Supernatural Selection

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.  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.” (Judges 6:17-18 NASB)

Then Gideon said to God, “If You will deliver Israel through me, as You have spoken, behold, I will put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then I will know that You will deliver Israel through me, as You have spoken.” (Judges 6:36-37 NASB)

Then Gideon said to God, “Do not let Your anger burn against me that I may speak once more; please let me make a test once more with the fleece, let it now be dry only on the fleece, and let there be dew on all the ground.”  God did so that night; for it was dry only on the fleece, and dew was on all the ground. (Judges 6:39-40 NASB)

Why do we think God thinks like we do?  Don’t we?  Don’t we fall into the default of believing that God will do the expected?  He will choose the strongest, smartest, tallest, best looking, anyone but me (or you).  He will choose the others, the others our culture claims are the best of the best.  Or even those of stronger faith, the righteous, He’ll choose those, but not us.

Or, maybe, as Scripture teaches, He’ll chose people like us instead.  Remember us, the ones with the altars in the front yard about which we are in denial?  Us, the ones who judge others but not ourselves.  We are the ones failing our Jesus as we selfishly seek whatever we want in our days.  It’s possible that this choice our Master makes is rigged in favor of the weak ones, like us.

Here’s an excellent specimen.  Gideon, a coward threshing wheat in a wine press, is hailed as a mighty warrior.  He has God’s favor.  And God is with him, even though he lies about the status of his family, has an altar to a pagan god in his front yard, and seems completely disinterested in national covenant obedience.  That’s right, let’s choose this guy, because at least he has faith, right?  Well, no.  He doesn’t seem to have that either.

Okay, if it is You calling, let me test you with an offering.  Okay, if it is you let me put out a fleece…twice.  Let me test You, let me test You, and once more, let me test You.  And then I’ll create an idol after I’m done.  Leave it to Yahweh to pick a real winner.  But isn’t it cool that He does pick such people?

Think about it.  Jesus picks Simon the Zealot (i.e. “terrorist”), and Matthew the tax collector (professional cheat).  Wouldn’t you think there would be room for us among such persons?  It seems I’m perfect for the job.  I’m not a terrorist, but I’ve cheated.  I’ve tested God, on several occasions.  I’ve acted faithlessly, ignored Him and His calling, walked away from faith (as far as He let me go anyway).  I’m perfect for Him!

The list of things that our enemy brings against as accusations are actually the things that should drive us to Jesus.  Bring them on!  List them off!  Guilty as charged, but redeemed!  He chooses me, not because I don’t have such a list, but because of the list.  He looks at me as an opportunity to display His grace and mercy.  Because we forget that those are the qualities He wants His human creatures to know about Him.

Think about the accusations leveled at the church and “God” by detractors.  Don’t they all seem to fall on character?  How many attempt to undermine the qualities of grace and mercy?  In fact, a good case can be made that the “wrath of God”, so often pointed out in the Hebrew Scriptures, is only there to highlight the grace and mercy also found there so often.  Yeah, I’m a mess.  And that’s perfect for Him.  And so are you.

So, here’s a challenge, stop reading the Bible to be a good person.  Just stop it.  Stop praying to make God happy.  Just don’t.  He’s happy.  You’ll never be good enough to impress God.  It won’t happen, stop trying.

Instead, let’s read the Bible so we won’t miss a word He says to us.  Let’s pray to spend time with Him.  Let’s do that.  Make that our priority.  Because doing those things for those reasons brings them into relationship with our Creator, and makes Him the priority, not ourselves.  Let’s do that.  I mean, if He’ll spend so much time on Gideon, we have a pretty good chance He’ll choose us too.

That’s my view this morning.  What do you see of our Master through the fence?

Grace In The Picking

The LORD looked at him and said, “Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you?”  He said to Him, “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.”  But the LORD said to him, “Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat Midian as one man.”  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.” (Judges 6:14-17 NASB)

When confronted by God, the first thing Gideon does is show off his ignorance.  He is in a culture completely unaware they live in violation of their covenant with God.  And yet, God doesn’t say to Gideon, “What’s wrong with you people?”  We say that as we read, but God’s response is different.  He drags this guy back into a covenant relationship with Him.

