Monday, December 21, 2009

Judges series - Judges 6

The way to read this article is that the orange underlined texts are the verses of the Bible (NIV, unless otherwise stated). The black texts following the Bible verses (and enclosed by square brackets) are my commentaries. At the end of these Bible texts and commentaries, I have inserted a section on "Points to take note".
{For full listing of all articles in this series, click here}

Judges 6


1 Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites. 2 Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. 3 Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. 4 They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. 5 They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count the men and their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it. 6 Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the LORD for help. [For those who followed my writings from Judges 1 to 5, they would have realized that the conditions of the Israelites got from bad to worse over the years. They kept falling into the trap of worshipping the local gods, and doing evils as a result. They cried to the Lord. The Lord had mercy on them and gave them judges. A judge would deliver them from the oppression of the enemy to bring them back to the ways of the Lord. But the moment a judge passed on, the Israelites would go back to the old ways of worshipping the local gods, angering the Lord, over and over again.

Through years of oppressions and diminished covering and blessings from the Lord, the living conditions of the people got worse. Just compare the situations when Deborah came onto the scene and what was recorded here – from fear of harassment when travelling on main roads to minimal village life, to now, having to hide themselves in mountain clefts and caves, unable to maintain their crops or herds. After Deborah, the Israelites again did evil, and the Lord gave them over to the Midianites. For seven years, the Midianites who grew more and more powerful just kept on incurring into the Israelites’ grounds making it impossible for the Israelites to do anything to maintain livelihood. The Israelites became very impoverished and they cried out to the Lord for help.]

7 When the Israelites cried to the LORD because of Midian, 8 he sent them a prophet, who said, "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 9 I snatched you from the power of Egypt and from the hand of all your oppressors. I drove them from before you and gave you their land. 10 I said to you, 'I am the LORD your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.' But you have not listened to me." [The Lord sent to the Israelite, a prophet who reminded them the history of the people - from the deliverance from Egypt, by the hands of God, to the breaking of the covenant God had with their forefathers, and the repeated calls not to worship the local gods. Yet the Israelites did not listen.]
11 The angel of the LORD came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. 12 When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, "The LORD is with you, mighty warrior." [When Israelites did not listen to the words of the prophet sent by God (v8), God Himself came by the angel of the Lord. He appeared to Gideon, the son of Joash while Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress! Imagine threshing wheat in a winepress. Why in a winepress? To fool the Midianites so that the wheat would not be confiscated by them! That was how bad the Israelites were oppressed by the Midianites. Gideon was told that the Lord was with him. God called him a mighty warrior.]
13 "But sir," Gideon replied, "if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to 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." 14 The LORD turned to him and said, "Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian's hand. Am I not sending you?" [If you follow the history from the time of death of Joshua to death of Deborah, you would have imagined that it would not be surprising for people to say that God had snared them. But I believe Gideon was genuinely wondering what was happening and wanted to hear from the Lord. I believe God knew his heart condition, and was not displeased. We must not in any way insinuate that there is wickedness in God. For such an insinuation, Moses was banned from entering the Promised Land (You can read about it in a separate article – Why Moses did not enter the Promised Land?). Instead of being angry, God told him that He was now sending him to save Israel out of the Midian’s hand.]
15 "But Lord ," Gideon asked, "how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family." 16 The LORD answered, "I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together." [Gideon and Moses had one thing in common – both were humble (even though Moses did make that mistake of insinuation towards the end of his life). When Moses was called, Moses’ words to the Lord were similar. We need to be humble, if we were to be used positively by the Lord. (The Pharaoh of Egypt, who was proud, was used by the Lord, but negatively.) How nice, God assured Gideon – I will be with you, and we shall strike down all the Midianites together. Remember, God also called Gideon a mighty warrior (v12).]
17 Gideon replied, "If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. 18 Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you." And the LORD said, "I will wait until you return." 19 Gideon went in, prepared a young goat, and from an ephah of flour he made bread without yeast. Putting the meat in a basket and its broth in a pot, he brought them out and offered them to him under the oak. [“If now I have found favor in your eyes”; these were also the words of Abraham (Gen 18:3) and Moses (Ex 33:12, 34:9) when they asked of the Lord. All three persons showed great humility in their petitions to the Lord. See what Gideon asked as a sign. He literally said, “Please do not go away, I want to give you my offering.” There are two interesting points to look at, here.

