What makes a MAN? Perhaps you’ve seen the ad “Fully loaded man” . It’s for Campbell’s Fully Loaded. If this ad’s RIGHT, then whatever it is that makes a man comes out of a can of chunky casserole. But can you REALLY get power and courage and manhood out of a can? What makes a man?
Sure, the ad is meant to be a PARODY. To poke fun at all those stereotypical beer ads. Or aftershave ads. But we laugh because it’s not really that different from what the media and the rest of society believe. A REAL man has to be brave and independent. He has to stand up for himself, bow to no one, show no sign of weakness, and never admit defeat.
But what does Judges say in this story of Gideon? What’s a REAL MAN? On the SURFACE, A REAL MAN like THAT is just what’s needed to rescue Israel. But that’s not what we get in Gideon – at least at the beginning.
Like when he first meets the angel. The angel calls him a MIGHTY WARRIOR. But then Gideon goes on to doubt it. (6:15)
15 “But Lord,” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the WEAKEST in Manasseh, and I am the LEAST in my family.” 16 The LORD answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.”
And that’s the key, I reckon. He’s a REAL MAN – a MIGHTY WARRIOR – because God’s WITH HIM. Everything else is irrelevant. In fact, it can be a PROBLEM if it makes a man trust HIMSELF. Which is what us men like to do. What do they say? Real men never ask directions, or read instructions!”
So what’s a real man? Here’s the definition: REAL MEN WITH REAL POWER RECOGNISE THEIR WEAKNESS, AND DO THINGS GOD’S WAY IN HIS STRENGTH.
You can see it summed up nicely at the start of Ch 7. Gideon’s assembled a mighty army. But God says it’s not about the number of spears. Ch 7 v2
2 The LORD said to Gideon, “You have TOO MANY MEN for ME to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her,
And then God tells Gideon to send most of them home. But we’ll get to that in a few moments. But the point is/ when it comes to fighting God’s battles/ when things are all going SMOOTHLY, when you’ve got the upper hand, when you’re in your comfort zone, it’s too easy to trust your own strength, rather than God’s.
And the problem with your own strength, Is that it’s not really that strong and trustworthy ANYWAY. No different whether it’s physical strength, or ability, or intelligence, or planning, or words, or education. They’re not really that trustworthy ANYWAY. They can’t REALLY change all that MUCH. And they can be gone in an instant.
And so God MUCH prefers to work with people who KNOW they’re weak. And who look to HIM as their strength.
The Psalmist puts it like this in Ps 33.
16 No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. 17 A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save. 18 But the eyes of the LORD are on those who FEAR HIM, on those whose HOPE is in his UNFAILING LOVE, 19 to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine. 20 We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. 21 IN HIM our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.
The Psalmist had learned the lesson, but not Gideon. So let’s see what HE learns.
Mighty warrior? (6:12)
Ch 6 begins in a very familiar way. “Again Israel did evil in the eyes of the LORD, and for 7 years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites.’
The Midianites would wait until harvest time, then swarm across the land like a bunch of teenagers descending on the kitchen before dinner. They’d take whatever they could find, return home at the end of the harvest. And leave Israel in famine.
And in v11, we see ONE such Israelite. And he gets a visitor, not from Midian, but from heaven itself. An angel comes and sits under a tree. And he’s watching young Gideon threshing wheat in a winepress.
Which isn’t the most OBVIOUS or EFFICIENT place to thresh wheat. You really need an OPEN place, where the WIND can catch the chaff, and leave the grain behind.
But there’s not much wind in the bottom of a winepress. But it IS hidden, so the Midianites can’t see you, and you stand a chance of producing enough grain to feed your family.
And as the angel watches Gideon, hiding in the bottom of a winepress, he greets him (v12), “The LORD is WITH you, MIGHTY WARRIOR!”
And Gideon can see the irony of the greeting. After all, it hardly LOOKED like God was with him. Under the oppression of the Midianites, hardly able to put bread on the table. And then there’s Gideon himself –hardly the mighty warrior, hiding in the bottom of a winepress.
But the angel can see more than what’s VISIBLE v14.
“Go in the STRENGTH YOU HAVE and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. AM I NOT SENDING YOU?”
You’ve got strength you don’t even KNOW about. I’m SENDING you.
But Gideon can’t see past his knocking knees and the top of the winepress.
15 “But Lord,” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”
On the surface, he seems the LEAST likely choice to God’s rescuer. It’s nothing more than a cruel JOKE to call him a mighty warrior.
I will be with you (6:16)
But here’s God’s answer. The only strength Gideon will need.
16 The LORD answered, “I WILL BE WITH YOU, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.”
Just think about those few words for a moment. I WILL BE WITH YOU. Is there possibly a promise that packs a greater punch than that? Isn’t that ENOUGH to see you through just about anything?
