In Toronto, (Ontario) Canada, the “CN Tower” stands today as a city icon. It towers at a height of over 1800 feet, and functions as a concrete communications tower, as well as a visitor’s observation deck. The massive structure was completed in 1976, becoming the world’s tallest freestanding tower at that time. Attracting millions of visitors annually, the tower features a glass floor allowing the visitor to view down to the street level many stories below – something the Eiffel Tower has now opened because of the obvious popularity of such things. It seems there are many who wish to test themselves by walking out onto a clear glass floor high above the landscape, overcoming their God-given sense not to walk into thin air. Their trust in the engineered glass, the installer of the floor and the architect must be very strong to walk out onto something even a child knows is perilous.
I mention these modern “towering attractions” with their glass floors simply because, at least for someone like me (with an intense respect for gravity that unenlightened persons many call a “fear of heights”), the buildings help me picture in my mind’s eye a true test of confidence. When there is a steep drop beneath you, the reliability of whatever is holding you from that “plunge to your death” must come immediately into question (if you have any sense at all).
Let’s face it: a perilous cliff is a great mind clarifier.
If you have been following the series, the story of Gideon has been our subject for a few lessons. As the seventh chapter of Judges opened, a man selected by God was in peril – as was his whole nation! He was facing a battle with an army that out-manned and outgunned that of his countrymen. He was new (and largely unannounced) to his post as commander in chief of the tribal forces. The coming fight required God’s miraculous help for success because Israel was so weakened they had little to draw on in their own resources.
Looking back in the story to chapter six, Gideon began his relationship with God with a very weak faith, but was slowly bolstered by testing the Holy One. In patience, God encouraged the young “would be” hero as God met the requirements of each test. The point wasn’t to teach us to test God, as much as it was to show that such testing brings its own problems.
First, when we test God, our immaturity makes cloudy God’s Sovereignty and we are liable to see “coincidence” at play. Though God is always in control, our struggle is our own surety of that control, and personal confidence that we know what He wants us to do to fit in His plan.
A second issue that arises when we test God, is God may respond by testing us – since that is how we think we will learn best. In Gideon’s case, God turned the tables and tested the man – and that is where we will pick up our reading of the story in Judges 7:1-8. The story is one that can be found throughout the Bible…God placed Gideon in the crucible of trouble, and met him in the desperation of that moment.
There is a truth we can see revealed in this passage that seems like it can only learned under the pressure of troubles… and Gideon is really under intense pressure…
Key Principle: In stormy circumstances or perilous moments, trust is the key to boldness.
I learned this truth early in life. Growing up, when I fully trusted my older brother to defend me, I could walk in front of that bully in my class with great confidence. I didn’t worry about being punched – my brother would take care of me. If I didn’t know he was there, or wasn’t convinced that he would come to my rescue – my boldness would have evaporated. Trust makes you bold.
Gideon was about to face the battle that defined his life and career! He didn’t arrive in that place without some significant learning from God. The last chapter made clear some tests that are common to believers when they believe God is pulling them to a specific service for Him:
• First, Gideon struggled to be sure it was really God Who was pulling him to that special service of leading Israel, as recounted in Judges 6:11-24. This was a test concerning DISCERNMENT.
• Second, Gideon was challenged in Judges 6:25-32 with a test of CONSECRATION. He had to remove the idols that marked the village, and place his trust solely in God to protect him against an angry mob of neighbors.
• Third, Gideon fleece tested God for some additional assurance that God’s promises truly were ENOUGH to bring miraculous victory in Judges 6:33-40. This was a test of ASSURANCE.
Now we unfold the story of yet a fourth test – this one from God to Gideon.
As some early successes began to fall into place, the issue of sole trust in God’s strength (as opposed to our own) came into view. Gideon encountered this fork in the road in Judges 7:1-8. This is the test of SUFFICIENCY.
