Gideon: Cowardly to Cocky

This character, Gideon, one of the Judges, particularly struck me when we were reading through the particularly dark “everyone did as they saw fit” post-Joshua and pre-kings period of Israelite history. I found that I could relate to Gideon in more ways than one. Starting off from when the angel of the LORD appeared to him, saying, “The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valor,” Gideon was pretty baffled and doubtful. First of all, he was such a coward and hardly a man of valor at that point… he didn’t do anything thus far to prove that he was a man of valor. But he’s not really thinking about himself right now.. maybe he didn’t dare to. What he was thinking about was the LORD. He knew that the LORD has brought their people out from Egypt. But something didn’t click: “if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us?” Perhaps he didn’t know understand or hear the prophets, who just a verse ago said, “But you have not obeyed my voice.” (6:10) So, leaning on his own understanding, his conclusion is, “the LORD has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” Gideon’s conclusion, though somewhat correct, doesn’t capture the full picture of what happened. He thinks that God is no longer with them for maybe no reason, missing the fact that it’s because of the own people’s disobedience that put themselves in this situation.

Instead of rebuking him for pointing the finger of blame at God or recounting the disobedience of the people, the angel presses, “Go… do I not send you?” Instead of fully answering Gideon’s question in a technical and literal way, the angel responds to Gideon’s fear that God is not with them by affirming that God is with them: hence he is sending Gideon. The angel is not interested in sitting down and having a long discourse about the past, he is interested in the present and the future. He is interested in action.

Gideon is pretty baffled by this command to go. “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.” Gideon responds to God’s initial calling with doubt and fear. He thinks himself a nobody and he sees the distress of the country, but he doesn’t see how there can be any connection between him and the solution for his people’s distress. But, God says as is typical of God, “But I will be with you”. That response in any situation pretty much quiets anyone’s voices of fear and doubt. “I will be with you.” As Romans says:

If God is for us, who can be against us? …No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. ~ Romans 8:31, 37-39

Like Gideon, who is so fearful that he asks God for 2 signs with the fleece, I was so fearful too at the beginning last year, and saw myself as a nobody. I was so afraid because I wasn’t competent and I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing, especially in ministry. Rereading a reflection from July last year, I had a lot of insecurity and Satan had a lot of sway over my thoughts. I wrote out my insecure thoughts then, and they read: “You are inconsiderate, lazy, forgetful and clueless. That will never change.” “Since you’re generally pretty silly anyway, you shouldn’t share your new ideas because they generally don’t make sense. People will just laugh at you so just keep mum.” “Your highest aspiration is to not be a bother to people. To be a quiet helper that doesn’t rock the boat too much and that is generally helpful. If you can maintain that status quo, and at the very least be a good citizen, then at least you don’t have to apologize for your existence.” Those thoughts made a lot of sense to me at the time, and were based on some truths, but I knew that there was something that wasn’t quite right about those thoughts. Satan took those ugly truths about me and twisted it by adding on extra layers that turned them into lies that paralyzed me – that kept me cowardly.

In a sense, I asked God for signs, too. I asked him to show me that there was an answer to these insecurities that froze me up from doing anything. I remember that in a mini-retreat last year, in which one group from our church shared about their own struggles with insecurity through claiming verses from 2 Corinthians, was one of those “signs” that gave me confidence in obeying God, no matter how lame I felt. I remember that one of the concluding points was: “Satan wants us to be taken out of the battle. Incompetent ministry is better than no ministry at all.” Also, I reclung onto the verses as we happened to also go through 2 Corinthians for QT soon after that mini-retreat. There were so many “signs” in that text… promises about how we are given this ministry by the mercy of God, that our sufficiency doesn’t come from ourselves, but from God, that we have confidence through Christ, that we can be bold because of this hope, etc. So, with that, I pressed on with this confidence in God’s promise to be with me.

 

Ok, back to Gideon. Basically, Gideon is doing the impossible. God ends up giving him a very lean team of 300 men to go battle. And anticipating his fears, God graciously gives Gideon yet another sign to give him strength. “You shall hear what they say, and afterward, your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.” Through taking that opportunity to be strengthened, Gideon hears about a dream that basically prophesizes his victory.

Similar to Gideon, I have those kinds of “dreams”, or rather, memories. I’ve been out of school for a few years now, but have had a handful of jobs since then. All of them, not to mention my student job, were all provisions clearly from God. Basically, all of the jobs that I’ve ever held were examples of God providing when I needed him to. Also, when I first gave up something in order to make Jesus Lord over my life during sophomore year, I was trusting in Mark 10: no one who has left [people] for the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age and in the age to come. I was making the hardest decision of my life at that time based on trust in God over trust in myself, and God very clearly responded and fulfilled his promise in a few short years. Also, even as an undergrad, in my tiredness and weakness, I found real strength in Isaiah 40: He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.. even young men.. etc. So, backed with the many memories of God being real and working in my life, I felt a lot more confident and secure in God, akin to Gideon’s ability to be courageous after receiving the gift of that dream. Now, Gideon is strengthened and ready. He galvanizes the army.

But whoa. Already, there is a red flag going up here. In instructing the army, he commands them to shout: “For the LORD and for Gideon.” Where did the “and for Gideon” come in? He is sneaking in some pride, some of his own name. The Lord is for him, yes. That’s an affirmative. But his job is to be 100% for the Lord. He needs to worry about being completely for God.. he should have said, “For the Lord!!” and left it at that. Let God worry about being for Gideon, he doesn’t need to worry about that for himself.

