Don’t Put Out Your Fleece
Don't Do The MathPastor Jonathan Drake - March 18, 2018
Community Group Study Notes
- How does God’s past faithfulness give us confidence to trust Him for the future?
- Why do we sometimes have difficulty trusting God?
- What is one action step you can take based on what you heard in Sunday’s message?
"But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me." 2 Corinthians 12:9
Good morning, everyone. Good morning everyone here at the CrossPoint campus, at the Lockport campus, and our Cheektowaga campus. Glad that you're with us. Today we're continuing our series, Don't Do The Math, and if you have a Bible with you, or there's one nearby, whether that's around in your seat area or maybe you can ask an usher for one if they see you, then you'll be getting that to Judges chapter six. Judges chapter six, which is on page 221 in my Bible, if that helps you. I don't know, but we'll be there in just a moment.
I want you to see that in front of you and not just rely on the screen, because you can't, as we say, take the screens home with you, but I want you to get to Judges chapter six, where we'll be in just a few moments. The funny thing about music is that there are these songs that have maybe a particular resonance with us, maybe there's a meaning behind them. Maybe it was a song that you heard playing on the car radio on your first date, or maybe it was the song that you danced to for your first dance at your wedding. Maybe it was the song that you heard when you were driving away from your family of origin, leaving your home behind for the last time. I mean, I remember when I finally moved out of my childhood home, I turned on the radio, and I kid you not, Billy Joel playing Moving Out is on the radio. And I'm just driving down [Sheridan 00:02:06] Drive in tears. That was it. I'm moving out, you know? But then I got over that really quickly. It was fine.
But the funny thing is, some songs have really deep meanings to us, and then other songs, we call them ear worms because we don't necessarily like them, but they just stick with us, right? There's not like a special, deep meaning or significance, but that they just stick in our ears, and they're ear worms, which is just a horrible, horrible image. And maybe for you, an ear worm ... I don't know why, it seems like all the best ear worm songs involve a falsetto, and so that means they usually come from like, the Staying Alive soundtrack with the Bee Gees, so you're thinking ... I'm not going to sing it for you. You thought I was going to do it, right?
Staying alive, staying alive. I'm not going to do it. No, I'm not going to do it. Okay. Or maybe a different generation might really attach to Alanis Morissette, and so you'll be driving, and the radio's not even on, but all of a sudden you'll say, "It's like rain on your wedding day, it's a free ride..." No, okay, that's plenty. I've already gotten in trouble so much for my singing in the past. I don't know what would make me think that was a good idea in the future.
For us, we have a three year old, so all of my ear worm songs are Disney princess songs, and so whether that's Let It Go, often ... If you see me driving anywhere, sometimes I'll just be breaking out in Let It Go, no music in the car, just Let It Go. Or whether that's Belle from Beauty and the Beast, or Under the Sea with the Little Mermaid. We have these Disney princess ear worms, right? Well, I'm actually convinced that one of the gospel strategies of children's ministry is to create Christian ear worm songs for children, because I grew up in church, and maybe if you grew up in church and you had your special children's programming, you got some of these children ear worms songs, like this one ... Father Abraham had many sons, many sons had Father Abraham.
Now, if you're a guest to church, this is normal. You're like, "What are these secret songs that they know about that I don't know? This is strange." Don't worry, we'll get you caught up. There's a tutorial after the service today. Father Abraham had many sons, right? Or "Obedience is the very best way to show that you believe," and then we'll spell out obedience, right? Or maybe this one, "Trust and obey, for there's no other way to be happy in Jesus than to trust and obey."
So I don't know at what point the strategy was, let's create these Christian children's ear worm songs. Maybe it was if we teach them while they're young, then maybe when they're tempted to rebel in their teenage years, this ear worm will get stuck and pull them back from the pit of self destruction, right? I don't know what the plan was, but all I know is that sometimes for the strangest reasons, "Trust and obey, for there's no other way to be happy in Jesus than to trust and obey," that'll come back to me at the oddest times in my life.
I don't know what ... and this is not a reflection on the children's ministry in our church. I don't know what lesson was being taught, what Bible story was being taught when I learned that song the first time, but I do remember this, that when I look at the story that we're going to look at in Judges chapter six, the story of Gideon, it really comes down to this principle: Trust and obey. Trust and obey. We're going to see that played out over and over and over again, although we'll see it played out from the negative. See, when we meet this character Gideon in the book of Judges, which when we read and we see that title Judges, we immediately think of a courtroom, but the way that that term is used is really more of like a deliverer, kind of like a military leader general kind of all fused into one, and that's how they were using that term.
