Sunday, October 15, 2006

Sunday Sermon: Judges 8:3-35, God is your King!

Today, we are going to consider Gideon’s life written from 8:3-35. Last week, we learn our God is God who does impossible things and he does them through us. And, although we are often unwilling, timid, and distrusting of God doing impossible things through us, he deals with us compassionately and patiently to help us come to trust him deeper.

Today’s heart response question is, “Who is your king?” “Who do you trust the most to set the example for you to live, to lead, guide and rule your life?” Well, we all know the appropriate Christian answer is God.

But today, through the story of Gideon in chapter 8, we are going to be under the subject of God’s word, which according to Hebrews 4:12, “is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Every thing is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” May God examine your heart through his word in answering the question, “Who is your king?” And, may God help you make him your true king!

1. God’s patient and compassionate dealing with timid, distrusting, manipulative and fearful Gideon

Thus far, what immerges out of chapter 6 and 7 is the image of Gideon as a man who doubted God, who couldn’t believe the impossible thing God was going to do through him. He was a timid man who was easily driven by fear and anxiety. He remained this way even though God talked to him through the angel and directly as well.
He resorted to a form of manipulation, asking God to perform the signs of dry and wet fleece thinking this would corner God to really follow through his promise.
But, we learned last week God doesn’t subject himself to people’s manipulation.[1] God comes through his promises because he is God of covenant, the ultimate promise keeper, not because he can be manipulated by us.

We try to understand God in our own terms, to fit him into our limited thinking. And, if God doesn’t fit in our own terms, we demand that God work in the way we think he should work.
But, God is not subject to manipulation. God’s business is to have us come to terms with the reality that he is God and we are not. God did this with Gideon by reducing Gideon’s men from 32,000 strong to mere 300 men, to face 135,000 enemy troops, now that is the odd of one man against 450 men. 7:22 says, “the LORD caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords.” This is how God gave the victory to 300 men against 135,000 men.

As for Gideon only after listening to God’s encouragement for him to go down to the enemy’s camp to hear two men talk about the dream and its interpretation, was he willing to trust God.

God patiently and compassionately worked with timid, distrusting, skeptical, manipulative and fearful Gideon.

2. Gideon’s impatient and harsh dealings with his own people unlike the way God dealt with him.

This is what we see since chapter 6 through chapter 8:3 about Gideon. But, in 8:4-21, we see very different side of Gideon emerging. Instead of being timid, fearful, hesitant, we see a man on the hot pursuit to get even, to revenge, to make things right by taking matters into his own hands.

On the pursuit of the two Midianite kings Zebah and Zamunna, he came across two cities some forty miles south from the original battle ground of Mount Moreh. He asked for some bread for his men from the fellow officials of these two cities Sucooth and Peniel. The leaders from the both cities rejected Gideon’s request for help. The men of Succoth and Peniel were acting out of fear against Midianites of what they might do to them if they regrouped and won against Gideon’s mere 300 troops. Just like Gideon was fearful and skeptical, the men of Succoth and Peniel feared the Midianites and they were skeptical of what Gideon and his 300 men could accomplish.

Now, having experienced himself the Lord’s kind, faithful and patient dealing with his doubts, manipulation, fear, you would think Gideon would be patient with the men of Succoth and Peniel as well. But, no, to the men of Succoth, he said in verse 7, “Just for that, when the LORD has given Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, I will tear your flesh with desert thorns and briers.” And, to the men of Peniel he told in verse 9, “When I return in triumph, I will tear down this tower.” And, we are told from verse 13 that when he returned from routing the Midianite army, he executed his own form of punishments against the people of Succoth and Peniel. Verse 16 and 17 says, “He took the elders of the town and taught the men of Succoth a lesson by punishing them with desert thorns and briers.” Another word, they were tortured to death. And, as for Peniel, verse 17 says, “He also pulled down the tower of Peniel and killed the men of the town.” He destroyed the protective fortification of the city. This would have greatly compromised the safety of the city. Not only that, the people in the tower got killed when it fell.

What’s missing in this account of Gideon’s punitive punishment against Succoth and Peniel is God. God was actively involved in chapter 6, 7 and through 8:3. But, in 8:3-8:21, we see no involvement from God. Another word, Gideon was acting mercilessly and vindictively against his own people of Succoth and Peniel, completely opposite to God’s compassionate and patient response to Gideon.

