One of the Judges chosen by God was named Gideon. Gideon was a common man who resisted God’s calling. His story is about a man who learned to trust in God’s power instead of being overwhelmed by the task God had given him. These lessons apply to us today when we have to accept God’s solutions in the face of physical weakness.
[Gary Petty] Well, good evening everyone, and we’re glad you made it this evening as we continue our series in the book of Judges. And we’re not sure how long this will go because we started out with a few ideas. We keep looking at the book of Judges and there’s more and more ideas. So we’ll probably do at least, four, six Bible studies on the book of Judges, maybe even more, but, we’re glad you made it here tonight. If you please rise we’ll ask for God’s blessing on the Bible Study.
Father, we come before You on this evening praising You, thanking You, You are the great God, the Creator, and we are Your creation. We ask You to help us be mindful, Father, of who we are before You, and that we allow You to guide our lives, and work in our lives for our betterment because you care for us and you want to make our lives better. We ask You to help us tonight to come to a deeper understanding of the principles contained in the part of the book of Judges that we’re going to study here this evening and that we will come and all receive a benefit from this, Father, in our daily lives. So we praise You, and we thank You. We ask all this in Christ Jesus’ name. Amen.
The book of Judges is a book of a time in Israel’s history where they went through a cycle over, and over, and over again. And it’s absolutely amazing how this cycle just keeps repeating itself, repeating itself, which, I think is very important because it really tells us something about the cycles of human history, and that we can, if we’re not careful, fall into the same cycles that these people did. And when you look at the book of Judges, what we have is a cycle which people are following God, they’re obeying God, they’re doing God’s will, they’re keeping the Ten Commandments in a limited way, but still, there’s a relationship between them and God. And they began to slide away from that, and they go into an apostasy, where they just start living lifestyles against the law of God, they began to worship the gods and taking paganism around them, and they slide farther and farther away until God abandons them. God just says “I’m not going to bless you anymore, I’m not going to to be with you anymore.” And they collapse into, usually chaos, their economy collapses, they have violence in their culture, and then they’re oppressed by some neighboring, either country or tribes.
And remember at this time, Israel is a conglomeration of 12 tribes. There is no central government. They have no king. They have no legislature. What they have are a set of laws, and then at the local level, they have elders and Levites who are supposed to apply those laws to everyday life. And then they have a priesthood, Levitical priesthood, that carries out the religious life of the nation. They have no taxation. They have no bureaucracy. The head of the government is a Judge. He is a Judge. He has to look at the laws and make judgments on the law. And he doesn’t even have a palace. He doesn’t even have a courthouse. He has to travel around from place to place. It is a confederation of 12 tribes. That’s the reason why in the book of Judges there’s civil wars, where the tribes fight each other. They are surrounded by some nations that are more stable, but they’re also surrounded by large tribes that are migrant, nomadic tribes that migrate through the area.
So this is the world they live in. And once they fall away from God, they go through this cycle, where they fall away from God. Now, they are oppressed by somebody else, another nation or other tribes, and they cry out to God and they repent. And God brings them a judge and tells the judge, “Okay, organize an army. Get them to turn to Me, and I will get you out of this mess.” And there’s a revival. And because of the revival, God saves them. And then if it’s a good Judge, they get, usually about a generation and where everything’s good. Then another generation comes along, and the cycle starts all over again. And that’s what the book of Judges is, a recurring cycle, that is over, and over, and over again. In Judges 5, we have the story of Deborah and Barak, and God saved them and brought them back. There was a repentance, there was a revival, and God brings them back. And you have the only female judge in the book of Judges in Deborah.
And then you have about 40 years of blessing by God. Then we go to Judges 6. And we’re going to pick up the story here now. And we’re not taking the book of Judges in chronological order. We’re just picking out some of the judges to go through their story and what we learn from them. Judges 6:1 Judges 6:1And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD: and the LORD delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years.
American King James Version×. “Then the children of Israel did evil at the sight of the Lord. So the Lord delivered them into the hand of Midian for seven years, and the hand of Midian prevailed against Israel. Because of the Midianites, the children of Israel made for themselves the dens, the caves, and the strongholds which were in the mountains. So it was, whatever Israel had sown, the Midianites would come up; also Amalekites and people of the East would come up against them. Then they would encamp against them and destroy the produce of the earth as far as Gaza,” Now, Gaza is where the Philistines lived, “and leave no sustenance for Israel, neither sheep or oxen or donkey. For they would come up with their livestock and their tents, coming in as numerous as locusts; both they and their camels without number; and they would enter the land to destroy it. And so Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites, and the children of Israel cried out to the Lord.”
Now, think about this situation, what you have is that because of their numbers and their military and their camels, which these desert peoples, they had camels, it was their cavalry. The Israelites had no cavalry. Israelites were all foot soldiers. Now, you’ll see with all these battles, they didn’t even have any chariots. So they would come in, these huge numbers of people would come into the valleys. They overran the cities, and they drove the Israelites into the mountains, where, you know, you get up the mountain fighting and it gets very costly. So why go fight them? You’ve driven them into the mountains, leave them alone.
