Call to Ministry Series #11: The Call of Gideon, part 2
September 18, 2012
Yhwh gets Gideon’s attention and gives him general instructions for the deliverance from oppression. Gideon has more questions.
One Objection and Assurance
15. He responded, “But sir, in what way can I deliver Israel? Look, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.”
16. Yhwh said to him, “Indeed, I will be with you. You shall strike down the Midianites as one man.”
Gideon raises one objection to God’s call to go and deliver Israel from the Midianites. His question recalls Moses’ first objection or question when he asks, “How can I deliver Israel” (6:15)? It is another way of saying, “Who am I?” Evidently Gideon connects his clan and family with the task of delivering Israel, perhaps realizing he will not be able to do it alone. Since his clan in Manasseh was small and weak and he personally was least in his family, how could he accomplish what God asks?
Yhwh answers immediately with a promise. He will be with Gideon, an answer parallel to the assurance given to Moses by God. In addition, God promises that Gideon will strike down and kill every Midianite (6:16).
The promise of God’s presence carries significant weight in the Old Testament. It is the difference maker.
Sign and more assurance
17. Then he said to him, “If, please, I have found favor with you, then do for me a sign that it is you who speaks with me. 18. Do not, please, depart from here until I come to you and bring out my offering and set it before you.”
He said, “I will stay until you return.”
19. Gideon went into his house and prepared a kid and unleavened cakes from an ephah of flour. The meat he placed in a basket, and the broth he put in a pot and brought them to him under the oak and presented them.
20. The messenger of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened cakes and put them on this rock, and pour out the broth.”
He did so.
21. Then the messenger of Yhwh reached out the tip of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened cakes. Fire jumped up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened cakes. The messenger of Yhwh walked out of his sight.
22. Then Gideon perceived that it was the messenger of Yhwh. Gideon said, “Ah, help me, master Yhwh, for I have seen the messenger of Yhwh face to face!”
23. Yhwh said to him, “Peace be to you! Do not fear, you shall not die.”
24. Gideon built an altar there to Yhwh and called it, “Yhwh is peace.” To this day it still stands at Ophrah, which belongs to the Abiezrites.
In verse 17 Gideon asks for “a sign.” Since the messenger is speaking with Gideon, it is unclear why he wants the sign. His rationale must be more than simply confirmation of his speech with Gideon. Perhaps he desires something tangible to confirm what his other senses are telling him.
He prepares an “offering” or “present” for the messenger (v. 18). When he presents it to the messenger, the messenger instructs Gideon to put it on a rock and pour out the soup around it. Reaching out the tip of his staff he touches the offering and it is consumed. At that point Yhwh disappears. Gideon realizes he has had an amazing experience. He begs for his life to the messenger.
A sign gives assurance. But a sign may prove a fearsome thing that we might not want to experience. God speaks words of reassurance on top of the sign: “Peace to you.” God reveals himself again in words, words of peace. Gideon understands them giving weight to Yhwh as a god of “shalom,” peace, and builds an altar that the narrator reports still stands at Ophrah.
Curious that a “warrior” receiving instructions from Yhwh that will lead to the death of enemies builds an altar called “Yhwh shalom.” Peace or shalom goes deeper than mere cessation of hostilities with an enemy. The Hebrew word speaks to wholeness or life lived in balance and safety with the surroundings, especially when Yhwh is involved.
Gideon’s call allows several points of transfer to our lives.
First, his call follows a similar pattern to the call of Moses and others. A pattern is followed, but the specifics are unique to Gideon. God will get a person’s attention, give instructions, usually of a general nature to start, provide a sign, and pronounce reassurance. But the setting is unique. The commission is unique. The sign is unique. Even the words of reassurance are specific to Gideon.
God’s call to you personally takes into account who you are, what the needs are that you may address, and starts you down the path. Gideon’s beginning is different than Moses’, but both will be used by God.
Second, irony or humor plays a part in the account. We don’t hear the laughter or sense the humor until we reflect on the irony of the words spoken. Is this really a “mighty warrior”? What can one person really do? Perhaps a small clan would soften the idea? Dependence on God supersedes our inabilities or weaknesses. We might try to deflect God’s call because we think we know ourselves so well. Actually, many people possess poor self image. They fail to see the humor in the reality that God’s call entails two unequal partners, the human and the divine person. Once understood, you may also feel the release and freedom of a laugh.
Third, the primary focus in the story, measured by the length of telling or number of verses, falls in the section on the sign, which Gideon and the readers do not realize is a sign until the end when the food and broth are burned up. Parallels to the conflagration of the food exist in the burnt offerings brought to Yhwh by an obedient Israelite (Lev 1) or the dramatic confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Baal where the water soaked sacrifice was consumed by fire (1 Kings 18). Gideon receives the burnt food as a sign.
Gideon is probably best known for his subsequent request for two further signs involving a fleece of wool (Judg 6:36-40). A fleece of wool is laid out on the threshing floor to discern God’s will of deliverance for Israel. It is to be wet while the surrounding ground would be dry. After this happens, Gideon further queries the Lord by requesting for a dry fleece while the ground would be wet. I think Gideon was testing the patience of Yhwh who fortunately was gracious and grants both signs. Following these signs, Gideon leads the Israelites in Judges 7 to a rout of the Midianites with only 300 warriors. But God had already told Gideon this would happen under his leadership. The signs should not have been necessary. Gideon still was not convinced and needed the additional assurance that God granted.
I remember a student when I taught at Biola who felt God’s call to Irian Jaya (now Papua), but wanted a tribesman from there to knock on his door in east L.A. to confirm God’s call. What was the chance an unconverted headhunter from a primitive island would be in the USA in a Hispanic barrio and knocking on doors, his specifically? Not that the Lord couldn’t do it, but why would you want to give such a request that might make God angry with its arbitrariness, especially when you thought God had already directed you. I advised against it and the fellow eventually went.
We need to remember to walk carefully in a quest for signs. If God’s instructions are clear, be careful about testing the Lord for further assurances. On the other hand, the Lord is gracious and patient, even when in our human frailty we struggle.
Fourth, God calls a person of humble means, a nobody, to carry out his wishes. From the poorest clan in a backwater region of Israel, oppressed by nasty neighbors, starving to death – still God calls Gideon to deliver his people. No matter the background of a person, when a person is called by God to a task, good things happen.