Gideon Learns Orientation to Grace and Doctrine
Judges Lesson #028
February 4, 2001
“Our Father, we do thank You so much that we have this opportunity to look at Your Word. That in Your Word we see, especially in the lives of people in the Old Testament, the outworking of the principles that are explained and developed in the New Testament.
As we examine what went on during the period of the Judges in the Old Testament, we see parallels to our own day. We see the problems that the Jews of that day faced: their failures, their successes—and they reflect the same types of situations, problems, adversities that we face today.
Now, Father, as we look at Gideon and Your grace and power displayed through him, we pray that we might be challenged to understand these things in terms of our own lives, our own frame of reference, that we might apply these things as we advance in spiritual growth. We pray this in Christ’s name, amen.”
Open your Bibles with me to Judges 6; we are going to begin at verse 11. Judges 6:11. For the last three or four weeks—it seems longer than that because we have missed one or two Sundays due to weather-related problems—and during that time, we focused on the will of God, which is one aspect of doctrinal orientation.
Orientation means to align our thinking with reality and there are two problem-solving devices or stress busters or spiritual skills—any of those terms relate—that is necessary to advance beyond spiritual infancy.
The reason I use the term “spiritual skill” is because that emphasizes something that you and I are to practice in order to achieve a level of proficiency. That’s what a skill is: something you practice again and again and again in order to develop a level of proficiency.
So that when you and I come under pressure, difficult circumstances, then it sort of kicks into automatic and we follow through with what we have been practicing.
The same thing happens—I recall when I was a kid and had to take piano lessons, show up twice a year for recital and you practice something over and over and over again. Now in front of the crowd and you’re seven or eight years old and never really played before people before. You’re nervous and your palms are sweaty and you’re wondering if you’re gonna make it through.
Well, you’ve played it so many times that you don’t even have to think about it anymore. Muscle memory just kicks in and you just go right through it. Same thing happens in any athletics in any kinds of sports. You know, we just got through with football season and the Super Bowl and it seems like it never quite lives up to its hype and expectations.
But any football team in professional football has what they call a two-minute drill. They practice it over and over again so that no matter what the score is, no matter how behind they might be, that when it comes to those last two minutes, they can move to that two-minute drill rapidly, knowing exactly what they have to do.
So that if necessary, they’re behind a touchdown or two—we certainly see some teams in the past be able to pull it off and they might be 14 or maybe even 21 points behind—that if they execute that two-minute drill correctly, then they can close the gap.
In some cases they even won because of the proficiency development: practice, practice, and practice. Of course, it’s not practice that makes perfect, it’s perfect practice that makes perfect. And so we have to practice these spiritual skills over and over and over again so that they become second nature to us.
The first spiritual skill is, of course, confession. 1 John1:9, “if we confess (or admit) our sins to God, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.” That means that every time we sin, we’re out of fellowship. Every time we sin we grieve and quench the Holy Spirit. Every time we sin, we stop our spiritual growth.
If we stay out of fellowship for long, then what happens is we go into a reverse growth where we start losing the ground that we have gained. If we stay there long enough and before too much time goes by, we begin to forget the doctrine that we have learned.
Our thinking begins to be dominated more and more by the human viewpoint thinking that surrounds us, which the Bible calls worldliness. Cosmic thinking is the Greek word for worldliness, KOSMOS. The Bible also aligns that with the same kind of thinking that characterizes Satan and the demons and also calls it foolishness. An extra-biblical term is paganism.
All of those terms are basically descriptive of the kind of thinking that does not have God and His principles and His Word at its center, but has man’s opinions, man’s ideas, and man’s ability and incentive.
We can get involved in that reverse growth—what we call reversionism—to the extent that before long our thinking, our actions, our life doesn’t look any different from unbelievers around us.
We can get involved in two categories of reversionism: we can get involved in moral reversionism or immoral reversionism. I haven’t developed that doctrine out too much yet, and we will get there before too much longer. But normally when you think of reversionism, we think of the believer who gets involved in immoral reversionism. Their life is characterized, like the prodigal son, with drunkenness or adultery—overt sin characterized by a moral collapse.
But there’s also a moral form of reversionism which is characteristic of the Pharisees in the New Testament. The trouble with moral reversionists is that they look good on the outside but on the inside they’re still motivated and dominated by arrogance.
The difference between moral reversionism and true spiritual growth may not be apparent to people who are around us. We have to learn to distinguish that in our own lives to make sure that we are truly walking by means of the Holy Spirit and applying doctrine and not operating on some sort of legalistic, external code, or trying to do it with our own effort.
Well, the problem in Israel in the time of the Judges was this problem of reversionism. Where in their lives, they had basically rejected God, they still talk about God so there’s this religiosity to it, there’s this veneer of religious activity. They would still talk about God, still talk about what God had done in Israel in the past: the deliverance from Egypt to the Exodus, the conquest; but it was as if God no longer did anything.
They had substituted the gods of the Canaanites for the God that had brought them out of Egypt and given them the land. They had succumbed to idolatry and as a result of that, God was taking them through discipline.