There are some interesting details given about God’s interaction with Gideon.  For instance, the Angel of Yahweh sits under the oak in Ophrah, and then appears to him.  The language is specific that Gideon couldn’t see Him until after He sat under the oak.  And now, we have the description that Yahweh looks directly at Gideon.  Gideon has His full attention, a dangerous thing of Yahweh’s to have.

These details may not seem like much, but they provide some insight into God’s character.  And it’s His character here that I think is so important.  Gideon gives one excuse after the other, and Yahweh patiently ignores and sweeps them aside.  First, Gideon is a “valiant warrior” with whom Yahweh hangs out, but Gideon asks the insulting question of where is this Yahweh.  Then Yahweh ignores the response, stares at him and tells him to go “in this your strength” and defeat Midian.

The fact that Yahweh doesn’t debate the first question, nor accept the falsely humble statements of Gideon about his family, and then waits around for the first “test”, all indicate that Yahweh is patient.  When He sends the prophet with the scathing rebuke, we think Him harsh.  But we forget that Yahweh didn’t wait around for their repentance.  In fact, there’s no real indication that the people truly repented.

God’s grace in this story is truly grace.  It’s not conditional on the objects of His favor, it didn’t wait around for some criteria other than the people calling out for God.  He just wanted to be acknowledged.  Clearly they didn’t understand their covenant relationship with Him.  Obviously they didn’t change their ways, they try to worship the stupid gold pendant Gideon has made at the end.

The point of this story, for the author and for us, is that God’s mercy is always available.  It may not look like we want.  It may not involve the people we would choose.  It may not be the most comfortable thing to receive.  But it’s always available, and available for he asking.  We may be amazed at how much we can survive, but we’ll survive.  It may be we only see the sheer amount of mercy He shows when we are before Him in heaven.

The thing is, God is merciful to the idiot, the ignorant, and the bonehead.  He is faithful to the unfaithful.  So, what are we?  Do we have all the answers?  Do we “get it”?  Are we faithful?  Don’t we have altars to other gods in our front yards?  Don’t we demonstrate the same level of ineptitude that Gideon showed?  Sure we do.  Daily, we display our ignorance and arrogance before God and everybody.  And yet, He continues to show His love for us.

The truth is that we are as dependent upon our Master as any believer in a third-world country.  In some ways we’re probably worse off.  And yet, as bad off as we may be, or may get, the love of God for us is as strong as His love for those more faithful followers in other countries.  He doesn’t wait for us to “get it”, to understand Him more, or even to repent.  Repenting is good, but God doesn’t wait for us to be faithful to Him, He simply is to us regardless.

Even repentance is a response to the love and faithfulness of God.  Even falling before Him in anguish over our sinful ignorance and boneheadedness is a response to His mercy.  We worship because He already loves us.  We honor Him because we’re already accepted.  We serve because we have already received His blessing.

I suppose the question for today is, what will you do in response to Him today?

That’s my view through the knothole.  What’s your view of God this morning?

How Does He NOT Know?

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 wine press 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.”  Then Gideon said to him, “O my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His 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.” (Judges 6:11-13 NASB)

Then Gideon built an altar there to the LORD and named it The LORD is Peace. To this day it is still in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.  Now on the same night the LORD said to him, “Take your father’s bull and a second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal which belongs to your father, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it; and build an altar to the LORD your God on the top of this stronghold in an orderly manner, and take a second bull and offer a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah which you shall cut down.” (Judges 6:24-26 NASB)

The Angel of the Lord is Yahweh, Himself, in visible form, dressed for a visit.  He goes to a guy threshing wheat where there is no wind, a wine press.  That’s a job that will take a while, and will seem pointless through much of it.  Gideon can’t be happy.  At the point of the visit, his life is pretty much at an all-time low.  Hence his reply to his Creator.

It’s Gideon’s reply that is so incredibly ironic though.  “Why…”  It’s a good question for someone suffering wrongfully.  It’s a good question for the righteous man to ask of God, like Job, for instance.  The impression received from the question is that Gideon asks from a standpoint of innocence.

