Gideon’s Gentle Answer

Judges 8_2_3_Gideons Gentle Answer

Last time we looked at the unfair criticism Gideon received from Ephraim following the battle against the Midianites.  Today, let’s evaluate Gideon’s response to that criticism.

While much has been written about Gideon and his rout of Midian with just 300 men, that’s only part of the story.  The war with Midian had two major components:  1). Gideon’s initial raid with 300 men; which was followed by; 2). a mopping up campaign involving the tribe of Ephraim.

Somewhere along the line, Gideon was stopped by the Ephraimites for a little heart-to-heart chat.  After hearing their “vigorous challenge” Gideon had a choice to make.  Pour some verbal gasoline on the fire, or try to put it out.  He chose the latter:

But he (Gideon) answered them, “What have I accomplished compared to you? Aren’t the gleanings of Ephraim’s grapes better than the full grape harvest of Abiezer?…What was I able to do compared to you?” At this, their resentment against him subsided. (Judges 8:2-3) 

Whatever Gideon’s immediate feelings might have been, he controlled himself and treated his brothers more kindly than they deserved.  With great wisdom, gentleness and diplomacy, Gideon praised his accusers.  Gideon downplayed his role, and played up Ephraim’s accomplishments.  As a result, their bitterness against him melted away.  Never underestimate how far a little praise can go!

This story also highlights two of my favorite Proverbs related to managing conflict.

  • A gentle answer turns away wrath,but a harsh word stirs up anger. (15:1)
  • Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city. (16:32) 

We’ve all been in tense situations when that “moment of truth” arrives.  Whatever comes out of our mouth next will either cause the situation to escalate into something we’re gonna regret, or be defused so anger and resentment subside.  It is at THAT moment when patience, gentleness, and self-control must take over.  Someone has to be the stronger person, swallow their “rights,” and become tender and gentle. Otherwise words that never should be aired will be spoken; but never forgotten. –Dave

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Parade of Criticism

Judges 8_1_A Parade of Criticism

“If you are not criticized, you may not be doing much.”  (Donald Rumsfeld)

Poor Gideon.  Just a short time earlier, he was an unknown man simply working on his family’s farm.  Against his many objections, God threw Gideon into the spotlight asking him to lead Israel against the mighty Midianites.

Gideon initially started with 32,000 troops, but God had him whittle that number down to a mere 300.  Those 300 men, armed only with pitchers, torches, and trumpets took on a Midian army of 135,000 troops – and WON!

If you were Gideon, you may have expected a ticker tape parade when you got home.  Instead, Gideon came back to THIS:

Now the Ephraimites asked Gideon, “Why have you treated us like this? Why didn’t you call us when you went to fight Midian?” And they challenged him vigorously.  (Judges 8:1)

The Ephraimites were fellow Israelites – they were on Gideon’s side.  Yet instead of congratulating Gideon on pulling off one of the greatest upsets in military history, they criticized him “vigorously.”  Why, because Gideon had NOT called on them to join the battle.  (BTW, even if he had, God would have sent them home.  The Lord intended to win this battle in a unique way).

Why had Ephraim responded this way?  We’re not told specifically.  However, Ephraim had the second largest military within Israel, and their central location meant they frequently were in the middle of most skirmishes.  These characteristics have led some commentators to conclude that Ephraim had come to EXPECT to be informed and involved in every military operation.  I.E., they had become proud.

We’ll look at how Gideon responded to their criticism next time, but as we wrap up today let’s take a couple of key points with us:  1). we don’t have to be involved in every activity; it’s ok for God to work through others once in awhile!  2). don’t be critical of the leaders God has given us.  Their jobs are tough enough without fighting their own people.

And leaders, do not be surprised if your own people sometimes criticize you sharply.  They may have good intentions, but they also don’t know everything that occurs between you and God.  Don’t strive for the praise and approval of men…God is your only audience.  March on!  –Dave

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Clothed With or Owned By?

Judges 6_34_Clothed or Possessed

We’ve been studying how Gideon had to defy his father’s idol worship before taking on the Midianites.  We also considered how Gideon’s stance before his family and neighbors earned him their respect.  As a result, when Gideon put out the call for Israel to fight, his neighbors were the first to respond (Judges 6:25-35).

Today, I want us to see an important phrase tied to Gideon’s sounding of the trumpet.  Specifically, in verse 34, we read:

But the Spirit of the LORD clothed Gideon, and he sounded the trumpet, and the Abiezrites were called out to follow him. (ESV)

We frequently read in the Old Testament about the Holy Spirit coming over someone and empowering them to accomplish a God-given task.  This is one such occasion.  However, it’s easy to misunderstand the transaction which has occurred.  The Hebrew word for “clothed” above is labash, which means “to put on, wear, clothe.”  In our egocentric thinking, we tend to read this as Gideon “putting on the Spirit of God.”