And they lived in the valleys. As nomadic people, they would move on. The Israelites would go down into the valleys and they would plant their food. You can’t plant food to eat enough for their population up in the mountains. And guess what happened every time the growing season came? Here came nomadic tribes back around and they just ate everything and left them devastated. So they were now living impoverished. They lost their homes. They lost their, sort of, their national identity, they had lost their economic system, and they lost their food. They lost their livestock, as you see, and here they were hiding in the mountains. And so they had little towns and villages, and in the mountains, they were growing as little as they can, they had little flocks, but they were very impoverished. And every year, you know, here comes these hordes of people through the area eating up everything they planted.
Now, this is what they’re experiencing. And it says, “They cry out to the Lord.” Now, what’s interesting, these people that come by the way. The Midianites and the Amalekites, and the people of the East. The Amalekites were descendants of Esau, so they’re actually related to the Israelites. The Midianites, if we go back to Genesis 25:1-2 Genesis 25:1-2 1 Then again Abraham took a wife, and her name was Keturah.
2 And she bore him Zimran, and Jokshan, and Medan, and Midian, and Ishbak, and Shuah.
American King James Version×, the Midianites are descendants of Abraham and Keturah. Keturah was a woman he married after Sarah died. So the Israelites and the Midianites are actually cousins. We have the descendants of Esau, they’re distant cousins. And then these people from the east. We will see a little later, it’s mentioned a little later in the book, that these people from the east are the Ishmaelites. In other words. they’re the descendants of Ishmael from Abraham and Hagar. These are all cousins. They’re all related to each other. And they all lived in the same areas.
And just like today, all the people who are descendants of Esau, the people who are descendants of Abraham and Keturah, the people who are descendants of Abraham, you know, and Hagar through Ishmael, what are they doing today? They’re fighting over the same pieces of land. With who? The descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And the same thing is going on today that was going on there, they’re all fighting over the land, but in this case, the Israelites were in a very bad state. The Israelites were not nomadic. They had settled down, and they had raised things, and they had taken the Canaanite cities, and they lived in the Canaanite cities. But they found that they could not stop these large nomadic tribes without God’s help. And this is the state that they’re in. And they cry out to the Lord.
God now does something. He sends them a prophet. When God wants a revival, He always sends somebody to lead the repentance. Now, in this case, we don’t even know the prophet’s name. We don’t even know the name of this prophet. All we know is God sent him to tell the people, “If you want My help, you’re going to have to repent. You’re going to have to change the way you respond to Me and the way you’re living.” Against His laws.
So look what it says in verse 7 of chapter 6. “And it came to pass, when the children of Israel cried out to the Lord because of the Midianites, that the Lord sent a prophet to the children of Israel, and said to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God of Israel: “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of bondage; and I delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, out of the hand of all who oppressed you, and I drove them out before you and gave you their land. Also I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; do not fear the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell.’ But you have not obeyed my voice.”’”
Now we’re going to assume from what happens next, that this prophet created the revival, because you always see when the people begin to repent, when they began to cry out to God and turn to God, and they begin to change their actions and begin to worship God, give up the paganism around, God sends them a Judge. God sends them a leader to help organize them. And He said, “Well, you know, organize them into an army.” Why don’t they have an army? They have 12 armies, that sometimes fight each other because they’re tribal. They think in terms of tribes. They don’t think in terms of a nation yet. That would not happen until Saul and David and Solomon, but they fought as a nation. And even then, you know, eventually, Israel and Judah separated to two countries, don’t they? They never quite got over their tribal concepts, and it’s just this so common, it’s the same way with believers today.
You might see someone saying, “Oh, these are all a bunch of Arabs.” But you talk to them, and they’re not all a bunch of Arabs, they know what tribe they come from. They know what tribe they come from. So He sends them this prophet, and God now chooses someone to come and help them, to bring them out of this oppression of the Midianites.
So let’s go now to verse 12. “The Angel of the Lord appeared to him,” this is Gideon. Gideon is just a farm guy, okay? He’s a farmer. Gideon is not an important person, Gideon is not famous, Gideon is not a leader. What we’re going to really find in this study of Gideon, is how God takes a common person and does an uncommon work through him. And in doing so, Gideon has to learn a remarkable set of concepts about what it is to be a leader. You can write a whole book on leadership by studying Gideon. Godly leadership, what God wants in a leader. But he also had to learn to deal with his own problems and his own weaknesses.
The Angel of the Lord here… we won’t have time to go through it, but this is Christ before He became as Jesus. The Angel of the Lord is not just the normal angel. That’s why in some of your translation, you just see Angel capitalized, it’s because even the translators realize when you see the Angel of the Lord, not in every case, that in many of the cases, this isn’t just a normal Angel. You know why? People worship this person. And regular angels say, “Oh, no. You can’t worship me.” You can only worship God. Yet this angel of the Lord appears and speaks as God. And people will say, “I have seen God.” So remember Angel simply means in Hebrew, oh, in Greek too, it simply means “messenger.”
So we have the Messenger of Yahweh, who speaks as Yahweh. So this is the one who would become Jesus Christ. And so “the Angel of the Lord appears to him, and he says to him, ‘The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor.’” Now, I’ve often wondered, if this was meant as encouragement, or if this is sarcasm. Well, we see where Gideon is at this point in his life. Gideon is hiding out, trying to grow some food so that Midianites don’t catch him. And the Angel of the Lord appears and says, “Oh, you mighty man, you warrior, you’re a man of valor, of courage, you’re a fighter.” And he’s like, “What?” He’s holed away. “Gideon said to Him, ‘Oh, my Lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? Where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, “Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?” But now the Lord has forsaken us and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.’”
