A Castaway Israel?
To appreciate our present lesson we must consider it against the background of what we discussed last week, vs. 7-10. Had not a prophet appeared? Hadn’t he told them that they were disobedient? Then the prophet shut the door and left them. Could this be the end perhaps?
Had we lived at that time and heard this sermon of the prophet we likely would have said: Now the Lord has forsaken us and we have fully earned to be forsaken of the Lord.
The remnant in Israel said just that. Look at vs. 13, and you discover that Gideon, the man of faith, saith that also. No wonder. Very often men of God shuddered at the sight of things, and with Elijah said: God has cast away His people. Paul came to this question also in Romans 11.
But, no, a mother can forget her suckling (imagine that, but it can; we frequently read of mothers casting their children away) but God cannot forget His people (Isa. 49:15).
Sin abounded. Grace did much more abound. After the prophet is gone the Angel of the Lord appears, and he prepares deliverance for this unworthy people.
I. The Angel Appears, vss. 11-12.
This is not merely one of heaven’s many angels. This is the One whom we always call the Angel of the Covenant. He frequently appeared, at least in critical times or at turning points in Israel’s history.
Concerning this Angel: Ex. 23:20: “Behold, I send an Angel before thy face to keep thee in the way and bring thee unto the place which I have prepared for thee.” Ex. 33:2: “And I will send an angel before thee: and I will drive out the Canaanite,” etc. Isa. 63:9: “And the Angel of His Presence saved them.”
Refer to your Concordance for numerous other passages about this Angel.
Opinion: This Angel is an Old Testament revelation of Christ. Christ is THE Ambassador of God, THE Captain of our salvation, who brings God’s people unto the Inheritance. God, in Christ going before the Old Testament Church.
This Angel sat under an oak, near the place where Gideon was threshing wheat and hiding it from the enemies.
Notice: Heaven is not in a hurry. God is never excited, not even when Israel’s handfuls of food are numbered. God does not adapt Himself to history’s circumstance. God makes history; therefore to us it may sometimes seem that the Lord moves slowly.
He appeared to Gideon, son of Joash. This Joash had an altar of Baal and conducted a grove (6:25). Gideon was the least in his father’s house, also the youngest perhaps. And no doubt a remnant among a Baal worshipping communion.
Discuss: Baal worship had now been set up in Israel, in Ophrah, one of Israel’s cities. They no longer went out to worship Baal; they brought the Baal worship into the church. An advanced stage of apostasy. If a church seeks the world, it invariably brings the world into the church. It works that way in our homes and schools also.
Question: How do you account for a believing, God fearing Gideon in a family where the Father conducts a Baal grove?
II. This Angel informs Gideon that God will use him to save Israel. Notice that God does not deal with Israel according to its folly and desert, but according to His wonderful grace. Vs. 10 ends “ye have not obeyed my voice,” yet now we read that the Lord sends an Angel and gets ready to deliver Israel.
Question: Does God overlook their disobedience, pass it by, forgive it, or what, that He saves them when it is so evident that they are disobedient? If God saved the people, in spite of their oft repeated disobedience, wouldn’t Israel get the impression that God was careless about justice?
Note: Never forget that we deal here also with a remnant. A remnant in whom God’s grace works repentance and the will to turn from folly to God. Here also is a fine opportunity to discuss how God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself. God was postponing the punishment of disobedience until Christ came….for God laid upon Him the iniquity of us all (Isa. 53).
Gideon can hardly believe such gospel news. “If the Lord be with us” he says, “where is He?” God has forsaken us! But no, God has not forsaken them. Go in this thy might, says God to Gideon, and thou shalt save Israel. But, says Gideon, with what tools? Then the Lord says: I will be with thee.
No, God has not forsaken His seed of Abraham. God is here yet. Only the cloud of sin has to be removed before they can see Him.
Questions: 1. Do you think that today we can determine whether God forsakes or blesses a movement on the basis of events or circumstances? At that time poverty, hardship, famine, pestilence and oppression were signs that God had forsaken Israel. Is that true today yet? Discuss why or why not. 2. How did Gideon know about God’s miracle work in Egypt (vs. 13)? Do you think that his father, the superintendent of the Baal grove, told him? 3. In Canons V:5 we confess that the child of God who falls into sin can “sometimes lose the sense of God’s favor for a time.” What does this mean?
