During the nomadic journey of the Israelites, their faith would swing like a pendulum, back and forth. No sooner would God deliver them from their latest misery, they would revert back to their old practices. Prophets and Judges would rise from amongst them, reminding them of how God delivered them from the hands of the Egyptians and warning them of God’s wrath. The Israelites however wouldn’t keep turning from their ways. Deborah’s victory over Jabin (King of Canaan) was followed by forty years of peace in the Land. But when the Israelites resumed their idolatry practices, God gave them into the hands of the Midianites who tortured them for seven years.
Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count them or their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it. Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help.Judges 6:3-6 (NIV)
The Israelites pleaded to the Lord for forgiveness and God sent them yet another prophet. Although his name is not mentioned in the book of Judges, his message echoed the same theme as those before him. For seven years the Midianites oppressed the Israelites to the point that, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds until finally, the Lord had compassion on them.
The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in 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 6:11-12 (NIV)
Ophrah was a small town in Manasseh and was the native place of Joash the Abiezrite. His sons had been put to death on Mount Tabor by the Midianites. His only remaining son, Gideon, was threshing wheat in the winepress for he feared the Midianites. Hardly the great warrior that the Israelites needed to redeem themselves of their oppressors. Gideon found it hard to believe when the Angel of the Lord told him of what God was going to do through him. Little did he know that he would be the greatest Judge that led Israel.
God Tests Gideon
Gideon’s first task was to destroy his father’s altar for baal and build an altar for the Lord, sacrificing a young bull on it. Gideon did not become the mighty warrior that he was overnight. He was still fearful of his relatives. So he took ten men and in the middle of the night did what the Lord commanded. Quite different from what Moses did when he saw the Golden calf. Bearing in mind that Gideon had grown up in a family of baal worshipers and had only heard of what the Lord had done for his forefathers without ever actually experiencing it. This would have been a difficult task for him but God was moulding Gideon at his own pace.
Signs for Gideon
The main thing that sticks out from Gideon’s characteristics so far is his cowardice. There was no way he was going into a battle with the mighty Midianite army without some proof that God would be with him every step of the way. So the Angel of the Lord provided the following signs to build up Gideon’s faith.
- The meat and the unleavened bread that he offered were consumed by fire
- The wool on the wet threshing floor remained dry
- The wool on the dry threshing floor became wet
The Lord was patient with Gideon and gave him all the signs he needed to affirm his faith. The only other time we see God being so patient with someone persistently asking for signs was in the case of Moses. In both cases, God was planning the deliverance of his people using these two men. Maybe that’s why God gave them all the proof they required so they could be mighty instruments in His hand. Gideon’s victory over the Midianites with just three hundred men and with no weapons was preposterous. But that is how God wanted to give Israel victory so that they would remember it for generations to come.
‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’Zechariah 4:6 (NIV)
God moulded Gideon from a cowardly farmer to a mighty warrior who with his military tactics conquered insurmountable odds and who with his presence of mind and apt choice of words diffused a civil war waiting to happen (Judges 8). God chose the weakest of the weak, the smallest of the Manasseh clan and the most cowardly of the cowards to deliver His people. God intervenes when we accept that the task is impossible for us on our own. When we lose all hope in our own strength and completely depend on him he does great things for and through us.