'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.”
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?'
'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.'
The Lord answered, 'I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.'
Gideon replied, 'If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. 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.'" [Judges 6:11-18, NIV]
I love to read about Gideon.
Every time I think about his life, it excites me--I see the awesome power of God--imbedded in Gideon's doubts and fears. A lot of times, we are under the (mistaken) impression that our fears and doubts hinder God's ability to work in our lives; but clearly we can see from Gideon's life as a "mighty man of valor" (KJV) that isn't so. God doesn't need our ability, or our superhuman strength and faith to use us. He simply wants us to be willing. He does the rest. In fact, to think that God needs our faith is somewhat egotistical. God doesn't need anything from us. He wants us. We need Him. In fact, any faith that we "possess", came from Him, we don't muster it up or create it in our ourselves, but Paul writes in Romans 12 "For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith." [NASB]
When I read this passage in Judges, I see the character of God at work, in spite of our doubts, fears, idiosyncrasies, faults and shortcomings. I see God's power to move, even in a mere human. Gideon was made of the same flesh, as you and I. It would be easy to forget that as we read the great exploits, but most of us (if we're honest) can identify with Gideon shaking in his sandals, hiding out in the winepress trying to thresh wheat.
The Midianites were a destructive bunch. They did damage for the sheer fun of it--they would take the food and crops of the Israelites, not to enjoy themselves, but simply to destroy and watch them suffer. While Gideon was about this very difficult work of trying to save some wheat for his family, God appears to him, in the form of an Angel. The first thing God does is speak to Gideon's identity. He calls this fear-filled, bitter man "mighty man of valor" or "mighty warrior" (NIV). You see, God does not see as man sees. He has the divine ability to see us in the framework of eternity. Our very finite minds cannot fathom what God sees-- although, thankfully, from time to time, we get a glimpse of glory!
On this day, Gideon saw no glory, only the drudgery and constant oppression that he witnessed and lived daily. And, he voiced his resentment--so much for not questioning God. Gideon goes so far as to accuse God of abandoning Israel. We have all wondered where God was (even if we didn't have the guts to accuse Him, like Gideon!) in the midst of hard trials, when we felt as if we were alone. Just as God was with Gideon, preparing him for something great (in the winepress), He also prepares us for great things in the place of pressure, and adversity.
Gideon's doubt doesn't shake God. His identity crisis, doesn't move Him; nor does Gideon's sarcasm, bitterness, accusation or even the need for a sign. God patiently and kindly bears Gideon and his issues, until he is ready for the task at hand. And even, when he steps into his assignment, at first, he takes some fear with him. Gideon's first exploit was under cover of night for fear of his own people. The idols had to go. They were the reason Israel was in this predicament; not because God had forgotten them. They had forgotten God. But, Gideon knew they (the Israelites) would kill anyone who interfered with their idol worship, so he gathered his men together at night and destroyed the altar of Baal, and cut down the Asherah pole.
It's not hard to move when you have total confidence. It's much more difficult to act when you have doubts and fears--but how God-honoring is it, when you act in spite of them? I'm reminded of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah who said to King Nebuchadnezzar, "we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up." [Daniel 3:16-18, NIV]. I'm also thinking of Hadassah (Esther), saying, "And thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish." [Esther 4:16, NASB]. Then, I remember the disciples as Jesus giving them final instructions after He was resurrected: "they worshipped Him, but some doubted". Yet, just as with Gideon, Christ continues with the plan: "And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, 'All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 'Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.'"
And, He is still with us, in spite of...so, go.