Guideon prepared for service
The remainder of this chapter shows us how God wrought in order to raise up a servant in those times of ruin, and to fit a powerful instrument for carrying out His work of deliverance.
Before entering upon our subject, we would press a truth of general application. When the people of God, as such, have lost all power, it can still be found by the soul individually in quite as great and marvellous a measure as in the times of Israel's greatest prosperity. If this is true, how ardently should our hearts desire to possess this power! Are we among those who, settled down in their weakness, put themselves on a level with their surroundings, and accept the worldliness of the family of God as an inevitable or necessary state of things? Or, have we rather the ears of Gideon when God says to us: There is unlimited power at thy disposal.
We will now go on to the history of this man of God. Personally, he was even weaker than his people; without confidence before the enemy, for he "threshed wheat by the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites" (v. 11); without resources among his relations, for his family was thepoorest in Manasseh; without power in himself, for he was the least in his father's house (v. 15). Such was the man that God visited and chose as servant - a man who realized his utter weakness, and who said: "O, my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel?" When it is a question of the work of God in this world, we then find a first great principle, it is, that God does not ask in any case what man can offer Him. The instruments He takes up to glorify Himself by, are those that are weak, and who are conscious of their weakness (1 Cor. 1: 27‑29; 2 Cor. 12: 9, 10).
But there is another principle of the greatest importance: this work requires that all be of God. Gideon was already a believer, before the angel of Jehovah sat under the oak. Whatever he had yet to learn, he believed the word of God, which had been transmitted to him by his forefathers (v. 13).
Moreover, he identified himself with the people of God: "If Jehovah be with us" - "Jehovah hath forsaken us," he says. He did not follow the course of Heber, he endured with the Israelites the consequences of their wrong‑doing. Respect for His word and affection for His people are two signs of divine life at all times, and appertain to all the faithful.
Gideon had, however, much to learn. His faith was very feeble, for he did not count on the goodness of God. Humble, doubtless, but looking at himself, he formed a conclusion what God ought to be to him, from what he was. "Now," said he, "Jehovah has forsaken us." The situation is hopeless, for it is the consequence of our unfaithfulness. Thus reasoned Gideon, but did God reason thus?" Jehovah is with thee, thou mighty man of valour." Ah! how little did he know what was in the heart of God, and how many there are that reason like Gideon.
Moreover, notwithstanding his humility, there had not yet been true judgment of self. He wished to offer something, to "bring forth his present" to Jehovah (v. 18). It was, doubtless, not with the intention of doing some great thing for God, but with the thought that all would be well if God accepted his present. We will see the answer of Jehovah, but first let us go back to the principle enunciated above; that, in the work of the deliverance of His people, God is alone upon the scene (see Ex. 14: 13, 14; 2 Chron. 20: 12‑18).
- In the first place, "the angel of Jehovah appeared unto him." Like Saul on the way to Damascus - it is God who commences by revealing Himself to the soul of every one of His servants, in the person of Jesus.
- Secondly, Jehovah revealed Himself to Gideon as associated with him: "Jehovah is with thee."
- Thirdly, it was He who gave Gideon a character - "thou mighty man of valour" - a character which Gideon himself, in his weakness, would never have dreamed of obtaining.
- Fourthly, "Jehovah looked upon him" in grace, in order to reveal Himself, not only to Him but in Him, as the God of power. If Gideon had no strength, Jehovah had it for him; it is the secret which He made known to him, for He said: "this thy might."
- Fifthly, it was He who sent him: "Go in this thy might." So was Paul, the servant of God, sent: "not of men, neither by man" (Gal. 1: 1).
- Finally, God gave him the proof of the interest He had in him. We have already seen that Gideon wished to offer something to Jehovah, but He can accept nothing from man as such. "Take," said he, "the flesh and the unleavened cakes, and lay them upon this rock, and pour out the broth" (v. 20). The only offering which God can accept, is Christ. If He did not receive what Gideon offered Him, He accepted that which represented Christ in it.
This man of God had a very imperfect understanding of the value of the sacrifices, which Jehovah had commanded to the children of Israel; "the broth in the pot" was a witness of his ignorance. But God discerned what was real, underlying this feeble faith, and accepted the offering when Gideon laid it "upon the rock." The fire of judgment rose up out of the rock, consuming the flesh and the unleavened cakes. The proof of the interest which God had for him was, in figure, the judgment fallen upon Christ.
