The book of Judges comes after the book of Joshua, although much of its content is concurrent with the events in the book of Joshua. The period of the Judges were dark days for God’s chosen people. Although they should have expected the darkness. They should have expected the devastation. They should have expected God to remove His protection over them because He PROMISED He would do so if they turned away from His clear commandments.
For example, before they entered what would become the land of Israel, God warned them through Moses to remove ALL of the foreign nations they would encounter across the Jordan. None of them should remain. Otherwise, they would eventually seduce Israel away from the one and only God to serve their individual national gods – demons whose religions required child sacrifice and sexual immorality of the most grievous kinds.
Among the multiple warnings God spoke against His people through Moses is in Numbers 33:55-56 – “But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall come about that those whom you let remain of them will become as pricks in your eyes and as thorns in your sides, and they will trouble you in the land in which you live. And as I plan to do to them, so I will do to you.’”
But did they pay attention to Moses? No, they did not.
The first chapters of Judges record how Israel did almost nothing of what God commanded them to do regarding the pagan nations in what would become the land of Israel. The Jews permitted the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Midianites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, and so forth – they permitted them all to live next-door AND intermarried with those nations in direct contradiction to God's clear commandments.
By the way, and as an aside, we ought not forget that God did not change His mind about relationships with non-Christians – especially in marriage. As St. Paul warns the Christians at Corinth: “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God. (2 Corinthian 6:14-16)
And so, not surprisingly, Israel lost God’s protection shortly after they entered the land of Canaan. We pick up our story in Judges with Gideon. The Midianites had forced Israel to live in terror. The Israelites hid themselves and their families from marauding gangs. They hid their food stores and their animals to prevent them from being stolen. They went to bed at night afraid, and they awakened in the morning afraid.
In chapter six we find Gideon threshing out his wheat, hidden away from the Midianites. And it is in this context that the angel of the Lord met with Gideon and said something he surely thought incredible:
“The Lord is with you, O valiant warrior.”
What must he have thought to himself? “Valiant warrior? Me? I’m just a poor farmer trying to feed my family in secret. Valiant? I’m nothing else but terrified.”
But instead of protesting the label of valiant warrior, instead of reminding the angel how frightened he was, Gideon jumped right in there and blamed God for Israel’s problems:“O my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”
Isn’t that just like human nature? It’s not MY fault. It’s God's. In fact, as I prepared this part of the message, I thought of what God said to Job after the last three dozen or so chapters where everyone blamed God for Job’s problems. Here is what God said in response: “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who argues with God give an answer . . . Would you really challenge my justice? Would you declare me guilty to justify yourself? (Job 40)
Anyway, back to Gideon: “The Lord looked at him and said, “Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you?”
Go in this, your strength. Really? Gideon seems to me more like weakness than anything else. But God usually sees things differently than WE see things. Which is why we need more of God's perspective on issues of life than our own. That’s what St. Paul discovered. You might remember the passage in 2 Corinthians 12. Concerning his thorn – whatever it was – no one really knows – concerning his thorn he wrote:
“I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
It was this same apostle Paul who also wrote to the Philippians while he was in prison: I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:12-13)
Back to the fearful Gideon who now said to the Lord: How shall I deliver Israel? Behold, my family is the least in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father’s house.” But the Lord said to him, “Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat Midian as one man.” (Judges 6:11-16)
And therein lies the key for Gideon and for ALL OF US who are fearful – fearful of what is and of what might be. God's answer to Gideon – “I will be with you” – is also why I felt led to preach this message to you AND to myself.
I want to focus our attention this afternoon on the emotion of fear. Even if you do not spend much time watching the daily newscasts – and I hope for your sakes you do not – even if you do not watch much news, you still know enough about what’s happening in our world – a lot of which seems purposely designed to generate fear.
And although the Lord Jesus warned His followers more than 2000 years ago of such things that make the nightly news, and such things have occurred to varying degrees during the last two millennia, His warnings seem somehow much closer to home in the year 2022: “You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end . . . Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name.” (Matthew 24)
It is important to note that the Lord Jesus, despite the roiling of societies and nations around the globe, Jesus told them – and us – to not be frightened by it all.
And OH! How I wish that was the case in my own life – to not be frightened by some life events.
But I must be honest here. At times I am frightened. I fear my weakness of faith, of trust, of my ability to persevere under duress or trial. I fear that I might fail when proverbial push comes to shove, when circumstances test my mettle to succeed for Christ. Yes, I fear my weakness. And perhaps, if you have thought about it for long, you have similar fears.
But we CAN move beyond such fear because of the various PROMISES of God to us in His word – infallible, unfailing, unshakeable promises of God to you and to me, His children by faith in Christ’s atoning work for us on Calvary.
