Let’s remember that we seek to follow the Divine Promiser and His promise which transforms ordinary people into “children of promise” (Gal. 4:28). It is God’s promise which encourages our hearts and lifts our souls. His promise keeps us going when the going gets tough.
So far in our series on Courageous faith we have discussed Abraham; Jacob; Joseph; Moses; Joshua; Daniel; Jephthah; Samson; Boaz; David; Jonathon; Nehemiah; and now the story of Gideon, No More Excuses, Overcoming your Fears.
We are all familiar with Murphy’s Law: “Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong!” When you get to the book of Judges, you realize that everything that could go wrong went wrong. Every problem you could imagine happened to the Israelites. And in every case, it was their own fault!
Once they had conquered the land and taken possession of God’s inheritance, they decided to take it easy. And the hope of the promise began to fade.
The book of Judges records six cycles of failure, repentance, and restoration. Sic times the people are at ease. Six times they fall into sin. Six times God allows an enemy nation to come in and oppress them. Si time they come under judgment. Six times they cry out to God for a deliverer. Six times they repent. Six times God raises up a judge (the deliverer). Six times the enemy is expelled. And six times a time of real test and prosperity followed. It worked like this: Failure, judgment, repentance, deliverance then restoration.
These cycles are true in our own lives. When we are doing what God wants us to do, everything goes well. That doesn’t mean there aren’t problems and difficulties. It simply means the hand of God’s blessing is real. When we get used to the blessing and start ignoring God, the enemy comes in, and everything goes wrong.
This is exactly what happened in the days of Gideon. Judges 6:1 says, “Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD. So the LORD delivered them into the hand of Midian for seven years…” The Midianites were desert bandits who came from the Arabian Desert to raid the farms of Israel. They would attack the people of the valleys, steal the food and cattle, destroy the villages, and chase the Israelites into the hills. For seven years these bandits came back. Every time the Israelites were ready to reap the harvest, the Midianites came and stole the crops. The results were devastating.
Imagine Ali Baba and 40,000 thieves! Thousands of Arab bandits coming out of the desert on their camels; attacking the children of Israel; stealing their food, their women, and their animals; destroying their cities and then running back to the desert again. This went on for seven years! Finally the children of Israel were broken before God. They repented of their sin and cried out to God for deliverance.
But this time God stepped back and said in Judges 6:8-10, “… "Thus says the LORD God of Israel: 'I brought you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of bondage; 9 'and I delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you and gave you their land. 10 '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.'" So, God basically is telling them we’ve been through this before! When are you going to learn your lesson? So you csn get the point this time, I’m going to pick the most unlikely candidate I can find! A guy by the name of Gideon, also known as Super Chicken! A guy who’s afraid of his own shadow!
An Unlikely Hero
The word if and the word fear appear constantly throughout the story of Gideon: IF you really want me to do this; if this is what I’m supposed to do. IF-if-if, Gideon never operates on faith and certainty. He’s always raising the word if because he is afraid. Later, God turned him into something he was not. When we think of Gideon today, we think of a great hero, a great leader.
But Gideon started out in bad shape. When the Lord first found him, he was hiding in a winepress. Judges 6:11 says, “Now the Angel of the LORD came and sat under the terebinth tree which was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon threshed wheat in the winepress, in order to hide it from the Midianites.” A winepress was a deep hole lined with stones. You threw the grapes down into the hole. Then someone would jump in and stomp the grapes.
Gideon was down inside the winepress, but he was not trying to make grape juice. He was in the winepress trying to thresh wheat! Normally, this was done on a threshing floor in an open field. Gideon was fearful that if he did it out in the open, the bandits would come and steal the wheat from him. So he got down inside the winepress and tried to throw the grain up through the opening. He must have looked ridiculous. He didn’t have enough room to operate. Imagine being cramped in a deep hole, trying to throw grain back up through the opening in the top and having the wheat fall back in your face, all the while frightened that the Midianites were coming. He had to have been covered from head to toe with the husks of grain.