He says, “Yes. Okay, but God’s abandoned us. All our fathers and our grandfathers, they told us, ‘Oh, we remember when my father, you know, was out in the wilderness, and we remember those times, and we pass it on from generations to generations.’” He says, “Where’s God today? We’re just suppressed by these Midianites.” There’s very little positive hope or faith in Gideon at this point.
“Then the Lord turned to him and said…” Now, notice then, Yahweh turns to him. So the Angel of the Lord, is also here, Yahweh. Yahweh, sometimes it’s the Father, sometimes it’s the one we know as Christ. “So then the Lord turned to him and said, ‘Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have I not sent you?’” “Go with… you have power. You’re strong. Go take down the Midianites.” And he’s like, “What?” He says, “I’ve sent you.” Now, this is where God is trying to get him to learn something. And that is, “Of course, you can’t do this. But I can, and I have chosen you to go do it. I have chosen you to be the one to represent me, to go do this. And Midians… or Gideon’s answer to always is, “I’m a common guy. I’m a nobody.” But God says, “I know. What does that have to do with anything? I’ve chosen you to do what I want.” And he’s going to learn what that means to be a leader when God chooses a leader.
A lot of leaders chosen by God aren’t the smartest, the brightest, the strongest, the fastest, they’re guys sticking out in the middle of the night hoeing their garden. And what makes Gideon important, and this is why God could use him, is he knew that’s what he was. Gideon didn’t say, “Oh, Lord, I know why you’ve chosen me because I am the greatest of Israel. I’ve been waiting for you to come choose me.” In fact, he says to him, he says, “O my Lord,” verse 15, “how can I save Israel? Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I’m the least in my father’s house.” You know, I don’t blame him, “I’m not a Jew, which is the warrior clan, I’m not from Reuben, which is the oldest ones, I’m not for Benjamin, the guys that are known as the scrappers, you know, I’m just a Manassite. And not only am I, you know, a Manassite, I’m from the most least important clan inside the tribe, and the least important family inside the clan.” See, he’s a tribal thinker, isn’t he? He too thinks in terms of tribes, “Oh, you had picked me up from the wrong tribe. Not only am I from the wrong tribe, I’m from the wrong clan. And not only am I from the wrong clan, I’m from the wrong family. Nobody from my family… you know nobody from my family does anything important.” And that’s his response to God.
“Okay. Well, I’m going to go back to hoeing now, okay? Because I guess you didn’t really get who I am.” “And the Lord said to him, ‘Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man.’” And here we have this really important leadership principle when it comes down to leadership because God chooses someone to be a leader. They have to come to grips with, “It is God who is doing this.” And they simply follow. There are cases in the book of Judges, there’s one case where a man declared himself a Judge. He thought he was powerful, he thought he was a warrior, he thought he was… and he basically, was a criminal, and he took over. And God never made him Judge, and his end wasn’t very good. He didn’t end up very well in his life.
Gideon had to learn when God chooses us to do something, it’s He that’s going to do it. It’s us that follows. And what we do is what he did. He said, “I can’t do that. I don’t have the abilities to do that. I don’t have…” And God said, “I don’t care, I didn’t pick you because you’re the biggest, baddest warrior. I could probably found a Jew that was a bigger, badder warrior than you, okay?” Because they were noticed that the warrior tribe, God had told them, “Put the Jews out front. When you go to battle, put them out front. They’’ll scare everybody.” And he never told them put the Manassites out front.
He says, “I know you’re from Manasseh, and you’re from the smallest clan, and the smallest, within the tribe, the smallest family, and I know you don’t have all the abilities you think a leader must have. But that doesn’t matter because I chose you and I’m going to do this.” Now, Gideon says, “Okay, prove it to me.” He says, “I’m going to make you a meal.” So he makes him a meal, and it says the angel of the Lord touches the rock, where he puts the meal out, and it’s consumed in fire, and then the Angel of the Lord disappears. It doesn’t say He walks away, it says He disappears. Then you got to be thinking Gideon is going to say, “Well, okay this doesn’t happen every day. Maybe, I do have a special calling here.
Verse 22. “Now Gideon perceived that He was the Angel of the Lord. So Gideon said, ‘Alas, O Lord God! For I have seen the Angel of the Lord face to face.’ Then the Lord said to him, ‘Peace be with you; do not fear, you shall not die.’” “Okay, go do this. I want you to do this.” So, okay. Now he waits for instructions. This is good. When you’re called by God to go lead, you got to find what His instructions are, you know. What does he want me to do?
It’s like the Steve Myers joke, you know. A guy who was a farmer praying and asking God. You’ve probably heard this because I’ve heard him say it a hundred times. And he’s praying to God, “What do you want me to do? I know you want me to be a leader. What do you want me to do?” And suddenly, he sees P.C. in the cloud. So he sells everything he has, and he goes out and he preaches Christ. And he preaches Christ for 20 years and nothing works, he’s a failure, he hates it, and after 20 years he goes to God and he says, “God, I did what you said and you failed me.” And he hears a voice, God says, “Well, not exactly.” He says, “But you told me, P.C., Preach Christ.” He says, “No. I was telling you, Plant Corn.” Steve Myers joke. He’s not here today, so I can pick on him.