However, that’s not what the passage means.  From my studies, the proper/best way to understand the phrase is this: “and the Spirit of God clothed itself with Gideon” (i.e., God took possession of him).

You see, when I put on a jacket, I’m still the owner of the jacket.  It belongs to me.  I remain the one in charge; I decide when to wear it and when to take it off.  It simply compliments ME.  But if God clothes Himself with us, then He’s the owner.  He’s in charge.  We serve Him and not vice versa.

So let me gently ask…Who is in charge in your relationship with God?  Are you wearing Him like a jacket – putting Him on and taking Him off as you wish?  Or have you allowed Him to take total possession of you? –Dave

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Killers to Comrades

Judges 6_27_34_From Killers to Comrades

Last time, we looked at God’s call for Gideon to tear down his father’s alter to Baal and his Asherah pole (Judges 6:25-26).

Space won’t allow us an in-depth look at all that transpired, so I’ll summarize the highlights.  After receiving his instructions, Gideon took 10 men and completed his assignment that night.  Gideon acted when he did, not out of immediate obedience, but because “he was too afraid of his family and the men of the town to do it by day” (v.27).

Turns out, Gideon had good reason to fear the men of the town.  The following morning when the people of the area (known as the Abiezrites) saw the broken altar and burned Asherah pole they went on a witch hunt.  Once they identified the culprit, they demanded Gideon’s father hand him over to be stoned.  To his credit, Joash (Gideon’s dad) protected his son saying that if Baal was indeed a god, he could defend himself.

Sadly, we’re not directly told what happened next.  Instead, the writer focused on Gideon’s next battle – against the Midianites.  As the enemy forces marched across Israel, we read:

Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him. (v.34)

On first glance it may be easy to think, “so what?”  However, as Gideon began to assemble the Lord’s army, who did he call first?  The Abiezrites – the men who in the prior scene had wanted to kill him.  Later verses tell us those same men followed Gideon into battle!

Folks – Gideon’s stance had a major impact on the people in his village.  They literally went from being his would-be killers to his will-die-for comrades.  Never underestimate the impact your sincere stance for the Lord can have on those around you! –Dave

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Developed and Displayed

Judges 6_25_26_Developed and Displayed at Home

For some, Gideon may only be a name which appears on Bibles in hotel rooms.  Others may think of Gideon and his 300 men who defeated the vast Midianite army.  However, before Gideon ever took on the Midianites, God gave him an assignment much closer to home.

On the same night God called Gideon to lead Israel, he received these instructions:

Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it. Then build a proper kind of altar to the Lord your God on the top of this height. Using the wood of the Asherah pole that you cut down, offer the second bull as a burnt offering. (Judges 6:25-26)

God had allowed His children to be overtaken because Israel had broken the 1st Commandment by worshipping other gods (Baal and Asherah).  So God called upon Gideon to tear down those altars and idols.  But the passage above tells us that Gideon’s own father was the owner of the altar to Baal and the Asherah pole.  His dad was a priest to Baal – what a predicament!

If Gideon was going to challenge the Midianites in the name of the Lord, it meant defying his father, his neighbors, and the multitude of Israelites who worshipped Baal.  But Gideon’s test started at home.  If Gideon didn’t practice his faith at home, how could he possibly practice it anywhere else?  As one commentator stated, “If your faith doesn’t work at home, please don’t try to export it!”

Men – did you think the command to love our wives as Christ loves the church was going to be easy?  Wives – did you  think submitting to an imperfect husband was going to be a piece of cake?  Parents – selflessly loving your children as you point them toward Christ – not easy.  Where else are love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, and self-control more necessary than in our homes?

Friends, our faith is best developed, and first displayed, at home.  It may even require us to take an occasional stand against those we love.  Next time, we’ll look at the outcome of Gideon’s stance. –Dave

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He Never Abandons His Own

Sunday_Psalm 9_10_To Know is to Trust

He is trustworthy, and will never abandon His own!
 
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Nobody Walks Like He Walks

Colossians 1_15_Nobody Walks Like He Walks

He was wildly popular in his day, but he once lost his own “look-a-like” contest!

During the height of his popularity, Charlie Chaplin attended a fair in the US where a prominent attraction was a contest to see who could best imitate the “Charlie Chaplin Walk.”  Thinking he would have a good chance of winning, the real Chaplin entered (minus his celebrated moustache and boots).  According to the widely distributed report, Chaplin didn’t win!  In fact, he didn’t come in 2nd, or 3rd, or even 4th.  When the ballots were tallied, Chaplin came in 20th place for imitating himself!

