JUDGES 6:11-17, 33-40
I have a friend who says that being a Christian is not about believing 3 unbelievable things before breakfast
In our passage the angel comes to Gideon (and by the way this angel obviously does not have wings or a halo - he probably looks just like another person. In fact Gideon needs the angel to prove that he has been sent by God. And when Gideon realises that he is talking to an angel, he gets very scared). Anyway, this person - who turns out to be an angel - comes to Gideon and tells him two unbelievable things: and as far as we know this may well have been before breakfast.
V12: "When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, "The Lord is with you, mighty warrior".
1. Unbelievable fact no 1: "God is with you"
It did not seem to be like that.
The situation is dire.
The Midianites, Amalekites, Amorites, Staligmites are invading the land that the Israelites were living in. (v4,5). They have ravaged the land. Gideon is threshing wheat in a winepress. You don't normally thresh wheat in a winepress. The reason he is doing it is because if he threshed the wheat in the normal place, it would be discovered by the local Midianite thugs, and taken away. And Gideon and his family would starve.
And the people could not understand: "God", they said, "You brought us from Egypt. Our fathers and mothers tell us of all the amazing things that you have done. We heard how you led your people through the red sea, through the desert, across the river Jordan. We hear how you provided manna and quail for them in the desert. We hear how you made the river Jordan stop flowing. We hear about the battle of Jericho. And now - now we are crushed and oppressed. We are starving. Our children are dying. God why have you abandoned us?"
There was a theological reason. God has sent a prophet who tells the people: "I warned you that this would happen if you turned from me and would not listen to me". But the people could not hear that, because they would not listen.
And so when this person - who turns out to be an angel - tells Gideon: "The Lord is with you", Gideon laughs: v13: "But sir, if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? If the Lord is with us, why am I threshing grain in a wine press? The Lord has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian"
That sense of being abandoned by God can be very real. I was talking to someone last week who said, "God abandoned me". They had been through a series of devastating deaths in the family, and they had dropped deep into the pit.
And we cry out to God, 'rescue me', and he is not there. I would love to be able to give people the answer: to say, "Pull yourself together. Think of people who are worse off than you". Or to say, "Put this or that right in your life, and it will be OK". I would love to be able to pray with a person, and for them always to know the presence of God.
But it simply does not always work like that.
Metropolitan Anthony writes that if we talk about the real presence of God - when we meet for worship or prayer or around the Lord's table - we also need to recognise the right of God to at least appear absent.
But I think that that is the clue. It is not that God has abandoned us - because if he had abandoned us, it really would be hell. And hell is where there is no faith, no hope and not even a glimpse of love. Hell is not only when we stop loving, but when others stop loving us. No. God has not abandoned us - although it might seem that he has abandoned us.
And God had not abandoned the people of Israel. In verses 7-10 he sends them a prophet. And now he comes to Gideon.
And it is significant that the person who is honest with God, the person who is saying, "God has abandoned us" is the very person who God intends to use to save the people of Israel. V14: "Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian's hand. Am I not sending you?" And we begin to see how that happens in verses 33-35
Maybe we are looking at a situation, and it really does seem as if God has abandoned you. Maybe we look at the situation of the people of God in this country - of declining churches; of the sheer arrogance or complacency of so many of us before God; of our profound inability to hear what God is saying. Maybe we are praying that God would do something: "Come and transform our nation, our people. Come and bring revival". And God seems silent.
But God is not silent: he continues to speak to his people - and he asks you and me to be the people who will make the difference.
2. And I guess that that leads us on to the second unbelievable fact: "God is with you, mighty warrior"
Gideon does not see himself as a mighty warrior: "But Lord, how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family"
God, I think you have got the wrong person. I really am nobody. I don't have the gifts. I'm too young. I'm too old. I've not got the contacts. I've not got the time. I've not got the courage. I don't know enough. I'm not strong enough.
Gideon joins that list of men and women who have tried to avoid the call of God by claiming inadequacy or sinfulness or inability: men and women like Moses, Saul, David, Jeremiah, Mary, Peter.
It is, of course, no excuse. If God calls, he will equip. It is in fact a surrender to fear: a fear of what others will think, a fear of what might happen to us and to those we love, a fear that no one will listen to us, a fear of letting ourselves down, of embarrassing or shaming ourselves.
But God says to Gideon: "I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together".
Gideon is called to trust God and to be obedient. He is called to stand up and be counted.
God asks him to
1. Stand up to a sin in his family: amazingly, having destroyed the family idol, his dad stands by him
2. Stand up to a sin in the local community
And then, having proved himself faithful, comes the big test. Gideon puts himself on the front line. He blows the trumpet (v34), and calls Israel to follow him into battle against the oppressors.
I'd like to add a few words about the fleece (vv36-40). It is not a practise that is encouraged in the NT. However, Gideon is being obedient - and the die is cast: the army is out there on his doorstep. But Gideon gets cold feet. "If this goes pear shaped, I'm going to get stuffed". So he asks God for reassurance, and God in his mercy gives him reassurance.
God is not calling you or me to be a mighty warrior, to blow the trumpet, to gather the army and to strike down the enemy. It is very important that as Christians we recognise that the sword of the OT has given way to the cross of the NT. We win our battles not by killing others, but by letting them kill us.
But he is calling his people to be mighty warriors in another sense. He is calling his people to stand up and make a difference. To live different, as people driven by a different love, a different purpose, a different ambition, a different destiny, a different perspective: in which God works through the weak, the fearful, the doubting and the sinful.
Paul writes, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me"
We really cannot grumble; we cannot say that He has abandoned his people, or that He has abandoned me - and then do nothing. If you feel abandoned by God, don't give up - seek him, fight for him, struggle with him. Gideon is not given the luxury of being an armchair critic.
And it might just be that God has a specific call for you or me. You see something that is wrong that is destroying lives. You have a passion for something that is good and right and true. You have a vision of what could be.
Or you have a sense of who God would call you to be. Up to now God has been on the edge. And you know - you know in here - that God has to come into the centre of your life.
It is often said that Jesus Christ comes to solve the problems of our lives. That was not Gideon's experience. Jesus Christ actually can complicate lives. He makes us face up to issues, issues about our attitudes, possessions, relationships, our time. He moves us out of our comfort zone.
And God loves us too much to allow us to hide behind the excuse that he has abandoned us. And he will not let us hide behind the exuse of our own inadequacy or fear. He reminds us that he will be with us, and that is all that we need.