Thursday, June 11, 2020

HERE IS YOUR FLEECE! Judges 6:33-40

When we last left our hesitant deliverer—Gideon—he was cleaning house by removing an idol complete with an ashera pole from his daddy’s estate. We learned from that chapter of Gideon’s story that it is not enough to know who God is and what He’s called one to if other distractions are allowed to linger that would inhibit God’s work from being accomplished. Today we are going to learn that it is not enough to go some of the way in accomplishing God’s will and purposes; we must champion all that God stands for and calls us to. This we will learn by examining three mechanisms God uses to get Gideon moving in Judges 6:33-40. After examining this passage, we will carefully apply what principles we learn to the church’s response (or lack thereof) to what is currently taking place in our world concerning the discussion on lingering issues racism and injustice.

1) The Threat Assembles-6:33

One might be led to think that Gideon would have found new boldness and willingness given God’s protection in his life during the short errand of dismantling the idol from his community—boldness and willingness that would translate to the original/ultimate task of removing the Midianites and Amalekites from the land. However, we learn in 6:33-40 that Gideon requires added coaxing and reassurance to do all of the things God desires of him. In this passage God uses three mechanisms to get Gideon moving and the first of these is a assembling of the threat. This threat is identified in the first part of verse 33—“then all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the sons of the east assembled themselves” (6:33a). It is obvious by this time that the enemies of the people of God had heard reports of Gideon’s call and initial confirming act of faith. This is why the oppressors gather here—to maintain their grip on the Israelites and not let this new deliver lead his people to freedom. Remember, these different groups—the Midianites, Amalekites, and “the sons of the east” heavily outgunned and out manned Israel.

It is one thing to perceive a single threat far off; it is another thing entirely to see them nearby with a group of allies bent on snuffing you out! As we continue reading verse 33 the growing threat to God’s people zeroes in—“And they crossed over and camped in the valley of Jezreel” (6:33b). This 5-10 mile wide by 15 mile long valley is also referred to as the plain of Megiddo and later will come to be known as Armageddon. It was a natural theatre for battles in Israel’s history (see Judg 4; 1 Sam 31; 2 Kings 23:39) and even beyond (as in Thutmose III’s famous battle of Megiddo in the 15th century). This valley would serve as the showdown between Gideon and this Old Testament version of the axis of evil.

Nothing like a growing threat to move one to action. Remember, Gideon had already been told how he would be used (“Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian” (6:14)), was promised God’s presence in the process (“Surely I will be with you” (6:16)), and was assured that victory would be his (“and you shall defeat Midian as one man” (6:16)). Not only that, but Gideon had been given a reassuring sign in the spontaneous combustion of the peculiar sacrifice he had offered in 6:19-24 and had seen the faithfulness of God in the errand of removing his town’s idol in 6:25-32. A growing threat like this to the well being of God’s people, no doubt, should have made Gideon eager to meet this threat head on and confidently go about the business to which God had called him. However, his going out, his doing the right thing, is not as immediate as one would expect or hope.

2) The Troops are Gathered-6:34-35

The second mechanism God uses to stir Gideon to action involves the gathering of the troops. To this end, “…the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon; and he blew the trumpet,…” (6:34a). It is important to recognize that bereft of the Spirit’s influence on Gideon’s life, there would be no guarantee that Gideon would have ever blown his trumpet. We might still be waiting for him to do so today had it not been for the Spirit’s leading! The involvement of God’s spirit does not just stir Gideon to blow his trumpet, it also offered great hope to the Israelites who heard it as not since the time of Othniel (the first judge) had God so empowered an Israelite warrior (see 3:10 and the lack of a reference to the Spirit’s involvement in Ehud and Barak’s case) (Chisholm, Judges and Ruth, 277).
When the Spirit of God moves mightily in Gideon’s life, he does something that was desperately needed but also something that he would not naturally do. The same is true in the lives of God’s people today. In fact, the New Testament puts it this way:

Galatians 5:16-17-“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”

It may have pleased Gideon to just go some of the way in God’s plan and purpose, doing some of the things he knew he was supposed to do. After all, he had already taken down his dad’s statue and had offered a sacrifice to the angel of the Lord up to this point. Did he really need to go any further? From what we have seen of Gideon, his flesh was hesitant, fearful, timid, and lacking in urgency. However, once God’s Spirit gets involved, he overcomes the desires of Gideon’s flesh that would have him stand in silence and as a result, he is able to blow the trumpet.

