GIDEON’S SHRINKING ARMY- TESTING THE FITNESS OF YOUR FAITH
Yesterday we read of Gideon putting a fleece before the Lord, not because he doubted God’s ability to deliver His people from the Midianites, but because he doubted whether God could use an insecure person such as himself to do it.
Then Gideon said to God, “If You will deliver Israel through me, as You have spoken,  behold, I will put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then I will know that You will deliver Israel through me, as You have spoken.”  And it was so. When he arose early the next morning and squeezed the fleece, he drained the dew from the fleece, a bowl full of water. (Judges 6:36-38)
Gideon knew that he was no savior. He needed to be saved from the fear and unbelief that gripped him. God can deal with the enemies within, as well as the enemies without. In the cases of both Moses and Gideon, the angel of the Lord appeared to them to make this point (Exodus 3:2; Judges 6:12). Both Moses and Gideon shared haunting doubts about whether God could use them for the works He was calling them to accomplish.
Contrary to the teaching of popular “self-esteem” gurus, the answer for the “insecurity problem” of Moses and Gideon was not that they thought too lowly of themselves. The problem was that they were not thinking lowly enough. They still were thinking too highly of themselves and not highly enough of God. They were still measuring and evaluating their own fitness for the task. They had not yet realized that God is so great that He can use anyone to manifest His power and presence. He can use any old bush in the wilderness to manifest His glory.
The fire of God’s glory that burned before the eyes of Moses was not fueled by anything provided by the bush (Exodus 3:2-3). Neither did God need naturally-kindled-fire to consume the offering that He received from Gideon (Judges 6:21). The angel commanded that the entire offering be put on the Rock, which speaks of Christ. The angel of the Lord touched the meat and the unleavened bread with the end of His staff and fire sprang up from the rock and consumed it all. It was not consumed by any fuel provided by Gideon. The spark and fire came from the staff in the hand of the angel of the Lord, the life and authority of God Himself.
This is the way of God- He takes a man who is insecure enough about his adequacy for the task that he realizes that the Lord is his entire adequacy. Have you realized this truth? He is our sufficiency. He is our confidence. He is our strength. The battle is His. The strategy is His. The weapons are His. The victory is His! The peace is His!
During the period of the judges, peace is short-lived because the people fail to live in the light of the Lord who is their peace. It is a picture of God’s people failing to abide in Christ.
Gideon, rather sheepishly, asked if he could put out ANOTHER fleece before the Lord! He does this knowing that God had every right to be angry at his unbelief (Judges 6:39). This reminds us of the man with the demonized son who
said to Jesus, “I do believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). We believe the right things in our heads in some cases, but our hearts need emotional reinforcement.
The epistle of John teaches us that there are better ways to assure our hearts before God! (1 John 3:14-24). Throwing a fleece is not the Biblically prescribed or divinely sanctioned method for discerning God’s will.
1 John 3:19-22 19 We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him 20 in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22 and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.
Gideon would have reasons to be insecure if God were banking on his personal qualifications. He was not a military man; he was a farmer. There were other men from families and tribes who currently had more influence to rally the troops. Others were more competent, naturally qualified to win the vote, as more likely to succeed.
The Lord is gracious and compassionate. He is sympathetic to our human limitations (Psalm 103: 14) and stoops to Gideon’s request. As the fleece is left out overnight, it is completely dry while the ground is wet with dew.
Now Gideon was without excuse. He must confront the enemy. But he and his army were to confront them as ONE man. The word for ‘one’ in the Hebrew in this instance (Judges 6:16) is ‘echad’, meaning a ‘composite oneness’ reflecting the community of oneness figured in the Trinity (Deut 6:4), in marriage (Gen 2:24) and grapes joined in clusters to the vine (Numbers 13:23). The army would be identified and joined together as one man, prefiguring the oneness of Christ and His Church.
But once again, the Lord challenges natural sensibilities. Gideon, who blew the trumpet to rally 32,000 men, is told that the number of men with him is too many! The enemy’s troops number 135,000 or more (Judges 8:10).
The Lord tells Gideon to dismiss all those who are afraid. 22,000 leave! This would have been shattering to Gideon’s ego if there was anything left of his ego to shatter! The ability of the leader to encourage the faint-hearted was not the quality God was looking for here.
Those who remained did not do so because their trust was in themselves or their leader’s natural abilities. Their trust was in the fact that God had promised to deliver the enemy into their hands and would use His servant Gideon to do so.
The Lord then tells Gideon that the 10,000 who remain are still too many.
To whittle the army down to a minuscule size of 300, the Lord announces that he will test or sift those who were already trusting His ability to deliver them from the enemy. He would do it with the ‘water test.’
How did the Lord determine those who would be joined together as one man to fight the enemy?
With the men that lapped.
So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the Lord told him, “Separate those who lap the water with their tongues like a dog from those who kneel down to drink.”  Three hundred men lapped with their hands to their mouths. All the rest got down on their knees to drink.
What does it mean?
We may not be entirely sure, but it appears that those who lapped brought the water to their mouths with cupped hands, maintaining a position of alertness to their surroundings and readiness for the battle for which they were called. Those who prostrated themselves, bowing down or kneeling, would have lost sight of where they were and why they were being summoned. We will have situations in our lives that test whether our faith is truly rooted in God. Do we forget the big picture and lose sight of why we are called?
The greatest ability that God looks for is AVAILability- the availability of faith. The word ‘avail’ refers to ‘prove worthy,’ ‘profitable,’ or ‘valuable.’ Faith sees the value and worth of God’s ABILITY to the degree that we make ourselves ‘present and ready’ to do what God has called us to do. We are confident in God’s ability to perform. Therefore we avail ourselves to God’s marching orders.
