Tag Archives: Gideon

King, or Not?

King, or Not? (CaD Jud 8) Wayfarer

The Israelites said to Gideon, “Rule over us—you, your son and your grandson—because you have saved us from the hand of Midian.”

But Gideon told them, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The Lord will rule over you.”

Judges 8:22-23 (NIV)

The book of Judges tells the story of a very specific period of Hebrew history. I have found that understanding the context of this period of time is important in understanding the overarching Great Story. These twelve Hebrew tribes that settled in the Promised Land were a populous nation with no formal central government. Think of the contiguous United States as if each state were a tribe and there was no Federal government in Washington D.C. All around them, cities and small regions were ruled by the strong, central authority of monarchs, or kings. The Hebrews saw themselves as a theocracy, in which God was ultimately who led them and whom they served. This system had its challenges, which is what the book of Judges is all about. It sets the stage for the next chapter of the Great Story in which the Hebrew people will demand the establishment of a monarchy.

In today’s chapter, Gideon completes his military leadership in the defeat of the Midianites who had oppressed them. As a result, the people offer Gideon the opportunity to be their king. Gideon refuses, reminding the people that God alone rules over them. On the surface, Gideon appears to be saying the right thing, but the verses immediately following this proclamation (24-32) describe Gideon doing the exact opposite.

Gideon refuses to become king, but he embraces all of the privileges that a monarch would have claimed in that day. He takes a personal share of the spoil for himself. He creates a trophy commemorating his victory that the people worship in a cult-like fashion. He takes on a large harem and has many sons, one of them named Abimelek, meaning “my father is king.”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about who rules over me. In the early Jesus Movement, followers of Jesus found themselves in difficult political circumstances. Their local governments were puppets of the Roman Empire. The Roman caesars claimed to be gods, but the followers of Jesus saw themselves, ultimately, as citizens of God’s Kingdom and ambassadors of that kingdom on earth.

In my mind, however, it becomes even more personal than that. In Gideon, I see a reflection of my own natural bent. As a disciple of Jesus, I am quick to say that I am not King or Lord of my life, but only Jesus is King and Lord of my life. However, I have to ask myself: “What do my thoughts, words, and actions reveal about the true Lord of my life?”

On this Monday morning, as I enter another work week, I find myself thinking about my life, my relationships, my work, my upcoming appointments, and my multiple task lists. I’m asking myself both what and who I am ultimately working for.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Willingness

Willingness (CaD Jud 6) Wayfarer

That same night the Lord said to [Gideon], “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. 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.”

So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the Lord told him. But because he was afraid of his family and the townspeople, he did it at night rather than in the daytime.
Judges 6:25-27 (NIV)

I recently read the story of Angie Fenimore’s Near-Death Experience (NDE). Her body died and she descended to a hell-like place. This is an excerpt of her story:

I knew that I was in a state of hell, but this was not the typical fire and brimstone hell that I had learned about as a young child.

Men and women of all ages, but no children, were standing or squatting or wandering about on the realm. Some were mumbling to themselves. The darkness emanated from deep within and radiated from them in an aura I could feel. They were completely self-absorbed, every one of them too caught up in his or her own misery to engage in any mental or emotional exchange. They had the ability to connect with one another, but they were incapacitated by the darkness.

But worse was my growing sense of complete aloneness. Even hearing the brunt of someone’s anger, however unpleasant, is a form of tangible connection. But in this empty world, where no connections could be made, the solitude was terrifying.

Then I heard a voice of awesome power, not loud but crashing over me like a booming wave of sound; a voice that encompassed such ferocious anger that with one word it could destroy the universe, and that also encompassed such potent and unwavering love that, like the sun, it could coax life from the Earth. I cowered at its force and at its excruciating words:

“Is this what you really want?”

Suddenly I felt another presence with us, the same presence that had been with me when I first crossed over into death and who had reviewed my life with me. I recognized that he had been with us the whole time, but that I was only now becoming able to perceive him. What I could see were bits of light coming through the darkness. The rays of light penetrated me with incredible force, with the power of an all-consuming love.

I had to ask, why me? Why was it that I could see God while the vacant husk of a man next to me could not? Why was I absorbing light and being taught, while he was hunkering down in misery and darkness?

I was told that the reason is willingness.

Read or watch Angie’s complete story.