Judges 7:1 Then Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the people who were with him, rose early and camped beside [a]the spring of Harod; and the camp of Midian was on the north side of [b]them by the hill of Moreh in the valley. 2 The Lord said to Gideon, “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands, for Israel [c]would become boastful, saying, ‘My own [d]power has delivered me.’ 3 Now therefore [e]come, proclaim in the hearing of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is afraid and trembling, let him return and depart from Mount Gilead.’” So 22,000 people returned, but 10,000 remained. 4 Then the Lord said to Gideon, “The people are still too many; bring them down to the water and I will test them for you there. Therefore it shall be that he of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go with you; but everyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.” 5 So he brought the people down to the water. And the Lord said to Gideon, “You shall separate everyone who laps the water with his tongue as a dog laps, as well as everyone who kneels to drink.” 6 Now the number of those who lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, was 300 men; but all the rest of the people kneeled to drink water. 7 The Lord said to Gideon, “I will deliver you with the 300 men who lapped and will give the Midianites into your hands; so let all the other people go, each man to his home.” 8 So [g]the 300 men took the people’s provisions and their trumpets into their hands. And [h]Gideon sent all the other men of Israel, each to his tent, but retained the 300 men; and the camp of Midian was below him in the valley.
Look with me at the Sufficiency Test: (i.e. “Will I trust GOD to provide the victory?” (7:1-8). I noted a moment ago that God initiated this test, so that He could instruct an anxious general before a fight. Look closely at the details as the story opened…
First, note that God knew Gideon well. He didn’t unfairly test an unarmed man.
Judges 7:1 opened with the simple word: “Then…”
This test occurred only after God made clear pronouncements of both His plan and His power to Gideon. God told him he would be mighty and victorious. God showed him that the Almighty could meet any test placed in front of Him.
In following God, there are really only two issues. First, I must know what He wants me to do and believe that God is able to do through me what He called me to do. Those are intellectual issues – problems of knowledge. Second, I must be willing to DO what He called me to do – a problem of my will.
Whenever people are doing the wrong thing in life, it really comes down to two issues: either they cannot do right or the will not do right. If they cannot – they need training to know HOW to do right. If they WILL not – they need discipline to soften their stiff neck. No amount of training will change one who has their will set to do wrong. That isn’t the issue – surrender is. Gideon was willing, and he was informed – chapter six made that clear. The “then” in the text was to mark those facts as learning experiences now behind him. Don’t fear that God will throw you in the deep end until you have learned to spiritually doggie paddle. He won’t. He doesn’t do it that way.
Second, note the public reputation God gave Gideon quickly took hold. The text says:
Judges 7:1b “…Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the people who were with him, rose early and camped beside the spring of Harod; and the camp of Midian was on the north side of them by the hill of Moreh in the valley.
Clearly the people of the region knew about Gideon’s night of tearing down the Asherah pole and Baal shrine as unfolded in the story of chapter six. Gideon obeyed God, and God built his reputation – and with that his ministry effectiveness. Remember, in the natural world, Gideon was the WRONG AGE and from the WRONG FAMILY. He could have spent years trying to be noticed by his tribe or others from the tribes of Israel. It wouldn’t have worked. God gave him what he couldn’t attain apart from God. That is how it works for one who would serve the Most High. We aren’t called because of our ability, but because of His plan. Any ability we do have was created for us and birthed within us. At the same time, God will add to us what we need to do what He called us to accomplish.
Because that is the case, in the story of God’s work through you, let’s “take off the table” the things that God will not accept as excuses that you may pose to keep yourself from serving Him:
• I am not old enough or too old.
• I don’t have the right credentials or background.
• I don’t have an opportunity to be used by God where I am.
• No one will listen to me.
All these and many more objections evaporate when we look at Gideon. He found God’s call in hole. He wasn’t the obvious choice, but he was God’s choice. God told him what to do in the next step – even though he couldn’t see where it led. He obeyed. God made his name a household word. Imagine, he became a celebrity merely by obedience to God. The truth is, that is the best way to get to such a status! Follow God and trust what He tells you – and He will enable you.
Third, note that God is not at work in us to build our reputation as an end in itself.
God makes much of us so that we can make much of Him. You can see that as the account continues:
Judges 7:2 The Lord said to Gideon, “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands, for Israel would become boastful, saying, ‘My own power has delivered me.’
Just as we have the tendency to feel inadequate before we have God’s empowering in our work, we can have the tendency to believe we have become deserving after we have received some level of success from God’s call. Though the issue in verse two appeared to be primarily about an arrogance that would come upon the people, Gideon was to understand this essential lesson at the same time.