Here is the question that God is asking of you through his word. Are you dealing with patience and kindness to those around you who you find to be lacking in some ways? Or, are you dealing with harshness without compassion?

Colossians 3:12-14, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Now, we are not talking about being passive as in the sense of doing nothing. Instead, as Christians we are to actively live out the life examples of Jesus Christ. In dealing with the men of Succoth and Peniel, Gideon didn’t clothe himself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Instead, he let his flesh reign on him, by giving into the attitude of revenge, grudge, anger, hatred, bitterness. Our God, our king deals with us compassionately and patiently. And, we are to do the same.

3. Who is really your king?

When all was said and done, the Israelites said to Gideon in verse 22, “Rule over us-you, your son and your grandson-because you have saved us out of the hand of Midian.” The Israelites saw how other nations had their own kings and they wanted to be like them. We see this later in 1 Samuel 12:12. Samuel told the Israelites, “But when you saw that Nahash king of the Ammonites was moving against you, you said to me, ‘No, we want a king to rule over us’-even though the LORD your God was your king.”

The Israelites craved for the human king, thinking that would ensure the real security. They believed that not having human king made them substandard to other nations with their kings. And, when the Israelites asked Gideon to be their king, they were asking it because they thought it was Gideon who saved them out of the hand of Midian.

Having learned how God led timid, unwilling, skeptical, fearful Gideon to engage the 135,000 strong enemy’s army with mere 300 men, we know it was not Gideon, but it was God who really saved the Israelites out of the hand of Midian.
It was God who raised Gideon up to be used as a judge to rescue them. It was God who responded to the Israelites when they cried out to him for his help under the severe oppression.
Now, there are two parts to what they said to Gideon. First is their request for Gideon and his son and grandson to rule them over as their kings. And, another part is their reason for asking him to rule over them, namely they thought it was Gideon who saved them out of the hand of Midian.

Now, Gideon’s response to them appears to be a godly one. He told them in verse 23, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The LORD will rule over you.” Kudos to Gideon for refusing to be their king! He had a good sense to realize that the people were to commit their allegiance to their true king, God.

It appears that Gideon was on the right track for refusing to be their king. But, then this is what he asked the Israelites in verse 24, “I do have one request, that each of you give me an earring from your share of the plunder.” I mentioned already, the reason they asked Gideon to be their king was because they thought it was Gideon who saved them out of the hand of Midian. This was far from the truth. Here, Gideon had the chance to set the record straight by telling them really it was not him, but God who saved them. Instead of correcting Israelites’ wrong thinking by giving God the full credit for the deliverance, Gideon did completely the opposite. By asking the portion of the plunder from people, he affirmed their thinking that it was really he who saved them from the hand of Midian, not God.

Although in words Gideon turned down the offer to be their king, but in actuality he lived like their king. Like the kings of other nations would, 8:30 says that he had 70 sons of his own from his many wives. To support such a large family, he had the means of a king. 8:26 tells us that he gathered a great fortune, 17,000 shekels of gold, which was equivalent to 43 pounds of gold without counting the ornaments and the pendants. He also acquired the purple royal garments worn by the kings of Midian.

He also made an ephod out of the gold he received. An ephod was a vest that was especially made for inquiring God by the priest. God gave the instruction on how to make it and how to use it in Exodus 28. It wasn’t Gideon’s job to make the ephod to begin with; it was the job of the priest. We will come back to Gideon and his ephod shortly.

Another indication that he lived like a king comes from the way he named one of his sons. He named a son Abimelech. The meaning of this name is “My father is king.” “My father” could be understood as referring to God instead of himself. But, the fact that Gideon named his son that could be easily understood as to credit him as a king is puzzling.

Gideon told the Israelites that he wasn’t going to be their king because God was their king, but in reality, Gideon lived like a king. Instead of helping people to realize that it was God who saved them, he took the credit for God’s victory when he asked for gold from the people. Instead of glorifying God, he took God’s glory for himself.

The result was devastating. 8:33-34 says this, “No sooner had Gideon died than the Israelites again prostituted themselves to the Baals. They set up Baal-Berith as their god and did not remember the LORD their God, who had rescued them from the hands of all their enemies on every side.” Things could have been very different had Gideon made it very clear to the people that it was God who rescued them, gave them the victory against the oppression of Midian.