“The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” (1 Thess 5:24).
Those who lapped were not afraid to look like dogs in the eyes of the enemy or others. They would not dawdle to indulge themselves by putting their heads in the water. (Some commentators infer that the getting down on their knees smacked of the religion of the Midianites and Amorites in the worship of Baal. I am not convinced that nearly 10,000 of those who were coming forward were doing so trusting in Baal to deliver them!)
How is it with your faith? Is your heart attitude one that “joins together” with the people of God, identifying with the person, work, and mission of Christ?
We cannot borrow faith from our next-door neighbor. Some people view faith as being the ability to believe something to be true. No, that is not Biblical faith. Faith is the transfer of trust to a person or thing considered reliable. Faith must take a valuable, trustworthy object. True faith is not faith in faith. True faith is faith in the One who is Faithful and True! (Rev. 3:14; 19:11)
It has been said that faith is like a toothbrush. We all need one, but you should not use someone else’s! Is your own trust in the One who is trust-worthy?
It is an hour in which we see darkness reigning (Luke 22:53). Yet God’s plan is being accomplished, and Jesus’ prophetic words are being proved true.
Matthew 20:18-19 (ESV) 18 “… And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death
19 and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”
First, Jesus is brought before the chief priests and scribes, then before Pilate, then to Herod where He is mocked, then back to Pilate where he is flogged, then to the people who demand that He be crucified.
If the Jews had the right to enact capital punishment, the death would have been by stoning. But the Scriptures were being fulfilled, written before the agony of crucifixion was known (see Psalm 22). Jesus would be lifted up on a cross (John 3:14, 12:32-33).
John 12:32-33 (ESV) 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.
Seven times the gospels record the verdict, “No fault in Him.” There is a sevenfold witness that the Lamb was without blemish.
Pilate and Herod- Luke 23:14-15 (ESV) 14 And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. 15 Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him.
Judas- Matthew 27:4 (ESV) 4 saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.”
Pilate again- John 19:4 (ESV) 4 Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.”
Pilate’s wife- Matthew 27:19 (ESV) 19 Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.”
The believing thief- Luke 23:41 (ESV) 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”
The Roman centurion- Luke 23:47 (ESV) 47 Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!”
Those who stood with the centurion- Matthew 27:54 (ESV) 54 When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
Pilate says that he finds no fault in Jesus, yet he proves his own character’s weakness by giving into the crowd. There is no fair trial. The powers that be give in to the rule of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Envy reigns over justice. Fear of man reigns over the fear of God.
The governmental rulers prove that they are ruled by darkness rather than light.
Pilate delivers Jesus to be crucified and attempts to release himself from the guilt of his decision by washing his hands. But Jesus is going to the cross because human beings cannot wash their hands of their own guilt.
READING FROM PSALMS Psalm 97-98:9;
It is difficult to read these psalms of praise without the melodies of songs and hymns coming to mind! “The Lord reigns!” “You are exalted!” “Sing unto the Lord a new song!” “Over all the earth!” “Shout to the Lord!”
Psalm 98 makes it clear that salvation is God’s work. It is accomplished by “His right hand and His holy arm.” He has made it known. He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations. He wills to accomplish the work and make it known.
Isaac Watts was inspired by Psalm 98 to write the hymn “Joy to the World.” It is more accurately described as a “kingdom hymn” than a “Christmas Carol.” It is not the nativity that is celebrated here, but the second coming of Christ.
Proverbs 14:7-8 (ESV) 7 Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet words of knowledge. 8 The wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way, but the folly of fools is deceiving.
TODAY- CONGO (from the Prayer Guide “OPERATION WORLD”)
Republic of Congo [Brazzaville]
Area: 342,000 sq. km
West of Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo-Zaire), with which it is often confused. Around 60% of the country
is covered with tropical rainforest, which is declining from deforestation. Grasslands and bush in the central and southwest, forest in the north.
Population: 3,758,678 Annual Growth: 1.93%
Largest Religion: Christian (89.72%)
Challenge for Prayer
The Congo is a land of past troubles but future potential. Two decades of Communism have been followed by a sham of a democracy, with the past dictator reinstated as president after provoking a civil war that devastated the land, killed thousands, and displaced over 300,000. Congo is a land rich with natural resources, but most of the population lives in or very near the poverty level. Pray for benign government, for wise economic policies, and for justice to prevail in society.
The Church needs revival and restoration. Congo has been Christianized – superficially, at least – but never truly converted. The majority of the population are Christian, but some sources claim that up to 50% are actually animists. What is undeniable is that for a vast number, Christianity is a thin veneer over traditional African religion. The upheaval of the 1990s was a major setback for many ministries. Pray for a new move of the Spirit, greater than the revival that blazed through the region more than 50 years ago. Churches need to be swept clear of flawed worldviews and false beliefs and instead filled with the Spirit’s power and led by biblical truth.
PRAYER- Almighty God, All-Sufficient Savior, Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, we have benefited by the rescue provided by Your holy and mighty arm! We have been blessed by the revelation of Your grace and truth in the person of Your Son. Forgive us for misdirected faith that would look anywhere but to You as our sufficiency. May our trust be fully transferred to You to sanctify us completely, spirit, soul, and body. For faithful are You who called us who also will do it! Firmly establish our faith in Your adequacy, in Jesus’ Name. Amen
-Pastor David K MacAdam
New Life Community Church,
221 Baker Ave. Concord, MA 10742