He waited for his instructions, and he gets instructions that very night. Verse 25, “Now it came to pass that night that the Lord said to him,” now, he’s got to be a little pumped up. He has seen the Angel of the Lord and did not die. And God then had spoken to him, and he’s waiting for His instructions. He doesn’t rush out with his own agenda. “Okay, God, how do you want me to do this?”
“It came to pass the same night the Lord said to him, ‘Take your father’s young bull, the second bull of seven years old, tear down the altar of Baal that your father has, and cut down the wooden image that is beside it; and build an altar to the Lord your God on top of this rock in the proper arrangement, and take the second bull and offer a burnt sacrifice with the wood of the image which you shall cut down.” He says, “First of all, we’re going to clean up your house, and your father has a statue to Baal. And everybody in the whole area knows that your family are Baal worshipers, so what I want you to do, is tear down your father’s statue which everybody knows he has, cut it up, make an altar out of it, and kill a bull to me.” Now, understand he can’t do this in secret, okay? You got to go lead now, so you’re going to go out, and you’re going to be in front of all the Israelites. He didn’t send in the Midianites first, he had to send in the Israelites first.
You know, this prophet has been telling them to repent, but they’re still not getting it. You’re going to show what repentance is, and you’re going to go out, and you’re going to tear down your father’s statue.” So what he does in the next verse, “So Gideon took ten men from among his servants and did as the Lord said.” But notice there’s a little caveat here. “But because he feared his father’s household and the men of the city too much to do it by day, he did it by night.” “You want me to do what? Can I go back to hoeing my crops? Do You realize how angry my dad’s going to be and my brothers and my uncles? Not only that, everybody in the little village here where we live, they’re going to lynch me. But God told me to do it.” So he sneaks off and does it privately. The problem is once God calls you to do something, His work, you could do it in private, it won’t stay in private because God didn’t call him to do a private work.
So Gideon does it privately. You know, he probably sneaks off, gets back in bed, wakes up the next morning, and everybody is saying, “Wow, did you hear what happened?” And he said, “Well, what?” As he’s hoeing, you know, “What? What happened?” Well, everybody figured out what happened. He couldn’t hide it because God didn’t call him to do a hidden work. God called him to go out and do His work.
So what we have here, if we skip down to verse 28. “And when the men of the city arose early in the morning, there was the altar of Baal, torn down; and the wooden image that was beside it was cut down, and the second bull was being offered on the altar, which had been built.” So now, it’s still burning, still happening. “’Who has done this?’ And when they inquired and asked,” now remember he took 10 men with him. So eventually someone would say, “You look like you’ve been up all night.” Well, I was. “Well, do you know anything about this?” Well, yeah, Gideon, you know, my boss.” Remember these are his servants. “He told me to do it. We were with Gideon.”
Then they answered, “They said, ‘Gideon the son of Joash has done this thing.’” Now, these are the Israelites. The first thing he has to do in his leadership is to get the Israelites to repent. And remember, the groundwork has been done by this prophet. We don’t know who the prophet was. But the prophet laid the groundwork, but now he had to go out and lead the way of repentance, and he had to start at his own house. And it’s the Israelites they are the first people who want to lynch him, he hasn’t even got the Midianites angry yet. They’re just his neighbors. This is all Israel. They’re just his, you know, his family and his neighbors. “And the men of the city said to Joash, ‘Bring out your son, that he may die, because he has torn down the altar of Baal, and he has cut down the wooden image that was beside it.’ But Joash said to all those who stood against him, ‘Would you plead for Baal?’” He must have some second thoughts here. Maybe Joash has a little more courage here than Gideon at this point.
He says, “’Who would save him? Let the one who would plead for him be put to death by morning! If he is a god, let him plead for himself, because his altar has been torn down!’ Therefore, on that day, he called him Jerubbaal,” which means, “Let Baal plead for himself,” “saying, ‘Let Baal plead against him, because he tore down the altar.’” And so there is now the beginning of a revival. People are repenting. And we know that because the Israelites are going to start following Gideon. Gideon is telling them, “Get rid of the idols, turn back to the God of our fathers. The God of our fathers has spoken to me, now, we have to return to Him and He will save us from the Midianites.” So now, he’s becoming a leader, but he’s becoming a leader among the Israelites.
Remember God said, “I have chosen you to bring down the Midianites.” So now, the revival takes place, and people start repenting. And guess what happens. It says the Midianites show up, with the Amalekites and the people of the East, they show up in huge numbers, and as they’re starting to go through the valleys and it says like locusts and just consume everything. Just here they are. Any Israelites down at the valleys were running up into the hills, where the camels can’t get to them. And where setting infantry just isn’t worth the trouble, there’s nothing up there enough worth stealing anyway.
