Sermon on Judges 6 and 7
by Maylan Schurch
Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church 4/29/2023
©2023 by Maylan Schurch
To watch the entire worship service, click the link just below:
Please open your Bibles to Judges chapter 6.
While you’re turning there, let me remind you that a week from this afternoon, Sabbath afternoon, May 6, we will be having the memorial service for our beloved Carrol Grady. That’s 4 p.m. a week from today, right here in the sanctuary. You are invited, and there will be a meal to follow the service.
This morning’s sermon is the second in a series I’m preaching on encouraging chapters from the Bible. In Romans 15:4, Paul insists that the Bible is an encouraging, hopeful book. He says, “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” (Romans 15:4 NKJV)
And the two chapters we’ll be looking at today are hugely encouraging. Their events happened a long time ago, and far away from here, but since the Bible contains this story, and since Paul says we can find hope in Bible stories, courage is here for us to discover.
In fact, Gideon himself made it into the Bible’s “Faith Hall of Fame” chapter, Hebrews 11. Gideon’s name shows up in Hebrews 11:32 as an example of great faith.
I don’t know about you, but I love going back and rereading Bible stories I thought I knew. For one reason and another, it had been a while since I had dug deep into the Gideon story. And as always, I discovered some new insights in it that maybe I wasn’t mature enough to be ready for when I read it in the past.
But I believe we need this story more than we ever have before. But before we start, I would like to introduce you to a term I call “backrules.”
A backrule is not a new idea. Have you ever heard of a “back story”? A back story is what a character in a novel or a movie or a graphic novel needs in order to make him or her a realistic character.
I’ll give you an example. In the story of David and Goliath, it’s helpful to know – going into the story – where David comes from. It’s helpful to know that he was raised as a shepherd, and that he was good at using a sling. That’s part of David’s back story.
Another part of his back story is that he firmly believes in God, and that God gave Israel the land of Palestine, and that the Philistine army should not be there, and that the giant Goliath should not be sneering at the God of Heaven.
So that’s David’s back story. And as the story goes along, we see how his back story has prepared him to face the story’s challenges. His faith in God makes him fearless as he approaches the giant.
Now, what about “backrules”? What are they? Actually, the term backrule is another name for “presupposition.” What’s a presupposition? The official definition of a presupposition is “a thing tacitly assumed beforehand at the beginning of a line of argument or course of action.” Since “presupposition” has five syllables, and “backrule” has two, let’s make it easy on ourselves. Just like your backstory—how you were raised–helps prepare you for a life challenges, a backrule is a thinking-principle that you have decided is true, and which you use as you decide what action you’re going to take. For example, the Bible says that God’s main backrule, His life principle, is love. “God is love.”
The thing is, not all backrules are dependable. Some aren’t true at all, and some are only partly true. Let’s say you don’t know a thing about the game of golf. You meet a couple of friends of yours, Tom and Jerry, coming from a golf game. “How’d you guys do?” you ask. Tom says, “I got 89.” Jerry says, “I got 102.” You say, “Good job, Jerry!” And Tom and Jerry give you puzzled stares.
Since you don’t know anything about golf, you are using the backrule that says, “A player who gets more points wins.” But your backrule is wrong. The golf backrule is “A player who gets the fewest points wins.”
There’s no time to go deeper into presuppositions and other logical terms right now, of course, but I firmly believe that you and I need to remember that we all operate with backrules, and we need to make sure our backrules are as true as we can make them. Bad backrules can be incredibly deadly. Think 9-11. Think January 6.
Anyway, let’s back out of the weeds and go to the Gideon story and look for some very interesting backrules.
By the way, this isn’t going to be a sermon with numbered sermon points as such. Let’s just settle back and listen to the Gideon story, and see what God wants to teach us from it.
We get a little backstory right here at the start of Judges 6.
Judges 6:1 [NKJV]: Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD. So the LORD delivered them into the hand of Midian for seven years,
Right here we have a couple of backrules. The first is that the Lord has definite ideas about what’s evil. The second is that the Lord sometimes decides that evildoers need to suffer some tough times to bring them to their senses.
And tough times they definitely got.
Verses 2 – 5: . . . and the hand of Midian prevailed against Israel. Because of the Midianites, the children of Israel made for themselves the dens, the caves, and the strongholds which are in the mountains. So it was, whenever Israel had sown, Midianites would come up; also Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them. Then they would encamp against them and destroy the produce of the earth as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance for Israel, neither sheep nor ox nor donkey. For they would come up with their livestock and their tents, coming in as numerous as locusts; both they and their camels were without number; and they would enter the land to destroy it.
And finally, after exhausting every other option, Israel did what they should’ve done in the first place.