Once the Spirit moves in Gideon’s life, incredible things begin to happen—“and the Abiezrites were called together to follow him. He sent messengers throughout Manasseh, and they also were called together to follow him; and he sent messengers to Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, and they came up to meet them…” (6:34b-35). If we are not careful, we will miss the miracle that takes place. The Abiezrites are the first group listed as joining Gideon and his cause. These were the very same people who were ready to hunt him down and kill him for tearing down the statue of his father in the previous passage. That is just like the spirit to turn presumed enemies into partners. In addition to this group who responded to the trumpet call, Gideon sent out messengers throughout Manasseh and Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali who all responded to his plea for help. These responded by assembling.
Why were so many so eager to respond in this way. Was it because Gideon was a proven and fearless leader? NO. Once again, the Spirit of God makes up for what was lacking by way of charisma in Gideon and the people of God respond in kind—both to the trumpet and to the messages sent forth.
If the mounting threat wasn’t enough to motivate Gideon to do what he had been called to do, sure the assembly of a mighty band of tribes who had come in response to the Spirit-led call would send Gideon over-the-top. However, even this does not prove to be enough to get the ball rolling.

3) The Tests Provide Confirmation-6:36-40

The next mechanism God uses to nudge Gideon the rest of the way to faithfulness involves tests (yes, tests plural). These are used to provide added confirmation for this hesitant warrior. The test is requested of Gideon in verses 36-37a—“ Then Gideon said to God, ‘If you will deliver Israel through me, as You have spoken, behold, I will put fleece of wool on the threshing floor…” (6:36-37a). Such a test might prove peculiar to us, and yet, this is an example of what was called an oracle in the ancient world. In an oracle, a yes-no question is posed to deity and a test with only two possible results is administered so that a deity can provide an answer.

In this particular case, “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” (6:37b). However, if the ground along with the dew was wet (as would be expected any typical morning), Gideon would know he had plenty of reason to remain hesitant about doing what he knows is right. Though this is the first test requested from Gideon in this passage, it is not the first one requested by Gideon in his saga. Remember that already Gideon had asked the Angel of the Lord to remain while he went off to prepare the offering and if he was still there upon Gideon’s return, he would know that what this Messenger said was true (see 6:17-19).

Rather than scold Gideon for using this oracle or rebuking him for putting the Lord to the test, God condescends out of his grace and mercy to gently provide Gideon with the added reassurance he requested to get up and get moving. Verse 38 reads “and it was so. When he arose early the next morning and squeezed the fleece, he drained the dew from the fleece, a bowl full of water” and, we can assume, the ground around the fleece was left dry.

Great! Can we get moving now? Not so fast Gideon says.

After God entertained Gideon with this feat, proving gracious and over-indulgent, Gideon fails to keep his word (“if you do this then I will know…”) and asks for another test to be administered. ANOTHER TEST—“Then Gideon said to God, ‘Do not let Your anger burn against me that I may speak once more; please let me make a test once more with the fleece,…” (6:39a). Though Gideon’s request is offered apologetically, “this should not blind the reader to the manner in which Gideon is trying to manipulate God” (Block, Judges, Ruth, 273-74). He demonstrates he knows he is wrong to ask for such by saying “Do not let Your anger burn against me…”. If I am getting impatient as a reader, imagine what God must have been thinking in this moment, especially given everything he had already done for Gideon to reassure him. Just imagine if Gideon matched his boldness to request this of God with the task at hand of meeting the Midianites head-on in battle.

That said, Gideon proceeds with yet another oracle, only, this time he is hoping to see the opposite take place—“Let it now be dry only on the fleece, and let there be dew on all the ground” (6:39b).  So, in the first round Gideon wanted to see the fleece wet and the ground dry. In round two he wanted to see the fleece dry and the ground around it wet.

Once again, and quite miraculously, God condescends to give Gideon what he requests, knowing full well that Gideon should not have asked for it and certainly does not deserve it. Ultimately, Gideon’s spiritual condition to try to twist God’s arm into jumping through these unnecessary hoops reveals the condition of the heart of his people who had tested and retested God’s patience time and time again. That said, despite Israel’s spiritual disaffection, God is obviously more interested in preserving his people than they are in preserving themselves (Block, Judges, Ruth, 274). While God certainly would have enjoyed seeing immediate faithfulness from his people to do ALL that he desired of them, he chooses to wait and willingly provides added reassurances.

So What?