*The name Jerubbaal means, literally, let Baal start execution proceedings against this man.
The hearing of the Word of God works faith, the sacraments strengthen that faith we generally say. Notice the faith-strengthening process in Gideon. In vs. 12 comes the word of God: The Lord is with thee. That would be enough to send Gideon forth in power, is it not? But not so. All flesh is frail, all flesh is as grass. Therefore in vs. 16 it is repeated, the Lord once again says: I will be with thee. That will be enough, is it not? No, the Lord will do still more.
To strengthen Gideon’s faith the Lord gives him a sign (vss. 17-21). This sign was intended to convince him that he was in communication with the Lord, and in the power of that conviction he builds an altar, calling it Jehovah Shalom (The Lord, Peace). Later he receives another sign (vss. 36-40) assuring him that God would save Israel by his hand. A third sign follows in the form of an overheard dream (7:11-15). Thus God makes heroes of faith.
And thus the Lord raises up in the midst of that apostate Israel a hero of faith. God brings life out of the dead. Faith, where there is no faith.
Now to our lesson: vss. 25-33.
I. Down With Baal, vss. 25-27.
The very night of the day that the Lord had raised up this hero of faith God sends him to the work. He is to destroy the Baal center located on his father’s premises.
Observe: That a Baal center had been erected right in Israel, in the church, and Gideon’s very Father had the altar. Hence, Joash, Gideon’s father, must have been somewhat of a superintendent of the Baal service—conducted them. Out of this Baal center God raises up one who will destroy Baal.
Not Midian but Baal worship is Israel’s No. 1 Enemy. Wherefore God directs deliverance, beginning at the root of Israel’s misery. Some might have said: The Midianites, they are destroying us, they are our enemies. God says: No, Baal worship, sin, is your enemy.
Note: The oppression of Israel was but a symptom of an internal disorder. A rash on one’s skin is evidence of an internal disorder. So it was with Israel. The oppression of Midian was the righteous result of Israel’s defection in worshipping Baal. With Baal worship here, how can God bless Israel?
When Jesus later performs His healings, He is not merely a great physician as some present Him. Jesus works with the symptoms, but His labor is directed toward SIN which lies at the root of all misery.
Gideon wisely chooses the cover of night to perform the work which God had given him to do. When dawn comes, behold, the Baal center is completely destroyed, and instead of the Baal altar stands an altar of God, the smoke of its sacrifice writing the name of God and the faith of His servant in the morning sky.
Discussion: 1-Does the fact that Gideon did it by night instead of by daytime indicate a certain fearfulness unworthy of faith? 2-Someone commented on this as follows: Gideon used force. You can’t use force to convince people. What do you think of such comment?
Suggestion: Baal worship has no right to exist anywhere; least of all in Manasseh…it is a weed. Weeds are pulled out and destroyed. Remember, after Gideon, comes He who was before him, namely Jesus Christ, and His task it is to destroy the works of the devil. When the works of the devil are destroyed men must be convinced that God is God.
II. Baal’s Followers Protest, (vss. 28-33).
The next morning early the officers of Baal discover what has happened. They are greatly incensed. It requires but little investigation to trace this destruction of Gideon, son of Joash. At once word goes out to Joash: bring forth thy son that we may execute him for this great offence.
Notice: How attached they are to Baal. The thought of sin is far from their minds. How grievously they offend against Moses does not seem to bother them a bit. They hold fast their sin, as do all men by nature. Isaiah speaks of them thus: they draw iniquity with cords of vanity and sin as it were with a cart rope. In our Canons we also confess that natural man is incapable of disposing himself to reformation.
Question: 1. What is there about SIN which makes it so attractive for us by nature? Heb. 11:25 speaks of Moses rejecting the “pleasures of sin.” What pleasure is there in sin? 2. What is there about God that He is so unattractive to the natural man? 3. How is Baal worship conducted in the church life of today? What instrument (s) do we have for breaking it down…or isn’t it our calling to break it down?
Joash answers: If Baal is god, let him plead, let him take up his case against my son. Baal ought to be able to defend himself against a mere Gideon. Let them be put to death who insult Baal by leaving the impression that he cannot take care of himself.
