The God of Weak Faith
September 22, 2013 Series: Guest Speaker
Topic: Faith Passage: Judges 6:11–6:40
THE GOD OF WEAK FAITH
A sermon on Judges 6:11-40 | September 22, 2013 | by Alex Kirk
The story of Gideon in Judges 6 is an engrossing and complex story that teaches us about the relationship of grace and faith. It is the story of how the LORD raised up Gideon to deliver Israel from a hopeless season of their history. As the Israelites settled down and became farmers in the Promised Land, they wandered away from the LORD and began serving the local gods of the land—Baal and Asherah—gods who promised abundant rain, good harvest, and fertility. For seven years every Spring, the Midianites, a nomadic, warlike people swept down on Israel as soon as they planted their crops. The Midianites took all that they wanted and ruined the rest by grazing their teeming herds in Israel’s grain fields. They slaughtered Israel’s livestock and left them starving and without a livelihood. The Israelites were leaderless and reduced to living in shelters and caves in the mountains. In their despair they cried out to the LORD—not in repentance but in desperation—and he heard them. Despite his people’s faithlessness, God proved faithful. He moved to raise up a leader to save them from their oppression. We are really going to focus on the picture of Gideon in vv. 33-40, but I am going to read the entire story because it will help it all make sense.
11 The angel of the LORD came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. 12 When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.”
13 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”
14 The LORD turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”
15 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”
16 The LORD answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.”
17 Gideon replied, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. 18 Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.”
And the LORD said, “I will wait until you return.”
19 Gideon went inside, prepared a young goat, and from an ephah of flour he made bread without yeast. Putting the meat in a basket and its broth in a pot, he brought them out and offered them to him under the oak.
20 The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And Gideon did so. 21 Then the angel of the LORD touched the meat and the unleavened bread with the tip of the staff that was in his hand. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the angel of the LORD disappeared. 22 When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the LORD, he exclaimed, “Alas, Sovereign LORD! I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face!”
23 But the LORD said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.”
24 So Gideon built an altar to the LORD there and called it The LORD Is Peace. To this day it stands in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.
25 That same night the LORD said to him, “Take the second bull from your father’s herd, the one seven years old. Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it. 26 Then build a proper kind of altar to the LORD your God on the top of this height. Using the wood of the Asherah pole that you cut down, offer the second bull as a burnt offering.”
27 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.
28 In the morning when the people of the town got up, there was Baal’s altar, demolished, with the Asherah pole beside it cut down and the second bull sacrificed on the newly built altar!
29 They asked each other, “Who did this?”
When they carefully investigated, they were told, “Gideon son of Joash did it.”
30 The people of the town demanded of Joash, “Bring out your son. He must die, because he has broken down Baal’s altar and cut down the Asherah pole beside it.”
31 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.” 32 So because Gideon broke down Baal’s altar, they gave him the name Jerub-Baal that day, saying, “Let Baal contend with him.”
33 Now all the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples joined forces and crossed over the Jordan and camped in the Valley of Jezreel. 34 Then the Spirit of the LORD came on Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him. 35 He sent messengers throughout Manasseh, calling them to arms, and also into Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali, so that they too went up to meet them.
36 Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised— 37 look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.” 38 And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew—a bowlful of water.
39 Then Gideon said to God, “Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece, but this time make the fleece dry and let the ground be covered with dew.” 40 That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew.
A. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” If you are like me that verse often sounds completely crazy. Essentially, what Hebrews 11:1 is calling us to do is to live according to God’s Word not according to our senses. Well, what does that mean? God’s Word tells us to give away our money—don’t invest it, just give it away—and that we will be rewarded for it. God’s Word tells us to die to ourselves and live sacrificial, selfless lives of service for others, and that in doing that we’ll find the fullest most satisfied life we can imagine. And most importantly, God’s Word calls us to admit our own sinfulness and inadequacy and that in doing so we’ll find forgiveness because of the death and resurrection of Christ on our behalf. Each and every one of those moves goes against our gut instincts, and it goes against the data our senses are bringing us. The outside and the inside don’t match up. That’s faith, stepping out in obedience when the outside and the inside don’t match up. But that is scary. If I give my money away how will I retire? If I live sacrificially, selflessly how do I know I won’t be taken advantage of and just loose myself? If I admit my sinfulness and inadequacy how do I know I’ll be forgiven rather than condemned? And most of all—if all of this takes faith—what if my faith isn’t strong enough, what if I don’t have enough, what if it is too flakey?