Corrie ten Boom, once a prisoner of the Nazis in the infamous Ravensbruk concentration camp, and author of The Hiding Place, tells of a conversation she had with her father when she was a child. She told her father that she was afraid of death and was quite sure she did not have the strength to be a martyr. Corrie’s father reminded her of the train ride to Amsterdam.
“"When you take a train trip to Amsterdam, when do I give you the money for the ticket? Three weeks before?"
"No, Daddy, you give me the money for the ticket just before we get on the train."
"That is right," her father said, "and so it is with God's strength. Our Father in Heaven knows when you will need the strength . . . He will supply all you need just in time."
And maybe, just maybe, it is a GOOD THING that we are afraid. Maybe it is a GOOD THING that we worry how we might stand for Christ if all hell breaks loose against us. It can be a good thing because such fear will prevent us from becoming a Peter when that push comes to shove.
It is with the utmost respect and reverence I make that remark about Peter. I refer to him ONLY because God gave him to us as an example of how bravado – even well-intentioned bravado – can end up hurting us very deeply.
Now, back again to Gideon. He was threshing wheat out of sight because he was afraid. Are YOU afraid of what you see and read happening in our country and around the world? Are you afraid for your health? Your finances? Your family relationships? Are you afraid of the unknown? Of the known?
It was John Wayne who is reported to have said: “Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.”
So, despite his fear, the Lord told the shrinking Gideon to tear down the idol that belonged to his father. Yes, his father was an idolator. Freshly across the Jordan after 40 years wandering the wilderness for their disobedience, Gideon’s father worshiped at the altar of Baal. And God told Gideon to cut it down. Gideon did so – but he did so at night.
Like Nicodemus who met with Jesus at night and in secret because he was afraid of what would happen to him if he met Jesus during the daylight.
Listen! The Bible us full of stories of people who were AFRAID – but God used them anyway. Abraham was afraid. That’s why he told foreign kings Sarah was his sister. Isaac did the same thing. Moses was afraid. That’s why he ran from Pharaoh. King David was afraid. That’s why he ran from Saul. Peter was afraid. That’s why he denied knowing the Lord. The eleven disciples were afraid. That’s why they were hiding in the apartment after Jesus’ crucifixion. Even the great St. Paul was at times afraid. That’s why he says what he does in 1 Corinthians 2 about being with them in much ‘fear and trembling.” It is why the Lord Jesus told him in Acts 18, “Stop being afraid, but speak and do not hold your peace.”
I don’t remember where I heard this story, but it makes an important point to my message this afternoon: A father took his young child to a large park for the first time not too far from their house. After a while he asked his son, “Do you know where we are?” The child answered, ‘No.” Dad asked, “Would you know how to get home from here?” Again, the child said, “No.” Dad asked, “Are you frightened?” The boy looked at dad and shook his head. Then dad asked, “Why are you not frightened?”
Without hesitating, the child said, “Because you’re here with me.”
Because YOU are with me. As the psalmist tells us: “Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have ordained strength . . ..” (Psalm 8:2)
Again, back to Gideon. The angel said to the man cowering in the fields, “Go in this, your strength.” What strength? He had none. He had no courage. And THAT is a good place to be – knowing you have no strength in yourself. No courage in yourself. You are going to have to rely completely on the grace and the strength and the courage of God. Isn’t that what St. Paul had to learn? Here is what he told the Galatian church: “It is no longer ‘I” who live, but Christ lives IN me. And the life that I now live in the flesh I live by THE FAITH OF THE SON OF God who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (see Galatians 2)
I circle back again to what Paul wrote to the Corinthians after God rejected his request to remove that thorn. He said, “I am well-content with weakness.” Why? Because he knew that when he was weak – he was strong. It is a paradox. An enigma. A contradiction. Life doesn’t work that way.
No, life does not work that way. But God so often chooses contradictions and paradoxes to demonstrate His authority and His power. Note what Paul wrote to both the Corinthians and to you and me here at Ashwood:
“For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”(1 Corinthians 1:26-31)
A lot is going on in our nation today, more than at any time in our lifetime, except perhaps World War II. A LOT is happening that might generating fear in your minds.
Christian! Valiant warrior for Christ! Go in this your strength and keep on doing what God has save you and equipped you to do by virtue of your commitment to Him: Preach truth. Live truth. Be salt. Be light to a world in darkness, a wicked and perverse generation. Remember, it is not YOU who live, but Christ lives IN you. And the life you now live in the flesh, live by the faith of the Son of God who is in you.
He will be your strength. He will be your courage. And He will bring you safely to His kingdom. Amen