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Because of the Midianites the children of Israel made them the dens . . . and caves and strongholds.
Divine punishment through natural means
Thus God gets at men through various means. The Midianites came out and spoiled the fields of the Israelites. The camels of the Midianites were without number; they entered the land to destroy it. Wheresoever they laid their hand they crushed the hope of Israel. Has God a way into our life, then, through corn and grass? Has He a way to chastise us through the medium of our business? Can He turn a client away and send a customer in another direction, and blind a man whilst he is counting his money? and can He so arrange things that prosperity shall crumble into adversity and a dense darkness shall settle upon the brightness of prosperity? This is God’s way of doing. He gets at men through their skin; He smites them with leprosy that they may learn to pray; He curses their bread that they may cry out about the better life; He drops poison into their water that they may learn that they have committed two evils--they have forsaken Him, the fountain of living water, and have hewn out unto themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water. These things should bring us to study, to reflection, to inquiry. “Why has this adversity come upon me? why do men actually pine and die? Is there not a cause?” (J. Parker, D. D.)
The famished, terror-stricken fugitives, are they indeed the sons of the men of old before whom the elders of Moab and of Midian trembled, and against whom the prince of sorcerers confessed that no enchantments could prevail? These crouching slaves that timidly peep from behind projecting rocks, or shiver in the damp darkness of caverns, are they indeed the sons of the men who vanquished Sihon king of the Amorites, and Og king of Bashan? Where are the old traditions of victory? Where is the national character--the energy of the race? National character, ancestral traditions, energy of race! Yes; such things exist; they have potency and value. But there is one law higher, wider, deeper than all these, and which modifies and controls them all. It is the everlasting law of right and wrong; the law of conscience; the law of retribution. Israel had forsaken Jehovah and had fallen into the licentious practices of the heathen, therefore they became an easy prey to the spoiler, whose audacity increased, while Israel’s strength diminished year by year of that calamitous seven. The same laws are still in force, for the whole world is a theocracy. If we act as the Israelites acted, we shall suffer as they suffered. Spoilers will come upon us--spoilers in the form of tumultuous passions; spoilers in the form of mighty lusts; spoilers in the form of wretched, remorseful thoughts, which will devour our happiness, and make us ready to skulk away into the farthest corner of the darkest cave, to avoid the light of the sun. This irruption of the Midianites into the fruitful vales of Palestine was no accident. The world is not governed by chance. Israel had bowed to the gods of the heathen, therefore they must bow to the tyranny of the heathen. (L. H. Wiseman, M. A.)
The Midianite spoilers
The narrative of the sacred historian, though brief, gives a vivid picture of the ravages of the Midianites, and of the pitiable distress to which Israel was reduced. They chose the spring when the seed had been sown, and came up with all the accompaniments of Bedouin life, “with their cattle, their tents, and their camels.” They ranged over the entire plain, beginning at the bank of the Jordan, and proceeding farther and farther westward “until thou come to Gaza,” on the low-lying sandy shore of the Mediterranean. They carried their plundering incursions far up into the hills of Manasseh, of Zebulun, and of Naphtali. They arranged no regular campaign, but pitched their tents wherever they pleased; roaming in armed parties over the whole country, and spreading terror in every direction. The farmers, instead of combining in self-defence, fled to the hills or sheltered themselves in caves; leaving their produce to the robbers, who “destroyed the increase of the earth,” carried off the cattle, and ”left neither sheep, nor ex, nor ass,” nor any kind of sustenance for Israel. After they had plundered all, they withdrew till the following season, when they again came up from the desert, after the seed had been sown, to renew their depredations. For seven successive years were these ravages committed--ravages more terrible than those of war--until the Israelitish people had become not only “greatly impoverished,” but utterly disheartened. (L. H. Wiseman, M. A.)
The Lord sent a prophet.
“Thus saith the Lord . . . ye have not obeyed My voice.” Awful words, but not unmixed with mercy. If the wounds of a friend are faithful--if it be a kindness when the righteous smite us--how much more when our heavenly Father is pleased to reprove! Severe and unsympathising as the utterances of this prophet might sound in the ears of a crushed and dejected people, they were necessary preparation for the coming deliverance. Before the Lord sent them a deliverer, He sent to them a prophet to preach repentance; to remind them that their own disobedience had been the real cause of all their miseries; to prepare them for salvation by piercing them with a sense of sin. It is a mercy if the silence of the skies is broken, even though it be by the voice of correction. If that word which is like a two-edged sword be humbly and dutifully received, the word which heals and restores will presently follow. Thus it was in Gideon’s time; a messenger of reproof prepared the way for a messenger of victory. (L. H. Wiseman, M. A.)
The result of disobedience to God’s voice
God reads the book of history, and says, “See what I did for you, where I found you, how I delivered you, how I interposed for you in the hour of extremity; see how, by a mighty hand and outstretched arm, I wrought out this whole salvation for you, and no sooner did I recover you to life and to hope, than you turned your backs upon Me and stopped your ears with your fingers, and your hearts went astray from My throne.” There is, then, a moral explanation of this whole thing that we call difficulty, or pain, or discipline, disappointment, sorrow, and death: “Ye obeyed not My voice.” That is the explanation of it all. The explanation of death, pain, poverty, homelessness, friendlessness, sorrow of every degree, is to be found in the fact “that we have disobeyed the voice of God.” There has been the moral lapse, the great spiritual slip, the heart has not retained its integrity, and we have got wrong at the centre, and having become disorganised there, all the outwardness of life has gone off into confusion and riot and darkness, and God has justly vindicated Himself by a multitude of pains and penalties, keen distresses and intolerable agonies, all of which are the servants of His righteous and gracious will. How long can God set Himself against the cries of the heart of His people? Not long. Israel cried unto the Lord! Did the Lord remove Himself ten thousand miles further into the depth of the great solitude that is above? No. He is full of compassion, He is tender in mercy, He is gentle in spirit. When Israel cried, God came. Though He might have said, “No,” yet He came--for God is love. “He knoweth our frame, He remembereth that we are dust.” (J. Parker, D.D.)
There came an Angel of the Lord . . . Gideon threshed wheat.
Gideon’s angelic visitor
I. That a man, when actively and unostentatiously doing his duty, is best fitted for the reception of heavenly visitants.
II. That, however unconscious of the fact a man may be, God is really quickening him when he is on the path of duty.
III. That afflictions are not always proofs of the divine displeasure, but are frequently sent as incentives to increased exertion on our part.
IV. That God’s thoughts are not as our thoughts.
V. That we should not foolishly and profanely call on God to show us fresh individual signs.
VI. That we should offer of our best to God.
VII. That our earthly offerings are cleansed by their consecration to God’s service.
VIII. That the first step in righteousness is to purify the heart from its false idols, and that the second step is to set up in it an altar to the true God.
IX. That our earliest efforts towards goodness wilt, probably meet with opposition from our companions.
X. That when we are attacked by the scorners, help rises often from the most unexpected quarters.
XI. That religion should not be a hindrance to the performance of our duty, or to the enjoyment of any innocent pleasure, but an incentive to both duty and pleasure.
XII. That the first result of an angelic visitant to the soul of man, in whatever way through the Holy Spirit’s action that visitant may come, is fear; the second result is peace; and the third is immortality.(R. Young, M. A.)
Gideon’s interview with the angel
Amongst the various important lessons which the history of Israel sets before us, none are more plainly marked than this, viz.
I. Sin carries its own punishment. Seven years did this bondage and misery continue. In all that time we do not hear one cry of repentance, nor see one act of faith in the true God, on the part of Israel. They hardened their heart under the sore affliction, and stiffened their neck under the galling yoke. Their sustenance was gone, their enemies held them in cruel subjection, and yet the cause of all the calamity was fostered and maintained; Israel worshipped Baal instead of Jehovah. Oh, how hard the heart becomes when it is in Satan’s keeping! But at last, being convinced that no other means would bring relief, “they cried unto the Lord.”
II. As the first verse of this chapter connects the sin with the punishment, so the seventh verse connects the prayer with the answer: “It came to pass, when Israel cried unto the Lord because of the Midianites, the Lord sent a prophet.” He might have said by the voice of that prophet, “It is now too late to cry for deliverance. The door of mercy has been standing open during the seven years of your captivity, and ye would not enter; now it is shut, and ye cannot.” But Israel’s God was a God “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and of great goodness.” And now whose history is this? Is it the history of the perverse and rebellious Israelites only? No, it is your history and mine. It is the history of that sin-distressed soul who is now perhaps weeping to hear it told. “Yes,” says the penitent man, “it is the account of my past life: I served other gods, I went astray, I did very wickedly year after year; I hardened myself even against His chastening hand; and it was of His mercy that I was not then consumed. But He let me alone, one year after another; till at length I began to think that for all these things God would bring me into judgment; I cried unto the Lord, and He heard me. He might have frowned me from His presence; He might have upbraided me for my long rebellion; but like the tender father of the prodigal son, He welcomed me back.” But when God had heard the cry of penitent Israel, and had determined to come down to deliver them, what were the means taken for this purpose? It is a national concern: shall not the chief men of the nation receive the first intimation of it? It is a matter of general importance: shall not immediate publicity be given to it? No, the Lord’s way is not as ours; He is pleased to do it in a manner which shall show that He can raise up any instrument, and work by any means, in order that the pride of man may be abased, that the glory of the deliverance may be all His own, and that He alone may be exalted. He comes to a poor humble individual; and the beginning of the mighty work which He was about to perform is told us in these simple words: “There came an angel of the Lord, and sat under an oak that was in Ophrah.” We mark next some points in Gideon’s character.
1. His consistency and decision. Notwithstanding his retired situation, he had testified, it seems, against the prevailing idolatry; and even in his father’s house had kept himself from his father’s sins. Let it comfort those who are serving God alone in their families to think of Gideon and God’s favour towards him. You are not alone; and “greater is He that is with you than they that are against you.”
2. Mark, next, Gideon’s ardent patriotism. He does not distinguish himself from the rest of Israel, though God does. He identifies himself with his country. His thoughts were bent upon the welfare of Israel, as his prayers were offered up for it. It would be well if we were to endeavour, in our individual capacity, while walking humbly with our God, to serve the land in which we live. We may not be called to fight her battles, but we can pray for the peace of our Jerusalem. We may not be called to high public situations in life, but we may do private good, both temporal and spiritual. We have all a talent to exercise and to account for. Oh, see to it, that by your means your country is in some measure benefited.
3. Lastly, we are told from whence Gideon’s might and valour were derived: “The Lord looked on him,” and said, “Go in this thy might, and I will be with thee; and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man.” “The Lord looked on him.” Oh! what a look was that! what a smile of encouragement cast on Gideon by his God! what a token of love! what a communication of strength and faith! “Go in this thy might,” says the angel, “I will be with thee.” Gideon need not any longer doubt or hesitate, after such encouragement as this. It is the word of the Lord; and Gideon has only to cast himself upon it in simple faith, and to act according to its precepts. May we be as sensible of our own insufficiency as Gideon was of his: and, at the same time, as “strong” as he was“ in the Lord, and in the power of His might,” and may the Lord look upon you as He did upon Gideon, in mercy! (F. Elwin.)
I. the distress of God’s people is caused by their own sin. God turns His forces against those who forget Him, and makes use of those who are His own foes to punish His own people.
II. God can always raise up instruments to accomplish his purposes when he needs.
III. The utility and the strength depend on the call of God.
IV. Humility is the distinguishing mark of the brave. How seldom do men deprecate their own importance! To form a low estimate of our own abilities not only keeps us from the danger of pride with its attendant snares, but is a test of character. It is not the learned who are proud, nor the skilful, nor the wise. The empty head, like the empty drum, makes the most noise.
V. The service of God demands unrestricted devotion to His cause.
VI. however valuable the services of the agent may be, God claims, as His just due, the glory of the transaction.
VII. We cannot doubt of success when God takes a matter in hand, and gives His promise of aid. (Homilist.)
Gideon’s call to service
This ancient history carries us back to a period when God’s Israel was in poverty and want. It was not the action of laws passed in the interests of landowners which led to their misery; it came through the oppression of a foreign foe, whose merciless treatment of the people scarcely left them the means of life. “They did evil in the sight of the Lord” may be written across the history of most suffering and sadness. This is the tap-root of much of our suffering and inconvenience. This is the poison which destroys our life.
I. the text says it was an angel which came to call Gideon.
II. Notice how the angel found Gideon engaged when he came to call him. The angel found Gideon at work. Work is honourable. God has often put honour upon the lowly worker. Let no man say that work is degrading, that work is low; to be an idler, to be a drone, is to be dishonoured.
III. See the angel’s estimate of Gideon. The angel addressed Gideon as “thou mighty man of valour.” What! A man in apparent poverty; a man threshing a bit of wheat with his own strength; a man having to prepare his very food in secret, lest it should be stolen; that man called by the angel a mighty man of valour! Poor, yet valiant! “Ah,” but you say, “that belongs to an old world time. We have altered all this now.” Yes, indeed, we have made some changes, and changes which have not always been for the better. We call men noble now who are often ignoble. It is about time that we recognised to the full that poor men may be valiant men, and that lowly men may be noble men. ‘Tis only noble to be good. Thousands of people, like Gideon, toil in secret, and are not known to fame, but are among the valiant and the mighty. Earth’s scroll has no page for their names in golden writing, but the angels of God have written them down in the Lamb’s book of life in heaven.
IV. Gideon’s complaint to the angel. I suppose we all find it easy to thank God and see God with us when all goes well. But wait until the lark sinks songless to his nest, and the path of life becomes a wearisome journey, filled with stones and thorns; wait until sickness, sorrow, and bereavement enter the dwelling; wait until the man stands in the darkness of a foggy night of pain, loss, and despair; how does he act then? How did you act when you were in this condition? Were you any better than Gideon? Could you see the Lord in it? And yet few things are more true in the experience of good men than the presence of God and the love of God in the loss and pain. (C. Leach, D. D.)
The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour.--
The man of valour
1. That valour does not despise lowly but necessary occupations.
2. That valour is not incompatible with caution.
3. That valour may have its misgivings.
4. That valour may walk in the darkness of the Divine hidings.
I. Valour is a Divine gift.
II. Valour is developed by the Divine presence.
III. Valour is more enlarged by the Divine vision.
IV. Valour feels a sublime awe. Fear God in order to be delivered from all false human fear.
V. Valour is prompt to obey. Moral hindrances must be removed before material success can be secured.
VI. Valour braves the consequences. Duty is ours, results are God’s. (W. Burrows, B. A.)
I. Valour unknown. Gideon was pronounced by the angel who appeared unto him as “a mighty man of valour.” But did Gideon know his own might? It would seem that, as a valorous man, he was as much unknown to himself as he was unknown to Israel or to his enemies. His valour was real, but untried. His valour was living, but dormant. His valour was mighty, but un-exercised. Oft, too, is valorous faith unknown until it is tried. Great occasions make great men. Great trials make great believers. Faith as a grain of mustard-seed is as strong in its principle as is the faith which moves a mountain. But it needs growth and development. Unconscious strength is often the most potent. You cannot cast him down who is already low. You cannot rend him from the Rock of Ages who is resting on Christ as “the chief of sinners.” There is unspeakable comfort in the fact that this “man of valour” was unconscious of his might until the angel revealed to him his secret power. Many a faint-hearted believer is “overcoming the world” (1 John 5:4-5) unconsciously to himself. His might is hidden, but it is no less real.
II. Valour’s weakness. The sun is often under a cloud. So is faith. The cloud, however, does not change the nature of the sun. Nor do beclouding dispensations, which chill the soul, affect the true nature of its faith. The Christian is often a paradox to himself. He is weak and strong at the same moment. “When I am weak, then am I strong,” said one of the greatest believers. “It is the nature of faith, not the quantity, which determines the character,” said an eminent divine; and he added, “Samson was a riddle to me till I unriddled myself. He was an inconsistent believer.” Gideon is named with Samson among the mighty believers in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. We shall now see his inconsistent weakness. The causes of it are laid open before us.
1. He was now walking by sight, and not by faith. He could see no tokens of the Lord’s presence; and therefore, in reply to the salutation, “The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour,” he said, in the weakness of unbelief, “Oh! my Lord, if the Lord be with us, why then is all this befallen us?” Once suffer doubt to hint at the bare possibility that it may not be exactly true in all cases, at all times, that “God is not a man, that He should lie,” and faith will lose its foothold, and stumble.
2. Gideon overlooked God’s justice and man’s sin. “Why then is all this befallen us?” The reason was patent. Surely Gideon could not have closed his eyes to all the idolatry in the land! The chastisement of the Lord’s people may often be traced up to the same cause. Does the afflicted child of God ask, “Why is all this befallen me? “He need not question the cause. It is not because the Lord is not with him. Far from it. It is the true vine that is purged. The barren fig-tree is plucked up by the roots and cast away. But there is some evil permitted, some idol worshipped, some idolatrous altar erected.
3. Hard thoughts of God were mixed with Gideon’s faith. “Now the Lord hath forsaken us,” he murmured. Was this true? The Lord had just sent a prophet to them, in answer to their prayer (verses 7, 8). Israel had forsaken the Lord, but the Lord had not forsaken Israel. His rod over them proved that He had not given them over to their sins.