B. Fear and doubt often crowd out faith. I think this is true whether you call yourself a Christian today or not. For many of us as Christians, our fears and doubts that our faith is somehow insufficient rob us of joy and confidence in the Christian life. And I have heard many people who are not Christians say that they would like to be, but just can’t muster up the faith to believe that Jesus was the son of God or that he really rose from the dead. If you are afraid that your faith is too weak, consider how God deals with Gideon. Gideon is a Sunday-school hero, but we find little in Gideon to commend, instead we see someone who is much like us—he’s afraid and struggling to have the faith to accomplish what God is calling him to. In the example of Gideon we discover that faith is a response to the overwhelming grace of our LORD. Faith becomes possible because of who we serve—because of the kind of God our LORD is, we can put our faith in him despite our fear and doubts. Because the LORD is a God of grace, we can respond with weak faith.
A. The LORD is a God of grace who is faithful to us. The more I read this story the more convinced I become that it is really meant to teach us something about God and not so much about Gideon. We are going to focus on how God responds to Gideon in vv. 33-40, but to understand what is happening there we have to see the faithfulness that God has show him up to this point. This story breaks down into three episodes (vv.11-24; 25-32; 33-40), each of which shows that God is faithful to us even when we are afraid.
1. In the first episode, God appears to Gideon at the winepress. Judges 6:11-12: “The angel of the LORD came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.” It may be somewhat lost on us but this scene is deeply ironic, both tragic and comic at the same time. It is ironic because what the angel says about Gideon and what Gideon is doing don’t line up at all. Gideon is threshing in a winepress—it is an image of defeat. Threshing grain is something you have to do up on a hill, in the wind. It is almost pointless to even try it in a winepress. Gideon is the furthest thing from a mighty warrior in this scene. Yet the angel tells him that he has been chosen to deliver Israel and that God will be with him. v. 14 “The LORD turned to him and said, ‘Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?’” Twice (vv. 14, 16) the angel affirms this promise. When Gideon is hesitant and wants assurance, the angel waits for hours while Gideon prepares a huge offering fit for a God. He prepares a whole goat and bakes bread from a barrel of flower. Then the angle, like a wizard, just takes his staff and immolates the whole thing and in the blink of an eye vanishes from sight. It is such a powerful sign that Gideon realizes immediately that he has been speaking to the LORD and is afraid that he will die. But even then the LORD speaks peace to him and reassures him. When Gideon is accusatory and slow to respond God gives him grace and assurance.
2. In the second episode, the LORD gives Gideon a task—before he goes and fights Midian he must root out the idolatry to Baal in his own backyard. Turns out Gideon’s own father is the priest of the cult of Baal. This is an incredibly scary and dangerous mission for Gideon. Imagine going into a small town in the Middle East and burning down the only mosque in the town. Furthermore his own Father is the priest! His own Father has the most to loose in terms of livelihood, prestige, and honor. So Gideon is risking not only his life and freedom, but the alienation of his whole family in doing this. But Gideon does it. And when he does it, amazingly he prospers as a result. Rather than having his father come out against him, when the town wants to put him to death, against all odds his father comes out for him. He argues, “If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar” v. 31. This common sense wisdom, which is hard to argue with, prevails. The people give Gideon a new name that day—they call him Jerub-Baal. Which means, “let Baal contend.” It is kind of a challenge to the god—let Baal take him out… if he can. Thus Gideon becomes a walking testimony to Baal’s impotence. In light of his new name, every breath that Gideon draws through his lungs proves the worthlessness and impotence of Baal as a god. And with this newfound might the people of the town rally behind him. The Spirit of the LORD comes on him, and he blows a trumpet, and not only his own clan and town (who were ready to kill him several verses ago) but four tribes of Israel rally behind him and he has raised an army. Gideon has been transformed from a cowardly farmer into a mighty warrior. This time when Midian comes they will have Jerub-Baal to contend with. When Gideon stepped out in faith the LORD was faithful to him.