Observe: This is sarcasm, pointed irony. Joash means to say: Baal is nothing (an idol is nothing in this world, says Paul). As proof of the fact that he is nothing you take up the case for him. By calling his son Jerubbaal, Gideon henceforth becomes a walking evidence of the fact that an idol is nothing…he does nothing to Gideon. As long as Gideon lives Gideon is proof that Baal does and can do nothing, even if men smash his very altar to the ground.
Questions: 1. How do you account for it that Joash now so suddenly turns against Baal, when until now he had been superintendent of the worship in his grove? 2. Or are we to suppose that Joash merely had the grove on his farm while he himself did not approve of it? (6:25 simply says “the altar of Baal that thy father HATH). 3. In what respect is Gideon here a type of the Christ? And don’t overlook the Antichrist in all this.
On The Battle Front
We speak of the heroes of faith. Gideon is a hero, if you understand that his heroism is only this: the Spirit of the Lord in him (6:34). Gideon is a hero but what makes him a hero is the assurance that nothing of the great undertaking will be left to him. The conviction that God will do it, that makes him a hero, a hero of faith. Gideon is in himself a fearful man. Again and again he turns to the Lord, for Christ is THE HERO and by His power Gideon is a hero. Only remember this: God does not find heroes, He makes them.
I. An Insignificant Three Hundred, (7:1-8).
So far Gideon has the conviction that the Lord will save Israel by his hand (6:36), but it was natural that he should interpret this to mean that it would require a huge army. Wasn’t the army of Midian huge? Consequently with sun up, Gideon has an army of thirty two thousand men and they maneuver into battle position.
But now we shall see how the Lord reduces Gideon’s army from a mighty thirty two thousand to a mere three hundred, in other words there is virtually no army left. Thirty two thousand against perhaps five hundred thousand, what a forbidding contrast. But what then if there shall be but three hundred left? The Lord says to Gideon: I cannot give the enemy into your hands with such a large army under your command.
Reason: Flesh will boast. Israel will pride itself and say: mine own hand hath saved me. Sinful man is eagerly looking for something on which he can hang the boast that he saved himself, at least that he contributed thereto. Therefore, every possibility of boasting must be cut off.
Observe: Salvation is important. More important still is how it was attained. In Gideon now and in the Cross afterwhile a salvation appears which forever shuts out any and all boasting. God’s works are Self-centered. His aim is not first us, but Himself.
Questions: In the manner of salvation, how has Arminianism given place for the flesh to boast? How does salvation through Christ and the Cross shut out all boasting? Because it shuts out all possibility of boasting, is that perhaps also one reason why the wisdom of this world calls the Cross of Christ foolishness?
Consider now by what method the Lord reduces Gideon’s army to a virtual nothing.
First sifting (vs. 3). It is announced before the army that all who are fearful and afraid, let them go home at once. Result: twenty two thousand go home. Typical of how terrorized Israel was at the sight of that well equipped army of Midian. Israel is not facing an imaginary foe, this battle field is REAL. It is just that real on our battlefield of life. Twenty two thousand go home. As far as they were concerned Midian might swallow up Israel.
Question: If they came up at Gideon’s call, why do they now return? They seemed to be eager for battle once, how come then they are now so fearful?
Second Sifting (vss. 4-6). Evidently to Gideon’s great surprise, the Lord tells him that his army is still altogether too large. Ten thousand are still too many. The Lord says: bring them to the water and I will try them there. All those who bow down to drink must return home, but all who bring the water, in a cupped hand to the mouth, they shall remain.
Result: Ninety seven hundred go home, leaving three hundred. The nine thousand seven hundred who now go home were neither fearful nor afraid. What then? I would suggest two possibilities, you can suggest perhaps still more. They might have reasoned that it would be a long, long time before they could get a drink again; hence they had better drink themselves full now. Victory under such conditions seemed impossible anyway. Or: they were in no hurry to get on with this unevenly matched battle; hence they leisurely indulged in refreshment. In any case, the nine thousand seven hundred break down before the reality before them.
Note: God creates an atmosphere in which none can live except they have faith. Thirty one thousand and seven hundred have fled from this thing in fear. God Himself raises men of faith.