So there was a period in the time of the Israelites that is known as the time of the Judges, between Moses and Joshua, but before we get to King Saul and King David, that's where we see this timeframe known as the time of the Judges. And the writer of the book of Judges gives us this synopsis of the time. This is kind of like the summary statement for what was going on in that time. In Judges chapter 17 verse 6, it says this:
"In those days, there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes." No king, everyone did what was right in his own eyes, or some translations say, "Everyone did as they saw fit." Well, that's a far cry for the nation of Israel, isn't it? What you might remember about them is this is the nation that was delivered miraculously out of slavery in Egypt. This is the nation that gets to see these 10 incredible plagues poured out on the Egyptians. This is the nation that gets to see a body of water split in two so that they could walk across on dry ground, and that happens for them twice, the Red Sea, and then the Jordan River.
I mean, they get to see all of these things. The nation that got to receive miraculous distribution of food in the wilderness for 40 years. The nation that got to see water come out of a rock, miraculously ... twice. That nation who witnessed all of these things that God did, and yet here's the time of the Judges that is described as "Everyone did what was right in their own eyes." That's quite a far cry from where God brought them, but there's a reason for that, because they had a memory problem. They had selective memory, but what we learn about God, not only through His patience with the Israelites, but also as that informs us to His patience with us, here's what we learn about God. It's this statement: God never runs out of faithfulness. God never runs out of faithfulness.
You say, "Jonathan, that's pretty elementary." It is, however, let's plumb the depths of that statement just a little bit. God never runs out ... God is never exhausted. That's what theologians call the inexhaustible nature of God, that He never runs out. See, you and I, we come up against our limits very frequently. Maybe if you're around a really difficult person for a sustained period of time, what do you say? You say things like this, "I've just got nothing left to give," or "I'm out of all of my options," or "I've got nothing left for them." You're around a difficult person and you maybe even would say this statement: "They just drain me," right? We run into that all the time. You with me? Okay.
But yet, God never faces that problem. You see, if I have a love reservoir in my heart, I recognize that that reservoir can be depleted, but God never runs out of that. He is inexhaustible in that sense, so when I say that God never runs out of faithfulness, here's what I mean. He is relentlessly faithful to His people, even when they are not faithful to Him. God never runs out of faithfulness. He is relentlessly faithful to His people, even when they are not faithful to Him, because you recognize the spiritual climate in Israel as they exit Egypt and are in the wilderness, this is what Moses recaps for us in Deuteronomy chapter one. Take a look at this verse in 26. Moses says to the Israelites, "You would not go up into the promise land, but you rebelled against the command of the Lord your God, and you murmured in your tents, and you said," look at this ... "Because the Lord hated us, He has brought us out of the land of Egypt to give us into the hand of the Amorites to destroy us."
Talk about revisionist history. It's because God hates us, that's why He saved us from our plight in Egypt. It's because He hates our guts, that's why He saved us when we were crying out to Him. I mean, what? Are we reading the same passage here? That's astounding, right? It's because God hates us? I want to say, "What Bible were you reading, Israelites? What stories were you watching?" We watch that and we think, how could they think that? And yet, that spiritual climate created the opportunity, fostered the type of environment for spiritual rebellion after all of these successive generations, because they walked away from God.
The writer of Judges says this in chapter two, verse 11: "Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and they served the Baals, false gods. They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They turned their back on Him." They forsook, they abandoned God. They did what was right in their own eyes, and they did evil in God's eyes. So they turned their back on Him, and what does God do? Well, He brings about ... He's about to bring about some corrective discipline, not because He hates Israel, but precisely because He loves them.
He's going to bring about some corrective discipline into their lives, instead of just allowing them to continue on this path of self destruction, God is not about to let that happen. He loves them too much to let that happen. He's going to stop them in their tracks over and over and over again, and in fact, we see seven cycles of God confronting sin in the book of Judges. He confronts sin, the people repent, they experience peace, and then they rebel. We see that cycle played out over and over in this book, because God is intent on keeping His covenant. He never runs out of faithfulness. He is intent on keeping His covenant. Remember His covenant that He made to Abraham. He said, "Through you, through your descendants, I'm going to bless the world. I'm going to bless the whole world through you, Abraham." He's pointing ahead to Abraham's earthly descendant, named Jesus. That through this nation, and through this line, and through this family, I'm going to bless the whole world, because the savior is going to come from Abraham's line.
Since God is intent on keeping His covenant, He is going to do anything in His power, and He has unlimited power. He's going to do anything that He needs to, to interrupt Israel from the path of self-destruction, because even when it seems like Israel is intent on that, God steps in and intervenes. So what we're going to do now is we're going to take a deep dive into Judges chapter six and seven, so I want you to follow along with me, and we're going to cover a lot of ground, a lot of territory in these next two chapters, so stay with me because this narrative is so, so important to where we're going today.