4. False humility was another ingredient in the weak faith of Gideon. “Thou shalt save Israel,” said the Lord: “have not I sent thee?” This twofold promise should have been enough for any emergency. What could a creature need more? But Gideon, instead of fixing his eye of faith upon the Lord alone, began to think of himself. And he said, in reply, “0 Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? Behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house” (verse 15). Wherein would his confidence have been placed had his family been the richest in Manasseh and he the greatest in his father’s house? There was a leaning to the arm of flesh in all this. “Proud humility” is a fearful bane of the soul. It apes the most retiring and modest graces of the Spirit; but it usurps the throne and sovereignty of Jehovah. Under its mask Satan robs believers of their comfort and the Church of their zeal. Were the creature made nothing, and Jehovah everything, what Goliath could resist the sling and the stone of the veriest stripling?
III. But now we turn and behold valour’s might. Gideon was “a mighty man of valour” notwithstanding all the weakness of his faith. We naturally ask, wherein was his might? What was its source? In himself he was as weak as a babe.
1. The Lord’s presence was one great source of valour’s might. “The Lord is with thee.” “Surely I will be with thee.” Here was might irresistible. No enemy can withstand the presence of the Lord.
2. The Lord’s look was another source of valour’s might. “The Lord looked upon Gideon, and said, Go in this thy might.” The Lord’s look of grace and love imparts strength to the soul.
3. The Lord’s promise was one chief source of valour’s might. Faith lives upon promise. It is its food and daily sustenance. It is the very sinew of its might. “Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man.” “Thou shalt save Israel.” These were the promises with which Gideon was to wage war and overcome. Promise is to faith what the rope is to the drowning man. Faith begins to rise from despair to hope by promise. Promise, descending into the heart of faith, rises like water to its own level, and upbears the reposing soul to the very throne and bosom of God. Promise, like light issuing from the sun, cannot be polluted by earth’s contamination. It is pure in whatever degree it shineth. It cometh from one source, and tendeth to one end.
4. The command of the Lord, no less than promise, was the warrant of faith, and a chief source of valour’s might. “Go,” saith the Lord. “Have not I sent thee?” The Captain of our salvation speaks as one having authority. Who can resist His will? Does He say, “Go”? Who, then, shall be able to let, or hinder, the servant in doing his Master’s behest? Does he say, “Go,” without providing “grace and strength” equal to the need of going? True faith is an obedient grace. Let but the Lord issue His command, and faith will answer, “Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.” (G. A. Rogers, M. A.)
If the Lord be with us, why then is all this befallen us?--
Gideon’s attitude partly right and partly wrong
He was right in refusing to believe God was present if things went on just as if He were not present, but he was wrong in not seeing what it was that prevented God from being present. He was right in arguing, “What God was, He is; why then does He not do for us what He did for our fathers?” He was right in debating with himself, and asking “Is this what it means to be God’s people? What is the use of living at this price? “But he was wrong in thinking that the fault lay with God, and not with himself; wrong in not seeing his very obvious duty, which, until he performed, God could not be expected to work for Israel. Just so we are right in refusing to accept a religion which makes no practical difference upon us; right in impatiently throwing aside the mere traditional assurances whereby men soothe sinners and promise them deliverance; right in looking straight at the facts of our own experience, and testing religion by its power on ourselves; but we often add to this the mistake of Gideon, and fall out with God for not interfering more powerfully in our behalf, when it is we ourselves who are preventing Him from so interfering. You wait for God to do something, while He is waiting for you. If you are not able to use God’s strength, if you might as well be heathen for all the moral help you get from God, then depend upon it there is something wrong in your conduct towards God, some plain duty you are neglecting. (Marcus Dods, D. D.)
Can we not catch some echoes of Gideon’s complaint in the thoughts that are cherished among ourselves? That God wrought wonders once, that He raised up men to open new views of His truth and of His will and thus renewed the Church’s strength, and sent her forth conquering and to conquer--all this we hold, of course. We call the man who doubts it an infidel or a heretic. But the man who believes that similar things may take place in our day, who believes, for instance, that God makes His will as plain in ways suited to our time as He did in other ways at former times--does not such a man run great risk of being called an enthusiast or a fool? That any man now may be guided in actual fact, and guided unerringly, by God in common life, or that things going on among us may be as important and as Divine as what was done in any former age, is an assertion that few would dare to make. If we are sensible of the strange contradiction implied in our thus demanding credence for such things in the past as we deny the very possibility of in the present, we shall the better understand Gideon’s state of mind when the angel of the Lord appeared to him. (W. Miller, M. A.)
How to treat doubters
“God be with you!” said the stranger. Gideon flung down his flail. “God be with us? Don’t talk nonsense, man! Would I be skulking in this wine press, would we Hebrews be cowering before those pagan Midianites, if God were with us? They say God was with us when we came out of Egypt, and that He did great miracles when Joshua conquered this land. Ah! if that is true, then He has gone away and left us now. Don’t talk to me about God, when facts prove that there is no God with us.” How do you think a modern minister of the orthodox type would have treated a man who had spoken in that fashion about God? Not as the angel treated Gideon. I fear the modern minister would have said, “Here is a most dangerous, blasphemous sceptic, all wrong in his views, full of heretical, unsettling, dangerous feelings and ideas”; and he would have sought to argue with him and to put him right. What did the angel? He looked at him, knew he was wrong in blaming God in that fashion, but also that he was right to refuse to accept a religion that had lost all its nobility and bravery, that had no backbone in it. The angel said: “Go in this thy might, thy spirit that cannot tolerate this degradation of God’s people, that rises against this wrong; go thou, and be the leader in Jehovah’s name, and set things right.” The Church would be a good deal wiser if it always took care to distinguish between the doubt of corruption and worldliness, the cold, callous, sneering doubt, and the doubt of a brave young heart that doubts because religion is so poor an affair, that doubts because of the great wrongs in the world, because of the deeds of evil that sin works, that doubts precisely because it is crying for the reality. We should go to every such man and say: “My brother, you are not an infidel; you are called to be a religious man beyond the common. You are not an atheist. God has hold of you, and wants you for Himself. Go and do something heroic, and show that God’s religion is the mightiest force. Go and demand the reality, and win a victory for God and His kingdom such as the world has never seen yet.” (Prof. G. A Smith.)
Brotherhood illustrated by Gideon’s reply
There is here an example of largeness in heart and mind which we ought not to miss, especially because it sets before us a principle often unrecognised. Iris clear enough that Gideon could not enjoy freedom unless his country was free, for no man can be safe in an enslaved land; but many fail to see that spiritual redemption in like manner cannot be enjoyed by one unless others are moving towards the light. Truly salvation is personal at first and personal at last; but it is never an individual affair only. Each for himself must hear and answer the Divine call to repentance; each as a moral unit must enter the strait gate, press along the narrow way of life, agonise and overcome. But the redemption of one soul is part of a vast redeeming purpose, and the fibres of each life are interwoven with those of other lives far and wide. Spiritual brotherhood is a fact but faintly typified by the brotherhood of the Hebrews, and the struggling soul to-day, like Gideon’s long ago, must know God as the Saviour of all men before a personal hope can be enjoyed worth the having. As Gideon showed himself to have the Lord with him by a question charged not with individual anxiety but with keen interest in the nation, so a man now is seen to have the Spirit of God as he exhibits a passion for the regeneration of the world. Salvation is enlargement of soul, devotion to God, and to man for the sake of God. If any one thinks he is saved while he bears no burdens for others, makes no steady effort to liberate souls from the tyranny of the false and the vile, he is in fatal error. The salvation of Christ plants always in men and women His mind, His law of life, who is the Brother and Friend of all. (R. A. Watson, M. A.)
Providence not to be judged from a narrow point of view
Crossing the great deep at night, lying sleeplessly and perhaps painfully in your berth, longing for the light without much hope that it will bring you comfort, what hear you? The surge of the water, the moan of the wind, and the tinkle of a bell. That bell has no sooner told its tale of time than a voice in a sing-song tone says, “All’s well, all’s well! “ It is the man on the look-out. You say: “How can all be well when I am not sleeping? How can all be well when I am sick and in pain? How can all be well when I am not at home, and the children are longing for me?” There is a higher law than your sleeplessness, your pain, and your child’s desire for your presence. Within those limits you are right--all is not well--but in the higher sphere, that takes in a larger area and commands a wider outlook, alls well, all’s well. So it is with this marvellous mystery, this strange providence. “I am sick, and tired, and heart-broken, misunderstood, and belied, and slandered, and ill-fed, and battered down,” saith the Christian man, but the angel on the look-out says, “All’s well, all’s well!” The vessel has her face straight home, and the sea is yielding to give her passageway. “Alls well, all’s well.” (J. Parker, D. D.)
The Lord looked upon him.--
The look of God
I. The chief features of such looks.
1. An implied promise (Jeremiah 24:6).
2. An implied encouragement.
3. An implied help.
II. The chief conditions for their bestowal.
1. Cultivation of various graces--love and obedience, contrition and reverence, godliness, hope, and uprightness.
2. Attitude of expectancy. If God is looking down to bless us, we must look up to meet His gaze. Our attitude must be, “As the eyes,” etc. Our determination must be, “In the morning will I,” etc. Then our history will be, “They looked unto Him,” etc.
III. The chief purpose of these looks--accompanied by a command: “Go.” Do you ask, where? Go anew and daily in faith and penitence, to a Father’s footstool, and as by faith you know He is looking graciously on you in Christ, go to the discharge of your daily duties in the might of His strengthening grace, and the Lord will go before you. Go through the obstacles which have hitherto impeded you. (Homilist.)
A look, a word, and a question
I. What a look was that which the Lord gave to Gideon! He looked him out of his discouragements into a holy bravery. If our look to the Lord saves us, what will not His look at us do? Lord, look on me this day, and nerve me for its duties and conflicts.
II. What a word was this which Jehovah spake to Gideon! “Go.” He must not hesitate. He might have answered, “What, go in all this weakness?” But the Lord put that word out of court by saying, “Go in this thy might.” The Lord had looked might into him, and he had now nothing to do but to use it, and save Israel by smiting the Midianites. It may be that the Lord has more to do by me than I ever dreamed of. If He has looked upon me He has made me strong. Let me by faith exercise the power with which He has entrusted me. He never bids me “idle away my time in this my might.” Far from it. I must “go,” because He strengthens me.
III. What a question is that which the Lord puts to me, even as He put it to Gideon! “Have not I sent thee?” Yes, Lord, Thou hast sent me, and I will go in Thy strength. At Thy command I go, and, going, I am assured that Thou wilt conquer by me. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Go in this thy might . . . have not I sent thee?--
I. The sanction given: “The Lord looked upon him.” Oh, what a mercy ! His father might have looked upon him long enough, and surnamed him Jerubbaal or what he pleased, but it would have been no use unless the Lord had looked upon him. But there are many senses in which the Lord looks upon His people, and upon His enemies too. He looked upon the affliction of His people in Egypt: “I have looked upon them, and have come down to deliver them.” He looked upon David in all his affliction. Then, again, you will remember how the Lord looked upon Peter. What a significant and expressive look! But, to put these matters a little more into form, mark, first of all, that Gideon seemed as if he would avoid all lookers-on. He was withdrawn from observation. Some of the sweetest seasons in which God looks upon His people are when they are retired. And hence the direction given by our blessed Lord, “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet,” etc. Now just look again at this great sanction from above. While Jehovah looks from His high throne upon the objects of His love to inspire them for His special work and for the great objects to which He has appointed them, He withdraws their affections from other objects and leads them forth with an ardent desire to glorify God in His work.
II. The command: “Go in this thy might.” Why, I do not know that Gideon had confessed to possess any might; on the contrary, he had concealed himself from time to time from all those very enemies he was about to vanquish. He said unto the Lord, “ Wherewith shall I save Israel? Behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” Well, now, if I first of all view this as typical of Christ, did not He spring from a poor family? Yet He was the “Captain of the Lord’s host.” But--mark this--all glory to His name, it was His own essential might. I beseech you, lose not sight of this all-important fact, to which, I think, Gideon’s history points typically--that Christ had the whole matter with regard to the salvation of His Church entrusted to His care; therefore is it written, that He hath “laid help upon one that is mighty and exalted--one chosen out of the people.” I come to the secondary view--I mean the sending of God’s own servants; because, while I allow no efficiency whatever to be ascribed to them, yet are they instrumentally employed for the express purpose of saving Israel out of the hands of the Midianites. Now, have you not Omnipotence pledged in your personal experience? If you have not you have got no experience at all. It was Omnipotence that broke your hearts, and subdued you at the feet of Jesus. God humbles the sinner thus; He lays us low, strips us of all confidence, makes us deeply conscious of creature-weakness and insufficiency, so as not to be sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; and then we get the pledge of Omnipotence on our side. We may well go forth thus to the war armed with strength--“Go in this thy might.” Well, but how could it be said to be his? Why, what is freer than a gift? It was given him--it was his might--“in this thy might.” No man is strong but he who is strong in Jehovah’s might.
III. The promise of success: “And thou shalt save Israel from the hands of the Midianites”--cruel and vexatious, always to be wanting the territories of Israel. I must here refer you back again to the commandment of God at an earlier period than this with regard to these Midianites. After Balaam had instructed Balak how to seduce God’s Israel, the commandment came from the Lord, “Vex the Midianites and smite them, for they vex you with their wiles.” Here we might include in this vast multitude, “like grasshoppers for number,” all the opposers of God’s gospel, all the enemies of His Cross. But to bring this matter nearer home. The Midianites that every Christian has to contend with he finds in his own camp, in his own tent, within his own heart. Now mark the simple process of the war. I do not read that there was a weapon of war in any of their hands, but they were to go forth under the simple direction of Gideon. Now look at their weapons. Each man was to have a trumpet, a pitcher and a lamp inside. Pretty things to go to war with, truly! Well, then, but while we glance at the simplicity of the means thus employed, and the cry that went forth, “The sword of the Lord and of Gideon!” mark that the Midianites all fled. (J. Irons.)
In Gideon’s attitude of mind a human observer would have seen nothing but weakness, and yet God saw “might.” The Divine eye penetrated to the very depths of Gideon’s spirit and character, and saw in his seeming weakness the very qualities out of which spiritual heroes are made. For in spiritual achievements a man is mighty in proportion to his capacity to receive Divine help, just as a steam-engine is mighty in proportion to its capacity to receive and utilise the largest possible amount of steam. Gideon’s might, then, consisted--
1. In his whole-hearted loyalty to God. He was evidently among the few who remained true to Jehovah. And his first act was to strike a blow at the idolatry of the land. The first condition of spiritual strength and success is to give our hearts to God in profound loyalty. There is an idolatry of the spirit which must be put away before we can do any work for God.
2. In his humble dependence upon God. Gideon’s touching confession of his own insufficiency reminds us that this spirit is characteristic of the great men of the Bible--Moses (Exodus 3:11), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:6-7), Paul (Ephesians 3:8). Out of conscious weakness these men were made strong for the work to which they had been called. God has often chosen “the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.”
3. In his profound faith in God. Gideon is mentioned in Hebrews 11:1-40 as one of those who “through faith . . . out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.” God tenderly nourished it by giving signs of encouragement--sacrifice consumed, wet and dry fleece, visit to the Midianites’ camp--until it was strong enough to venture on the perilous enterprise with the little band of three hundred men.
4. In his consciousness of a Divine mission. “Have not I sent thee?” (verse 14). This is God’s answer to human weakness shrinking from a difficult and dangerous task. When a man realises this he possesses a might not his own (John 17:18). There was not only a Divine commission, but also a promise of the Divine presence: “Surely I will be with thee” (verse 16). But still something more was needed, and that was the touch of the Spirit. “The Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon.” (J. T. Hamly.)
God’s call, and the response to it
It is the call of God that ripens a life into power, resolve, fruitfulness--the call and the response to it. Continually the Bible urges upon us this great truth, that through the keen sense of a close personal relation to God and of duty owing to Him the soul grows and comes to its own. Our human personality is created in that way, and in no other. There are, indeed, lives which are not so inspired and yet appear strong; an ingenious, resolute selfishness gives them momentum. But this individuality is akin to that of ape or tiger; it is a part of the earth force, in yielding to which a man forfeits his proper being and dignity. Look at Napoleon, the supreme example in history of this failure. A great genius, a striking character! Only in the carnal region, for human personality is moral, spiritual, and the most triumphant cunning does not make a man; while on the other hand from a very moderate endowment put to the glorious usury of God’s service will grow a soul clear, brave, and firm, precious in the ranks of life. Let a human being, however ignorant and low, hear and answer the Divine summons, and in that place a man appears, one who stands related to the source of strength and light. And when a man, roused by such a call, feels responsibility for his country, for religion, the hero is astir. Something will be done for which mankind waits. (R. A. Watson, M. A.)
Gideon’s obedience to God’s call
Gideon, observe, was not unwilling to go forward in the cause of God and God’s people; on the contrary, he was most ready to do so; but without an outward call he never would have taken the lead. Nevertheless, when the call was repeated and so made plain, no account was made of difficulties. In full view of them Gideon determined to obey. Now he evidently had no suspicion yet of the supernatural character of his visitor. It was not, therefore, any sign from heaven that compelled him to crush down his hesitation. It was the inward voice of conscience, awakened by what he believed to be an ordinary communication from God, that led him on. He asked, indeed, for a sign from heaven, but it was to strengthen him to keep his resolution, not to enable him to form it. Here was the true spirit of faith. Here was the root of the success that came so gloriously afterwards. Submission, consent when once God’s will is known; resolution to do that will in spite of difficulties--that is the spirit to which signs are given; that is the spirit by which success is won. The man or the Church that makes visible success, or signs of any kind, a condition of bending all their energy to the doing of God’s will, is not among those by whom deliverance is wrought or the families of the earth blessed. To those who yield, like Gideon, to the will of God so soon as it is made clear, signs of acceptance and encouragement come thereafter, and often come with but small delay. (W. Miller, M. A.)