He did this through these various cycles in Judges by putting them under the domination of a foreign power. That was what God had promised under the Mosaic Law, in the Mosaic Code. God told him that you are My people, and if you obey My Word, and if you apply what I have taught you, then as you advance I will bless you, and He outlined the ways in which He would bless and physically prosper Israel.
On the other hand, God said if you fail to obey Me and you go after other gods and you forget Me, then the result will be five different stages or cycles of discipline. The most extreme was the fifth cycle where God promised that He would take Israel out of the land that He gave them and scatter them among the Gentiles.
Historically that happened twice. It happened in the Old Testament prior to the Babylonian captivity. The Northern Kingdom went out under the fifth cycle of discipline in 722 BC. The Southern Kingdom went out under the Chaldean conquest under Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC. They were returned in approximately 535 BC. And then the last time Israel was taken out of the land was in AD 70 when the armies of Rome conquered Israel and scattered them among the nations.
They will be restored nationally as an unregenerate people, according to Ezekiel 38, that they would be restored nationally as an unregenerate people—that’s the dry bones passage—then God would restore them, bring the bones back together is the image there and then He would breathe life on them.
I think what we see happening today is the restoration of the nation in prelude in order to have a nation in the land to begin the Tribulation. We don’t know when that will be, it could be decades or centuries away. I tend not to think so, but I’m not date-setting—I don’t know whether it will be any time soon.
But before you get to that extreme fifth cycle of discipline, God told the nation that He would give them economic adversity, economic collapse—what we would call recessions and depressions—and that He would bring them under the domination of foreign powers in order to get their attention.
That’s exactly what happens here in this situation in Judges 6: they’re under the domination of an alliance of Arabs—the Midianites and Amalekites—who were sweeping through on an annual basis destroying the crop, taking whatever they could, leaving very little for the Jews to live on during the next year.
Seven years goes by before they finally wake up. It’s amazing how long it takes some of us to wake up and acknowledge the fact that we are sinful and we’re living apart from God and that we need to get our lives together again, get our act together again spiritually and make doctrine the number one priority.
So they cry out to God in Judges 6:7 to deliver them. God sent a prophet in Judges 6:8–9, who reminds them of the historical work of God. That in their history, God had been the One who is totally sufficient to solve the problem of their enslavement to Egypt as covered and reviewed in verses 8 and 9.
Then in Judges 6:10, he draws the conclusion: “I am the Lord your God. You shall not fear the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live but you have not obeyed Me.” So the prophet makes it clear what the issue is: that is obeying God, making doctrine number one priority in life.
Then we have a shift in Judges 6:11 to see the provision of God, and He is going to empower an individual by the name of Gideon. The first look that we see of Gideon is not one of promise. See, God does not always choose folks that look strong and powerful, mighty. He chooses this man, Gideon, and we see him hiding from the armies of the Arabs trying to eke out some food for himself and his family.
Judges 6:11–12, “Then the angel of the Lord came and sat under the oak that was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress in order to save it from the Midianites. The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, the Lord is with you, O valiant warrior.”
There you see a touch of sarcasm, irony. The angel is making a point that you certainly don’t look like a valiant warrior right now hiding out in the winepress, but there’s a double entendre there in the sense that he would be a valiant warrior under the power of God.
Judges 6:13, “Then Gideon said to him, O my Lord, if the Lord is with us, why, then, has all this happened to us?” Now the reason I’m reviewing this is that if we’re going to understand what happens in the rest of this chapter, we have to go back and remind ourselves of Gideon’s personal problem.
Before Gideon can get to the point where he can be used by God to solve the problem of the Midianites and the Amalekites, Gideon has to deal with the spiritual issues in his own life. You see, we cannot advance to a certain point of Christian service until first of all we have some spiritual growth.
This is one of the greatest problems and confusions in Christianity today. That is the idea that is as soon as somebody gets saved, we ought to stick them in some kind of ministry situations when they don’t know anything and they haven’t had any spiritual growth preceding it.
Before God gets Gideon to the point where he is going to lead this unique army against the Amalekite–Midianite coalition, Gideon has to deal with some spiritual issues in his own life, some of his own spiritual failures. He has to learn the basic spiritual skills. Basic spiritual skills of his time would include confession, number one. Not filling of the Holy Spirit—they didn’t have it at that time, although there is something analogous in the passage.
The third spiritual skill is faith-rest drill—he has to understand what he has to trust God for. The fourth spiritual skill is grace orientation. He doesn’t understand grace orientation, so he has to learn grace orientation.
He doesn’t understand God’s plan and purpose for his life, so he has to learn something about doctrinal orientation. He has to orient his thinking to grace and orient his thinking to doctrine before he can get to the point where God is going to use him.
That’s what Judges 6 is all about—God dealing with Gideon personally to get him to the point where Gideon can then be used as the deliverer of Israel in Judges 7.
Now the fact that Gideon raises this question in verse 13 shows us that
- Gideon is not trusting God at all because
- He has no doctrine in his soul. He does not understand God’s plan and purposes for Israel.