About this time, the angel of the Lord came along dressed like a shepherd and sat down under a tree next to the winepress. I’m sure he must have chuckled to himself. The winepress looked like the open mouth of a well when all of a sudden up comes a pile of grain and down it goes again; up and down, up and down, over and over again. Finally the angel of the Lord decided he had better say something to this guy down there. In Judges 6:12 we read, “And the Angel of the LORD appeared to him, and said to him, "The LORD is with you, you mighty man of valor!" in Judges 6:13 we read Gideon’s response and find Gideon’s first use of the word “if”, “Gideon said to Him, "O my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And 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 was really saying, “Where is the power of God and His great miracles that our forefathers told us about? We haven’t seen god do anything! Everything is going wrong!
Instead of correcting him, criticizing him, or chastening him, the angel said in Judges 6:14, “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 in my strength? Gideon thought. I don’t have any strength! I’m Super Chicken, hiding down here in a winepress, and you’re out of your mind! I’m from the tribe of Manasseh. And I’m from the house of Joash, and we’re the least of all the families in Manasseh. And the least in my father’s house. No way! You’ve got the wrong guy!
God has a way of choosing unlikely candidates to do His work. He deliberately picked Gideon because he was such a coward. The old rabbis viewed Gideon not as a great warrior, but more like a bumbling oaf. Why had God chosen a coward to defeat Israel’s enemies? He did it to teach them to trust His promises and not their own power.
Overcoming Our Excuses
Most of us know the story of Gideon. He offered every possible excuse. But God would not let him get out of this obligation. Finally, Gideon says in Judges 6:17, “If now I have found favor in Your sight, then show me a sign that it is You who talk with me…” This was Gideon’s second use of the word “if.”
Gideon left to prepare a sacrifice. When he had finished and brought it out, the angel of the Lord asked him to put it on a rock. The bible says the angel of the Lord took the staff in his hand and touched the rock, instantly, fire came up out of the rock and consumed the entire offering. Gideon panicked and screamed in Judges 6:22, “"Alas, O Lord GOD! For I have seen the Angel of the LORD face to face." Gideon thought he was going to die! For the Lord said in Judges 6:23, “"Peace be with you; do not fear, you shall not die." The time for Gideon’s excuses had come to an end. It was time for action! The dangle commanded Gideon to tear down his father’s altar of Baal – a Canaanite storm god. Gideon’s father, Joash, an Israelite, had no business having it.
The angel wouldn’t take no for an answer. So Gideon tore down Baal’s altar. He got ten of his servants to help him and he did it at night because Judges 6:27 tells us, “…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.” This simple text in the bible tells us how far the Israelites had strayed from God. They had totally forgotten the miraculous power of God. They were more afraid of public opinion than they were of God!
By morning, the whole town was angry. They came to Joash’s house, knocked on the door, and demanded in Judges 6:30, “"Bring out your son, that he may die, because he has torn down the altar of Baal, and because he has cut down the wooden image that was beside it." Joash couldn’t believe it! Gideon? He might have thought. He actually did something for once? Who cares if it was against me? It’s the greatest thing he’s ever done! Joash then told the men that if Baal were really a god, then he could plead his own case. Basically, he was saying, “Let Baal defend himself.”
Then Joash gave Gideon a new name: Jeru-Baal. In Hebrew it means “let Baal plead his own case.”
All too often, most of us sit back saying, “Somebody should do something. Somebody should stand against secularism and paganism in our society. Somebody should tear down Baal’s altar and raise the standard of God.” And God’s reply usually is, “Why don’t you do it? When are you going to take a stand in your home, or at your place of work, or in your neighborhood and your community?”
God is still in the business of eliminating our excuses. An excuse is nothing more than a lie packaged to look like an explanation. As soon as Gideon took a stand, fearful as he was, people were willing to follow him. What makes a person a leader? He has to be willing to lead. If you start leading, people will start following. Bu tif you’re not leading, no one is going to follow you. Thus we have confusion, compromise, and defeat.