Begin with me in Judges chapter six, beginning in verse one through verse six. It says this: "The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years, He gave them into the hands of the Midianites. Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves, and strongholds. Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites, and other eastern peoples invaded the country. They camped on the land, they ruined the crops all the way to Gaza, and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count them or their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it. Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help."
So you see what we've got here is God's going to bring about that corrective discipline that I told you about, and he's going to do that through a neighboring group of people, the Midianites. That they are so oppressive, that the writer says that they are like a swarm of locusts. There's too many of them to count, and they leave a wake of destruction behind them. Whatever the Midianites didn't consume for themselves, they destroyed, of the Israelites ... so much so that they weren't even being able to benefit from what they planted, and so the Midianites sweep through, and every time they come in and they just beat Israel, kick them while they're down, and they steal everything that they've got and pillage everything in sight.
So the writer of Judges says, "And that led Israel to a breaking point, that they were so impoverished..." Isn't that astounding? That they were so impoverished that they finally decided to cry out to God. They didn't cry out to God at the first or the second or the third or the fourth attack, but by the time they were just belly-up, facedown on the ground, right ... that they were just at the end of themselves, they finally cry out to God, because the Midianite oppression, it's too strong.
Let's continue our narrative in verse seven. "So when the Israelites cried out to the Lord because of Midian, God sent them a prophet who said, 'This is what the Lord, the God of Israel says.' 'I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. I rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians, and I delivered you from the hand of all your oppressors. I drove them out before you, and gave you their land. I said to you, 'I am the Lord your God. Do not worship the gods of the Amorites in whose land you live,' but you have not listened to me. But you have not listened to me."
These are powerful metaphors. Are you picking up on these? That everyone did what was right in their own ... Say this with me, with conviction, everyone at every campus, all right? Everyone did what was right in their own-
... eyes. And no one cared that they did evil in God's-
... eyes. Good class participation. And then we read that Israel cries out to God. Basically, hear us, Lord. Hear us, Lord, we need you now. And what does God essentially say, what we just read? "I have heard you. You haven't heard me."
You see, God, He's rehearsing for them His faithfulness. I delivered you. I brought you out of the wilderness. I brought you out of Egypt first. I delivered you, I saved you, I drove out your enemies ahead of you. I gave you these commands ... explicit commands, obey me and trust me. Trust and obey. Stay faithful to me. Worship me only. I will protect you. I will watch over you. But you haven't heard me. You want me to hear you, and I have, you haven't heard me. These metaphors are striking to me as we read them.
So Israel over and over disobeys, as we've seen them do time and time again, and so God sends this prophet to wake them up, and then we meet an unlikely character that God is going to use to demonstrate His power in their presence. God is going to demonstrate His glory in front of them so that no one will be able to mistake who delivered who. So God in His grace comes to a man named Gideon. Look at verses 11-13 in chapter six.
"The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”
“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “But if the Lord is with us..." well, He just said He was ... "But if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”
Quite a way to speak about God, and even to God, because the angel of the Lord, when we read that statement, it's a old testament phrase that's usually used to describe a face to face encounter with God. Before Jesus is ever born at Bethlehem, God appears in bodily form when we read the angel of the Lord in the old testament many times. And so the angel of the Lord comes to Gideon, and he says, "The Lord is with you," and Gideon's response reeks so much of sarcasm and skepticism. "Oh, really? The Lord's with us? If the Lord is with us, then why has all this bad stuff happened to us? Israel, we feel abandoned." But you recognize that Gideon's got some selective memory, because it wasn't that God abandoned Israel, it was that Israel abandoned God. That was why they found themselves under this Midianite oppression.
You see, he's so misinformed that he's neglecting any of the responsibility that Israel had in this, that they brought on themselves this oppression by their disobedience to God, and their lack of allegiance to Him. That they were not faithful to God, even though God was relentlessly faithful to them. And so the angel of the Lord says, "The Lord is with you, mighty warrior." Some translations say, "Man of valor," which is quite an ironic statement because this man, Gideon, is anything but a mighty warrior or a man of valor. When you think of bravery, and you read the description that we're given in Judges six, you're not going to attach bravery to Gideon. You know why? Because we read that he was doing what? He was threshing grain in a wine press. Well, you don't do that in a wine press. You do that out in the open air so that the wind can separate the grain from the chaff, and the wind will blow away the worthless stuff, and the good stuff will fall to the ground.
But he's so afraid of the Midianites, that he's hiding out in a hole. This is comical, and it brings me great joy to read this. The angel of the Lord comes to Gideon and says, "The Lord is with you, mighty man of valor." You kidding me? He's hiding out in a hole. He's two steps away from sucking his thumb in the corner in a fetal position. This is not good. This is the guy? Like, this is the guy. This guy. This is the guy God's gonna use, and he does.
