I don't know about you but when I think about a hero . . . I think of strength, and intellect, personal charisma and good looks. But our hero today had none of these.
He was just a simple farmer, with no ambitions to do anything else because he was content with his profession but God had a different plan for his life.
His name is Gideon and I love his story because it is a story about transformation and it is a reminder that God often uses the most unlikely characters to be his greatest hero's.
But before we get into his story, we have to set the scene in which his story takes place.
The Israelites, under the leadership of Joshua, had defeated all of their enemies and had established the tribes of Israel in the Promised Land.
Everything was complete as God had promised . . . and then Joshua dies. But instead of appointing another military leader, God decided that he would rise up men and women who were called "judges" to lead the Israelites.
This time of the Judges is a very low period in the history of Israel - one that was made up of seven repeated cycles in which . . .
- The people of Israel would rebel against God
- They would begin to worship the same pagan Gods as the nations around them
- They would suffer painful consequences
- They would cry out to God for help
- God would raise up a judge who would deliver them
- The people would then return to God
- But when the judge died they would rebel against God and the cycle would start over
For 300 years, the people of Israel would bounce back and forth from being faithful and obedient to being disobedient to God.
Gideon was the fourth of these judges and his ministry began with the same phrase that got all the other judges started.
Judges 6:1 "[Once] again, the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord."
This time the Consequence came in the form of attacks from a group of nomadic people known as the Midianites and their mode of attacking the Israelites was different from that of previous invaders.
Instead of invading and occupying the land, they simply waited until harvest time each fall. Then, they would swoop in from the desert and steal their crops and herds and then destroy anything that they couldn't take with them.
They did this for seven years, and of course this left Israel in a desperate situation. People were reduced to hiding food in mountain dens and caves.
This is exactly where we find Gideon when he comes on the scene for the first time.
His name literally means "hacker", which would seem to be a name for a man of great strength and courage. But, when we get our first look at Gideon, he seems to be anything but that because he's cowering under an oak tree, threshing grain down in a WINE PRESS.
Now normally a man would do this on a wooden threshing floor, out in the open, so that the wind could carry away the chaff. But Gideon was hiding in a winepress- which was built down into the ground - and he was there because he was desperately trying to save a little bit of food from being taken by the Midianites.
As he was doing this - the angel of the Lord sat down under the oak tree that stood over the winepress where Gideon was working.
Now, there is something significant about this person because he is referred to as "the angel of the Lord" as opposed to "an angel of the Lord" and in the Old Testament, whenever the phrase "The angel of the Lord," is used it refers to Jesus, before his incarnation . . . taking the form of an angel and visiting the earth.
So, the assumption is that this is Jesus who has sat down under the Oak tree to have a little chat with Gideon and I love what he says . . . verse 6:12 "The Lord is with you, mighty warrior!" It is almost as if he is mocking him because at this point, Gideon's behavior was anything but that of a mighty warrior.
Well Gideon doesn't find it very funny in fact, he's a bit annoyed and he says, "pardon me, but if the lord is with us, why has such a disaster overtaken us? Where are all the miraculous deeds our ancestors told us about when the Lord delivered them out of Egypt?
But the angel doesn't entertain that dialogue but rather replies by telling him to deliver Israel out of the hands of the Midianites.
Well, perhaps the angel didn't realize who Gideon was. So, he reminded the angel that he was the lowest and the weakest member of the lowest and weakest tribe of Israel. You couldn't get much lower than Gideon - so clearly, the angle had the wrong guy.
But after the long list of excuses of inferiority, the Lord gave a simple reply, "I will be with you." And with that, the transformation of an ordinary man into a hero began.
Well, the FIRST assignment God gave to Gideon wasn't to attack the Midianites; it was to attack the root of the problem. Before the Midianites could go . . . the idols to Baal had to go because God was not going to tolerate any rivals.
But this was a tough request for Gideon because the idol he was referring to was in his own back yard. You see, his father, Joash, had built an altar to Baal on his property along with a wooden pillar representing the Canaanite goddess of fertility.