One, I want you to consider this with me, that Gideon was very into the faith heritage, despite being a mighty warrior. He knew of the Lord’s visit to Abraham at the great trees of Mamre (Gen 18 – The Three Visitor/men. I have an article on this. You can read it here.). There is much parallel here in the things that Gideon did. I believe he knew so well about that encounter that Abraham had with the Lord that he knew what he should ask as a sign – God did not refuse a similar request by Abraham, so Gideon thought God would also not refuse him. Although we should not be presumptuous, what is illustrated here is about knowing about God, which I believe God would be pleased to know we take the trouble to do that, before we even get to know him more closely. Notice also that Gideon knew what kind of bread to prepare – unleavened bread.

Two, do you know how precious they were, a young goat and flour in those times? What was Gideon doing when the Lord appeared? Thrashing wheat in a winepress – to avoid detection and confiscation. Many great men of God in the Bible knew it was proper and right for them to sacrifice to God – they would not even dare to think of making an offering to God that did not cause them a sacrifice. Today we just gave God loose change as an offering, and we wonder why God does not seem to honor our offering. Lord, I am guilty, please forgive me.]
20 The angel of God said to him, "Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth." And Gideon did so. 21 With the tip of the staff that was in his hand, the angel of the LORD touched the meat and the unleavened bread. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the angel of the LORD disappeared. 22 When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the LORD, he exclaimed, "Ah, Sovereign LORD! I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face!" 23 But the LORD said to him, "Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die." 24 So Gideon built an altar to the LORD there and called it The LORD is Peace. To this day it stands in Ophrah of the Abiezrites. [God honored Gideon, He did not go away, and He consumed Gideon’s offering. The exchange of words between Gideon and the Lord is very interesting. Again I believe it pointed towards the fact that Gideon must have been one who was very into the faith heritage, he probably knew about Moses’ meetings with God and that God said to Moses that anybody who sees God face-to-face would die. This accumulation of knowledge of God was despite Gideon’s father was also, and already into Baal worship (you will read of his father’s Baal altar in the next verse). Gideon exclaimed he had seen God, face-to-face; he was probably somewhat terrified! God quickly assured him that he was not going to die. So, what did he do? He built an altar to the Lord there and called it, “The Lord is Peace”. (By the way, this is one instance that God came as the angel of the Lord; i.e. the angel here is not an angel but the Lord Himself {in some other places, angel of the Lord may just be referring to an angel}).

