May 29

*Good morning. I hope you are having a great Memorial Day weekend. I miss the days when I would join family in decorating graves and then having what we called "dinner on the ground." I didn't necessarily enjoy dinner on the ground because, it literally was dinner on the ground. We sat on the ground and ate using flimsy paper plates and plastic utensils. This usually meant that we ended up with most of the food on us. But, I still miss it. Today, we return to the Book of Judges. On Friday we looked at the story of Deborah, an unlikely judge, because she was a woman. In fact, both judges we have looked at were unlikely candidates for a judge. Deborah was a woman and Ehud was left-handed. Now, we come to the next judge. "Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites...Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help. When the Israelites cried to the Lord because of Midian, he sent them a prophet, who said, 'This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of the land of slavery. I snatched you from the power of Egypt and from the hand of all your oppressors...But you have not listened to me.'" (Judges 6:1,6-9,10b) Well, as you see the same pattern continues. This time the people are oppressed by the Midianites. Things are so bad for them, they can barely exist. When they grew crops the crops were destroyed, along with all the animals. The people call on God once again. This time God sends a prophet to tell them just how it is. God reminds them of what He did for them and that they repayed God by turning away from Him. Now, this story has a further twist. The judge that God has in mind is not portrayed in any sense as the others have been. There is no power associated with this judge. In fact, God has to approach this judge delicately. "The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak on Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, "The Lord is with you, mighty warrior."(Judges 6:11-13) O.K., here is further proof that God has a sense of humor. Gideon is approached while he is threshing wheat. He is threshing the wheat in a winepress. No big deal! Right? Wrong! Wheat threshing normally was done on a hard surface on the top of a hill in order to catch a breeze. This indicates that Gideon is doing his work while hiding from the Midianites. Then the angel of the Lord calls Gideon a "mighty warrior." This reminds me of a scene from one of my favorite movies of all time: "The Shakiest Gun in the West." The lead character was hilariously portrayed by the great Don Knotts. (Barney Fife from the Andy Griffith show, and native West Virginian) Don Knotts portrayed a dentist who decided to go into the West. Along the way he comically became a feared gunfighter. (With the aid of his wife who did the actual shooting) In one scene Knott's character (Dr. Jesse Haywood) became doubtful of his abilities. His wife gave him a pep talk. Each time she complemented his features and abilities he perked up until finally he was ready to take on the world. In our Bible passage Gideon is as far from being a warrior as Don Knotts was a gunfighter. "But Lord," Gideon asked, "how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manaseh, and I am the least in my family." (Judges 6:15) Follow along with me. First, there was Ehud, the left-handed gun (I'm stuck in the old western analogy), then there was Deborah, the woman. Now, there is Gideon, who is the least of the least. Of course, you may know that the reluctant Gideon asks God for a sign as to whether or not he would achieve victory. After God assured him of victory through the first sign Gideon wanted even more assurance from a second sign. He was clearly reluctant to carry out his mission. Finally, Gideon assembles a fighting force. But, just like Gideon these men were reluctant fighters. Gideon assembled a force of 32,000 warriors. But, then, God tells Gideon that he has too many fighters. "Announce to the people, 'Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave..." (Judges 7:3) God gave them permission to leave and guess what? 22,000 left immediately. I can just hear them: 'Whew!!! That was close!" Poor Gideon! Imagine him looking at his depleted army. Imagine as he watches the 22,000 going back home. Perhaps he is thinking: "I want to go too!" And then he hears God say: "There are still too many men." (Judges 7:4) I can just hear Gideon: "What?" Now, what is about to happen is just something that you have to envision in your mind. "Take them down to the water, and I will sift them for you there...So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the Lord told him, "Separate those who lap the water with their tongues like a dog from those who kneel down to drink.' Three hundred men lapped with their hands to their mouths."(Judges 7:4b-6) So, let's do some math here. Gideon started out with 32,000 members of his army. This would be a respectable number. But, immediately 22,000 ran home to Momma. That leaves 10,000. Now, his numbers have whittled down to 300. How many fighters will the Midianites have? Well, we have been told that "They came up with their livestock and tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count the men...' (Judges 6:5) Hmm...Poor Gideon! Why did God only want this reluctant soldier to face such a large force with only a handful of fighters? In fact, Gideon's army, or militia at this time, is portrayed as incompetent. Well, it could be that the militia's incompetence was a picture of Israel's incompetence. Plus, God makes it clear to Gideon that God is to get the glory for victory. God wants the people to know that it is God, not the people or the Judge, who achieves victory. The day comes when Gideon and his men face their foe. Guess what Gideon and the gang are armed with? Torches, trumpets and glass jars. Yep! You heard that correctly. The Israelites (The 300) surrounded the camp of the Midianites and caused a commotion. This caused the Midianites to run "crying out as they fled." (Judges 7:21) Then the Midianites turned on each other. Gideon and the men didn't have to do anything. God handed them the Midianites. Again, it was God who fought the battle. This makes me wonder: How often do I needlessly fight my own battles? There are times when the battle looks to be impossible. The enemy is far too great. Well, these passages remind me that my God is far bigger and mightier than my enemy. Tomorrow we will continue our look into this wonderful book of the Bible. I hope you will join me. -Pastor Rick

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