At first I thought, perhaps, it was the prophet who reminded the people about Yahweh.  Perhaps the previous generation had forgotten to pass down the stories.  Yet Gideon replies to this Yahweh that the “…miracles which our fathers told us about…” were lacking at the moment.  It seems they hadn’t forgotten to pass down the stories.

So, then I figured that Gideon didn’t know that it was wrong to serve Yahweh and Baal…and Asherah, and so on.  That’s possible.  He at least knows that the people around him won’t like being exclusive.  He immediately builds an altar to Yahweh, there at the wine press.  And he tears down his father’s Baal altar… in the dark.

But think about it.  His first task given to him by Yahweh is to tear down his father’s altar to Baal, and the Asherah pole next to it.  There is an altar to Baal and an Asherah in the front yard.  And Gideon has the audacity to ask, “Where is Yahweh, and why has He abandoned us?”  Are you kidding me?  Seriously, he doesn’t get that?

The condition of the people of God at this point in their history is shocking, or should shock us.  We should be slapping our foreheads, going, “REALLY?”.  The thing is, we’re not.  Instead, we glibly read through, barely stopping to notice the incongruity before us.  Gideon is a hero, and heroes are great people.  Keep reading, we have a lot to get through.

But when we stop and look at what is happening, it should startle us.  It was supposed to startle the author’s audience when written.  It was supposed to shock them into realizing what they were doing, how they treated Yahweh.  They were supposed to see how boneheaded ignorant they were.  And that’s what is supposed to happen to us.

Is gathering together as believers something that only happens once a week?  Does it happen in a large crowded venue?  Are you able to hide there, choose not to interact?  Does your experience as a “church-going” follower of Jesus make a minimal impact on your time during the week?  People, there is probably an altar in your yard, and you don’t even realize it’s a problem.

Is your church constantly preaching about giving, and wanting you to give more, and harping on how much it doesn’t have…are you tithing?  Is all you have, God’s, and you’re simply the steward?  Would your neighbors say you’re weird because you clearly honor God with all your stuff, money, and time?  Or do you look and act a lot like them?  There could be an altar in your yard you have learned to pretend isn’t there.

You see where this going?  Do you need another example?  Okay, what would your kids say about your devotion to God?  Would they, one, say you’re truly devoted; and, two, want that for themselves?  Or does your attitude toward, and your treatment of, your family deviate widely from what you say you believe?  Do you have an altar to yourself in the yard, one you’ve been using regularly, but pretending is something else?

Are you sufficiently depressed? Has conviction angered or saddened you to near uselessness this morning?  As my dad would say, “Have I gotten your goat?”  I still don’t know what that means, by the way.  I mean, I do, from the way he used it, but why does it mean that?  So, if you take my goat, does that mean I mow my yard myself?  Maybe that’s a good thing.  Maybe I’ll get tired of mowing around the altar, and TEAR IT DOWN!

Stay tuned.  It gets better.  God didn’t reject Gideon for being an ignorant moron.  So, we’re probably safe.  Be honest about it, though.  That’s the process of repentance, honesty about who and what we are before God.  Seeing ourselves for who we really are, and then appreciating what He does for us, is rearranging our mind to be like His.

That’s my view through the knothole this morning.  What do you see?

What’s the Problem?

So Israel was brought very low because of Midian, and the sons of Israel cried to the LORD.  Now it came about when the sons of Israel cried to the LORD on account of Midian, that the LORD sent a prophet to the sons of Israel, and he said to them, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘It was I who brought you up from Egypt and brought you out from the house of slavery.  ‘I delivered you from the hands of the Egyptians and from the hands of all your oppressors, and dispossessed them before you and gave you their land, and I said to you, “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.”‘” (Judges 6:6-10 NASB)

Before we even get to the discussion between Yahweh and Gideon, we have this setup by the author of Judges.  It’s important to know, not only what God does for His people, but the condition they are in before He helps them.  It’s a big part of the author’s point to his audience.