Surely I will be with thee.--
The Divine afflatus
Whatever ground there was for taking exception to Gideon’s faith in God, this, at all events, there seems to be every reason to believe, that he had learned to refer all success to the presence and blessing of the Lord. The language he employs (Judges 6:13) necessarily implies this. But still much required to be done before he should be qualified to act the distinguished part for which he was destined; and accordingly we are informed (Judges 6:14) that by some method here unexplained--some secret and mysterious afflatus of the Spirit imparted on that occasion--it pleased the Lord to make up what was wanting in his faith, and in whatever else was still manifestly defective. The Lord looked upon him! Ah! who knows what was in that look! It was not a look of anger or displeasure. It was not a mere look of compassion, nor of benevolence and favour. There seems to have been something above nature in it, not unlike that memorable glance with which Jesus smote Peter to the heart, so that he rushed out of the house and wept bitterly; the influence which accompanied the “look” which the Lord cast on Gideon was of a different character, indeed, but it was not less potential. It was Gideon’s commission. Along with it seems to have come all the wisdom, all the might, all the valour, all the strategic skill which he needed in order to fit him for the grand expedition in which he was soon to act so prominent a part. Let us learn the following important practical lessons:--
1. The Lord often anticipates the desires of His people, and grants them what they need even before they ask it. Indeed, in every case He may be said, in one sense, to give before we ask, because if He did not by His Holy Spirit vouchsafe unto us grace to pray, which of us would ever pray for grace? But if He is so ready to grant before we ask, how much more is He ready to grant when we do ask in faith all things whatsoever we require.
2. A lowly sense of our own deserts is at once a sign that exaltation is at hand, the way to it, and the occasion of it. Diffidence, humility, modesty, unobtrusiveness, are among the highest recommendations in the sight of God. He “resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.” “Before honour is humility, and pride goeth before a fall.”
3. If we be indeed of the true Israel of God, we may rest assured that the Lord will be with us, and cause us to triumph over all our foes.
4. It is unbecoming the Christian to be too anxious or too careful about the designs of God concerning him. To Gideon’s question, “Wherewith shall I save Israel?” no explicit answer, it will be remembered, was vouchsafed. His curiosity was rebuked as a sign of remaining unbelief. Let us repose like little children in the bosom of the Father’s promise. (W. W. Duncan, M. A.)
Thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man.--
What shall we say as to the moral character of this transaction? We must not let our affection or veneration for old traditions blind us to the difficulty of the question. But common sense has suggested to me one or two considerations. First of all, our judgment is apt to be prejudiced here, because men in our time, we English people in particular, have come to think rather falsely about war. A profounder apprehension of the lovely Christlike spirit of our religion, coupled with a good many less worthy influences, such as the peaceableness and security of our sea-girt life in these isles, have all combined to give us a great horror of war; not because of the sin and iniquity of it, but because it means wounds and bloodshed, and robbery of our property and death. Now indubitably every rational man will say that, were our world free from selfishness and sin, war could not exist in it. Therefore it has its roots in iniquity. Nevertheless, like many other things that are evils in themselves, war may be used, under God’s providential government of the world, to cure worse evils, acting remedially like the surgeon’s knife, and bringing renewed life to the nation and the individual. In the second place, I wish to add another consideration. I venture to say that all of us, in our historical judgment and in our ethical and religious teaching, probably have fallen into error, in that we overvalue mere physical human life. If anything is manifest in this world, it is that the material life counts for very little in God’s sight; that the material life is mere scaffolding, the machinery by which or the platform on which the mental, moral, and ethical life is to be built up. Over and over again, in the pathological history of our human race, we find that God has sacrificed millions of lives to compel men to be pure and dignified in their bodily and moral habits. Apply this to war. Though it be a scourge and an exterminator, it has nevertheless a wonderful potential force in it to produce bravery, courage, ability of every description. War may thus be used to elevate the moral and mental worth of our race. I fear it is our tendency in the present day to make too much of physical comfort and physical life. On that account we recoil unduly when God has wrought out benefit for our race as a whole through terrible trial, affliction, discipline, suffering, and self-sacrifice; as, for example, by wars in which cruel despotisms, tyrannous, inferior, and sanguinary races have succumbed before superior moral or mental worth. I am afraid, too, we do not deal out fair measure to our predecessors. We are ready to censure these Hebrews for the cruel treatment they often meted out to prisoners of war. We are apt to say that the men who did such things could not, along with such a low moral character, have possessed a lofty, pure revelation of God or a knowledge of His character. But that is too hasty a judgment. Similarly we take a socialist book, describing life in the last generation, or in the present generation, in our England; we read the history of the horrors that produced the Factory Acts--how the wealthy capitalist lived in luxury, and grudged a diminution of his income that would have made the condition of workshops and the hours of labour such as would have averted the premature death of their operatives, of men, women, and children, until Parliament stepped in. We say those men who occupied the position of capitalists were fiends. But they were nothing of the kind; some of them were even eminent Christians. But Christianity had got into cursed blindness and ignorance on these points, and they belonged to their day and generation. At present, are we so very far above them? Is it not the fact that constantly you have great outbreaks of small-pox or scarlet fever spreading death in a hundred households which are due solely to carelessly scamped work? Have we not the horrors of the East End, and the City, and so on? But are we therefore all bad men? Not so. We are Christians in process of growing. These are evils we are only waking up to discover, the sins we have inherited, the Canaanites we have to destroy. If we apply the same measure to the Hebrews, we see that there was a real progress, a real working for good in a society that, in certain moral aspects, was low and degraded. Then again, as a matter of fact, the God that made our world has made this law, that wherever sin of a certain type and degree has come in, the retribution of moral obliquity and degradation has come in also, in the shape of annihilation at the hands of a superior race. That seems a cruel, hard thing; but nevertheless so it is. Moreover, to make it more mysterious, the conquering race is not always a superior race in the perfect sense. But we have not that complication here, for all old history testifies that the most blighting curse of false religion and the vilest sensuality of our world in these days lay in the religion of those Canaanites. Even classic, pagan writers say that blank atheism would have been better than that. Wherever Phoenicians established their colonies and their places of worship they introduced nameless vices and uncleannesses, and dignified them with the name of religion. And where these things were introduced they spread, so much so that the end of the great Roman empire was hastened, its old martial strength was rooted out, by the corruption that came in a direct line from that old Canaanitish religion. To justify what was done, therefore, we do not need to say that the conquerors were perfect and immaculate. All we need to be able to say is, that it was a deserved retribution, and that it was better for our world that Canaan should pass into the hands of the Hebrew nation, which has done the grandest moral and religious work for the world. (Prof. G. A. Smith.)
Shew me a sign that Thou talkest with me.--
When the Lord Jesus had risen from the dead, and first appeared to His disciples, “they believed not for joy, and wondered.” Their doubts, however, were soon removed by the sign which the Lord afforded them (Luke 24:41-43). We may well imagine that the feelings of Gideon were not altogether dissimilar to those of the disciples of our Lord, when the angel “looked upon him and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?” These tidings were so welcome, and yet so marvellous, that Gideon’s faith staggered. He “believed not for joy, and wondered.” And then he sought “a sign,” to satisfy himself that he was in a waking state, that his senses were not deceiving him, and that the angel was not a mere phantom called up by a heated imagination. “Shew me a sign that Thou talkest with me.” Now, the sign which was given to Gideon was not altogether unlike in character to the sign which our blessed Lord gave to His disciples on His resurrection-morn. In both cases the emblems of peace and friendship were presented. In both cases the offering was accepted. In both cases it was consumed. Now, do not we need some sign that the Lord talketh with us, and hath come down to “save us from the hand of our enemies”? Our enemies are many and powerful. We need not now some audible voice, nor midnight dream, nor open vision, to assure us of pardon and salvation. Jesus Himself has given us a sign. We see it on Calvary’s hill. Let us draw near and see this great sight.
I. Mark that this sign which Gideon received, was an appeal to the senses. Man is a compound being. God deals with him as such. There is not a faculty nor a gift with which man is endowed to which God does not appeal in the great matter of salvation. This is an important consideration. We are too apt to regard the atonement as a mere matter of faith. We believe it is something more; something greater, and something less. Gideon wished for a sign which his own hands could handle and his own eyes could see. God granted him this sign--a sign, be it remembered, of greater things promised. Now it is just this sign, or this appeal to the senses, which appears in the atonement of our Lord. One voice throughout the whole life and death and resurrection of Jesus seems to say, “Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself” (Luke 24:39). It is true that our own individual eyes have not seen Him, nor have our own ears heard Him speak, nor have our own hands handled His pierced side, but our fathers have had all these their senses satisfied--they saw, they heard, they handled, they believed, and they were saved. And is not this enough? “Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed.” Do we not receive the testimony of credible witnesses upon other matters of bygone fact? Through the senses of others, who lived ages ago, we embrace the facts recorded of ancient sages, of conquerors, of emperors. The great and the noble dead live over again in our minds. We should be held incredulous and inexcusable were we to throw aside all credible history because our own eyes could not test its accuracy. And what excuse shall we find in heaven if we reject or slight the testimony of others on the matter of salvation? But if, on the contrary, we embrace the sign which God has given us, and rely upon the wondrous facts of which they are signs, we then set to our seal that God is true. This is believing. This is acting faith in God. We trust God. We honour God. Our senses harmonise with the faculties of our soul.
II. We notice that this sign which the Lord gave unto Gideon was a confirmation of promises. The promises made to this mighty man of valour were of a twofold nature, as emphatically expressed in the fourteenth verse, “The Lord said unto him, Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man.” The Lord’s presence and the Lord’s deliverance were united. They always are so. They are inseparable. If the Lord be not with us, in vain shall we go forth against the Midianites. But “if the Lord be” with us, “none can prevail against us.” Salvation, both present and eternal, is included in the promise, “I will be with thee.” It is just this promise and blessing which are embodied in the name Jesus which bears the same interpretation as “Immanuel,” “God with us.”
III. The sign vouchsafed to Gideon was also an evidence of things not seen. It was an appeal to sense to strengthen faith. It proved to him that He who appeared as a man “under the oak which was in Ophrah” was none other than the Angel of the Lord--even the Angel of the everlasting covenant! It proved, moreover, that Gideon was called of God to deliver Israel. Oh, that he might succeed in the attempt! He had no riches, no name, no influence, no soldiers; but no matter, the Lord was indeed “with him,” and that was enough. He would now act up to the title which the Lord had given him, as a “mighty man of valour,” and Israel shall be delivered by “the sword of the Lord and of Gideon.” Now it is just this faith in an unseen presence and in an unfelt power which saves the soul from spiritual Midianites. Divine power alone is equal to cope with Satanic might. The sinner who wars against his sins, his lusts, his evil passions, his corrupt nature, in his own strength, soon proves his folly and his weakness. As regards all spiritual conquests, one word should at once check the vain conceit of the sinner, and strengthen the faith of the child of God: “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.” Look you, then, for any sign that the Lord is with you--that He will deliver you, and make you victorious over all your enemies? Behold that sign upon the hard rock of Calvary! Behold it in that mysterious fire which arose therefrom! Behold it in the utter consumption of the sacrifice! Behold it in the ascent of the Lord Himself from off the altar to His throne of glory! What further sign can you need? (G. A. Rogers, M. A.)
Gideon’s sacrifice accepted
“Give me a sign that Thou talkest with me.” It may be said that this hesitation was Gideon’s infirmity. Connecting it, however, with the circumstance of its being himself that was called forth to the mighty work of Israel’s deliverance, I cannot but consider it as an evidence of his humility. Would to God that all our scruples with regard to engaging in the service of God arose from the same cause! What is the reason that, when we ask the co-operation of many in some labours of the Lord’s vineyard, they all, with one accord, begin to make excuse? Is it a humbling sense of their own unfitness for the work? If it were, we have an encouraging text in the Word of God, with which we might do away the difficulty: “I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me.” But when one goes to his farm, and another to his merchandise--in short, when “men seek their own, and not the things which are Jesus Christ’s”--how opposed are their characters to Gideon’s, whose only scruple about the work of God was, “What am I, that I should deliver Israel?” And would to God that when humility does appear to be the source of objections to the engaging in the promotion of the cause of religion, that humility were, like Gideon’s, real genuine humility, and not the cloak of hypocrisy, not a covering to conceal idleness and indifference.
I. On the circumstance which forms the text we may make two observations, viz., the manner in which the angel tried Gideon’s faith, and the manner in which he displayed his own power and Godhead.
1. We notice the manner in which the angel tried Gideon’s faith. “He said, Take the flesh and the unleavened cakes and lay them upon this rock; and pour out the broth.” This was intended to make way for a miracle; that Gideon’s faith in the God who wrought it might, after this trial, become strong, according to the work which he was shortly to undertake. It will be remembered that Elijah made way for the miracle which God was about to work for the confusion of Baal’s prophets, by placing the sacrifice in the most unlikely state for consumption by fire. It seems to have been for the same purpose that the angel commanded Gideon to lay the flesh upon the cold rock, and to pour out the broth. All suspicion and all possibility of the comnmnication of fire were to be done away. Gideon obeys, looking for the “sign,” and wondering how it shall be given,
2. The manner in which the angel displays his great power and Godhead. He does not offer up prayer for fire from heaven on the sacrifice, as Elijah did. He himself communicates the fire, and makes the sacrifice. How sweet the thought, that when the Christian presents his sacrifice of praise, and prayer, and thanksgiving, there is one who, as his Mediator, can make it acceptable; one who “ever liveth to make intercession,” even “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever!”
II. Having made these remarks on the circumstance, let us observe the effect which it had upon Gideon’s mind and conduct. The effect which it had upon his mind was this: he said, “Alas, O Lord God! for because I have seen an angel of the Lord face to face.” There was so much of the majesty of the Godhead in the miracle which the angel had wrought, that the Divinity beamed, as it were, through the appearance of His manhood. Gideon was afraid. It was a received opinion among the Jews that any vision of the Divine glory would be fatal, in consequence of what God had declared to Moses. When Moses said unto the Lord, “I beseech Thee shew me Thy glory,” the Lord said unto him, “Thou canst not see My face; for there shall no man see Me and live.” But it may be asked, “How was it that Gideon survived the sight?” If it had been said to Moses, “No man shall see My face and live,” how did Gideon live? The answer will open to us some precious gospel truths. Gideon saw the glory of God, indeed, but it was “in the face of Jesus Christ.” “No man,” says St. John, “hath seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.” In other words, whenever there has been a manifestation of Jehovah to His creatures, it has been by Jesus Christ, the second person in the ever-blessed Trinity; and it is by His having tabernacled in our flesh that the awful majesty of Jehovah has been softened into mildness and peace and love. The believer’s rejoicing is that Jesus is “the brightness of the Father’s glory “; and therefore he can look upon it and live; yea, live by looking upon it, and because he looks upon it. “Look unto Me, and be ye saved, O all ye ends of the earth.” Mark here the answer of God to Gideon. The Lord said unto him, “Peace be unto thee; fear not; thou shalt not die.” We do not now wonder at this gracious answer, after taking into consideration the character of the angel from whom it came. Was it not from Him who “made peace by the blood of His Cross,” who is called “our peace” and “the Prince of Peace”? Yes, it was an answer that fitted His priestly and His mediatorial character. But does the impenitent sinner see nothing in this passage which is calculated to affect his mind? Let him think of this--that he shall one day see the “Angel” before whom Gideon trembled; shall see Him as Gideon saw Him, “face to face”; but mark, not veiled, as He was then, in the appearance of a man; not disguised in the garb of lowly human nature, but in the glory which He had before the world was. And mark His character then. He shall come, not to touch a sacrifice, not to work a miracle, not to confirm the faith of an individual, as in the case of Gideon; but “to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them that believe.” He shall come to be our Judge. We come now to show, in the last place, the effect which this circumstance had upon Gideon’s conduct. “Then Gideon built an altar unto the Lord, and called it Jehovah-shalom.” This he did to commemorate the event. It was a day much to be remembered by Gideon, both on his own account and Israel’s; and therefore he built this altar. The name which he gave it is beautifully descriptive of the circumstance: “The Lord is my peace”; taking that comfortable assurance which God gave him for the motto to inscribe on it, “Peace be unto thee!” It is remarkable that holy men in former times seem to have been uniformly careful to record their mercies. We may take shame to ourselves for want of a closer imitation. Does the God of battles bless our arms and give us victory? We build a monument to the glory of the conqueror, whom God has honoured as the instrument; but where are the hearts in which an altar of praise is built unto the Lord, and on which is written, “The Lord is my banner”? Does God restore a dear child from the brink of the grave and give him, like Isaac, to his parent’s arms again? The parent clasps him to his breast, and says, “This my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found”; but how seldom does he remember the mercy by a commemoration of it, like Abraham’s “Jehovah-jireh,” Does God, “give and preserve to our use the kindly-fruits of the earth, so as in due time we may enjoy them”? We begin to pull down our barns and build greater; and to say to our souls, “We have much goods laid up for many years; eat, drink, and be merry! But how few, from Dan to Beersheba, from one end of the country to the other, how few look upon “fields white unto the harvest,” and count the sheaves which God has ripened for them, with thankful hearts, and say, “We will raise an Ebenezer, for hitherto the Lord hath helped us!“ But there is one character who does record His mercies, and that is the man whose mercies have been of a nature which have effected a change in his heart; melting and subduing what was before hardness, and impenitency, and unbelief, into contrition and gratitude and love. To such a soul this commemorative word of Gideon is a cordial: “Jehovah-shalom: the Lord is my peace.” (F. Elwin.)