Now let me go back to the ephod that Gideon made. In Exodus 28, God gave the Israelites a very specific instruction on how to make the ephod for the priest to wear. It was to be worn by the priest in their ministry at the tabernacle, or temple later. The fact that Gideon made an ephod on his own initiation out of gold that he received from people, the fact that he placed it in his home town of Ophrah, likely in his own house tell us that he didn’t know the word of God. If he knew the word of God, if he had read Exodus 28, he would have known that making the ephod and having it in his own town, in his own home was against God’s will.

What happened when Gideon went ahead and made the ephod without the knowledge of the scripture that is without the knowledge of God’s will? 8:27 says, “Gideon made the gold into an ephod, which he placed in Ophrah, his town. All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family.” People believing that it was Gideon who delivered them focused their attention now on this unholy ephod Gideon made against God’s will. The ephod became an idol to people, but also to Gideon and his own family.

Gideon and the Israelites struggled to fully trust God as their King.


What is the connection between Gideon’s story and our story? The connection is the universal experience of the tension between God’s kingship and our own insistence to rule ourselves.
The struggle for Gideon was to acknowledge God as his king not only in words, but in how he actually lived out his life. He had the vague sense that it was not right for him to claim the kingship over the Israelites, but without the knowledge of God’s will revealed in the scripture, he didn’t know how to live out his daily life following God as his king.

Only if he had intimately treasured the word of God in his heart, he would have known that making the ephod was wrong; he would have known that asking for the gold from people was wrong because it didn’t give credit to God for the victory; he would have known that harshly and vindictively punishing his own people was wrong instead of dealing them with compassion and patience God showed him. Without the knowledge of the scripture, he didn’t know the will of God. Without knowing the will of God, he sought to make his own determinations and decisions as he saw fit with the tragic outcomes.

This ought to compel you to desire to dig into the word of God. When you neglect intimate reading of God’s word, you end up like Gideon who had the vague sense of God’s will, but had no clue as to how to live day and day out according to God’s desire and will. Without faithfully hearing, reading, studying God’s word, he didn’t have the faith to deeply trust God as his King!
Again, we face the same struggle as Gideon did. We may give the lip service that God is our king, but our actions betray our words. It is really the battle of the heart. Can you trust God as your king? Can you trust that God can run your life far better than you can? Can you trust that God as your king can provides you what you need? Can you trust that God as your king can protect you? Can you trust that God as your king wants to use for his kingdom purpose? Can you trust that God as your king wants to make radical differences in the way you relate to people? Can you trust God as your king who wants to impossible things through you?

If you go halfhearted about this, what you are going to end up is building your own idols, not only for yourself, but for your families and for your friends, all the while not remembering God and forsaking him. Instead of being positive contribution in the kingdom of God, you become stumbling blocks to yourself and to others.

So, would you renew your commitment to see God as your king! In order to see God as your king and to trust in him as your king, you will need to know who he is. And, how do you get to know who he is?

Many of you have this vague feeling you know God! And, you are content with knowing him as you know him now. And, you feel confident about knowing God without having to read his word everyday. Don’t believe it for a second that you can really know God without God’s word! You can not get to know anyone without engaging in deep conversation and interaction with them. Without getting to know someone’s character, you will have very difficult time or even impossible to trust the person.

Reading the word of God is like engaging in deep conversation and interaction with God. When you read, you discover who God is like, what he likes, what he dislikes, what’s important to him, how he wants to relate to you, what he wants to work in you, how he wants to change you, what he promises you, how he works in the world, how he works in people, and he speaks to you through his word! God uses his word to help you trust in him, his kingship over you!

[1] K. Lawson Younger Jr. The NIV Application Commentary: Judges and Ruth, Zondervan, 2002, p. 192. “the emotional and psychological assurance that God will really give the victory.”


Lydia said...

This was excellent. Thanks for giving so much insight into this story of Gideon. I have a deeper understanding,and am challenged to know God not vaguely, but intimately, so I don't end up erecting idols for me and my family. Be blessed.

Dave said...

Just preparing a talk on Judges 8 and found this really helpful - you were a bit harsh on Gideon as he pursued the Midianites I felt - we can learn a lot about pursuing the victories that God has given us through this passage. But I thought the section on the ephod was excellent, thankyou.