Look at what's then ... The narrative continues in verse 14-23. "So the Lord turned to him and said, 'Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?' 'Pardon me, my lord,' Gideon replied, “But how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, our tribe, and I am the least in my family.'
The Lord answered." Is this the third time? “'I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.' Gideon replied, 'If now I have found favor in your eyes, then give me a sign that it's really you talking to me. Please don't go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.' And the Lord said, 'I will wait until you return.' So Gideon went inside, prepared a young goat, and from an ephah of flour, he made bread without yeast, so putting the meat in a basket and its broth in a pot, he brought them out and offered them to Him under the oak.
The angel of God said to him, 'Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth.' And Gideon did so. Then the angel of the Lord touched the meat, and the unleavened bread with the tip of the staff that was in his hand, fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread, and the angel of the Lord disappeared. When Gideon realized..." This is kind of like a oh no moment. "When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he exclaimed, 'Alas, sovereign Lord, I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face.' But the Lord said to him, 'Peace, don't be afraid. You're not going to die.'"
Good news, you're not going to be dead, because you came into this encounter as if we were equals, and I think you underestimated your position here, and who you were speaking to. And so the angel of the Lord, here's this face to face encounter with God in bodily form, and after realizing who he's speaking to, even after receiving this confirmation that God demonstrates this miraculous thing in front of him ... Hey, I'm really sending you, this is serious ... Then he realizes who he was speaking to and says, "Oh man, I didn't realize what I just stepped in." And God says, "Don't worry, you're not gonna die." Basically, "I'm not done with you. I'm not done with you. I've still got more yet to do through you."
And so after receiving that sign ... I mean, that's pretty incredible, isn't it? That your meal just got medium well right in front of you. I mean, boom, right? Like that. That's something. After receiving that sign, after recognizing that you were allowed to speak face to face with God in bodily form, and live, and after that encounter with God in bodily form, after that, God says to you, "I am with you. I'm sending you. I'm with you." After He says that three times, you'd be ready to go to battle, right? No questions. No worries. No fear. No concern. If only that were the case for our man Gideon here, but he's stubborn.
Look at what it says in verse 36 of our text. "Gideon said to God, 'If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised..." Now, stop there for a minute. If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised. What's Gideon doing there? He is calling into question God's character. He doesn't believe that God will never run out of faithfulness. He doesn't believe that, because if he believed that, you don't ask questions like this. You don't propose hypotheticals like this. If you trust God, and you obey Him, there isn't any "If you will keep your promise." Yet he starts out, "If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised," he's going to ask for yet another confirmation.
Verse 37: "Look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor..." You know, where you should have been threshing the grain, but you did it in the winepress? Just as an aside. "If there is dew only on the fleece, and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand as you said."
And then this is the most astounding statement: "And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day, he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew, a bowlful of water. Then Gideon said to God, 'Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request...'" Don't you just want to rescue him? Don't you just want to say, "No, oh. Bless his heart," that kind of a thing, right?
"'Let me make one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece, but this time make the fleece dry and let the ground be covered with dew.' That night, God did so. Only the fleece was dry. All the ground was covered with dew."
This is astounding. So you've got all these confirmations, and yet, here's one more. Okay. And God allows it. God condescends to Gideon. He steps down to his level. He knows Gideon's not ready to come up here yet, so like a loving father, he demonstrates His patient faithfulness, and gets down on His knee, and comes down to Gideon's level. You see, one scholar said, "Someone might inquire of Baal this way, one of the false gods, but this is no way to treat the God of Israel. Amazingly, though, God does it, because I think," and I think we're onto something here, "That God is more interested in rescuing Israel and demonstrating His glory than in quibbling with this man and his semi-pagan notions of deity."
He's not going to get into a theological debate with Gideon right about now, about how and how not to approach God, but instead, because He is so intent on rescuing His people and demonstrating His glory so that everyone may see it and behold it, that He's not going to get into that debate. So He does exactly that. So with all of that, now we're ready to see the battle begin. Now we're ready to see Gideon prepare his army, and this may be a more familiar part of the story to you, beginning in verse number one, and continuing through verse eight of chapter seven.
"Early in the morning, Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon)" one of this other names, "And all his men camped at the spring of Harod. The camp of Midian was north of them in the valley near the hill of Moreh. The Lord said to Gideon, 'You have too many men. I can't deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, saying, ‘My own strength has saved me.’ Now announce to the army, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’' So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained.