Surgery? I will be with you
Unemployment? I will be with you
Loneliness? I will be with you
Wayward children? I will be with you
Fear? I will be with you
DEATH? I will be with you
It’s a huge promise. And Gideon is taking some time to get his head around it. V17 Give me a sign it’s really YOU GOD! So he bakes the angel a nice meal, which the angel promptly touches with his staff, it bursts into flame, and the angel disappears.
Not the FIRST time God’s prepared to bolster Gideon’s confidence. But then he’s got a JOB for him to do. Gideon gets some servants together. Then pulls down his father’s altar to Baal, and the Asherah pole as well. Then he uses the stones and the firewood to sacrifice a bull. Perhaps there’s a mighty warrior in Gideon yet! Admittedly it was at NIGHT, but God didn’t tell him WHEN to do it.
And when the townspeople find out it was Gideon, and they front up to his house, his Dad shoos them away with some logic that’s hard to argue with. V31. “Let Baal take his own revenge.
If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar.”
Which, of course, he DOESN’T, because he’s only a lump of STONE. And Gideon gets a new nickname Jerub-Baal – “let Baal contend”. Sort of like one of those wrestling names – the ROCK, Stormbreaker, The CRUSHER.
The sort of name for a REAL MAN. But it’s only because he’s TRUSTING GOD, and doing things HIS WAY. He’s the sort of man who just might be a match for the Midianites.
The Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon (6:34)
And when the Midianites begin their annual shopping expedition, v33, they cross over the Jordan River, and set up camp.
And here comes Gideon v34
34 Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him.
God’s SAID he’d be with Gideon. And that’s how it WAS. His Spirit filled him, and strengthened him, and guided him. And Gideon assembled Israelite soldiers from all over the land.
But once again, it doesn’t seem to be enough. And Gideon has to TEST God. TWICE. “Prove it”, he says, v36. “If you WILL save Israel by my hand as you’ve promised. Then PROVE it.” And next morning, the fleece is wet while the ground is dry. And then again, next morning, the fleece is dry and the ground is wet.
And yet, God doesn’t seem to MIND proving himself. Because at least Gideon recognises that without God he doesn’t stand a chance. At least at THIS stage, Gideon’s hope is COMPLETELY on God. Which is exactly where God WANTS Gideon leaning. On the solid rock. All other ground is sinking sand.
Lest Israel may boast that her own strength has saved her (7:2)
Into ch 7, and now it’s Israel’s turn. THEY have to learn to trust God alone. 32,000 men assemble. But that’s too MANY for God. V2. The words we read earlier.
You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her, 3 announce now to the people, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.'”
And two thirds immediately pack their bags and head home. But it’s STILL too many. So God tells Gideon to take them down to the water. When they drink, split them into two groups: those who get down on their knees and drink, and those who scoop up the water with their hand, and drink.
And when there’s only 300 scoopers, they get to stay, and the rest are sent home. It’s like Biggest Loser, or Master Chef.
300 is just the right number for GOD to save Israel. So few, they can’t POSSIBLY claim the victory as theirs.
I will give them into your hands (7:9)
Perhaps that night Gideon started to have second thoughts as he looked around the campfire at the tiny band of soldiers who were left. Because God had ONE MORE proof for him. V9. “Go and eavesdrop on the enemy soldiers, because I will give them into your hands. It won’t BE you, it’s all about ME. So stop doing your sums, counting your pennies, measuring up, or sweating bullets.”
And God’s happy to reassure US TOO, when we’re tempted to look at OUR resources, instead of him. To look at our empty wallets, or X-rays, or loneliness, or confusion, or sorrow.
“Keep your eyes on ME. It’s not about YOU. It’s MY strength, MY plans, MY victory., MY glory.”
(PAUSE) So Gideon and his servant head off. And as they wandered down the hill, this is what they saw. V12.
12 The Midianites, the Amalekites and all the other eastern peoples had settled in the valley, thick as locusts. Their camels could no more be counted than the sand on the seashore.
Great! Thinks Gideon. Some encouragement THIS is!
But God’s got something else in mind. They overhear one soldier telling a friend his dream about how God will give the Midianites into the hand of Gideon.
Once again, God cares enough to strengthen his servants when their faith is failing. He’s used an angel and BBQ’ed food, he’s used wet sheepskins, and DRY sheepskins. And now he uses a foreign army private and his strange dream.
The plan (v16)
And it WORKS – Gideon’s faith is strengthened. He rejoices, worships God, QUIETLY. Tiptoes up the hill, wakes up his soldiers and puts his plan into action. Confident GOD will give them victory. WHATEVER his HUMAN resources are. V16.
16 Dividing the three hundred men into three companies, he placed trumpets and empty jars in the hands of ALL OF THEM, with torches inside.
Normally there’d be one torch and one trumpet per COMPANY. A means of signalling each other before walkie-talkies. So, with three hundred torches and trumpets, the small band would look like THOUSANDS.
Which is exactly what happened. At Gideon’s command, they all blew their trumpets, smashed their jars, filling the night with hundreds of bright fires. Then all yelled at the tops of their voices. “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!”