Why do we come so quickly to believe we are worthy of the blessings God brings our way? That is an important question for any Jesus follower, and a VERY important question for an American. Let’s face it: even our poor people have more than people in most places on the earth. We have had extravagant wealth, unimaginable comfort and a saturation of good things in our society. Complain as we do about all the issues of our lives, we have to admit there is no better time in which to live if we want to measure by convenience. There is no place better to live if we want to speak about hope and a future.
I want you to know that as I stand and watch young people grapple with God’s Word, I become more and more hopeful about the possibility of a sixth revival for our nation. There have been five revivals, beginning with the “Great Awakening” during colonial times. Think back to the time at the birth of our nation. The “Age of Reason” so gripped a generation that many thought they were watching the very sunset of belief in God. Sin and rationalization reigned – and then, almost without warning, a revival began. It didn’t begin with the old – but with the young.
• Jonathan Edwards, the minister from Yale, became concerned that New Englanders were leaving God for materialism. His hardened sermons were delivered with un-tempered fury and conviction – and God used them.
• George Whitefield was a British minister who traveled the American colonies and shared God’s Word. An actor by training, his dramatic presentations of the Word were something to behold!
Many scholars believe the Great Awakening not only pushed back the influence of the Enlightenment, but it was a likely long term cause of the Revolution in the colonies. Turning to God, people began to see the need for broader return to the Bible than the Church of England seemed to desire. In America, the church of God was no longer filling pulpits strictly with the intellectuals of the upper crust, but rather men of fire and Spirit who knew God’s call on their life. The Awakening had the effect of binding the colonies together in a common belief they could share, helping to break down differences between them. England was passing through this experience with the colonists – making them seem “different.”
That wasn’t the only revival that came through the hands of the young in America. In fact, no sooner had that revival cooled into a secularist reaction, when another revival blew in the American winds. This one was called the Haystack Prayer Meeting. It started with five students in Williamstown, Massachusetts, in the hot days of Summer in 1806, and has come to be viewed by many scholars as the spark for the birth of the fire of Protestant missions over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Five college students gathered to pray for the lost people of Asia. From that group grew the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM). By 1812 they sent the first American missionaries to India. After that, they followed with outreaches to China, Hawaii, and south east Asia. They built hospitals and birthed schools at various mission stations. They undertook translation of the Bible and continue in until today in groups like Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, and many others.
They started with a few people who appeared to be the wrong age in the wrong place. God made much of them, so they could make much of Him.
Fourth, note the first people “cut” from participation in God’s work, were those who relied more on their feelings than God’s promises.
Did you notice the way Gideon was to “thin out” the group gathering to fight? Look again at verse three:
Judges 7:3 Now therefore come, proclaim in the hearing of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is afraid and trembling, let him return and depart from Mount Gilead.’” So 22,000 people returned, but 10,000 remained.
God told Gideon to reduce the size of the army. Gideon grabbed the bull horn and made an incredible announcement to the small army of God’s people. God told him what to say, and he obediently shared it exactly as God told him. The announcement was direct and simple: If you feel afraid, go home. Feeling a license to decide by their feelings, two-thirds of the people left.
How disheartening do you think that was for both Gideon and those who were left among the 10,000?
It was disheartening, but that was the point. In one moment, God removed from the people who would fight any sense that victory would come because of them. They were going to KNOW the blessing of the Lord. What would the people who went home feel? In the short run, relief would come. They didn’t have to fight. Yet, in the days ahead, they would always know they decided to walk away from the moment God showed His power – because they relied on their emotions to make their choices. The Bible is replete with stories that warn against following one’s heart. Without trying to insult you, may I simply repeat what the Bible says (Jeremiah 17:9): “”The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” Trust your heart and not God’s call – and you will live to regret that decision.
Life doesn’t really get thrilling until you know you are riding a wave on the waters that God gathered to carry you!
Don’t spend all your time so in touch with your feelings that you don’t seek God on the direction you should take. If He directs you toward something different than you thought you would experience, take your time to HEAR from Him, and not just from your own emotional reactions. We don’t grow up until we are in charge of our choices – and our responses are controlled.
The longer I live, the more I become aware of the many who seem unable to choose and then act on their choices. They seem like Zodes to me. To those who may not know what a “Zode” is, they are the creations of Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel). Consider the Dr. Seuss’ poem: “The Zode In The Road”:
Did I ever tell you about the young Zode?
Who came to a sign at the fork of the road?
