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Judges 7.1-24 Faithful Odds

June 17, 2012 Series: Judges | {Un}Faithful (Part 1 of 2)

Topic: Old Testament Passage: Judges 7:1–7:24

Judges 7- Faithful Odds from Damascus Road Church on Vimeo.

Intro: Danger of Clarity
Last week, we read how Gideon tested God’s faithfulness. Now, we see God test Gideon’s. God declares that Gideon (in all his weakness and fear) is the man for the job, proclaims that he is going to save Israel, inspires him to tear down idols in his family’s back yard, helps him raise an army, and then twice gives him divine proof that he will defeat the Midianite army. Filled with all the confidence in the world, Gideon boldly leads his 32,000 man army to camp just south of the Midianite mob. This is only the first step in helping Gideon have faith—the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11.1). Just as the fears of WHAT God says he will do fall away, new fears about HOW he plans to do it rise.

God often gives us a WHAT, but he rarely gives us a HOW. And even he did, some of his HOWS would make us laugh, some might scare us, but ALL of them would make us trust Him more. Because of sin, men are prone to trust themselves. And sadly, when we begin to do what God says and receive reassurance—whether that big signs, big crowds, or big movement—we can often become less in love with God and more in love with ourselves. Men’s hearts have the sinful tendency to find hope in or attribute all success to their own awesomeness—be it their wisdom, their strength, or their resources. God knows that men are unfaithful; He knows the same blessed reassurance that takes away the fear and self-pity has the potential to drive a man toward pride and self-confidence. And God never wants us so confident, so wise, so strong, or so successful that we are no longer desperate for our LORD.

V. 1-2 Lord’s Confidence
To accomplish this, God fulfills his promises in ways we don’t expect—to remind us of how weak we are. As one pastor wrote “[Weakness] does not mean you are a glob of spiritual jello that flops at God’s feet; it doesn’t mean you whine a lot, or that you look pale or have the flu. You may not feel weak at all. It has little to do with what you feel. You do not feel weak; you ARE weak, that is, you are stripped of all human resources and are forced to lean upon God alone.” (Ralph Davis) God launches his big mission by making Gideon and his people smaller. 2 The Lord said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’

God is in the business of destroying “self” boasting/confidence. Such statements rail against our culture that’s devoted to the mantra of “self-esteem” and fierce independence. The alternative is not self-hatred and shame; that only leads one to seek out approval in what others say or feel about them. The biblical alternative is self-denial where we find absolute zero our confidence in flesh and all of our strength in knowing God. Jeremiah 9.23-24 23 … “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” … This kind of mentality changes the very way we see and experience life. Boasting in Him means we trust in what we know about Him infinitely more than what we know about our circumstances.

V. 3-8 Lord’s Pruning
He wants to bring his children to a point where they will either TRUST GOD with EVERYTHING or nothing. To do that, he will remove whatever else giving us more security than him—relationship, money, job, even our health. It’s called pruning—a part of faith. John 15. 1-2“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. When we are most healthy, most assured, most confident, most passionate…God cuts us back. And when he does, it’s painful, it’s ugly, and it’s shocking—but it is that we might become more fruitful. God begins to prune Gideon by pruning his army.

Before the battle, Gideon has 32,000 men and the Midianite army is around 135,000—4:1 odds. God slowly peels away any self-security by taking his army of 32,000 down to 300—taking the odds to 450:1. We always think MORE is the solution to most of our problems—more time, more money, more friends, more stuff. God wants to give us more too—more suffering, more poverty, more pain, more stress, more work, because he ultimately wants to give us MORE faith. And I believe that faith is built in no better place than when you are on mission.

The first pruning comes through a very pragmatic process. He sends the cowards home. This was actually allowable through the laws of warfare God gave in the book of Deuteronomy. Deut. 20.8 8 And the officers shall speak further to the people, and say, ‘Is there any man who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go back to his house, lest he make the heart of his fellows melt like his own. Sometimes God makes us “weaker” in ways that we can almost understand—they make sense. Even though God takes away a few things, we reason in our minds how that will in fact probably make us stronger. And though it is subtle, our peace comes more from our ability to understand what God is doing intellectually, and not necessarily because of our faith in him. Gideon’s announcement results in 63% of his force leaving—22,000 troops return to their tents and 10,000 remain—13:1odds.

The second pruning is a bit more terrifying for Gideon in that, it makes absolute no sense at all. God tests them by taking them down the water. 300 men lap with their tongues, laying completely down on their bellies like dogs. 9,700 men kneel down and drink with their hands. God chooses the 300 and sets the stage for the battle of the dogmen vs. the locust men. Many commentators have revealed the same condition that Gideon suffered from—trying to find a way to explain God’s methods in a way that makes sense to them intellectually. They explain how God choose the 300 men who lapped like dogs because they were quick slurpers ready to fight, while the kneelers took their time and drank their fill. But the bottom line is that any attempt at an explanation takes away from what is really happening here – God is elected according to his purposes, by his choice, for reasons known only to him to build faith.

