PULPIT TODAY SERMONS
Robert D. Pace
A while back a man heard an alarming rush hour news bulletin. There was one driver trafficking the wrong direction on an interstate highway. The man knew his wife was driving home from work and near the point of jeopardy so he called her mobile phone. “Honey, be careful, there’s one crazy driver traveling the opposite direction of traffic.” Nearly hysterical, she replied: “One driver going the wrong way? There are a hundred drivers going the wrong way.”
If you ever find yourself in a situation like that you better know for certain God is with you! I want everyone to repeat after me: “God is with me.” Now repeat this: “I don’t feel like God is with me!” You didn’t expect that, did you? And do you know why some people don’t feel God is with them? There are several reasons:
It could be, like Gideon, they have suffered a series of bitter defeats.
Others don’t sense God is with them or desires to help them because many of their prayers go unanswered.
And then others don’t sense God’s presence because they don’t see Him move in demonstrable ways for them.
Verse one of our text opens with these words: “Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites.” Doesn’t that describe Israel’s saga? Their repeated failures put them into the hands of their enemies. If there’s one inexorable principle of God’s Word it’s Galatians 6:7 that says, “God cannot be mocked, whatever a man sows that shall he also reap.” But even when God brings correction, He often offers it redemptively. God’s chastening always has restoration in view.
I love Micah 7:18. The prophet says: “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.” The wonderful aspect of our relationship with God is this: When people sincerely repent God restores! And He delights in extending His mercy! That’s what this story in Judges 6 is all about. It’s about God responding to Israel’s repentance and rescuing them from a hopeless situation. It took seven years of oppression from the Midianites for Israel to realize God wanted them to repent, but Israel eventually got the message. And their repentance was rewarded.
(Transition) Let’s take a closer look at this story.
The Strategy of the Midianites
The Midianites’ strategy of attacking Israel was unlike any other. Other enemies attacked Israel with the intention of annihilating them, but Midian’s strategy involved ignoring Israel until springtime and then plundering their crops and cattle. All Israel could do was scrounge for the leftovers. This occurred seven consecutive years! You can imagine what this did to Israel’s psyche. They were demoralized and lived like kids having to outwit the neighborhood bully.
What’s sad is, Israel was so spiritually undiscerning that they couldn’t figure out why they were suffering this brutality. They never correlated their suffering with their spiritual disobedience. All they could do was blame their losses on Midian (6:7). Moreover, God weakened Israel before their enemies because they broke His Law and worshipped Baal.
(Insight) God’s people aren’t defeated because their enemies are stronger or more numerous; they are defeated because they ignore God and break His commands. You see, there are times we need to stop playing the “Blame Game” with God and admit our mistakes. We can’t always blame our suffering on our enemy. There are times we fall before our enemies because we’re filled with more of the world than the Word! We suffer defeat because we compromise our convictions and ignore God’s precepts. We become a target for the enemy because we aren’t faithfully praying and studying God’s Word.
(Transition) But the good news is, despite whatever problems you’ve created, God’s grace is waiting to re-wrap you in His loving arms and lavish you with mercy and compassion! Micah said God “delights to show mercy.” The Lord is waiting for you to run back into His arms so He can restore and bless you.
God Chooses Gideon
Do you know where Gideon was when God communicated this message to him? He was trying to thresh wheat in a hole. He was down in a winepress hiding from the Midianites. It’s appropriate to tread grapes in a winepress, but a winepress is no place to thresh wheat! In Old Testament days, men threshed wheat on a hill so the wind could whisk away the chaff and allow the grain to fall to the ground. But since the Midianites were ravaging Israel’s crops Gideon resorted to ducking into a small, sunken enclosure, where the wind couldn’t even blow, to thresh his wheat!
But something amazing happened to Gideon. Gideon may have been hidden from the Midianites, but he wasn’t hidden from God. And God had an incredible message for Gideon. An angel was dispatched right before Gideon and the first thing out of his mouth was: “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior” (12). Do you hear how ridiculous that sounds? Gideon thought: ‘Mighty warrior . . . me? You found the wrong man!” You not only have the wrong man you have the wrong message. Don’t you see what’s happening to us?’ Gideon said: “If the LORD is with us . . . Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?’ ‘But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian’” (6:13). Don’t you think God knew this? He was the One using Midian to correct Israel. But what Gideon didn’t know was this: After years of rebellion Israel had finally repented and God was ready to rescue them.
