October 21, 2007
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Judges 7:1-8, 16-23
God Makes [Them] Poor And Weak
1. In today's first reading, a portion from the narrative of Gideon was read. It is a very impressive story, well known from The Old Testament. This narrative begins from chapter six. I think we should read a section from the introduction first. "The Israelites did that which was regarded as evil in the sight of the Lord. The Lord delivered them into the hands of the Midianites for seven years," (6:1). This is the very beginning of it. In The Book Of Judges, we find the phrase, "[The Israelites] did that which was regarded as evil in the sight of the Lord," repeated over and over again. But now, what are [the words] "that which was regarded as evil in the sight of the Lord" meaning to say? This expression first appears in Judges in chapter two and verse eleven. The scripture at that place says the following. "The Israelites started to do that which was regarded as evil in the sight of the Lord and to serve Baal." In this way then, "that which was regarded as evil in the sight of the Lord" means Baal worship.
2. Baal could be defined as the agricultural god to whom the former inhabitants of Canaan used to pay homage. He is the god of the abundant harvest, fertility, and prosperity. Originally, the nation of Israel was semi-nomadic tribes which migrated while raising its sheep. But, as the nation of Israel came to settle in Canaan and took up farming, they had come to be attracted by the agricultural god, the god of the harvest and prosperity, which had been worshipped there. Can you feel how that could have happened?
3. However, what does it mean that the harvest and prosperity god had come to be worshipped [in the process of time]? In the course of time as one may suppose, a society came to be formed, the kind which respected what leads to abundance, what increases the numbers, what becomes strong, what becomes large in it. The rich and the powerful were respected in it. Since everybody was seeking for riches, it was just a matter of time before it become that way. Therefore, the rich and the powerful sought to become more and more rich and powerful. Even while they trampled upon the poor and the weak, they became more and more rich and powerful. It became that way since the god they worshipped was the prosperity god, that is, the god who was the projection of human desires. And Israel had probably forgotten that they used to be slaves in Egypt. They probably forgot the fact that though they were slaves they had been saved out of it by just God's mercy. And so the nation that had forgotten that it had received mercy soon forgot [to be] merciful among its own people.
4. But, the Lord did not will that Israel become such a people. So what did the Lord do? He made Israel poor. He made them weak and put them in a position where they were trampled upon. The scripture has it like this, "They were delivered into the hands of the Midianites."
5. The Midianites were nomadic people. They rode camels. The Midianites who were these nomads and the Amalekites who were nomads just like them attacked in raids of great numbers, plundered them of their food, and devastated the land. The Bible says, "They came up carrying their tents along with their cattle, and they were like swarms of locusts, the number of the people or the camels was not known. They came and then they laid the land waste all around," (6:5). This was how Israel became poor and weak. At which point they finally cried out. "Israel became exceedingly emaciated on account of the Midianites; and so the Israelites cried out seeking for help from the Lord," (6:6).
6. They did not seek for help from the god of prosperity, but they cried out unto the Lord seeking help from him. As the prophet said afterwards, "the Lord" is the God who lead them up out of Egypt and lead them out of the house of slaves. [The Lord] is the God who is graciously merciful to these weak and small people and he is the God who would never look down upon those who have been trampled upon. They went back to the starting point and sought help from the Lord God who had led the enslaved people out of Egypt. The Lord heard their prayer in which they sought him and sought him crying out for mercy from their suffering. Whereupon, the Lord chose one person in order to save them. Gideon was that very person.
Hey Hero, The Lord Is With You!
7. What kind of character was this man named Gideon? As he himself puts it, Gideon's family was the poorest among the tribe of Manasseh and even in his family within the tribe he was the least in rank by age, (6:15). Furthermore, in chapter six and verse eleven the scripture says the following. "So, an angel of the Lord came and sat under a terebinth tree which was in Ophrah. It belonged to Joash the Abiezrite. His son Gideon threshed wheat by the winepress in order to avoid having it stolen by the Midianites." A winepress could be defined as a pit made by gouging out a rock. In this place where the wind did not go through, they ground down the wheat and you couldn't get a more refined threshing than this. However, even though [he was working in a hidden area], it suggests he couldn't help from being knee-knocking scared. This is the very character which God had chosen. To a guy like this God called out through an angel with the following words. "O man of valor, (hero, brave one)!" Talking like this to him was truly just an awful shock for him because he wasn't brave no matter how you looked at him.
8. But, God was dead serious. The reason God called him "hero" was not because he was strong or courageous. The main thing is the simple message after calling him that. "The Lord is with you." Because of the fact that the Lord is with him, he will become a brave man. This is what the Lord says to him in verse fourteen. "You should go in that strength of yours. You can deliver Israel from the hands of the Midianites. Am I not sending you?," (6:14).
9. Thus, this "hero" had come to be given a monumentally huge burden. It was the kind of burden that would crush you if you took it upon yourself. Doesn't this remind you of something, though? God certainly does do things like this at times. There have been times when God would give heavy burdens that could not be borne by a person's natural strength of his or her own. [We] can't help from saying, [I'm] already unable to bear [things]. Whenever [I] look at the real world around [me], [I am] crushed. Things sure do seem that way.
