How do you figure out how to trust what you’ve got and still let it go, so you can get to what’s next and come to some sense of resolution that you are going in the direction you need to go? Doesn’t every human have a story to tell with a problem like that in the middle of it? How do we respond to God amidst our insecurity?
Gideon is that kind of oppressed individual, in an oppressed nation, wondering where his God might be. The Midianites have overrun the land, and Gideon is threshing wheat in his winepress, hoping to hide it from his enemies. Forty years earlier, Deborah brought peace to the land. It is as if the next generation has forgotten how God saved them and they are again turning or just wandering away. As a result, their country is going haywire.
We turn away from God all the time, right? We stop praying after we break up. We lose faith when we experience any sort of cognitive dissonance. We take a job during our cell meeting. We return to our addictions. Before long, we feel overrun.
Gideon feels embarrassed that he is barely surviving. Shame like that is still prevalent in the Middle East. We are shamed of our poverty, and we don’t want anyone to know about it.
When we meet Gideon, he and his fellow citizens have been under the hand of the invaders for seven years. They randomly camp out on their land, steal their crops and livestock and leave them with nothing. It isn’t dissimilar from the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
While he is threshing feverishly, hoping to get some grain to hide from the Midianites, God comes to Gideon. This angel of the Lord who appears in this story is a mysterious figure. Later on in the passage he is called “the lord” not just an angel or a messenger of God. So some people say it was Jesus himself. Others say that God dwelled in the messenger and in the message, so it was as good as God coming himself. Needless to say, in your story about your relationship with God there is always this part of it one way or another. God comes to you personally, in a messenger or in the message—and something new is called into being.
In this case, Gideon is called into a brand new life and he is not sure about the whole thing at all. He has the most remarkable conversation with God.
Gideon’s first prayer. Have I really found favor with you? Can you show me that it is really you? Please don’t go away—I need to get connected with you somehow, but I am scared and doubtful.
The Lord is patient and waits for his act of worship. It looks like he has him place the food on a rock so when he burns it in a blinding flash the whole oak of Joash does not go up in flames. The first act ends with “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.“ That does sound like Jesus, doesn’t it? He could be talking to his disciples when he appeared to them after the resurrection. He could be speaking to us. “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.“
That would kind of be a great story by itself, wouldn’t it? But it is really just the first act. I think many of us are kind of stuck in the first act of our faith. We experience difficulty and burdens, and we are saved now. We arrived. But that’s not the end of the story. We need to engage beyond our first act, beyond our belief, beyond the infatuation. Into the fullness of God and into our own suffering, truly.
As a matter of fact, we might just be ignoring the angel of the Lord sitting there watching us desperately thresh wheat in our winepress, or feverishly try to get ahead, or try not to get run over or whatever it is we do so anxiously and fearfully all day. But there is more to Gideon’s story and to ours.
At the beginning of the second act of Gideon’s life, we see that just meeting with God is not all there is to it. He is given a chance at a second prayer—his famous fleecing prayer. The man has no confidence. He seems to be beaten down. You’d think an angel consuming your sacrifice would be enough, maybe, but he wants more. I am as irritated with Gideon as I am with myself. You’d think I would trust God without reservation too, but we seem to have a need for a lot of convincing. And God is shockingly patient to give it. Sometimes our trouble and struggle, or the depth of doubt we have is so deep that God really needs to persuade us.
The Midianites move into the fertile valley of Jezreel and set up camp. It says that the Spirit of the Lord came on Gideon and he blew his trumpet summoning his own tribe and all the northern tribes to gather in order to throw them out. This sets up his second prayer.
I do not recommend this test of God. It does not always work out this way and Jesus will not succumb to the temptation. But I do not think it is wrong at all to ask God to be revealed to you. I know the Lord reassures me daily by making himself known in all sorts of ways—some I ask for and some I didn’t even know to ask for. I don’t know if Gideon was praying correctly, but he was in the process of relating to God.
Some of you never get into your second and third act because you never pray, never hope, never listen to what you have already been told. You are stuck in the indecision about whether you really want to do it or whether you are called or capable. God will be patient with you as you move into your second act, but if you are convicted right now to do it, then do it!
Gideon was wondering whether he had gone far enough, too. There was a lot going on! He saw an angel and witnessed a miracle. He reoriented the worship of the neighborhood and almost got killed. He took leadership and gathered the people. Now you want me to save Israel as you have promised to do? You want me to fight for you? Where is this all going? I need some reassurance.
I think getting reassurance is an everyday thing. Like I said, part of why I pray is to get the nudge again, “Yes. You are mine. I have called you. I have saved you. You have a purpose.” I am not always expecting a miraculous sign—even though I ask for one every day—but I am expecting relationship. If I am going to fulfill my promise, God has to go with me.
The story of Gideon is about God being the spark. God shows up and calls. God answers the prayers. God promises the future. God clarifies the method. God demands trust. And God is with us; God shows up. That’s our drama. God is in the story. God is in us and in this body.