Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Following Wise Leaders

Once again, we return to the vicious cycle wherein the children of Israel commit apostasy (sin) against God, God raises up an enemy to punish them, the Israelites pray for mercy, and God raises up a judge for their deliverance from the enemy. The Israelites '...did evil in the sight of the Lord: and the Lord delivered them into the hand of the Midian seven years' (Judges 1b). The Midianites were relatives of the Israelites. They were descendants of Abraham and his second wife, Keturah (Genesis 25:1-6). Israel had formerly subdued the Midianites, i.e all the males were killed as commanded by the Lord (Numbers 31:7). They were not the Midians from the south of the Dead Sea, but they were the Midians to the east who joined to Moab (Numbers 22:4). The Lord had allowed a new generation of Midianites to multiply, rise and terrorize the Israelites on a periodic basis, driving them from their home into the hills and caves nearby. They did not mind that the children of Israel worshipped Baal. For seven years they would patiently wait until the Israelites had planted their crops. Then, at harvest time, the Midianites would appear with their many camels, along with the Amalekites, and the children of the east (Arabians) and pillage the land. (See Judges 6:3-4) They would leave '...no sustenance for Israel, neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass' (Judges 6:4b). This was an especially effective tactic, since Israel had no training or preparation in camel warfare. 'And the children of Israel cried unto the Lord' (Judges 6:6b). Then it was time for the fourth installment of the vicious cycle: God picked Gideon to lead the Israelites against the enemy.

Gideon was the son of Joash (Judges 6:11), of the half tribe of Manasseh in Canaan and of the family of Abiezer, the eldest house of the tribe (Joshua 17:2). The family worshipped Baal (Judges 6:25), but Gideon did not. The angel of the Lord found him alone, threshing wheat by the wine press and called him a '...mighty man of valor...(Judges 6:12,16). Though the Lord told Gideon he had been chosen to save Israel and that He would be with him, Gideon had to be encouraged. He felt he was not fit for the service and needed a sign for confirmation. The Lord asked for a meat offering. Gideon placed it on a rock with bread. '...the angel of the LORD put forth the end of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the flesh and the unleavened cakes; and there rose up fire out of the rock, and consumed...'(Judges 6:21) the offering. The Lord gave Gideon peace over the situation and told him he would not die. Gideon then set up a memorial.

Although Gideon was not as yet confident in himself as the judge who would save Israel, he obeyed the Lord. The first command of the Lord was for him to destroy his father Joash's alter of Baal along with the grove that surrounded it (Judges 6:25). He was to replace it with an altar to the Lord and offer a sacrifice with his father's young bullock and second bullock of seven years old. His family was furious, but Gideon's father defended him and renamed him Jerubbal (Judges 6:32). Jerubbal means 'let Baal plead for himself'. They forgot they were serving Baal when the Spirit of the Lord fell upon Gideon to blow the trumphet. The Midianites, Amalekites, and children of the east (Arabians) had gathered together and were in the valley of Jezreel. Gideon's family, the Abiezer, were ready to follow him. He sent messengers to the neighboring tribes of Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, Naphtali, and distant tribes. They answered.

Gideon's faith was still yet weak as to saving Israel. He sought two further signs from the Lord regarding a fleece of wool (Judges 6:37-40). The fleece was wet with dew, but the ground was dry in the first instance. Secondly, the fleece was dry, but the ground was wet. The signs were miraculous and served to confirm his confirmation.

Gideon was able to round up thirty-two thousand men of war. It appears Gideon wanted sufficient manpower to win the battle, but God had another goal in mind. He told Gideon he had too many men for Him '...to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me' (Judges 7:2). God knew the Israelites were subject to take the credit. Therefore, it was necessary to make sure they knew it was nothing but God that saved them from the hand of the hand of the Midianites. God directed Gideon to send all home who were afraid. Having an army smaller than that of the Midianites had helped many to be fearful. Twenty-two thousand men left and ten thousand remained. (See Judges 7:3) Still, God wanted to subtract more. He directed Gideon to bring the men to the water. Those who bend forward to bring their hand in contact with the water, throw water in their face rapidly, and without dropping a particle would remain. They hastily take up a little water in their hands, and cool their mouths with that, and were gone (lapping like dogs). Others made it a formal visit. Those who took time to kneel and drink would be sent home. Only three hundred remained.

Every remaining soldier now carried his own provision and a trumphet, instead of a weapon of war. (See Judges 7:8) They had to fully trust God if they had no more provision. To encourage Gideon, the Lord sent him to directly spy on the Midianites (Judges 7:11). Gideon crept up to the enemy camp and overheard a conversation between two Midianite warriors. One of them told of a strange dream, and the other interpreted it to mean that God had already prepared victory for Gideon and Israel. The news was even further confirmation to Gideon that it was, indeed, God who was speaking to him. It was here that Gideon's responses changed from doubt to reverence. He immediately began to worship. (See Judges 7:15) He did not wait to worship. Then he went back and told his army of three hundred men that the battle had been won. He did not wait until morning to fight the war.

It was the middle of the night. Gideon divided the men into three companies so it would appear they were surrounding the enemy. Each man had a trumphet in their right hand and a lamp inside a pitcher in their left hand. When Gideon directed, they blew the trumphets, broke the pitchers, allowing the lights of the lamps to shine, and shouted 'The sword of the Lord and of Gideon'. They did not have to use real swords because the Lord was fighting this battle. There was mass confusion among the host of the Midianites. Some killed each other while some fled. No one remained and the Israelites did not lose anyone.(See Judges 7:16-22) Gideon's small army won with the Lord as the Commander.

Not only was the tribe of Manasseh miraculously delivered, but possibly two or three other tribes from grave danger at the hands of the Midianites. The result was an outcry for Gideon (and his sons) to be the official leader of Manasseh, and possibly Ephraim and Issachar. Gideon told them he would willing act as a judge but the Lord alone had the right to rule over them as King of Israel. (Judges 8:23) He knew that without God, he was that same man who God had found threshing wheat at the winepress.

Gideon, following tradition, called for a "collection" of golden earrings (Judges 8:24-26) of the spoil to perpetuate this victory. This was done so that these items could be dedicated to God, since it was He who delivered the victory. The earrings were made into an ephod (Judges 8:27), but Gideon's intention to forever recognize God's goodness with the ephod became a snare against him and his family. The people once again forgot God when they began to worship the ephod. They found excuses not to go to Shiloh, located in Ephraim, to worship.

Due to Gideon's obedience to the Lord, '...the country was in quietness forty years' (Judges 8:28).

Written by Deborah C. Davis

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