But the Lord said to Gideon, 'There are still too many men.'" Lord, we're going in the wrong direction. I mean, this is not a way to develop an army. "'There are still too many men, so take them down to the water, and I will thin them out for you there. If I say, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go; but if I say, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.' So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the Lord told him, 'Separate those who lap the water with their tongues as a dog laps from those who kneel down to drink.' Three hundred of them drank with cupped hands, lapping like dogs. All the rest got down on their knees to drink, and so the Lord said to Gideon, 'With the 300 men that lapped, I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the others go home.'"
Oh boy. "So Gideon sent the rest of the Israelites home, but kept the 300 who took over the provisions and the trumpets of the others."
Don't do the math, Gideon. You're not gonna like the math, basically. Don't do the math. We started with an army of 32,000 gathering around the spring of Harod, and Gideon tells them if anyone is afraid, if anyone's trembling, you can go home, which is amazing because the word "Harod," the spring of Harod means the spring of trembling. So basically what Gideon's saying is if anyone is trembling like this brook over here, you get to go home right now. Twenty-two thousand, discharged immediately, right away. Now we're left with 10, ten thousand. God says, "That's still too many. It's still too many, so I want you to weed them out even further."
And this test of the drinking of the water, most scholars agree that there's really no military strategy involved in what God's doing here, it just seems that He has a specific number in mind. God has a specific number in mind, because He doesn't need a large, impressive army to overwhelm the Midianites. He doesn't need the most advanced artillery or the wisest strategy. God's looking for a specific number, and more importantly than that, a specific kind of person. He's looking for a person who is willing to trust and obey. He's willing for a person to believe and obey every command that He gives. God's looking for just enough people who would be able to witness the activity of God, but not too many people that would be able to steal the glory away from God.
Notice what verse two said in our text. Here it is again: "The Lord said to Gideon, 'You have too many men. I can't deliver Midian into their hands.'" Not because God is unable to, not because He doesn't have the power to, but because He doesn't want Israel to do this: "Or else Israel would boast against me saying, 'My own strength has saved me.''"
So to keep Israel from trying to steal God's glory and to think that they did it themselves, God is after a specific number, and Gideon, you don't want to do the math because it's not in your favor. God will do everything that He's going to do, and he's going to do it through this small group of willing and available vessels who are ready to obey God's every command.
So with that, we continue in verse eight, the second part of verse eight through 15. It says this: "Now the camp of Midian lay below him in the valley. During that night the Lord said to Gideon, 'Get up, okay, it's go time. Go down against the camp, because I am going to give it into your hands. We're ready to go to battle. Now, if you are afraid to attack,'" which I don't think God is going to say that unless Gideon's not afraid. I mean, he is afraid, so that's why He says, "If you are afraid." "'If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant, Purah, and listen to what they are saying. Afterward, you will be encouraged to attack the camp.'
So he and Purah, his servant, went down to the outpost of the camp. The Midianites, the Amalekites and all the other eastern peoples had settled in the valley, again, thick as locusts. Their camels could no more be counted than the sand on the seashore. Gideon arrived." This is amazing. Look at the sovereign direction of God in this. "Gideon arrived just as a man was telling a friend his dream." They're kind of eavesdropping outside of a tent.
'I had a dream,' he was saying. 'A round loaf of barley bread came tumbling into the Midianite camp. It struck the tent with such force that the tent overturned and collapsed.' His friend responded, 'This can be nothing other than the sword of Gideon, son of Joash, the Israelite. God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands.' When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he bowed down and worshiped. He returned to the camp of Israel and called out, 'Get up, the Lord has given the Midianite camp into your hands.'"
This is amazing. When does Gideon finally believe that God is sending him? When does Gideon finally believe that God is going to deliver the Midianites into his hands? When God says it? Nope. When he overhears a dream from a Midianite who doesn't believe in the one true God ... and the interpretation of the dream, that's when he's like, "Oh, okay, now I'm in. Now I'm there, now I'm ready." And that's exactly what God said. "After you hear this dream, you'll be ready. You'll be encouraged."
God is so incredibly patient with Gideon. He should have just moved onto the next guy, and that's what I would have done, that's what you would have done. And yet, God is so faithful, that he's going to demonstrate His power through the most unlikely of candidates, because there wasn't anything exemplary, as we see, about Gideon's faith, but that he was available, and ultimately he would be willing to obey God's every command. And so it's at this dream that God finally gets through. It's God who even allows Gideon to overhear the dream, but after hearing it, he bows down and worships.
Now, I could say a lot here about whether we put more stock in a dream than in God's directive. I could say more about that, but I won't. I could say that we might be more inclined to listen to the words of other people over and above the words of God, but I'm not going to say that. I could say that we might put more stock in someone who says they had a vision from God that maybe is in contradiction to something that God has said, and so we allow that to overwhelm what God's explicit commands say. I could say tons about that. I could say that we might be looking for a new word from God, but we haven't done anything to obey the old word. I could say a bunch about that, but I'm not going to say any of that. I'm not going to say any of that.