APP: The LORD is a God of grace who is faithful to us. Where have you seen God’s faithfulness to you? Where have you seen his providence and guidance in your life—perhaps even over years—that you are able to look back and say God is faithful.
I remember when Meghan and I moved to Vancouver. I was going to school and we had a certain amount of money in the bank that we were going to live on till Meghan found a job. Four months of fruitless job hunting drew to a close, and I remember paying the bills thinking “Well, we won’t be able to do this again unless something changes.” I kid you not, the very week we were going to run out of money, Meghan got a job, and what did it pay? Just enough to cover our expenses. No more. Now, that wasn’t easy. But God was faithful.
How quickly we forget the faithfulness God has shown us! Phil. 4:4-7 prescribes thankfulness as an antidote to fear and anxiety. Remember, reflect on, rejoice in God’s faithfulness.
B. Despite God’s faithfulness we often struggle with fear that weakens our faith. When we focus on our fears rather than on God’s grace it saps our faith. Look at Gideon at the beginning of the third episode (vv. 33-34), let’s recall what has happened to him so far. He has had the angel of the LORD appear to him, he has had God speak promises of his presence to him, he has had signs, miracles done for him. He has destroyed Baal’s alter and God’s promise to be with him has proven true. When it looked like he was going to die, the situation instead proved a mighty reversal and he came out on top, he came out stronger. He has had his clan and his nation rally in support of him, and so here he stands on the brink of his greatest victory, but look at vv. 36, 37, & 39, 36 Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised— 37 look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said. … 39 Then Gideon said to God, “Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece, but this time make the fleece dry and let the ground be covered with dew.” When Gideon ought to be at his most confident he is asking God for a sign! Despite God’s faithfulness to him so far, Gideon is afraid.
1. Gideon is not looking for guidance he is afraid. Maybe you have heard this passage preached or taught before in the context of guidance, in the context of how to determine the will of God… I think we can see pretty clearly, having sketched this story, that that is not what it’s about. There is no question in Gideon’s mind of what God has called him to do. It has been clearly stated by the angel of the LORD face to face. Gideon’s not looking for guidance. He isn’t in a position in his life where he is unsure about where to go to school, or who to marry, or what job to take. He knows all too well what he has to do—that’s the problem! He is being faced with a situation in which he is being called by the word of the LORD (for us its Scripture) to do something that seems impossible. He is being called to do something that in his own power he knows he can’t pull off. We turn things into guidance issues that are really obedience issues. Gideon is being called to live by faith. He is being called to act on God’s word to him rather than on the way things appear from his perspective—and he is afraid.
2. Like Gideon, we might look good in the eyes of the world, but inside we are terrified, we are trying to keep up appearances, we are falling apart. Despite all the external success and confirmation that he has had, inside the reality for Gideon is very different than what it is on the outside.
I watched a movie awhile back about Marilyn Monroe. It was a biopic where she goes to England to film a movie at the height of her career in the 1950s. She is coming to this small town in England, and the people are ecstatic—Marilyn Monroe! She’s the most famous movie star in the whole world. She is capable of wrapping anyone she wants around her finger. She has everything, fame, money, success, beauty, and yet when she shows up on the set of the movie her confidence is the exact opposite of the outward appearances. She’s terrified. She’s fearful. She’s working with Laurence Olivier a famous Shakespearean actor, and she doesn’t feel up for it. She spends most of her time, asleep, drugged up, in her dressing room. She can’t even come out because she is so paralyzed by fear, fear of failure, fear of being dumb or shallow, fear of not being able to live up to the role she has been cast in or to people’s expectations of her.
