THE LORD IS PEACE
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So now we’re getting into some of the more well-known stuff in Judges. If you’ve been around church for any length of time you’ve heard the story of Gideon. They even have a Veggie Tales movie about it – I saw it this summer at camp. I think about Gideon and the Fleece and it makes me think of Jason and the Golden Fleece – a hero who is surely worthy of emulation. Or is he? We’re going to look at the story of Gideon over the next two weeks and see what God has to say to our hearts. Let us pray.
When we last left the Israelites we saw deliverance coming from the hand of a Midianite woman wielding a tent peg. Jael and the Canaanite warlord Sisera. The land had rest for 40 years. We then read that the cycle which we have now become used to happens again. Again it’s framed in language of covenant – of loving agreement. This is what we’re looking at throughout the book of Judges and the question of Who Will Lead Us? If we’re going to say we’re followers of Christ what does that mean in terms of how we live in this new covenant that has been put into place through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection? “The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hands of the Midianites for seven years.” We read in the story what some of this doing evil in the sight of the Lord meant. We’ve talked about how this meant reflecting the ways of the Canaanites and not the ways of the one who had delivered them and revealed to them how to live in harmony with God and with mankind and to reflect God’s mercy and grace and forgiveness and love and justice. We’ve seen from the beginning of the book how the Israelites failed to do this, and we fail to do it. We’ve seen how God’s relentless love means that they are delivered time after time.
In this case the Israelites are following other gods. Specifically Baal and Asherah. It’s interesting about Baal. He was the god of storm and rain. Asherah was his consort. We’ve said that the Israelites were living in a fragmented situation, eking out an agrarian existence. Very much dependent on rain. God had told them that they were going to enter a land on which they would need to depend on God for rain. There were no irrigation systems like Egypt had. There was no Nile Delta. They were to depend on God.
They were to depend on God for their everyday needs. This wasn’t enough though. They felt they had to hedge their bets. Set up altars to Baal. Set up Asherah poles beside these altars. Don’t we get this? It’s like seeing our need for God maybe when we need something, or times are bad, or it’s a matter of life and death. We don’t really need him for the everyday. For the Israelites rain was for their every day. It was for their survival. They needed something a little more immediate, a little more tangible like an altar and a pole. It’s different for us. We don’t have altars set up per se. It’s not so much the physical idols in many ways that keep us from seeking God in our everyday. It’s the temptation I believe to think that for the everyday we need to depend on - what? Our competencies. Our business savvy. Our education, good looks, charm, youth, smarts. Those mindless things that distract us from the things that weigh on us. The things that we look to for peace that, ironically, weigh heavy on our peace. I’m not saying there’s anything bad in and of any of those things on their own. It’s when they become the number one thing in our lives that our peace is destroyed.
Peace had been destroyed. Rest had been destroyed for Israel. For 7 years running a group of raiders would come up from Midian, down near the Gulf of Aqaba. Amalekites joined in along with people from the east. A hundred thousand people with camels and they would encamp in places like the Jezreel Valley against them and destroy the produce of the land and take the Israelites’ things to the point where nothing was left, not even one sheep or ox or donkey. They were nomads (hence Jael’s skill with the tent peg) and they would come up and maraud and leave. The Israelites would literally run for the hills. They couldn’t even thresh their grain out in the open for fear that it would be taken away from them. They had to thresh it in secret, in places like winepresses.
They cried out to the Lord for help.
The Lord sends a prophet with a word of grace. V8 “I led you up from Egypt, and brought you out of the house of slavery, and I delivered you from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you, and gave you their land…But you have not given heed to my voice.” They needed to be reminded. We need to be reminded meaningfully and often of what God has done for us.
We then get to the hero of our story. He’s not really the hero, of course. His first appearance is far from heroic. We know who the hero is. Speaking of God, God shows up just when things look bleakest. The angel of the Lord, he’s called in v 11. Simply the Lord in v 14. God makes himself known in the midst of this dire situation. Gideon is beating out wheat in the winepress. These ancient winepresses were carved out of stone. People would step on the grapes in them and the juice would run down a little trough into another kind of receptacle. It wasn’t built for threshing, but the threshing floor was a significant place for these ancient Israelites. Kind of like a town hall where decisions were made. Something significant is about to happen for Gideon. This youngest in his family. A member of the weakest clan in Manasseh. His name means “Hacker” which works on different levels – particularly today. He will hack down the local altar to Baal, and the Asherah pole that was beside it. We use the term to describe people who are very good at something – like computer hacker. We also use the term hacker to describe someone who is not very good at something. If you were to ask me if I play golf I would say “I hack away at it. Literally I would be hacking at the ball, I can’t play golf.” Like many of us, Gideon is a mixture of fear and requests for signs amid action. There’s a fair degree of irony going on here in this conversation between Gideon and the angel of the Lord. “The Lord is with you, O mighty warrior.” These are the angel’s opening words. Gideon is not looking much like a mighty warrior at this point is he? Secretly beating grain. Questioning what God’s deliverance in the past means today, because when Gideon looks around himself, it seems to him that God has forgotten about the Israelites. He lists reasons why he is ill suited for the job.