The Christian’s peculiar state
I. The Christian’s privilege. It is to “find grace in the sight of the Lord.”
1. A partaking of the Divine nature. Those who have found grace in God’s sight have received His grace in their heart. If we are accepted of God we are united to Him by faith in His Son. We become one with Him--are created anew--conformed to the Divine image and bear the image of the heavenly.
2. A reception of the Divine fulness. He is emphatically called the God of all grace. He has all the treasures of grace we stand in need of; so that if we find favour with Him--if we are interested in His love--He will communicate to us every blessing we require. What are all the treasures of the world compared with the durable riches and righteousness which He has to bestow?
3. The enjoyment of the Divine presence: “In Thy sight.” There is no grace to be found but here. We may find favour with men, but only grace--free favour--with God. We have free access into His presence. We approach His very throne, and He bids us come near.
II. The Christian’s doubts: “If now I have found grace in Thy sight.” There are seasons when the most eminent saints have been led to doubt of their interest in God. “Happy is the man that feareth alway.” Let us refer to some of those things that occasion the believer’s doubts.
1. The greatness of the privilege. When we take a review of the vast privileges enjoyed by our finding grace in His sight, and think of our depravity and vileness under a sense of our unworthiness, we exclaim, “Surely such mercy cannot be for me!”
2. The imperfection of our graces. If I have found grace in Thy sight, why do I not more closely follow them who through faith and patience inherit the promises? Why am I not more fervent in prayer? Why not more delighted in God’s house? Why do I so little prize the privilege of communion with Him?
3. The withdrawings of God’s countenance. There are seasons when the believer is called to walk in darkness, and God hides His face. Without God’s presence, the Word is a dead letter, ordinances are a blank, all the means we may use are insipid.
4. The apostasy of false professors. Then the thought occurs in the mind--perhaps after all I am deceiving myself with the profession of godliness, while I have never felt its power, and I mistake the excitement of natural feelings for the operation of a Divine principle--perhaps, after in outward appearance reaching the very gate of heaven, I shall be thrust down to hell. But is there no way of ascertaining the fact?
III. The Christian’s desire. Gideon asked a sign. “Show me a sign that Thou talkest with me.” And God gave it him. Christians have a sign beyond all visions, tokens, voices, or any outward manifestation. There are three ways in which God shows His people a sign--
1. By the workings of His providence.
2. By the communications of His grace. Thus He speaks peace to the soul--calms the spirit--gives us a sense of pardoning mercy.
3. By the witness of His Spirit (Romans 8:16). There are many ways in which this sign is given by the Spirit. It is done by sealing home pardon to the soul--by more deeply impressing on our souls the Divine likeness--by pouring out a spirit of prayer--by implanting divine principles--by giving filial dispositions and tempers--inspiring heavenly desires and affections--conferring the graces of the Spirit, and making us bring forth the fruits of the Spirit--causing the Spirit to dwell in us as in a temple, and assuring us of God’s favour.
1. Let those who have not found grace seek the possession of it. Seek to be good rather than great--the grace of God more than the favour of man.
2. Let those who have found grace seek the assurance of it. It is attainable--the way is open. And remember, though you may be as safe, you cannot be as happy without it. (E. Temple.)
Bring forth my present, and set it before thee.--
He did not want to be rash and hasty, and do what he might be very sorry for after wards. He thought strongly that this was an angel, but he was not sure yet. His thoughts had been so set upon the thing, that he even thought he might be dreaming. “If now I have found grace in thy sight,” he said, “give me a sign that thou talkest with me.” Or again, this might be somebody tempting him and leading him into a trap. So he asked the stranger to stay while he got ready a present for him, as Abraham had done for the three angels who came to him. If this is an ordinary man he will give him food in a hospitable fashion as Easterns do, and then send him on his way--if it is God, he will offer Him a sacrifice. That is why he put the broth in a pot, he kept it for the libation or drink offering, if it should really prove that this was the angel of the Lord. So when the angel said, “Lay the flesh and the cakes on the rock, and pour out the broth,” it was as much as saying, “Offer me a sacrifice.” Gideon was satisfied directly. Here was the test he had been looking for and wanting to know about. So he obeyed: he poured out the broth as a drink-offering, and the angel touched it, and fire came out of the rock and burnt it up. Then he knew that God was on his side. Now you will see from this, I think, wherein the excellence of his character lay. On the one hand he was not rash, ready to throw his life away for nothing; on the other he was not a laggard, throwing away opportunities when he got them. Now I think you will see the power of this text. He put his broth in a pot for two reasons--
(1) He did not want to be deceived; but--
(2) He wanted to be ready.
Rash men do things in a hurry which they are sorry for afterwards, but rashness is better than indifference, carelessness, indolence. Sad indeed it would have been for him if he had turned a cold ear to what the angel had told him, if he had prepared no sacrifice, had gone on threshing his wheat and taken no heed to God’s message. He would have lived and died with God’s will towards him unfulfilled. You and I have all of us God’s work to do; you have yours, I mine. The world does not know what it is, we do not know ourselves, except in part. We know present duties, but life is not mapped out in full before any of us. But happy is that servant who knows Christ’s present will, who has taken pains to learn it, and not only so, but who is ready to fulfil it. Duties which conscience tells us are duties, how ready we are to find excuses to avoid them, and to follow our own pleasure. Gideon had his wheat to thresh; let greater men than he go forth and fight the Midianites. If he had said so, would that have been a strange, unusual case? Would it not have been very like what we have done before now? For the will of God--we must surely have learned that by this time--is very often quite contrary to our own inclinations. Duty says one thing, self-indulgence says another. By all means let us have caution and steadiness, but let not caution be an excuse for doing nothing. Gideon putting his broth in a pot is an everlasting example to us to be ready for God’s living sacrifice. (The Weekly Pulpit.)
There rose up fire . . . and consumed the flesh.--
The witness of Divine fire and the altar of Divine peace
I. The Divinely-ordered offering.
1. What, then, are the offerings that are required? Gideon here offered “the flesh, the unleavened cakes, and the broth.” These are simply the sustenance of the natural human life. Taken and assimilated by man, they become portions of his earthly frame. Nowadays, God expects us to make a spiritual offering unto Him of all the energies of our life.
2. The man was ordered to make the offering in an especial manner: “Lay them upon this rock.” There is nothing trivial in the record of God’s manifestations to man. The offerings of man to God, before they can lead him on to peace, must be based upon the At-one-ment between man and God.
II. The Divine acceptance of man’s offering.
1. That fire which came forth out of the cleft of the rock in Ophrah is still burning in the deep recesses of the Rock of Ages, ready to come forth in response to the obedient devotion of man. On Calvary, in the self-sacrifice of the God-man, we behold the eternal law of Divine love fulfilling itself. The Church has again and again passed through its hours of coldness and darkness. But in God’s good time the fire of revival has kindled, and she has spoken to the hearts of men with power. This sign of “fire” is given to the individual soul no less than to the Church. He who gives himself to God, laying the devotion of his whole soul upon Christ, offering daily in His name the prayers, the praises, the alms, the pure feelings, the chastened thoughts, and all the energies of charity, will find assurance that God talketh with him. He will find his mind brightened by the light of heavenly thoughts and eternal hopes, and his heart fired by the impulses of a Divine love.
2. In this passage we may see the purpose and ultimate destiny of religious forms. The forms of the offering which Gideon made were not unimportant. The Divine voice recognised their value, and directed the manner in which they were to be presented. It was not until they had been duly presented that the fire came forth. When forms of worship, beautiful music, and august ceremonial express faith and reverence for the majesty of Christ they are offerings laid upon the rock, and are means of quickening spiritual life. But in using them let us look beyond the means to the end, until the forms are in our sight lost to view in the realities of spirit.
III. The impressions left by the manifestation upon the man’s soul.
1. This vivid manifestation of the Divine presence to the soul was but for a short time. On earth man cannot bear the brightness of the supernatural visions of truth, save during brief moments. The overpowering splendours of the theophanies have in mercy been transient.
2. The angel departs, but he leaves his footprints on the soul. This spiritual intuition of the Divine presence given to Gideon soon passed away, but its influence on his heart and mind never died.
IV. its objective results in his outward action. The vision soon passed away. But it wrought a mighty change in Gideon’s life and career. That change is briefly but fully recorded in the announcement that he now built an altar unto the Lord. The altar implies the sacrifice. In building an altar unto the Lord he pledged himself to sacrifice henceforth unto the Lord. On what principle did he take this momentous step? In the name of what truth did he build this altar? He called it “Jehovah-shalom”; that is, “Jehovah the author of peace.” So in our own day, the object of the messenger of God is to constrain men to build this altar of peace. (Henry T. Edwards, M. A.)
Peace be unto thee.--
The assurance of peace vouchsafed to Gideon
Already Gideon had received what ought to have been a sufficient assurance of the Divine favour, for his offering had been accepted, and of this he had received the clearest evidence in the issue of fire from the rock. But the sense of acceptance which this sign was well fitted to inspire was overborne by the indefinite sense of fear, which prostrated him in the dust. But mark how tenderly and sympathisingly the Lord, if not now in a bodily form, at least with audible voice, replies to his cry, and reassures the trembling man. And may we not here recognise the voice of that very Saviour--the Angel of the everlasting covenant, the Prince of Peace, who said to the winds and waves of the sea of Galilee, as they threatened to swallow up His disciples, “Peace be still,” and who after His resurrection appeared to them again and again saying, “Peace be unto you”? We may indeed! Never does He allow any one who really fears the Lord to remain long in so deplorable a state as that in which Gideon is described to have been. Never does He “break the bruised reed, or quench the smoking flax.” It gives Him no satisfaction to see any of His creatures overcome by slavish terror and alarm from whatsoever cause. And when, in any ease, the soul and the affections are found to yield to constitutional weakness of that kind, who so ready as He with encouraging assurances such as that which He addressed to Gideon, “Peace be unto thee; fear not.” He would have us to reflect that the grand end for which He came into this world was to banish all terrors from the guilty breast, to restore tranquillity to the most tempest-tossed bosom. “Fear not,” says He; “thou shalt not die!” Death temporal, indeed, still holds its stern dominion over all the families of men. But death eternal has been abolished, and “life and immortality have been brought to light.” “Thou shalt surely die,” was the doom pronounced on all, in consequence of the entrance of sin into our world. But listen to the gospel bells as their sweet, harmonious sounds come softened by distance over the waters of time. What do they say? “Thou shalt not die; surely thou shalt not die.” The Angel of the everlasting covenant whispers it amid the silence of the night, adding, “Because I live, ye shalt live also.” And in His hands are the keys of life and of death, of death and of hell. (W. W. Duncan, M. A.)
Fear not: thou shalt not die.--
There is no such thing as death. Change, transition, promotion--anything, everything, except an end. This is the great law of Christianity; and the word “eternity” is the logical condensation of the mighty truth. Nature changes all the time. Nations alter and seemingly disappear. We ourselves pass on, and up; but nobody, nothing whatever, inevitably disappears. But, oh, how hard it is for us all to learn this comfortable and sublime lesson!
1. The little boy or girl grows up to a man or a woman, and we say complainingly, “We have lost our child!” No! We have not lost our child. The child is there, with a fresh body and a matured soul. And the man or woman grows into old age, and all previous life seems to be wiped out and lost. Oh, no! not wiped out, not lost, but prolonged, ripened, illustrated. We have simply the boy or girl, or man or woman, further advanced, and acting on the stage of life with a new costume; but the same actors, after all, are behind the dress. Then again, these dear ones vanish from our sight, and we say, “They are gone, they are dead, they are no more: it is an irreparablee loss.” But they are not gone--no more in the flesh, but alive with God and they are not lost, but transplanted, glorified, crowned, and it may be right at our side after all, although unseen by mortal eyes. No more lost than was the boy or girl who became a man or woman, than was the man or woman in full vigour of life who became worn out by old age. They have only taken one step more. “Mortals cry, A man is dead: Angels cry, A child is born.” One way of looking at it, it was death; but another way of looking at the matter, the Christian way, it was birth. And so, ever and for ever, not destruction, but creation.
2. Nations alter and seemingly disappear; but are they really gone, or with us in a newer, better, and holier shape? I believe that there has been a telephonic, telegraphic, and electric influence, ever since the days of Adam to the present hour, by which all past history is present life, and every nation seemingly dead is living again in Asia, Africa, Europe, and America, so that the races of to-day are but the great-grandchildren of the races of the past, and you and I have something in our bones and blood of Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Judaea, Phoenicia, India, and Persia, so that nations never really die, but are changed, transmitted, reorganised, improved, by marriage, by birth, by intermingling of races, by time, by the grace of God; so that, in a certain philosophical sense, I am not only an American, but a Roman, a Grecian, a Persian, a part of everybody and everything that ever has been, and a part, by transmission, century after century, of everybody and everything that ever will be; and thus there is an everlasting unity of flesh, and the unity of God and the unity of humanity are great and mighty and twin realities. Do not forget the prayer of Jesus--that those who were His might be one with Him, as He was one with God.
3. Once more, nature changes all the time. Yes; but nature never dies, Do those leaves that you tread on an October or November day perish? Are they annihilated? Is their work done, and is our farewell to them a finality? Oh, no! They will go into the hungry earth, and, through many changes, at last will fall into your hands in the shape of a luscious peach, or rosy apple, or juicy pear, or else as a violet or rosebud or japonica will bless your eyes, cheer your heart, and somehow spiritually say, “We do not die, we have never perished: we are blessing the world for ever and ever; and like you, O mortals, we are immortal.”
4. What do our great writers and thinkers say about death? Beecher: “Dying is life.” Bryant: “Death is a deliverer.” Walter Scott: “Is death the last sleep? No, it is the last final awakening.” Dr. Adam Clarke: “Death to a good man is but passing through a dark entry, out of one little dusky room of his Father’s house into another that is fair and large, light-some and glorious, and divinely entertaining.” Goethe: “In the death of a good man eternity is seen looking through time.” But hear the Lord Jesus Christ: Matthew 9:24; John 11:25; John 14:2; Matthew 22:32; Luke 23:43. (C. D. Bradlee.)
Jehovah-shalom: the Lord our peace
The theme presented by this text is, the peace which the gospel brings. “It is a great mercy to have the gospel of peace, but it is a far greater mercy to have the peace of the gospel.”
I. The nature of this peace. We call it in our form of benediction “The peace of God.” It is so called with great propriety, because it is the peace which God has designed and provided. It was arranged for in the far-back ages of eternity, when the stupendous plan of our redemption in Christ Jesus was determined upon. The peace which Jehovah-Jesus gives is not the peace of exhaustion, nor the peace of satisfied sensualism, nor the peace of mental torpor and inaction, nor the peace of apathy, nor the peace of death--no; but it is the peace which attends pardon, and renewal, and consecration, and activity, and life, in its fullest and most perfect plan. An incident in Grecian history illustrates the nature of this peace. Thrasybulus was one of the chief men of Athens about the year 400 B.C. He came to the head of affairs after many political changes, which had left behind them great bitterness of feeling. To prevent the existence of heartburnings, and to secure peace among the Athenians, Thrasybulus exerted his influence to secure the passage of a law, which they called Amnestia, from the Greek word signifying no recollection, or no memory, and from which our word amnesty comes. This law provided that all former wrongs should be forgotten, and the people pledged themselves henceforward to live lovingly and peaceably towards each other, and as if all the wrongs and offences of the past had never taken place. Among men, with such infirmities as cling to us, it may be very easy to make a law like this, but it must be very hard to carry it out. Yet this is a fair illustration of the peace which the gospel brings to us. It is a peace founded on an act of amnesty. But this act is fairly and fully carried out.
II. The foundation of this peace. This peace rests on the atoning work of Christ, “He made peace,” says the apostle, “through the blood of His Cross” (Colossians 1:20). And in another place the same apostle teaches us to connect the thought of this peace with “the blood of the everlasting covenant” (Hebrews 13:20). “There are depths in the ocean,” we are told, “which no tempest ever stirs; they are beyond the reach of all the storms which sweep and agitate the surface of the sea. And there are heights in the blue sky above to which no cloud ever ascends, where no tempest ever rages, where all is perpetual sunshine, and nothing exists to disturb the deep serene. Each of these is an emblem of that peace which Jesus imparts to His people.” “The foundation of God standeth sure,” says the apostle. But we must have a clear knowledge of what this foundation is, and that we are certainly built upon it, if we would have the full enjoyment of the Christian’s peace. A young minister in Wales, having to spend a night in a very exposed locality, slept at a farm-house, situated on the highest point of land in that part of the country. After he had retired to rest, the wind rose suddenly, and blew a tempest. He thought he felt the house rock, as the tempest beat upon it in its fury, and he feared it would fall. He could not sleep; so he rose and sat by the fire to be ready for the worst. But the morning dawned at last, and the house stood unharmed. When the family assembled the minister told of his fears, and expressed his wonder that they could sleep securely amidst the peltings of such a storm. “Why,” said he, “I was afraid every moment the house would fall.” “Oh,” said the farmer, “I never have a fear of the house falling--for I know that it is founded upon the rock.”
