In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
There’s scaredy-cat Gideon threshing his wheat down in a hole. A winepress in the ground. He’s just minding his own business trying to find a bite to eat before the big bad schoolyard bully Midianites come and take away his lunch money. And the Angel of Lord—the second person of the Trinity, God in human form, Jesus before taking on our flesh—strolls up, plops Himself down under the tree by that wine press, and pears down at Gideon and says, “The Lord is with you, oh mighty man of valour.” (Jdg. 6:11-12) Our Lord loves irony. Yet this is the key to the story of Gideon. Gideon is not what the Lord says. Yet the Lord says, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel.” (Jdg. 6:14) The Lord’s Word creates what is not. (Gen. 1:3) Gideon is a scrawny, fraidy-cat pipsqueak. The Lord declares him mighty. Gideon has no strength. The Lord declares him strong. This is not wishful thinking. This is the Lord who called heaven and earth into existence by His Word. (Gen. 1) He who is the Word of God. (John 1:1-3, 14) What He says happens. (Jdg. 6:34)
So he tests the Lord. This seems presumptuous. After all didn’t Jesus when tempted by the devil quote Deuteronomy 6:16 which says, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test?” Well, this isn’t testing so much as it is faith strengthening. Gideon is not forcing the Lord to act so much as he is admitting that he is afraid to do what the Lord has sent him to do. The Lord had specially authorized Gideon. Deuteronomy also says that by two or more witnesses a matter is established. (Deut. 17:6) Thus, the Lord gives Gideon two signs with a fleece. And then, even a third sign: the dream of the Midianite. 3 anyone? The number of the Lord’s salvation. But we get ahead of ourselves.
So Jerubbaal, fighter of Baal, rallies Israel. He calls out all the fighting men—32,000 strong (Jdg. 7:3)—to fight the 135,000 or so enemies. (Jdg. 8:10) The Lord says, “No Mighty Man, that’s too many. When you win you’ll think you did it in your might, not the might I speak into you. You need less men. Send home the ones who are scared.” (Jdg. 7:2-3) So 22,000 go home. 10,000 are left. It doesn’t look good. But what a story if 10,000 were to beat 135,000. That’d be quite the brag.
So strengthened a 3rd time (this time by the mouth of his enemies, showing that the Lord had caused the hearts of the Midianites to melt, that this massive army like locusts [Jdg. 7] is afraid of little Jerubaal [Jdg. 7:10-14]) he divides his 300 men into 3 companies. 3. The number of the Lord’s salvation. 3 companies surround the army in the valley, with trumpets and torches in pots. Not a sword in their hands. So at Gideon’s command in turn each company blasts their trumpets, smashes their pots, and 3 groups of 100 torches appear in the middle of night surrounding the camp. 3 shouts: “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon” (Jdg. 7:15-20) Gideon means a cutting off, a hewing down, just as Gideon did to the Asherah tree. (Jdg. 6:25-26) But where is the sword of the Lord? It is in their mouths. Just as the Lord’s Word is a sword that cuts to the heart. (Eph. 6:17; Heb 4:12; Acts 2:37; Rev. 19:15)
And the Midianites were routed. In a panic they cut each other down and fled. (Jdg. 7:22-23) For the Lord gave victory to Gideon. By Gideon He contended against Baal and won. He won the hearts of His people. He won them back from their sin. He freed them of their oppression which their sin brought on them.
But the people of Israel did not always listen. (Jdg. 2:16-17) Throughout the time that the Lord raised up a judge things were good as long as there was a judge. But once the judge died they turned away from the Lord again. In a generational cycle. (Jdg. 2:18-19) Can you imagine being without a pastor for a whole generation? Your pastor dies and no one takes his place? Never a pastor. Never a preacher of the Lord’s forgiveness. Never someone to free you from your guilt, your shame, to renew a mighty man of faith inside you? We too would fall. So the Lord raises up a Gideon, a judge, a pastor for you, a speaker of His Word of forgiveness to you.
For we, like Israel, live in that cycle until the day we die we always contend with the old sinful nature inside of us. The old Adam or old Eve fights for control. Fights to oppress us. To make us do its will. But you, oh Christian, are not of the flesh any longer, not of your sinful desire, for in Christ you are a mighty man of valour! In Him, that is, in your baptism, you desire what is good and right. So the Lord sends you a judge--His Spirit inside your heart and head to convict you of your sin. Then He sends you to a speaker of His word again and again to hear His forgiveness. To be renewed. To be raised again from the death of sin to the life of the Spirit. For it’s not by might nor by power but by My Spirit, saith the Lord. (Zech. 4:6)
We delight in ourselves. But in us, that is, in the old nature we were born with, lives no good thing. (Rom. 7:18) But in Christ you are new! You are mighty. You do what is good and right and never desire what is contrary to His Word. So put to death what is of the old self. Repent and hear the word of the Lord’s forgiveness for you today. For you are in Christ. You are forgiven. He is your victory over your oppressors.
In +Jesus name. Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church
Thunder Bay, ON