He is ignorant of the covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is ignorant of the five cycles of discipline/adversity clause of the Mosaic Covenant. He is looking to miracles to solve his problems. He’s looking on simply the overt and not based on any understanding of doctrine.
So he asked the question, if the Lord is really with us, why has all this happened to us? How many times do we hear people in our experience, whine and cry like this? Life gets a little rough and they start blaming God. If God were really in charge, life wouldn’t be such a mess.
All of a sudden it’s God’s fault that He’s not powerful enough to deal with all the adversity in life and so he’s whining about that. He wants God to somehow intervene, to make everything right—that’s his emphasis on miracles.
Judges 6:13, “Where are all the miracles which our fathers told us about saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”
You can hear the whine in his voice. Everything’s a mess. God’s not there. God has departed. Why didn’t He just come down and destroy them with a bolt of lightning?
You see this happen so often in people’s life. They make one bad decision after another and the cumulative effect is that now they are under divine discipline and God is really lowering the boom on them to get their attention.
What they did they do? They start whining about the situation, whining about how bad it is and wonder why God doesn’t performed some miracle to get them out of the mess that they put themselves in by their negative volition.
We see here that his thinking is completely confused and distorted. He has no understanding of what God was doing historically in the Exodus event, he cannot evaluate his situation from a doctrinal perspective.
As believers we make decisions from only two bases. The first is from a position of strength, the second is from a position of weakness. A position of weakness is any decision that originates from the sin nature. Because any decision motivated by and produced by the sin nature, whether it is in the realm of human good or personal sin, is ultimately self-destructive.
Doesn’t matter how much it might work for us right now, it doesn’t matter how good it might make us feel right now, it doesn’t matter how easily it somehow alleviates the pressure of a particular situation. The cumulative effect of sin is always destructive.
Romans 6:23, which we have studied that says that, “the wages of sin is death” is not talking about salvation. We studied that last year in our series on Wednesday night on Romans 6–8.
We saw that in the context of Romans 6 Paul has shifted the subject from talking about justification and how to gain eternal life and a spiritual life—which is the subject of chapters three, four, and five—to the spiritual life and spiritual growth once you are saved.
The word “saved”, SOZO in the Greek of the New Testament, doesn’t always refer to entering into an eternal relationship with God. That’s how we tend to use it. We talk to someone and we say, “Well, are you saved?” What we mean is, have you been born again, have you been regenerated? Or technically, we’re really asking, “are you justified? Have you put your faith alone in Christ alone for eternal life?”
That’s what we’re asking, but we use that word “saved” in that technical sense, but the Bible uses it with three different senses. The first sense is what we call phase one, which has to do with our entrance into the plan of God at justification. Phase two is our spiritual life salvation.
In phase one, we’re saved from the penalty of sin. In phase two, we are saved from the power of the sin nature, which we still possess and is still just as evil, just as wicked, just as powerful as it was before we were saved.
The only way we can be delivered from the present power of the sin nature is through learning doctrine under the filling of the Holy Spirit and applying doctrine under the filling of the Holy Spirit. That’s how we advance to spiritual maturity. And that’s how we experience the freedom we gained in phase one, the freedom we gain from the sin nature.
And then in phase three—glorification—we are saved from the presence of sin. When we’re absent from body, face-to-face with the Lord, there is no more sin nature. And when we get both an interim body and a glorified resurrected body, there will be no sin nature.
The word “saved” is used in Scripture of each of these three phases independently. So when Romans 6:23 comes along and says that “the wages of sin is death”, the context is talking about phase two. The wages of sin is temporal death or carnality and when we’re out of fellowship under the control of the sin nature. The end result of all those decisions is death—carnal death, not spiritual death. Carnal death means that we are going to experience a tremendous amount of divine discipline.
Now that’s what happens with so many people is they get involved in carnality and that they’re living in temporal death or carnal death. Then they want God to just sort of supernaturally reach down and short-circuit all their bad decisions.
Any decision—no matter what it produces in life, no matter how much it alleviates pressure, no matter how well it fills your bank account, no matter how much temporal security you may think you gain from those decisions—any decision from a position of weakness ultimately culminates in carnal death.
The only good decisions that we make in life are those from a position of strength, which is defined as being under the filling of the Spirit and the application of doctrine. We have to be oriented to doctrine and before we can be oriented to doctrine, we have to be oriented to grace.
The problem that Gideon has is, is he doesn’t understand what grace is. Grace is God’s policy towards mankind—where God’s solution is based on who God is and ultimately what He has done for us on the Cross—and not based on who we are, not based on our talent, our own strengths, our own native ability, our own intelligence.
This is the problem that we have is often we want to trust God and rely on our own abilities rather than trusting God exclusively. So Gideon has to learn this solution.
This is the same thing we see in the New Testament in 2 Corinthians 12:9–10, which I think is a core central passage for understanding grace orientation. We’ll come back and look at the context in detail in a few minutes. “God said to me”, the “me” here is the apostle Paul, the “He” is God the Father.