As soon as Gideon took a stand for what was right, people lined up to follow him. God took the most unlikely person imaginable, touched his life, and empowered him to go on to win one of the most incredible victories in human history.
No Turning Back
Before Gideon realized what he was doing, the Spirit of God “camd upon” him, and he rallied an army against the Midianites. People came from all the surrounding towns and all the northern tribes: Manasseh, Naphtali, Asher, and Zebulun. They all showed up saying, “We’re here to follow you!”
Gideon thought, “I am not used to being a leader. Now what am I going to do?” So he went back into his fear mode. He said in Judges 6:36, “"If You will save Israel by my hand as You have said- 37 "look, I shall put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor; if there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that You will save Israel by my hand, as You have said." Did you hear Gideon’s “if”? Well, this is his third use. He request for another “Sign” was not was not an act of faith. It was an act of fear!
The fleece was part of Gideon’s hesitation. He wasn’t ready to fully trust God yet. He was basically saying, “God, if you really want me to do it here’s what I’m going to do. I’ll take this piece of wool and put it out on the threshing floor at night. When I get up in the morning, if the fleece is wet with dew and the ground around it is dry, I’ll know for sure You want me to lead the children of Israel.”
He got up the next morning and, sure enough, the fleece as wet and the ground was dry. It was so wet that he wrung it out enough to fill a bowl of water! Did he believe God and proceed? No! He asked, “How about two out of three? And this time the fleece is dry and the ground is wet.” This is found in Judges 6:39, “"Do not be angry with me, but let me speak just once more: Let me test, I pray, just once more with the fleece; let it now be dry only on the fleece, but on all the ground let there be dew."
Gideon got up the next morning and again the fleece was dry and the ground was wet. God was not going to let him off the hook. There was no turning back now.
The people came by the thousands to follow him.
They encamped at the spring of Harod, which in the Hebrew language means “the place of trembling.” Cowardly Gideon with his army of farmers encamped at the “Spring of trembling.” You can just imagine who was doing the trembling!
This place still exists today I am told. It’s off the beaten path – just like it was then – but apparently you can still find it. There is a natural spring at Harod, which overlooks part of he valley below. It was here that Gideon came with an army of 32,000 men. The problem is, there were 130,000 Midianites and Amalikets down in the valley. The Israelites were completely outnumbered! In fact, Scripture describes the invading hordes as “grasshoppers” (Judges 7:12) – like a plague of locusts swarming across the valley.
Gideon stood there thinking, We’re outnumbered! We don’t stand a chance! We’re doomed! What am I going to do?
God spoke to Gideon and said, “We’ve got a problem.” Gideon agreed, You’re right! I don’t have enough men! God said, “No, you’ve got too many men!” Listen to the words of God in Judges 7:2, “"The people who are with you are too many …”
You’ve Got To Be Kidding!
Can you imagine Gideon’s possible initial response You’ve got to be kidding! But the thing is, God explains to Gideon His reasoning in the rest of Judges 7:2, “…lest Israel claim glory for itself against Me, saying, 'My own hand has saved me.'” Let’s recognize that God has been dealing with these people long enough to know (even though he already knew) how they operated. God goes on to give Gideon further instructions in Judges 7:3, “"Now therefore, proclaim in the hearing of the people, saying, 'Whoever is fearful and afraid, let him turn and depart at once from Mount Gilead.'" And twenty-two thousand of the people returned, and ten thousand remained.” What God is saying is for Gideon to ask those who are afraid and if so, they were to go home! 22,000 were fearful and left! That left only 10,000! Just think, Gideon could have been one of those who was afraid, but Gideon was going to be leading however many into battle. I just wonder what was going through his mind now, with only 10,000! Serving in the Air Force I was given the opportunity to go into a war zone in the Middle East. I drove through Kuwait City and saw the damage done by Sadaam Hussein’s forces. The markings of blood stains on the walls, the bullet holes in the walls and the destruction of buildings by shells. I walked through the piles of equipment that were taken from soldiers who had been captured. Helmets and web belts. Holsters and even unexpended rounds. Shell casings, and the list goes on and on. It is safe to understand the three different types of people found in a battle. First, anybody with any sense was afraid, and that covers most people. That’s easy to see why 2/3rds of Gideon’s army left. Second there is always a bunch of guys who just want to fight. They don’t care if they get killed or not they stay and fight. It’s possible most of Gideon’s 10,000 could have been like that. The third group of folks are the ones who are too afraid to admit they’re afraid. These are the ones when Gideon asked who was afraid couldn’t even get their hands up. They were catatonic. They froze on the battlefield, too afraid to admit they were afraid. This happens with soldiers today.
