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Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Hillside Refuge (Judges 6)

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            “All the Midianites and Amalakites and the people of the east came together, and crossing the Jordan River, they encamped in the Valley of Jezreel” (Judges 6:33). Don’t worry if you’re don’t who the Midianites, Amalakites, or people of the east are and if you have no clue where the Valley of Jezreel is.  I’m going to tell the story.
            It starts with some bad news.  The Israelites had been in the process of settling the land God promised to Abraham.  As they traveled from slavery in Egypt through the wilderness of Sinai, God gave the law by which they were to live.  That story is told in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  The story of settling the land starts in the book of Joshua and picks up here in Judges.
            God’s chosen people, the Israelites, are to live in this land and worship God.  The problem comes when they decide to worship other, false gods and live by the morality of other nations instead of worshiping the one true God and obeying him.  God withdraws his protection and other peoples – Midianites and Amalakites – move into the area and harass the Israelites. 
            As we hear this story, ponder this.  If you worship and follow Jesus, you are counted among the people of God.  Who or what in your life makes it difficult to trust God, to follow God, and stay true to His vision for you?  It could be people or institutions.  It could be temptations or addictions or bad habits or bad relationship.  Anything that seduces you into turning away from God is an enemy.  What enemy weakens your faith?
            The desperate Israelites cried out.  An unnamed prophet from God tells them, you’ve been unfaithful to the call of God (6:7-10).  But, God does more than just send a condemning word through the prophet.  In spite of all our sins, God still hears us when we pray.  Even when we are guilty of hurting others, debasing people, and breaking several of the ten commandments – even when we know that God knows we’re totally busted – even then, we can pray and God hear us and answer.
            After God sent the prophet, God’s angel came to Gideon.  The angel says, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior” (6:12).  What is Gideon the mighty warrior doing when this angel shows up?
            “Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press, to hide it from the Midianites” (6:11).  Mighty warrior?  Gideon has to be thinking, you’ve got the wrong guy!  Gideon starts questioning.  Where are all God’s wonderful deeds that our ancestors talked about?  If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?  The Lord has cast us off” (v.12-13).  The angel called him mighty warrior, but Gideon spoke like a mighty complainer. 
            He was terrified of the Midianite warriors.  They dominated the valley.  He along with the other Israelites hid in the hills.  It’s hard to do any farming while hiding.  You end up beating wheat in a wine press, hoping the big bad Midianites won’t find you.  Mighty warrior?  Gideon was a coward.  But the angel of the Lord told him, “In this might of yours, go and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian.  I hereby commission you” (v.14).
            It’s amazing that the Midianites made Gideon tremble with fear, but he had no trouble talking back to the angel of the Lord.  You don’t get it, Angel of God, he explains. “My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family” (v. 15).  With God, that doesn’t matter.  Spoiler alert!  That’s the moral of the story.  The angel, speaking for God, says, “I will be with you and you will strike down the Midianites, every one of them” (v.16.).
            Again, knock-kneed Gideon, yellow with fright before Midian, boldly negotiates with the angel.  If this is truly the Lord, Gideon needs proof.  He tells the angel to wait right there.  I mean, who tells God, ‘hold on, I’ll be with you in a second.’  He runs and gets a goat and prepares an offering.  The angel consumes the offering in fire and then vanishes (v.19).
            Of course at this point Gideon totally freaks out!  “Help me, Lord God!  For I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face” (v.22).    “Shalom,” God says, “you shall not die.”  God calms the man and Gideon then does what Old Testament people do.  He gives God a new name.  He calls God “Shalom;” peace.
            Then the man goes into town and boldly rips down the poles offered to the false god Baal.  They’re called Asherah poles.  Gideon defies the false god tearing down his blasphemous altar. 
            Well, OK; Gideon sneaks out at night and does the deed under the cover of darkness and then runs home and hides in his dad’s house.  In the morning, when the people – Jewish people who aren’t supposed to worship false gods (#1 of the 10 commandments) – when they see their Asherah torn down and an altar to the Lord in its place, they aren’t happy.
            Who did this?  Gideon, son of Joash?  Bring him out here.  We’re going to kill him.  You’ve never heard of this Joash, hero of Judges chapter 6?  This is his finest moment.  He’s up to his neck in the same sins as the rest of the community.  He’s in trouble with God.  They all are.  But, when the community surrounds his house, intent on executing his son, he finds his courage.  He’s struck by a truth bomb and he drops that truth bomb on the heads of his idolatrous neighbors. 
            O, you want to fight for Baal, do you?  If this Baal is really a god as we have been saying he is, let him fight for himself.  They can’t really say anything to that.  The whole uproar dies down immediately, but there is one outcome we need to hear and heed.  Instead of killing Gideon, the people give him a new name, Jerubaal.  It means let Baal contend against him. 
            He was renamed Baal-fighter.  A lot of people in the community thought Baal was real and was a god of some sort.  They were calling Gideon god-fighter.  Earlier I asked, what relationship or institution or temptation or bad habit or addiction or mistake acts as an enemy to your faith?  Now, imagine you face that enemy and declare that it will not come between you and God.  Alcohol?  You will not ruin my walk with the Lord.  Past mistakes?  You will not come between Jesus and me.  Abusive family history?  You will not tell me I am worthless.  I am a child of God, made in the image of God.  Imagine you have mustered the courage to face your demons and turn to Jesus.  Those people in Gideon’s town would rename you “Satan-enemy” or “evil-fighter.”
            Sure, we want to be thought of as opposite the devil and we oppose all that is bad and evil and cruel.  But it’s also terrifying.  Here comes Satan to wreak havoc on the church!  What do we do?  Don’t worry!  We’ll all stand behind old “Satan-enemy” and he’ll take care of it.  They’re talking about you.
            Gideon hid high in the hills above the Midianite hoards with their swords and iron chariots.  He was safe in his hill side refuge.  We hide in a refuge to be safe from that which frightens us, to regroup, and catch our breath.  But, once we’ve recovered, we can’t stay in hiding forever.  God came to Gideon as he was hiding.  God met him in his refuge.  God called him as he was – lacking in confidence and cowardly. 
            The chapter ends with Gideon continuing to show his true colors.  In addition to his timidity, he was a negotiator.  OK, God, I’m going to do what you said, but I need proof that you’re with me (6:36).  God’s already said the only way this will work is I, God, will be with you.  Now Gideon wants proof! 
            Gideon’s going to lay some fleece out in the open night air.  If, the next morning, there’s dew on the fleece and the ground is dry, he’ll know God is with him.  God goes along with this farcical proposition.  The next morning the ground is dry.  The fleece is soaked with dew.  OK, Gideon, are we good to go? 
How about just one more little confirmation?  Gideon asks that the next night, the fleece be dry, but the ground wet.  The next morning, Gideon steps out of his tent and his socking feet squish as he steps one the wet, dew-soaked ground.  He dries his feet with the fleece that doesn’t have a drop on it.  Then he goes and rounds up an army.  He’s run out of tricks for God to perform.  It’s time to leave the hill side refuge and go face the mighty Midianites.  Next week, we’ll talk about that contest and how God can negotiate even better than Gideon.
For now, our time is up.  We must leave this Hillside refuge and step into the world.  We don’t go alone.  We are mighty warriors in the same way cowardly Gideon was because the God who went with him goes with us. 
What challenges await you in the week to come?  Are there people in your life make you turn mean? Or threats that shatter your confidence?  Or temptations that try to lure you away from God?  God’s got you.  God loves you and goes with you.  Even if you don’t feel His power, God’s love is more powerful than the evils we face. 
So, go from this refuge, you who are called Opponents of Satan, Enemies of Evil.  Go in the power of the Holy Spirit and face the world.  Share the good news of salvation.  Meet hatred with love.  And by the time the week is over and you’re tired and beaten up, then come right back here.  The Hillside refuge will be here and the God of Gideon will give you peace, shalom.

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