The situation is that Paul has got a thorn in the flesh, which is a demon that is somehow giving him—or is behind—a certain amount of adversity brought into Paul’s life. He has prayed to God three times to take this adversity away from him so he doesn’t have this particular distraction and God said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is brought to completion.” That word perfect, TELEIOO, in the Greek means to bring to completion. “For power is perfected [or brought to completion] in weakness.”
Now that’s the principle of grace orientation, it’s that God’s grace is sufficient for us.
What does that word “sufficient” mean? It means that it is enough in and of itself. It is all that is needed. Nothing needs be added to it, there is nothing else we can do to make it stronger. God alone provides everything for us and that’s grace.
It’s not based on who we are, it’s not based on what we do. It’s not based on our talents, our abilities, it’s not based on how often you come to church, it’s not based on how many tapes you listen to a week, it’s not based on the thickness of your doctrinal notebook. It’s not based on your wonderful personality. It’s based on who God is and His plan for our lives.
In His grace He has given every believer in the Church Age everything we need in order to solve any problem that we face. See, it goes back to understanding who God is, that God is omniscient. That means God knows all the knowable, He knows everything that is going to happen in human history. He knows everything that could happen in human history.
Anytime we make a decision among a certain number of variables, those variables are our potential. So let’s say we have a decision between five options and we take option number three. Well, God knows exactly what would happen in our life if we had taken option one, option two, option four, option five. He knows all the permutations of every option that would work itself out from that.
So God knows every situation we will ever face in life as a human being. He knows every difficulty, He knows every disappointment, He knows every financial pressure. He knows every loss that we are going to encounter, from the loss of loved ones to death, from the loss of jobs and careers, the loss of dreams and hopes. Whatever it might be, God knows every difficulty we’re going to face in life.
In eternity past God provided a solution for every single problem—that’s grace. It means God’s grace is sufficient for our weaknesses. We do not have the ability to solve those problems on our own. We don’t know enough, we’re not smart enough. (Some people think they are.) Because the ultimate problem, the ultimate cause of every problem, every heart ache, every adversity in life is spiritual and goes back to the Fall.
Remember Adam and Eve were created in perfect environment. That means there were no problems or difficulties—they weren’t there—it was perfect environment. Everything fell apart once they sinned. That means that every solution ultimately must start with a spiritual solution.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t other aspects to it that we deal with in other ways. But if we’re not starting with a solution from the spiritual framework, then whatever else we do, it’s not going to ultimately produce anything of strength.
Remember a right thing done in a wrong way is wrong. So if we start off and we want to do a right thing, but we do it in a wrong way—which means we leave out grace orientation, doctrinal orientation, the other stress busters—then it ultimately does not have any eternal value.
So the principle for grace orientation is outlined in 2 Corinthians 12:9–10. Paul concludes, as a result of God’s principle statement, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.” Paul concludes, “most gladly therefore I will rather boast about my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties for Christ’s sake, for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Paul realized he had to understand the bankruptcy of his own capacity to solve his problems before he could see the demonstration of God’s sufficient grace in his life. That’s what grace orientation is all about. So Paul was not the only one, Gideon was not the only one who had to deal with the problem of learning grace orientation.
There is a pattern in what we see in Judges 6 that is a parallel to an episode in Moses’ life, when God called Moses. God was going to call Moses to deliver Israel from the oppression of slavery in Egypt. There is almost a one-to-one correspondence between the lessons Moses had to learn in Exodus 2 and the lessons that Gideon has to learn in Judges 6.
First of all, we see that there is a cry for help. We see this in our passage in Judges 6:7, where the Jews cry out for help and for deliverance. And that’s parallel to the cry for deliverance by the Jews in Exodus 2:23–24. This is a recognition of weakness: that’s where it has to start. In grace orientation, there has to be an awareness of our own inability and our own weakness, our own inability to solve the problem. No matter what our abilities might be, they’re not enough.
Second parallel is the timing of the call. In the case of Moses, Moses has been hiding out with a family member. In his case it was with his father-in-law, Jethro, over in Sinai. The family there is not a worshiper of God. What we find in parallel with Gideon, is we’ll see that his family are also worshipers of pagan deities: of the Ba’als and Asherah.
In fact, his father has the local temple in his backyard so that Gideon’s family is prominent in the worship of the fertility gods of the Canaanites. Not only does Gideon have a problem with the lack of orientation to doctrine, he has a life that is deeply personally immersed in paganism so that his family is identified with the human viewpoint solution of the fertility religions.
Third parallel between Moses and Gideon is that they both have been given a commissioning command. God commissions them with the term, “I have sent you”, shalach in the Hebrew. “I have sent you.” God is the one who is sending them on a mission. It is not their plan. It’s not their agenda. It’s God’s agenda.
We spent the last three or four lessons studying the will of God for our lives. The most important thing for us to understand: it’s not our plan, it’s God’s plan; it’s not our will, it’s His will; it’s not our agenda, it’s His agenda. If we don’t get to that point, we never will advance beyond doctrinal orientation.