(Insight) Remember the underlying message of this story: When people repent, God restores! He uses our repentance as an opportunity to pour out His mercy, grace, and compassion! Always remember that! Humility and repentance open the door to a new future with God. And today, God’s grace is waiting for you to accept His pardon, get out of the hole, and advance the mission He has for you! That was the message this angel communicated to Gideon.
(Transition) But here’s Gideon, feeling helpless and hopeless, and hiding in fear. God knew a spirit of defeat had gripped Gideon and that’s why God spoke to him as He did.
God looked at this farm-boy and said in verse fourteen: “I know you have been defeated and depressed, but this is God’s Word: “Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you” (6:14)? Here’s another translation of that verse: ““You’re the man,” Gideon. And there’s no need to fear because I’m sending you with My full support”! At this juncture, you would think Gideon would be ready to vault from that hole and start thrashing Midianites. But he didn’t. In fact, Gideon objected and made excuses for accepting God’s commission! And the truth is, Gideon offers God some reasonable excuses:
When you read Gideon’s history you discover that he came from a poor family. Gideon came without any social standing, and he certainly had no military expertise.
Not only that, Gideon traced his decent from Manasseh, perhaps the most disdained of the twelve Tribes of Israel.
And then, Gideon was the youngest in his family—the least likely to succeed!
But besides all this, the Bible reveals that Gideon’s father was a priest to Baal. He was the chief idolater of the city!
Hear me, saints of God: The Lord is deaf to our excuses when He selects us for an assignment. God’s sovereign “choosing” ignores our objections, reasonable or unreasonable, just like Gideon’s excuses, and commands us to get ready for the assignment. Praise God for grace!
(Illustration) Two cows were grazing beside a highway when a milk truck passed. The signage on the truck read: “Our milk is Premium, Pasteurized, Homogenized, and Vitamin A Fortified.” One cow hung his head and lamented, “Makes you feel sort of inadequate, doesn’t it?”
One of Satan’s notorious lies is “God only uses special people.” But that’s only half-true. God does use special people, but they’re special because He chooses people of low esteem and then fills them with His grace, presence, power, and Spirit! It’s God that makes ordinary men “Premium, Pasteurized, Homogenized, and Fortified”!
(Example) I remember someone else that tried to excuse himself from God’s choosing—Moses. When God called him at the burning bush Moses said: “Lord, I have a speech impediment, I can’t deliver Israel.” God said: “You’re right Moses. I’ll never be able to deliver Israel from Egypt with your communication skills. I need someone really eloquent to pronounce plagues on Egypt. Those flies, frogs, and lice won’t respond to your accent. I’m certain the Red Sea will never divide with the resonance in your voice.”
Do you hear how foolish our excuses are? Don’t limit God because you’re limited! 1 John 4:4 says: “Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.” God delights in doing the difficult, but He excels in accomplishing the impossible! This is what God wanted Gideon to understand. It didn’t matter that he was without military genius or social pedigree. God called Gideon a “mighty warrior” and that meant “all things were possible.” And the reason Gideon would rout Israel’s enemies is written in the five riveting words of verse sixteen. God said to Gideon: “I will be with you.” God working through us brings victory!
Folks, God is looking at somebody that is inadequate, insecure, miserably defeated, and He’s saying:
“Hail, mighty warrior, go in the strength you have and do my bidding! You’re chosen to minister!”
“You’re chosen to make a difference in the business world.”
“You’re chosen to bear My name in the public arena.”
“And by the way, you’re going to succeed because, “I will be with you.”
If this generation flounders without a significant touch from God it won’t be because evil was more powerful. It won’t be because the sinners outnumbered the saints. This generation will flounder because Christians didn’t get filled with the Spirit, saturate themselves with the Word, put on God’s invincible armor, and show up for battle! Our mission is possible because “God is with us” regardless of what that mission is! If God has commissioned you, it’s time to respond.
(Transition) But while God uses ordinary people, He also places requirements on them to fulfill His mission. God seeks people with clean hearts to work with Him. This is what God asked of Gideon in Judges 6:25-28 (read).
