Gideon was a man of faith. Make no mistake about that. But he was also a man whose faith was in crisis. He makes this clear when the Angel of the Lord appears to him (Judges 6:11-13). What was the reason for this crisis? There were two sides to it.
One cause was the Midianites. For seven long years they had made life miserable for the people of Israel. Judges 6:2-6 says it all: ‘the hand of Midian prevailed against Israel … so Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites’.
The other side concerned God. Gideon thought that the Lord should have done something about the Midianites, but he had not. After all, the Lord had delivered Israel from her enemies on previous occasions and, indeed, had promised to do so (Leviticus 26:7-8; Deuteronomy 28:7). So Gideon was upset because the Midianites were doing all kinds of things and the Lord was doing nothing!
Gideon must have felt he was in the jaws of a vice – squeezed between the activity of the Midianites and the inactivity of God. Gideon wasn’t the only person in the Bible to feel that way. Job found himself in the same vice, with problems galore on one hand and God’s distance on the other. Asaph faced the same dilemma when he saw how the wicked seemed to prosper while he was barely scraping by (Psalm 73).
Many believers have been in ‘Gideon’s vice’ at one time or another. What are we to do when we find ourselves surrounded by the cruel ‘Midianites’ of life yet God seems not to care?
To put it another way, what are we to do when our faith seems not to be working? Gideon can help us. He rises from the pages of Scripture to teach us valuable lessons about faith.
First, we must examine our faith to make sure we are not trying to make God do something he has not obligated himself to do.
Do we understand faith? Faith is not believing that God will do whatever we want done. It is not ‘positive thinking’. It is believing that God will do what he has promised to do in the time and manner that suits him. In other words, we cannot have faith apart from the Word of God (Romans 10:17).
Gideon was in a crisis of faith because he had been expecting God to do something about the Midianites. Gideon wanted them removed from the scene and seems to have convinced himself that God was obligated to do this. But it was God who had sent those very Midianites! We read, ‘Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord. So the Lord delivered them into the hand of Midian for seven years’ (Judges 6:1).
The people of Israel were in a covenant relationship with God. One part of that covenant was God’s pledge to give Israel victory over its enemies. This is evidently what Gideon had in mind. But there was another part to that same covenant, namely, Israel’s responsibility to obey God’s commandments. Under the covenant of Sinai God was not obligated to keep his promise to deliver Israel from her enemies if she did not obey his laws.
God keeps his word
In particular, God had made it clear that Israel must not worship and serve other gods. Idolatry would not bring Israel victory over her enemies but bondage to them (Deuteronomy 28:25). So the Midianites who vexed them were proof not of the Lord’s failure to deliver but rather that God keeps his word!
Gideon’s mistake was to separate God’s blessings from Israel’s responsibilities. We often do the same. We want God to bless us regardless of the way we live – and when we don’t get the blessings we want and expect, we conclude that God has failed.
But Gideon also has other lessons for us.
Don’t give up on God
For seven long years the Midianites had oppressed Israel. It is probably safe to say that Gideon and other people of faith spent much of those seven years wondering why God did nothing to change the situation.
But suddenly Gideon finds himself in the presence of the very God that he had been wondering about. ‘Now the Angel of the Lord came and sat under the terebinth tree which was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon threshed wheat in the winepress, in order to hide it from the Midianites. And the Angel of the Lord appeared to him, and said to him, “The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valour!”’ (Judges 6:11-12).
The Lord announces that he is now ready to deliver Israel from the Midianites. This shows us that it is always too early to give up on God. Gideon’s experience warns us to beware of ‘snapshot theology’. God’s work in this world is like a movie. We oftentimes look at a single clip and start making pronouncements.
We see the clip and wonder why God has done this or that, and why he has not done the other. We are so sure that we are seeing everything and that we are right in our conclusions. But we are looking only at a single snapshot.
God tells us to watch the whole movie and assures us that everything will make perfect sense at the end of it all. These lines express it well;
It will be worth it all when we see
Life’s trials will seem so small when
we see him.
One glimpse of his dear face
All sorrow will erase.
So let us run the race
Till we see Christ.
Feeding our faith
A third lesson to consider is that we must feed our faith on the faithfulness of God. The Lord had work for Gideon to do: ‘Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have I not sent you?’ (Judges 6:14).
God appoints Gideon to the office of mediator – that is, he is to be God’s instrument to achieve God’s purpose. He is to be God’s man to triumph over the enemy and to secure that victory on behalf of all his people.
The people of Israel were suffering because they had broken the covenant of Sinai. But long before Sinai the Lord had established a covenant with Abraham – a covenant of promise (Galatians 3:16-18). The centrepiece of that covenant was God’s promise to send a Mediator – who would be God’s own Son and would come to this earth to save a rebellious people from their sins (Matthew 1:23). He would come to secure victory over Satan on their behalf.
Those people in Israel who had faith held to this belief in a coming Saviour. Yes, there were times when their faith in that promise would diminish. The seven years of Midianite oppression was such a time. But then God would raise up a man like Gideon to deliver Israel – and people of faith would see in that deliverer a reminder of the great Deliverer who was to come. And their faith would be rekindled and renewed.
God’s big promise
How does this help us when we feel that our faith is not working? It gives us something on which to feed our faith – so that it begins to work again! The fact that God kept his promise to send his Son demonstrates God’s faithfulness.
And Paul draws the unavoidable conclusion: ‘What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?’ (Romans 8:31-32).
When we feel that our faith is not working, we should think about the faithfulness of God. And think about it in this way in particular – the sending of his Son to be our Saviour is God’s great promise. Since God was faithful in keeping his great promise, we should never doubt that he will keep his lesser promises. Faith always lets the greater thing govern the lesser things.
Does it seem to you that your faith is not working, that it is all pointless and vain? Let Gideon help you. Look at his life and be reminded that: (1) true faith does not try to obligate God to do what he has not promised; (2) true faith doesn’t give up on God because of what it sees at the moment; and (3) true faith looks to the redeeming work of Christ as proof that God will never fail to keep his promises.
Armed with these truths our faith can forge ahead in a world that might otherwise make it seem pointless.