Thursday, September 24, 2015
(I gave this message at Pines Baptist Church, Pembroke Pines Florida on September 20, 2015. You can listen to the message online HERE.)
As we go through life year after year, God opens new doors placing new opportunities before us leading us to take on new responsibilities. A young person wrestling with the question "What does God want me to do with my life?" "Where do I go to school?" "What should I study in preparation for that calling?"
A young married couple about to have their first child. Excited in anticipation of the new arrival, yet perhaps a bit apprehensive of the responsibilities, challenges and sacrifices of becoming parents.
Perhaps you've just started a new job. The learning curve is steep. You find the assignment difficult, even overwhelmed with the unfamiliar. Perhaps you're a businessman, sensing God's leading to start a new business; to venture out on your own for the first time. Perhaps in following God's call you've accepted a ministry assignment but struggle with doubts and a sense of inadequacy. Maybe it's a person you need to speak with to make things right. Or the Lord has put His finger on a besetting sin in you life.
We could likely come up with as many different scenarios as there are people here this morning. Maybe you're waiting to get started, or you've already taken the first step. Perhaps you are well on your way but facing obstacles, even opposition, prompting doubts whether or not you should even continue.
Thousands of years ago God called a man by the name of Gideon to an assignment he felt woefully unprepared for. And in the Biblical account recorded in the book of Judges, we find principles that transcend time, culture and circumstances speaking to us today in the 21st century as we face new opportunities and assignments.
Note with me the historical setting. In a message from the book of Joshua a little over two years ago we learned that God does His work through His people, serving in His power, carrying out His plan.
As Joshua lead Israel across the Jordan River into the promised land, Israel began to take possession of the land God had promised their forefather Abraham hundreds of years before. Under Joshua's leadership they began the daunting task of defeating and driving out their enemies as the Lord had commanded them. Judges 2:8 records the death of Joshua. The period of the judges that follows covers the next 300 or so year from the time of Joshua's death to the beginning of the monarchy in the mid 11th century BC.
Under Joshua's leadership, Israel began to conquer and take possession of the Promised Land. But when we come to the book of Judges a very different story emerges. As John McArthur writes, "Judges is a tragic sequel to Joshua. In Joshua, the people were obedient to God in conquering the Land. In Judges, they were disobedient, idolatrous, and often defeated."
Therefore John Davis notes, the contrasting themes of the two books. The book of Joshua, "Victory Through Faith." The book of Judges, "Failure Through Compromise." And David Howard writes, "The theme of Judges is the downward spiral of Israel's national and spiritual life into chaos and apostasy...." (ESV Study Bible pg. 433)
In this regard, Judges 17:6 could well be the key verse in the book, "In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes." (ESV)
Judges 2:10-19 provides us with a summary of this period in Israel's history.
"10 And all that generation [the generation of Joshua] also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel. 11 And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. 12 And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. 13 They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. 14 So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. 15 Whenever they marched out, the hand of the Lord was against them for harm, as the Lord had warned, and as the Lord had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress. 16 Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them. 17 Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the Lord, and they did not do so. 18 Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. 19 But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways." (ESV)
Remember God had established a covenant with Israel through Moses at Mt. Sinai. After wandering in the desert for forty years, Moses renewed the covenant with the people before he died Deuteronomy 29. Joshua then renewed the covenant with the people after they entered and began to take possession of the Promised Land.
But the generations that followed Joshua grew up oblivious to God and oblivious to what God had done for Israel in the preceding years. This new generation lost sight of the unique identity they had as the people of God. Verse 10 they "... did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel." Verse 12, "... they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt."
They settled in the land and became attached to the Canaanite people. They embraced the immorality and gods of the pagan culture around them. The book of Judges records seven seasons of such apostasy. A sequence of four events was repeated over and over again in these seven cycles of apostasy.
First, Israel would abandon God. They turned from the Lord and served other gods. Two, the Lord chastised them. He brought judgment upon His people subjugating them to their enemies. Three, Israel would cry out to the Lord for deliverance. Four, God raised up a judge to deliver Israel from their enemy oppressors. The title "judge" means savior or deliverer.
The issue in the book of Judges is the repeated rejection of the Lordship of God in Israel, and His gracious response to the repeated cry for deliverance by his wayward people.
