Rev. Jeff Chapman ~ Faith Presbyterian Church
As we continue our journey through the Old Testament this year, we now come this morning to the book of Judges, a book that has been described as a collection of stories of despicable people doing despicable things. Let’s just say that most children’s Bible’s don’t include many of the stories found in Judges because they’re not necessarily appropriate for a general viewing audience. Makes you want to go home now and read it, doesn’t it!
Let me set the context. God delivered his people from slavery in Egypt after 400 years. God had Moses guide his people through the wilderness for 40 years. God sent Joshua to lead his people to occupy the land he promised to their descendant Abraham all those years ago. When we come to Judges, God’s people are now finding that the Promised Land is not the easy land. The Israelites are here but are surrounded by pagan tribes and nations who are continually attacking and oppressing them. Furthermore, as they are engulfed by such a pluralistic culture their exclusive devotion to the Lord alone has been challenged as they are constantly being tempted to worship the gods and idols of their neighbors.
In tragic ways, the people give in to this temptation. They quickly forget all that God has done for them and fail to remember their identity as chosen people who have been blessed by God to be a blessing by representing God to the rest of the world. While the people are unfaithful, however, God remains faithful, never giving up on his people. With Moses and Joshua now long dead, God raises up new leaders called judges, people like Gideon, and Deborah, and Samson who were called by God to throw off foreign oppressors, restore peace, and call the people back to faithfulness.
This morning we will look briefly at one of these figures, Gideon. Gideon lived at a time when a people called the Midianites were terrorizing and plundering Israel. Specifically, for seven years running the Midianites had invaded from the east at harvest time to steal all the crops which the Israelites had worked all year to produce. The Bible says that they came as thick as locusts, picking the land clean of every grain of wheat, every last cow, every piece of fruit.
When we meet Gideon he is threshing wheat in a winepress, a pit which was carved out of rocky ground. A winepress was a good place to press grapes but was not a good place to thresh wheat because the wind could not easily blow the chaff away. Gideon has chosen this spot, however, because he’s scared. He’s hoping the Midianites won’t see him there and come and take away his wheat. Listen to what happens.
11 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. 12 When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”
13 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “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.”
14 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?”
15 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but 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, leaving none alive.”
17 Gideon replied, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. 18 Please do not 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.” (Judges 6:11-18, NRSV)
Gideon is hungry, he’s poor, he’s tired, and he’s scared, just like every other Israelite in the land. Life for these people is not turning out as they thought it might. God made promises to them, promises of a land flowing with milk and honey, promises of blessing, promises of security, promises that Gideon and his people would never be alone. But now look at them. Gideon’s hiding in a pit, terrified that he won’t have enough wheat to feed his family before the Midianite locusts come and strip them bare again. In no way does this look to him like the realization of God’s promise.
And I’m wondering if anybody else here has ever felt that way? Ever feel like God “promised life” isn’t exactly matching up with your actual life? I’ve given my life to following God, so why do I still have so much fear, and stress and trouble in a life that I understood was supposed to be filled with joy and peace and purpose? In many ways, Gideon’s story is our story.
The text tells us that God shows up one day and meets Gideon as he’s hiding in the pit and, through an angel, speaks these words to Gideon: “The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior.” Mighty warrior? Could this be a typo? Maybe a bad translation of the original Hebrew? Maybe a case of mistaken identity? Gideon is a mighty warrior? By no stretch of the imagination is this scaredy cat hiding in the pit a mighty warrior.
Yet that is what God calls Gideon. Why? Has God seen some hidden potential in in this man? Is God trying to inspire Gideon to reach beyond himself and become something he had never been before, the way a father calls his little boy slugger in hopes of inspiring him to one day do great things on the ball field?
Actually, I don’t think so. No, I don’t believe God’s words here are meant to point Gideon forward to what he might some day become but are meant, instead, to point Gideon backwards to what he had already become. The angel, you see, isn’t talking about Gideon’s potential but about Gideon’s identity. The angel wasn’t sent to inspire Gideon but was sent to help Gideon remember.