Orientation means that we have to align our thinking with His thinking; that means that we have to do some renovation of what’s in our mentality.
God is the One who sends us. In the same way this applies to the Church Age believer because we are all ambassadors for Jesus Christ. Every single one of us has been commissioned as an ambassador for Jesus Christ to go to an unbelieving world and to be a witness, both in terms of a verbal witness, explaining the gospel—that Jesus Christ died on the Cross for the sins of the world and salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone—but also in our lives as a living testimony before man and angels of the grace of God and of His plan; that’s Romans 12:2.
So Moses and Gideon are both given a commissioning command and they respond with protestations of inadequacy. That’s the fourth point of parallel between Gideon and Moses: they protest their inadequacy. Lord, I’m not worthy, I don’t have the ability, I’m a nobody. Moses said, “Lord, I stutter, I can’t do this, call somebody else.”
It’s a false humility and we see that especially in Gideon. Notice in Judges 6:15, Gideon protests the commission, Gideon says to God, “O Lord, how shall I deliver Israel?” He’s going to whine some more.
As soon as you hear yourself whining, the first thing that ought to come to your mind is okay, I’m out of fellowship and I’m operating on arrogance, I’m self-absorbed right now. So he says, “O Lord, how shall I deliver Israel? Behold, my family is the least in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father’s house.”
Go to the end of the chapter, Judges 6:27. In verse 27 we get a little insight. It’s really easy to just blow past this when you read through the text, when Gideon gets ready to execute some doctrinal orientation, which means that he has to get rid of the overt paganism in his life and destroy the family altar to Ba’al.
We’re told in verse 27, “Then Gideon took ten men of his servants.“ That doesn’t mean he had ten servants; “he takes ten of his servants.” That means he has many more than ten servants.
Now think about that: here is a man—I don’t know anybody here who has ten servants, much less twenty or thirty servants. He’s got at least ten servants, maybe twenty, thirty, or forty at his beck and call, that are family retainers. And he says, “Oh, I’m the least of Manasseh, I come from a poor family, we just don’t have anything.”
We’ve been wiped out by the depression, we’ve lost all our money, we don’t have anything left in our savings account or investments. He’s just making things up here, he’s just whining to God; he’s not focused on reality.
He is an aristocrat in the tribe; the family clearly has been hurt as everybody else has been by the deprivations of the marauding invaders. But he’s whining about it, he still has servants.
God’s not critical, never critical of anybody who has servants in Scripture. God uses many people. You know, we get this idea that somehow prosperity and wealth is inherently wrong. God never criticizes anybody for that. But here the problem is that Gideon is operating, he’s making things up, just like Moses did.
He’s generating excuses to avoid God’s plan for his life. So right there we see that Gideon is not a bastion of strength in terms of the faith-rest drill at this point. He is trying to avoid the plan of God for his life. That happens with a lot of people and you don’t want to get caught in that trap.
I see this happen over and over again, where people are raised in a good church, in a good situation. They’re raised in a family where they’re taught doctrine. Then they go off to college or after college, at some point they become distracted by the details of life. They get distracted by the cares of marriage, family, education, career.
Doctrine no longer is a priority in their life and they just keep putting off the plan of God for their life until one day they wake up and they are 45, 50, or 55 years of age. And all of a sudden God finally lowers the boom in terms of divine discipline. Their life is a mess and they want extraction. Well, the problem is you’ve dug a hole for yourself spiritually for 10, 15, 20, 25 years by putting off doctrinal orientation.
Doctrinal orientation isn’t just learning the academic truths of Scripture. Doctrinal orientation means you start by learning the doctrinal truths, the academic truths of Scripture and it culminates by changing the way we think, which will change the way we carry out our lives. It changes our priorities, it changes our value system and that in turn will change and affect those we are involved with.
We learn little principles, like from 1 Corinthians 15:33, that bad friends corrupt good morals. We learn a principle like that and we look around at the people we associate with and we realize that as much as we like them, as funny as they might be and as enjoyable as their company might be, they do not have doctrine as a priority for their life. They are not focused on the Word. They do not care anything about the Lord. And so we have to get rid of them in our life.
We have to focus on what is best for our own spiritual growth and not be caught up or unduly influenced by those who haven’t gotten with God’s plan. We learn all kinds of things about doctrinal orientation and it changes the way we live. That’s what it’s all about. If it doesn’t change, then it’s just academic truth.
Now I always have to put this in here because we live in an age where you always hear somebody say, “Well, you know, we’re just too academic today. Your teaching, pastor, is just too academic. We need more heartfelt religion. We need more experience. There needs to be more of a devotional attitude.” And that often dominates the kind of things that you hear on a seminary campus; it also dominates many churches and what it is, it’s a rejection of truth.
Think about it: in every endeavor of life, whether it’s learning basic mathematics so you can balance a check book when you get older, so that you can fill out your income tax return for the federal government every April 15th., whether it is playing sports, playing any kind of sports or art, whether it involves visual art or graphic arts on a computer, whether it involves learning business things, whatever it is, you begin by learning academically.