The first judge Othniel delivered Israel from the oppression of Mesopotamia, chapter three, followed by 40 years of peace. Ehud then delivered Israel from the Moabites followed by 80 years of peace. Brief mention is made of Shamgar who defeated 600 Philistines. The prophetess and judge Deborah delivered Israel from the Canaanites, followed by 40 years of peace. Then the cycle started all over again. Judges 6:1-4,
"1The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian seven years. 2 And the hand of Midian overpowered Israel, and because of Midian the people of Israel made for themselves the dens that are in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds. [In other words they were hiding in the mountains.] 3 For whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them. 4 They would encamp against them and devour the produce of the land, as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey. Verse 6, And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel cried out for help to the Lord."
Again, Gideon's generation turned from the Lord and followed the pagan gods. Then after the Lord caused their enemies to oppress them they cried out for His mercy and He once again raised up a judge to deliver them from their enemies. This is the world in which Gideon lived. This is the context in which God called this man to deliver Israel from the oppression of their enemies.
I want to look at God's call of Gideon and note the process that followed the call. The process that prepared Gideon to both accept and carry out the assignment God had called him to. In other words, I want to note the steps it took to get Gideon "on board" and in particular how God worked with Gideon through out that process to bring him to a place of obedient faith to the calling God had placed on his life.
And I believe we will find principles in this process that apply to you and I in the here and now. I want you to know that in deciding to bring this message a degree of selfishness came into play. For I recognized that I need this message. Therefore what I share this morning is first and foremost for my benefit if for no one else!
God calls Gideon. Judges 6:11,12, Now the angel of the Lord came and sat under the terebinth at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.”
Perhaps now you understand why I have taken the time to place the call of Gideon in its historical context. An entire nation is in distress. The Midianites had been plundering them for seven years. They are desperate. The supermarket shelves were bare so to speak. The commodities necessary to sustain life were vanishing as the enemy repeatedly devoured "...the produce of the land...leaving...no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey," verse 4.
And a very ordinary man, evidently a farmer, is winnowing wheat in a wine press of all places, so as not to be discovered by the Midianites, when God appears to him and gives him the assignment. The call of Gideon itself is unusual. He is not approached by a prophet; he is not anointed by a priest; he is not elected by the people. No, God appears to Gideon in the form of a man, a theophany it is called, and calls him to deliver his nation from the enemy who had been plundering them for seven years.
As I've said before, God often chooses ordinary people to accomplish the extraordinary, here a middle-aged wheat farmer. You remember, God called Elisha while he was plowing his fields. Amos was a sheepherder from Tekoa; David a shepherd boy the youngest of all his brothers; Peter, James and John were fisherman when Jesus called them. You can add to the list.
G. Campbell Morgan, "God almost invariably discovers the man of the hour where no one else is looking for him."
You and I are included in that list. True, God might not be calling you to deliver your nation from an oppressor. On the other hand, maybe he will! God knows how much we need one. But in the world in which you and I live, a stay at home mother caring for or perhaps even home schooling her children; a postal worker delivering the mail; a physician tending to the sick; a sales representative marketing your companies product. You fill in the blank.
Never minimize where God has placed you. Never underestimate the value and significance of your calling. Never think, no matter how old you are, that there will never be new assignments God is calling you to. Reaching out to your new neighbor down the street who does not know Christ; discipling or mentoring a new believer in your church; becoming a foster parent to an orphaned or abandoned child.
Back to Judges. The NIV Topical Bible, "None of the major judges was a likely candidate for leadership in that society. Ehud was left-handed, Deborah was a woman, Jephthah was not only an illegitimate child but the son of a prostitute, and Samson was a Nazirite dedicated to living a simple religious life." (page 262)
God is not concerned about the pedigree, position, prestige, or power of those he chooses to use. Education, wealth, status and abilities are not what determine usefulness, as we will see momentarily.
Notice Gideon's response, verse 13, "And Gideon said to him, 'Please, sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, 'Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.”
Fred Young writes, "In talking with the angel, Gideon questioned the validity of the stories he had heard about the power and presence of God in the experience of his ancestors...He hesitated to accept the offer of leadership the divine messenger made." (The Biblical Expositor page 251)
One word characterized Gideon's initial response to the Lord. Doubt. Are you familiar with that word? Has it ever popped up in your mind in the face of something the Lord has asked you to do or is asking you to do today? Apparently Gideon doubted the relevance of God in light of the dire circumstances facing Israel. Evidently, he had difficulty gaining encouragement from God's miraculous intervention in the distant past. His generation had not yet experienced God's intervention as his ancestors had.