And now Gideon’s going to have to take and move forward in the work that God has called him to do. But Gideon is still concerned with his own weaknesses. Gideon has a lack of faith because he is centered on his weakness. He has a lack of faith because he is centered on “Why would God choose me?” Humility is good. One of the reasons Gideon is called is because he is a humble man. But his humility won’t let him see, there’s a flaw in his humility. It won’t let him see the greatness of God. God has talked to him, the Israelites are responding, but there’s a whole lot of difference between that and facing tens of thousands of desert warriors who all are combat-hardened, they all know how to fight, and there’s you and some farmers with hoes. And some of the Israelites are not quite sure they should repent, anyway, the sort of like Baal. And this is the situation he’s in.
So he goes to God and says, “I tell you what? Maybe You can give me some proof that You’re still with me. So I’m going to take a fleece,” you know, the skin of a sheep, and he says, “I’m going to take it out, and lay it outside all night. We know the dew will be wet. So if I get up in the morning and the fleece is wet and the ground is dry, I know you’re with me.” Now, God, you know, it’s the patience of God here, because it’s like, “You want a magic trick. After all, I’ve done, you want to a magic trick? Okay.” He gets up the next day, he goes out and the ground is dry and the fleece is wet. Well, you know, he thinks about it. What happens if you put out something like, you know, absorbent towel and there’s wetness around. It absorbs the wetness, maybe this wasn’t God at all. So he goes back and says, “Okay, let’s do it the opposite.” The ground is wet and the fleece is dry. He goes, I bet you the ground around it was muddy. You know, it sloshes up and picks it up, and it’s dry. He says, “Okay, you got my attention.”
He can’t see through his weakness. Now, there is a time when he does. He sees God, a leader has to see through his own weakness. He can’t be locked in on his own smallness, but he has to see it. When a leader doesn’t see his own smallness, he becomes arrogant. A leader must see his own smallness, but if he has to be able to see through that to see God. It’s not our size that counts. We look at the size of our problems, and we look at our size, and we think that’s what counts. All the problems are bigger than me. His problems were bigger than him. It’s not our size that counts, it’s God’s size that counts. Great leaders of God know their size isn’t what counts. Their power isn’t what counts. Their abilities isn’t what counts. It’s what God is that counts.
And Gideon was learning this, but he was learning it the hard way, because, “I come from Mannaseh, the smallest clan, the smallest family, and I’m a farmer. It doesn’t make sense.” So now, he says, “Okay, I’ll gather together an army.” So he calls out throughout Israel, “Come gather around me, God is with me.” He stands up, he now has confidence. He now finally is confident, “God is with me.” And he stands up and he says, “Gather around me all the warriors of Israel, and we are going to go out and fight against the Midianites.”
And it says in chapter 7 verse 1, “Then Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the people who were with him rose up early and encamped beside the well of Harod, so the camp of the Midianites was on the north side of them by the hill of Moreh in the valley.” Now, we know, as we go through this, that there were 32,000 Israelites. That’s a pretty good army, right? 32,000. Now, the problem is, when we go into chapter 8, we see that the Midianites were 135,000. Now, you know, even in modern warfare with weapons and artillery, if you’re going up against one mechanized army against another mechanized army, you try to outnumber the enemy. You try to outnumber the enemy so that you can just overwhelm them. In fact, all through history, one of the primary rules of offensive warfare, is you have to outnumber your enemy. You know, Napoleon said “three to one.”
If you outnumber your enemy at the most important part of the battle three to one, and your people are well trained, you win. Now you’ve got a problem, that’s a little over four to one. And they have camels, so unless you can get them up in the mountains where they have to get off their camels, guess what they’re going to do, they’re going to run over you. Thousands of camels are just going to run over you. So he’s got a real problem on his hands. He’s like, “Okay, God. I’ve done it. I’ve got 32,000 men that showed up. You said you’re with me, what do we do now?” He says, “Well, the army is too big. So we’ve got a problem here, your army is just way too big.” So he strips them down by 10,000 men.
Oh, okay. Gideon doesn’t run away at this point. He’s distressed, he strips them down to 10,000. I’m sorry, he takes away 22,000, so he gets down to 10,000 men. He’s down to 10,000 men. Oh, you think, okay, the odds are now 35 to 1. I mean, you think about it, I have a sword and a shield. And across from me are hardened warriors, and there’s 35 that I got to kill to come out alive.” It’s a little disconcerting. And God says, “You know, we have a problem.” Gideon says, “Oh, we have a problem here. What am I supposed to do?” God says, “No, your army is too big.” He’s having him learn, it’s not the size of the problem, it’s not the size of the man, it’s the size of God. He didn’t know it. He’s a farmer, it’s the size of God. And God gets his army down to 300 men. 450 to 1. And God says, “Yeah, it’s fair now.” You know, this is God, “I like this, 450 to 1. Nobody can say Gideon did it. Nobody can say the Israelites did this. Nobody.
Now, this is another thing about leadership, even though God does it, we have to go do the work. God could have said, “I’ll just cause an earthquake to kill them, how’s that?” But God didn’t. He said, “Now, you have to take the 300 men and you have to go out and you have to attack them. You have to go out and you have to attack them.” And Gideon’s saying, “I can’t.” With 32,000 men I couldn’t do it. I can’t do it with 300 men.” So God says, “I want you to do something.” And here’s another thing about leadership. Whenever, as a leader, that leader becomes overly discouraged, God will send them encouragement. He will.
