Monday, June 22, 2020

Cupcake Wars-Judges 7:9-18

“Cupcake Wars” is one of the many reality competitions on television today. In it, contestants participate in several special challenges that have them baking cupcakes with different themes, ingredients, and/or decorations to show their creative confectionery skills. Things become increasingly intense as the competition progresses and fewer and fewer are left in the competition. I’ve only watched a couple of episodes, but one of the things that I have to remind myself of in the midst of the dramatic music, lighting, stern looks, tears, and scrutinizing critiques from the “expert judges” is that these are cupcakes we are talking about. At the end of the day, these are cupcakes. Remembering this puts it all into proper perspective and reiterates that I do not need to take this shows or others like it but only so seriously.

Interestingly, a cupcake of an entirely different kind reminds us of something very much related to this realization in Judges 7:9-18. In this passage, three events rally Gideon and his special forces uses to meet their enemy head on. However, in the process of getting things moving, proper perspective is given to Gideon’s role in whole enterprise—perspective that we need to be reminded of as God’s people today.

1) EVENT #1: God Offers Reassurance-7:9-11

After “refining” the Israelite forces from 32000 to just 300 men, I imagine Gideon was having some second thoughts about the whole battle against Midian thing to which God had called him. Just when things were trending in the right direction (after many responded to the trumpet call and had made their way to the front lines), the Lord sends 99.1% of those gathered home. This is probably why God reminds him of the promised victory in verse 9—“Now the same night it came about that the Lord said to him, ‘Arise, go down against the camp, for I have given it into your hands,…” (7:9). “Arising” and “going down” would have been a lot easier with more people. “Arising” and “going down” to meet this enemy would have made more sense with weapons. For Gideon, the promise of victory—“for I have given it into your hands”—was of little consolation given what he had to work with. While this is just like the Lord to do the incredible with the laughable, Gideon does not trust this. Trepidation sets in once again for our hesitant deliverer. Second thoughts take over where the remembrance of God’s promise once held sway and although God could certainly achieve the victory without Gideon and the 300, it is his desire to use these feeble means for his glorious purposes.
Keep in mind, this is the last of several times Gideon has been promised victory over Midian.

Judges 6:16-“But the Lord said to him, ‘Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat Midian as on man”

The Fleece episodes

Judges 7:7-“The Lord said to Gideon, ‘I will deliver you with the 300 men…”

Despite all these promises of victory, Gideon is shaking in his boots once again and very much in need of confidence.

This is why God offers, yet AGAIN, an opportunity for reassurance—“But if you are afraid to go down, go with Purah your servant down to the camp, and you will hear what they say; and afterwards your hands will be strengthened that you may go down against the camp,…” (7:11a). Rather than wait for Gideon to cower in a corner somewhere, God preempts his retreat with this offer of encouragement. His prescription for Gideon’s anxiety is having Gideon go the Midianite camp at night and listening to what is being said by some of the soldiers. God predicts that what Gideon will hear will give him the added encouragement he needs to launch the attack against Israel’s oppressors.
Gideon seizes the opportunity for more reassurance immediately after this was made available to him—“So he went with Purah his servant down to the outposts of the army that was in the camp,…” (7:11b). Notice how far Gideon has come from his winepress and how close he is to accomplishing his initial calling. From the winepress we saw him journey to his father’s house to remove an idol. From there we see him encamped outside enemy forces. Now we see him behind enemy lines to eavesdrop on a conversation taking place between two of his oppressors. What is there to explain this movement in Gideon’s life? God’s direction and patient hand-holding. It is amazing how far God can take those he calls—even/especially if he has to drag them kicking and screaming. As the reader grows increasingly impatient and eager to see this battle take place, God is patient and willing to hold off a bit longer so that those he has chosen are ready to follow through.

2) EVENT #2: Gideon Eavesdrops on the Enemy-7:12-14

As Gideon infiltrates the camp we are introduced to what he saw—“ Now the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the sons of the east were lying in the valley as numerous as locusts; and their camels were without number, as numerous as the sand on the seashore” (7:12). The enormity of these enemy forces is indicated by the generalities used to describe their numbers. In verses 1-8, precise figures were assigned to those forces that gathered for Israel. One reason for this was because the figures were low enough to count (especially as the number shrunk down to 300). Here, in describing the Midianite forces, figurative language in the form of similes replace numbers, highlighting that both the army itself and the camels they rode in on were too numerous to calculate. Such a spectacle probably did very little for Gideon’s confidence. However, God did not promise that Gideon’s confidence would come from what he saw—but from what he would hear.

This is very important. More often than not, God desires for those he has called to take him at his word and not rely on other added external signs. Gideon is a man that has required all kinds of visual representations of God’s presence and promise of victory. However, in this last push, God will speak through a dream of one of the enemy combatants. This preference for God’s word over miracles and spectacles is reiterated in the New Testament. Following his resurrection, a doubting Thomas demands to see Christ himself. After Jesus appears to him and calls Thomas to investigate his hands and side, he says in John 20:29, “…’Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.’” As an aside to the predominate theme and principle of this passage, God’s people need to depend more on the Word that God has already revealed than they do on new and supplementary works from God. As already mentioned, God had told Gideon the victory would be his on multiple occasions. However, perhaps Gideon needed to hear this from someone else.

The text continues with the following account of what Gideon heard behind enemy lines: “When Gideon came, behold, a man was relating a dream to his friend. And he said, ‘Behold, I had a dream; a loaf of barley bread was tumbling into the camp of Midian, and it came to the tent and struck it so that it fell, and turned it upside down so that the tent lay flat.’…” (7:13).

