Editor’s note: The following article is based on the August 30 lesson for our congregation’s “Sunday School by phone”, for those who weren’t able to gather in person.
Most of Judges 5 is a poetic, narrative song about God’s rescue of the Israelite people through Deborah, Barak, and Jael. Perhaps this song was meant to help the nation remember these events, or just to praise God for His deliverance.
The last part of that chapter has good news: “Then the land had peace forty years.” (verse 31b).
Regrettably, though, Judges 6:1 brings some bad news. The Israelites fall away and turn to evil (again), and suffer from an invading nation (again). This time, it’s the Midianites (and some other groups). Matthew Henry points out (and I paraphrase) that a child who has been burned avoids the fire, but the Israelites didn’t seem to have that same wisdom. He also suggests that the Midianites weren’t necessarily organized enough to have a single leader, but were more like a bunch of barbarians terrorizing the Israelites (and getting away with it), despite Israel previously having defeated them in a previous generation (see Numbers 31).
The Midianites drove the Israelites into hiding, and it appears that these invaders destroyed (or maybe stole) both crops and livestock. The Israelites put in the hard work of planting, while the Midianites took the fully-grown food This should not have come as a surprise, though: God had made it clear (for instance, in Deuteronomy 28:15-68) that this would be the result of disobedience.
So, in this ruined state, the Israelites called out to God again. On a positive note, at least they remembered this option. May we pray for and reach out to those who don’t even know that they can call to God when they are suffering, whether or not their condition is the result of their own sin.
In Judges 6:11-13, an angel of God greets an Israelite named Gideon (who is currently working in hiding), with the phrase, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior”. Gideon’s response is perhaps typical of our own skepticism: If God is with us, why are such bad things happening?
“Pardon me, my Lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”
Judges 6:13 NIV
Two things from verse 13 are perhaps common to God’s people throughout history, just before He is about to miraculously deliver them:
- People are asking, “Why are bad things happening, if God is so powerful?”. You can imagine this question being asked even today, in response to someone stating that “God is with us”.
- People are looking for God’s deliverance. As comfort and leisure give way to suffering, human beings seek out help for what they cannot cure themselves.
A society might find itself in the “seven years” of hardship (like those described in Judges 6:1), especially if the culture has turned to evil. Or, as individuals, we might be ensuring a physical, mental, or situational problem, and the pain has gone on for years. It’s difficult to tell how long a given era of history (or personal history) will last. However, when we ask why we are still suffering, even as we look for God’s help, it might very well be that God is just about ready to do something amazing.
Just as God was preparing to deliver the Israelites, when we ask why we experience bad things and seek God’s deliverance, sometimes He is ready to deliver us – in His perfect timing – as well.
Having said that, we might also need to be prepared for a surprising answer to both of those thoughts: We learn in verses 14-16 that God was about to save Israel through Gideon. In the same way, maybe God will be using us as part of His plan of deliverance – not only for ourselves, but for those around us, too. Like Gideon, those searching for God’s help – including us – may very well find that they (we) are part of God’s solution.
It’s a little ironic that the angel calls Gideon, “mighty warrior”, when Gideon is trying to prepare some grain as he hides from an invading force. He certainly acted more like someone who was nearly defeated, rather than someone who was strong enough to stand up to his current problems. Maybe Gideon had learned so much about Israel’s history that he was taking on the reluctance of Moses, but my guess is that he was probably just human. When we forget that “God plus me” can do anything that God wants to achieve, we are prone to make excuses, or to try and explain to God that we’re not smart enough, strong enough, talented enough, rich enough, or “anything else” enough to follow His call for our lives.
When presented with arguments why Gideon wasn’t “hero material”, though, the message to Gideon was that God would be with him. Can we ask for anything more than that?
So, be sure to keep your ears open, but unlike Gideon (and Moses), when you seek God’s help, be prepared to say “yes!” to God, when He calls you to take action. Whether you rescue an entire nation, or just do your part this week for God’s kingdom, it’s exciting to be part of God’s plan.
Pray for God to do great things, and be patient, but make sure that you are ready to say “yes” when He asks you to be a part of His plan. God plus you can take on anything He calls you to.
- Christian Standard, Volume CLV, Number 8, pages 91-92. © 2020 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (Complete). Matthew Henry. Volume 2, 1706.