Saturday, August 25, 2012

Gideon's Strength

This past week, one of the daily readings came from Judges 6 where the Angel of the Lord appears to Gideon. Something stood out to me that I never saw before: The Angel told Gideon to “Go in the strength that you have”. The Angel didn't say “Go in the strength I will give you” or “Go in the strength of your forefathers.” He said to go in the strength that he had... right then, at that moment.

It would be helpful to remember that the Angel found Gideon beating out wheat in a wine press- that is, he was trying to hide what he was doing for fear of the oppressive Midianites. Gideon assured the angel he had the wrong guy. He was just a nobody... the low man on the totem pole of the lowest family in Israel. What would God want with him?

I've often felt like whatever good I have will be ruined or stolen from me if anyone finds out what's inside. So I've lived my life in a wine press, but there are no grapes or wheat in here... its just me. The “Midianite” assaults have taken many different forms over the years. I learned from a very young age how to be O.K. with being alone. No one seemed to want “me”, only information or opportunity I was privy to. I learned how to be a quiet person. No one seemed to want to hear what I had to say. I was the only child of a dead end family after all. I learned how to give people what they wanted because it was obvious no one really wanted what I had to offer. I ended up tucking those bits away for me & eventually forgot I possessed anything of value. This place used to have a purpose- it was supposed to be a place to crush grapes... Instead, it was the place that crushed me. And yet, I know the message spoken to Gideon is one I need to hear as well. I need to ”go” in the strength that I have... But where am I going? And who am I going to save?

Its safe to say Gideon was a little freaked out- when he finally realized he had been talking to the angel of the Lord, he thought he was a dead man. But the angel told him “Be calm, do not fear. You shall not die.”. So one of the first things Gideon did was build an altar in that place. He called it “Yahweh Shalom”, which means “The Lord is Peace”. The altar was an ancient kind of placeholder, a bookmark, a reminder that “X marks the spot” where a profound event occurred. No doubt building the altar was an act of faith for Gideon.

That very same night, inspired by the Lord, Gideon proceeded to desecrate his father's altar to Baal & cut down the sacred pole dedicated to the goddess Asherah that stood next to it. He took a bull (which was set aside for sacrifice to Baal) & burned it on the wood of the pole as a holocaust to God instead (6:25-32). This was quite the operation. It took 10 men plus Gideon to accomplish! The next morning, needless to say, folks were kinda pissed. Oddly enough, Gideon's father was not. He actually stood up for Gideon & asserted that Baal could “act for himself”. Gideon was known that day as “Jerubbaal”, which means “Let Baal take action”.

So Gideon saw the angel of the Lord but didn't die. He built an altar to God & then destroyed his father's altar, his sacred pole & bull, but he didn't die at the hands of the townspeople either. So far, so good. He wasn't even punished or cut off from the family. Instead, he got a nickname that thumbed its nose at the god of his oppressors. And it was precisely then, that all of Midian, Amalek & even the Kedemites (whoever they were) “mustered & crossed over” into the valley.

Gideon: “Oh crap.”

Actually, something else happened: The Spirit of the Lord enveloped Gideon & he sprang into action. He called out the calvary first & then laid out the famous fleece. Long story short, we know he routed his enemies with just a few hundred men & eventually became a war hero & a great leader in Israel. But he had to go in the strength that he had, right then.

He built an altar to God as an act of sheer faith. Responding to the inspiration of the Lord, he got his servants to help him tear down the altar to Baal & burn the Asherah pole. Enveloped by the Spirit of the Lord, Gideon “blew the horn”, sounding the alarm. He went from the wine press to the threshing floor (vs 37) & laid out his fleece. Having received God's reassurance, Gideon was ready for a fight & the “champion” as the Lord called him, was indeed victorious. But he didn't do any of it alone & neither can I.

 So... am I ready to go in the strength that I have? Am I ready to “blow the horn”, to sound the alarm & get ready for a fight? Uh... just let me unroll my fleece here & read those directions again...

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