Coward, Catalyst & Conqueror

The Bible itself is full of imperfect people, isn’t it? Scripture isn’t exactly what you’d call a list of “Who’s Who in Purity, Sainthood or Perfect Christianity.” In fact, many of their antics and attitudes would make you think of the Saturday night crowd at the local nightclub, rather than the Sunday morning church crowd.

What few halos there are among them could probably use a bit of straightening and polish. As strange as it may seem, it is this very humanness that makes them refreshing. They may have had flaws of biblical proportions, but thankfully God uses imperfect people.

No books in the bible shows us this better than the book of Judges. Judges is set shortly after the conquest of Canaan. Moses and Joshua are both dead and buried. The great kings like Saul, David, and Solomon are yet to be born. The Bible describes the situation like this: “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6).

Unfortunately, it seems most of them were a little blind. Without strong, stable leadership, Israel went astray. They started worshiping false gods, joining in with the pagan practices of the surrounding Canaanites, and indulging in every kind of immortality imaginable.  So in order to prod them back to himself, God allowed Israel’s enemies to overcome them.

When the oppression became too much, Israel would cry out to God for help and God would raise up a hero, a champion to lead the people to victory and spiritual renewal. These spiritual, military leaders were called judges. When you need a reminder of God’s tolerance and love, you’ll find it in the book of Judges.

If you ever wonder how in the world God could use you to change the world or make a difference, look at these people—flawed people in the hands of a flawless God. We can find our stories in theirs.

We find our hope where they found theirs—in the hands of God. Today I want to look at Gideon..Gideon isn’t the first of the judges, but in reflecting on my call to church I see a lot of myself in Gideon. Gideon’s story takes place in Judges 6, the first verse of which says, “The Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight,So the Lord handed them over to the Midianites for seven years. The Midianites were so cruel that the Israelites made hiding places for themselves in the mountains, caves, and strongholds.” (Judges 6:1-2 NLT).

The Midianites were a nomadic tribe that would wait until the Israelites had harvested their crops and raised their cattle, and then swoop down and raid their farms—stealing what they could and destroying the rest.

And, after seven years, when the Israelites had nowhere left to turn—they turned to God, who in turn called a young man named Gideon to rescue his people. But Gideon wasn’t what you might expect from a mighty hero at first…….• GIDEON WAS A COWARD

The Bible introduces us to Gideon, saying, “The angel of the LORD came and sat down under the oak tree at Ophrah that belonged to Joash, one of the Abiezrite people. Gideon, Joash’s son, was separating some wheat from the chaff in a winepress to keep the wheat from the Midianites” (Judges 6:11 NCV).

Even to this day in the Middle East, you can still see people threshing wheat by harvesting it, then laying it out on a large flat slab of rock where they beat the wheat with a winnowing fork and throw it into the air—separating the grain from the chaff (seed coverings and other debris). The last place you would want to do this is at the bottom of a wine press. Threshing floors were usually wide open spaces where the wind could blow freely. A winepress is just the opposite—a hollowed out stone pit, into which grapes were packed and then danced on in order to squeeze out the juice.

Within the small confines of a wine press only a very minute amount of wheat could be threshed at a time. Yet, Gideon was attempting to thresh his wheat inside the wine press because he was afraid of the Midianites.

Another translation says, “Gideon, had been threshing wheat by hand in the bottom of a grape press…for he was hiding from the Midianites” Not exactly the picture of a hero. There were two factors that led to Gideon’s cowardice

—bitterness and a poor self-worth.

When the angel appeared to Gideon, his first words are, “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!” (vs. 12 NLT). Mighty hero, the angel calls him! But you can almost hear the misery in Gideon’s voice, when he replies,  “Sir, if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about? Didn’t they say, ‘The LORD brought us up out of Egypt’? But now the LORD has abandoned us and handed us over to the Midianites” (vs. 13 NLT).

Can you sense his bitterness and frustration with God? Can you relate? The conversation continues, the angel tells him that God has chosen him to save Israel, but again Gideon reveals his pessimistic heart, saying,

“How and with what could I ever save Israel? Look at me. My clan’s the weakest in Manasseh and I’m the runt of the litter” (vs. 15 MSG). Gideon was a defeatist who questioned God’s presence altogether. He allowed his circumstances to cloud his vision of who God is and what he had done for his people.

Can you sympathize with that? Are afraid to do what God has called you to do? Do you sometimes wonder if he’s even there at all? Do you know what it’s like to be the runt of the litter?

Bitterness and disappointment can move us down into the winepress of isolation and discouragement, and once you’re down there it can be really hard to climb out.

 For Gideon, it took a personal encounter with the living God to assure him that he no longer had to be afraid. From the dark bottom of the winepress, Gideon heard the earth shattering voice of God himself call out, “I will be with you. And you will destroy the Midianites as if you were fighting against one man”

Hearing God’s voice and realizing that God was, indeed, with him changed Gideon’s heart. Recognizing and practicing the presence of God is what makes the difference.

To Moses, God said, “I will be with you” (Exodus 3:12).

To Jacob, God said, “I am with you and will protect you everywhere you go” (Genesis 28:15).

To Joshua, God said, “Be strong and courageous and do not be afraid for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

Realizing God’s presence in our life is the only thing that can transform cowardice into courage. When Gideon realized that God was indeed with him, Gideon became a catalyst for change, Gideon’s decision to climb out of that wine press and follow God’s call sparked renewal and revival in his people.