v. 9-14 Lord’s Reassurance
With his army winnowed down from 32,000 down to 300—taking the odds to 450:1—Gideon is again fearful. And I believe that faith is built in no better place than when you are on mission—when you are going, serving, sacrificing, and following Christ in ways and into places that stretch you. When was the last time God told you to do something you knew you were too weak to accomplish without him? Gideon is being silently stretched. And God, in all of his grace, offers a sign to reassure him—just because God tells us not to ask for signs, doesn’t mean he never gives them. 9 That same night the Lord said to him, “Arise, go down against the camp, for I have given it into your hand. 10 But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant. Confirming that he has fearfully filled his shorts as this point, Gideon and his servant sneak into the Midianite camp. And the first thing Gideon sees is a reminder of his weakness—the overwhelming size of the people, described as “sands on the seashore.” Then, the narrative turns to what Gideon “just happens” to hear, namely, a conversation between two men about a dream; one gives the dream and the other the interpretation. In summary, one man dreams that a solitary loaf of bread rolls into the camp and flattens the commander’s tent. And his pagan friend, interprets the dream as proof that the man named Gideon will conquer them. And whatever myriad of symbolic explanation we might glean from this image, on a simple level, you oven-baked barley bringing down an army—the weak destroying the strong. The dream still does not reveal that HOW of it all. But WHAT is said (exactly what he needed to hear), WHEN it is said (exactly when God said to listen), and WHO says it (exactly who should never been saying it) finally brings Gideon the point of genuine belief. Gideon’s lack of experience, the odds, and the circumstances have not changed—God has simply changed Gideon’s heart evidence by the fact that he worships (no band, no songs, no flags). He worships before the victory. He worships in his weakness knowing that is where God’s strength is fully displayed.

v.15-23 Lord’s Battle
Gideon returns to his camp and gets his men ready for battle. “Solidiers” ready themselves by strapping a trumpet around their waste, a torch in their left hand, and an empty jar in the other. No swords. Much like Shamgar, Gideon uses what he has to do what he can trusting God is the one who saves. He tells his men to follow his lead when they come to the outskirts of the camp. The scene reminds me of the battle of Jericho, or the time when the Egyptian army bore down on the beaches of the Red Sea terrified Israelites before God parted it: 13 And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” (Exodus 14.13).

Gideon divides the men into three companies of 100. And, somewhere between 10:00PM and 2:00AM, just as everyone is in a nice deep sleep, they attack. 19 So Gideon and the hundred men who were with him came to the outskirts of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, when they had just set the watch. And they blew the trumpets and smashed the jars that were in their hands. 20 Then the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the jars. They held in their left hands the torches, and in their right hands the trumpets to blow. And they cried out, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” 21 Every man stood in his place around the camp, and all the army ran. They cried out and fled. 22 When they blew the 300 trumpets, the Lord set every man’s sword against his comrade and against all the army. They blow the trumpets, smash the jars, reveal the light of their torches, and use the only sword they have—God’s Word. Then v. 21 says they stood still…as the Midianites killed each other then ran away. The victory belongs the Lord and God’s people are called out to mop up after Him, probably using the swords of the people who had killed each other by the power of God. The Lord saves—and we are at best, a clean-up crew chosen to enjoy the fruit of God’s labor.

v. 24-25 The Conclusion and the Aftermath
24 Gideon sent messengers throughout all the hill country of Ephraim, saying, “Come down against the Midianites and capture the waters against them, as far as Beth-barah, and also the Jordan.” So all the men of Ephraim were called out, and they captured the waters as far as Beth-barah, and also the Jordan. 25 And they captured the two princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. They killed Oreb at the rock of Oreb, and Zeeb they killed at the winepress of Zeeb. Then they pursued Midian, and they brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon across the Jordan. At one point, Israel hid from their enemies in rocky caves, now they’ve killed their enemy on a rock. At one point, Gideon was a cynical weakling hiding in a winepress, now he’s a victorious general who killed his enemy in a winepress. We are foolish, and God is wise. We are weak, and God is strong. We can’t do the impossible, but with God all things are possible. And though God gives, he often takes away. Though we are blessed with skills, gifts, talents, and resources, he will make us weak, less secure, even fearful because never wants us so wise, so strong, or so successful that we are no longer desperate for Him.

Appreciating what God takes away (or hasn’t given us) is certainly not the culture’s receipt to finding true joy—but it is the very example that we have in Jesus. As Tim Keller rightly says, Jesus won our salvation through losing. He became powerful through weakness. He became wealthy through giving everything away. Those who desire and receive salvation are not the strong and accomplished, but those who admit they are weak and lost. And faith in Christ may not change our odds or situation but, without question, it changes our perspective, attitude, and actions within those circumstances. Our desire to have more _____________ or less ______________ is transformed into more of Jesus and less of me (John 3.30). We become people who worship in our weaknesses knowing that is where God’s strength is fully displayed….as we walk.

2Corinthians 12.7-97 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

More in Judges | {Un}Faithful (Part 1 of 2)

July 1, 2012

Judges 9:1-57 {Un}Faithful Rule

June 24, 2012

Judges 8.1-35 {Un}Faithful Zeal

June 10, 2012

Judges 6.33-40 {Un}Faithful Test