Talking about signs from the Lord, 2 things come to my mind. Firstly, is it right to ask for signs from the Lord? Secondly, is peace a good sign? These probably require in-deep studies into the Word of God. For now, I just want to say there are ample examples of God giving people signs, and of people asking God for signs, and of cases where God answered people’s requests for signs. The significance of peace as a sign cannot be quickly brushed off. Just because God is peace, is enough reason for us not to be too quick to dismiss “peace” or “the lack of peace” as a poor sign.]
25 That same night the LORD said to him, "Take the second bull from your father's herd, the one seven years old. Tear down your father's altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it. 26 Then build a proper kind of altar to the LORD your God on the top of this height. Using the wood of the Asherah pole that you cut down, offer the second bull as a burnt offering." [The Lord commissioned Gideon straightaway. Gideon’s first task was to tear down the altars of the two main gods of the local – Baal and Ashtoreth, and in their places raise up the proper altar of the Lord, and to make a burnt offering on the altar of the Lord. Notice the Lord demanded a good offering – the second bull from the herd, the one which was seven years old. There were not much commentaries on this, and a search of the internet about bulls did not yield much either. This is what I believe is the essence of what was asked – in those difficult times, herds were few anyway, if there was one, probably not many bulls were kept, bulls I believe were reserved for breeding, herdsmen did not keep many bulls (from cows, you can get milk {regularly} and meat). In this case, probably there were 2 bulls in Gideon’s father’s herd, one, an old bull, first bull, another, a second bull, a bull earmarked to replace the old bull, should the old bull became “too old”. The second bull was in its prime, seven years old. A bull could live for about 30 years. If indeed it was so, the Lord actually asked for the best, and was an “expensive” sacrifice.]
27 So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the LORD told him. But because he was afraid of his family and the men of the town, he did it at night rather than in the daytime. [I think here Gideon was not afraid of his family or the men of the town, per se. Rather it was his fear that he would be stopped by them, making it impossible to complete the task God had assigned him to do. He knew if he did it in the daytime when it would be visible for all, he would be stopped. Obviously, he knew after night it would be day, and all would be seen. Of course, the father’s prized bull would be gone, and perhaps he would have to face “the music” from his father. Yet, Gideon obeyed the Lord, did everything asked of him.]
28 In the morning when the men of the town got up, there was Baal's altar, demolished, with the Asherah pole beside it cut down and the second bull sacrificed on the newly built altar! 29 They asked each other, "Who did this?"
When they carefully investigated, they were told, "Gideon son of Joash did it."
[There you see, in the morning everything was seen and became known. Look, Gideon deployed 10 servants. It was really not easy to keep a secret with 10 servants involved, surely Gideon expected it.]
30 The men of the town demanded of Joash, "Bring out your son. He must die, because he has broken down Baal's altar and cut down the Asherah pole beside it." 31 But Joash replied to the hostile crowd around him, "Are you going to plead Baal's cause? Are you trying to save him? Whoever fights for him shall be put to death by morning! If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar." 32 So that day they called Gideon "Jerub-Baal," saying, "Let Baal contend with him," because he broke down Baal's altar. [Often times, without saying it, but in our hearts, we doubt whether God knows what he is doing by asking the thing(s) he asked. But He really knows what he is doing. In this case, obviously what Gideon did was expected to come to light; but surprise, surprise, Gideon father was given the wisdom to defend Gideon, although we would have thought that he would be really mad with Gideon because firstly, Gideon killed his prized bull, and secondly, Gideon tore down his Baal altar and Asherah poles. I believe these were not small altars, Gideon needed 10 servants to handle this project for the Lord.]
33 Now all the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples joined forces and crossed over the Jordan and camped in the Valley of Jezreel. 34 Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him. 35 He sent messengers throughout Manasseh, calling them to arms, and also into Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali, so that they too went up to meet them. [After desecration of the pagan altars and the consecration of the Lord’s altar, Gideon was now ready to go to war for the Israelites. As in the cases of other judges, God appointed Gideon; He put his Spirit upon him (v34). With that somehow, there would be people who would listen to the judge’s call for action. In this case, Gideon summoned the Israelite tribes of Manasseh, of which he was part, Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali to go to war against the enemies’ joint forces at Valley of Jezreel.]
36 Gideon said to God, "If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised- 37 look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said." 38 And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew—a bowlful of water. 39 Then Gideon said to God, "Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece. This time make the fleece dry and the ground covered with dew." 40 That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew. [Don’t you feel Gideon was asking too much! Not one sign but two signs, and God granted both the signs! Talking about favor with God; this Gideon sure had it, just like Abraham or Moses did. So far, what did we learn about the character of Gideon? He was humble, he probably was very into the faith heritage, tried to know about God as much as possible before he even encountered God, was not stingy with God, obeyed God, trusted God, and inquired of the Lord before he went to war.]

Points to note:

To be me, Gideon was a major judge, perhaps there were much that the Lord wanted to say through the story of Gideon. The account of Gideon was more elaborate and detailed.

