I awoke this morning thinking about Gideon of all people. The children of Israel had turned from God and they were now suffering the consequences. The Midianites would descend upon them like locust and leave the people with nothing.
I remember reading about the great locust plague which hit Minnesota and much of the central and western midwest in the late 1870's. According to accounts, the clouds of locust descended without warning. They were so thick they blacked out the sun. The land was covered with them. Wheat and other crops fell as if they were being harvested and then everything was completely devoured. People built fires around the fields hoping the smoke would keep the pestilence at bay, but it was all in vain. Everything green was destroyed and the land, building, animals and people were covered by the locusts. Men left their families in search of jobs and food. Many of them had to travel hundreds of miles, often on foot. They were searching for land which had not been touched by the locusts.
The following year, the process started all over again because even after the locust had left, their eggs remained. Although it is hard for us to imagine this today, this disaster included a number of states and was a severe economic as well as natural disaster.
This was the world of Gideon. As soon as the harvest was ready, the Midianites and their allies would sweep across the land.
This happened for seven years.
Gideon is secretly threshing wheat. The angel of the LORD appears and of all things calls him a "mighty man of valour". The irony of this statement should not escape us. When we think of courageous men, we envision someone who rushes into the midst of the battle without any care or fear. We don't picture someone who is creeping about fearful of discovery. We would hardly call this person brave...in fact they sort of look like us and I don't know about you but I don't usually see myself as a powerful warrior who is never afraid or uncertain.
I'm glad the Bible mentions exactly what Gideon was doing it and why he was doing it. I'm glad it mentions his doubts even after God had so clearly appeared before him and given him sign after sign that He was with Gideon. It would be easy to puff yourself up and say, "Well, I would have..." May be you would have, but you would have failed because you would have been fighting under your own strength rather than God's. Gideon reminds me that God is not interested in how weak I am. He already knows that. He's more interested in my obedience. He is actually very patient with my fears and it is okay to be honest with Him, just like Gideon was.
So, after some delays, prayers and the laying out of fleeces (see Judges 6) Gideon finally gathers an army of 32,000 men. This still is a small army compared to their enemies. At this point God does something unexpected. He tells Gideon that he has too many men. "What? Wait a minute, God! What do you mean I have too many men? You mean you need to bring me more men, right?" That's probably what I'd be thinking. I know that's true because I've been known to think things like "I just paid my tithes, gave to those in needs, volunteered my time and now my car broke down and it will cost $1,000.00 to fix it. What are you doing, God? It's not supposed to be like this!" That's focusing on my own strength.
Through the process of elimination God has Gideon eventually send 31,700 men home. Gideon is left with an army of only 300 men. God had diminished Gideon's army by, let's see, by over ninety-nine percent!
Did you notice that Gideon takes Phurah with him? In spite of everything that has happened, in spite of the angels, fleeces and other miracles, Gideon is still afraid. However, in spite of his fear, Gideon is still obedient!
I notice a couple of things in this scripture.
Remember those soldiers who were sent back home? God hadn't forgotten them. They too, had a purpose. Most of them had wanted to return home. They were afraid. God did not punish them for being afraid and he's not going to punish us either. God understands and has compassion for us when we are fearful and he could still use them in spite of their fear.
God had placed those 31,700 men exactly where he needed them. He wasn't sending them away from the battle. He was just strategically placing them where he wanted them to be.
How do I know those 31,700 men pursued their enemies. Think about it a moment and put yourself in your place. These men, in spite of their fears, had originally gathered to fight with Gideon. If they had been willing to join a small army that was facing insurmountable odds, doesn't it stand to reason that they would join in when their army is winning the fight?
Wow! I can't keep the tears from flowing right now. There is so much here! With God, all things are possible. It doesn't matter if the odds are against us. God is for us and that's all that matters.Furthermore, God loves us deeply and compassionately. He is aware of all of our strengths...and our weaknesses. He understands what it's like to be human and he understands our struggles. He doesn't stand in condemnation of us, rather he stands ready to take our outstretched hand at any moment.
He can use us no matter where we're at. All we have to do is be willing to be obedient and follow him rather than ourselves. God will take the broken, fearful vessel that is us and work us and mold us until we are perfect. He will never give up and remember...God works miracles...even with poor little pots such as ourselves!
*8/18/11--This blog is now part of a series entitled Walking With God In The Midst of Cancer