In the daily readings of For All The Saints (ALPB 2005 ed.) Vol. 4, the first reading is from Judges,
“Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also, for you have saved us from the hand of Midian.” Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you.” And Gideon said to them, “Let me make a request of you: every one of you give me the earrings from his spoil.” (For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.) And they answered, “We will willingly give them.” And they spread a cloak, and every man threw in it the earrings of his spoil. And the weight of the golden earrings that he requested was 1,700 shekels of gold, besides the crescent ornaments and the pendants and the purple garments worn by the kings of Midian, and besides the collars that were around the necks of their camels. And Gideon made an ephod of it and put it in his city, in Ophrah. And all Israel whored after it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family. So Midian was subdued before the people of Israel, and they raised their heads no more. And the land had rest forty years in the days of Gideon. Jerubbaal the son of Joash went and lived in his own house. Now Gideon had seventy sons, his own offspring, for he had many wives. And his concubine who was in Shechem also bore him a son, and he called his name Abimelech. And Gideon the son of Joash died in a good old age and was buried in the tomb of Joash his father, at Ophrah of the Abiezrites. As soon as Gideon died, the people of Israel turned again and whored after the Baals and made Baal-berith their god. And the people of Israel did not remember the Lord their God, who had delivered them from the hand of all their enemies on every side, and they did not show steadfast love to the family of Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) in return for all the good that he had done to Israel.” (Judges 8:22–35, ESV)
Here we find a time when the people of Israel, God’s chosen, again had turned away, but when they face oppression from an invader, the Midianites, they remember God and cry out for help and God delivers them through Gideon, a man that most would not have even given a second look. After this all they fall into a trap and try to snare Gideon in pride and make him a ruler, but he points the people once again to God. The fourth reading is from a sermon of Dietrich Bonhoeffer from a sermon he preached in Berlin after Hitler’s taking of power in Germany,
Gideon’s warriors must have been flabbergasted; they must have shuddered when he gave them the order to go home. The church is always astounded, and shudders, when it hears the voice of the One who commands it to renounce power and honor, to let go of all its calculations and let God alone do God’s work. We shake our heads and are scandalized as we watch many a Gideon among us going his way. But how can that confound us who see in the midst of our church the cross, which is the sign of powerlessness, dishonor, defenselessness, hopelessness, meaninglessness, and yet is also where we find divine power, honor, defense, hope, meaning, glory, life, victory? Do we now see the direct line from Gideon to the cross? Do we see that the name of this line, in a word, is “faith”?
Gideon conquers, the church conquers, we conquer, because faith alone conquers. But the victory belongs not to Gideon, the church, or ourselves, but to God. And God’s victory means our defeat, our humiliation; it means God’s derision and wrath at all human pretensions of might, at humans puffing themselves up and thinking they are somebodies themselves. It means the world and its shouting is silenced, that all our ideas and plans are frustrated; it means the cross. The cross over the world—that means that human beings, even the most noble, go down to dust whether it suits them or not, and with them all the gods and idols and lords of this world. The cross of Jesus Christ—that means God’s bitter mockery of all human grandeur and God’s bitter suffering in all human misery, God’s lordship over all the world.
¶The people approach the victorious Gideon with the final trial, the final temptation: “Be our lord, rule over us.” But Gideon has not forgotten his own history, nor the history of his people … “The Lord will rule over you, and you shall have no other lord.” At this word, all the altars of gods and idols fall down, all worship of human beings and human self-idolization. They are all judged, condemned, cancelled out, crucified, and toppled into the dust before the One who alone is Lord. Beside us kneels Gideon, who was brought through fear and doubt to faith, before the altar of the one and only God, and with us Gideon prays, Lord on the cross, be our only Lord. Amen.
(Bonhoeffer, D. (2009). Berlin: 1932–1933. (I. Best, D. Higgins, & D. W. Stott, Trans., C. Nicolaisen, E.-A. Scharffenorth, & L. L. Rasmussen, Eds.) (Vol. 12, p. 467). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.)
Pride is the devil’s favorite tool, he loves to use it to puff us up and make us feel that we don’t need God or to drive us down to believe we are not worthy of God. Both can create periods of darkness. I can speak to that from experience because I have been on both ends of the spectrum and I know that I am not alone. Earlier in Judges we find in Gideon this humility, but I wouldn’t go so far to say that it was a humility based upon his pure faith, but more based on his awareness of lack in his life. When the angel comes to him with a call to action as he is preparing the wheat he shows his faith in God in remembering how they had been delivered from Egypt, but when the angel of the Lord gives him the call, he pulls back and says, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.”” (Judges 6:15, ESV) How often have I heard such things when I speak of evangelism and outreach? It’s a false humility based not in faith, but in fear. Gideon was afraid and, quite honestly, who could blame him? Not many, when being truly honest about it, relish to idea of putting themselves in harms way, but when the call arises the choice comes to either have courage or to flee. The difference between most is in whom the courage is placed or on the other hand, what is driving the fear. We know that Gideon does find strength in the Lord and does as he is called to bringing a great victory. The difficulty that he faces is that after all has been won the temptation is placed before him to be ruler. That devil working on that sin of pride and feeling puffed up. It is easy to become ensnared in it and again Gideon points it back to God. Unfortunately, though, he also creates a snare by creating an object that for the people become an idol.
When good things happen it is easy to place our hope in the wrong things, the vessel which God uses or something created to remember what God has done instead of the Lord and Creator of all. The cross can become this because it is not the cross that saves, but the One who died upon it. You see we don’t worship the altar, but we worship God and in Jesus, He came and gave us the One and only sacrifice that would be the end all be all of sacrifices. In His blood we find a cleansing that is given in the baptismal promise and those baptismal waters and in His body we find that our brokenness has been taken from us. In our Lord’s suffering, His eyes were directed up to point us to the only One in whom we can find hope. A preacher is called to proclaim the Truth and are to direct our eyes to the One who is worthy of our devotion. However it is easy to be caught in a snare of misplaced devotion.
Gideon reminds the Israelites that it is God we should devote ourselves and it is Him alone that we should seek as ruler of our lives, not the vessels that are called to do His will. Gideon also is a reminder of how God can use us and that it is important that we be open to His calling. Not out of fear of salvation, but in devotion and obedience. When a loved one dies around Christmas or a birthday one of the sad reminders of their passing may be the gifts left under the tree or on the table that remain unopened. Our Father in heaven has given us all gifts and continues to give, but many of them are left unopened. God has a calling for you, have you explored it? If you don’t what is the cost?
If Gideon had refused, what would of happened? We know God would have found another, we don’t read much on those who defiantly said, “No!” We do, however, read of the ones who tried and relented after facing God’s ire. God doesn’t need us, but we see in Scripture how he chooses us and uses us. We also see the continued suffering caused by our unwillingness to listen and our lack of obedience. The wantonness of the human heart is always a point of pain. In our Lord and through Christ we find the balm that heals all suffering.