged.
Following this confirming act “the angel of the Lord vanished from his sight” (6:21b). Just as miraculous as the fire coming forth from the staff, this angel of the Lord conducts a disappearing act, further confirming his divine origins and message for Gideon.
4. Reassurance is Granted-6:22-23
Having received the sign he requested, Gideon now realized that he was speaking to the Lord himself and had seen him firsthand through this pre-incarnate manifestation of Christ. This does not engender confidence in his calling as much as strike paralyzing fear into Gideon’s core—“When Gideon saw that he was the angel of the Lord, he said, ‘Alas, O Lord God! For now I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face,…” (6:22). The first words from his mouth following this experience were “Oh no!” “followed by a variation of “I’m going to die because of what I’ve seen!” Certainly, while Gideon’s reverence for the Lord’s presence is understandable, the conclusion he reaches does not make sense—i.e. that he was now going to die because he had seen the Angel of the Lord face to face. After all, wasn’t he still alive after the disappearance of this figure? Hadn’t the Lord called him to a task that had not yet been completed? You were doing so well Gideon in bringing what you had and receiving confirmation from the Lord and now you are already too scared to move forward. Yikes!
Thankfully, before Gideon can retreat back into the winepress from whence he came, the Lord speaks from heaven saying “Peace to you, do not fear; you shall not die’…” (6:23). Here, “Gideon is encouraged to interpret the encounter with God in the most positive sense possible” (Block, Judges, Ruth, 264). Three clauses confirm that nothing will happen to Gideon until God says so. 1) “Peace to you” is a blessing conferred upon Gideon that he could take seriously knowing that God had found favor with him and was on his side. 2) “do not fear” is a command to walk in the confidence that is his because of God’s presence that goes with him. 3) “You shall not die” is a promise that Gideon would be invincible up to and until God was done using him for his glorious purposes. Talk about reassurance!
5. An Altar is Built-6:24
Gideon, at least for the time being, is brought down off the cliff by these reassuring comments. “Then Gideon built an altar there to the Lord and named it ‘the Lord is Peace.’…” (6:24a). Gideon responds to the Lord’s words with genuine worship. He erects a proper altar in the spot (where the rock that had been set ablaze originally sat) and names it “the Lord is peace” (echoing the words of God himself in the previous verse). Gideon can say such about the Lord because he had found favor in the Lord’s sight. For anyone who has found favor in the sight of the Lord, the Lord is a friend and this is a great encouragement.
Gideon’s act of building the altar places him among other ancient patriarchs and Moses who also built altars to the Lord as acts of worship (Gen. 8:20; 12:7-8; 13:18; 26:25; 33:20; 35:7; Exod. 17:15) (Chisholm, Judges and Ruth, 275).
The author ends the passage with a footnote asking readers to confirm his report by going and investigating the spot for the altar that still stood at the time this was written—“To this day it is still in Ophrah of the Abiezrites” (6:24b). What a testimony of God’s favor this must have been for the Israelites! Like Gideon, they too had received unmerited favor and were called to an important task on the world’s stage.
Ultimately this passage reveals that it is not necessarily about who is called or what they bring to the table, it is that they answer the call and obey the Lord. In this case, Gideon, a scared man in an oppressed village, brings a peculiar meal in his best efforts to please this messenger. Neither Gideon’s appointment nor his meal may make sense, but God’s confirming fire demonstrates that it was more than enough to work with. This ought to encourage God’s people today. After all, we may not understand why God would show us his great love by sending his Son to die in our place and make us right with him and why we have found undeserved favor in God’s sight. We also may not believe we or this church may have much to bring to the table. However, God is not looking for us to understand everything, he is simply looking for us to be obedient. What act of obedience do you need to take today? What is it that you need to offer to the Lord right now? You do not have to have it all figured out, you just need to dutifully obey what the Lord calls you to do this day, and everyday thereafter.
Romans 12:1-“Therefore, I urge you brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship”
This was the first step of obedience for Gideon, and it is a step we all must take if we want to be used of God today as we join him in what he is doing.