Verse 6: So Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites, and the children of Israel cried out to the LORD.
Do you detect a backrule there, a presupposition? We can put it like this: “When you’ve tried everything else, then try God.” But of course, with all this Midianite harassment, God was trying to teach them the exact opposite backrule: “Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and what you need will be given you.”
Now watch something really interesting happen. The Israelites have finally decided that they need the Lord. And you’d think that the Lord would promptly respond in the way the nation hopes He would. But God has another backrule up His sleeve:
Verses 7 – 10: And it came to pass, when the children of Israel cried out to the LORD because of the Midianites, that the LORD sent a prophet to the children of Israel, who said to them, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘I brought you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of bondage; and I delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you and gave you their land. Also I said to you, “I am the LORD your God; do not fear the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell.” But you have not obeyed My voice.’ ”
You see, God knows that finally the nation has come to a teachable moment. God could have skipped the sending-a-prophet step, and immediately hurried to Israel’s defense. But God put into practice a backrule that says, “Now that the people are listening, I’m going to do some teaching and reminding.”
I mean, parents do this all the time, don’t they? And the Bible does too. Time and time again in the Old Testament, and even in the New Testament, we hear God’s servants faithfully repeating the story again and again — deliverance from Egypt, guidance through the wilderness, paving the way for the entrance into the promised land, defeating the nation’s enemies, and so on.
Deuteronomy, for example, insists that parents should teach their children these stories of God’s leading.
Now, the scene changes, and we meet someone else with presuppositions.
Verses 11 – 12: Now the Angel of the LORD came and sat under the terebinth tree which was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon threshed wheat in the winepress, in order to hide it from the Midianites. And the Angel of the LORD appeared to him, and said to him, “The LORD is with you, you mighty man of valor!”
This is really interesting. At this point, you and I have no clue as to Gideon’s backstory. The angel calls him a mighty man of valor, but so far we haven’t seen Gideon do anything very valorous. In David’s story, we saw David killing a lion and a bear to defend his sheep, but nothing heroic from Gideon. We see him threshing wheat, but he’s doing it out of sight of the Midianites.
But as soon as Gideon starts to speak, we discover that he has some backrules he’s operating under.
Verse 13: Gideon said to Him, “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 forsaken us and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.”
As I read this, this week, I thought to myself, “Didn’t Gideon get the memo from the prophet the Lord sent?” We don’t know. The Bible doesn’t say, and that’s okay. But we do know that Gideon has firmly fixed in his mind the backrule that when bad things happen, God often drags His feet when it comes to responding to the crisis.
This might be a good time to pause and think about our own backrules, our own presuppositions, when God seems slow in responding to our prayers. As you know, there’s an overwhelmingly good chance that an angel will not personally visit you and talk to you about what you’re facing.
And of course it’s important to remember that at this point, Gideon does not know he’s talking to an angel. In verse 13, when he says “O my lord,” that word “lord” is the Hebrew word adonai, which can also mean “sir.” In fact, both the NIV and the New Revised Version use the word “sir” at this point.
But verse 14 gives us the startling news that this heavenly being isn’t just an angel.
Verse 14: Then the LORD turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have I not sent you?”
So this Angel turns out to be the Lord Himself. And it even says “the Lord turned to him.” How would you feel if the Lord suddenly turned abruptly in your direction, and faced you squarely, and gave you a challenging command?
Gradually it seems to be dawning on Gideon that this visitor may be more than human. Watch Gideon as he starts to ask for signs.
Verses 15 – 24: So he said to Him, “O my Lord, how can I save Israel? Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” And the LORD said to him, “Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man.” Then he said to Him, “If now I have found favor in Your sight, then show me a sign that it is You who talk with me. Do not depart from here, I pray, until I come to You and bring out my offering and set it before You.” And He said, “I will wait until you come back.” So Gideon went in and prepared a young goat, and unleavened bread from an ephah of flour. The meat he put in a basket, and he put the broth in a pot; and he brought them out to Him under the terebinth tree and presented them. The Angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread and lay them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And he did so. Then the Angel of the LORD put out the end of the staff that was in His hand, and touched the meat and the unleavened bread; and fire rose out of the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened bread. And the Angel of the LORD departed out of his sight. Now Gideon perceived that He was the Angel of the LORD. So Gideon said, “Alas, O Lord GOD! For I have seen the Angel of the LORD face to face.” Then the LORD said to him, “Peace be with you; do not fear, you shall not die.” So Gideon built an altar there to the LORD, and called it The-LORD-Is-Peace. To this day it is still in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.
Now Gideon’s presuppositions, his backrules, are starting to change. He used to have a simmering grudge against God, because God didn’t seem to be doing anything about the Midianites.