He says, “What I want you to do is sneak down into the Midianite camp, you can take a guard with you.” Oh, good. It’s two against 135,000, okay?” But he still takes somebody with him. Now, you have to realize how much courage. This is the man that just not too long before this, snuck out in the middle of the night to tear down his father’s idol. Now, he and another man do something like, you know, this is like Mission: Impossible . They sneak into the camp of the Midians, and they overhear one man telling another man, “I had a dream. We’re not going to win this battle. I had a dream that this big giant” I think it was a was a… something rolled out of the hill and just rolled over and crushed our camp.” And he says, “That God of Israel is going to beat us.”
Gideon hears he goes back, tells the 300 men, “Yeah, we’re going to win.” Now, notice God didn’t send him out to do that. That wasn’t the first job. “I want to give you 300 men to take on 135,000.” The first job was, “Go down and tear down your father’s idol.” “Yeah, okay. Do it in the middle of the night. That’s fine. I’ll still make everybody know about it. His work became public, but it was little things at a time. Leaders are made little steps at a time. And he kept the humility, but he was losing, or he was gaining his faith. He was losing the fear or learning to manage the fear, because of his faith. So he’s now learning to manage the fear, because of his faith, but he’s still humble. He wasn’t arrogant. It was the problem with Saul. Saul eventually became arrogant. Gideon did not.
“Okay. This still isn’t me, you know.” So Gideon takes his men out in the middle of the night, and he gives them, you know, these high-tech weapons. A torch with a clay pot over it, and a trumpet.
“Light the torch, blow the trumpet, holler, and scream.” And then Gideon, it’s in the middle of the night, they’re asleep. Why even post guards? Right? “Even if a couple thousand Israelites come down out of the hills, we’ll just slaughter them. We’ve done this year after year. It’s a joke. Have you heard about this Gideon dude? You know, he’s a farmer.” And they look up, and all they see is the hills of what appears to be tens of thousands of Israelites screaming down upon them. And it says they killed themselves. They slaughtered themselves, as these men, you know, they probably drink and who knows, they all come stumbling out in the middle of the night, and this panic overtakes them. And suddenly having 135,000 men all panicked and killing anybody next to them is a bad place to be. And they’re slaughtering each other. And so Gideon now drives into them with his 300 men and he begins to kill whoever’s left. And the entire Midian army starts to flee.
Let’s go to verse 24. They’re starting to flee. His men are exhausted, they’ve been killing Midianites and Amorites and Ishmaelites. They’ve just been slaughtering them, and they’re running after them. They can’t catch up to them. These guys are jumping on camels, they’re running going, they’re doing anything to get away. From this horrible army of, who knows, millions of Israelites. “And Gideon sent messengers throughout all the mountains of Ephraim, saying, ‘Come down against the Midianites, and seize them from the watering places as far as Beth Barah and the Jordan.’” He says, “So, all the Ephraimites are now gathered together,” his army basically is Manassites. He didn’t pull all Israel together, he pulled his neighbors. He said, to the Ephraimites, he says, “They’re fleeing into your tribal area, grab the river crossings.” These guys can’t swim across, it doesn’t matter if it’s a creek, it doesn’t matter if it’s only as wide as this area here, you know, you’re running, you’re exhausted. You may have some kind of armor on if you haven’t thrown it off by now. “They’re all going to congregate to the river crossings, seize the river crossings, and we’ll trap them between you on one side and us on the other side.” And they do that.
And now, he has to learn, Gideon has to learn and start making decisions as a leader. He’s now led men as a leader, they now have faith in God. You know, these people say, “God’s with Gideon. God’s here. Let’s follow God.” The work’s been done, but now comes the problem. You know the problem with once you get a group mobilized and they’re starting to follow God, and they’re doing God’s work, you know what always happens? It’s in the Bible… Oh, they begin to fight with each other. Read 1 Corinthians. They begin to fight with each other. So now he has to make a decision. And now he’s starting to think like a leader. The read, the study of Gideon, is to watch a man change. So what happens is, chapter 8, “’Then the men of Ephraim said to him, “Why have you done this to us by not calling us when you went out to fight the Midianites?’ And they reprimanded him sharply.”
So you can imagine you show up, you’re exhausted, you and your 300 men, you’ve been gone now what, maybe 24 hours. You’re exhausted, you’re tired, or you probably haven’t slept for days because of the fear, and you can hardly walk, and you’re covered with blood and filth. I mean, you’ve been slaughtering human beings all day. And they’re fighting back, too. I mean, this is stressful, and you’re standing there, and here’s the leaders of the tribe, they’re nice and well-dressed, no blood on them. And they’re confronting you and chewing you out. “Who do you think you are, young man, you farmer. How dare you take on the Midianites and not ask us to come help fight.” Now, what do you think most people would do in that situation?
I know what I would have said, “You know, there was 301 of us. We just defeated the army of 135,000. We’re taking you boys down. God is with us, see?” Now, can you imagine now God justifying a civil war in the name of God? This is a real test. Will he now do something God has not given him permission to do so? God did not give them permission to fight the Ephraimites, he only gave them permission to fight the other people. He could have a civil war is his hands and he could be totally justified in his own mind and think he’s doing the work of God by carrying out a civil war. And Gideon has to think this through. And what he says next is, “So he says to them, ‘What have I done now in comparison with you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abiezer?’”