III. The influence exerted by this peace.
1. It is an extensive influence. It sweeps through the whole circle of our relationships. It is the peace of God, and peace with God. It is peace with the angels and all holy beings. It is peace with the providence of God, and all the complicated mechanism of its far-reaching agency. If I possess this peace, then, go where I will, I need not fear. A traveller met an aged Christian once, who lived alone in a cottage, on the top of a mountain, far away from any human habitation. “Are you not afraid,” said he, “to live in this lonely place?” “What have I to be afraid of,” was the reply, “when Providence is my next-door neighbour?” And then the circle of this peace contracts itself to the bosom of every believer. Its centre is here; its circumference widens out to the farthest boundaries of the universe. If I am at peace with God, then I may go forth in the path of duty, anywhere, without a fear, for all the universe is at peace with me. But are there not evil men and evil spirits who are at peace with no one? True, there are. May they not work me ill, through the wrath that is in their hearts? They would, indeed, if they could. But they are never, for one moment, beyond the clear knowledge and efficient control of that Providence “whose everlasting purposes control all agencies and accidents, converting them to good.”
2. It is a protecting influence. The apostle Paul brings out this view of the matter very clearly when he says, “The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ” (Philippians 4:7). The word rendered “keep,” has a military aspect, and denotes to guard or garrison the soul. A garrison is put into a fortress or citadel for its defence and protection, And this is what the peace of God is designed to do for our souls. God intends that we shall find protection in it. Somewhere in the East there is said to be a tree which is a non-conductor of electricity. The people in that region are aware of the fact, and when the terrible thunderstorms come, which prevail in those parts, they flee for safety to this tree, and always find it there. What a beautiful emblem of that protection vouchsafed to all who seek peace beneath the shadow of the Cross!
3. And then it is a comforting influence which this peace exerts. It is the key-note which must be struck in our bosoms before we can know anything of the joy and comfort of the heavenly world. That quaint old writer, Quarles, imagines the possibility of our gaining the possession of earth, and air, and sea, and sky, yea of all things, apart from the presence or the peace of God, using the two terms as interchangeable, and then winds up his comparison in this impressive way--
“Without Thy presence earth gives no refection;
Without Thy presence sea affords no treasure;
Without Thy presence air’s a rank infection;
Without Thy presence heaven’s itself no pleasure;
If not possessed, if not enjoyed in Thee,
What’s earth, or sea, or air, or heaven to me?”
To have this peace is to have our wills moving in harmony with the Divine will; it is to have our affections subordinated and controlled by the holy law of God; it is to have our desires elevated--our fears of trouble and death subdued--and our hopes of immortality strong, and bright, and abiding.
4. And then it is a peace that is useful in its influence. Jesus called attention to this feature of its influence when He said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” Those who really possess this peace will go on their way cultivating the things that make for peace. The spirit of peace, when properly exercised in the paths of daily life, has a power to turn evil into good, in a thousand ways more mighty than any magician with his fabled wand has ever claimed to exercise. If this peace is ours, let us try to show, in our lives, its elevating and satisfying power. Let all our aims and influences be in the interests of peace. But, if we are not Christians, there is no peace for us. No peace with our own consciences--no peace with God--no peace with the universe. How can we remain another hour in such a state? It is possible to make peace now: to-morrow it may be too late for ever. (R. Newton, D. D.)
One war over and another begun
I. Gideon’s sigh for peace; for he loved not war, but pined for quiet. He called the name of the altar “Jehovah-shalom,” which the margin reads, “The Lord send peace.” You see, therefore, that deeper down in his spirit than any desire for warlike honour there was a yearning after peace. He wanted not the spoils of princes; he only desired to plough, and sow, and reap in peace.
1. And do you wonder at it, when the ills of war were all around? The Bedouin styled the valley of Jezreel “the meadows of God”; how grievous to see those fat pastures trodden down by the feet of the invaders! Ah, little can you and I imagine of the horrors of war. If we saw battle with our own eyes we should with burning fervour cry, “Send us peace in our days, good Lord.”
2. Moreover, he had not only seen war, but he sighed for peace because he was himself feeling the mischief of it. The dread of the conflict had come to his own mountain farm at Abi-ezer. Let us bow our heads and thank God that He has long blessed this favoured isle with unbroken peace; and as an act of thankfulness to God let us set our faces against the war-spirit which so readily inflames our fellow countrymen.
3. The way of peace was sufficiently well known to Gideon; the prophet of the Lord had indicated to the people that the only way of peace was for Israel to return unto Jehovah, her God. Much is gained when we know this, if our knowledge leads to practical action.
4. While Gideon was meditating and working, an angel appears to him and gives him the assurance that with him at least God was at peace. We know how sweet the is assurance that being justified by faith we have peace with God. It is well with us when we are assured that the Lord is with us, our helper, our shield, our portion for ever and ever.
5. But there arose in his mind a grave anxiety. His was a very careful, thoughtful soul, for he was a man of prudence, large-hearted, far-seeing, and given to look at things coolly and steadily; and there arose in his heart a question serious and vital, “Is this the voice of God to me, or am I deluded? Is God at peace with me, or am I like the rest, plunged in a horrible warfare against the living God?” Therefore he puts a question, and he asks a sign that he might make sure of what he was about. In spiritual matters you and I had need be sure. If we have peace within our spirit let us make certain that it is the peace of God; for still are there voices that cry, “Peace, peace,” where there is no peace. Still do siren songs charm men to ruin with their dulcet notes; still does the fatal river flow most smoothly as it approaches the dreadful cataract.
II. From Gideon’s longing desire to obtain peace with God and then peace for his country we turn to look a little further into Gideon’s fear which he met with in the way of peace. “An angel” appeared to him--so saith the text in the Authorised Version; but in truth it was the angel of Jehovah, and this should have comforted him, even as it has comforted us. Why was Gideon afraid?
1. Not because he was a coward--you will scarcely meet with a braver man in all Scripture than this son of Joash--but because even brave men are alarmed at the supernatural. He saw something which he had never seen before--an appearance celestial, mysterious, above what is usually seen of mortal men; therefore, as he feared God, Gideon was afraid. When the living God draws very near to a soul, even though it be in the person of Christ Jesus, that soul is struck with awe, and trembles before the Lord. It cannot well be otherwise.
2. Gideon had been ill-taught by tradition. There was a rumour abroad, which was derived from truth and yet was false, namely, that no man could see a heavenly being and live. The tradition was an accretion to the truth and a corruption of it. We may not see the face of God, but we may see Jesus; in fact, we live because we see Him. Beware of the moss which grows upon a truth.
3. Gideon was in a state of mind in which he could be easily cast down. He was a brave man, but long affliction had cast a tinge of sadness over him. And you, dear heart, if you are seeking after peace with God, I should not wonder if fear follows fear, and yet no fear drives you from looking unto the Lord. It is but natural that you should be overawed, but oh, be not despairing, for there is the surest reason for hope. Still look to Jesus, and He will surely in His due time send you a blessed deliverance.
4. Gideon’s greatest fear arose out of a sign which he had himself asked for. He said, “Show me a sign,” and when he had that sign, namely, God’s coming to him, then it was that he was afraid. Be very chary how you ask for signs, for they may work your discouragement rather than your comfort. We cry aloud, “Show me a token for good,” and when the token is given we are amazed at being heard, and fall to fearing more sadly than before. Therefore pray for such boons with bated breath, and say twice over concerning such things, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt.”
5. Gideon had one truth before him which ought to have prevented all his fears, for the Lord had spoken to him and said, “Go in this thy might.” How could he die if he was to deliver Israel?--he must be a live man to do that; and yet, you see, he forgets to reason for his own comfort, but takes care to argue for his fears. Have I never seen you doing this? I have often caught myself at it--refusing to use my logic for the strengthening of my faith, but perverting reason in order to assist my unbelief. Is not this foolish and wicked?
III. God’s comfort of His servant.
1. “The Lord said unto him, Shalom--peace be unto thee; fear not, thou shalt not die.” The Lord would not have His Gideons disturbed in mind. If we are to trouble the enemy we must not be troubled ourselves. He wants His workers to be full of comfort while they labour.
1. Notice the great power of God in speaking home the truth. Suppose I salute you with “Brethren, peace be to you.” That would be a sweet word; but when the Lord says it you feel the peace itself.
2. The Lord also cheered him with “Fear not.” Oh, that charming word; as full as it is short--“Fear not.” It is the death-knell of fear, the life of hope. If we once hear it as God’s fiat in our soul it makes us leap over a wall or break through a troop. Doubts and fears flee away like spectres of the night when the sun arises. Gideon feared himself, feared his own unfitness and unworthiness, feared in the awful presence of God; but the Lord said, “Fear not,” and Gideon’s heart grew calm.
3. Then the Lord added, “Thou shalt not die,” thus meeting the special form of his dread. This is what the Lord says to every poor trembler who is holding to Him by the desperate grip of faith, “Thou shalt not die. Thou shalt not die the second death: thou hast no sin to die for, for I have laid thy transgressions on My only begotten Son; thou shalt not die, for Jesus died. Thy spiritual life cannot expire, for thy ‘ life is hid with Christ in God,’ and because Jesus lives thou shalt live also.”
IV. Gideon’s memorial. His fears being banished, and being at perfect peace, Gideon now goes to work. Are any of you questioning whether you are saved or not? Do not go out preaching yet, for you may, perhaps, put others into bondage. Are any of you half afraid that you are not at peace with God? Be careful what you do! Strive after peace, lest you weaken your testimony. God would have His people be at peace with Him, and know that they are so, for if they are fretted within and worried in reference to their God, how can they fight the battles of life? When Gideon is fully at peace what does he begin to do for God? If God loves you He will use you either for suffering or service; and if He has given you peace you must now prepare for war. Will you think me odd if I say that our Lord came to give us peace that He might send us out to war? Gideon’s first work was to go and cut down his father’s sacred grove, which stood on the top of the hill, and enclosed an altar to Baal. A splendid clearance was made that night. “Now,” cries he, “over with that detestable altar to Baal.” Some people would have said, “Spare it as a fine piece of antiquity.” Yes, and leave it to be used again! I say, down with it, for the older it is the more sin it has caused, and the more likely is it that it will be venerated again. Gideon cast down every stone, and it was bravely done. But see, by the Lord’s bidding he piles a new altar of earth, or unhewn stone; and when that is done he fetches his father’s bullock and slays it for a sacrifice. How steadily they went about this re-establishment of the pure faith! If God has given you peace, go home and begin your reform. I would preach up the overthrow of every sin. Down with every idol. Have you one left? Over with it and present a sacrifice to God, Every true Christian should pass a reform bill at home and carry it out. But to pull down is not enough. Plenty of people can do that. Gideon, as we have seen, builds an altar to Jehovah. When you are at perfect peace with God, think what you can do for Him; think of a new plan of work, or consider how to do the old work better; advance any part of Divine truth that has been forgotten, any ordinance that has been neglected, any virtue that has been despised. Especially make prominent Christ Jesus, the Altar and Sacrifice so dear to God. When he had built his altar he called it “Jehovah-shalom,” which was done by way of thanksgiving for peace received. It was a psalm in two words; it was a song of one verse infinitely sweet. “Jehovah-shalom”: the Lord our peace. Moreover, it was a prayer, as the margin puts it, “Jehovah, send peace.” If you have peace with God, let your next prayer be, “Lord, give peace to all Thy people.” “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. The first thing is the great discovery which this man has made, and in the rapture of which he named his altar--that the sight of God is not death, but life and peace. Can you write upon the memorial of your experiences--“The Lord is my peace”? Have you passed from hearsay into personal contact? Can you say, “I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth Thee”? Do you know the further experience expressed in the subsequent words of the same quotation--“Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes”? And have you passed out of that stormy ocean of terror and self-condemnation into the quiet haven of trust in Him in whom we have peace with God, where your little boat lies quiet, moored for ever to the Rock of Ages, to Jehovah, who is Peace?
II. We may look upon this inscription as suggesting the thought that God’s peace is the best preparation for, and may be experienced in the midst of, the intensest conflict. In the inmost keep of the castle, though the storm of war may be breaking against the walls, there will be a quiet chamber where no noise of the archers can penetrate, and the shouts of the fight are never heard. Let us seek to live in the secret place of the Most High; and in still communion with Him keep our inmost souls in quiet, while we bravely front difficulties and enemies. You are to be God’s warriors; see to it that on every battlefield there stands the altar “Jehovah-shalom.”
III. We may say that that altar, with its significant inscription, expressed the aim of the conflict and the hope which sustains in the fight. The true tranquillity of the blessed life is the prize of conflict. David, “the man of war from his youth,” prepares the throne for Solomon, in whose reign no alarms of war are heard. If you would enter into peace you must fight your way to it, and every step of the road must be a battle. The land of peace is won by the good fight of faith. But Gideon’s altar not only expressed his purpose in his taking up arms, but his confidence of accomplishing it, based upon the assurance that the Lord would give peace. It was a trophy erected before the fight, and built, not by arrogant presumption or frivolous under-estimate of the enemy’s strength, but by humble reliance on the power of that Lord who had promised His presence and assured triumph. So the hope that named this altar was the hope that war meant victory, and that victory would bring peace. That hope should animate every Christian soldier. Across the dust of the conflict the fair vision of unbroken and eternal peace should gleam before each of us, and we should renew fainting strength and revive drooping courage by many a wistful gaze. We may realise that hope in large measure here. But its fulfilment is reserved for the land of peace which we enter by the last conflict with the last enemy. Every Christian man’s gravestone is an altar on which is written “Our God is peace,” in token that the warrior has passed into the land where violence shall no more he heard, wasting nor destruction within its borders, but all shall be deep repose, and the unarmed, because unattacked, peace of tranquil communion with, and likeness to, Jehovah our peace. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
I. Gideon’s fear. Gideon’s fear was traditional. It was a commonly received opinion that no man could receive a direct manifestation from heaven and live. Ever since the fall of Adam in paradise man has ever shunned and dreaded the immediate presence of Jehovah. If the righteous thus fear and thus tremble when the Lord revealeth Himself unto them in love and peace, “where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear,” when He cometh forth from His place and sweareth that He will by no means clear the guilty?
II. Gideon’s fear removed. There was more than a mere salutation in those words, “Peace be unto thee.” Gideon would never have found heart to have built up his memorial altar and called it “Jehovah-shalom” if peace itself had not entered his heart when those words entered his ears. And what is that which now quells the fears of the trembling sinner? What is that which assures him of peace, takes away his alarms, and imparts to his soul holy confidence that he shall not die? This altar, Jehovah-shalom, is an altar which many a grateful, loving heart has built up high above all the storms and tempests of life, and all the dread fears of death. And what has done all this? Whence the joy of saints? Whence the peace which passeth all understanding? What is that which opens the heart to peace and assures the soul of endless life? There is but one grand means--there is but one grand channel. It is not far off. You need take no long and perilous journey to obtain it. “Say not in thine heart, Who shall bring Christ down? “ etc. But if men turn a deaf ear to this word of the gospel; if they stand trembling or hardened in the presence of God, alike unfit to live or to die--if they listen to the voice of gain or pleasure; if they turn a more ready ear to the sounds of sin or temptation than they do to the words of the Most High--is it any wonder that they are strangers to peace? What have they to do with peace as long as they reject or neglect the word of the Prince of Peace?
III. The altar which Gideon built.
1. What a memorial of Gideon’s faith was it! As soon as the Lord had spoken words of promise Gideon raised his altar, not only in remembrance of the promise, but as an evidence that he trusted in it. The greatest act of man towards God is faith--a reception of His Word, and a reliance upon it. All things are possible to him that believeth.
2. This altar was, moreover, a memorial of Gideon’s hope. “Hope maketh not ashamed!” How sweet, how precious, is the Christian’s hope. It is no vain wish or mere fervent desire of the mind. It is a grace of the Holy Spirit, which He alone enkindles in the heart. It is the crowning grace of all. Ah! this would be a dreary world without hope! When earthly hope vanishes and despair enters the heart, no mere human, no extraneous help, will raise a man above himself. And what is the soul without hope--this faith-imparted, faith-nourished hope? And if true believers--real Christians--God’s own children--need more of this “hope which maketh not ashamed”--if their faith at times fail to bring joy and peace in believing--what are we to say, what are we to think of some who are living “without God and without hope in the world”? I say to them, in all heartfelt sincerity, “Blind credulity you have much, but true faith you have none.”
3. Gideon’s altar was, lastly, a memorial of his gratitude. He could never look upon that altar without recalling to his mind the wonders of the past. Thus many a memorial of gratitude has been raised by pious and loving hearts. “What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits towards me?” was David’s grateful inquiry. Gratitude welled up in Jacob’s full heart at Bethel when he “vowed a vow, saying, If God be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and raiment to put on, so that I come again in peace, then shall the Lord be my God, and this stone which I have set for a pillar shall be God’s house; and of all that Thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto Thee.” “Ye are not your own,” saith the apostle Paul, “for ye are bought with a price.” Ah! let this purchase be valued--let this price he estimated--let imagination attempt to conceive its infinite magnitude and endless consequences, and then ask, what memorial can be commensurate with that deep sense of fervent love and gratitude which should overflow the heart. (G. A. Rogers, M. A.)
I. We have a far-sighted man looking to the result rather than to the means. Gideon called his altar “ Jehovah-shalom “--the Lord send “peace.” As he was going to war we would have supposed him to inscribe, “The Lord send victory, the Lord send success.” But the Holy Spirit prompted him to write “peace.” There is wonderful power in this. What are all our battles, all our struggles, but a means to an end? That end is peace. How much wiser and how much better would it be if we were to look at the issue!