He looked one way and the other way too –
the Zode had to make up his mind what to do.
Well, the Zode scratched his head, and his chin, and his pants.
And he said to himself, “I’ll be taking a chance.
If I go to Place One, that place may be hot
So how will I know if I like it or not.
On the other hand, though, I’ll feel such a fool
If I go to Place Two and find it’s too cool
In that case I may catch a chill and turn blue.
So Place One may be best and not Place Two.
Play safe,” cried the Zode, “I’ll play safe, I’m no dunce.
I’ll simply start off to both places at once.”
And that’s how the Zode who would not take a chance
Went no place at all with a split in his pants.
Yes, beloved, some of us are like paralyzed Zodes, unable to choose and unable to own our choices when we make them.
We want God’s blessing without choosing to trust God’s promises. We want victory without a fight and wealth and security without work and sweat. For the 22,000 who went home that day, they trusted their fear more than their God. Sadly, years later they would recall that choice. That is what happens when we won’t trust God’s promises.
Fifth, take careful note that God doesn’t fill the ranks of His Kingdom with those the world would choose.
I don’t want to seem uncomplimentary here. If it helps, I consider myself one of those with whom God has chosen to work – and I know more intensely than any of you (perhaps) my huge number of flaws and weaknesses. To be honest, there are a number of ways to understand the test that God set up next in the story, but I will tell you what I honestly believe is the heart of this account as best I can discern.
First, note that God set this test up apart from Gideon. Commander Gideon was to pass on instructions from God and take the ones God sent His way. The writer said it this way:
Judges 7:4 Then the Lord said to Gideon, “The people are still too many; bring them down to the water and I will test them for you there. Therefore it shall be that he of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go with you; but everyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.”
Now watch the test as God shared it with His people:
Judges 7:5 So he brought the people down to the water. And the Lord said to Gideon, “You shall separate everyone who laps the water with his tongue as a dog laps, as well as everyone who kneels to drink.” 6 Now the number of those who lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, was 300 men; but all the rest of the people kneeled to drink water. 7 The Lord said to Gideon, “I will deliver you with the 300 men who lapped and will give the Midianites into your hands; so let all the other people go, each man to his home.” 8 So the 300 men took the people’s provisions and their trumpets into their hands. And Gideon sent all the other men of Israel, each to his tent, but retained the 300 men; and the camp of Midian was below him in the valley.
I have been on a battle field, and I have seen war. Here is one lesson I learned on the first day the shooting started – stay down below the wall at all times. People shoot at what they can see. They don’t distinguish between people fighting them and anyone else. They will shoot at you if they see your movement!
Look at the scene that day at the spring near the Gilead Mountain called today “Ma’ayan Harod.” The spring comes out of a cave on the south side of the Jezreel Valley in a spur called the Harod Valley and creates a short stream with pools. I have been their many times in the heat of the summer to cool off. Standing at that place, it is clear the stream bed is the low point of the sloping valley, and that meant that Israel’s enemies were north of them, looking down a long slope to that spring. Behind the troops of Gideon there was a steep cliff lifting upward to the Gilboa Range. The people couldn’t easily escape, and had little strategic advantage from that place. IN fact, it was a terrible place for a small army to encamp.
Two kinds of men approached the water in the scene. Some – the majority – slinked over close to the ground until they came upon the water and drank. The term “kneel” in Judges 7:6 is a form of the Hebrew word “kawraw” which is to bow to the ground. It is often used to denote bowing to the ground in worship. It appears the writer was sharing these men moved low to the ground and stuck their head into the water below the line of sight of their enemies.
There were the others – the 300 – who appeared to haplessly approach the water and reach down with cupped hand to take water up in their hands – while they stuck up on the plain and could be seen from across the plain. As they brought the water up in cupped hands, the enemy could watch their every move. These were the “lappers” – and their actions showed either incredible bravery, or (more likely) unequaled stupidity.
Remember the rule: “When in battle, never, never, stick up!” Lay down. Stay close to the ground! Try NEVER to be seen. Don’t move in the open. Apparently the three hundred didn’t get the memo.
Yes, beloved, it appears that God sent off all the smart people and left Gideon with the clueless and incompetent. It may not sound complimentary, but it seems as though that was EXACTLY what God had in mind!