So He finally gets through to Gideon, and look at what happens, this is amazing, in verse 16. "So dividing the three hundred men into three companies, he placed trumpets and empty jars in the hands of all of them," I love this, "With torches inside. 'Watch me,' he told them. 'Follow my lead. When I get to the edge of the camp, do exactly as I do. When I and all who are with me blow our trumpets, then from all around the camp, blow yours and shout, 'For the Lord, and for Gideon!' Gideon and the hundred men with him reached the edge of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just after they had changed the guard. They blew their trumpets and broke the jars that were in their hands, and the three companies blew the trumpets and smashed the jars. Grasping the torches in their left hands, and holding in their right hands the trumpets they were to blow, they shouted, 'A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!'
While each man held his position around the camp, all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled, and when the three hundred trumpets sounded, the Lord caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords." They start to just devastate themselves. And then the army fled to a whole bunch of places I don't feel comfortable pronouncing in church. All right, so...
Hebrew's a tough language, all right? This is incredible to me. Israel wins this battle with their sword on their hip. Have you ever heard of that happening? I mean, surprise attacks fail all the time, so we can't just chock it up to that. They win this battle with their sword on their hip. You know how I know that? Because what does it say? It says they've got their torches in the jar, like the first ever Molotov cocktail right here, okay? Torch inside of this jar in the left hand, and the trumpet in the right hand. Which hand is free for the sword? None. It didn't matter, because God had already delivered the Midianites into their hands. So they smashed the jars, they blow the trumpets, they freak everybody out, the army ends up turning on themselves. It's in the pitch black. Have you ever been woken up by a strange sound and you're delirious for at least five minutes?
I remember when I first moved into the house that we live in. I lived there alone for a year, and I moved in Halloween night, 2009. Looking back, that was unwise, and I'm not a superstitious person. I don't get freaked out by that stuff, but when you move into a home that was built in 1939, and it's got creaks and groans and wall sounds that you're just not familiar with, I don't think I slept at all that night, because every single err, I'm just like that. I laid in bed. Okay, if I don't move, then the killer can't find me. All right? You know, so I'm fine, right?
But you hear a sound and you're convinced it's something way worse than it is, and so you're just delirious for the first five minutes, right? That's exactly what's going on. Imagine you're asleep, and you're already afraid because God has already instilled fear in your heart as a Midianite. You're already afraid that you're going to lose, and the scholars estimate that the army of the Midianites was well over 100,000. There's reasons for that, and so this is a big, big army. You're already afraid, and you wake up to the sound of crashing pottery and you see flames, and you hear a whirlwind of trumpets all around you. I mean, you're just going to start swinging. That's going to be a bloodbath. That's exactly what happened.
Any of them that made it out of there, they flee and the army tracks them down, and the record tells us later on ... I won't read it to you, but it says that they subdued Midian, and Midian never raised their head again against the Israelites, and the land of Israel experienced 40 years of peace under Gideon. God did this amazing, amazing thing in their midst.
But why this story? Why this miracle? Why does God do this through Gideon? The writer of Hebrews tells us this ... Gives us this very brief explanation that is so important. "And what more shall I say? I don't have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah, from the period of the Judges, and David and Samuel and the prophets who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised, who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword, whose weakness was turned to strength, and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign enemies."
Why do we see Gideon's story? Why is this story in our series? Not so that we will copy and paste Gideon's testing. Not so that we'll toss out a fleece. Don't put out your fleece, but rather trust in God's faithfulness, that He can do more, in fact, He will do more through a willing vessel than a resistant vessel. God will always do more through a willing vessel than through a resistant vessel, no matter how weak, no matter how weak they are. That's because we want to see what God can do through our weakness, and turn it into strength. That's what the writer of Hebrews said, and so Gideon became a vessel for God's power to be seen and on display.
That's exactly what the apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians chapter 12. Look at this, this is incredible. "But Jesus said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, Paul. For my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
Don't settle for a fleece-tossing faith. Don't settle for the lowest common denominator, because I don't want you to look at Gideon and say, "Phew, that's all that's expected of me," as if this is the basement level of faith, where God gives him confirmation after confirmation after sign after sign after statement after statement. I will be with you. I will be with you. I will be with you. That's not why I want you to see that. I want you to see this story so that you can start to ask the question, "What might God do through my life fully surrendered to Him? If God can do that through Gideon, what might He do through my life, fully surrendered to Him?"
