I identify with Gideon. Some Biblical characters are so bold and have so much faith and are so obedient to God, I look at them and feel like I could never be that way. But Gideon is different. If I were a Biblical character, I would be more like Gideon.
Gideon’s story starts at Judges 6. Israel has disobeyed God, so He turned them over to be oppressed by Midian for 7 years. Despite Israel’s sin, when the cried out to the Lord for help, God sent an angel to Gideon to commission him to lead Israel in battle to deliver Israel from the oppression of the Midianites. Gideon’s conversation with the angel and God goes something like this:
- Angel: “The Lord is with you!”
- Gideon: “Uh… doesn’t really seem like it, we’ve been getting hammered by the Midianites”
- God: “That’s why I am sending you to deliver Israel.”
- Gideon: “But my clan is the weakest in the tribe of Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my family.”
- God: “Ah, but I’ll be with you!”
- Gideon: “Hmm… that sounds great and all, but how do I know I’m not just dreaming all of this?”
- God: “See, I’m setting the rock on fire where you have your offering to me.”
- Gideon: “Whoa! I’m going to die, because I’ve seen God’s messenger!”
Not really the optimum 1st interaction with God. Not quite like the angel’s interaction with Mary, where he tells her this absolutely unimaginable thing is going to happen, and she responds “Yes, I am a servant of the Lord; let this happen to me according to your word.”
Next, God tells Gideon to destroy his father’s altar to Baal and build an altar to the Lord in its place. To his credit, Gideon did it, but he was so afraid of his father and neighbors that he did it in the middle of the night, and didn’t admit to it in the morning until the people investigated and concluded it was Gideon that did it.
When the time to fight the Midianites and their allies approached, the Lord’s Spirit took control of Gideon, and he summoned the men of Israel to gather and fight with him. But just when it looked like Gideon was on the right track, he said to God, “If you really intend to use me to deliver Israel, as you promised, then give me a sign as proof.” (Judges 6:36-40). This is where the well-known story of the fleece comes from. Gideon asked God to make a wool fleece left overnight wet with dew and the ground around it dry. Then on the 2nd night, he asks God to do the opposite (fleece dry, ground wet). God is patient with Gideon and both times gives Gideon the sign he is looking for. But it seems clear that it would have been better for Gideon to simply take God at His word right from the start.
With the time for the battle at hand, God surprises Gideon (and me) by telling him he has too many men to fight the Midianites with. Huh? Isn’t that the goal in battle? But God explains that “Israel might brag, ‘Our own strength has delivered us.’ “ (Judges 7:2). So Gideon thins the ranks several times, as God instructs him, from 32,000 men all the way down to 300 men. (I like that God surprises me, because I know that the true God and Creator of the universe would not be fully predictable by the created.)
As the account unfolds, once again God is patient with Gideon: on the night of the battle, He told Gideon, “Get up! Attack the camp, for I am handing it over to you. But if you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with Purah your servant and listen to what they are saying. Then you will be brave and attack the camp.” Gideon chooses the latter approach (big surprise) and goes to the Midianite camp and overhears 2 men discussing a dream that they conclude is a sign that “God is handing Midian and all the army over to [Gideon].”
This was correct, and when Gideon and his 300 men attacked, Midian ended up attacking one another, killing most of their ranks, and then the rest fled. Israel pursued them, and captured and executed the 2 Midianite generals and the 2 Midianite kings.
The rest of Gideon’s leadership and life goes the same way this battle did: some good and some not-so-good. After the battle, Israel wants Gideon to be their king, but he responds “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The Lord will rule over you.” (good) But he does make one request, which is for the people of Israel to bring him gold jewelry, and he made a gold ephod from it, and “All the Israelites prostituted themselves to it by worshiping it there. It became a snare to Gideon and his family.”, Judges 8:27. (not-so-good)
I like the account of Gideon’s life because it’s a lesson within a lesson. God teaches Gideon that sometimes it is better to have a smaller army, because then you see that what actually makes the difference between victory and defeat is God’s power, not man’s strength. And through the way God patiently deals with, and uses, Gideon (despite his faults and missteps) He shows us that it is not the perfection of the man that is necessary to accomplish good things for God, but God’s purpose and power. I’m almost always trying to rely on myself when serving God, when what I should really be doing is realizing that He is so big, so all-powerful, and has such an unstoppable loving mission, that He can successfully use even me, even with all of my weaknesses. God’s words to Paul are really true: “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (I Cor 12:9)