II. We have a brave man renouncing his own prowess. “The Lord send peace.” The very message of the angel was calculated to make Gideon self-opinionated. He was favoured with a vision of God. He was appointed to be the Divine vicegerent. But instead of doing what we should expect, he renounced all pretensions to any superiority, and was only overwhelmed by a consciousness of the honour reposed in him. True greatness and true humility always go together. The great man is humble and the humble man is great. It is a mark of superior minds to realise how small they are.
III. We have a pious man engaging in war. War is a terrible scourge; one of the most fearful developments of the passions of men. But it has been permitted by God, and even ordered under His arrangements. What the Almighty directs man need not fear to undertake. God works His purposes by the scourges of earth, and He employs man’s passions as His instruments of purification. The few who are sacrificed in war are only as a grain of sand in comparison to those who are sacrificed in sin.
IV. We have a lesson as to our own conduct; that is, ever to invoke the blessing of God on that which we undertake. When we go forth to duty, or pleasure, or any engagement whatsoever, we should rear our altar to the Lord, and pray that He will send peace and prosperity. And the necessity for this is not taken away because we are doing the Lord’s work, at the Lord’s bidding, and under the Lord’s direction. To teachers, preachers, and evangelists this truth is a very serious one. (J. J. S. Bird.)
Throw down the altar of Baal.
Baal’s altar destroyed
1. Observe God’s command to Gideon. He had been hitherto protesting against the idolatry of his family and country by a life of opposition, inasmuch as it was a life of humble, pious fear, and love of Jehovah, and of the worship of Him as the true God. But now he is commanded to perform an act of opposition. Gideon is to destroy Baal’s altar before he builds God’s; the same altar will not do: God will have no polluted sacrifice; if there is any connection at all between the two, it shall be only this, that the wood of Baal’s grove shall be made fuel to burn the sacrifice on Jehovah’s altar. Now may not this act of Gideon’s, under the Old Testament dispensation, be made to speak the language of the New? “No man can serve two masters; ye cannot serve God and Mammon,” any more than God and Baal. But it is a noble act, worthy of the imitator of Gideon, to make the things which were before “an occasion of falling“ the instruments of doing good, by putting them to a sanctified use; making them subservient to the furtherance of the gospel, instead of fostering “the lust of the eye and the pride of life,” as they did before. Whatever has been the accompaniment of your idol-worship, cut it down, and apply it to a holy purpose; make it fuel for the altar of God. But where shall Gideon build the altar of God? Is it to stand in the place of Baal’s? No; as if this were a contamination, the thing is forbidden: “Build an altar unto the Lord upon the top of this rock.” The reason was obvious. That rock was the place where the angel of the covenant had met him. That rock was the place on which the miracle had been wrought, to show the Godhead of Him that wrought it and to confirm the faith of him who witnessed it. That rock was the place from whence ascended the sacrifice which the angel had made acceptable by ascending with it. That rock had already witnessed the manifestations of God to Gideon; and there was written, as it were, upon it, “Jehovah-shalom.”
2. Observe Gideon’s prompt obedience to God’s command. He seems to have begun the destruction of idolatry that very night in which God had given the command. Oh, the sad effects of procrastination in matters which respect the overthrow of the idols of the heart and the dedication of the heart to God! How is it that when the command of God is proclaimed to do this there is such hesitation and delay? It is not so much from a determination not to obey it at all as from a fallacious hope of being better able to comply with it at some other time, which time is constantly keeping its distance in proportion as life itself advances.
3. We notice the influence of Gideon’s character and conduct over those who were in his service: “Gideon took ten men of his servants, and did as the Lord said unto him.” It seems that Gideon had not only kept himself from the defilement of his country’s idolatry, but that he had used his influence and authority in endeavouring to preserve his servants from it also; and now, when he has to perform a work beyond his own strength--a work in which not one man in his father’s house, nor in all Israel, can be found to help him--the hearts of his own ten servants are made willing to unite with him, and they give him a proof on which he can depend that his counsel and example have had a proper effect by assisting him at the risk of their lives. Here, then, is a point of Gideon’s character which deserves the imitation of every master of a family. Gideon keeps his own servants from bowing the knee to Baal. He instructs them in the knowledge of the true God. His authority is exercised for the best of purposes.
4. Observe how professing Christians may often be put to confusion and shame by a comparison with those very idolaters whose ignorance appears so pitiable in their sight. Here is a god made of a log of wood or a block of stone; it is a lifeless and senseless image: and yet his worshippers “rise up early in the morning” to worship him. See how diligent they are in his service, how zealous for his honour, how fervent in their devotions! Compare that god with our God, and then compare those worshippers with ourselves.
5. Observe how the enmity of the carnal heart shows itself when any effort is made for promoting the worship and glory of God. “The men of the city said unto Joash, Bring out thy son, that he may die: because he hath cast down the altar of Baal.” As long as religion remains a dead letter, a mere matter of profession devoid of practice, the world will not cry out against it. But when the decisive part which the Christian takes shows the difference which exists between him and others as to motive and principle; when his life is seen to be a constant reproach to theirs, and his love for God a contrast to their love for mammon; when Baal’s altar is cast down, and God’s altar built; then the carnal mind becomes a spirit of persecution; then a man’s foes become those of his own household; and because he is not content to think or speak about religion merely, but is active enough to do something for the cause, he is made to suffer for it. Hence the calumny which a zealous Christian undergoes; hence all the misconstruction put upon his good works; hence all the evil motives charged upon him, and all the hard speeches which are spoken against him. Lastly, observe that God can “make the wrath of man to praise Him, and the remainder of wrath He can restrain.” It might have been supposed that Joash, whose bullock had been slain and whose altar had been thrown down, would have been more enraged than the rest. But, lo! he takes the part of the accused. It seems as if he had been secretly influenced by his son’s pious example; and perhaps he was struggling with the convictions of his own mind upon the folly and wickedness of his idolatry when the conduct of these men brought him at once to the point. Gideon commits his cause to God; and God not only takes care of the cause, but of Gideon. And so it is, and always shall be, with the Christian who is called forth to fight the battles of the Lord. He shall be able, in the strength of his Master, to put to flight all who oppose his progress. (F. Elwin.)
The way to deal with public abuses
May not we all learn from what is here recorded not to shrink from boldly and promptly assailing and seeking to uproot all moral evils, which have already become chronic, or threaten ere long to become so. Half measures, in regard to such matters as those to which we refer, never succeed. The more thoroughly the iron will of a Cromwell combines with the sterling spirituality of a John the better fitted is the reformer for his difficult and delicate task. It will never do for one in his circumstances to act in a spirit of compromise, where truth and principle demand the prompt, vigorous, and unsparing application of the sledge-hammer and the axe. But if firmness and decision are indispensable in dealing with public abuses, whether in Church or State, they are no less indispensable in dealing with the corruption of our own hearts and any evil habits which we may have contracted. It is peculiarly necessary that we set ourselves resolutely and vigorously to the work of self-reformation--a work which, while it must always take the precedence of every other kind of rectification, can never succeed if attempted in our own strength. Cheered and sustained by the Divine promise, so freely and largely given to those who are sincere in their desire to reform their own hearts and lives, let every one apply the pruning-knife with nerve and determination to the overgrowth of what is false in principle or vicious in practice, and lop it off without remorse (Mark 9:43-48). Another lesson to be derived from Gideon’s conduct on this occasion is the duty of obeying the commands of God with unquestioning promptitude. Too rash and impetuous we may be, but we can never be too prompt. Instructive as the example of Gideon is, still more so is that of his Master and our Exemplar who, when the bitter cup of retribution due to us was put into His hand and He was satisfied that it was indeed the will of His Father that He should drink it, drank it to the very dregs. (W. W. Duncan, M. A.)
The valorous assault
I. Observe God’s command to Gideon.
1. Gideon is commanded to destroy the altar of Baal. “God or Baal”--not “God and Baal” was the point to be settled before any deliverance could be expected. Now, throw New Testament light upon this, and what do we learn? The lesson is trumpet-tongued. No compromise--no halting between two opinions--is the language of the command. God hates a divided heart. He will not endure two altars. He will give no deliverance as long as Baal’s altar stands. No sacrifice, however costly, is, or can be, accepted, which is offered upon the polluted altar of man’s corrupt heart. A new altar must be built up--an altar of God’s workmanship--of God, and for God, that is the only altar which will sanctify an acceptable gift. Any attempt to worship at Jehovah’s altar on one day in seven, and to worship at the altar of Baal or Mammon on the other six days of the week, is not only vain, but suicidal. God will have a new heart, and a whole heart, or none.
2. The next thing Gideon was commanded to do was to cut down Baal’s grove and make it fuel for the altar of God. Groves were not idolatrous--there was no harm in them--but they were occasions of sin, How many had been ruined, and ruined for ever, under the foliage of those groves! Perversion of nature’s growth to the dishonour of nature’s God! Many would plead for the harmless trees who would condemn both: Baal and his idolatrous worship. But God knows the heart of the sinner better than he knows it himself; and therefore He says, “Cut down the grove.” Cut down the occasion of sin. Touch not, taste not, handle not that which causes men to perish with the using. Avoid the spot, shun the places, where Satan’s seat is. Do more than this! God commanded Gideon to “offer a burnt sacrifice with the wood of the grove.” This was turning the idolatrous grove to a good purpose. Let there be no waste--no useless destruction. Money, health, time, influence, example, all, once expended for Baal, now let them all be as fuel for the altar of God.
3. The third thing God commanded Gideon to do was to build an altar unto the Lord his God. But where was this altar to be reared? Was it to stand on the spot whereon Baal’s altar stood? No! the place is polluted. On no unhallowed spot must this altar be raised. Build it, said the Lord, “upon the top of this rock, in the ordered place.” Gideon must build it upon the rock already consecrated by the wondrous doings thereon of the angel of the covenant. May we not say of this rock what Paul said of the smitten rock in the wilderness, “That rock was Christ.” He is indeed both altar and rock--yea, He is Himself the sacrifice. Standing on Him alone as our Rock, we ever hear the words, “Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt riot die.” He only is the true Rock--higher than we--far above the flood which sweeps the impenitent into the depths of woe. He, too, only is the Rock on which we can with safety place the altar of our hearts. The old foundation will not do--it is polluted--it is defiling. No altar, no sacrifice will God accept if it be offered upon the site of Baal’s altar. “Behold, I make all things new”--this is our hope to come. This must be the rule of our faith and practice now.
II. And now we come to Gideon’s obedience.
1. His obedience was prompt. He did not give himself time to take counsel of his fears. He did it by night, lest he should be opposed and hindered. He had no fear on account of detection. He must have known that his deed would be proclaimed over the whole nation. His aim was to do the work out of hand, and leave the consequences with God. Duty was his, events were God’s. Noble example. Half the shipwrecks of faith would be escaped were it followed. Procrastination is the bane of true godliness.
2. We observe, however, that Gideon’s obedience was attended with personal danger. He needed courage and strong faith. Doubtless he sought for grace equal to that night of danger whence alone all strength cometh. The followers of Baal--the men of the city--were zealous for the worship of Baal. If idolaters be zealous for the honour of Baal, he will be no less zealous for the honour and glory of God. Now, it is just this zeal and this courage, in the face of danger and difficulties, which prove the character of the true Christian. If a man will venture nothing for Christ he is not worthy of Him. Ah, we need a Gideon to rise up in Israel! Rather we need that all the people of God should be as zealous for the true God, for His Word, for His day, for His worship, as idolaters are for the worship of Baal.
3. Mark, also, that Gideon’s obedience was eminently successful and strikingly rewarded. He was for God, and God was for him. The Lord made his way prosperous. Gideon’s ten servants did their work well. He was not left to do all the work himself. Doubtless they caught their master’s spirit and zeal. It is astonishing how much influence for good or evil every master exercises over his own household. Eyes are upon him when he leasts suspects it. But Gideon was defended by one who of all others seemed pledged to oppose him. His father ceased to be an idolater that very night. Perhaps the bravery of his son, or his steady and consistent piety and zeal, convinced him of his sin, or perhaps the impotency of Baal to save himself was conclusive logic to his mind. Who can tell how many fathers and mothers in Israel, how many sons and daughters, relatives and friends, would be converted and saved, were Christian men and women as faithful to their God as was Gideon? You think to conciliate the world by concession, by connivance at their sinful principles and customs. Alas! your inconsistency only leads them to despise you. Be consistent, be uncompromising in serving the Lord; be courageous--obey God rather than man, and God will honour you, as he Has honoured many, and made them instruments in winning father and mother, brothers and sisters, to Christ. (G. A. Rogers, M. A.)
On the destruction of idols
The idolatrous altar and false worship of one’s own, clan, of one’s own family--these need courage to overturn, and more than courage--a ripeness of time and a Divine call. A man must be sure of himself and his motives, for one thing, before he takes upon him to be the correcter of errors that have secured truth to his fathers and are maintained by his friends. Suppose people are actually worshipping a false god--a world-power which has long held rule among them. If one would act the part of iconoclast the question is, by what right? Is he himself clear of illusion and idolatry? Has he a better system to put in place of the old? He may be acting in mere bravado and self-display; flourishing opinions which have less sincerity than those which he assails. There were men in Israel who had no commission and could have claimed no right to throw down Baal’s altar, and taking upon them such a deed would have had short shrift at the hands of the people of Ophrah. And so there are plenty among us who, if they set up to be judges of their fellow-men and of beliefs which they call false, even when these are false, deserve simply to be put down with a strong hand. There are voices, professing to be those of zealous reformers, whose every word and tone are insults. The men need to go and learn the first lessons of truth, modesty, and earnestness. And this principle applies all round--to many who assail modern errors as well as to many who assail established beliefs. On the one hand are men anxious to uphold the true faith. It is well. But anxiety and the best of motives do not qualify them to attack science, to denounce all rationalism as godless. We want defenders of the faith who have a Divine calling to the task in the way of long study and a heavenly fairness of mind, so that they shall not offend and hurt religion more by their ignorant vehemence than they help it by their zeal. On the other hand, by what authority do they speak who sneer at the ignorance of faith and would fain demolish the altars of the world? It is no slight equipment that is needed. Fluent sarcasm, confident worldliness, even a large acquaintance with the dogmas of science, wilt not suffice. A man needs to prove himself a wise and humane thinker; he needs to know by experience and deep sympathy those perpetual wants of our race which Christ knew and met to the uttermost. (R. A. Watson, M. A.)
Reform at home
In Jerusalem every man sweeps before his own door--at least it is said that he does. If he doesn’t, I doubt if any one else does it for him. Here in London the same thing was required of us until a very recent date. If a fall of snow came, say before January, 1892, every man was required by law to sweep in front of his own door, and in the sweeping he was to go as far as the outer edge of the footpath; so that what we know as a proverb in relation to Jerusalem we have practised as a fact in relation to London. But I suppose that most of you will at once understand that the Jerusalem door-front sweeping is only another way of saying that all reform should begin at home; and used in that sense the saying is expressive and suggestive. It is in this sense that I use the text.
I. Reform at home should be preached to nations. These are days of rapid travel and national interchange. We visit all the world, and all the world visits us. This enables us to see the excellences and the defects of our neighbours; and I do not think that Englishmen have been slow to speak of the faults of others. But it may be well for us as a people to look a little more at home. If the angel of God came to us as he came to Gideon, I have a suspicion that he would say, “Break down the altar, turn out the idols, heal your own diseases, sweep before your own door, and reform your own abuses and inconsistencies.” We send our missionaries to convert the heathen from their darkness and superstitions, and it is good that we should. We send our missionaries to convert the heathen, but what else do we send them? We send them our ardent spirits, our rum fiend, which undoes the good work the men of God succeed in doing. I feel like saying, “Before you send any more missionaries, sweep your own door-step, clean your own house.” We have sent our ships into many waters, and our soldiers into many lands, to put down slavery; we have spent much in blood and treasure in this direction; but if the angel came to us as he did to Gideon, wouldn’t he rebuke us for the slavery in our midst? If a tenth part of what we hear about the sweater be true, of poor women making clothes for the army, and I know not what beside, at a price on which they cannot live, isn’t it time we swept in front of our own door?
II. Reform at home should be preached to Churches. We want revivals among the people which shall save them. Then the Church must be revived. We desire to lead the masses to Christ, that they may feel the warm glow of His love, and know the joy of His service. Then the Church must get nearer Christ. We must put out of the Church everything contrary to the spirit of Him whose name it bears. The Churches must be warm, generous, and large hearted, and this should apply both to pulpit and pew. The pulpit is not always as broad and sympathetic as might be. And there is a good deal of room for reform in the pew. Cold men in the pews create cold men in the pulpit. Let there be warmth and love in the pews, and the pulpit will warm up. But if icebergs be in the pews you will get marble in the pulpit, and seeking souls will be warned off by the chills which will be as cutting as the east wind.
III. Reform at home should be preached to individuals. All reform should begin at self. We can only mend the universe as we mend its units. We want the nation better, then we must mend its men. We desire to see the Church of God pure and holy, then its members must be holy. Let us break down every altar, and eject every idol, and let the Lord of life, who has a right to rule ours, enter into possession of us. (C. Leach, D. D.)