10. But, when God gives a burden and says bear it, there is something we can assume behind it. It is the assumption that "I am with you." We've also been told about in olden times when Moses was given the tremendous task of leading Israel out of Egypt. The Lord said [to him], "I will surely be with you," (Exodus 3:12). Therefore, the main thing in this is not that one becomes strong. It is to trust in the Lord who will be with you. It is faith.
11. It was not because Gideon thought he could do it, but because he had received the words of the Lord with faith. Even though [the Lord] told [him], "You should go in that strength of yours," he knew it was only his own strength. [He knew he would be] dependent upon the Lord alone to be with him. He would depend upon the very Lord himself to be graciously merciful to little him. Therefore, Gideon constructed an altar for the Lord there, (6:24), and that night, he struck down the altar of Baal, (6:25ff).
Your People Are Too Many
12. At that very moment the Midianites, the Amalekites, and various tribes from the east were all uniting and crossed the Jordan River, and spread out their camps in the plain of Jezreel. Their total number is recorded later, but it was more than one hundred and fifty thousand persons. No matter how you looked at it, they were no match for this battle. But, the Lord had sent [him]. Gideon had resolved to do battle. In the end, he did sound the horn [for battle].
13. First the Abiezrite clan, who were Gideon's relatives, had gathered together. Gideon was frantic. He sent messengers to every nook and cranny of the tribe of Manasseh to which he belonged, and he gathered the people together. In addition, he sent messengers to Asher, and Zebulun, and Naphtali which were northern tribes. Thus, he prepared for battle and scraped up the men for it. [Their] number [was] thirty-two thousand men. It was still far from the number of the enemy. But, even still, Gideon didn't give up. The scripture reading passage that we read for today says the following. "Jerubbaal, that is, Gideon and all the people he commanded rose up early in the morning, and spread their camp near En Harod. The Midian encampment was north of them, it was at the foot of the hill of Moreh which was in the plain," (verse one). Though they were only thirty-two thousand men, they still proceeded any way.
14. But then something astonishing took place. "The Lord said to Gideon. 'As the people you are commanding are too many, I won't deliver the Midianites into their hands. If I allow them to deliver [the Midianites like that], Israel will turn to me and have proud hearts, and say that we have won salvation by our own hands. Therefore, now, call out to the people and tell them this. Let all who are trembling with fear return home and depart the mountain of Gilead.' Thus, twenty-two thousand from the people went home, and ten thousand stayed back," (verses two and three). That's just hardly nobody left under these circumstances, unbelievable! Even under normal circumstances this wasn't enough. But that's about the number of men that Gideon had frantically pulled together from before. The Lord put the number of men down to less than one third of what it was.
15. Yet the Lord went on to say more still. "The people are still too many. Bring them and go down to the watering area. There I will pick out the ones for you. The ones whom I report that they should go with you will go with you and the ones I announce that they should not go with you must not be allowed to go," (verse four). And when they went down to the watering area, he left back only those who had scooped up and sipped in the water with their hands as [though] constantly prepared, that they might be ready to do battle. The ones who drank the water by sitting on their knees and forgetting the battle were allowed to go back home. Just three hundred men were left. Even though with great pains Gideon had assembled over thirty thousand men.
16. [They] must bear the heavy load given [them]. [They] must accomplish the mission given [them]. Therefore, havning made plans the best [they] could, then having put in the effort to pull them off, [they] were [quite] willing to see it through come what may. God ends up putting those plans, of all plans, into disorder. All [their] efforts to that point went down the drain. -- Now, there may be [times] like that for us. It does happen that what we have gathered together with great pains ends up being scattered. It does happen that what we have accumulated with great trouble ends up toppled. At those times, of course, we [might] feel bitter against God. We might say, "What is this?!" Isn't that just how [we] are?
17. Yet, God says, "If you've done your best, you scraped it together, you piled it up, and still surmounted it all, your heart will be proud and you will say, 'I have gained salvation by my own hands.'" And you will surely think in your heart somewhere, "Just as I thought, it is the numbers that talks, it is the riches, it is power. It was through that that I gained salvation." And whether it is Israel or us, in the final analysis, such a proud heart only fits in with the class of Baal worship. One begins to only seek for the god of prosperity.
18. As a result, the Lord decreases the thirty-two thousand men to three hundred. And through them he reveals that he is the Lord. That is, he reveals that he is the God who lead the nation of slaves up out of Egypt, and that he is the God who never despises the suffering little and weak people.
19. What did those three hundred men do? They were divided into three platoons in the middle of the night and went out with horns and empty water jugs. While hiding the torch lights by the water jugs, they drew near in a way surrounding the enemy camp so as not to be noticed. Then all together at one time, they blew the horns and broke the jars and gave out a loud sound, and holding up the torches they kept blowing into their horns. With this kamikaze attack, the enemy camp fell into pandemonium. And in the end, the huge army over there of one hundred fifty-five thousand took flight before the three hundred.
20. As seen by the eyes of the world, it was a victory from the wisdom of Gideon. They might have said it was a militarily strategic victory. But, that's not what the Bible says. The scripture says, "Through out the enemy encampment, the Lord caused them to kill their own comrades by mistake," (verse twenty-two). It was the Lord himself who truly fought the battle. Gideon was sure to have understood, the men he had worked so hard to gather together were scattered by God. This was the wisdom of the Lord. It was a victory from the Lord. The Lord looks over us little guys. The Lord revealed his great power exactly at the spot where he had made them completely weak. Gideon knew it.