Let’s notice however, what God says about the remaining 10,000 in Judges 7:4, “"The people are still too many;…” Let’s think about Gideon now! Still too many?! The rest of Judges 7:4 and verse 5 reveal the next set of instructions for Gideon, “bring them down to the water, and I will test them for you there. Then it will be, that of whom I say to you, 'This one shall go with you,' the same shall go with you; and of whomever I say to you, 'This one shall not go with you,' the same shall not go. 5 So he brought the people down to the water. And the LORD said to Gideon, "Everyone who laps from the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set apart by himself; likewise everyone who gets down on his knees to drink." Everybody who stuck his head down in the water and sucked up a drink was put in one category. Then all the lappers were put in another category. They were the ones who scooped up the water in their hands and lapped it with their tongues.
In all the commentaries on Judges can be found every kind of explanation for this system of separation. Some say the three hundred guys who lapped up the water were the wisest and best prepared. They were the ones watching for the enemy. The rest weren’t paying attention. They just stuck their heads down in the water and drank. Let me remind you, the Israelites were up on the tip of the mountain. The enemy was way down in the valley. Nowhere near them! There was nothing to be afraid of at that point.
The same old rabbis who viewed Gideon as a reluctant leader also viewed the three hundred lappers as being afraid to take a drink. Those who lapped their water thought, There’s a Midianite Behind every rock! They’re going to get us! But there wasn’t anybody there! I believe God picked out the three hundred biggest cowards He could find in Gideon’s army and put him in charge of them!
When You’re Too Afraid To Go On
By now, poor Gideon was bewildered. How am I going to lead these guys to victory? He wondered. I’ve only got three hundred men! That’s when God intervened and said in Judges 7:9-11, “"Arise, go down against the camp, for I have delivered it into your hand. 10 "But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant, 11 "and you shall hear what they say; and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp." If you noticed, God told Gideon to take his servant “Purah” with him. Purah means “foliage.” That’s something to hide behind. Think about old western cowboy movies, and how the cowboys would creep up behind the tumbleweed. That’s the idea in this passage. Gideon might have been pushing his servant down the mountain saying, “I’m right behind you.”
Something unusual happened when they got down to the edge of the enemy camp. It was dark, and 130,000 men were asleep on the valley floor. Gideon came to the edge of the camp where two men were standing guard, talking to each other. This the conversation Gideon and his servant overheard in Judges 7:13-14, “"I have had a dream: To my surprise, a loaf of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian; it came to a tent and struck it so that it fell and overturned, and the tent collapsed." 14 Then his companion answered and said, "This is nothing else but the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel! Into his hand God has delivered Midian and the whole camp." If there is anything that will encourage the heart of a coward, it is to find out that the enemy is more afraid of you than you are of him. With renewed confidence, Gideon charged back up the mountainside, gathered his troops, and prepared to attack.
Gideon couldn’t believe it. The enemy was afraid of him! He took courage in their fear. In James 4:7 we read, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” All too often we let our fears overwhelm us, and we give up. But God says, “don’t give up. Get up! Take courage. Stand up. And trust Me!”