It took a long time before a lot of us saw any real application to arithmetic. We were well advanced into later elementary school, junior high, post-graduate school for some of us, before we realized that all that work with numbers actually was valuable in life. But everything in life starts with learning something academically. It doesn’t stop there.
The trouble I see with a lot of Christians, especially those in doctrinal churches, is they never get past the academics. See, the academic learning of doctrine is the starting point, not the final end. The final end is that it is to renew our thinking, transform what’s going on inside of our soul.
That’s what Gideon has to learn. The first thing that he has to learn is grace orientation and then doctrinal orientation follows that.
Grace orientation comes in two categories. The first category of grace orientation is related to salvation. In salvation we learn that our eternal relationship with God is based not on who we are, but on who God is and what Jesus Christ did on the Cross.
Then there is spiritual life grace. This relates to two more categories. The first is logistical grace. This is life-support grace: everything we need to keep body and soul together and in order to advance in the spiritual life is provided for us.
Maybe not in the way we think it ought to be provided for us, but God is going to supply food, shelter, and clothing so that we can stay alive, so that we can learn doctrine. He is going to supply some place where we can learn the Word, either by being involved in a physical local congregation, or by learning through online audio/video.
Today with technology there are a lot of different ways that, even though there may not be a congregation nearby, you can get involved. You can learn doctrine through tapes, through getting on the Internet, reading, all sorts of areas. So there’s no excuse for anybody, especially in this country, for not taking advantage of God’s logistical grace provision of doctrine.
Another caveat, I’m filled with caveats this morning, just because you can get doctrine from a tape or off the Internet doesn’t mean you shouldn’t associate in a local congregation. That’s a priority in Scripture, Hebrews 10:25 says that we should “not forsake the assembling of ourselves together,” that the function of the believer priest is within the body of Christ.
A body is a collection: it’s an organism, it’s a collection of individuals. We’re not out there as individuals isolated from one another in some sort of atomistic concept of the spiritual life. It doesn’t mean, as were going to see in our study of fellowship in the second hour in 1 John, that the body of Christ is a means of spiritual growth.
It is a place wherein we are to exercise our spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts are designed—whether they are gifts of service, gifts of teaching, gifts of leadership, gifts of administration—they are designed to function within a local body of believers.
Now I recognize—and it’s getting to be this way more and more across the country—that there are fewer and fewer places where you can go and get even sound basic doctrine. There may be one place in your town or city and there are some places in this country where it’s just physically possible to get anywhere near a church that comes close to teaching the truth.
If that’s the case, then you’re limited to getting doctrine through audio/video. But if you’re within a few miles of a congregation where truth is being taught, then you should be involved there. Because that is the avenue of Christian service, which is part of our priesthood. It is not just outside in the world. So those who unfortunately can’t get involved in a local congregation are limited in terms of their own spiritual responsibilities of their priesthood and their ambassadorship.
Well, we have spiritual life grace related to logistical grace and logistical grace blessings Then we have advanced—this is the “much more“ grace that James speaks about —we have advanced grace blessing. God has given us everything we need, according to 2 Peter 1:3 for life and godliness.
That means that He has supplied it all and we need to learn about those tremendous grace assets that He has supplied for us, which includes the ten problem-solving devices, or stress busters as I call them, so that we can advance to spiritual maturity and glorify God.
Gideon has to learn about that and that’s what this initial segment is all about in Judges 6:11 and following.
Now let’s look at Judges 6:14, “The LORD looked at him,” that is at Gideon, “and said, ‘Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian.’ ” Now the “this”—that’s an awkward way of translating it in English—the “this” refers to the next sentence. This is his strength: “Have I not sent you?” His strength is that God has sent him. God has commissioned him, God has sent him on this task. This is God’s will for his life and therefore God is going to supply the means to accomplish what God commissions us to accomplish.
He is not going to leave us stranded. God is not going to tell us to do something and then not give us the wherewithal to accomplish it. So the lesson for grace orientation begins with this command. It involves grace orientation because he has to learn that it’s God’s plan, not His plan and God supplies all the resources.
It’s going to involve doctrinal orientation which means there has to start being a change in the way he is thinking to align his thought and his life to doctrine.
Remember the first commandment of the Mosaic Law—he’s in the age of Israel, operating under the Mosaic Law—is that “you shall have no other gods before Me.” So he has to start applying some doctrine, he can’t just say, “Okay, I believe and I’ve got a commission from God, everybody follow me.” He has got to start applying it.
Every now and then—this is why we have as a stipulation in our by-laws that you can’t teach Sunday School here unless you’re a member and in regular attendance and generally have demonstrated that you’re in regular attendance.
I was speaking with a pastor not long ago and somebody had shown up at his church who had moved there from another area and had told him—and it could very well be true, he doesn’t know the guy well enough yet to know whether it’s true or false—that he had gone for years to another doctrinal church where he was well taught.