I’ve been known to have fairly unusual dreams from time to time—including one of being chased by Captain Hook (the cartoon version). Normally, I’ll dismiss these as meaningless and not give them a second thought. However, dreams were commonly believed to have significance in the ancient world (even weird dreams about a cupcake tumbling down a hill and overturning a tent). Evidence that this dream was taken seriously is seen in the eagerness of this soldier to share it with a fellow comrade. It is obvious that he believed his dream was a bad omen and, at least potentially, that it spelled some kind of disaster lurking ahead (Walton, Matthews, an Chavalas, IVPBBC, 255). While the Midianite who had the dream is perplexed by its meaning, his friend proves that he does not need Sigmund Freud to figure this one out.

 “…His friend replied, ‘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’…” (7:14). God had not only implanted the dream in the mind of the first man, he had also empowered the second to interpret the vision. Why the cake represents Gideon and how the tent symbolizes the Midianite forces is left unclear. That said, one thing is for sure, the Midianites were shaking in their boots and Gideon was catching a glimpse of this nervousness firsthand. Just imagine how reassuring it would have been to learn that the enemy was already dreaming of their own defeat and worried that it would come true! Peculiar though all of this may be, Gideon’s eavesdropping finally sends this hesitant leader into hyperdrive and quick preparations for battle commence.
3) EVENT #3: Israelites Prepare for Battle-7:15-18

Gideon’s first response to what he has heard is as follows: “When Gideon heard the account of the dream and its interpretation, he bowed in worship” (7:15a). No doubt this private worship service was motivated by both praise for the patience and reassurance he had received from God and repentance, asking God to forgive him for requiring so much to be faithful. That said, this worshipful tone suggests that Gideon is finally the man that God desired he would be to lead his people into battle against their enemies (Chisholm, Judges and Ruth, 284). In fact, as long and curvy as the path has proven to be for Gideon to get to this point, now, in retrospect, one can almost see how every bend in the route has contributed to the man that Gideon became in this moment—appreciative for God’s calling and confident in the victory God would bring.  

With pep in his step, “he returned to the camp of Israel and said, ‘Arise, for the Lord has given the camp of Midian in your hands’…” (7:15b). This is the first time that Gideon has expressed his agreement with God’s promise for him and his people. It also demonstrates that at least here, it wasn’t until Gideon agreed with God that he was used of God to accomplish God’s will. By vocalizing the same call that God had given him earlier, it reveals that Gideon is finally on the same page as the Lord and things can move forward.

Gideon matches his confident exclamation with practical preparations. First “He divided the 300 men into three companies, and he put trumpets and empty pitchers into the hands of all of them, with torches inside the pitchers…” (7:16). Now, no longer was the low number of their forces considered a non-starter. If all they had was 300, they would divide them into three companies and spread out. No longer was their lack of weaponry a reason to fret. If trumpets and empty pitchers were what they had, that would have to do. After all, God was on their side, and now, finally, Gideon knew that was all they really needed.

The passage closes in verses 17-18 with ”Look at me and do likewise. And Behold,…”. Just a second! Up to this point, Gideon was not the kind of man that could possibly serve as a compelling example for anyone to follow, let alone soldiers facing battle. However, now that he has been so transformed by the patient hand of God, he can and does demand the kind of respect and gravitas a mighty warrior would typically garner before sending his men into war. Here, Gideon begins to fulfill what God said of him all the way back when the Angel of the Lord visited him in the winepress—“The Lord is with you, O valiant warrior” (6:12)—proving that while God’s people may not yet be what the Lord says of them, they most assuredly will be in the end.

The instructions are as follows—“and behold, when I come to the outskirts of the camp, do as I do. When I and all who are with me blow the trumpet, they you also blow the trumpets all around the camp and say, ‘For the Lord and for Gideon’” (7:18b-18). The declaration announced here recognized that the battle belonged to Yahweh—the Commander-in-Chief—and that Gideon was his deputy (Block, Judges, Ruth, 282). While I was initially averse to Gideon adding his name to the tagline of this battle cry (fearing that this would bring Gideon praise and adulation more appropriately reserved for God), the more I thought about it the more I’m ok with it. After all, who was Gideon anyway? Left unto himself, Gideon was a fearful farmer threshing wheat in a winepress—he is the cupcake in the dream. However, God had so moved in his life to make him the deliverer his people needed. By including his name here, Gideon draws attention not to himself, but to his testimony—a testimony of God transforming a hesitant coward into a great leader for this moment.

So What?

Remembering that Gideon is ultimately a cupcake in this story really helps us put things into proper perspective as we consider how God uses us today. Like Gideon, God does not call us or use us because of anything too terribly remarkable, powerful, or praiseworthy about us. The truth is we are all cupcakes in a war against evil in this world. But God…God is pleased to use cupcakes for mighty and important things—things like defeating formidable enemies (“I will build by church and the gates of hell will not overcome it”-Matt. 16:18) and executing important commissions (“go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature”-Mk. 16:15). So what is a cupcake like you to do? Like Gideon, we are to remember the promises he has given to us (promises like “I am with you always”-Matt. 28:20; “All things work together for door to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purposes”- Rom. 8:28). Like Gideon, we are to take advantage of the opportunities of reassurance he has graciously provided us (remembering ways that he has come through for you, provided for your needs, or answered your prayers in the past). And like Gideon, we must agree with God (both out loud and in the quietness of our hearts) about what he is doing, who we are in him, and the victory that lies ahead (1 Cor. 15:27-“ But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our LORD Jesus Christ”; “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place”-2 Cor. 2:14). When we do this, like Gideon, we can tumble tents/be used of God in amazing ways. But make no mistake, whenever/however we cupcakes may be used, we are ultimately cupcakes in this whole equation—God is the hero.  

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