At this point in Israel’s history, power is decentralized. Rather than replace Joshua with another national leader, a series of local, tribal leaders emerge throughout the land. But Israel also deals with the repercussions that come from failing to drive the pagan peoples out of the land. In fact, Judges 1:28 says, “When Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not drive them out completely.” The former slave people are now guilty of the crimes of Pharaoh a few generations earlier.
And it’s precisely this kind of moral drift that characterizes Israel during the period of the judges. Repeatedly, this phrase comes up in Judges: And the people did what was right in their own eyes. Sad commentary on this period of Israel’s history.
And so this cycle begins: Israel does evil in the sight of the Lord; God punishes Israel by allowing an enemy to oppress them; Israel cries out to the Lord; God raises up a judge to deliver them; the land has peace for a period of years. This cycle is repeated throughout the book of Judges.
In one of these cycles, the Midianites rise up to oppose Israel. In response to Israel’s cry, God calls Gideon as he is threshing wheat in a winepress.
Judges 6:11, Now the angel of the Lord came and sat under the terebinth at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites.
Threshing wheat normally takes place in a large, open space. The thresher tosses the grain in the air, letting the wind blow away the chaff. The picture of Gideon threshing out the wheat in a small, enclosed winepress conveys his fear of the Midianites.
What do people do when they’re afraid? They do things they’re not supposed to do. Like thresh wheat in a winepress. Winepresses are for crushing grapes. Threshing floors are for threshing wheat. But Gideon is so afraid, he’s doing things he’s not supposed to do. God never wanted it to be this way. Gideon is not supposed to be afraid of the Midianites; he and his people are supposed to drive them out. But his fear has taken hold of him. Maybe you can relate to that.
Are there things in your life that have taken hold of you, things that God never intended for you to be afraid of? If so, then I think you’ll relate to Gideon.
If anybody else were to walk up to Gideon in this moment, they’d see a scared little man trying not to draw attention to himself. Yet, the angel of the Lord addresses Gideon with a different title: “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior,” (6:12).
When others look at Gideon they see a fearful man, trembling in the winepress. But God looks at Gideon and sees a mighty warrior, fearless because of his trust in God.
But Gideon objects initially. Like Moses before him, he’s reluctant at first to accept God’s call.
V13 -“If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened? The Lord has abandoned us.” God counters his objection.
V14 – “Go in the strength you have and save Israel…” But Gideon is reluctant.
V15 – “How can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” (6:15). But God has been down this road before.
V16 – “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.”
From Gideon’s story, I want to point out three themes that are recurring themes from our study of The Story so far this year. The first is this: God offers His presence to His people for His purpose.
Gideon fails to see himself as God sees him. When he looks in the mirror, he sees something insignificant. But he fails to see the most important thing: God is on his side! And that means Gideon doesn’t need to cower in the winepress; with the presence of God, he can become a mighty warrior. God is offering His presence to Gideon for His purposes.
If you ask Gideon, “What’s wrong with the world today?” he has an answer. “Well, it’s the Midianites. That and the fact that God has abandoned us.” But if you ask Gideon, “What are you doing to rectify the situation?” his response is, “What, little ol’ me? Nothing. I can do nothing because I am nothing. I’m an insignificant man from an insignificant tribe. I can’t solve this problem. It’s too big for me.”
Well, Gideon’s right…he isn’t much if you go by some of the common worldly barometers. But that’s exactly the point: God doesn’t call Gideon because he’s the sharpest, the strongest, the most heroic. I believe God calls him precisely because he isn’t any of those things.
But with God on his side, Gideon becomes someone else entirely. This weak little milquetoast of a man threshing his wheat in secret is going to become the leader of one of the greatest underdog stories the world has ever seen. March Madness has nothing on this story.
God offers His presence to His people for His purposes. Gideon is about to learn this lesson; and I hope the same can be said of us.
That leads to the second recurring theme that we’re encountering. In our reading of The Story this year, have you noticed that God doesn’t call the qualified; He qualifies the called? Have you picked up on that?
- Abraham and Sarah: “Are you sure we’re the right ones for the job? We’re old enough to be grandparents!” God: “I’ve got it under control.”