I was definitely like this last year. “For the LORD and for Mary!” was my battle cry. My copy-pasted notes from that reflection, written last Sept, read: “I want to impress my name into the students’ hearts instead of Jesus’ name. I am preaching the message of ‘Mary’ instead of the message of ‘Jesus’ and I want to maximize my name under the guise of doing ministry.” Yes, this was me, overly concerned about my name over the Lord’s. I remember needing to deal with this kind of attitude and improper view of ministry by taking time out to read Ezekiel and Jeremiah. I remember how I saw how ministry was definitely not about myself, but about how I needed to be that watchman and shepherd that could help the students get closer to God, no matter what the cost may be to myself.

For Gideon now, even though he is starting out this battle with sin on his sleeve, God still grants him victory. One thing that I want to follow Gideon’s footsteps in is this phrase: “exhausted yet pursuing.” I readily admit that I am easily tired, easily exhausted. I would not be exaggerating if I were to say that in my waking moments, I’m almost always wanting to take a nap. But besides the “exhausted” part, I want to follow the second part in particular: “yet pursing”. I need to be pursuing after sin in my own life. I need to keep running after it, striving to kill it, every last bit, like how Gideon and his 300 men wanted to kill off every last Midianite. One thing that I’m realizing recently, among others, is that I can’t stay in a “mindlessly happy” state nor in a “despairing/self-pity” state. I need to be struggling with my sin to the point of shedding blood on top of the solid rock of my salvation. I need to be in an “exhausted yet pursuing” state for myself, and after that, for others.

In the midst of this “exhausted yet pursing” state, Gideon runs into Succoth and Penuel. Basically, he feels irked by them because he feels like they were not helpful in his cause and later on takes vengeance on them. He carries out a personal vendetta against them. Although this parallel cannot be pressed, I felt this way about Y recently. Through some misunderstandings, I felt like they were telling me ABC. I felt misunderstood and angry at them for what I thought was them doing something very wrong, and took out vengeance on them by yelling at them over the phone and overall feeling really frustrated when talking to them. I saw a lot of my anger and bitterness come out against Y that I’ve never seen before. I was confident in my relationship with God, but it came out in such an ugly way. Gideon was given ultimate victory, adding fuel to the flame of his cocky ego, and he turned back to attack Succoth and Penuel. He somehow had the strength, after killing Zebah and Zalmunna, to push beyond that exhaustion and carry out unnecessary punishment to Succoth and Penuel because he was fueled by bitterness and pride, an “I’ll show you” attitude. I felt like that after a week of reflecting over my sins this past week. I was exhausted in chasing down my sins, yet somehow the rage of hatred gave me an extra boost to strike against Y with thorns and briers of my angry words. In an arrogant “I’ll show you” kind of attitude, I stayed up late right before Easter to write out a really long reflection, trying to prove that I did ABC because I was so angry at feeling unfairly accused. So, in this way, I need to be very careful. I would venture a guess that there are several strong things that can really fuel people: love, hate, pride and fear. In this context, I would have to say that we’re mostly talking about hate and pride here. Hate for sin and hate/pride against other people. Hate for sin and Satan is a good hate, but hate/pride against other people is a bad hate. I need to be very careful in where I direct my hatred because it’s so clear that it can easily spill into hating the wrong things.

 

Finally, Gideon is portrayed as saying the right things but doing the wrong things. He’s compromised and hypocritical. He says, “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you.” Ah, this sounds a lot better than is initial battle cry of “For the Lord and for Gideon!” It sounds like he knows what’s up this time around. But his next actions are directly contrary to his words. He asks for their golden earrings and made himself an ephod, besides keeping the crescent ornaments and other status items from the Z kings of Midian. Basically, he is clinging onto status points and wanting to judge for himself. An ephod is supposed to be just for the priest, in bearing the judgment of the people of Israel on his heart before the Lord (Exodus 28:30) but he makes one for himself. This is noteworthy because “All of Israel whored after it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family”.  In other words, Gideon became his own “god” in a sense, his own god that judged himself and the people, with his own special crescent jewelry and frills for his camels to show for it. Ironically, he claimed that it was the Lord who would rule over the people. His disobedience led to people forsaking the real God, even ensnaring those in Gideon’s own family.

Oh man. Not good. Luckily, in my situation, my pride was cut short in a drastic kind of way so I never got the chance to end up like that. I suppose, my future is still awaiting its course, so I can never be too sure or too cautious.

But anyway, Gideon started out really fearful, but God in his grace gave him reassurance after reassurance, helping Gideon put his confidence in God. It is definitely true that God strengthened him and worked mightily in his life, changing a coward to a victorious hero for his people. However, Gideon’s confidence in God twisted and became ugly when he first started to grasp some status for himself through cries like: “For the lord and for Gideon!” It got worse when he took it out on those around him for daring to not help him. Ultimately, in the end, he led his people and his own family into a downfall because his confidence shifted off of God and onto just himself. His confidence in God became a cockiness in himself that harmed others and led others into sin.

Courage is beautiful and proper if it’s founded in God. But like Satan, if we become proud in it of ourselves, that’s where ugliness begins. Humility always needs to temper ability, victories, and other blessings. Otherwise, although we may share in Gideon’s victories, we will also share in his ugly character in the end. Tragic

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