If we read back over Gideon’s story from his perspective we get a profoundly different take. When that angel comes to him threshing in the winepress and the angel says, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior” (v. 12). Gideon’s response isn’t, “Yes! Finally, I always knew it.” Gideon’s response is, “If the LORD is with me, then why I am I afraid for my life threshing in a wine press!? If the LORD is with me why am I defeated already and Israel is subjugated all around me!?” When the LORD tells him he will deliver Israel he says, “How can I deliver Israel? I am pathetic – I am the weakest in my clan... I am nothing, my clan is tiny. I have no power with which to deliver Israel.” But God affirms his promise, and when he gives him a miraculous sign, and Gideon realizes that he has been speaking to the angel of the LORD, he doesn’t say, “Oh, I knew it! Man we’re gonna destroy them!” No, he says, “I am going to die. I have seen God face to face. I have disrespected him, woe is me… I am a dead man.” When he is told to tear down his father’s alter to Baal, he is quaking in his boots, sacred ridged. He is so scared he won’t even do it during the day, instead he sneaks out at night and tears it down under the cover of darkness. No doubt he goes back home, and gets in bed and just waits for the lynch mob to come and string him up. And in v. 36, even after the tribes have rallied behind him, here he stands, casting this fleece before God. When we focus on our fears it saps our faith.
It is easy to condemn him. It is easy to say, you had so many assurances! What could you possibly be afraid of! If the LORD spoke to me face-to-face I wouldn’t be afraid at all. But look at his situation. Here he is with four tribes behind him. That is an incredible amount of responsibility. In the morning when they go and face Midian people are going to die—men are going to die. And in all likelihood it is going to be the outgunned, outmanned, novice Israelites and not the Midianite warriors who have been dominating them for seven years. Imagine being on a team that has been getting dominated for seven years. What is your morale like when you go out there on year eight? This is Gideon’s finest moment but it is also his darkest hour, he is facing his greatest challenge. When he asks for that fleece to be made wet and then to be made dry, he isn’t seeking guidance he needs to know that the LORD will be with him in what he knows he needs to go out and do. Isn’t this the challenge of faith that we all face? We are desperate to know that God will be with us.
A. As we reflect on what God is saying to us through this story there are three things we should take away from it. First, God is telling us perfect faith is not required because He shows us grace in our fear.
Meghan and I got a puppy last Christmas. We brought her home at 8-weeks, the first day she was eligible. We wanted to start training her from day 1, so we got a crate for her to sleep in, loaded it up with pillows and when we went to bed we put her in there. Now we were not lying in bed 2 minutes before she started wailing—and I mean wailing. The puppy equivalent of a baby just balling uncontrollably. So here I am torn. Do I go let her out? Bring her in the bedroom with us? Well… that is exactly the habit that I am trying to avoid. Do I go scold her? Yell at her till she shuts up? Do I wait it out? After 30 minutes—and no sign of her stopping—I went and got on the computer to try to find some advice. What I read amazed me. This is totally normal in new puppies, they said, because they feel abandoned by their pack. They are away from brothers and sisters and their mother for the first time, and their new pack of humans has left them. They are stuck (trapped) and they have no idea if the pack is ever coming back. The trick is not to yell at them or to bring them in the bedroom with you, but to go sit with them outside the crate until they fall asleep—show them that even in the empty house in the dark the pack has not left them—you are right there.
When God makes the fleece wet and then dry he is showing a fearful Gideon that he is right there. God answers so abundantly that Gideon can take that fleece and it’s not like, “I think it’s damp?” No Gideon takes the fleece and he wrings out a bowlful of water. God answers his request forcefully. We find in God an absolutely astounding level of grace, even when Gideon really has no excuse to be feeling the fear and terror and doubts he is feeling. God doesn’t condemn Gideon. He understands our fears, he doesn’t demand perfect faith. So should you lay out a fleece the next time you’re faithless and afraid? Probably not. The word of the Lord, the appearance of the angel, the signs, they should have been enough for Gideon as it stood. But know that in your fear and weakness, God is a God of grace who comforts you.
B. Second, God is telling us that it is better to obey badly than not at all.
I have a friend who is a single mom and she’s working and she’s in grad school. She told me she used to freak out about parenting, because she read all the baby books, and if you don’t hold them the right amount, and feed them the right food, and say the right things, and keep the right schedule, your kid ends up screwed up. The pressures of being a parent are overwhelming. At first she didn’t know how to handle it. And then she started telling herself, look, I don’t have to (I can’t) be a perfect parent, I just have to be a good enough parent. I hope it doesn’t sound too crass or mediocre. There is an amazing truth of the gospel in there. I just have to love my kid. I just have to show them that I love them. I just have to keep trying to show them that I love them when I fail.