When God Has A Better Idea
Gideon came back to the Israelites raring to go. Then God said, “I have a very unusual plan as to how we’re going to defeat the enemy. It’s probably not what you had in mind. We’re not going to go down and beat them up. We’re going to scare them away!” Listen to the instructions found in Judges 7:15-18, “And so it was, when Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, that he worshiped. He returned to the camp of Israel, and said, "Arise, for the LORD has delivered the camp of Midian into your hand." 16 Then he divided the three hundred men into three companies, and he put a trumpet into every man's hand, with empty pitchers, and torches inside the pitchers. 17 And he said to them, "Look at me and do likewise; watch, and when I come to the edge of the camp you shall do as I do: 18 "When I blow the trumpet, I and all who are with me, then you also blow the trumpets on every side of the whole camp, and say, 'The sword of the LORD and of Gideon!'"
How easily we forget where we were when God found us. The fearful, hesitant coward is raring to go, and God had to hold him back. He had to remind Gideon that He was still the One in charge.
The Lord gave Gideon an incredible battle plan. He told him to take the three hundred men and divide them into three groups. He gave instructions to Gideon to give a pitcher with a torch inside it to every man, along with a trumpet for them to carry. Then He told him to put a hundred men on each side of the valley and a hundred in the middle. Gideon was to give the signal and the men would break the pitchers, wave the torches, and blow on the trumpets. Then they were to shout, “The sword of the Lord and Gideon!”
God used Gideon and his three hundred lappers to scare the enemy away! When armies fought in ancient times, they rarely ever fought battles at night because they couldn’t see anybody. Almost all of the battles in the ancient world were fought during the day. However, when they did fight at night, only a few soldiers carried a torch to light up the battlefield. Anybody who carried a torch could not carry a shield, which meant every torchbearer was undefended. So they used one torch for about every hundred men. That was usually enough light to see by.
They couldn’t put a trumpet in every man’s hand, either. If he had a trumpet in one hand, he would be missing a shield or a sword. Have you ever seen those Revolutionary War paintings? They had a little fife and drum corps. A few guys are playing on a piccolo and banging on a drum. Typically, typically there are about a dozen of them for every thousand soldiers.
Put The Enemy To Flight
A similar situation occurred in British history when the Scots were losing the Battle of Bannockburn. Word came from the battlefront that the Scots were retreating. In response, the old men and young boys waiting behind the Scottish front line picked up the flags and bagpipes and ran toward the battlefront. When they did, they made so much noise and kicked up so much dust that the other side – the enemy – retreated instead.
In the middle of the night Gideon’s enemies heard the smashing of the pottery pitchers. It simulated the clash of arms and echoed down in the valley below. The noise terrified the Midianites and the Amalekites. They looked up and saw the torches and heard the trumpets surrounding their camps. They assumed there were thousands of soldiers out there. They panicked, thinking the Israelites had hired allies to come against them. In the confusion the noise and the darkness, two different groups of people with two different dialects ran out of their tents. The Midianites and the Amalekites slaughtered each other without even realizing it. Before the night was over, 120,000 Midianites and Amalekites were dead. All Gideon and his three hundred men had done was to stand there and make some noise for God!
It doesn’t take thousands of people to make a difference in the world in which we lie. If a few people will get out and make some noise for God, and wave the light of the truth in the darkness, God will multiply and magnify their efforts. There is no telling what you and I could do for the cause of Christ if we really tried.
As Gideon and his men saw their enemy in confusion, they were so excited that the three hundred men ran down the hillside and chased the ten thousand Midianites and Amalekites that were left. Then the other Israelites came from the surrounding hills and joined the fight as the morning dawned. Before the fight was over, the Israelites had wiped out nearly everybody. The few that survived ran into the desert and never came back.