You see, God's call often comes in the darkest hour; in the midst of trying circumstances. In that setting it is easy to respond to God as Gideon did. "Where have you been God?" It is always easier to jump on the "band wagon" when there is blessing and success than it is to stay on the sinking ship where the only challenge is to roll up your sleeves and get to work.
Listen to God's response, verse 14, "And the Lord turned to him and said, 'Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?'”
In essence God is saying, "Get busy doing what I've called you to do!" And here's the key to that command. We learn in book of Joshua that God's plan always depends on God's power. Verse 14 - "Go in this your might." God is referring back to what He had said to Gideon in verse 12, “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.” In other words, God is challenging Gideon to go in the strength he has been given because the Lord is with him!
The German commentators, Keil & Delitzsch, "The demonstrative 'this' points to the strength which has just been given him through the promise of God." You see, God had called Gideon to a task, the success of which did not depend on Gideon.
Friends, nothing has changed over the years. What is God asking you to do? What is God speaking to you about today? His expectation is the same as it was for Gideon - Go! Do it! And the premise of the call is the same as for Gideon,"The Lord is with you, O mighty man of Valor!" verse 12, "Do not I send you?" verse 14.
Well, evidently Gideon had difficulty getting hold of this truth. Listen to his response, verse 15, And he said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house.”
"How can I save Israel?" he asked. Gideon still didn't get it. He proceeds to give the Lord two reasons why he was not the right person for this assignment. "I don't have the right pedigree." He reminded the Lord that he was from the weakest clan in the tribe of Manasseh.
Secondly, he insisted, "I'm not qualified." "I feel inadequate." After all, I am the least in my family. I don't think God objected to Gideon's self-assessment. It's as though the Lord was saying, "That's precisely my point Gideon! That's exactly how you should feel. That's why I called you. You are not qualified for the job and you know it! But I am!"
"The Lord is with you...Go in this might of yours...Did not I send you!" were His words to Gideon. Centuries later, God said the very same thing to the Apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” To which Paul rightly responded Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." 2 Corinthians 12:9 (ESV)
Notice God's specific response to Gideon's doubt. If I can read between the lines, "Gideon you don't quite get it yet! Let me spell it out for you again." Verse 16, "And the Lord said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.” Taking down the Midianites will be a simple task FOR ME. But I intend to do it through you.
Listen, God can use us even in our weakness. If we feel inadequate to the task, from God's perspective that's a good place to be! Because whatever assignment He gives to us depends on His power and resources not ours!
Note how the Lord then prepared Gideon for the assignment. First of all there was an encounter with God, verses 17 - 24. Gideon wanted to be sure he knew who had commissioned him. Verse 17, "And he said to him, 'If now I have found favor in your eyes, then show me a sign that it is you who speak with me.'"
He then asked the Angel of the Lord if he would wait until he brought him a present. And he prepared a meal for the visitor. At the request of the Angel the meal was turned into an offering, as Gideon was instructed to place the meal on a rock. Verses 21 - 22, "Then the angel of the Lord reached out the tip of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened cakes. And fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened cakes. And the angel of the Lord vanished from his sight. Then Gideon perceived that he was the angel of the Lord. And Gideon said, 'Alas, O Lord God! For now I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face.'"
At that moment Gideon knew he had come face to face with the Lord Himself. Therefore the "expression of alarm," "Alas, O Lord God!" His response is reminiscent of Isaiah's words when he saw the Lord sitting upon His throne, "Woe is me! For I am lost; I am a man of unclean lips" (Isaiah 6:5) But the Lord calms Gideon's terror with these words. Verse 23, "But the Lord said to him, 'Peace be to you. Do not fear; you shall not die.'”
Peace! That is what God offered Gideon! Having come face to face with Me, you will not die! Said the Lord. Perhaps before this experience Gideon knew of God. But in this encounter, he came into the presence of God. And he would never be the same. This was the first step of Gideon's preparation. Knowing the presence of God is the context in which we respond to the call of God.