Gideon’s reformation not destructive only
Gideon does not leave Ophrah without an altar and a sacrifice. Destroy one system without laying the foundation of another that shall more than equal it in essential truth and practical power, and what sort of deliverance have you effected? Men will rightly execrate you. It is no reformation that leaves the heart colder, the life barer and darker than before, and those who move in the night against superstition must be able to speak in the day of a living God who will vindicate His servants. It has been said over and over again, and must yet be repeated, to overturn merely is no service. They that break down need some vision at least of a building up, and it is the new edifice that is the chief thing. The world of thought to-day is infested with critics and destroyers, and may well be tired of them. It is too much in need of constructors to have any thanks to spare for Voltaires and Humes. Let us admit that demolition is the necessity of some hours. We look back on the ruins of Bastilles and temples that served the uses of tyranny, and even in the domain of faith there have been fortresses to throw down, and ramparts that made evil separations among men. But destruction is not progress; and if the end of modern thought is to be agnosticism, the denial of all faith and all ideals, then we are simply on the way to something not a whit better than primeval ignorance. (R. A. Watson, M. A.)
Daring to oppose wrong
I have seen many a time on the sea-shore bits of driftwood tossed hither and thither, the helpless sport of the waves. I have seen on the same shore the black rock standing there unmoved, unshaken--opposing itself to all the might and force of the waves which fumed and seethed around it and dashed themselves in wild and savage fury against it. To be real men we must be not like the driftwood--driven about by every passing wave of opinion; we must be like the rock--able to resist and oppose the full force of the world’s fashion and custom. This will not be easy. The world has never loved singularity. Loyalty to conviction, courage to say “No” to the demands made by fashion and custom, will entail upon you scorn, hardship, hate. The way of life is still the narrow path. But I have yet to learn that difficulties can daunt the young and ardent soul. Garibaldi could only promise his ragged soldiers suffering, wounds, and perhaps death if they followed him into Italy, and yet they responded to his call, and said, “General, we are the men.” And I am not afraid now that those who have any love or enthusiasm for truth and right will be daunted or terrified because of the suffering wherewith the path of duty abounds. (J. D. Jones.)
If he be a god, let him plead for himself.
Religion judged by results
When we hear a speech like that, we are inclined to shout, “Hear, hear.” Surely it seems reasonable. Surely no one could object to that. Let religion be judged by its results. Do not attempt to argue to defend it; it surely does not need that. Christianity has had eighteen hundred years of trial now, and it is too late to attempt to defend it by mere words. Look at what it has done. If you know your Bibles, you will recollect that both Old and New Testaments claim this test. When Elijah stood alone for God at Carmel, in the presence of the king and the court and the false prophets, he challenged them all to a judgment by results. “The God that answereth by fire, let him be the God.” And when the people refused to believe in our Saviour, rejected His teaching, and would not acknowledge Him as their Saviour, He appealed to them on the ground of results: “Though ye believe not Me, believe the works,” said Christ (John 10:38); “Believe Me for the very works’ sake,” said He again (John 14:11). If, then, we say, “Judge our religion by its works, the tree by its fruits,” you ask, “Well, what has it done?” And when this question is put, whole continents stand up to bear witness to the power and saving might of Jesus Christ. Whole peoples, who have come out of paganism and heathen darkness, say, “Look at us. We are what we are by Christ Jesus the Lord.” What has Christianity done? It has filled dark places of the earth with light. It has sent help to the poor, hope to the despairing, comfort to the sad, salvation to the sinful, and restored fallen man to his reconciled God. But let us suppose for a moment that we listen to those who would take Christ and His religion out of the world. We ask them, “What will you put in place of these? What have you to offer us? Before I give up the old I want to see the new. Bring out your god, let us have a look at him. It will be interesting to see what he is like. We should like to know what he has done. We want to apply our test of results to him. We challenge you on this ground.” A meeting was once held at which number of very clever people set themselves the task of opposing Christianity and slighting God. When the speaking was over, criticism and questions were asked for. After a short pause an old woman rose up on the floor of the meeting-place and said, “These men have been opposing religion and almost laughing at God. I want to ask what they can give me instead of what I have? I was left a widow with six children, not one of whom could work. I rested upon the promise of God, who says He is a husband to the widow and a father to the fatherless, and I have found His word to be true. For, though I have had a hard struggle, not one of my six children or myself ever wanted a bit of bread. I have brought them all up, and now I am just waiting till God thinks fit to take me home to rest. Will these men up there tell me what could have done better for me than my loving God has done?” It was an old woman’s argument, but as it was one of experience it was powerful. I put her question, “What has infidelity done?” Until we can see something of its results we shall not be disposed to part with the religion which has lifted us into the higher regions of life and hope. We know too much of the blessings which result from Christianity ever to be persuaded to give it up. We have seen it reconstruct, remake men. It is said that now science has invented a way of dealing with the waste slag which comes from the iron furnaces which used to be thrown away in heaps as worthless. I have seen somewhere various useful articles, vases and others, made from the slag--waste, worthless materials worked up into articles of use and beauty. That is just what Christ does. He takes men who are cast off by the world as worthless and waste, and remakes them. (C. Leach, D. D.)
The Midianites and the Amalekites and the children of the east.
The victory over the Midianites
The mind of man is by nature like two hostile camps. In the higher region are principles of innocence, hope, love, justice, trust, kindness, purity, and tenderness--those angels of the soul--“For of such is the kingdom of heaven.” In the lower regions of the soul are selfishness, pride, vanity, contempt for others, injustice, faithlessness, harshness, impurity, and violence, and of such is the kingdom of hell. There can be no peace between these two (Isaiah 57:20-21). Life is a state of conflict, both for the virtuous and the evil. The virtuous, however, strive on the side of heaven, and they are assisted by heavenly powers, and by the Saviour Himself. They have often cessations of warfare, seasons of blessing, and their end is peace. The wicked struggle against their better part; they oppose their inner convictions; they stifle the voice of conscience; they smother their nobler impulses; they harden themselves against God and goodness. It is in reflecting light upon these mental struggles, and affording guidance to the earnest Christian, that the history of the wars of the Israelites is of inestimable value. Let us trace and apply the lesson in the narrative before us. The Israelites had been much infested by three nations in their immediate neighbourhood, the Amalekites, the Midianites, and a people called the children of the east. They oppressed them with a cruel hand: they destroyed even the means of subsistence. These people--at least the Amalekites and the Midianites--were descendants from Abraham indirectly, and inhabited the borders of Canaan on the south, south-east, and east. They were at the land, but not in the land. Hence they correspond to the principles of those who border on the Church, but are not in it. They know and believe what the gospel teaches in a certain fashion, but do not love and do it. They are opposed to, and hasten to destroy, a growing and progressive religion. They assailed Israel most cruelly on their march, and came, as recorded in the narrative before us, to destroy the rising corn. They were all at this time deadly enemies of Israel. The Amalekites were the most malignant. It is recorded of them that they insidiously hung around the Israelites on their march, and when any remained behind from weakness or weariness they were put to death by these lurking and harassing foes (Deuteronomy 25:17-18). Amalek was the most powerful foe of Israel during the pilgrimage in the wilderness, as well as the most malignant (Numbers 24:20). Amalek has an awful peculiarity of notice from Jehovah (Exodus 17:14-16). From all this it is not difficult to draw the inference that Amalek must be the representative of some peculiarly deadly principle, some malignant strong delusion, to which the Spirit of the Lord is incessantly opposed. There are times in our journey of life when we feel weary and toilworn; when we are tired of our struggles against our evils and our difficulties, and become almost hopeless. Life seems hollow and a blank. We are weary with the world and with ourselves. Perhaps high hopes have been blighted. At such times the deadly fallacy will break in upon us, “Give up; throw all good aside; strive no longer. Do as other people do; get as much sinful pleasure and sinful gain as you can, and take your chance with the millions who are reckless.” This is Amalek. Many a poor weak soul, battered and downcast in the struggle of life, has sunk under this direful despairing suggestion. Oh! that men would learn to remember that this principle of despairing delusion is abhorrent to the Divine love. “Jehovah has war with Amalek, from generation to generation.” “Never despair,” should be the motto of life. The Midianites were not always enemies of Israel. They were traders and intermediate between Egypt and Canaan. Midianites drew Joseph out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites, thus saving his life. That they were representatives is evident from their being mentioned in the prophetical part of the Scriptures as taking part in operations of the future Church, in times when Midian, as a distinct nation or tribe, would long have ceased to be (Isaiah 60:6). On the other hand, in that sublime and mysterious vision of the prophet Habakkuk the prophet says (Habakkuk 3:7-8). Midian, then, sometimes the friend and sometimes the foe of the Church; sometimes assisting the praises of the Lord, and sometimes covering the soul with curtains which tremble before the judgment and presence of the Lord, is the type of that kind of general belief in the doctrines of religion which may lead to something better, but in which great numbers often rest, so as to make a profession of a kind of faith which is not saving, because neither grounded in love, nor flowing into practice. The children of the east, the coadjutors of the two former, represent all such portions of the Scriptures as can be pressed into the service of an inward aversion to God and goodness, but combined with an outward profession of piety and regard for holiness. (J. Bailey, Ph. D.)
He blew a trumpet, and Abi-ezer was gathered after him.
And what did he do? He seized a trumpet and blew a blast so loud that it startled the slumbering echoes of the hills, and stirred to the lowest depths the latent patriotism of the inhabitants of Abi-ezer. The martial notes of that shrill clarion as they pierced their ears operated like a charm on their minds, suffering as they were under the intolerable burden of suspense, not knowing how soon the enemy might be upon them, and might find them unprepared. Now their hearts beat strong with a new hope. Behold how suddenly and effectually the popular mind may undergo a thorough revolution! Where now were all their prejudices and fury and spite against Gideon? Before the startling peals of that trumpet blast they had vanished like a dream. Striking illustration of the expulsive power of a new affection or emotion of the mind! Yet a more striking illustration still of the truth to which we have already referred, namely, that God can make the very enemies of a godly man to be at peace with him, and even only too glad to come under his wing. See how they crowd around the man whom but yesterday they would have torn to pieces in expiation of his offence. Behold how readily they obey his summons, and how confidingly they look to him as the hero of the hour! So sure is real worth to rise to a premium in general esteem, when circumstances occur which call for more than ordinary wisdom, integrity, decision, fortitude, and nerve in the conduct of affairs. At such a time those who have contrived to suit themselves to the popular fancy during a season of ease and luxury are sure to be cast off, and men of sterner mould, men of high moral principle and integrity, men whose hearts are animated by the spirit of a hero, how ungainly soever the exterior beneath which they beat--men such as Havelock and Lawrence--are as sure to be in great demand, neglected though till then they may have been, and perhaps sneered at and despised by inferior souls. And in how many cases in the history of nations have such men as these--the Ezras, the Nehemiahs, the Jeroboams, the Gideons of our race--proved the right men in the right place, when elevated by a discerning country to that rank and authority and influence for which they were fitted above all others in virtue of their sterling worth. This is a lesson of too great importance to be lightly urged. How strikingly does the experience of Gideon, at this stage of his story, prove that no man who is conscious of being endowed with superior natural talents in combination with high moral principle should allow himself to be discouraged even though for a season he may fail to be duly appreciated by his fellow-men. Let him “bide his time.” Even in the piping times of peace, when there are no symptoms of coming convulsion, it is deemed the part of prudence to keep our arsenals well stored with the munitions of war, and standing army is maintained in continual readiness for whatever may occur. For who can tell how soon or how suddenly wild war’s deadly blast may be blown, and its blood-hounds be let loose. And so it ought ever to be with body, soul, and spirit--the whole man. Reason, religion, experience, and common-sense, all combine to indicate that it is at once the duty and the interest of every one (leaving the future in the hands of God) to go straight forward in the improvement of all his talents and opportunities, and in the pursuit and practice of what is right, heedless of what men may say or do, satisfied that in due time God will secure for him the very place which it is fittest and best that he should occupy, in spite of all the opposition of earth or hell. (W. W. Duncan, M. A.)
What a strange, unwonted appearance must the market-place of Ophrah have presented at this juncture. The inhabitants had found something else to occupy them now than the martyrdom of Gideon. Rather than have injured a hair of his head, there was not one perhaps who would not have “plucked out his eyes, and given them unto him,” had the sacrifice been demanded, such and so general was the enthusiasm for him which now prevailed. As for ordinary business, it was in a great measure suspended, the grand business now in hand being to prepare for war. The sounds with which the ear must have been most familiar at that time were the ring of the anvil, the hiss of the grindstone, the shrill notes of the bugle and the clash of arms. And ever as a new arrival from distant parts took place, and ever as the colours of the different tribes that had received a summons were recognised, how would the air be rent with joyful acclamations. Here might be seen a band of stalwart shepherds and woodcutters from Lebanon, there a crew of sailors from the coasts of Asher. Yonder, streaming over the hills, eager to join their brethren, are a long line of fishermen from Zebulon and Naphtali, who have left their nets and boats on the shores of the sea of Galilee, accompanied by many of their own tribes of various grades and of various professions. All seem to be animated by one spirit--a spirit of patriotism, a desire to rid their beloved country at once and for ever of that hateful yoke under which for seven long years they had groaned, and thus to be restored once more to their ancestral liberties and rights. (W. W. Duncan, M. A.)
I will put a fleece of wool in the floor.
1. Impossible though it may be to acquit Gideon of unreasonableness, in demanding farther proofs of the certainty wherewith he might rely on the presence and blessing of the Lord on his perilous undertaking, we cannot deny that he displayed at the same time a becoming and praiseworthy concern lest he should be deserted of Him.
2. Again, in the kind and condescending manner in which it pleased the Lord to accommodate Himself to Gideon’s infirmity, and to allow him to put Him to the proof, may we not recognise a pleasing evidence that such concern as that to which we have referred--such solicitude and nervous apprehension lest there be some mistake on his part--is far from being displeasing to Him. Oh, what a tender, sympathising, long-suffering, easy-to-be-entreated High Priest is He with whom we have to do! Instead of upbraiding Gideon with his unbelief in spite of all that had passed, He bears with him (oh, with what marvellous condescension, and slowness of wrath!) and at once yields His assent to the proposal. Well says good Bishop Hall, in his meditations on this passage: “What tasks is God content to be set by our infirmity!”
3. From this incident in the life of Gideon we may also learn this lesson: that every believer needs fresh supplies of grace and strength for every new turn in the affairs of his soul, and for every new phase in the spiritual conflict. Whoever thinks of finding fault with a man, on the ground of a defect in faith, because he goes so often to the throne of grace, or because he comes “boldly to obtain mercy to pardon, and grace to help”? Nay, rather would he not justly expose himself to the charge of ignorance and presumption, if, on the pretext or plea that he has already received the promise, “as thy days, so shall thy strength be,” he should go forth to do battle with his spiritual adversaries without repairing afresh to the fountain of all spiritual blessing, and asking as Gideon asked? (W. W. Duncan, M. A.)
The miracle of the dew and the fleece
The state of Gideon’s mind, if we may judge from these words, seems to have been that of the man who cried, “Lord I believe; help Thou mine unbelief.” He had already experienced the power of God to be on his side, by the touching of the rock and the consuming of the sacrifice. He had been already assured of the favour of God towards him, by the declaration of the angel--“The Lord is with thee.” Yet he seeks further assurance. We must, not, however, too hastily condemn Gideon in this matter. The assurances which he had before received had given him strength equal to his day. In that strength he had already thrown down the altar of Baal, and cut down the grove that was by it, and this at the risk of his life. But here he is called to new duties; we cannot, therefore, wonder at his seeking new assurances. So fights the soldier of the Cross “the good fight of faith,” against the world, the flesh, and the devil, under the banner of the Captain of his salvation. The world wonders to see him so continually going to his God in prayer, for fresh tokens of His favour; but they do not know as he does the necessity for such renewed applications. Many a shameful defeat would be spared Israel if they were more careful to assure themselves of God’s presence and blessing in what they undertake, even if they sought again and again for the tokens. It would prevent many mistakes, for instance, with regard to what are termed providences. How apt are we to interpret them in such a manner as to suit the secret inclinations of our own minds! The Christian finds, frequently, that “a deceived heart hath turned him aside” in this matter. “Such a circumstance,” he says, “is certainly an opening in providence”; when, if the truth were known, it is an opening which he has himself made to gratify his wishes, and not an opening made by God in the course of His providence. “Let me prove, I pray thee, yet once more with the fleece.” In pursuing our subject we may notice--
1. The condescension of God in the performance of this twofold miracle. Gideon’s doubts and fears prevail, and he goes to God for courage and confirmation, and he obtains them. He asks still further, and he still obtains. What doctrine does it teach? It tells us that “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and of great goodness.” “The bruised reed He will not break, and the smoking flax He will not quench.“
2. Some spiritual uses to which this miracle maybe applied.
(1) We may learn from this emblem that God is a sovereign God, and giveth none account of His matters. We behold some nations scourged with famine, pestilence, and the sword, while others are enjoying plenty, health, and peace. We see vast parts of the globe in an unenlightened state, as it respects the knowledge of salvation; while others, like our own favoured land, are living in the full blaze of gospel day. What shall we say to these things? Why is there dew on one nation and drought on another? Are we better than they? No, in no wise. God is showing that He will do whatsoever it pleaseth Him. Just and true are all Thy ways, O God, Thou King of saints!
(2) We may view the miracle, in the next place, as an emblem of the state of the Jewish nation. The contrast between the wet fleece and the dry was not more striking than the contrast between Israel in her state of national prosperity under the favour of God and in her after-state of degradation when that favour was withdrawn. And how awfully striking when the same contrast is marked in her spiritual state! The miracle sets before our minds the time when the nations were lying in the darkness of idolatry, and “dry,” as it respected any knowledge of God, like the earth round Gideon’s fleece.