So when Paul says, "When I am weak, then I am strong," he's not just talking about mind over matter. He's not just saying speak it into the universe and it will come to existence. No, he's saying, "It matters what you do with your weakness." It matters what you do with your weakness, because if you wallow in your weakness like Gideon did, Israel is nothing. My clan is nothing. I'm nothing. Good luck, God. How could you do anything out of nothing?
If you wallow in it, you'll never see God's activity on display in your life. But if you surrender that weakness to Him, when you are weak, then you will become strong, whose weakness is turned into strength. Paul said this, because this is played out in the body of Christ over and over and over again. This is amazing. This is what he said.
"Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were influential, not many were of noble birth, but God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things, and the things that are not, literally do not exist, to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him. It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God, that is our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord. It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus."
How did you come to faith? How did you find Christ? I'll tell you. Paul just did. It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus. He delivered you and delivered me out of our own path of self-destruction. He delivered us out of the oppressive pit of our own sin so that we wouldn't be able to take credit for it, but rather so that we would see His glory on display, and not just that, but when He brings these weak, yet available vessels into His kingdom, they become useful vessels for His glory to be seen in the world. This is incredible that God does this for us, and that He brings us to Himself. So, trust Him. Just trust Him.
But it's difficult for us to trust Him when there are a few things at play. Here's the first. It's difficult for us to trust Him when you have selective memory. It's difficult to trust Him when you have selective memory. Remember, Gideon said, basically, what have you done for me lately, God? What have you done for us lately, God? He kind of was having this selective memory. Yeah, I know you did some miracles way back then, way back in the time of our ancestors. First of all, he's neglecting all that just happened in the life of Deborah the judge who was just 40 years earlier. He's neglecting all of those miracles. He's just leapfrogging over it to go back.
What have you done for me lately, God? Not just that, but remember he's neglecting his own part in that, that the nation as a whole had sinned. He ignored their sin. That's why it's so important that we must document God's activity, and regularly revisit those faith-building moments in our lives, those milestones in our faith journey, so that we will continually leave spiritual breadcrumbs for ourselves when we start to question, that we will know exactly how to trace our way back through God's faithfulness. That's why that's so important. That's why we gave out these journals. This is mine. That's why we gave out these journals, and whether you use it or not is not really the point, but whether you do this or not, is.
So this morning as I was just preparing to come out here ... Every time I'm about to speak, people say, "Do you get nervous anymore?" I do get nervous, for this reason, because I have nothing that I could possibly say that you need. I have nothing. And so sometimes I'm teetering on the edge of, "God, I don't know how you're going to do this." So I pulled out my spiritual formation journal, and on January 8th, so thankful for what God had showed me here, because I wrote a prayer of commitment to start this year ... and I had forgotten that I wrote this. Two months. I had forgotten.
I said, maybe, maybe I can read this. "God, I want to be your man. I want to be useful in your kingdom. I want to strike fear in the enemy's camp because of how fully surrendered I am to you." And then I included this quote from D.L. Moody ... that I forgot. "It remains to be seen what God can do through one life completely surrendered to Him, and by God's grace, I want to be that man."
And then I wrote this: "To guard me from my own arrogance and my pride, help me Lord, to see my own inability to make anything of eternal consequence happen apart from you. Without Jesus, I am nothing, have nothing, and can do nothing, and that is a wasted life if it is lived without Jesus. So make me new, Lord, even as you have already begun to do so, I need you. Not just this moment, not just this week, not just this year, but always."
You see, when you write down what God is saying to you, you leave a written record for yourself to remind yourself of this: God's faithfulness is forever. He never runs out of faithfulness, and when you revisit those things, it guards you from a selective memory. You know what? It's easier to trust Him when you remind yourself of what He said. So it's difficult to trust Him when you have selective memory. Second, I gotta move quick. It's difficult to trust Him when you have accommodated idols. It's difficult to trust Him when you have accommodated idols.
You say, "Jonathan, we don't have any shrines in our home. We haven't turned the linen closet into an altar to Baal or anything like that." I get it. But you know what's so important about Gideon? His mission didn't start on the battlefield, it started in his own house. You see, a part of the story that we didn't read earlier from Judges chapter six, look at what God tells Gideon.
"That same night, the Lord said to him, 'Take the second bull from your father's herd, the one that's seven years old. Tear down your father's altar to Baal, and cut down the Asherah pole beside it. Then build a proper kind of altar to the Lord your God on the top of this height, using the wood of the Asherah pole that you cut down. Offer that bull as a burnt offering.' So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the Lord told him."
This is so huge. A seven year old bull as a sacrifice. One year for every one that they were under the Midianite oppression. This is a sacrifice of repentance. We're coming clean before God and saying, "We're getting rid of all of the idols. We're cleaning house, because God, we want to be useful to you. We want to trust and obey you."
