I realise that this ‘beyond the pale’ series of blogs has been resembling Game of Thrones with a lot of violence, sex and general post-watershed content. So this week I wanted to look at something not quite as violent, something lovely…something like… say… jumpers and cakes.
We’re gonna stay in Judges, but this time we’ll look at Judges 6.
Here we meet Gideon for the first time. Gideon who will go on to become one of the great leaders of Israel. Stories of this leadership in battle will be passed down for generations. We are also made aware that Israel has once again turned away from God, this is a recurring theme throughout Judges. The Israelites have also been oppressed by surrounding nations, in fact it seems that their disobedience towards God and their oppression are linked. The people cry out to God in distress, and God reminds them that they have chosen to follow and worship many gods and idols.
It may or may not be worth noting however that the Israelites had not totally abandoned worship of God for idols. They had combined their worship of God, the God who brought them out of slavery in Egypt with many idols. They worshipped God formally, but in fact their lives revolved around idols of commerce, agriculture, beauty, sex and war.
Might the ‘christian’ world we inhabit in the West be accused of the same thing?
After hearing the peoples cry, God acts. Again, this is a recurring set of events throughout Judges. The angel of the LORD finds Gideon, where he is, and tells him that God is with him. Gideon seems to have a polite respect for this ‘angel of the LORD’. “Pardon me, my lord…” he begins before rifling into his objections and complaints.
If the lord is with us, then how come we are here? How come we are oppressed? How can the same LORD who took my ancestors out of slavery be with us now? The LORD who took us out of Egypt has abandoned us.
The angel of the LORD continues to repeat essentially the same thing. I am sending you…The LORD is with you…I will be with you.
This is a bit of a side track but I wonder if you have an answer cause I don’t think I do…who exactly is the angel of the LORD? In appearance, the angel of the LORD must look fairly normal, or at least human, as Gideon doesn’t flinch when the conversation starts. Gideon isn’t even certain if this is just a practical joke or not until verse 21 – it is only then that he recognises this is a divine figure. Also in this passage, we are sometimes told ‘the angel said…’ and at other times ‘the LORD said…’ so what does that mean? Maybe the angel is just amplifying God’s words, a kind of divine Bluetooth speaker. Then again, in verse 14 we read ‘The LORD turned to him and said…’. Not the angel of LORD, but the LORD. Confused yet? Yep, me too. It’s all a bit head wrecking. How can this figure be both a messenger of the LORD and the LORD? Why the interchanging between the two? The only thing I can suggest is that this is hint towards the very nature of our God. A God who is three-in-one. A God who comes to us where we are. A God who is not bounded by natural or scientific laws.
Lets get back on track, I haven’t even mentioned the jumpers and cakes yet!!
So Gideon has chatted to the angel of the LORD for a while and decides to go make a cake (unleavened bread…that’s pretty much cake right?) He promises he’ll be back to him soon and asks him to stay. On his return, in a scene reminiscent of the Great British Bake Off, the angel of the LORD asks Gideon to present his creation. I’m not sure if it was underdone or if it just didn’t look that appetising but, after poking it with a stick, the angel of LORD consumes Gideon’s produce in a fire and immediately disappears. This is when Gideon starts to twig that this might be the LORD who brought his ancestors out of Egypt after all.
Over the next few verses Gideon gets himself in trouble by vandalising various monuments and statues devoted to the idols his family, friends and neighbours look to help in everyday life. To be fair, he only did it because God told him too. Still this whole episode and the backlash he receives shakes Gideon up a bit, and now he isn’t so sure of God’s calling and promise to him.
In general there is a common agreement that what Gideon did next was wrong. He tests God. Telling God he will set out a jumper and would like to see a wet jumper and dry ground in the morning. God passes with flying colours, we are even told Gideon gets a bowlful of water out of the jumper when he wrings it.
You’d think Gideon would be over the moon, now he can be sure of all God has told him. The first thing Gideon says to God after this is ‘Do not be angry with me.’ Generally this is not a great way to start a dialogue. He asks God to re-sit the test. Only this time he wants the ground to be wet and the jumper to be dry. And God dutifully obliges.
The real difficulty of this text lies in its application. Are Christians today to make use of this method when they seek to discover God’s will? That is, is it ever appropriate for Christians today to say something like this? “God, if you make someone knock on my door in ten minutes’ time, inquiring about our house, I will then know it is your will to sell this house.” Is this a valid method? Or is it improperly putting God to the test? I certainly know in my younger days I used to employ this method semi-regularly.
We must be careful.
When the devil is tempting Jesus and asks him to ‘test’ God by asking for a sign Jesus rebuked him. So what is going on here? Did Gideon test God and get away with it? Twice? If Gideon is so wrong and his actions so sinful, why does God respond? Twice? If Gideon has so little faith, then why is he included in a list of ‘heroes of the faith’ in Hebrews 11? Just cause God is nice like that? Yeah, maybe. Was God displaying his grace and mercy? Yeah, maybe. I want to throw another option into the mix though.
Maybe Gideon’s actions were not sinful and bad (Note God never challenges him on this!) Perhaps Gideon was very specifically asking God to show him that he was not just a force of nature, like the other gods, but that he was apart from nature itself. Perhaps Gideon was not looking for a little sign to make a decision clear. Perhaps Gideon was really seeking to understand who God is.
We have to remember that he did not have all the things we have today that tell us about God’s nature. Gideon didn’t have a bible, he wasn’t part of the local church, he had no bible study or accountability group to attend. All around him people worshipped Idols. So maybe Gideon was specifically addressing the places where his faith was weak and uninformed.
This therefore is not about how to make a decision and whether we should ask God for a sign to point us to what colour car to buy. This is about how we need to ask God to give us a big picture of who he is. This is about us seeking and praying to God asking him to reveal himself to us. This is about seeking the revelation of Jesus Christ. This is about seeking out the Holy Spirit and asking him to convict us of our mistakes and move us forward to full redemption and restoration. The more God reveals himself to us then the more we too can say God is with us.
We walk into the future in God-glorifying confidence, not because the future is known to us but because it is known to God. And that’s all we need to know. (Kevin DeYoung, Just Do Something)