Do you know God this morning? That's not the same question as, do you know about God? There is a difference between knowing God intellectually and knowing God experientially. The first step in responding to God's call is knowing the One who extends the call. If you do not know Jesus Christ this morning He invites you to put your trust in His death and resurrection.
His work of redemption on our behalf is complete. As our substitute, He paid the penalty for our sins when He shed His blood on the cross, reconciling us to God. And the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave is proof that when we repent of our sin and trust in his Son for salvation, God will declare us righteousness in His sight and we will have peace with God. This is the clear witness of Scripture, "Therefore, since we have been justified (been made right with God) we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 5:1 (ESV)
Verse 24, "Then Gideon built an altar there to the Lord and called it, The Lord Is Peace." If you do not know the peace of God that comes from the forgiveness of your sins hear the Lord's invitation today and call out to Him in faith for salvation!
There was a second step of preparation. Gideon was consecrated to God verses 25-27. There was something in Gideon's household that needed to be cleaned out before Gideon proceeded. In a sense it was his first assignment but also a necessary step of preparation.
Verse 25, "That night the Lord said to him, 'Take your father's bull, and the second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal that your father has, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it and build an altar to the Lord your God on the top of the stronghold here, with stones laid in due order. Then take the second bull and offer it as a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah that you shall cut down.”
As we have already noted, idolatry filled the land. And some of it was in Gideon's own backyard. There was something in Gideon's life that displeased the Lord. God put His finger on it, and asked Gideon to remove it. That's what consecration is. It means to take remove the idols in our lives.
Sin is inevitably an obstacle to both hearing God's call and responding to God's call. At a men's retreat years ago, Pastor Ron Walborn said that consecration means, "to get rid of the mixture in your life." Idols compete with the will of God in our lives. He said consecration means "to live in a constant state of repentance." It's like keeping short accounts with God.
This step of consecration was followed by the third step of preparation. Gideon was, empowered by God. Before God used Gideon to deliver Israel from their oppressors we read the following, verse 33, "Now all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East came together, and they crossed the Jordan and encamped in the Valley of Jezreel."
The enemy once again gathered to attack Israel. But this time, verse 34, "...the Spirit of the Lord clothed Gideon, and he sounded the trumpet, and the Abiezrites were called out to follow him. His mission began only after one last preparation. "...the Spirit of the Lord clothed Gideon."
The implication of the verb "clothed" is to have "complete possession" of. (Arthur Cundall IVP) As an army of 135,000 enemy soldiers crossed the Jordan River into Israel, Gideon became the "mighty man of valor" verse 12, as he was clothed with God's power verse 34.
As Jacob Meyers observes, "The spirit of the Lord became incarnate in Gideon, who then became the extension of the Lord."
A number of years ago now, a freighter being towed to Fort Lauderdale broke free from the towboat and drifted onto a sand bar, three hundred yards off Port Everglades. For days it languished on the sand bar completely immobilized stuck in the sand, unable to reach its intended destination.
You see, once the ship was disconnected from the tug boat it lost both its sense of direction and its source of power to get to its destination. That's the risk each of us face. That "mixture in your life" Pastor Walborn spoke of can easily side distract us from the call of God no matter what that may be, and disconnect us from experiencing God's power necessary to complete the call.
We're like that stranded ship. Out of its element grounded on a stretch of sand, immobilized, having lost the power and ability to get to its intended destination. Have you ever had that experience? I have, more times than I would like to admit.
God gave Gideon a glimpse of who He was. Had him deal with the idols in his life. And now He filled him with His power. You say, "God has never appeared to me!" I have not had a visitation by the Angel of the Lord calling me to do this or that.
Listen, friend, if you are in Christ this morning; if you have been born again by the Spirit of God, the same God who appeared to Gideon as a man in a theophany indwells you. God doesn't need to visit you in a theophany. Jesus indwells you in person of His Holy Spirit. As Paul gave witness, "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." Galatians 2:20a (ESV)
Paul gives us this command, with a promise. Perhaps we could call it the New Testament version of Judges 6, Philippians 2:12,13 (ESV). I like the NLT version, "Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him."
That pretty much covers it all. As we step out in obedience to God's call, He will give us both the desire and the power to do His will.
© James P. McGarvey All Rights Reserved