Don’t let’s be too hard on Gideon though. I’ve said before that the number one qualification you need to follow Christ is to recognize your need for him. To recognize our need for God, the creator and sustainer of all things. Our need to be filled with God’s Spirit. Gideon stands in a long line of people who feel unequal to the task which God has set out before them. It often happens when someone is called to church leadership doesn’t it? “I’m not worthy to be a deacon!” we say. It’s not bad to think that. Don’t let such thoughts stop you, necessarily, when others recognize a giftedness and a calling in you. It’s not bad to think ourselves inadequate. Moses thought the same thing. Isaiah said “Woe unto me, for I am a man of unclean lips. Peter said “Get away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” There’s nothing wrong with recognizing our own unworthiness to do what God calls us to do. To be the people who God calls us to be. What was God’s response? To Moses “Fear not, for I will go with you.” A coal touched to Isaiah’s lips with the words “Your sin has departed from you.” Jesus looking down at Peter with nothing but love and grace and these words, “ Do not be afraid…”
“The Lord said to him, ‘But I will be with you, and you shall strike down the Midianites, every one of them.’” I’m going to be with you and we’re going to work against the forces that run counter to everything for which I stand. I will be with you. What a promise. We need to hang onto that promise tightly don’t we? We need to be reminded of it, to remind one another of it, to be visible reminders for one another that God is indeed with us.
Gideon wants a sign. I know what it means to resist a call from God. I was reluctant to follow what I perceived to be a call from God into full time vocational ministry for a few years. When it became so clear to me that I could no longer ignore it, I still wanted a bit of a sign. A bit of confirmation of this call. The year was 2007 and I had decided that it was time to pursue theological education at McMaster Divinity College in Hamilton. I didn’t apply right away, however. I enrolled as an occasional student – you can take up to two courses that way. I said “Let me take one and see how it goes…” It went fine. I said I was being like Gideon. These characters aren’t always there for us to emulate, but that’s what I said at the time. Gideon wants a sign and thank God that God is patient. God is patient with us. God’s been patient with me for sure.
These ironic and comedic touches in the story. It’s kind of hilarious when Gideon asks the angel to wait for him to come back and bring a present – an offering as it were. Gideon goes back to his house, prepares a kid. Makes some cakes. You can picture the angel sitting there tapping his fingers. God is patient though. Gideon returns and places everything on a rock and the angel reaches with his staff. Fire springs up from the rock, everything is consumed and the angel of the Lord disappears. V22b-24 - “Gideon said ‘Help me Lord God! For I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face.’ But the Lord said to him, ‘Peace be to you; do not fear, you shall not die.’ Then Gideon built an altar to the Lord, and called it, The Lord is peace. To this day it still stands at Ophrah, which belongs to the Abiezrites.”
Gideon needed reminding. The people of Israel needed reminding. We need reminding. The Lord is peace. I would say that this is maybe the best thing that Gideon does in these three chapters devoted to him. He builds an altar and calls it “The Lord is peace.” He’s inept in a lot of ways, and it’s good to know the Lord works through our ineptitude. Next week we’ll look at him secretly tearing down the altar to Baal and the Asherah pole yet bringing 10 guys along with him. It wouldn’t remain a secret for very long. Gideon built an altar and named it to be a visible and tangible reminder him and his fellow villagers and us of something vital. The Lord is peace. The Lord is for our everyday. Naming God as our leader, asking the Spirit to lead us, naming ourselves followers of Christ is for the everyday. We should keep God in front of us every day. We should seek God’s face every day. It’s not just for crises – though it’s for those two. We’re not to keep God behind glass that says “Break In Case of Emergency” and look to our other gods for the things that we need every day because what Gideon is demonstrating and what we’re proclaiming here this morning is that we need God every day.
We need to be reminded of this though. Gideon built an altar. The people of Israel built an altar when they crossed the Jordan with Joshua. They built an altar to mark the deliverance that God effected for them. Gideon’s altar lasted up until the time this story was written down. This table’s been around for 2,000 years to mark our deliverance and to affirm that Christ is our peace. Gideon has work to do. We’ll look at that next week. We have work to do. God has work that God has called us to do. Before we consider it we remember. We remember together the deliverance that is ours in Christ. Deliverance from fear, from self-assertion. We come to this table as people who acknowledge their need for God, for Christ, for the Holy Spirit. May the knowledge of our need for God be something that grows ever stronger in our beings as we continue to ask the question – Who will lead us? As we gather around this table friends, may this be true for us all.