But now Gideon is getting more and more comfortable with the idea that God does care, and that God does have a plan. Gideon is still very trembly about the fact that he himself is going to be part of the solution, but he goes cautiously forward.
And I mean, really cautiously. Gideon wants to make sure, at every step, that he is in line with God’s will. He wants to know, for sure, if it is indeed God who is contacting him, and not his own imagination.
Some people look down on Gideon for asking for signs. But that’s okay. God doesn’t get annoyed with this. The prophet Daniel never asked God for a sign. But Gideon did.
So what about us? Should we operate under the backrule that says, “It is always good to ask God for a sign”? What I would say to that is that the most important signs you and I possess are the specific printed words in the Bible. If the Bible says “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy,” I don’t need to ask God for a sign that I should keep the Sabbath. In fact, if I were to do that, it would be just a bit blasphemous. God spoke that Sabbath commandment aloud on a mountaintop, and God wrote what He said on a slab of stone. What greater sign could there be than that? So let’s take the Bible as our sign first of all.
And the Bible never makes it a general rule that we need to ask signs before following God’s will. In fact, Jesus rebuked Thomas for demanding to touch Jesus’ crucifixion wounds, when he had the earnest testimony of his fellow disciples that Jesus had risen.
Anyway, back to the Gideon story. God gives him some specific directions as to how to begin the battle against heathen idol-worship.
Verses 25 – 27: Now it came to pass the same night that the LORD said to him, “Take your father’s young bull, the second bull of seven years old, and tear down the altar of Baal that your father has, and cut down the wooden image that is beside it; and build an altar to the LORD your God on top of this rock in the proper arrangement, and take the second bull and offer a burnt sacrifice with the wood of the image which you shall cut down.” So Gideon took ten men from among his servants and did as the LORD had said to him. But because he feared his father’s household and the men of the city too much to do it by day, he did it by night.
So here we have a growing, maturing servant of God. Gideon didn’t yet have the iron backbone of a Shadrach or Meshach or Abednego. But Gideon was fulfilling the Lord’s will, and God did not rebuke him for being cautious.
You see, God knows who we are. God knows our personalities. God knows our weaknesses. All He wants from us is for us to devote ourselves to His plans, His agenda, His presuppositions, His backrules.
And I love the next part of Gideon’s story. When were introduced to Gideon’s father, we see where Gideon must’ve got some of his hardening backbone. Why Dad allowed a Baal-altar to be built on his property in the first place, we don’t know. But watch this.
Verses 28 – 32: And when the men of the city arose early in the morning, there was the altar of Baal, torn down; and the wooden image that was beside it was cut down, and the second bull was being offered on the altar which had been built. So they said to one another, “Who has done this thing?” And when they had inquired and asked, they said, “Gideon the son of Joash has done this thing.” Then the men of the city said to Joash, “Bring out your son, that he may die, because he has torn down the altar of Baal, and because he has cut down the wooden image that was beside it.” But Joash said to all who stood against him, “Would you plead for Baal? Would you save him? Let the one who would plead for him be put to death by morning! If he is a god, let him plead for himself, because his altar has been torn down!” Therefore on that day he called him Jerubbaal, saying, “Let Baal plead against him, because he has torn down his altar.”
Did you spot another backrule, and not a healthy one? It kind of has the aroma of some parts of modern political thought.
These Baal worshipers, who are so outraged at this destruction of the altar and the pole, are using the backrule we could call “Baal nationalism.” It’s sort of like those who advocate Christian nationalism today. There’s nothing wrong with being Christian, and there’s nothing wrong with being properly nationalistic. But when you put the two together, alarm bells should ring in the minds of those who know anything at all about religious history.
These Baal worshippers believed that if Baal was being disrespected, they themselves needed to take action. They were trying to legislate Baal-worship by force. And if America lets itself become ruled by Christian nationalism, we will gradually cease to be a nation of true religious freedom. If you want chills up and down your back, read up on United States history in the 1880s, when Christians were trying to pass Sunday laws, trying to legislate Sunday-only worship, and Adventists were actually being persecuted about this issue.
Anyway, Gideon’s father Joash didn’t buy into the Baal-nationalistic backrule. Instead, he laid down a better backrule: If the god Baal has a problem with his altar being destroyed, he should be the one who takes action.
But let’s dive back into the Gideon story, which gets more exciting by the moment. All those harassing nations are starting to gather again, and it seems that they’re going to cause the same devastation they’ve always done.
Verses 33 – 35: Then all the Midianites and Amalekites, the people of the East, gathered together; and they crossed over and encamped in the Valley of Jezreel. But the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon; then he blew the trumpet, and the Abiezrites gathered behind him. And he sent messengers throughout all Manasseh, who also gathered behind him. He also sent messengers to Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali; and they came up to meet them.