Gideon’s Commitment to God (Judges 6:25-28)
Do you see what God is doing? He required Gideon to clean up his act. After commissioning Gideon, God’s first order of business involved purging Gideon and his family from the idolatry of worshiping Baal. So during the night Gideon arose and destroyed his father’s altar to Baal and built an altar that complied with the Law of Moses. The next morning the men of the city discovered Gideon’s actions and were infuriated. They surrounded his house and demanded that Joash surrender his son Gideon for execution.
But something amazing happened during the night. God seems to have touched the heart of Gideon’s father, the priest of Baal, and he defends Gideon in the presence of these vengeful men. Notice his words: ‘If Baal is so powerful there’s no need for you to fight for him. Let Baal himself contend against Gideon.” And for some strange, yet providential, reason Gideon’s accusers accepted that advice and dispersed.
I want you to look once again at the incredible sequence of events that unfolded:
Under the cover of night Gideon destroyed the altar of Baal.
The next morning Joash, the idolatrous priest, suddenly converts and denounces Baal.
Then the Spirit of the Lord comes upon Gideon and he blows a trumpet to rally the forces of Israel to attack Midian.
Now wait. What’s going to happen? Will anybody join him? A day earlier Gideon was hiding in a hole threshing wheat. He was nobody’s leader. But what happened next was amazing! Suddenly, from nowhere, 32,000 Israelites rushed to Gideon’s side and were ready for battle. Why? Why were these men so eager to comport with a “nobody” like Gideon and charge into battle? Here’s why: Once Israel repented, God revived Israel’s sense of discerning right from wrong. Thus, in a moment’s time, they were willing to stand for God, renounce Baal, and follow Gideon into battle. Once again, this episode illustrates the power of repentance:
Repentance opens our eyes to cultural lies and skillfully crafted arguments.
When people repent it paves the way for the Holy Spirit to expose the devil’s deception in the world.
And repentance not only provides discernment to know right from wrong, it prepares us to receive “power from on high” to move against the swell of any tide!
What an incredible ending to this story! Here were these Midianites ready to attack Israel that the Bible describes “as numerous as the sand on the seashore” (Judges 7:12). One commentator says there were 135,000 enemy troops. Yet, all Israel could marshal was 32,000. And when God finally assembled Gideon’s troops, He had not only ignored Gideon’s list of objections, He had whittled down the militia to a mere 300 men. And there’s a reason God reduced Gideon’s army. Just before the battle, God said to Gideon in Judges 7:2, “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands, for Israel would become boastful, saying, ‘My own power has delivered me.’” God wouldn’t permit any evident asset, such as 32,000 fighting men, to claim credit for what He alone would accomplish.
In the end, it’s amazing how little Gideon’s 300 troops did to claim the victory. Their only effort to launch this great victory involved breaking their clay lanterns and blowing their ram’s horns. Listen carefully to Judges 7:21. “While each man stood in his place around the camp [they didn’t move], all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled.” Without Israel advancing an inch, the Midianites dispersed in heart-stricken panic and fought among themselves. Gideon didn’t need a pedigree after all! He didn’t need military genius or even the “shock and awe” strategy from a Strike-force. All God needed was to convince Gideon of one fact: “God is with you.”
Do you understand that fact? Has God gotten that message across to you? “God is with you.” He is really with you and He knows how to issue victory through a wooden staff like Moses used, or a coat that Elisha wore, or these clay jars of Gideon’s army. He’s just waiting for you to respond in faith.
(Illustration) I heard the story of the little boy whose mother asked him to get some soup from the kitchen closet. The boy was frightened because the closet was dark and he didn’t want to go alone. The mother said: “Billy, there’s nothing to fear because Jesus is with you. As a matter of fact, Jesus is not only with you, He goes before you.” Billy squared his shoulders walked across the kitchen and then hesitated at the closet door. From a distance Billy’s mother heard him say: “Hey Jesus, if you’re in there would you please hand me the tomato soup?”
Maybe that’s humorous, but it could illustrate your relationship with God today. God has commissioned you with a difficult mission. Perhaps the very thought of your assignment strikes fear. But like Gideon, God is calling for you to look past your liabilities, ignore your fears, forget your excuses, and “go in the strength you have” because “God is with you!” And that means victory is certain!