In today’s chapter, we have the beginning of the ancient story of Gideon in which God calls Gideon to lead the Hebrew tribes against their enemies. What struck me as I meditated on the chapter was the structure of the interchange between the Angel of the Lord, and Gideon:

  • Gideon expresses doubt that God is even around.
  • Gideon expresses doubt that God would call him, since Gideon is from the weakest clan in Manasseh’s tribe and Gideon is the “least” in his family.
  • Gideon asks for a sign.
  • God provides a sign and Gideon builds an altar in response
  • God tells Gideon to tear down his Father’s altar to the idol Baal and the idolatrous Asherah pole next to it, and then sacrifice a bull on the altar Gideon had built to the Lord.
  • Gideon does it, but for fear of his people, he does it at night.
  • When called out by his people for this deed, the Spirit of God comes upon Gideon and he calls his people to rise up against their enemies. Despite his doubts and fears, his people answer favorably.
  • Gideon expresses doubts and asks God for another sign. God answers.
  • Gideon expresses doubts and asks God for another sign. God answers.

Last year when I was making this chapter-a-day trek through the Psalms, I discussed the fact that the ancient Hebrews loved to plant metaphorical structure in their writing. In the Psalms, the central theme to the song lyrics is often at the very center, with corresponding or contrasting themes before or after.

Today’s chapter has similar symmetry if you outline the chapter. There are two episodes of Gideon’s doubt and a request for a sign that God answers. There is a command to tear down his father’s idols and offer a sacrifice to God, which Gideon does, despite his fears. Then God miraculously raises Gideon to a position of leadership and his people agree to follow. Then there are two more episodes of Gideon’s doubt and request for another sign.

In other words, the only thing that Gideon brought to this story was his willingness, despite his fears, to tear down the idols and make a sacrifice to God. This made me think of God telling Angie that the reason she was able to see His light in the darkness, and all the poor souls around her could not, was because she was willing to see Him.

In the quiet this morning, I couldn’t help but think of myself and my own fearful doubts about the things to which God has called me. I am no different than Gideon. My journals are full of letters I’ve written to God expressing doubts, focusing on my weaknesses, recalling my many shortcomings, and asking for signs. I want to see the signs before I believe. God always reminds me, ironically, of “doubting Thomas” who refused to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead until he saw the nail holes from the crucifixion and the place where the Roman spear pierced his side. to whom Jesus answered his doubts as he did Gideon’s before saying, “Blessed are those who never see the sign, but still believe.”

And that is where I find myself standing at the beginning of this, a new day in the journey. Am I willing to step out in faith and pursue the things to which God has called me? Or, will I stand still, distract myself with other things, and wait for a sign?

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Life is Messy

Gideon made an ephod of it and put it in his town, in Ophrah; and all Israel prostituted themselves to it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family.
Judges 8:27 (NRSV)

Life is messy. We generally like things to be black and white and believe that things would be so much easier if they were. We like our movies to provide us with simple delineations between the people who wear white hats and those who wear black hats. We like the ending of our movies to wrap up neatly. The bad guy is dead. The good guy rides off into the sunset.

But life is rarely that way. We would like a simple choice for President. We want the person who is fully qualified, looks the part, has no moral flaws, is void of skeletons in the closet, inspires us, communicates clearly, and unites a diverse citizenship. That person, however, does not exist.

Even the great heroes of the faith, whom God raised up as leaders in ancient days, were sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. They were flawed the same as me and you. God raised up Gideon to defeat the Midianites, but in today’s chapter we find that Gideon was far from perfect. He defeated an idolatrous oppressor only to create a golden ephod (generally, a garment woven with gold) that became an idol itself. Gideon, for all of his leadership qualities, had his flaws. With his power and prestige he amassed for himself many wives and concubines. With 70 sons on record, the total number of his children had to be well over a hundred. Talk about messy.

Today, I am reminded that on this life journey East of Eden we rarely get the storylines of our lives to work out how we like them in our movies. Despite our perceptions, people rarely fit into simple black hats or white hats. Most all of us wear shades of gray. We all make mistakes along the way; Some of them tragic. We have messy lives, messy relationships, and mortal flaws. Riding off into the sunset is often just the view we choose to see through our rose colored glasses.

I do not believe, however, that this is cause for pessimism or cynicism. Rather, it is an opportunity for grace, forgiveness, and understanding. Just as Jesus taught, if I can be honest about the log in my own eye, I can learn to have grace for the speck in the eye of my brother, my sister, my friend, and my neighbor.

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featured photo by senorhans via Flickr

Overwhelmed, and Short on Confidence

[Gideon] responded, “But sir, how can I deliver Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”
Judges 6:15 (NRSV)

History is, by and large, filled with stories of privileged people. Kings, rulers, nobles, and generals were typically people born into the right families. They had the means to the best educations, were connected to the right people, and leveraged the opportunities at their disposal to become “great.”

Along life’s journey, I’ve come to appreciate one of the meta-themes of God’s Message which is summarized in His words to the prophet Isaiah:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.

Throughout the Great Story, God time and time again goes to the youngest, the least, and the weakest to use for His purposes. Today’s story of the calling of Gideon is a great example. You can feel the shame that exists at the core of Gideon’s soul. He is a nothing, a nobody, a person with no privilege, no means, and no connections. That is, until he received a visit from a very peculiar guest.