- Moses: “I’m not a public speaker.” God says, “I know a guy who is.”
- Gideon: “I’m a little bitty nothing of a man.” And God says: “I know. That’s why I picked you.”
God doesn’t choose any of these individuals on the basis of merit or strength or talent. I believe He chooses them precisely because they aren’t any of those things.
Paul talks about this very thing over in 1 Cor. 1:27, But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.
God tells Gideon: I’m the only credential you’ll need. You may be insignificant, but with me by your side, you’re a mighty warrior! What would it do for you if you heard these words from God? What would it do for your confidence, your self-esteem, if you heard God address you as “a mighty warrior”? God doesn’t call the qualified; He qualifies the called. If He’s the one who calls you to be a mighty warrior, you can rest assured He’s the one who’s going to qualify you for the job.
You see, God sees so much more than our weaknesses, our lack of resources, our lack of courage. He sees the strength we have, scant as it might be. And this is the third of these recurring themes that Gideon’s story reminds us of: God sees our possibilities through the lens of His power; He does not limit them by the breadth of our weakness. The smidgeon of strength that Gideon has, coupled with God’s presence beside him, is sufficient to rout the entire Midianite army.
But Gideon needs some assurances, needs to be convinced God is really with him to make him a mighty warrior. And God graciously provides a demonstration of His power, consuming the meat and unleavened bread Gideon had prepared in miraculous fashion (6:21). This leads Gideon to act courageously to tear down his father’s altar to Baal and Asherah, a victory over the idolatrous forces in the land.
And yet, Gideon asks for further confirmation as his task grows. Tearing down his father’s altar is one thing; opposing the mighty forces of the Midianite & Amalekite armies is another altogether.
You see, Gideon is a lot like us. He has moments of incredible faith sandwiched around moments of doubt and fear. Does that sound familiar?
The place where all this comes to a head is the threshing floor. The Canaanite forces number 135,000 (8:10). God is asking Gideon to trust him that these enemies will fall to them. But even though we’ve seen him grow in courage and strength, Gideon asks for a few more signs.
- I’ll put the fleece out on the threshing floor; since you send the dew each morning, if the ground is dry but the fleece is wet, I’ll know you’re really in this for me.
- So God says, “Okay.” The next morning, the fleece is like a Sham Wow; he wrings out a bowl full of water from it, the ground is dry as a bone.
- But Gideon wavers again. He asks God for one more sign. And God says okay. This time, Gideon reverses it: If the ground is wet and the fleece is dry, then I’ll believe. And God grants him this final request. By putting out the fleece, Gideon receives assurance yet again that God is on his side.
What happens next is really interesting. The roles reverse and God is now the one asking for something. As we said, the Midianite and Amalekite army is about 135,000 strong. Gideon’s army is 32,000. That’s 4.2 Canaanites for every Israelite. Not great odds to begin with.
But as the story progresses, God is the one who takes Gideon to the threshing floor, to separate the chaff of doubt from the wheat of his faith.
God says, You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her, announce now to the people, “Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back.” (Judges 7:2-3)
And so Gideon says to the army, “Those of you who are afraid, your services aren’t required. Go home to your wife or your mommy. Only those who possess courage are allowed to remain.”
22,000 men turn and head home.
That leaves Gideon with an army of 10,000. Now the ratio is 13.5 Canaanites for every Israelite. Odds just got a lot worse. But God says, “Nope, still too big. We’re going to separate it out a little more.” And based on…of all things…how the men drink their water, God winnows down the Israelite forces to a mere 300 men.
Now our ratio is an outlandish 450 Canaanites for every Israelite warrior.
God says, “There’s one little part missing from your equation. You forgot to factor in that I’m on your side.” And, as always, that makes all the difference.
All of this begins at the Threshing Floor.
The Threshing Floor is that out-in-the-open space to which God might be calling you, a place where the chaff of fear and doubt is separated from the wheat of your faith.
The Threshing Floor is the place where you go to meet God, the place where you can be honest with Him and seek discernment on His will for your life.
The Threshing Floor is the place where you are assured of the presence and power of God.
Will you walk out in the open to that same threshing floor today?
Or will you continue to hunker down in your winepress, ravaged by fear, refusing the call of your God to become a might warrior?