Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites. Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count the men and their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it. Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help (Judges 6:1-6).
I’ve never known what it was like to live in fear. Not really.
I’m not familiar with the feeling of waking up on a daily basis and immediately looking over my shoulder or wondering what violence I’d have to run from. I’ve not experienced the anxiety that comes with raising children in a truly dangerous environment and worrying whether or not they will be safe playing outside. But those were the times for the children of Israel in Judges 6.
And what a terrible time it must have been. The Midianites were actually distant relatives of the Jews; they were the descendants of Abraham and his second wife. They had grown into a semi-nomadic people in western Arabia and became part of a confederation of desert peoples who periodically would cross over the Jordan to pillage and wreak havoc on the Israelites. Just when the freshly seeded crops were sprouting, they would invade and destroy. They were so fierce that the Israelites lived looking over their shoulders, knowing that they might look across the river and see the Midianites coming. They were so afraid that they actually hollowed out caves in the mountainside to hide in.
This was life for Israel for seven years. For seven years their crops and animals were destroyed. For seven years invading peoples oppressed them and caused them to run. And you can imagine the effect both economically and psychologically. Verse 6 expresses it best because the word there for “impoverished” is literally translated “made small.” The Midianites made the Israelites small in emotion, courage and prosperity, so much so that they finally cried out to the Lord for help. And the Lord answered them, albeit in a strange way. We meet the deliverer that God had chosen in verse 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. When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”
The Lord is with you, mighty warrior? Now that is a shocking statement. It is shocking because Gideon was not a mighty warrior. He was threshing wheat, a common and necessary practice, but the usual practice of threshing wheat was to cut the stalks and then beat them with a rod. You would then discard the straw and then toss the mixture up into the air. The wind would catch the chaff and blow it away and the heavier grains would fall to the ground. But Gideon was so afraid of the Midianites that he was doing an “outside activity” while hiding in a sheltered vat that was used for pressing grapes. Mighty warrior indeed. The circumstances of Gideon’s life seem to radically contradict the fact that he is a mighty warrior, and he knew it:
“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” (Judges 6:13).
Gideon looked around his country that was in ruins and he had a simple question: How can you possibly say that God is with any of us? Are you blind? It is perfectly obvious from our circumstances that the Lord is not with us – in fact, it is obvious he has abandoned us. The conclusion is obvious:
The Lord is not with me nor my people, and I am certainly not a mighty warrior. I am the son of an idol worshiper who is too afraid to thresh my wheat in the open.
The circumstances of Gideon’s life contradict the word of the Lord. But God is not ruled by circumstances; God defines circumstances.
God has a habit of interjecting his word into circumstances that seem to contradict it:
- He came to a murdering stutterer and called him a great deliverer.
- He came to an old man from Ur who was an idol worshiper and called him the father of many nations.
- He came to a shepherd boy last in line of importance and called him a king.
- He came to a disgruntled prophet with an unfaithful wife and called him a husband.
- He came to a coward in a winepress and called him a warrior.
- He came to an overzealous, hot-headed fisherman and called him a rock.
- He came to a persecutor and called him a prophet.
- He came to a man who had been for three days and called him the Living Lord of All.
- And he came to a sinner who had never given him a second thought and called him a son.
It’s still true today, isn’t it? We look at our lives, and the rest of the world, and God’s Word doesn’t seem to fit. And so here, again, we come to a choice about what will drive our definition of reality. Will it be our circumstances, or will it be the Word of God?
May we be the kind of people who find the truth about the world, ourselves, and the future in something more stable than our circumstances which change so easily. May we find the truth in God’s Word.
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