Through the passage of time, and repeated failures of the Israelites to make a permanent comeback to the Lord, the low points of the Israelites just got lower and lower over time. By the time of Gideon, Israelites were very impoverished, lived in mountain clefts and caves and unable to maintain their crops or herds; the Midianites kept incurring into their grounds making it impossible for the Israelites to maintain livelihood. When the Israelites cried out to the Lord, He sent a prophet to tell them about their disobedience. Yet the Israelites did not listen. It was after this that God appeared to Gideon.

From the way the story developed, I find it quite amazing the way God had dealt with Gideon – the favor He gave to Gideon, and His tolerance of Gideon’s antics. As such, it is good we try to learn the good points of Gideon that pleased God:

1. A sincere heart of wanting to understand the ways of God. It is not possible for us to comprehend all the ways of God (God’s ways are higher than ours, and we are not exactly that wise {in fact, foolish}, relative to God), but the Bible does not teach abandonment of our desire to know the ways of God, our wisdom, or our discernment or judgment. I believe the Word exhorts us to seek and hold onto the knowledge of God, the ways of God, wisdom or discernment. There are however, 2 important “don’ts” here. Firstly, the Word is very clear about being proud is being an enemy to God. God said in His Word that He opposes the proud. Notice that He did not say I will leave the proud alone, or I will not protect or bless him, but He said He opposes the proud. So despite whatever knowledge or understanding or wisdom that we have, we cannot boast of ourselves in them. The other, which is less obvious to many people, is that one cannot insinuate that God was/is wicked to his people in anyway. God looks at the heart of men. Men {apart from their spirits} may not know about them, but the very meditations of our heart, God knows {through the Holy Spirit}. I believe when Gideon asked the questions in verse 13, there was no bad insinuation in his heart.

2. Humility is a likeable trait to God. The opposite of being proud is being humble, not neutral. I leave my quote for you to ponder, “We need to be humble, if we were to be used positively by the Lord.” (The Pharaoh of Egypt, who was proud, was used by the Lord, but negatively.). Gideon was really humble (v 14-17).

3. Learn about our faith heritage. By this I do not mean just knowing the Word of God, as in, ok, I need to know what I must do and what I must not do, full-stop. I believe it pleases God if we try to know the “full works”. I know it takes time and can only be achieved (actually, can never be fully achieved) over time. But we need to be actively learning the full works. It is important that this learning include the past and present dealings of God with man. It used to I did not quite bother with the long-past dealings of God with man. Not anymore. If we truly believe God is the same yesterday, today and forever, how can the past dealings of God be not relevant? There is much to learn in those dealings. There are 2 mistakes that we can make. First, is to ignore the Old Testament dealings of God with man, thinking that they are no longer relevant to us. Second, is to ignore God’s dealings with man outside the Bible. We should not ignore the dealings of God with man post-completion of Bible writing. A lot of Christians missed God’s blessing because they ignored what happened post-Bible completion. What was/is happening around the world with regard to God’s dealings with man is relevant to us.

Suppose, we say, you are going to work personally with Billy Graham for a year, travel with him, minister with him in rallies, churches, gatherings, doing meetings with him, visiting places, etc. What would you do? I am sure I would include finding out as much as I can about him, who he is, what he had done in the past, what he had done more recently, what had been his practices, habits, likes and dislikes, even his idiosyncrasies (he is the great evangelist, right?, you shelve your own idiosyncrasies, you go by his), the dos and the don’ts. But you do not know Billy Graham, how can you find out about these things? They were revealed through his past dealings. If 5 years ago, he liked to skip meals before ministering in a meeting but more recently he had always taken a hearty breakfast before ministering; and now the two of you are going for a meeting, what do you do? You let him have his breakfast, in other words, you cater to him. How many of us, do not bother to “cater to God”.

If I tell you that you have been chosen to receive the US President in your home when he comes to Singapore for a major event, what will you do? You may reply, why bother with such question, it will not happen. Yes, it probably will not happen, the US President probably will not ever visit you at your home; you can choose to deal with it when you do get notified. But God can visit you anytime. If the visitor is the US President, you will want to honor him. What about God? Gideon was prepared for God’s visit. He knew how to receive God because he studied God’s dealings with his forefathers, including with God-favored people like Abraham and Moses. Do you know how to receive God when He visits you?