Similarly, Dad has sometimes told me that if anything is worth doing it is worth doing poorly. Sometimes things need to be done, good things that God is calling you to do, and for all manner of reasons, some good and others not so good, doing them perfectly is impossible. But God still wants you to do them. It is better to get a C than not turn in the paper. Our pride and our assumption that we have to present ourselves perfect before God wants us to forget this. So Gideon tore down the alter at night! Big deal. It is better that he did it in a cowardly manner than not at all. Would it have been better if he went out there Rambo style in broad daylight? Maybe, probably… but when it was all said and done the alter was smashed and Gideon had obeyed God. Obedience is necessary, heroism is optional. We live out our faith when we obey God even in our fear and our weakness.
C. Third, God is telling us that when we step out in faith (even if we are afraid) he will be faithful to us and use us. In v. 34 when it says, “The Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon…,” literally it says the Spirit was clothed in Gideon. The image is that the Spirit of God put on Gideon like a set of clothes and used him as a tool to call all his people to himself. Gideon’s faith is met by the Spirit of God that gives him incredible power far beyond his own capability to accomplish these tasks that are terrifying on their own. God used Gideon’s weak faith to tear down the alter to Baal, and he will go on to use Gideon to deliver all Israel from their oppression.
So I want to urge you, whatever challenge you’re facing in your life, whatever alter you’re standing in front of but know you need to tear down, whatever battle is on the threshold for you tomorrow, whatever command or word you have receive from God that you know is true and you need to act on—whether it’s an addiction you need to break, or relationship you need to end, or someone you need to repent to, reach out to, or reconcile with, or a tough decision that you are trying to make that you know will have consequences—you don’t have to get rid of all your fear and doubt before you step out in faith. Faith is action. Faith is obeying God, getting out of bed, picking up the phone. God’s grace uses weak faith—so move.
D. But here’s the amazing thing… Remember we started talking about Hebrews 11:1? Well, Hebrews 11 is often called “the hall of faith” it records a list of characters from the Old Testament who were exemplary heroes of faith. Despite Gideon’s fear, his doubts about God’s promise to be with him, and his repeatedly testing God by asking for signs, in Heb. 11:32 Gideon is recorded alongside Moses and Abraham and David as an exemplary hero of the faith. How can this be?
Let’s go back and look at what the angel first says to Gideon when he sees Gideon threshing in the wine press. The angel says, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” That’s not just a joke for onlookers, nor is it an insult, nor is it just a promise. Ultimately Gideon will save Israel. He will engage the battle of Midian and he will deliver them. He proves himself to be a mighty warrior. But here’s what we need to see… from the moment the angel appears and calls to Gideon, he calls Gideon according to what by God’s grace he will be, not according to what he is at the time. At the time Gideon is a fearful man hiding from his problems. And yet in God’s eyes he is a mighty warrior.
Romans 8:37 says the same thing of us in Christ, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Christ himself once faced that challenge of faith on the night before the great battle. In the garden of Gethsemane Christ was alone. He poured out his heart before God, and he said “Lord, if it’s possible let this cup pass from me.” It wasn’t easy for Christ to go to the cross for us. He sweat drops of blood in agony over what lay before him and yet he went to the cross for us bearing away out sin, our fear, our faithlessness. And it’s because of his sacrifice where he conquered fear and faithlessness that he is able to say to us that we are more than conquerors—that we are mighty warriors by God’s grace. If you are in Christ, God sees you not according to what you are—fearful, timid, struggling to have faith in the face of all the tasks that have been laid before you—but as a conqueror, as a warrior in Christ. God calls us by his grace according to what we will be through Christ, not according to what we are in our weakness. By ourselves, we are weak and afraid threshing down in our winepresses. In Christ we are more than conquerors, we are mighty warriors. This is a God that you can have faith in.
Because our LORD is a God of grace we can come to him even with weak faith. Obedience is necessary, heroism is optional. The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.