Think of all the backrules, all the preconceived ideas, Gideon is trying to blow out of the water, backrules like The Midianites with all their camels and tents and troops are undefeatable. We are not prepared. We’ve been living in those caves all this time. Who are we to stand against them?
And then Gideon challenges God with the two famous fleece tests. And God doesn’t get annoyed. He simply performs the miracles.
And next, there’s the breathtaking troop-culling, starting in Chapter 7.
Judges 7:1 – 7: Then Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the people who were with him rose early and encamped beside the well of Harod, so that the camp of the Midianites was on the north side of them by the hill of Moreh in the valley. And the LORD said to Gideon, “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel claim glory for itself against Me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’ Now therefore, proclaim in the hearing of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is fearful and afraid, let him turn and depart at once from Mount Gilead.’ ” And twenty-two thousand of the people returned, and ten thousand remained. But the LORD said to Gideon, “The people are still too many; bring them down to the water, and I will test them for you there. Then it will be, that of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ the same shall go with you; and of whomever I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ the same shall not go.” So he brought the people down to the water. And the LORD said to Gideon, “Everyone who laps from the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set apart by himself; likewise everyone who gets down on his knees to drink.” And the number of those who lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, was three hundred men; but all the rest of the people got down on their knees to drink water. Then the LORD said to Gideon, “By the three hundred men who lapped I will save you, and deliver the Midianites into your hand. Let all the other people go, every man to his place.”
And what are all those departing Israelite troops thinking about right now? A chilling number have admitted to being afraid, and as they scurry off home, they’re probably thinking, “What just happened here? This is a disaster. Good try, Gideon, but you’re falling flat on your face. Well, at least we’re safe.”
And then comes the next cull, and pretty soon the troops are down to 300. They have borrowed the trumpets and provisions of the departing troops.
And what’s so very tenderhearted here is that, instead of Gideon asking for another sign, it’s God who offers Gideon a sign.
Verses 9 – 15: It happened on the same night that the LORD said to him, “Arise, go down against the camp, for I have delivered it into your hand. But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant, and you shall hear what they say; and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.” Then he went down with Purah his servant to the outpost of the armed men who were in the camp. Now the Midianites and Amalekites, all the people of the East, were lying in the valley as numerous as locusts; and their camels were without number, as the sand by the seashore in multitude. And when Gideon had come, there was a man telling a dream to his companion. He said, “I have had a dream: To my surprise, a loaf of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian; it came to a tent and struck it so that it fell and overturned, and the tent collapsed.” Then his companion answered and said, “This is nothing else but the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel! Into his hand God has delivered Midian and the whole camp.” And so it was, when Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, that he worshiped. He returned to the camp of Israel, and said, “Arise, for the LORD has delivered the camp of Midian into your hand.”
And now Gideon knows for sure. Now he can march back into camp with full confidence that God is in this. Now he firmly believes in the backrule you and I need to add to our own backrule kit: God can do exactly what He wants to, when He wants to.
Verses 16 – 22: Then he divided the three hundred men into three companies, and he put a trumpet into every man’s hand, with empty pitchers, and torches inside the pitchers. And he said to them, “Look at me and do likewise; watch, and when I come to the edge of the camp you shall do as I do: When I blow the trumpet, I and all who are with me, then you also blow the trumpets on every side of the whole camp, and say, ‘The sword of the LORD and of Gideon!’ ” So Gideon and the hundred men who were with him came to the outpost of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just as they had posted the watch; and they blew the trumpets and broke the pitchers that were in their hands. Then the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the pitchers—they held the torches in their left hands and the trumpets in their right hands for blowing—and they cried, “The sword of the LORD and of Gideon!” And every man stood in his place all around the camp; and the whole army ran and cried out and fled. When the three hundred blew the trumpets, the LORD set every man’s sword against his companion throughout the whole camp; and the army fled to Beth Acacia, toward Zererah, as far as the border of Abel Meholah, by Tabbath.
God can do exactly what He wants to, when He wants to.
What are the challenges you’re facing this week? I have a feeling that, as staggering as they are, they’re not quite as staggering as the challenges Gideon and his nation faced. But I would like to challenge you to remember that God is not limited. God will work out His timing, and his timing is always best. But He is in control.
And through Bible stories like this, we can discover that it is no secret what God can do. Songwriter Stuart Hamblen discovered this, and we’re going to sing his song “It Is No Secret What God Can Do” right now. As we sing, let’s think of Gideon, and let’s ask the Lord to give us Gideon’s growing courage.