You know the name Gideon literally means to chop or to hack down. So God says to Gideon, "I want you to live up to your name. I want you to cut down those idols. Hack them to pieces. Even take the wood, and use it to build. I want you to become a craftsman right here, and you're going to build an altar, a proper altar, to the Lord your God right here, before you ever go into battle."
It's difficult to trust Him when you've got the idol still upright. It's difficult to trust Him when there's idols lobbying for the throne of your heart. It's difficult to trust Him when you're allowing the message of a culture that is set up to oppose God, to oppose upon your heart a value system that deviates from God's word. It's hard to believe God at His word when He says to do what He says to do, when you've allowed another narrative to infiltrate your heart. Cut down the idols. Get rid. Clean house, and build a proper altar in your heart to the Lord.
And then the last thing. It's difficult to trust Him when you wait for a sign before you obey. It's difficult to trust Him when you wait for a sign before you obey. That's why I say don't put out your fleece, because here's the thing, how many times does God have to say, "I will be with you," in order for it to be true? One time. How many times does God have to say, "I will be with you," in order for it to be true? One time. How many times does God have to say that to Gideon before he believes it? How many times does God have to say that to us before we believe it?
Or do we come and say, "God, if you're really God, then you'll do A, B, C, and D, and then I'll know." You've already got confirmation. Jesus has told you, "I will never leave you. I will never forsake you. I will never abandon you. I am with you always, to the end of the age." You don't have to wait for a sign, but if you're waiting for a sign to obey, you might be waiting a while.
So this is a real world scenario that has played out in my life. So you're dating a person who has not built their life on Jesus, and so you say to God, "God, if it's not meant to be, don't let me fall in love with that person." If it weren't true, it'd be funny. And what happens? You develop feelings of affection to that person, and you say, "Well, if God didn't want it to happen, He would have stopped it." Overriding any explicit command that God has said about a person who has built their life on Christ, not to yoke themselves under that same yoke with a person who has not built their life on Christ, because God has something better for your marriage than that. And yet we put it in God's camp as if it's His fault.
Or maybe this one. If that's too close to home, I'll come a little closer. "God, if you give me a raise, then I'll be a giver." I want you to like me, I do, but I want you to hear this more. I'll be a giver. If you give me a raise, I'll be a giver. So we hear about a five year vision last Sunday, about God inviting us into His activity through this local church. God, if you give me a raise, I'll be a giver. But you know what's amazing? One of two things will happen, because I've had this conversation as well with people. One, you don't get a raise, and so you say, "Well, then God doesn't want me to be a giver." Or you get the raise, and then you remember, I really should be paying off that student loan that I haven't cared about for nine and a half years. Or my car really does need an upgrade.
God if you want me to ... So then you re-up the prayer. "God, if you want me to be a giver, I'll need another raise." If you're waiting for a sign to obey, you're waiting for the wrong thing. I could say more, but maybe one last one.
"God, if you want them to hear the gospel, I'm just going to wait for you to provide the perfect opportunity for that to happen." Let's examine that prayer real quick. "God, if you want them to hear the gospel..." Is that really a prayer? Can we acknowledge that God wants every man, every woman, and every child to hear and see the gospel of Jesus Christ?
That's the starting point. We know that, so the question is not, "God if you want them to hear it then I'm going to need you to orchestrate all the circumstances." So maybe your faith step is not to toss out a fleece, but maybe to start by saying, "God, I know this is what you want, so will you sensitize my heart to the people around me who need you most, so that I will be ready and willing as your vessel, that in my weakness, I have nothing to give to them, but you can turn my weakness into strength, and that I can open up my mouth and declare, 'Hey, why don't you come with me on Easter Sunday at my church. If you don't have anywhere else to be, maybe you'd come with me on Easter Sunday, and I'd be glad to sit with you and walk in with you. It's a strange place. It's brand new, there's a lot of people you don't know. I'll sit with you." Why don't you do that?
See, we say often, and Pastor Jerry has said this as long as I can remember, and I'm so thankful for this word: "Lord, my yes is on the table before you ask the question." I love that. Listen, you can't have your yes on the table while you're holding a fleece in your hand. If you're waiting for a sign for Him to tell you it's time to obey, then your yes really isn't off the table, so stop saying that it is.
If your yes is on the table, there's no fleece in your hand, because the answer is yes before Jesus asks the question, and when we come to God, we're not approaching an equal as if we can enter into a divine negotiation about what I will or will not obey, but instead Jesus, because you delivered me, you bought my life at a price, and that price was your blood, and so therefore, I belong to you, and because of that, and that alone, even if you never demonstrate your power in my life another second, even if I never see another act or miracle in my life, you have done enough at the cross to deserve my trust, and I will obey you forever.