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Gideon’s War For Religious Freedom

Part and parcel of Baalism, and of all non-Christian philosophies, is statism, the absolute rule of man over other men by means of force.

—James Jordan, Judges (1985)

Judgment Unto Salvation

The Midianites invaded from the east. Every harvest they descended like grasshoppers and took everything in sight. The children of Israel hid what they could, including themselves. They made dens and caves in the mountains. Finally in their distress they cried out to God…again. But this time God didn’t rush to their aid. Instead, He answered His people by a prophet, a rarity in those days. The prophet reminded Israel of the great redemption God had wrought for them when He took them out of Egypt and brought them into the Promised Land. As their Savior, God had told them not to worship the local fertility gods, but Israel wouldn’t listen.

But God wasn’t through. The Angel of the Lord came to a place called Ophrah within the borders of western Manasseh. He sat beneath an oak tree there near to a winepress. Within the winepress a man named Gideon was threshing wheat out of the sight of passing Midianites. The Angel greeted Gideon:  “God is with you, O mighty man of valor!” (Judg. 6:12).

Gideon didn’t recognize his guest for who and what he was, but he answered the Angel earnestly and honestly:  “My lord, if God is with us, why has all this befallen us? And where are all His miracles, which our fathers told us about?” He specifically mentioned the Exodus. “God has forsaken us and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites” (v. 13).

The Angel—who was God Himself—looked on Gideon and said, “Go in this your might, and you shall save Israel. Have not I sent you?”

Gideon answered, “Oh, my lord, how shall I save Israel? Behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house” (v. 15).

God told him, “Surely I will be with you, and you shall smite the Midianites as one man.”

Peace with God

It’s not clear who or what Gideon thought he was dealing with. A prophet? A wandering Levite? An angel, maybe? Whatever he was thinking, he wanted some sort of solid confirmation that all this was real. Gideon asked if he could present his guest with a gift. The Hebrew word for “gift” usually carries the idea of tribute or a gift to gain favor from a superior. It’s also the word for the tribute or grain offering. God agreed to wait. Gideon prepared a kid of the goats and some unleavened cakes from a bushel of flour. This was a lavish present in a time of famine. Gideon brought these and the goat’s broth back to his guest. God told him to lay out the goat’s meat and the bread upon a large rock and then to pour the broth over them. Gideon did as he was told.

Then the Angel of the LORD put forth His staff and touched the offering. Fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the bread. God transformed the tribute offering into a peace offering. And then the Angel vanished. Gideon cried out, “Alas! O Lord God! For I have seen the Angel of the LORD face to face!” (v. 22). Now Gideon knew who his guest really was, and he knew that face-to-face encounters with Israel’s holy God could be fatal.

But God said, “Peace be unto you. You shall not die” (v. 23). Gideon responded by building a memorial altar to God. He called it Jehovah-shalom (“Yahweh is peace”). This was a significant act of faith and a real risk, for his family worshipped Baal and Asherah, the local fertility gods.

Declaring War on Baal

That night the word of the LORD came to Gideon. God told Gideon to take his father’s second (younger?) bull and use it to throw down on his father’s altar to Baal. Gideon was also to cut down the Asherah pole that stood beside the altar. Then he was to build a new altar to Yahweh and, using the Asherah pole for firewood, offer the bull as a whole burnt offering (vv. 25-26). Gideon knew this could get him in a great deal of trouble. But by night, with the help of his servants, he did what God had commanded. He leveled the altar to Baal and offered the young bull to Yahweh.

In the morning the men of his town discovered what he had done. Apparently, the altar had served the whole community. These Baal worshippers called for Gideon’s death. But his father Joash stopped them in their tracks. “Would you plead for Baal?” he asked. “Would you save him? Let the one who pleads for Baal himself be put to death this very morning! If Baal really is a god, let him plead for himself, because one has broken down his altar” (v. 31). Joash was appealing to covenant law (Deut. 13:6-18) and must have had the authority or position to make it stick. The townsmen backed down. And Gideon had his first supporter, his own father. Joash nicknamed his son “Jerubbaal”—“Let Baal plead!” Israel’s new war leader would now be known as the enemy of Baal and his religion of fertility and statist power.

Gideon’s Faith

Gideon seems an unlikely hero. He wasn’t known for his strength or skill as a warrior. He wasn’t a crafty strategist or a charismatic leader. He was a plain man, but a man of faith. And at each step in his encounter with God, he moved in terms of that faith.

First, he affirmed the message of God’s prophet:  Yahweh had indeed redeemed Israel from Egypt through great miracles, but now He had delivered His people into the hand of Midian. That is, Gideon recognized God’s sovereign rule in Israel’s political and military fortunes. Nothing had come by chance. Israel’s servitude wasn’t the result of blind social and economic forces. The covenant people were under God’s personal judgment. And they were under that judgment precisely because they were worshipping Baal.

Second, Gideon responded in humility. He wasn’t out to save the world. He didn’t think himself great. He was free from personal pride and ambition. He doubted his ability to carry out the assignment. But God assured him that His strength was sufficient for the need.

Third, Gideon obeyed. Yes, in the dark. Yes, with help. But he obeyed. He tackled his household’s idolatry straight on, even though he knew his actions would provoke hostility and persecution. He understood that the real war was with Baal and with the religious philosophy and spiritual forces that Baal represented.

Fourth, Gideon worshipped God. He got his own relationship with God right and then he moved to mediate between God and the nation. At God’s command, he offered the necessary sacrifice for all Israel (Lev. 4:13-21). His religion wasn’t individualistic, but covenantal. Gideon would be leading Israel into a holy war. That was the only way to regain her freedom. Once Gideon was set on this course, the Spirit of God came upon him to equip him for the role of war leader. Then Gideon blew the trumpet to assemble the armies of Israel (vv. 34-35).

Judgment Begins…

James Jordan writes, “When fellowship with God is restored, reformation must begin immediately, and it begins at home and in the home town” (123). Localism is basic to Christianity. Once our hearts are right with God, we must set our own homes in order—then our churches and our communities.

Peter writes that “judgment must begin at the house of God” (1 Pet. 4:17). Paul tells us that “if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged” (1 Cor. 11:31). Far too often we want God to destroy our oppressors, to save us from their tyranny, while we are still serving the idols of our own hearts. The war for freedom is always a religious undertaking. Jesus Christ sets men free; all other gods are the tools of tyrants. We must begin our campaign for liberty with repentance and faith.

For Further Reading:

James B. Jordan, Judges, God’s War Against Humanism (Tyler, TX:  Geneva Ministries, 1985).

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