But the guy walked into church and wanted to start teaching Sunday School the next week. Well, you have to establish you’re bona fide; you have to establish your credentials a little bit. We don’t just walk in and say, “Well, God’s commissioned, so I’m God’s gift for your church.”
You have to demonstrate the fact that there is more to your spiritual life than just some academic knowledge or the claim to a divine commission, that you have a spiritual gift of teacher so therefore you ought to just teach. So Gideon has to demonstrate a few things before he can lead his army into combat.
Judges 6:15, “He said to Him, ‘O Lord, how shall I deliver Israel?’ ” Here he whines about his inadequacy. See, there are two ways to look at our inadequacy: one is objective, “Lord, I’m weak, You’re strong, let’s go to it”; the other is “I’m weak, I’m a nobody, I’ll never do it, go get somebody else.” So he’s got false humility here and he’s just trying to avoid the plan of God.
So God reminds him in Judges 6:16, “But the LORD said to him, ‘Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat Midian as one man.’ ” So this is the promise, this is learning the faith-rest drill. See, God’s working Gideon in terms of the basic problem-solving devices which are the basic spiritual skills to get past spiritual infancy. So he made him a promise, “I will be with you, and you shall defeat Midian as one man.”
The issue now is for Gideon to understand the promise of God and to mix the promise of God with faith: to trust God, and to realize that it is God’s power, not his power. Gideon shows that he is beginning to get the point in verse 17.
In Judges 6:17, “So Gideon said to Him, ‘If now I have found favor in Your sight, then show me a sign that it is You who speak with me.’ ” See, Gideon asks the question, “if I have found favor with You.” The Hebrew word for “favor” is the word chen. It is the Hebrew word—or one of the Hebrew words for grace: for God’s unmerited favor, God’s undeserved blessing.
Gideon demonstrates that he is now beginning to get the point, that he has to understand that it’s based on grace. He said “if I have found grace in Your sight, then show me a sign.” I need a little confirmation, my faith is weak, I want to make sure I understand this.
Now this isn’t the sign of the fleece yet, that shows his weakness. Here he’s not out of line, he wants a little confirmation, and so he says in Judges 6:18, “Lord, please do not depart from here, until I come back to You, and bring out my offering and lay it before You.” And He said, “I will remain until you return.”
Gideon is going to go make a sin offering; it doesn’t call it that in the text, but that’s essentially what he is doing. This recognizes the principle of confession in the Old Testament. Confession was just as necessary then to be in fellowship with the Lord as it is now.
So he goes to get the lamb, Judges 6:19, “Then Gideon went in and prepared a young goat and unleavened bread from an ephah of flour; he put the meat in a basket and the broth in a pot, and brought them out to Him under the oak and presented them,” to God.
One thing I want you to notice here: we’ve mentioned that he is speaking to God, and then we have this figure, the Angel of the Lord. The Angel of the Lord is the preincarnate Christ. But I want you to notice how the writer shifts back and forth in this passage.
This is one of the most important passages for understanding the identity of this Old Testament personage, the Angel of the Lord. Thus to see that the doctrine of the Trinity is just as evident in the Old Testament as it is in the New Testament, it’s just not as explicitly worked out.
In Judges 6:11, we see “the angel of the LORD came and sat under the oak.” In Judges 6:12, “the angel of the LORD appeared to him.” Judges 6:13, “Then Gideon said to him, ‘O my Lord,’ ” there he’s addressing the Angel as “Lord.” Then in Judges 6:14, the Angel of the LORD who is communicating with him is no longer called the Angel of the LORD but is now just called “the LORD.”
The Angel of the Lord is identified as Yahweh in Judges 6:14. When Gideon addresses Him, he addresses Him as “the LORD.” Judges 6:16, it’s the LORD, not the Angel of the LORD. Then when we come down to Judges 6:20, this same personage is now called “the angel of Elohim,” “the angel of God.”
Judges 6:20, “The angel of God said to him, ‘Take the meat and the unleavened bread and lay them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” Here we have some specific instruction, “And he did so,” he’s beginning to learn doctrine orientation. God says to do something and that’s what I do.
Judges 6:21, now we see the terminology, “Angel of the LORD” again, so there is this shifting back and forth between “Angel of the LORD,” “the LORD,” “Angel of God.” They are all referring to the same person and that tells us that the Angel of the LORD in the Old Testament is not an angel. The term “angel,” mal’ak in Hebrew, ANGELOS in the Greek, refers to a messenger or someone who is a special envoy of a superior.
So here we have the Angel of the LORD is seen as fully divine, identified as God. In Zechariah 1:13 you have a conversation between Yahweh and the Angel of Yahweh. So if the Angel of Yahweh is called Yahweh or God in this passage, and speaks to God in another passage, that indicates a plurality.
The Angel of God is fully divine, and that tells us that the Angel of the LORD in the Old Testament must be the preincarnate Christ. We compare that with a passage in John 1:18, which says, “the only begotten Son has revealed Him.” This is the role of the Second Person of the Trinity, to reveal God to us. So no one has seen God the Father at any time, the only appearance of God, every appearance of God in the Old Testament was the Second Person of the Trinity, the preincarnate Jesus Christ.