It was still necessary that the servant should learn the value of this work for himself. At first he was filled with fear. "Alas, O Lord God! for because I have seen an angel of Jehovah face to face." But "Jehovah said unto him, Peace be unto thee; fear not; thou shalt not die." The consequence of the fire of judgment having consumed the offering, was peace for Gideon. To be a servant of God, one must have received for oneself the knowledge of the work of Christ, and the peace which flows therefrom; the assurance of peace having been made, by virtue of what has passed between God and Christ; the assurance of what God and not Gideon thought of the sacrifice. Such is the foundation of all Christian service (alas! how much it has been forgotten), for, if we have not peace ourselves, how can we proclaim it to others?
The first result of what Gideon had just learned was not to press him into service (another fact completely lost sight of by Christians of our day), but to make him a worshipper. "Then Gideon built an altar there unto Jehovah, and called it Jehovah‑shalom" (the God of Peace). The believer should enter the presence of God as a worshipper, before engaging in service. The word illustrates this fact in a multitude of cases - that of Abraham, and the man born blind, among others. Gideon praised the God of peace, and could thenceforth offer upon the altar of worship a sacrifice which Jehovah accepted.
It was only after the altar of worship was set up that God called Gideon as a servant to bear public testimony, and this began in his father's house. It consisted in destroying "the altar of Baal, and the grove that is by it," and substituting for these the altar of testimony - the altar of the God whom Gideon knew. The positive duty of one who would be a testimony for God is, before all else, to cast down his idols. Why is it that there are so few true servants among Christians, walking in the power of a testimony for Christ? It is because they have not the two altars. And why have they not the second? Because they have not provided themselves wood for the sacrifice. The idols are the wood (v. 26). Let us overthrow them, let nothing of them remain. Let us begin in the innermost circle of the family. If we do not do this, where will our testimony be? The overthrowing of the idols is the secret of power; the Spirit of Jehovah only came upon Gideon when he had accomplished this act. We have not now, as he, Baals of stone, and groves of wood, but we have many other idols; and, little like him, we often prefer them to the power of a faithful walk with God.
Gideon obeyed unhesitatingly, without compromise or reservation. For him the idols were nothing compared with the God he knew. This "mighty man of valour" had been wanting in courage. Fear of the enemy (v. 11), afraid of God (v. 23), fear of his father's house (v. 27), were some of his characteristics. He did his work at night, fearing to do it by day; he did it, nevertheless, for God had so commanded him. It was only in the morning that the people of the city saw what had been done. He who knew the character of Gideon had not said to him: Do this work by day. Let us, too, feeble as we are, destroy our idols in silence, when no eye observes us. Let us not speak too loudly of the matter; let us accomplish this difficult work with fear and trembling, looking to God only, in the silence of the night. The world will soon perceive that we have a new altar which it knows not, and that the grove has no value for us except as wood to be burned. Then the world, which has hitherto sustained us, will hate us. It was the altar of testimony which drew upon Gideon the animosity of all. Hated, but what did it matter, for he received the name of Jerubbaal (let Baal plead), and became in presence of all, the personal witness of the worthlessness of the things he had formerly worshipped.
The effect of Gideon's testimony was to convince his father of the nothingness of Baal. The faith of the father was less than that of the son. Gideon destroyed Baal because he knew God; Joash received God because he no longer acknowledged Baal. It was very little, but it was something.
Brethren, are we witnesses before the world of the folly of all that it finds its interest in? If we have not maintained the altar of Baal, possibly we have not destroyed "the grove that is by it." Unqualified obedience to the word of God, is the path of power. At certain periods of our lives power has characterized our service, at others it has been lacking. Let us then ask ourselves if we have not rebuilt some idol that we had destroyed. All public service for the Christian must begin by faithfulness in the little circle in which he is called to move.
Gideon proved at first the hostility of those who bore the name of people of God, a hostility which was restrained for the time by the sincerity of his testimony. Midian and Amalek (v. 33), however, were not thus restrained. If, in their folly, the people of the city sought to hinder their own deliverance, the world made a determined effort to suppress the revival which was to release Israel from bondage.
Up to this time Gideon had only performed an act of obedience; now the Spirit of Jehovah came upon him. His first act of power was to sound the trumpet, assembling the tribes together after him. The strength of Israel was in their gathering together, it was that which Satan and the world most feared.
Gideon, notwithstanding his strength, did not manifest much confidence in God. He asked for signs to know if Jehovah would save the people by his hand. All God's orders to Gideon were clear and simple, but when Gideon asked for signs of God, all became obscure and complicated. We can hardly understand what his thought was. It may be that the fleece represented Israel, blessed of God, when dryness rested upon the nations, and vice versa, for having proved God, Gideon put Him to a counterproof. What poor faith! What feeble confidence in Him! But the God of grace patiently did what His servant required. He wished to deliver His people. He wished, by all means, to sustain the feeble heart of His witness, in order to enlist him in His service and to make him an instrument for His glory.