Some years ago when he was president, George W. Bush was visiting a nursing home and took the hand of an elderly man who was sitting in the hallway. Seeing that the man didn’t seem to recognize him, President Bush asked him kindly, “Sir, do you know who I am?” The man immediately responded, “No, but if you ask the nurses they can tell you.”
Now, some of us in this room are well aware of the pain which comes when a loved one ages and begins to struggle to remember. Let me suggest to you that, whether we realize it or not, all of us in this room experience pain and trouble in life because, to some degree, we all struggle to remember. Specifically, like Gideon we struggle to remember who we are. When that happens, we also are left afraid, troubled, worn out, and hopeless.
A friend of mine recently told me that a good teacher is somebody who helps us remember what we already know. Somewhere deep inside, Gideon knew who he was. He was an Israelite, a member of God’s family, God’s chosen people. Long ago the one, true God of the universe had made a solemn covenant with Gideon’s forefather, Abraham, and declared that Abraham’s descendants would be his people. God would bless them and be a shield for them. God would never leave them or forsake them. God would give them a land, and a purpose, and a destiny. God would never allow anything or anyone to overcome them. This was who Gideon was but Gideon had forgotten who he was. Gideon had forgotten that he was a beloved and favored son of the Most High God who would never fail him. Gideon had forgotten that, because the Lord was with him in this way, he truly was a mighty warrior.
You may remember the scene in Disney’s Lion King where Rafiki, the wise old baboon, comes to find Simba the young lion who has been hiding for years in the jungle. After his father, Mufasa, was killed Simba fled in fear and desperation. Scar, his evil uncle, and his hyena henchman had triumphed. Now all that was left for Simba was to live out his days in fear, hiding from those who had overcome and who would always overcome.
But then one day Rafiki finds Simba in his hiding place and he leads him to a pool where Simba is given a vision of his father. Through the vision his father speaks powerful words to him, words that encourage Simba to remember.
“Simba,” Mufasa says, “you have forgotten me.”
“No!” Simba protests. “How could I?”
“You have forgotten who you are and so have forgotten me,” Mufasa tells his son. “Look inside yourself, Simba. You are more than what you have become. Remember who you are. You are my son, and the one true king. Remember who you are.”
You see, Simba forgot his identity. He forgot that he was the son of the king. That was his rightful place. In the same way, Gideon forgot his identity, he along with the rest of his people. They forgot that they were chosen and favored by God, blessed by God, and always accompanied by God. They forgot that God had saved them to give to them the best of what he had, and that God planned to eventually give the whole world the same through them. They forgot their identity and then, in turn, forgot their responsibility.
Gideon’s response to the angel proves how much he has forgotten. “Sir,” he says, “if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? If God is with us, how is it that God allows the Midianites to come every harvest like locusts and strip us bare?”
It’s a good question, and one that’s been asked a million different ways by a million different people. I’m wondering today how the question sounds when you ask it? What circumstances in your life have caused you to wonder how God could possibly be with you and, at the same time, let this happen? (on screen?) Why did You let the cancer come back? Why did You let my marriage fall apart? Why don’t You make things go better for my kids? Why don’t You help me overcome this habit? Why don’t You give me more true friends? Why do You let other people receive what should be mine? Why did You let her die? Why didn’t You let him live? I don’t know how you ask the question, but one way or another I bet there are times in your life when you ask it. Maybe you showed up here this morning asking it.
Notice that when Gideon asks the question God doesn’t give him a straight answer. Clearly, if God wanted to protect Gideon and his people from the Midianites God could have done so, no problem. What this means is that though God may not have sent the Midianites to terrorize his people, he at least allowed them to come. God may not directly cause trouble and hardship in our lives, but if God is sovereign, as he is, we have to acknowledge that he at least allows trouble and hardship in our lives.
But why? Well, in Gideon’s case God doesn’t say. In most cases, God doesn’t say. In fact, whenever his people ask him why this or that has been allowed to happen, God’s response is nearly always the same. Instead of giving an answer to the question God usually says to us what God says here to Gideon, “Go. And I will be with you when you do.”