The Promisor kept the promise alive! For the first time in a long time, the enemy respected the people of the promise and left them alone. They had taken a stand, scared the enemy away, and God had brought a tremendous victory through the leadership of an unlikely person with an unlikely army. “Super Chicken and the Lappers prevailed!”
God has always been in the business of doing the impossible. Sometimes it was the only way to keep the promise alive. Usually it was the only way to remind people that the Promisor was greater than the Promise. The Bible reminds us in 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” It’s a lesson we all need to remember: God is more interested in our finding him in life’s struggles than protecting us from life’s struggles.
As we near the end of another study, let’s ask ourselves some questions with what we have learned from the story of Gideon:
1. What Do God’s Choices Tell Us About His Grace?
2. What Are Some of The Weaknesses God Sees In Your Life?
3. What Things Do You Fear Most in Life?
4. How Can You Learn To Trust God With These Fears?
5. What kind of Obstacles Are You Facing Right Now That Really Scare You?
6. How Do You Know God Can Get You Through Them?
7. What Personal Sacrifices Will You Have To Make To Get the Job Done?
Concluding Courageous Faith Study
Life Is A Pilgrimage. It is a process of growth, and there are no shortcuts to maturity. You can only get there by walking through the road of life, no matter what obstacles are in your way. Each step is a divinely appointed opportunity to bring us closer to the principle of spiritual growth and maturity.
We can have confidence that as we walk in the road of life, we have in Christ the resources to face any problem that comes our way. We are in His love and care. We can look beyond the temporal and press on to the eternal. We need not be defeated beyond our failures for Christi has already assured our victory.
Whatever your problems may be, they pale in significance to the light of eternity. No matter how great your failures, God’s grace is greater still. Lift up your heart and face life head-on. Don’t avoid your problems; tackle each one directly, knowing that God will help you through. The tougher the problem, the greater His grace will be.
Remember, no one is totally successful all the time. When we are on top of things, we need to lift up those who are down; so that when we are down they can lift us up. That is what the family of God is all about. Each person minister to another so that all are helped. Not only can we learn from our own mistakes, but we can also share with others how we overcame them. And we can be encouraged as others share their experiences with us.
Never give up! You can’t win the race in the first lap. Life is a marathon, not a hundred-yard dash. The last hill always seems like the toughest. You have to keep running until you’re finally home. Pace yourself, and be prepared for the detours and trouble spots. When they come along, don’t give up the race. Remember, when the going gets tough, the tough get going.
God understands your struggles. He designed the trouble spots to toughen you and mature you for the final lap. He also knows how much you can take. He will never put more on you than He has put within you to meet the challenge.
When the race is run and your goal is reached, you will be able to say with the apostle Paul as he says in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith…”
In the meantime, run the race with the goal in view:
1. Face reality. Admit your struggles and weaknesses. Don’t pretend things are fine when they really need improvement. Denial may bring temporary relief, but never a permanent solution.
2. Take Responsibility. Deal with your own life. No one else can solve your problems for you. You must do that yourself with God’s help. Confront your problems honestly and correct them.
3. Do the Right Thing. There is a right way and a wrong way to handle every situation in life. Find the right way to do it! God’s Word will guide you into the truth.
Remember we are “children of promise” (Romans 9:8). We are the recipients of a great spiritual heritage. Others have already paved the way for us. And hat great “cloud of witnesses” the writer of Hebrews speaks of is cheering us on to victory.
The Promisor has given our entire generation the opportunity to live out his promises in our lifetime. The time has come for today’s men and women to answer God’s call on their lives. It is a time for courageous faith and spiritual determination. It is a time to stand up for what we believe and claim this generation for God!
The Promisor is calling for people who will believe His promises, people who will step out by faith and live for Him, people who place themselves in the hands of God, men and women who will surrender themselves t His Will and Purpose for their lives.
Such are those of Courageous Faith. They are not ordinary people. They are men and women of faith, commitment, and action. They are those who are willing to meet the challenges of life and stand victorious.