So, what is the condition of God’s people?  They cry out to Yahweh because of the oppression of the nomads, and He sends a prophet with a scathing message.  The word from Yahweh to His people that He has kept His side of the covenant by bringing them out of Egypt and into the land, but they have not kept their part of the covenant by not fearing the local deities.  That wasn’t the only part of the covenant, but it was a key, repeated, element of it.

So, you would expect repentance.  You would think at this point, if they’re crying out to Yahweh, they would also put away the other gods, idols, altars, practices, and what not?  You would think they would change their minds and hearts to agree with God’s mind, search out His heart.  And yet, no.  In fact, they seem confused by the prophet.  Yahweh has done all this stuff, and told them to not fear the gods of the Amorites.  But they did.

See, you’d think the prophet would even wake them up, wouldn’t you?  Sure they cry out, but don’t get exactly what they’re doing wrong.  In that case they wouldn’t know how to repent.  But when the prophet delivers his message, they still seem baffled.  If you keep this part in your mind as you read the rest of the chapter, the heart condition of these people is nearly unfathomable.  It’s so wrong it’s baffling, it can’t possibly be that bad.

This setting for the rest of Gideon’s story is critical to the author’s point.  After all, if you’re going to make a point that God is, and has always been, gracious, wouldn’t a drastic contrast between His goodness and the people’s rebellion be a good illustration?  The author doesn’t use the term “grace”.  Instead, he shows Yahweh, the God of the Sons of Israel, being gracious.

This chapter especially, is the Creator of the universe rescuing this ridiculous people of His in spite of themselves.  They are so far gone, they don’t even know they’re gone.  They have no concept of their wayward, rebellious, and adulterous ways.  They are confused by why Yahweh would be upset with them in the first place.  They are blind to their sin, completely ignorant of the problem.

And, so are we.  We don’t really believe that the Bible should be taken seriously.  We don’t.  Don’t even try to act innocent.  I spend hours weekly sifting minutia in the original texts, and I don’t really take it seriously.  It’s not about how much we know or don’t know.  It’s not about what church we attend or translation of the Bible we use.

It’s about, when we read the Beatitudes, whether we truly put such attitudes ahead of our cultural attitudes Monday through Saturday.  It’s about whether, when we read about the cost of discipleship, whether we pay it or not.  It’s about whether we truly love God, the One having already sacrificed His only Son for us, with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.  We don’t.  I know I don’t.  My behavior is evidence enough of that.

So, before we characterize these unfathomable clueless people as aberrant, perhaps we should stop, and see where we stand.  Let’s ask ourselves some tough questions, like, “Do I really believe the Bible?”, “Do I live like Jesus is first in my life?”, and perhaps ask our Master for that prophet to point out in us that blind spot in our relationship with Him.

Because here’s the thing, we will always have one more thing to work on in our relationship with Him.  But, His grace to us is evidenced in that, while we wander cluelessly, He preserves our relationship with Him.  This isn’t about being good enough for Him, it’s about clinging to the One having already loved us unfathomably.

How ridiculously obtuse is it of us to consider anything of the stuff of this earth to be of any value compared to our relationship with Him?  And yet we let our relationship with Him languish, while we pursue one more thing of this world.  Silly people, let’s put things back in proper order.  Let’s do it, not because He will punish us if we don’t, but because He has already rescued us from punishment.

That’s my view through this knothole this morning.  What do you see of our Master through yours?

Perspective On Sin

Then the sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD gave them into the hands of Midian seven years. The power of Midian prevailed against Israel. Because of Midian the sons of Israel made for themselves the dens which were in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds.  For it was when Israel had sown, that the Midianites would come up with the Amalekites and the sons of the east and go against them.  So they would camp against them and destroy the produce of the earth as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel as well as no sheep, ox, or donkey.  For they would come up with their livestock and their tents, they would come in like locusts for number, both they and their camels were innumerable; and they came into the land to devastate it. (Judges 6:1-5 NASB)

Context and perspective are everything?  Well, no, not really.  We say that, but then we tend to “emphasize” a particular perspective to suit our desired point.  Our behavior differs from our pithy statement.  Perspective isn’t everything. Actually, we focus on what we want, and find a perspective that supports that conclusion.