Thus there remains a Gideon and three hundred men. In vs. 7 God comes with His Word of Promise and Gideon dares to proceed to battle.
II. A Strong Gideon (vss. 9-15). God lets Gideon overhear a dream being told in the camp of the enemy. Gideon hears that God has gone before him, has invaded the enemy camp with His terror. Terror is among them, they have smelled the savour of death unto death. It reminds us of Jericho, whence also the rumors of Israel’s victory outran the victory itself.
Discuss: Why did the dream which the Lord had sent upon them center around a cake of barley bread? Does the world today know that we have the victory? Christ has triumphed, do the devils know that?
Result of this overheard dream is that Gideon falls down to worship, and with the Word of God upon his lips, he says what he had heard his God say: arise, the enemies are delivered into our hands. How glorious is that Word of God. In that Word the Greater than Gideon conquered, in it, we conquer with Him.
The Sword of the Lord
The day of deliverance has dawned, but also the day of vengeance. The day of deliverance for His people but the day of destruction for the enemies of God’s people. The judge is at hand. But he is never more than a type and forerunner of the far Greater Judge, Christ Jesus. Gideon’s instrument is the sword of the Lord, the Word of the Lord. After while comes He Who IS the Word of the Lord. His weapon is the Cross. See Him ride in glory in Rev. 19:11-13 and the armies which follow Him. Gideon was following Him.
With Gideon we still see three hundred men.
At the cross after a while there are no three hundred. Not even one. Christ alone, with the Sword of the Lord conquers the enemies and is our Judge Supreme.
Thus to our outline for today:
I. The Battle Weapons (vs. 16). An army of three hundred is pretty small. This three hundred is again divided into three groups of one hundred each hence everything becomes still smaller. Truly, as insignificant as that cake of barley bread of which the Midianites had dreamed.
As far as I am able to discover none of them had as much as a sword. Every man receives a trumpet, with a pitcher having a lamp inside of it. One in the right hand, the other in the left.
Observe: In vs. 14, in that overheard dream there had been mention of the sword of Gideon. But God wants it emphasized that the sword of Gideon is the sword of the Lord. Therefore in vs. 18 the words “the sword” is in italics. The Hebrew text reads: “Of (or to) the Lord and of Gideon.” The battle, the arrangement, the forth coming victory, is all of the Lord. And being God’s servant Gideon is privileged to represent God. Gideon is not God, neither has he a sword. God is God and Gideon’s sword is God. Gideon’s power is the Word of God, the promise of God. That is really his sword.
Discuss: What have the trumpets and the pitchers and the lamps to do with this? Why is Gideon sent forth to battle with such instruments?
II. The Attack (vss. 19-22).
It comes shortly after midnight. Gideon’s band took its position round about the camp of the Midianites. Gideon takes the lead and after him come the hundred under his direct command. The trumpets blast, the pitchers break, the lamps shine forth, and from every corner at once there comes the shout “the sword of the Lord and of Gideon.” The sword stands for the judgment of God over the wicked (cf. Isa. 34:5, 6). There is no battle as such. At the moment that the Word of God falls among them the Lord sets every man’s sword against that of his neighbor. The sword of the Lord turns the swords of the enemies to their own destruction. The more sword power the enemy has, the worse for them. Surely the strong are snared in their own strength and the wise are caught in their own craftiness.
Questions: The Lord would not allow flesh to boast that it had attained the victory, what was there in this victory which would prevent even the three hundred from boasting? The Lord sent the Midianites against Israel, now the Lord has them destroyed…why? How is the Cross the judgment of the world?
III. The Victory (vss. 21-25).
Fighting against themselves, in wild confusion, the enemy fled. Gideon summons an army to pursue after them. He dispatches an army to stop the passage of the Jordan. The princes of Midian’s army are slain and the remnants of the Midianites are tracked down until there is nothing left.
Note: After the Lord has slain the host, Israel takes part in the battle. The Lord has slain them, but Israel slays them, too. The Lord reserves the glory of the victory; His people are privileged to take part in that victory (Rev. 19:14).
Questions: If Israel then is the church today, who are the Midianites today? Why is it such a great sin to oppress the children of God? Don’t we do it sometimes? Why does the final victory depend completely upon the return of Christ, as the book of Revelation shows?