Humans are fickle creatures in a broken world. Sometimes, when we feel a dissonance between what we know and what we see, our first inclination is to test God. Throughout the Word, we see moments where He takes our questions, our anger, and our faithlessness and remains faithful and patient with us.

The following content is from the Session Series, a 23-volume set of Bible studies covering 29 books of the Bible – for personal devotion or group study. Enjoy!

Gideon, Part 1: Don’t Be Mad at Me, God

Session 5: Judges 6:25-40

Read Judges 6:25-40.
As you go through life, do you find yourself accumulating questions? I do. Someone recently proposed a few of life’s funnier curiosities.

  1. If laughter is the best medicine, why do some people say they die laughing?
  2. Why do people say “heads up” when they really mean you should duck?
  3. Why is it that when we “skate on thin ice,” we can “end up in hot water”?

Well, these may not be the most pressing questions you have, but they can trouble us.

If we are paying attention, our session text should alert us to something troubling. And it raises a more imponderable question than those we heard earlier: if we are not supposed to approach God by extending a test, then why does Gideon get away with it? And if Gideon did, will I?

In the Bible, God tells the people not to test the Almighty. In the Pentateuch, Deuteronomy 6:16 reads, “Do not test the LORD your God as you did at Massah.” Massah is one of many examples in the Israelites’ journey from Egypt to the promised land in which the people cried out to God, actively doubting and questioning, “Is the LORD among us or not?” (Exod 17:7). It was at this point that God gave them water from a stone. Looking back on this experience, God warned the people through Moses: “Why do you put the LORD to the test?” (Exod 17:2).

And there are other biblical writings that should cause us discomfort over what Gideon does in Judges, like James 1:5-7: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.”

Jesus himself said on two occasions that it is “a wicked and adulterous generation that seeks after a sign” (Matt 12:38-45; 16:1-4).

In Judges 6:25, Gideon receives a calling from the Lord to destroy his own father’s altar to Ba’al. Obviously, this is compelling because of the family entanglement. On the one hand, Gideon’s calling is coming from God. But this is his father’s property and practice. If Gideon were to violate the local Ba’al altar that his family is maintaining, he could place all of them in a vulnerable, even dangerous position.

Then again, God’s angel has forecast that Gideon is a “mighty warrior” (v. 12). That is, he is a man of valor, and God will be with him—even unto victory over oppression.

The Midianites were keeping their thumbs on Gideon’s tribe. We don’t know much about the Midianites, although they appear to have been a powerful and nimble nomadic desert tribe outside the contested bounds of Israel. They made periodic raids and generally kept the Hebrew settlers scared. They lived off the hard work of Gideon’s people, taking what was not theirs because no one seemed able to stop them.

The humble families of Israel subsisted on what they could raise up out of the land. If they had surplus, they sold their goods at market. The problem was that they had taken to living in caves and hillsides, sneaking down to their own properties in fear. The Midianites and Amalekites, among others, were marching through and plundering the Israelites’ crops before the harvest, and Gideon’s people appeared powerless against them.

Today, we would call this bullying. Today, we would call this thievery.

Emboldened by what he heard from God, Gideon mustered the courage to give the new plan a try. Why not pull down the altar and destroy it? Lest we forget, Gideon himself has been more acquainted with the practices of Ba’al worship than Yahweh worship. So his obedience to God should strike us as remarkable. Predictably, the surrounding powers march to strike Gideon’s people and stamp down this small rebellion.

As God calls him to action in chapter 6, Gideon protests in a way reminiscent of Moses. He reminds God that his tribe is weak and that he is from the lowest family within that tribe. He is no one, or so he thinks. God thinks otherwise.

We finally see Gideon rise up and obey God in our text. The townspeople call out Joash, Gideon’s father, to offer up his son to die for the act of rebellion in taking down Ba’al. The reaction by Gideon’s father, in solidarity with his son, is remarkable. Joash poses a test: if Ba’al is much of a god, then let him contend for himself (see v. 31). But the altar to Ba’al lies in ruins. Gideon’s father essentially joins forces with his son and calls the people back to recognizing the one true God, Yahweh.

What can we learn from that reaction? That is, if what I have awarded power in my life is really the god I think it is, then let it sustain itself. Let it rule. Let it demonstrate its validity. And then, in the face of mounting evidence that my latest god might not be sufficient, maybe I should reconsider.

What happens next is compelling. The bullies come to town. They want to inflict some punishment. Midianites, Amalekites, and unidentified others arrive and camp out, showing their great power and numbers. However, God has promised Gideon that victory can be his. Gideon gets the word out to a number of groups. Tired, oppressed people decide they have had enough and show up to march with Gideon. Gideon’s interesting reaction takes place in verse 36.

Some have reacted to the action in Judges 6 by observing that what Gideon did was the same as tossing a coin in the air and saying, “All right God. Heads, I’ll do this your way say; tails, I won’t.” And then, after God met that test, contrary to all biblical wisdom, Gideon said, “Okay, God, how about best two out of three?” In other words, the story does not seem to be about Gideon “testing” God to see what God’s will or direction was. Gideon was already clear on that. It may be more about Gideon deciding whether or not he was going to comply with God’s direction.

This might make us a little uncomfortable. What else can we learn in this episode? What does Gideon have to teach us?

God Decided How to React to Us

Gideon does something that I wouldn’t advise you or me to do: he tests God, and not once but twice. Even so, God worked with Gideon because God will move where God wishes to move. We need that reminder from this text.

Each of us has a box that we make to contain the Almighty. We know what God looks like, sounds like, who God likes, what politicians and political decisions God supports, what God cares about and who God cares about, including which team God roots for. We know how God does things. Pretty soon, we leave no room for the surprises of God. There isn’t eyesight to see or hearing to listen when God deviates from what we expected.