The writer of Judges has an audience.  They have these kings who, every other generation, wander from God.  It’s frustrating, and causes no end of confusion.  It’s not that they don’t know who the One True God is, but for one reason or another, these kings add another god into the worship of Yahweh.  The writer of Judges points out that this is nothing new.

But there are things about the time of the judges which are very different from the time of the kings.  For instance, without a central standing army, nomadic peoples can descend on Canaan and overwhelm the farmers.  And that is what’s happening here.  The writer of Judges has the perspective that this happens due to the people’s sin.  That’s his perspective.

On the other hand, this also affects the Canaanites who have not been driven out, the Philistines living in the plains, and the “city folk” who don’t live on farms.  We sometimes forget to view these descriptions with the “response to sin” removed.

At this time, Egypt is busy getting their stuff together, recovering from a recent occupation.  Mesopotamia is between empires at the moment.  The kings of Syria haven’t yet arisen, and the Hittites are still in the mountains of Asia Minor.  It’s pretty much up to the squabbling city-states of Canaan to address this issue.

The land is in chaos during the time of the judges.  The Canaanites of Meggido have iron chariots, but they do them no good against the camel cavalry of the desert nomads.  The only option in response to these migrant invaders is to hide the produce in mountain strongholds and caves.  And that is only partially effective.

Saying that seven years of these nomadic invaders comes as a response to the sin of the Sons of Israel is one perspective.  It’s one that interprets the events of that day in light of the relationship of the people, chosen by Yahweh, to be His people.  Whenever they chose not to be “exclusive” in their relationship with Yahweh, they suffered.

But this perspective does not address all the “bad” stuff that happened to the people.  Some bad stuff happened while the people were following Yahweh.  We’re not given those events.  They don’t support the author’s point.  On the other hand, he never says they don’t happen.  We know they had to happen.  This author sticks to his point, his perspective supports it, and other points are left to others to make.

These events are what they are.  The perspective used to derive meaning from the events can vary.  But, the choice of perspective is driven by the author’s intended point to make to his audience.  The chosen message for this author is that, when God’s chosen people are unfaithful to Yahweh, He permits them to suffer.  That is not to say that this is the only time people suffer.  But it does point out that God holds His people accountable for their actions.

That perspective isn’t an error.  It’s true.  It’s not the only explanation of why bad things happen, but it was never intended to be.  Later on, during the reign of Hezekiah, Assyria attacks Judah, and gets all the way to Jerusalem.  Yet Hezekiah and the people are doing well with God.  So, why did the Assyrians have so much success?  Answering that question wasn’t the author’s point, so we aren’t told.  But, we are told that God used that attack to demonstrate His power over even earthly powers considered unbeatable.  But only the Sons of Israel were given that point or perspective.

The unfaithfulness of the Sons of Israel was the explanation of why the nomadic peoples were able to oppress the land.  The reason given for most of the events in Judges is the same.  God holds His people accountable for their relationship with Him.  That point is supposed to be our take-away, our lesson, our insight gained from Judges.  So, keeping that point in mind, what’s going on in our world?  Are there things that indicate we may not be honoring our relationship with God?

God still holds His people accountable for their relationship with Him.  We live under a new covenant, but it’s still a covenant.  There are things for us and for God by which to abide in order to be faithful to the covenant.  He has done His part through His Son, Jesus.  We do our part when we rely on Him, and put this relationship ahead of every other, including ourselves.

Stuff happens when we are not faithful.  Stuff often happens anyway, but why ask for more?  Why not be faithful and avoid additional problems.  Isn’t closeness with God what makes it easier to get through the stuff of this life anyway?  If we have a solid relationship with the Creator of the universe, what else matters anyway?  If nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:35-39), then why does stuff bother us?  The only stuff that should bother us is the stuff our Master uses to bring us back to Him.  The other stuff just deepens what we already have with Him.

Well, that’s my perspective through this knothole this morning.  What do you see of God through yours?