“’God has delivered to your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. What was I able to do in comparison with you?’ Then their anger toward him subsided when he said that.” Now that seems strange to us, but you have to go back to the ancient world. The greatest thing a general could do wasn’t just to defeat the other army, it was to capture alive the leader of the other army. Right? I mean, even today, you know, if in World War II, I saw a picture recently where Montgomery after defeating the Africa Corps at El Alamein and they’re bringing these German generals before him, and they’re all filthy and dirty, because they’ve been out in the battle, he was way behind the front lines. And they’re all dirty and filthy, and they walk up, and they salute him, and he makes sure everybody take pictures, and then invites them in for tea. Winning the battle was one thing, but he’s captured the enemy leaders. Militarily that and especially the ancient world, when you captured the enemy leaders, that meant you were powerful. And he says, “Look, I didn’t even get to capture leaders. So tell you what? Hold the fords over the river here, make sure there’s nobody gets through if there’s anybody behind us, we’re going to go catch the rest of them.” And the Ephraimites said, “Oh, okay.”
That’s leadership. The issue wasn’t worth fighting over. It wasn’t worth… Because you know what it really was? An issue of pride. He was still humble. He was like, “Talk about a bunch of donkeys. Talk about a bunch of jackasses. But God’s with me. I have a work to do. Hold the fords guys, hold the bridges, don’t let them across. You captured their… your leaders,” that man, that is an honor that they’ll sing about in Ephraim for hundreds of years. Which they probably did.
Although, it’s interesting in the Bible, the name of the leaders of the Ephraimites are not even mentioned. The name of the Midianite leaders are mentioned. The name of the leaders of the Ephraimites get no billing here. Gideon does, and he goes on, and he defeats the army. A couple of things to think about here, and it helps us understand leadership. He stayed focused on his mission, his mission was not to fight the Ephraimites, he stayed focused on his mission that the God gave him. He didn’t let his pride drive him. The Midianites were acting ridiculous. But he didn’t let his pride drive him. He said, “This is what God wants you to do, okay, guys, see you later.” And he went on, and he did what God wanted him to do. And he kept Israel together. They didn’t have a civil war because of him. He didn’t let the small-mindedness of the Ephraimites distract him from God’s work. He didn’t let that happen. He wasn’t going to let it happen. And what’s very interesting, and we’ll see this later. And everything he did he gave God the credit. “Hey, God’s doing this. And God wants you to do your part of the work and your part of the work is holding a river, so hold it.”
It’s hard to argue with a man that says, “God wants you to hold the river,” right? They held the river. Gideon went on and totally defeated the army. He did do one thing. They went through a city of Israelites who refused to give his army food. They were exhausted, they were thirsty, they were just out of energy and they refused to give him food. And when he comes back through later, he beats those people. He doesn’t kill them, but he beats them. And it seems to be in the story because it’s a just punishment. As a judge, it’s his job to make judgments. And he does a just punishment to a group of people that wouldn’t feed an army on the work of God, on a mission from God doing what God wanted him to do. So he beat them. He’s now starting to act like a judge. You can’t do this. This is against the law of God, so, therefore, you will be punished.
Gideon now settles down and becomes the judge over Israel. When I say over Israel, it’s hard to tell sometimes the judges sometimes only had part of Israel. It’s possible when you start to look at the judges, it’s possible that some of them actually were contemporaries, at least overlapping a little bit, over different parts of Israel, because it just doesn’t say, once again, they’re tribes. And it appears that some of the judges didn’t have all the tribes together. So let’s look now what happens, See now, the Midianites, the Amalekite, the Ishmaelite problem is gone. They settled down into worshiping God, and following God and we have now a revival inside of Israel.
Verse 22 of chapter 8. “Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, ‘Rule over us, both you and your son, and your grandson also; for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian.’” Now it’s easy to read through that and not see what they’re actually offering him. Israel does not have a king. All the ancient lands are ruled by some kind of king or some kind of tribal leader that has power. A standing army, assistants, and is very wealthy. All kings are wealthy, and in the Middle East at this time, well, all kings tend to be wealthy. Not only are they offering him a kingship. They’re saying your son and your grandson, in other words, they’re offering him a dynasty. It’s one thing to be offered kingship, it’s another thing to be offered a dynasty. “You’ll go down in history as Israel’s first king, that united all the tribes together for the first time since Joshua. They’re all united together. And your son will follow you, and your son will follow you, and we’ll be just like the Babylonians. We’ll be just like all the other great nations. We don’t have to worry about nomadic tribes anymore because we’ll have power and we’ll have wealth.”
“Now you will have, you will be at the seat of all that power and wealth.” That’s quite an offering. Very few times have men in history, been offered this and done what he did. Off the top of my head, I can only think of one other, George Washington. He was offered to be king of the United States.