On this Monday morning, with a pile on my desk and a task list long enough to rival a child’s wish list to St. Nick, I can identify with Gideon’s attitude of being largely overwhelmed and a little short on confidence. Yet today’s chapter reminds me, once again, that God delights in calling unlikely individuals to particular tasks, and then graciously providing what is needed for the task to which one is called.

Chapter-a-Day Judges 8

A different time. Gideon made the gold into a sacred ephod and put it on display in his hometown, Ophrah. All Israel prostituted itself there. Gideon and his family, too, were seduced by it. Judges 8:27 (MSG)

I love old family stories and history. However, I have a hard time comprehending some historical events in my contemporary brain. I don't get why my maternal great-grandfather would commit suicide on his son's birthday after being diagnosed with tuberculosis. I can't fathom it. I wonder at my paternal great-grandfather being so upset that he up and left both his family and homeland to emigrate to America by himself. Nor can I understand his mother not wanting him to return to see her when he offered to do so.

It's difficult to get our heads wrapped around the times and realities of family just a few generations back. How can we expect to fully understand the equally flawed humans who lived in the brutal, chaotic time of the Judges three thousand years ago?

And yet, there is a common thread of fallen man that connects us all. Gideon makes an altruistic refusal to be Israel's leader, telling them that God will be their leader. Good for you, Gideon. What spiritual maturity. What humility. What a guy. A few verses later I'm scratching my head as Gideon turned his spoils of war into a "sacred" ephod which becomes the center of idol worship.

I'm perplexed. But, should I be? The same sinful, hypocritical blood flows in my veins. How often do I do and say things that leave people scratching their heads? How often are my actions during the week incongruent with my words on Sunday?

Chapter-a-Day Judges 7

Give thanks. God said to Gideon, "You have too large an army with you. I can't turn Midian over to them like this—they'll take all the credit, saying, 'I did it all myself,' and forget about me." Judges 7:2 (MSG)

As I write this post, plans for Thanksgiving are in full swing. In just over two weeks we will gather with family and friends to share in a feast and to give thanks. I've always loved Thanksgiving. Unlike most holidays, there is something about Thanksgiving that still repels commercialism. Thanksgiving is a humble holiday. It is a simple holiday. It is one of the few holidays we celebrate that still lends itself to introspection.

In a culture steeped in rugged individualism, self-seeking, and the perpetual pursuit of 15 minutes of fame, I find the idea of stopping to give thanks is a welcome moment of sanity. Like Gideon's army, we are at constant risk of taking all the credit for what God has done to bless us.

Several centuries ago, Thomas a' Kempis wrote a wonderful treatise on the difference between nature and grace. "Nature willingly accepts honor and respect," he wrote, "while grace attributes all honor and glory to God."

Today, I'm mindful of the many ways my natural self seeks to hoard respect and glory for myself. I'm reminding myself that God deserves all respect, honor, glory…and thanks.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and soulrider

Chapter-a-Day Judges 6

I'm not listening. Gideon said to him, "Me, my master? How and with what could I ever save Israel? Look at me. My clan's the weakest in Manasseh and I'm the runt of the litter." Judges 6:15 (MSG)

Consider, for a moment, some of the "heroes" of God's story:

  • Jacob: the younger son, a deceiver, becomes the father of the twelve tribes of Israel.
  • Joseph: the youngest of Jacob's sons, became the most powerful man in Egypt and saved the nation.
  • Moses: an orphan and a murderer on the lam (with speech impediment to boot) leads Israel out of bondage and delivers God's law.
  • Deborah: a woman leads Israel in a time when women had about as much social standing as livestock.
  • Gideon: the "run of the litter" leads Israel to defeat the Midianites.
  • David: the youngest, smallest son of Jesse becomes the greatest King of Israel, through whom Jesus would be born. All this despite being an adulterer and murder.
  • Solomon: the youngest son of David, born out of a scandalous marriage to Bathsheba, becomes the most powerful king in Israel's history.
  • Mary: a young girl with no social standing, becomes the mother of Jesus.
  • Jesus disciples: an eclectic, rag-tag group of uneducated misfits would turn the world upside down sharing the good news of Jesus.
  • Paul: a murderer and persecutor of Christians becomes the most influential follower and apostle of Jesus.

Anyone see a pattern?

As human beings, I've noticed that we are quick to believe the most negative things about ourselves. "God would never use me. I'm not sure God even loves me. I could never to anything worthwhile for God. I'm too…worthless, sinful, ugly, small, fat, dumb, short, stupid, dirty, weak, sick, poor, young, old, sinful, untalented, unknown, unlucky, unimportant, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera."

Look at the list again. 

Join the club.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and Ashley Rose