4. Give pleasing offerings. Don’t be stingy with God. Yes, obedience is better than sacrifice. But it does not mean there is no need to sacrifice. If you truly love God, you embrace both. There are other motivations for both obedience and sacrifice but I believe the correct motivation that pleases God is the love for God. Obedience can be motivated by fear of punishment but that is not what God is after. Jesus said if you love me, obey my commandments; he who obeys my commandments loves Me (John 14:15 & 21). What does the “famous” John 3:16 says? Yes, God so loved the world that He gave {sacrificed} His one and own begotten Son …… Pleasing sacrifice is not based on some code of honor of some secret society, or fear of embarrassment or grows out of a desire to stroke one’s ego, or so that we can leave a name for all posterity. Pleasing sacrifice flows from love. Sacrifice to God, therefore, to be pleasing to God, is one that flows from love for God.

By sacrifice, it does not necessarily mean money, although we are guilty of always trying to translate everything in terms of dollars and cents. Sacrifice can include money, things in kinds, praise and worship, time, bearing of the cross, long-suffering {patiently enduring, patiently waiting}, and the giving up of our rights, interests, aspirations, goals, even loved ones, and our very life.

One who loves God, obeys God, and sacrifices to God. Initially when God spoke to Gideon, God did not ask for sacrifice, but Gideon wanted to make a sacrifice to God. What was the motivation behind the sacrifice? It is not obedience because God did not ask for it. It is not as a mere sign to show that the one who spoke was God because Gideon could have asked for any other sign. I suggest to you that it was Gideon’s love for God that motivated him to ask God to wait so that he could make a sacrifice to God. Gideon knew that was how his forefathers who loved God would have done when God visited - Noah made a burnt offering when God visited him after The Flood. Abraham also made offering when God visited him on the way to Sodom and Gomorrah. Gideon made a good offering (and not a “cheap” offering) to God, do not forget, livestock and food were scare during those times.

As I have said, things are not necessarily measured in terms of money. Praise and worship, when done properly can be a good offering; otherwise it can also be a “cheap” offering.

5. Obey God. When we look at the burnt offering asked of, by the Lord, and Gideon’s doing as instructed, we find both obedience and sacrifice, the manifestations of love (of Gideon for God), at work. That seven year old bull was a prized possession (sacrifice). At the same time, the doing of offering could bring a lot of problems for Gideon, could even cost him his life (obedience).

6. Trust God and be courageous. Without faith, it is impossible to please God. Obviously what Gideon did concerning the desecration of Baal altar and Asherah pole was expected to come to light. Gideon trusted God to take care of things, and it was courageous of him to go ahead to do as instructed by the Lord. To be courageous is not necessarily to be without fear. To be courageous is to do the right thing despite fear.

7. Inquire of the Lord before going to war. God and Satan are at war. When we accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we have chosen side; we are sided with God. We are at war (The Apostle Paul said in 2 Tim 2:3, endure with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus). For whatever role that we have been assigned for the season, we are to be battle-ready (there are many battles in a gigantic war that stretched over time). We are also not to be a “stray soldier”, going to a battle without checking with our Commander, the Lord.

It appeared that a sign was not an uncommon way to ask for confirmation from the Lord in the olden days. I believe God still give signs to people as confirmation. The first sign Gideon asked, was for the Lord to stay and wait for him to prepare an offering for Him. And God did that. The second set of signs was that concerning the fleece. Here, Gideon asked for a double confirmation, and God granted it! Maybe it does mean for a very major thing, we can ask for a double confirmation.

Anthony Chia – Lord, I say I love you, so I should want to obey you, and make sacrifice for your sake. My disobedience and lack of sacrifice for you are telling on my love for you. Please forgive me.

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