Now we have Gideon bringing his sacrifice: it’s a sin offering, recognition of confession; he is aligning himself to God. Judges 6:21, “Then the Angel of the LORD put out the end of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened bread; and fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened bread. Then the Angel of the LORD vanished from his sight.” This just floors Gideon. He is not quite left speechless, but he is shaking is his sandals.
Judges 6:22, “When Gideon saw that he was the Angel of the LORD.” This is confirmation, he knew it all along but this is empirical data that goes beyond everything else. Remember I keep emphasizing this point: Gideon isn’t out there in the threshing floor having some sort of mystical existential subjective encounter with God because he’s under so much pressure to feed his family.
This is not, as Hollywood would portray it, some disembodied voice speaking to Gideon in a way that only Gideon hears. See, God at times in history may function or reveal Himself in a subjective manner but He always offers external verification. This is one sign of that: there are burn marks on the altar. Gideon has seen this empirically. The empirical evidence is not the basis for the knowledge, but it does confirm the commission.
Then we do hear a voice, the Angel of the Lord has disappeared, and Gideon recognizes that he has seen the Angel of Yahweh face to face. Now he understands it, he has a divine perspective.
I’m belaboring this point because Gideon is going to come back. Next time we’ll see the episode of putting out the fleece. A lot of people will go there and use that to teach learning God’s will. Putting out the fleece is an attempt to avoid God’s will, not to discover God’s will.
Because right here Gideon understands clearly that this is God who has appeared to him and God who has commissioned him and exactly what he is supposed to do. It’s only later as he thinks about it a little more that he begins to get scared again. His faith is not that strong and he begins to try to weasel his way out of it. But he can’t weasel his way out from under the grace of God.
The Lord consoles him, Judges 6:23–24, “The LORD said to him, ‘Peace to you, do not fear; you shall not die. Then Gideon built an altar there to the LORD and named it The LORD is Peace.’ ” Peach is shalom, indicating that God is the One who brings peace. He is not one to be fearful of but in His grace He supplies the need for us. And the writer says “To this day it is still in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.”
Now that’s an interesting little note. The writer is telling his readers—this is a couple of hundred years later—the writer is telling his readers: you doubt the story, go right over to the territory over there that’s controlled by the Abiezrites and you can still see the altar right there. There is confirmatory empirical evidence that this is exactly what happened.
One of the things that I’ve just sort of zipped by here is this term “Abiezrites,” and it comes from a compound terminology in the Hebrew. The first part of the terminology is abi, which is the Hebrew for “my father,” and the second word, ezrite, literally means “my father the Ezrite.”
But it’s a modification of ezrite, it’s not really ezrite. Ezrite is a modification of the term ‘ezer. ‘Ezer means help. It is the same word that is used to describe the role of the wife, the role of the woman. When God created Isha in the Garden of Eden and brought her to Adam, she is to be your helper, your ‘ezer.
This is Ophrah of the Abiezrites and that name, when you break it down, means “my father is my help.” My father—that is God—is my help. So even the terminology there is another reminder to us that the point that God is making here and that Gideon is catching is that it is God’s strength, not our strength. His grace is sufficient for us in our weaknesses.
Now Gideon has a little episode that he has to engage in starting in Judges 6:25, where he has to start the doctrine orientation lesson. Now that he’s learned that it’s not his power but God’s power, he’s got to go to the second stage, which is moving beyond the academic principle that God has given—the command not to worship other gods—so I have to put that into practice. So he’s going to tear down the altar that his father has built to Ba’al, that starts in verse 25 and we will begin there next time.
“Father, we do thank you for this time to look at Your Word and to be reminded that Your grace is sufficient for us. It is more than enough. It has supplied everything we need for life and godliness.
No matter what our problems might be, no matter how overwhelming life situations may appear to us, we know that if we are still alive, You still have a plan for our life. So the issue is once again our volition: the decision to align ourselves with Your plan, Your purposes, and Your agenda for our life.
Father, this begins at the Cross and so we pray that there is anyone here this morning that is unsure of their eternal salvation, uncertain of their eternal destiny, that they would make that sure and certain, right now. Scripture says salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone. All you need to do is believe that Jesus Christ died on the Cross for your sins, was buried, and rose against on the third day, and you will have eternal life.
It is a free gift of God, it is not based on any kind of a bargain, any moral reformation, any concept of church membership, or affiliation with any religious group. It is simply based on a trust, a solitary trust in the work of Christ on the Cross. You can accept that free gift of eternal life right now, right where you sit.
Father, for those of us who are already believers, we need to be challenged as Gideon was with the reality of Your power and Your sufficiency, that we may align our thinking with Your grace and with doctrine, that we may be able to see our lives transformed. Your will demonstrated as good and perfect in our own lives that you might be glorified. We pray this now in Christ’s name, amen.”