By Dr. Mark Scott
Damon Runyan said, “The race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong, but that’s the way to bet.” That is, unless you are God. When God is in the equation, swiftness and strength are not necessary. He can make up what anyone lacks.
Gideon’s self-confession was neither swift nor strong. In fact, we are introduced to this sixth judge of Israel in almost cowardly terms. Following Deborah and Barak’s great military campaign against the Canaanites over 40 years prior (last week’s lesson), Israel fell back into sin and “did evil in the sight of the Lord” (Judges 6:1). God gave them over to the Midianites. Israel was scared to death of Midian. The people of God hid in caves and watched as their land was ravished (vv. 2-5). Once again Israel cried out to God, so God gave a strong and urgent call to Gideon.
Pardon Me, Why?
Like his countrymen Gideon was afraid of Midian. When the angel of the Lord came to issue God’s call to Gideon, he found Gideon threshing wheat in a winepress. This was obviously a covert operation. You only thresh wheat in a winepress when you are working undercover. Gideon wanted his family to be able to eat, so he was working very quietly to be unseen by the enemy.
The angel of the Lord showed up at a well-known oak tree in Ophrah. The tree belonged to Gideon’s father, Joash. The angel of the Lord announced God’s intention and features prominently in our narrative. Twice this visitor from Heaven is called angel of the Lord. But in the last half of our text, this visitor is simply called the Lord. Is it a preincarnate appearance of Jesus or just a ministering spirit sent to do God’s bidding (Hebrews 1:14)?
The greeting that the angel gave Gideon was similar to what Gabriel gave Mary (Luke 1:28). The Lord is with you, mighty warrior. This greeting could not have surprised Gideon more. Gideon was respectful to this divine visitor. Notice his response, Pardon me, my lord (a phrase that appears twice in our text). It is not a word seeking forgiveness as connoted by the word “pardon,” but it is respectful as in, “Please, sir” (as in the English Standard Version).
The angel reminded Gideon of a great truth—whatever the calling, God promises his presence. But Gideon had a problem. If God is with us, why was Israel being overrun by the Midianites? Gideon wanted to know why God was not working miracles like he did in Egypt when he brought Israel out of bondage. Was Gideon almost cursing God under his breath as he threshed wheat in the winepress? He wondered why the Lord had abandoned (forsaken) them. There was always the question, “Why?”
Pardon Me, How?
The angel’s commission was clear: Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. This time Gideon had a self-esteem problem. Much like Moses when he received God’s call, he looked inward, “Who am I?” (Exodus 3:11). Gideon admitted to being from a weak clan from the tribe of Manasseh. This tribe had the least impressive numbers of the twelve tribes when it came to being warriors (Numbers 1:34, 35). Not only that, but half of the tribe did not even live in the true land of Israel. In addition, Gideon claimed to be the least in his family. His self-esteem was as beaten down as his wheat in the winepress.
But the angel had much more confidence in Gideon than Gideon had in Gideon. Once again God’s presence was promised, I will be with you. In fact, Gideon would be able to fight from a posture of victory. Notice the promise, You will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive. This would prove true for Gideon (Judges 7:9-25) and for us (Romans 8:31-39).
Gideon was intrigued enough to want a sign. This could be a real lack of faith (John 6:26; 1 Corinthians 1:22). But more likely it was a desire for assurance. The angel granted the famous fleece request (6:36-40). In the meantime Gideon hustled away and prepared the angel some food (vv. 19-24). The food was miraculously consumed by fire, and the angel vanished. Gideon had to then step up to the plate and deliver Israel. His hesitancy had been swallowed up by the presence of God.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.