Given what is going on in our world I cannot help but draw some unfortunate parallels between God’s people here in Judges 6 and some elements of the church today. Like Gideon, we often need unnecessary reassurances and added coaxing to do/say those things that we know are right. While certainly many of us have become accustomed to fighting certain battles and speaking truth in love to certain issues, for some odd reason many in the church have not been as quick to do the right thing with regards to other important and equally compelling conflicts. For instance, why is it that historically the evangelical church has proven quick to speak up for the unborn or stand for biblical marriage and yet has proven hesitant to call out racism and other injustices that many, especially in the black community, continue to face all over our world today? There is a deafening silence and/or hesitancy that is harmful and frustrating for those who observe the church’s failure to do/say the right thing on any number of issues. Just as we grow impatient with Gideon in spite of all he had pushing him in the right direction to get him going, I imagine that many looking at the church from the outside in wonder how much is going to have to give for us to be moved to say/do what is necessary for the gospel and the Kingdom of God to be applied to these important areas of our society. Perhaps, if we are willing to recognize it, God is using mechanisms in our world to get us going in the right direction that are similar to what was used in Gideon’s life. As the Midianites and Amalekites proved to be an existential threat to Gideon’s people, the wickedness of prejudice and injustice continues to rise up against people made in the image of God in our world today. When we see what we have seen in our country over the last few weeks, it is unmistakable and cannot be ignored. Many have been able to undermine accounts of lingering systemic racism in the recent past by poking holes in testimonies and looking for reasons or presumed justifications for why certain measures were justified in particular cases; but now we have seen the video evidence that injustice still exists. These mounting threats to those whom God has fearfully and wonderfully made pose a threat to the Lord’s order and we ought to be moved both to brokenness and to action in response. Perhaps this is not enough for some (after all, the mounting threats were not enough for Gideon in 6:33). For Gideon, God added the blowing trumpet and assembly of allies to the growing threats to push him in the right direction. Today, is not God’s Spirit leading courageous men and women to blow the trumpet so as to draw necessary attention to this lingering problem in our society and rally the body to bring a solution? Are not church leaders in new and important ways peeling back the bandage on what many believed was healed wound in our society to reveal that the infection of hate still exists? I think of the words recently shared by Matt Chandler. Earlier this week he lamented that while in the 1960s the civil rights movement was born out of the church, now “the church by and large has refused to participate (in racial reconciliation efforts) which means that we have turned over, God help us, what is our inheritance to dark ideologies…you cannot point all the flaws in this current movement while you have abandoned the place that we were meant to play…we cannot ignore the sorrow and lament of 12-13 million images bearers  in our country…we mourn with those who mourn and yes there are demonic and evil ideologies at play but that is where the people of God are men are meant to run with Light and the good news of Jesus Christ, not sit back and snipe via social media.” Or Abdu Murray who said “Many said 2020 would be the ‘year of vision’ only to lament that #COVID19 and social unrest have beclouded our sight. But perhaps God is using it all to sharpen our vision of the way things are and the way they ought to be.” Or Dr. Crawford Loritts who says: “It is not good enough for Christians to say ‘I’m not a racist.’ We have to be antiracism, because racism is in the category of sin. . .Just as we are anti-adultery and anti-lying and anti-stealing, we’ve got to see it in this painful reality. . . If we tolerate it at all we will accept it and excuse it and camouflage it.” or Bartholomew Orr who has said “Against the backdrop of the darkness of hatred, injustice and sin that has gripped America, the time is just ripe for bold, bright believers who will shine like Jesus and share the glorious Gospel of love, life and freedom.” Or Pastor James Hobson of Lynchburg who says, “just because you may not be a racist doesn’t mean that racism is not still a problem in our country.” Maybe, like Gideon, we are not too impressed with this growing show of support for what is certainly a righteous battle. Maybe, like our hesitant deliverer in Judges 6 you need even more confirmation. Maybe you are waiting on the fleece—you just need a sign or two to set you over the top and get you off the bench to say and do what is right. HERE IT IS! HERE IS YOUR FLEECE! While God can and may provide you with whatever confirmation you may think you need, has he not already provided his word which says “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8) or “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause” (Isaiah 1:17) or “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Rom. 12:15-18) or “anyone who claim to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness” (1 John 2:9). We cannot afford to just engage in the battles that are more our speed (just as Gideon could not afford to leave his role with the offering he offered or the idol he tore down). More is needed and God’s people are to the agents that God uses in the world to bring about the Lord’s answers to all kinds of problems—including problems of racism and injustice. It is always the right time to do the right thing. And while the Midianites and the Amalekites were the oppressors needing toppling in Gideon’s day, injustice and racism remain as tyrants that need toppling today. God’s people ought to be leading the charge, not found hesitant or slow on the draw.

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