Verse 23, “But Gideon said to them, ‘I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; for the Lord shall rule over you.’” He had gotten over the fact that he only saw his weaknesses and didn’t see the size of God. He now saw the size of God, but he also was very aware of who he was. And this moment he’s a farmer again, and he says, “No, no, no. God doesn’t want this. God doesn’t want me to have that power. God does not want me to have that wealth. That’s not what God called me to do, I’m to be a judge. I’m to pass sentences based on the law of God. And defend the nation where there’s a threat because the Lord will rule over you.” What a remarkable sign of a great leader.
The Lord will rule over you. Now, he didn’t step down from being a judge, he didn’t step down from his position, or his role, or what God wanted him to do. But he would not seize authority or power that was not his. He would not take it, even when it was offered to him unless God gave it to him. Boy, this guy’s come a long way, hasn’t he? This man’s come a long way in a short period of time. He did make one mistake, and it seemed so innocent at the time. He told them, “Take all the gold earrings, all the gold you took from all the dead Amalekites,” he also said “the crescent,” isn’t that interesting because one the signs in the Arab world is the crescent. “So take all the crescents, take all the gold, bring it together, and what I’m going to do is I’m going to make a golden ephod.” It’s not something that you actually wear it’s going to to be heavy. “I want to make you a gold ephod just like what the priest wears like the High Priest wears, and we’ll use that as a symbol of the victory that God gave us.” Now, that seems like an innocent thing. The problem is the people… it’s they worshiped it. They would come to it and kneel before it and pray to God, it was like they thought that was a god, but they use that as a way to connect to God.
And it says, “God did not like that.” It’s the only real mistake that Gideon made. But, for decades, there was peace in Israel until Gideon’s death. For decades, God took care of that nation even though he had made this grave mistake. Because, Gideon was, except for that one mistake, a good judge. He fulfilled what he was supposed to do. So what are, just quickly, some of the things we learn? I sort of make a list of things we learn about leadership from Gideon. One, don’t look at the size of the problems when God has given you a job, look at the size of your God. Don’t look at the size of your problems when God gives you a job, look at the size of your God.
Humility is vital in a leader, but if you focus only on your weaknesses, you will lose faith. A leader must do what is right even if his supporters are fearful, even if his supporters are wrong. “I’ve got to mobilize the Manassites, and the first thing I got to do is go burn down my father’s idol? My whole family will be upset with me.” Yeah? God says, “That’s what I’m going to do, I’m going to go punch your family right in the nose, okay? No, I want you to go punch your family right in the nose. Get their attention for Me.”
God will give leaders encouragement when they need it, and that’s why He kept doing these things that Gideon would ask to show him, “Yes I’m with you.” “Okay, put the fleeces out. We’ll do a little magic trick for you, but, you know, you’re going to have to figure this out, because you’re going to fight the Midians whether you like it or not.” Leaders stay focused on their mission in spite of all the things going on around them including you going from 32,000 to 300, he still was there. That’s the amazing thing. He’s still there in the field where 300 guys saying, “Where did everybody go?”
The Midianite army is right over there, and there’s a lot of them. He says, “God just wants the 300 of us.” What’s amazing is the 300 stayed with Gideon. Gideon only got to say, “Guys, he only wants 300 of us.” And they believed him. Because no 300 men in the world would go fight 135,000, I don’t care who they are. They believed Gideon. And so, here we have a man that just said, “This is our mission guys, this is what we’re going to do.” And as God brought his army smaller and smaller, he had to stay focused on the mission. “God… I don’t know how God’s going to fulfills the mission, we just got to go.” Leaders don’t retaliate against small-minded critics. The Ephraimites were small-minded critics. He didn’t retaliate at all. He just said, “Good job, fellows, hold the rivers. See you later.” And also the Ephraimites are saying, “What a guy!” “Do your job. I’m awful at mine.” His pride could have got hurt, and he could have created a civil war.
Give God the credit. He always gives God the credit. And then refuse power when it’s not the leadership role God has given to you. Know what God wants you to do, and refuse power and wealth when it can come your way if it’s not what God wants for you. And Gideon knew that. He knew what his mission was, he knew what God wanted from him. He wanted him to be a judge. God had always set up how He wanted Israel run. He didn’t tell Gideon, “You could change the way I run this.”
And I tell you what? The judge system of government was very ineffective. I mean, they didn’t have a way to make roads, collect taxes. Like I said, Can you imagine being a Judge and not even having a courthouse? Their prisons had no walls. City of refuge, where if you committed a crime you’d go and hide out, and you were protected. There were no guards. There was just nobody could go into that city or they would be condemned of a crime. So criminals could go to the city await their trial, and if they were guilty of certain things they had to stay in the city until the death of the high priest. If they left the city, well, people could kill you.
Can you imagine prison with no walls? How effective is that? This is the system God gave them. And Gideon said, “No, this is the system God gave us.” And I… “He didn’t give me permission to change it,” very interesting. Great leaders have to at times turn down something that isn’t what God wants them to do. And usually it has to do with the gaining of wealth or some kind of prestige or something that God says, “That’s not what this is all about. It’s your mission. Do what your mission is.”
So as you can see, the story of Gideon is an amazing story. Go home and this week read the whole story, watch the transformation of this man as God uses him to carry out a revival, him and the prophet that went before him to bring people of Israel back to Him, and in doing so to give them an entire generation of peace and prosperity as his children. And learn the lessons. Learn the lessons from Gideon on how to be a godly leader.