(3) But, in order to make some practical use of the subject, we will consider it as an emblem of a congregation under the preaching of the gospel. It need hardly be observed that the Divine blessing upon the ordinances is often compared to the dew of heaven. Thus, speaking of the quickening and enlivening effect of His Word upon the heart when blessed by the Holy Ghost, the Lord says, in Deuteronomy 32:1-52, “My doctrine shall drop as the rain; My speech shall distil as the dew.” The metaphor is simple and sublime. As the dew distils silently, and almost imperceptibly, into the plants on which it falls, so shall God’s Word and doctrine, under the Spirit’s influence, descend upon the soul. As the dew insinuates itself into the plant, giving it fresh life and vigour, so shall God’s Word accomplish the thing whereunto He sends it, giving renewed life to the soul. This figure will appear still more apt, and strong, and beautiful, if you consider that in eastern countries, where the rain is scarce, the dew, as the only substitute, is invaluable. With these ideas attached to the Word, take our text as setting forth an emblem of the state of a congregation, sitting under the sound of the gospel. Is this the house of God? Are we at this moment preaching to you “the truth as it is in Jesus”? Then the dew is now falling, and it is indeed “a time of refreshing.” Will it fall upon that careless soul that is as unconcerned about salvation as if none were necessary? Will it fall upon the soul of him who actually disregards the offer of salvation through a righteousness not his own? Will it fall on the soul of the poor thoughtless trifler? Miracle of grace! but not too great to expect from almighty power, nor from almighty love. And therefore we will pause, and secretly pray the God of power and mercy to do this now; that while the dew is descending some drops may fall on these sinners, carrying conviction to their consciences and conversion to their hearts. But we ask, also, where is the dry and empty fleece? Oh, how quickly may we find it in any congregation! We may find it in those seats where there has been no prayer, but only the form of prayer; we may find it in those pews where there is no attention to the preached Word nor any desire after the salvation which it holds forth. In short, wherever carelessness and indifference prevail, there we shall find the dry and empty fleece. Oh, let not this opportunity pass without a prayer for grace. It is said respecting the answer to Gideon’s prayer, “The Lord did it that night.” “Ask,” then, “and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” (F. Elwin.)
Dewy and dry fleeces
I. The circumstance recorded is highly honourable to the character of Gideon. It shows that there was in him that caution and waiting, for the want of which how many a man has mistaken his mission, and instead of doing the work of the Lord, has made a wreck both of himself and his own work! “If Thou wilt save Israel by my hand.” A full consciousness that Israel needs saving; but an indisposition to feel that such an honour could be conferred on him; such is a good index to the character of a man--a disposition to test ourselves. Am I fit? Am I capable? Can God use me? Am I he whom God will choose to do this work? Yes, I think we do well to apply tests to ourselves and to our position; to our religious life, and to our relation to God by our religious life. Do you not believe that there is an influence that covers a man with blessings? Do you not believe that there is a conduct which attracts to itself blessing? Hence the image is constantly occurring in Scripture between moisture and drought (Jeremiah 17:5-8; Psalms 1:3). “He shall be like a tree.” There is the test--a tree, moistened by unseen springs, whose leaves are green even in the parched land and not inhabited. See David in the court of Saul. A dewy fleece in the midst of a land of drought. See Daniel at the courts of Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar. While all the uproar goes on, there the blasphemy, and the tokens of a coming doom; Daniel and his companions are in waiting on the Lord; without wine they are brave; their spirits are fresh, and they are ready for the service of God--a dewy fleece in a dry place. Who are the happy? I do not ask who are the successful, because I find often the happy are the unsuccessful. Setting all the world’s calculations on one side, “Behold,” says James, “we call them happy which endure.” Whence, then, is the spring supplied which will never dry? The calm, the contented, and the hallowed blessedness of the holy heart. How often we find wealth is a dry fleece, while poverty is a dewy one! True, there is nothing in wealth to curse especially, but then there is nothing in wealth to bless especially; because of wealth, it is not that the dew refuses to fall, but the dew will not fall because wealth is there--only proving that wealth needs something more before it can be regarded as really a blessing; and poverty must be forgotten of God, and cut off from the dew before that state can be regarded as a curse.
II. Thus, then, we justify the Gideon test. Upon the heart and the home the dew will fall and remain. Thou askest, “Am I a child of God?” You shall know by the dew. “Have I religion?” You shall know by the dew. Walk forth in the morning--the sweet morning, when the bright drops sparkle on the hedgerows, and behold the twinkling thorn, the rose, the tree, the floor of grass, such shall be your words, and such your mind, your action--the dew shall be on your fleece!
III. I shall attempt to illustrate this a little further. For I say the world will insist on applying its test to us; the world will watch for the dew on our fleece. When I was a boy it was my privilege to know a very holy man. He had been in the beginning of things a poor man; but how sacredly, how steadily, he served God! He worked in a shop where proverbially all were Sabbath-breakers. He would not break the Sabbath. The master could do as he liked with all his men--it was a kind of old-world tyranny. He would not break the Sabbath. He led a sweet, sacred, holy life. His master was a swearer in the midst of a gang of unholy men. His conversation became the gospel of Christ. By a steady course he was able to provide for his widowed mother; he was able to provide for his sister. And he died, but his work lasted; the dew has not all evaporated yet; the shop is in ruins; his master was long since a bankrupt, and his whole family is in ruins too. The name of the one man is fragrant, all else is gone--it was a dewy fleece in a land of drought. Thus gratitude in the heart, thus holiness in the life, are dew. You shall know them by the dew upon the fleece. (E. Paxton Hood.)
Gideon owned the sovereignty and the power of God. So must we. In the matter of salvation we deal with Omnipotence. The God of grace is the Sovereign Ruler of the universe, Gideon believed in the omnipotence of God. He rested upon His promises. But he wanted a confirmation of his faith in these promises. He seemed to cast his eyes to heaven, and say in language which has often found response in the hearts of tried believers, “Shew me a token for good; that they which hate me may see it, and be ashamed; because Thou, Lord, hast holpen me, and comforted me.” Or, like one struggling to master his doubts and fears, on finding that he could not overcome the natural infidelity of his depraved heart, he turned to the stronghold whence alone help could come, and prayed, “Lord, I believe, help Thou mine unbelief.” The Lord did help his unbelief, by granting him the twofold miracle for which he prayed. It was a fine instance of childlike confidence in this “mighty man of valour” that as soon as his faith began to waver he at once told the Lord. Half of our difficulties in the Christian course would be got over, and got over quickly too, if we would but unbosom our souls to the Lord, and tell Him our difficulties as soon as they arise. Now, the token vouchsafed to Gideon was peculiar in its nature. He was led, doubtless acting under the influence of the Holy Spirit, to ask of God a sign, and to choose a sign himself. In infinite condescension, God was pleased to accede to his petition. He suspended the ordinary laws of nature, and whether the fleece of wool was to be wet or dry, according to the prayer of this man of God, we are told, “God did so that night.” The grand doctrine to be deduced from this narrative is, that in confirmation of His promises, and in appearing on behalf of His people, the Lord suspended the ordinary laws of nature.
I. Observe, first, that it was none other than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself who thus answered Gideon’s prayer. God, to whom Gideon prayed in Judges 6:36, is the same who “looked upon him,” and spake to him in verse14. He was the angel of the covenant, who said, “Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?” Gideon prayed to this same Lord, that He would grant him a sign that He would save Israel by his hand, “As He had said.” The answer to Gideon’s prayer--the twofold miracle which was wrought--proved the proper Deity of Christ. It proved that the government of all things was indeed upon His shoulder.
II. now, it is over the laws of nature that Christ reigneth, for the good of His Church in all ages. We know not how little, nor how much, other worlds are affected by the redemption of Christ’s people in this world. It may be that inhabitants of other spheres and of other systems are learning the wisdom and the goodness and the love of God in the book of man’s salvation. Angels study it, the highest orders of intelligence make it their theme of praise, and why not beings in untold worlds which fill up the immensity of space? But be this as it may, all the laws of the universe are under the rule of the Lord Jesus for the good of His people. There is no law but the will of God. To deify law is to undeify God. So to enthrone nature as to make her reign is to dethrone Jehovah, who alone does reign “God over all, blessed for evermore.” Time would fail us to dwell upon the many instances of the suspension of the laws of nature recorded in the Word of God. We will adduce but a few remarkable examples.
1. Observe the suspension of the laws of physical nature for the good of the people of God. Although heaven and earth should seem to oppose the fulfilment of His Word, although physical impossibilities may raise up a barrier the top of which no eye of sense can scale, yet the eye of faith soars above all nature, up to nature’s God, and rests calmly and peaceably upon His enthroned promise (Isaiah 43:2).
2. We might go on and educe instances of the like suspension of the laws of animal nature, in carrying out the purposes of Jehovah on behalf of His people. Birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and the beasts of the earth, have all obeyed other influences than the laws of their nature, in doing the will of their Creator. The instinct which they possess, is just that law which God sustains in them. Unclean and carnivorous birds forget their own natures, and spread their wings, and, as angels of mercy, visit the prophet in the wilderness, and daily spread his table. The fish devours not Jonah, but, at the word of the Lord, safely lands him on dry ground. The lions, too, become the harmless and the friendly companions of Daniel, and not a hair of his head is injured in their den.
1. Gideon’s need of a confirmation of his faith. The only question with this mighty man of valour was, “Is the Lord indeed with me? Is He on my side? Can I possibly have made any mistake? I do not doubt the Lord’s power. If He will, He can save Israel by my hand. But am I certain that I have not put too favourable an interpretation upon His promises? I will ask a sign of the Lord.” He did so, and you know with what result. Are you as anxious as was Gideon to learn the Lord’s will, and to insure His blessing in your undertakings? Do you make your daily callings a matter of prayer? Do you pause in your worldly business, and inquire with deep anxiety, “Is the Lord with me?”
2. You see the nature of that proof which the Lord gave to Gideon that His promises were sure: the dew was given and withheld according to the sign proposed. We may regard the dew as a striking and beautiful emblem of the Holy Spirit. (G. A. Rogers, M. A.)
Like other Israelites, he is strongly persuaded that God appears and speaks to men through nature; and he craves a sign in the natural world which is of God’s making and upholding. Now, to us the sign Gideon asked may appear rude, uncouth, and without any moral significance. A fleece which is to be wet one morning while the threshing-floor is dry, and dry next morning while the threshing-floor is wet, supplies the means of testing the Divine presence and approval. Further, it may be alleged that the phenonema admit of natural explanation. But this is the meaning: Gideon providing the fleece, indentifies himself with it. It is his fleece, and if God’s dew drenches it, that will imply that God’s power shall enter Gideon’s soul and abide in it, even though Israel be dry as the dusty floor. The thought is at once simple and profound, childlike and Hebrew-like, and carefully we must observe that it is a nature-sign, not a mere portent, Gideon looks for. It is not whether God can do a certain seemingly impossible thing. That would not help Gideon. But the dew represents to his mind the vigour he needs, the vigour Israel needs if he should fail; and in reversing the sign, “Let the dew be on the ground and the fleece be dry,” he seems to provide a hope even in prospect of his own failure or death. Gideon’s appeal is for a revelation of the Divine in the same sphere as the lightning, storm and rain, in which Deborah found a triumphant proof of Jehovah’s presence; yet there is a notable contrast. We are reminded of the “still small voice” Elijah heard as he stood in the cave-mouth after the rending wind and the earthquake and the lightning. We remember also the image of Hosea, “I will be as the dew unto Israel.” There is a question in the Book of Job--“Hath the rain a father, or who hath begotten the drops of dew?” The faith of Gideon makes answer, “Thou, O Most High, dost give the dews of heaven.” The silent distillation of the dew is profoundly symbolic of the spiritual economy and those energies that are “not of this noisy world, but silent and Divine.” (R. A. Watson, M. A.)
The dew and the fleece
1. Just before the occurrence of the facts narrated in this passage Gideon had received his call from God. Former judges, Othniel, Ehud, and Barak, had been moved by the Spirit of God to their work of delivering Israel from the oppressor. But to Gideon alone a theophany was vouchsafed in order to intimate that the God, who had visibly manifested Himself to the patriarchs, was the same Jehovah ready to save their descendants if only they would penitently return to the covenant.
2. God permitted His people to be brought so low in order that affliction might drive them to prayer, and that thus their extremity might become His opportunity. Such was the result in the gracious ways of His providence.
3. Next, God called Gideon by two revelations. The first, by a visible manifestation of the angel of Jehovah. Next, in a dream of the night, Jehovah commanded him to throw down his father’s altar to Baal.
4. As in the first manifestation Jehovah acknowledged Gideon, so in this second one He required Gideon to acknowledge Jehovah. Gideon accordingly, with ten men of his servants, overthrew Baal’s altar, and cut down the Asherah pillar by it in the night; for he durst not do it by day through fear of his father’s household and the men of the city. But God does not reject the first sincere efforts of His children to do His will, though attended with timidity (John 3:2; John 19:38). Gideon did not by secrecy effect his purpose of escaping detection.
5. Then followed the gathering together of the enemy to the plain of Jezreel: And the Spirit of Jehovah clothed Gideon as with a coat of mail. At his trumpet-call his own clan, recognising the champion and deliverer of Israel in him who, as an iconoclast, braved Baal’s revenge with impunity, was the first to rally around him. The neighbouring tribes, Manasseh, Zebulun, and Naphtali, next obeyed his summons by heralds. But still there were renmants of doubt and fear in Gideon, though he was very different in respect to faith from what be was when the Angel of Jehovah first appeared to him.
6. But before setting out on his perilous enterprise with the assembled army, Gideon desired a further sign from God to assure him of success. His prayer for a sign did not betoken want of faith, but weakness of faith. The flesh strove against the willing spirit, and so created misgivings and fears. The sign which Gideon asked, and which the Lord vouchsafed, was one especially significant. The dew was in the Holy Land a leading source of fertility (Genesis 27:28; Deuteronomy 33:13). Thus dew naturally became the image of spiritual influences. The type may be viewed in a threefold relation.
I. the dew in relation to Gideon’s enterprise. To Gideon in his fears the filling of the fleece with dew from heaven whilst the earth around was dry, intimated that, whereas Israel was heretofore, through apostasy, as dry spiritually as the heathen around (comp. the “dry places,” Matthew 12:43), Jehovah was now about to fill Gideon and His nation with His reviving grace. The reversing of the sign at Gideon’s request, and the dryness of the fleece whilst the dew rested on the earth around, assured him that Jehovah could, and would, manifest His power even amidst the weakness and helplessness of His people in the face of the nations which were flourishing all around. The army was reduced to three hundred. The poor and weak one should overturn the rich and mighty.
II. The dew in relation to Israel past, present, and future. The type has a deeply interesting relation to Israel, the elect nation.
1. First, in the past, the fleece filled with dew whilst the ground around was utterly dry, answers to Israel filled with heavenly blessings from the Lord, whilst the Gentile world was a moral wilderness, dry and unwatered by the dews of His grace. It was not because of Israel’s merits, but because of God’s gratuitous choice, that the nation was singled out to be the Paradise of Jehovah cut off from the spiritual waste: just as the dew is not of man’s procuring, but of God’s bestowing. Had Abraham, the forefather of the nation, been left to himself he would have continued an idolater like all his neighbhours in Ur of the Chaldees, a city dedicated to moon-worship (Joshua 24:2-3). There was much imperfection in him, and Isaac, and Jacob. Jacob’s sons, excepting Joseph and perhaps Benjamin, were far worse. Yet God remembered His own covenant of grace, and preserved Israel in Egypt as a separate people unto Himself in the land of Goshen, like a fleece full of heavenly dew in the midst of a dry and parched land.
2. The dew representing the present state of Israel. The fleece remaining dry, whilst all the ground around was saturated with the refreshing dew, represents Israel in a state forming a sad contrast to the former image and what it represents. Israel has now for ages been spiritually dry, without any of the dews of heavenly blessing which descends from Jehovah, the God of the covenant. And what makes her case the sadder is, she is singular in her state. For the gospel of the grace of God in Christ Jesus is making many a spiritual desert throughout the Gentile world to become a garden of the Lord, blooming with the life-giving dews of the Spirit poured down from on high.
3. The dew representing the future of Israel. The relation of the type to the future of Israel. As the fleece was full of dew at first, and all the earth dry: and next, the fleece was dry, and all the earth wet; so the blessed time is coming when the fleece shall be again full of dew, and all the earth, through its instrumentality, shall be filled with the dew of the Lord (Micah 5:7; Jeremiah 3:17; Psalms 72:6; Psalms 72:8).
III. The dew in relation to the Church of Christ and its professing members. Lastly, the type has a profitable lesson to teach us in its relation to the Christian Church and its professing members.
1. The fleece represents not only Israel, but Israel’s Antitype, Jesus; and secondarily, His people who are one with Him. Originally He had from everlasting the fulness of the Godhead (Colossians 1:19). The fleece was full, but the ground around had no dew from heaven. Then at His crucifixion the Church might say, “Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost” (Ezekiel 37:11); just as the fleece was dried whilst the earth around was saturated with dew. But at His resurrection not only did He live again, but becomes the Lord of life to us. Meantime the effect of Christ’s presence as a dew in the soul is “He shall grow as the lily, and cast forth His roots as Lebanon (Hosea 14:5). Prayer will fill the fleece with the heavenly dew. Moreover, there is great danger of losing the dew.
2. The dry place amidst the dew-covered ground is a symbol of the sad state of many a one who remains spiritually dead and lifeless, whilst dews of heavenly blessing are descending on every side. (A. R. Fausset, M. A.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Judges 6". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27