WEEKLY SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON
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(GOD equips us with HIS strength)
Judges chapter 6 opens pretty much the same way most chapters in this book does, with Israel’s, now familiar continuing “Five-cycle pattern” which consisted of “sin”, “servitude”, “supplication”, “salvation”, and then finally “peace”. Over and over again “GOD’s chosen people” would choose to continue to simmer in this physically and spiritually taxing, habitual pattern, from generation to generation.
In Judges, chapters 6-8, the author of GOD uses 100 verses to relate the story of Gideon’s HOLY SPIRIT-possessed exploits, and his 40-year reign as judge over Israel. As I said earlier, chapter 6 opens just as most of the other chapters in this book does, as the deadly cycle of Israel’s disobedience to GOD, followed by repent, GOD’s judgment and mercy, and finally, peace, continues on in perpetual motion.
First of all, the Israelites would “sin” against GOD. Then GOD would place them into “servitude” to one of the many pagan nations that surrounded them. This would later be followed by repentance and “supplication” by the Israelites to GOD, which would lead to GOD extending mercy to Israel by sending them “salvation” through one of the many judges mentioned in this book.
After the judge releases them from their oppression, they would remain in “peace” throughout that judge’s life and reign, before starting the cycle all over again, after that judge’s death. It is a pattern that would persist throughout the 340 years (1390 to 1050 B.C.) of Israel’s history that is chronicled in the book of Judges. In verse 1a we see that, once again, following the death of Deborah, the Israelites have fallen into sin. We also see in verses 1b-6a that GOD allows them to keep on falling, right into the hands of their enemies, the Midianites.
The Midianites were a powerful, nomadic group of people who came from south of the land of Edom. Their strength was accredited to their unique incorporation of the camel into their army’s military strategy. In fact, this documentation of the use of camels in warfare, here in the book of judges, is the earliest known case of such, in world history.
In order to understand the Midianites military capabilities more thoroughly, one would have to understand the durability and stamina of the camel. A camel could carry 400 pounds, plus a rider, for a week without drinking water, and could travel up to 100 miles per day. This made the Midianite’s military a very formidable, superior force in those days. Here in this passage, we are told that the Midianites would attack the Israelites at harvest time every year, destroying all of their crops, and eventually driving them to the brink of starvation.
In verse 6 we see the Israelites repent and cry out to GOD for help, and GOD, as HE always does, answer their call, by first, sending in a prophet, and then, subsequently, HE calls up Gideon, and uses him to rescue HIS fallen people from their oppression.
“The ANGEL of the LORD”, which is, in Scripture, “a theophany of CHRIST”, or “a manifestation of GOD’s OWN presence”, first appeared to Gideon while he was hiding out at the bottom of a winepress, shielding himself from the Midianites while he continued his work, threshing wheat. He feared that the Midianites would kill him, just as they had slain his brothers earlier (Judges 8:19), if he is ever seen by them.
The ANGEL tells Gideon that the LORD is with him, but Gideon, being puzzled by the remark, asks, “Why then has the LORD abandoned us?” (v.13). For some strange reason man seems to always expects GOD to be with us while we’re sinning against HIM. We foolishly seem to expect HIS help while we’re doing the work of satan.
The ANGEL tells Gideon to “go with the strength you have, and rescue Israel from the Midianites. I AM sending you”. In other words, the LORD seems to be telling Gideon to proceed with the same boldness by which Israel has sinned before HIM, while they were “without HIS help”. This time, however, GOD says, “I AM sending you” to do MY Will, and unlike when you were living outside of MY Will, this time “you have MY help”, and you will not fail. When we stay within the Will of GOD in life, GOD is always with us, rendering us HIS help.
Gideon then responds, by telling GOD how weak and helpless he is (vs.15). We often have a “can’t do” attitude when it comes to obeying GOD, but when we want to do what we want to do, we can muster up all the power and energy that we need to carry out our own plans, which more often than not, will get us into more hot water.
After the LORD tells Gideon again, that, HE is with him, Gideon, in the true tradition of the Israelites, asks GOD to show him “a sign”, that will convince him that it is truly the LORD that he is speaking with (Vs.17-21). When Gideon realizes that it was truly the LORD, great fear and reverence came over him. He feared too, that, since he had seen GOD face to face, he would die. However, the ANGEL assured him that it was OK. Gideon then built an altar there to the LORD, and he named it, “The LORD is peace”.
GOD’s first assignment to Gideon was to destroy his own father Joash’s “altar to Baal”, along with the “Asherah pole” which stood beside that altar. HE instructed Gideon to choose the “second best bull” (the bull was the sacred animal of the Canaanites) in his father’s herd, a seven-year old animal, and prepare it for sacrifice on the new altar that he would build for HIM. GOD also instructed Gideon to use the Asherah pole as firewood for the sacrifice. Here GOD wants to exhibit “a symbolic rejection” of false god worship among HIS chosen people.
That night Gideon carried out the LORD’s instructions, and the following morning, as the people began to awake and stir around, they noticed that the altar of Baal had been knocked down, and the Asherah pole was nowhere in sight. They also noticed that a new altar had been built to replace it, and there were remains from the bull sacrifice upon it.
The people were incensed and began to search out the person responsible for destroying their god (is that silly, or what). After finding out that the culprit was Gideon, they went to his father’s house to take him and kill him. However, a now converted Joash, defends his son saying, “Why are you defending Baal? Will you argue his case? Whoever pleads his case will be put to death by morning! If Baal is truly god, let him defend himself and destroy the one who knocked down his altar!” (NLT). From that day forward, Gideon became known as “Jerubbaal”, which means “Let Baal defend himself”, because he knocked down the altar of Baal.
Soon after this, the armies of Midian, Amelek, and the people of the east, all formed an alliance against Israel and crossed over the Jordan and camped in the valley of Jezreel. It was at that time that the SPIRIT of the LORD came over Gideon and took possession of him, and he began to assemble an army of his own from the tribes of Israel.
Gideon then inquired of the LORD to give him “more signs” to reassure him of HIS plan to “use him” to rescue Israel, and if so, to give them victory in the coming battle with the Midianites. The LORD responded positively to Gideon, because of newly found faith in HIM, and, because of “his passing of the obedience tests” that GOD presented to him (Vs.36-40).
There will be times when many of us will feel just as weak as Gideon obviously felt at that time in his life. However, the lesson here is that, “if we are operating within the Will of GOD”, the LORD is always with us, willing to lend HIS hand, and thereby, we will always have the strength to overcome, even our greatest problems. GOD will never give us a task to do, without also giving us the power we need to accomplish it. And GOD never puts trials and tests before us to make us fail, but rather, HE employs those trials and tests to make us stronger than we would otherwise be, on our own.
A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander