Judges ~ Chapter Six
Read: Judges 6:1-40
"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!"
(Judges 6:11, 12)
Once again, God's covenant people fell under the chastening hand of the Lord. While the land experienced rest for forty years, Israel became complacent in spiritual matters and drifted from their devotion to God. They had forgotten the God who was their gracious provider and protector, and instead worshiped heathen gods. They impoverished themselves spiritually, so the Lord released the Midianites upon them like a plague of locusts (Joel 1:2-12), to devour the land and discipline His rebellious people with famine for seven years (Amos 8:11). The Midianites were distant relatives of Israel (Genesis 25:1, 2) whom they counted as foes. They were a tribe of wandering Bedouins from Arabia who descended on the farmland of Israel during the time of harvest each year and utterly destroyed the crops while Israel hid in caves. "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...they would enter the land to destroy it. So Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites, and the children of Israel cried out to the LORD" (Judges 6:3-6). Life had become intolerable for Israel; their land was ravaged, their food was stolen out of their mouths, and they fled to the hills to hide from the enemy. They hid in caves watching from a distance as the land the Lord had given them was consumed by invading raiders. In their affliction, Israel realized the greater danger they faced living distant from God, and so they cried out to God for help. The Lord sent a prophet to remind them of His faithfulness to them and to admonish them for their disobedience; just as He had done years before when the Angel of the Lord rebuked them at Bochim (2:1-4). "But you have not obeyed My voice" (Judges 6:10b). Then the Angel of the Lord made a personal visitation to Gideon, who was threshing wheat in the winepress to protect it from the hands of the invaders. While others were hiding in fear, Gideon was busy at work preparing and preserving food for the famine. The Lord called this "mighty man of valor" into battle as His chosen deliverer for His people. "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?" (v. 14). The Lord saw something in Gideon that he could not see in himself. Though Gideon expressed his doubts, the Lord assured him of success. "And the LORD said to him, "Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man" (v. 16). The key to his success was the Lord's promised presence. Like Moses before him, who demanded the Lord's presence as the only acceptable condition for continuing their journey (Exodus 33:14-16), Gideon requested a sign of the Lord's promised presence. When his peace-offering was accepted and the Angel of the Lord departed, fear came upon Gideon, for he realized that the Lord's presence had been with him all along. "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" (Judges 6:22). Gideon received the blessed assurance of God's presence, but melted in fear for his life, just as Isaiah did when he cried, "Woe is me, for I am undone!" at the sight of the exalted, eternal King of kings seated on the throne (Isaiah 6:1-5), and John, the beloved disciple, who, at the vision of the Son of Man, "fell at his feet as dead" (Revelation 1:17). The Lord allowed His servant to see something of Himself he had never seen before to encourage him for battle. Gideon's soul was struck with awe and he trembled with the knowledge of the mighty hand that would lead him into battle and fight for him. May we draw courage from Gideon's divine encounter, knowing that the Lord has visited each of us in a personal way to bring us to salvation, so that we will walk the path of faith in the fear of the Lord and not in the fear of man. The Lord has promised us that He will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). May the overwhelming sense of the divine Presence consume all fear of man as the realization of His awesome majesty settles upon our hearts and emboldens us for the battle. "The LORD is my helper; I will not fear, what can man do to me?" (v. 6). May we prepare our hearts now for seasons of "spiritual famine", as we do in times of physical crisis, by taking our positions on the battlefield and remaining vigilant in prayer for the hungering and thirsting souls all around us. "Let tears run down like a river day and night; give yourself no relief; give your eyes no rest. Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the watches; pour out your heart like water before the face of the LORD. Lift your hands toward Him for the life of your young children, who faint from hunger at the head of every street" (Lamentations 2:18b, 19).
"We have a strong city;
God will appoint salvation for walls and bulwarks.
Open the gates, that the righteous nation which keeps the truth may enter in.
You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You,
because he trusts in You.
Trust in the LORD forever, for in YAH, the LORD, is everlasting strength."
"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 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."
In Israel's history, memorials were often set up in places where they experienced special encounters or deliverances from the Lord (Genesis 28:18-22; Joshua 4). After Gideon's divine encounter, he followed custom and built an altar to the Lord, calling it THE-LORD-IS-PEACE. Gideon desired peace for his people, which he understood would only come when they returned to the Lord their God. They could never experience peace from their enemies until they first made their peace with God. Only in first renewing their covenant loyalty to the Lord would He turn and fight for them and rid the land of all their foes. Gideon's firstfruits offering of peace was an act of faith. When his offering was accepted by Jehovah-Shalom, he had the confirmation he needed of the Lord's promised peace for His people. With his fears banished, his first task as the Lord's chosen warrior was to prepare a sacrifice for the battle and tear down the altar that had become the dividing wall in their relationship with the Lord. Their idolatrous worship practices had put them at war with the Lord and brought about the devastation of the land. The Lord gives us peace so that we may prepare for war. It is necessary that our first battle be with those obstacles that stand in the way of our pure worship of the Lord; they must be dismantled and destroyed before we can have true success on the battlefield. Gideon stood in the gap and did the work that his fellow Israelites would not do for themselves; but they were not willing to let go of their idols without a fight. "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" (vv. 29, 30). In order for us to experience restored fellowship with the Lord, we must courageously cast down every idol, and humbly confess our sins and our dependence upon the Lord. Gideon set out to re-establish pure religion just as Elijah did in his day when he rebuilt the broken-down altar of the Lord and demanded the people choose whom they would serve (1 Kings 18:20-40). The peace that God brings to our hearts is meant to lead us to a life of deeper union and communion with Him, not cause us to drift away, as the years of peace did for Israel. This is the difference between simply experiencing external peace in the land and true internal peace that Jesus offers us. "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (John 14:27). May we not miss the day of our visitation, as the Lord is calling us in this season to cultivate a life of deep, abiding intimacy with Him, so that we will experience the joy and sweetness of His fellowship and be able to stand courageously against our enemies as we advance His kingdom's work in the land. "Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, "If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build and embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation" (Luke 19:41-44).
"Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!
Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication,
with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;
and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,
will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."