“Look inside yourself, Simba. You are more than what you have become. Remember who you are. You are my son, and the one true king. Remember who you are.” Mufasa reminds Simba of his identity and, in doing so, calls him to do what he was always called to do. “You are the Lion King and you were made to rule the jungle with kindness, strength and goodness.”
Once again, identity always carries with it responsibility. If you are made to be a hammer, if that is your identity, then you are responsible for driving nails into wood. If you were made to be a lamp, if that is your identity, then you are responsible for lighting up the room. Once you know your identity you know your responsibility. God had been telling his people from Abraham on down that they were blessed. Their identity was that of God’s blessed and favored people, and such weighty identity came with weighty responsibility. They were not blessed so that they could hide in fear. They were not blessed so that they could ignore the dying world around them. They were not blessed so that they could be comfortable. They were blessed so that they could be a blessing. Identity carries with it responsibility.
But how can this be? That is Gideon’s question. He asks, “How in the world can I deliver Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” Can you see the identity Gideon has as he hides in that pit? He has none. He’s the least of the least. A nobody. I’m the most pitiful runt in the most pitiful family in all of Israel. How in the world can you ever use one like me?”
And notice, does God argue with him? Does God say, “Come on, Gideon. You’re from a wonderful family. You’ve had such a good upbringing. You’ve got so much natural ability, so much potential, so much good training.” No, God does not argue with Gideon. God simply says, “I will be with you, and because I am with you, you shall strike down the Midianites, every last one of them. I am Lord over all and I am with you as your Lord over all. So go and do what you were made to do.”
All this leads me to a question I have for you. Who are you? At the very core of who you are, what is your identity? Do you remember who you are?
I ask because if the circumstances of your life have beaten you up enough it’s quite possible that you have forgotten who you are. And if that’s happened, you likely have also forgotten who the Lord is. Maybe you are somebody who has trusted God in your life, somebody who met Christ along the way and committed yourself to following him with your life. If so, listen to me. You are somebody who has been given an identity of great worth and, along with it, a responsibility of great weight. You are richly blessed by a God who considers you a beloved daughter or son, and who intends to use your life to richly bless others around you who are also beloved but who may not yet know so. This is your God-given identity, and if you forget it you’ll never have a chance of fulfilling your God-given responsibility. If you forget that God’s presence and God’s favor are always with you, you’ll never be able to do the eternal work God made for do. This is why one of the most important things we ever do when we are together as a church is remember.
On the last night before he went to die on the cross, Jesus gathered his closest friends, the disciples, together for a meal. Jesus knew that things for them were about to become very difficult. Not only was he, their leader, going to give his life to overcome evil, but also those among them who chose to follow after him would also be called, one way or another, to give their lives for the same cause. Jesus was going to lead his friends to life but the road along the way would not be easy. Some of you know just how true this is because you’ve been walking on that road for some time now. The disciples were about to learn.
As he sat around the table that night with his friends, Jesus knew that in the days to come it was going to be easy for them to forget. They would forget who they were and so would, in turn, forget who he was. And so that night at dinner he gave them a gift. At one point during the meal he took some bread and, after he thanked God for the bread, he broke it and he passed it around the table. Each of them took a piece. As they did he said to them, “This is my body, which is broken for you. From this day forward, whenever you break the bread, remember.” Then in a similar way he took a cup full of wine and, after he gave thanks for the gift, passed it around so his disciples could each have a drink. As they did he said to them, “This is my blood which is poured out so that your sins can be forgiven. Hereafter, whenever you drink from the cup, remember.” Ever since that night, right on down to our day, Christians have done what Jesus said, remembering as they break bread and remembering as they pour out the cup.