Now, it can be quite disorienting to be woken up from a dead sleep. It happened to us the other night. Our car alarm went off for some reason at 4 am. I was dreaming about something. I stumbled up and walked into the wardrobe door. Caron actually said she included the alarm into her dream before she woke up.
And the Midian soldiers were completely disoriented TOO. V21.
21 While each man held his position around the camp, all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled. 22 When the three hundred trumpets sounded, the LORD caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords.
It might have been GIDEON’S plan, but it was GOD who brought the victory. And it was Gideon who TRUSTED him.
Who’s the King? (8-9)
But as we move into ch 8, the tone starts to change. The Israelite soldiers chase the Midianites all the way back across the Jordan, and there’s an ambush that finishes off thousands more.
And God, who’d been the main player so far, almost disappears from view.
In fact, the only mention He gets, is on the lips of Gideon. Who SAYS God will give the foreign kings into his hand. And who SAYS that only God will rule over Israel.
But it seems to be something DIFFERENT. It seems that, rather than following GOD’s agenda, Gideon’s got a PERSONAL agenda that’s driving the chase. He wants REVENGE. And it seems like God hasn’t even been consulted.
Down in v18, he captures the kings, interrogates them and finds out that they’ve killed his brothers. Which he’d suspected all along.
And we get this interesting little interaction about what makes a MAN. Gideon commands his young son to kill the kings, perhaps to make a MAN out of him. But that just causes the kings to ridicule him. What sort of a MAN are you? Have to get your children to do your dirty work for you? V21.
“Come, do it yourself. ‘As is the man, so is his strength.'” So Gideon stepped forward and killed them, and took the ornaments off their camels’ necks.
But that’s not what MAKES A MAN. Not in GOD’s sight anyway. Is he becoming MORE of a man, or LESS?
Is this Gideon stepping back from trusting God’s strength? Is this Gideon taking what THE WORLD says being a man is about? What you need to be powerful and successful?
(pause) It seems to have made an impression with the ISRAELITES at least. Because they want to make him KING. Up until now, there’s been no question that God is the king. He’s the one who raises up Gideon, equips him, clothes him with his Spirit, guides him, and wins the victory with him.
But now we need to ask the question, “Who’s the king after all?”
Gideon replies (v23)
23 But Gideon told them, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The LORD will rule over you.”
That’s what he SAYS. But he sends a different message with his ACTIONS.
First up, he gets all the soldiers to chip in a gold earring. And then Gideon makes it all into a golden ephod. That’s the chest piece the high priest would wear. And he’d use it to carry the urim and thummim, something like two dice that would be used to work out God’s will.
And Gideon took it back to his town. Perhaps Gideon just wanted to know whether God was WITH him or not. Like he’d known before. But whatever the reason, it was A TRAGEDY. Because the people treated it like another god. An idol to worship. V27.
All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family.
God had made sure the people couldn’t take credit for their victory themselves. Sent most of the soldiers home. But instead of honouring the one who HAD won the victory, they turned to yet another lifeless powerless idol.
Gideon had gone from the humble, young farmer who DESTROYED idols and altars. To the proud, ruthless ruler who BUILDS idols.
(pause) The SECOND thing that suggests Gideon wanted to be king is down in v29. He sets himself up with lots of wives and has 70 children – just like a king. He even has a concubine, and the son he has with her he calls Abimelech. Which means MY FATHER IS KING.
And ch 9 tells the story about HIS ruthlessness in wanting the crown.
(pause) So, where do we see the REAL man? Was it EARLY Gideon who doubted himself, but trusted God? Or was it LATER Gideon, battle-hardened, brutal and ruthless. The Gideon who didn’t seem to consult God, who follow HIS agenda rather than God’s. And who, ultimately led Israel astray?
That’s the REAL man. The STRONG man of faith. Who recognises his own weakness. Who casts himself completely into God’s hands. To be used by him.
Paul put it this way in 2 Cor 12:9. God said to him.
“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. 10 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.
That’s the attitude God can use. Will that be YOURS?
For the most part, that was Gideon’s attitude. There is so much good about Gideon, yet ultimately he FAILED. Like ALL leaders of God’s people do.
Remember that, would you? Those of us who lead DO fail. We DO doubt. We do wonder whether we’ve got the ability or strength to do what God wants.
Some time, we WILL disappoint you. Don’t be surprised when we do. Pray for us that we WON’T. But don’t be surprised.
There’s only ONE leader of God’s people who will NEVER disappoint you. God’s ultimate, perfect king. The TRUE Saviour, who Gideon and all the other Judges foreshadow.
Look to HIM. He’ll never frustrate or let you down. Heb 4:14-16
14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-YET WAS WITHOUT SIN. 16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Our confidence comes from what Jesus has done. Not us. Trust HIM – that’s what REAL MEN AND WOMEN do.
Finally Heb 12:1-3
Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.