His first mission from God was to destroy his father’s altar to Baal. The Bible says, “So Gideon got ten of his servants and did what the LORD had told him to do” Gideon rose above the influence of his idolatrous neighbours and destroyed the altar to Baal, erecting an altar to the one true God in its place.

Although his actions were first met with resistance, he eventually inspired the entire tribe of Manasseh to give up their false gods and return to the Lord. One man changes the hearts of thousands people. One of the most amazing things about genuine faith is how it inspires other people to step out in faith.

Do you remember the four-minute mile? For millennia people believed that it was impossible to run a mile in under four minutes—it just couldn’t be done. Historians have records of how the ancient Greeks tried to accomplish it. They had wild animals chase the runners in hopes that they would run faster. They drank tiger’s milk, thinking that would give them the speed of a tiger. Nothing worked. Trainers and researchers determined that our bone structure was insufficient, our lung power was inadequate and the wind resistance was just too great. Then, in 1954, Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile. He finished in 3:59.4. Some thought it was a fluke, that it would never be achieved again. But just 46 days later, Banister’s record was broken by a runner in Finland. His accomplishment inspired others to push harder and in the years since then, over a thousand runners have broken the four-minute barrier as well.

All because one man proved it was possible. That’s what modern-day Gideons do. They stand up and step out on faith, they accomplish what everyone else says is impossible, and they inspire and challenge others to do the same.

One person can change a church, a community, or even a country. Gideon put an end to idol worship in his generation, but his job still wasn’t over. Finally, God would transform Gideon from a coward to a conqueror. With this victory under his belt, Gideon issued a call to arms across all of Israel and rallied thirty-two thousand men who were willing to stand up and fight against the Midianites. Before heading off to battle, though, Gideon had a little conversation with God. He was still struggling with doubt, and so he asked God for small sign. He laid a wool fleece on the ground and asked God to keep the grass dry, but allow the dew to collect on the fleece in the morning.

God responded to his request and assured Gideon that he was indeed with him. The next day, he asked God to do just the opposite, keep the wool dry but the grass wet. Once again, God proved patient and did as Gideon had asked. Only then did Gideon find the courage he needed to become a conqueror.

So he gathered his men and set off to pick a fight. Gideon’s men were outnumbered three to one, but apparently that was still too many Israelites for God. The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many warriors with you. If I let all of you fight the Midianites, the Israelites will boast to me that they saved themselves by their own strength. Therefore, tell the people, ‘Whoever is timid or afraid may leave this mountain and go home’” (Judges 7:2-3 NLT). So Gideon did what God commanded and twenty-two thousand men left, leaving only ten thousand Israelites to battle over a hundred thousand Midianites. But that still wasn’t good enough. God continued to whittle away at their numbers until Gideon was left with only three hundred men. Three hundred men against an army of a hundred thousand

And what happens next!

Gideon divided the three hundred men into three groups. He gave each man a trumpet and an empty jar with a burning torch inside. Gideon told the men, “Watch me and do what I do. When I get to the edge of the camp, do what I do. Surround the enemy camp. When I and everyone with me blow our trumpets, you blow your trumpets, too. Then shout, ‘For the LORD and for Gideon!’ So Gideon and the one hundred men with him came to the edge of the enemy camp just after they had changed guards.

It was during the middle watch of the night. Then Gideon and his men blew their trumpets and smashed their jars. All three groups of Gideon’s men blew their trumpets and smashed their jars. They held the torches in their left hands and the trumpets in their right hands. Then they shouted, “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!” Each of Gideon’s men stayed in his place around the camp, but the Midianites began shouting and running to escape. (Judges 7:16-20)

Let me explain a few important factors in this incident. As a normal custom in ancient Near Eastern warfare, armies rarely fought at night and when they did only a few men would carry torches—most everyone else had swords in their hands. Also, only a handful of people would carry and blow trumpets during the battle. So when the Midianites awoke to the sound and sight of three hundred torches and trumpets, they thought they were surrounded by thousands upon thousands of warriors. The smashing jars, made them think that the battle had already begun and in the confusion and darkness they started fighting amongst themselves.

God wanted Gideon and all of Israel to know that the battle belonged to the Lord. They were victorious because God was with them and as long as they followed his instructions, he would always fight their battles for them.

What was true for them, is true for you, too. God wants you to be a conqueror! But he’s the one who will fight the battles and win the victory. Victory over addiction, over abuse, over struggle!

Your job is simply to trust him to do so and obey his instructions. Trust and obey—that’s how you become a conqueror. Gideon started out as a runt, was a fearful man in command of a fearful army, yet through him God still accomplished a fearsome victory.

Gideon became a champion, not because he was a fearless warrior, but because he had enough faith to do what God called him to do despite his own fears—to trust and obey.

God is still looking for modern-day Gideons – men and women of courage who are willing to stand up and step out on faith, willing to make a difference. Nothing Gideon did was extremely difficult – he had a promise to believe, an altar to build, a torch to burn, and a trumpet to blow- but he acted in faith and God gave him the victory.

God uses ordinary, imperfect people to do extraordinary things. You might just be that person… but it takes faith to find out.

Do you have flaws of biblical proportions, yourself? God uses people just like you. If you feel like Gideon did this morning – like Where’s God in all of this? or like I can’t do anything great, I’m nobody – I want to invite you to put your life in God’s hands and just watch what he can do with it. If I can help you take the next step in your journey toward God, come talk with me

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