Editor’s note: The following article is based on a portion of the August 30 lesson for our congregation’s “Sunday School by phone”, for those who weren’t able to gather in person at church.
In Judges 6:25-27, after being called to action and receiving a sign of confirmation (but not the fleece that we know him for), it was time for Gideon to stop bemoaning his current situation (suggesting that God was somehow absent), and for him to start doing something about the problem. (I’d say that it was time for Gideon to stop hiding, too, but he’s not quite there, yet.)
God directed Gideon to destroy a couple of his own father’s idolatrous symbols, and to build an altar to the true God, instead.
So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the Lord told him. But because he was afraid of his family and the townspeople, he did it at night rather than in the daytime.
Judges 6:27 NIV
Note that Gideon doesn’t just go out and do what he wants, like grabbing a spear and trying to defeat the Midianites on his own. Instead, he follows specific instructions from God. We might have a lot of ideas about what God “needs” us to do, in order to “fix” things, but we are soldiers, not the general. We take direction from Him, not the other way around.
Imagine what the people might have thought if God had Gideon defeat the Midianites right away, without this particular step. Would they have thought that maybe Baal had saved them? Would they have thought that their crops and livestock were restored because they had finally sacrificed enough to Asherah (or Ashtoreth)?
Instead, Gideon starts by getting rid of the symbols of worship to false gods, and builds an altar to the true God. (See Deuteronomy 12:1-3.) This starts to connect the dots between what God is about to do for His people, and the root cause of their problems in the first place. God had made a covenant with His people, and they were expected to turn back to Him if they wanted to be blessed. Gideon makes a dramatic step towards this.
However, people usually get angry when you tear down idols that they are following, even when their worship of those idols is the very thing that is harming them (and even when God told you to destroy them). For Gideon, we find that the same is true in Judges 6:28-32. I’m not sure how they figured out that Gideon had done this, but God knew that they would find out even before He commanded Gideon to do so. My theory is that this connected Gideon’s efforts here – turning from idols to the true God – to the deliverance that God was about to provide to the Israelites with Gideon leadership.
I think that the reply to the people by Joash (Gideon’s father) is pretty funny, but it also alludes to an important reminder.
But Joash replied to the hostile crowd around him, “Are you going to plead Baal’s cause? Are you trying to save him? Whoever fights for him shall be put to death by morning! If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar.”
Judges 6:31 NIV
If Baal is so powerful that the people are worshiping him, can’t he take care of himself? (Note that the altar to Baal was Joash’s, so if anyone were to extract punishment for its destruction, it would seem to be the owner of the altar and the father of the person who destroyed it.)
The Bible talks a lot about false gods and idols, but these aren’t relegated to history. There are still many things that we give our time, treasure, talent, and talk to today. When we find ourselves feeling like we have to avenge bad things said about these other “masters” in our lives, whether that be a political party, a church denomination, or even a sports team, maybe we should reconsider their role in our lives. If we’re so dedicated to an idea or a group that we are following it, shouldn’t it be strong enough to stand on its own? We can absolutely tell other people the truth about what we have learned from God, but when we feel like we have to attack or punish anyone who says something different from what we believe, we are implying that the truth (or the recipient of our worship) can’t fend for itself, himself, or herself.
Here’s some good news: God can take care of Himself just fine, thank you very much.
Unlike followers of false gods (like Baal), followers of Jesus serve a God (Jehovah) who is all-powerful. We would do well to remember that. God doesn’t need us to avenge Him (see Romans 12:19). He doesn’t need us to punish those who bad-mouth Him online or in the news. He doesn’t need us to get back at those who ignore or attack Him in their words and actions. The true God can take care of Himself.
So, what do we do instead, if we’re not spending our days calling other people out for disrespecting God? Well, Jesus told us to make disciples, for one thing. Rather than judging those outside of the church (see 1 Corinthians 5:12-13), let us tell them about the good news of Jesus, and teach those who have chosen to follow Him do the best job that they can.
- 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.