But although he was fearful to tear down the idols in his own backyard, he was willing to take the risk and be obedient to what the Lord had called him to do.
And in his obedience, Gideon inspired at least 10 others to go with him. The 2nd mark of his transformation
Well, with this victory under his belt, Gideon called all of Israel to join him in war against the Midianites and 32,000 men responded to his call.
But as they came Gideon began to get a little nervous. It was one thing for a farmer to say he was going to lead an army into battle it was another thing for a farmer to actually do it, especially when that farmer only has 32,000 men and the other guys have 135,000.
And so Gideon got into a little discussion with God.
He said "Tell you what God, if this is what you really want me to do you have to give me a sign. I will put out a sheep's fleece on the ground tonight. If in the morning the ground is dry and the fleece is wet then I'm your guy."
The Lord did as he asked. When he got up the next morning, he squeezed the fleece, and enough dew dripped from it to fill a bowl.
But Gideon starts thinking, "Maybe this isn't as amazing as it seems. After all, it would be more likely for the water to be absorbed by the wool than the ground. Maybe the fact that the wool is wet and the ground is dry would have happened anyway. It's not really as sign of anything."
So, Gideon made a second request of God. He asked: "Will you reverse the process-and make the ground wet and the fleece dry?"
He gets up the next morning, and sure enough the ground is covered in dew and the fleece is completely dry. And so Gideon begins to think, "Maybe God is serious about this."
With his new found confidence, he looks out over his army of 32,000 men and thinks "This could be cool, we could actually do this"
But God steps in and says, "Not so fast Gideon. You've got too many men."
Too many men? Didn't God realize that the odds were already against them? They were outnumbered 4 to 1
But God wanted this to be about God and His power, and not about man and their power. And so he tells Gideon to tell them that whoever is afraid can go home."
Can you imagine how Gideon felt when he made the announcement and 22,000 guys leave, just like that, leaving Gideon with 10,000 men.
But to top it off God went on to say that he still had too many . . . so He instructed Gideon to watch his men drink and send everyone home who bent their faces down to drink water from the stream directly.
Only a mere 300 stood up alertly, ready for battle, the water cupped in their hands.
So in a short span of time God had taken an overwhelming situation and made it impossible.
32,000 had no chance of winning against the Midianites but for 300 it was laughable. I mean, God chose less than one percent of the group that Gideon began with to fight. Now they were outnumbered not 4 to 1 - but 450 to 1.
But perhaps God isn't interested in simply giving his people victory - perhaps he is more concerned with teaching us trust and obedience.
Now that night I don't think that Gideon slept too well. I mean, would you? 300 against 135,000. But God knew how Gideon felt so he told him to go down to the Midianite camp and listen to what they saying and afterword you will be encouraged to attack them.
And that's what he did. He took one of his leaders with him they sneaked into the Midianite camp and eavesdropped on a conversation going on around a campfire.
Two guys are talking and the first said "I had the strangest dream last night, I dreamed that a loaf of barley bread rolled down the hill into the camp and flattened one of our tents"
And the second guy says "Your dream can only mean one thing. Gideon and his men are going to whip us."
Gideon took the dream and the interpretation as a sign from God and it was at that point that he realized that God had already done the work and so he stops everything and he bows down and worships God.
Sing "We Bow Down"
and after he worshipped God, he went back to the camp and rallied the troops.
And listen to what happens.
I love this story because it is about God transforming an ordinary farmer into an extraordinary hero but it is really actually more that that.
It is about how God used an ordinary person to demonstrate his character, his strength, his provision, and his kindness.
Gideon is not the focus of this story . . . it is about God.
You know, God still calls people to do things today against overwhelming odds but unfortunately most Christians aren't bold enough to follow because it's a lot easier to only do the things they can do, instead of the things that require them to trust in God.
Logos Dei Community Church, God is asking us to do things we aren't able to do because He wants to demonstrate His nature, His strength, His provision, and His kindness.
God wants to turn this ordinary group of people into something extraordinary . . .
Will you let him do that?