That word “remember” in the original Greek language of the Bible is the word “anamnesis.” It’s translated “remember” but that translation hardly bears the full weight of the word. The word was first developed by the great Greek philosopher Plato who believed that the human soul was made for eternity but that the trauma of this world caused the soul in each of us to forget such knowledge. Plato, therefore, would have agreed with my friend who said that the best teacher is the one who helps us remember what we already know. In Plato’s view, anamnesis was remembering that which is already within us.
This is the remembering Jesus speaks of at the Last Supper. This is the remembering that Christ commands his followers to do every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper together. Yes, we are to remember what Jesus did on the cross. That is a part of it. But that’s not all of it. As we remember who Jesus is and what Jesus did we are also to remember who we are and what we are called to do. Jesus’ death is our death. Because he gave his life for us we now give our lives to him. He died for sin and now we die to sin. In the same way, his resurrection to life is our resurrection to life. Now that we belong to him there is nothing, not even death, which will keep us from the life God has for us. As he was raised a beloved and favored Son of the Father, so one day all who have faith will be raised as beloved and favored daughters and sons of the same Father.
I’m becoming convinced that we should be celebrating the Lord’s Supper in this church more than we do. The more I think about it, once a month or so is not nearly enough. There’s a reason why most of the church around the world gathers around this table every single time they gather together. We forget. Life beats us up and before we know it we’re hiding in a pit somewhere, our lives marked by fear, and disappointment, and hopelessness. We forget who we are and, in turn, we forget who Christ is. We forget that we are such beloved and favored sons and daughters of our Heavenly King that, in spite of the fact that we’d done nothing to deserve it, he gave his only Son so that we could live. We forget that because of Christ, God was not only with us at one time but is, through faith, with us for all time. In spite of our circumstances, whatever they may be for you this morning, can you remember enough to be assured that you walk out of here today to face those circumstances in the presence and power of one who loves you and forgives you more than you will ever know or deserve!
If you don’t know the rest of Gideon’s story, I invite you to go home this afternoon and read it. God’s first words to Gideon were, “The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior”, but Gideon needed some convincing before he would believe them. As the story goes on, Gideon does eventually take on the responsibility God placed upon his life but only after God gave him plenty more assurance of his identity as a man with whom God was always present. It’s amazing, actually, how patient God is with Gideon, giving him assurance after assurance that he was not going out alone.
And I would ask, has not God also given us great assurance? God sent his only Son who lived with us, and died for us, and rose before us, and sent his Spirit among us, and gave his Word to us, so that we could know that there is nothing in life, not trouble, not hardship, not failure, not sin, not death itself, which can ever threaten the identity of those who place their faith in him as Lord and Savior. This is what God has done for us and yet I’ve become convinced that every one of us spends a good part of our life afraid and hiding in some pit or another because we have failed to remember.
Let me do for you what the angel long ago did for Gideon. Friends, believe me when I tell you, the Lord is with you, and you are mighty warriors. You are a mighty warrior because the Lord is with you. Your enemies, of course, are no longer the Midianites, nor, for that matter, any people that you meet however against you they may seem to be. Your enemies, instead, are the circumstances and powers in this world that make people like us forget who we really are and, in turn, who God really is. Be encouraged! These enemies can and will be defeated in our lives and in the lives of those beyond these walls if, by the grace of God, we would not forget who we are and who it is who is always with us.
The Next Step
A resource for Life Groups and/or personal application
Re-read the passage from Judges 6:11-18. What do you notice?
God finds Gideon hiding in a pit and calls him a “mighty warrior.” Is this a good description of this man at this time?
Gideon asks what seems to be a legitimate question in verse 13, a question about why all this hardship has come upon the Israelite people when God had promised to bless them. God, however, doesn’t give him a direct answer to his question in verse 14. Why?
Would you say that God’s promised life has matched your actual life? How are they the same? How are they different?
Do you think in some way you have forgotten who you are?
How is remembering who we are connected to remembering who God is?
When you participate in the Lord’s Supper and take the bread and the cup, what do you remember? What do you think Jesus wants us to remember?
Imagine if God came to you today and said to you, “I am with you, you mighty warrior.” Would you believe it? What would it mean?