God doesn’t think like the world does. In their fallen state, when the world needs to be saved, who do they call upon? They would, without hesitation call on a superhero! First, that is because that is the business of such characters. Second, they are intrinsically better than the rest of us. They are characters that are larger than life.
• Aquaman could send telepathic signals to get fish to help him. I can barely keep them alive in an aquarium tank!
• Superman could leap tall buildings in a single bound. I can’t even get myself to look over the side of tall buildings!
• Batman can make words appear when he hits people – works like “Biff” and “Pow” and “Zowie.” When I punch someone, I can’t even get a bruise to appear!
When a superhero comes onto the scene – criminals hide. They fear these mighty masked men and women.
That is what the world thinks – someone can get the job done because they are intrinsically more capable than the rest of us. Anyone who knows the Bible knows that isn’t the truth. The book is filled with incredibly dumb and unbelievably dull people who do incredible things – BECAUSE GOD ENABLED THEM.
Here is the painful truth: I CANNOT be invisible. I barely fly when the airplane does all the work! No criminals are terrorized by my presence. I am not indestructible nor am I bullet proof. Yet, here is the blessing: My ability is not the key to my usefulness. I don’t need to be a superhero – I just need to serve a powerful and limitless God.
The sufficiency test isn’t about MY capability – it is about my trust in a God who is always able.
Paul noted the source f confidence, but made clear it wasn’t from within. He wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:26:
1 Corinthians 1:26 “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble…”
The clear implication is that God didn’t choose you for His family because YOU brought superhero skills or unusual abilities. The words wise, mighty and noble cover the three areas of unique understanding, unusual physical prowess and remarkable pedigree. Paul simply said that when we consider our calling as God’s children, we should recall it isn’t because of any of these.
Why then, was I invited to be a part of the family of God?
1 Corinthians 1:27 “…but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no man may boast before God.”
God calls those He has invited to join Him the foolish, the weak, the base, the despised and those who “are not” –
There is an old Chinese proverb about an elderly peasant who had two large clay pots. One of the pots had a crack along its side from the brim to a point about half way to the base of the pot. The other pot was perfect, entirely without cracks or leaks! Each had been securely attached on opposite ends of a pole made up of several thick pieces of bamboo that had been bound together. In the middle of this pole he wrapped numerous layers of muslin and wool to create an area of padding. The peasant laboriously carried this cane and the two water pots across the back of his neck to get water. At the end of the lengthy hike from a mountain, freshwater spring to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half filled. The intact pot delivered its contents of fresh water chocked-full in volume. For several years this went on day after day; the water-bearer only delivering one and a half pots of the precious fluid to his home. Of course, the perfect pot was swollen with pride in achieving its fullest potential. But, the poor cracked pot was outright embarrassed of its imperfection, feeling miserable that it was only able to accomplish one half of its intended task. After these years of despondence, it finally speaks to the water-bearer one day as they nearing the mountain spring. “I am ashamed of myself! This horrendous crack in my side allows me to leak a portion of my contents all the way back to your house.” The water-bearer responded, “But haven’t you noticed all the beautiful flowers on your side of the path? And were you not aware that on the opposite side of the path there is nothing but wild grass, briars, and weeds? That’s because I have always been aware of your so called ‘flaw.’ For this reason, I took time to plant and cultivate those lovely flowers as to allow the water that leaked from you to water them each day. This makes our trip so pleasant and charming. And for all these years I have been able to return to the path time and time again to gather a bouquet of vibrant, aromatic flowers to brighten up and fragrance the gloominess and foulness of our home.” (From A-Z Sermon Illustrations).
The proverb reminds us that when we realize our weakness, we may take away the wrong message. We seem inadequate because we don’t recognize the full purpose of our lives. God knows. He called us because He knows what He wants to accomplish. Our confidence must be in HIM, His plan, His wisdom. That will cause us to keep going with great boldness.
When we trust Him, we gain confidence – and in stormy circumstances or perilous moments, trust is the key to boldness.
• God isn’t asking you to come up with a great plan for your life today – only to trust Him and invite Him daily to lead you.
• God isn’t expecting your confidence to grow as you look at your life and abilities – only that you would look more carefully at His power based on the things He has created.
• If God truly made all you can see; and God said He has a purpose for all that surrounds you – can you not see He has a purpose for you as well? Trust Him. He will walk with you through the storm.