Gideon’s story can puzzle us in some ways. Had I been there, I would have counseled Gideon to react differently to the visit by the angel of God. In my work, I watch a lot of people put God to the test. I am not comfortable with that approach. How do you feel about it?

Do not test the Lord thy God! we hear in our spirits. But we have to admit that, in the end, only God is in charge of how God will react to us.

Moses and Abram (later Abraham) are prominent characters in the Old Testament narrative. Each received a sign from God, but neither of them requested a specific sign. They did not test God as Gideon does in Judges 6 (v. 36). Moses got his sign as God spoke to him originally. Then, God told Moses what to do that would be a sign to help other people believe. Finally, God promised Moses one more sign, which he would get only after doing what God told him to do. Once Moses had completed his task, he would worship God on the very mountain on which he was standing.

Abram’s sign from God was a promise: God told him that after he was dead he would get his sign. Abram’s descendants would be slaves in a foreign land for 400 years. Then, they would be freed for use by God as a holy people. God even gave him a new name: Abraham. This man through whose seed the Lord chose to save the whole world never saw his sign.

Some have suggested that Gideon’s story might be different because God called upon Gideon—and Gideon wasn’t close to God at the time. He probably didn’t know a better way to respond to God. Unlike Gideon, I am supposed to know better. But I have to admit that at times I don’t. This text comforts me in an odd way because I am reminded that God knows what to do in the times when I don’t!

God is in charge of responding to us. We want to understand Gideon’s story through our own experiences and through our own theology. Instead, we need to know God on God’s terms.

When God Calls, God Will Provide

I firmly believe that God will provide. And I have staked my life in vocational ministry on that belief. I would not be doing what I do if I did not believe in God’s provision and sufficiency.

Why should any of us trust in God? Because God has a track record. God has been enough for a lot of people before our time. God has given enough and done enough. And we trust that God will do still more! But let’s be honest. Gideon was being asked to believe very deeply in a God he was not altogether familiar with.

In the space of four short years, America was dealt humbling blows in two separate incidents. You may remember where you were as you heard the news of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Video images of the Twin Towers collapsing were shown again and again on the news. We watched, not quite able to believe the enormity of it at first. Then, in August 2005, we watched in horror as Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. Once again the images of loss and despair were difficult to believe all at once—thousands dead and tens of thousands displaced in an epic disaster.

These two events—September 11 and Hurricane Katrina—show us the scope of tragedy in that the first was a man-made disaster and the second occurred naturally. When disasters strike, we join Gideon in not quite believing the hand of God is on our shoulders. We seek clarity when the call comes that nudges us to be useful for God’s causes. When we are encouraged to believe that God is at work, we may long for a sign.

Gideon had to work hard in order to believe. In fact, I’m not sure that all the signs and signals did that much for him. What seemed to make the biggest difference was jumping in and being a part of what God was doing. The same was true of Moses and Abraham, who also learned that God’s best and most obvious signs are often visible long after the call to follow and obey.

One young minister advised another, even younger minister this way. He said, “You can’t wait until you’re totally ready. Sometimes you have to jump in and paddle as hard as you can. And trust God to do the rest!” When God calls, God will provide. But we’d better be careful. Because God will call.

God Is Patient

After his initial call to lead, Gideon responded by acting on trust. God told him to pull down the altar to Ba’al that was on his father’s farm and to build a new altar to God—Yahweh—in its place. Then he was to worship God. So he did. The townspeople didn’t like this. They had become so comfortable with Ba’al worship that the idea of pledging themselves to another God scared them.

As chapter 6 flows into chapter 7, we see that Gideon was committed to God. He didn’t know exactly how the situation would play out. You and I don’t either. He didn’t know what the costs of following God’s calling were going to be. You and I don’t either.

Gideon’s tests of God involved leaving a fleece out overnight. But there’s more. What he did was to be honest before God. He even asked God to be patient with him. Actually, he asked God not to get angry with him. He really asked permission to be honest with God. And he asked for the help he needed. Verse 40 says something beautiful: “And God did so that night.” Gideon’s request was granted.

When was the last time you stood before God so honestly—so unedited and completely unscripted—that you felt the need to ask God’s patience? In your uncertainty, in your fright, in your pain, frustration, confusion, or even anger, have you called on God lately?

People who have been to the bottom only to find it firm have called on God. People who have spoken honestly have found God willing to listen. Those who have offered themselves to God but weren’t exactly ready have found God to be quite patient.

Gideon’s story will inspire some reflection. What are you giving God to work with? What are we giving God to work with?

  1. What’s the boldest thing you have ever done? What’s the unlikeliest choice you have made against great odds?
  2. What are some things about life that you are curious about?
  3. What are some things about God—and about God’s ways—that you wish you understood more?
  4. In Judges 6, what background helps us understand why God may have raised up Gideon as the next great leader of the people (see 6:1-32)?
  5. In this session’s text, Gideon clearly puts God to a “test” of sorts. What is your reaction to this in light of your own beliefs about how God works?
  6. Why do you believe God appeared more patient or receptive in this episode with Gideon than in some other stories of the Bible?
  7. What are some “boxes” you tend to put God in? In other words, what are some assumptions about God—and about what God would or would not do—that most powerfully shape your faith?
  8. What from this text might challenge some of the assumptions you have had about God?
  9. What from your life of faith helps you to believe that, when you don’t know what to do, God does know?

Sessions Series

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This session came from the volume on Judges. Each volume of the Sessions Series has 8-10 sessions that equip and challenge you to grow in your personal walk or in a discussion-based group setting. If you’re looking for something that’s a little more guided than a devotional, add this series to your library today!

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