How could such a thing happen?  I really don’t know.  But somehow, the judges had missed the real man while focusing on the imitators.  It’s kinda funny when we’re talking about a celebrity look-a-like contest.  However, it’s another thing altogether if people outside our faith miss Christ by focusing on Christians!

Scripture’s command is for us to be imitators of God (Ephesians 5:1); so let’s imitate Him as well as humanly possible.  Yet, if others are to see the perfect love, mercy, and grace of God, we have to point them directly to Jesus, as He is the only perfect representation of the Father (Colossians 1:15).

Imitate the “Jesus Walk” as well as you can – then direct people to focus on Him and not on His imitators.  He will never lose His own “look-alike” contest!  –Dave

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. (Colossians 1:15, NLT)

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A Distorted Drawing

Acts 20_28_31_Distorted Drawing

He had spent three years establishing the church and instructing the people in the truth.  So as Paul prepared to leave the Ephesian church for good, he left them with some final instructions. To the elders, Paul said:

So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood – over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as leaders. I know that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock.  Even some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following. Watch out! (Acts 20:28-31, NLT)

False teachers, like vicious wolves, would attempt to enter the corral and snag the sheep – so stand guard.  As frightening as that could be, it’s v.30 that really makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up – men from within the church would also present a risk.  How?  By distorting the truth.

The original Greek wording meant “to thoroughly twist into a new shape.”  As people within the church, they had the right starting material (truth/Scripture), but then they thoroughly twist, pervert, and distort it into something new.  Why?  To draw a following to THEMSELVES, not to Christ.

May I share a practical truth with you?  Through modern technology, I can monitor “how well” each message does on social media and the ministry website.  I can see which messages people like, share, respond to, etc.  And it’s tempting to alter the content of messages to increase the following.  If they’re honest, pastors will admit the same temptation.  There are topics they know will drive congregants out if they preach on them, so it’s tempting to avoid, water-down, or otherwise “distort” God’s Word in order to keep the following.  There’s a church mortgage and staff salaries to pay after all.

Friends, WATCH OUT for Bible teachers who distort the truth in order to increase their own following.  Be careful of those who never address difficult topics, or those who only tell you what you want to hear! –Dave

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Reset or Re-Seek

Acts 17_26_27_Global Reset or Reseek

There’s a good deal of talk these days about a “global reset.”  That entire nations, economies, governments, infrastructures, etc. will undergo massive changes in order for things to be “more fair and equitable” around the world.

Will it happen?  I have no idea.  How will it happen?  See previous answer.  What I do know is that IF it happens, it will happen after first passing through the sovereign hands of God.  Speaking in the public arena in Athens, Paul once stated:

From one man he (God) created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries. (Acts 17:26, NLT)

In this one verse, we see two timely truths:  1). There is but ONE race among mankind – the human race!  We all descended from one man – Adam.  2).  God has already decided when nations will rise and fall.  We need not fret the times.

In his next breath, Paul tells us why God created various nations – and it wasn’t so we’d do battle against one another.  Listen:

His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us (v.27).

Why did God create the world and set time in motion?  So that we would seek Him; and in our seeking, we would reach for Him, and most importantly, find Him!   Where will we find God – right by our sides – as He is never far from any of us.  That means He’s as close to those in Africa as He is to those in America.  He’s not the God just of the USA; He’s the God of all nations, and He wants all nations to seek Him.  –Dave

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Look Carefully

Ephesians 5_15_16_Look Carefully

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:15-16, ESV)

Part of me wishes the command from Paul was a “one and done” deal.  That at one specific point in time, we could stop and evaluate what direction to head in life and ride off into the sunset.  For instance, after graduating high school and deciding to attend Pharmacy School, perhaps I had examined where I was walking and was going to make the best use of my time.  Assignment completed???

While that was an important time in life, that’s NOT what Paul was talking about in the passage above!  Paul is instructing Christians to frequently stop and circumspectly evaluate what we’re doing and why.  “Look” in v. 15 is from a Greek word meaning “to see something physical, with spiritual results (perception).”  It carries what is seen into the non-physical realm so a person can take any needed action.

Paul wants us to see our physical world and perceive it through Spiritual eyes so that we can use our time wisely.  Paul didn’t further explain what wise living meant, because he’d already discussed that earlier in the letter.  To this point, he had told the Ephesians to be wise three times, and each time it dealt with understanding how to respond to God’s purposes in their salvation.  To be wise meant to understand why God saved us – to reflect His glory; to be conformed to the image of His Son, etc.

So Paul implores us not to live haphazardly, simply taking life as it comes to us, but to be purposeful – to live out God’s purposes for having saved us.  Our life is a gift from God and He doesn’t want us to squander it.  Which brings us full circle…Christian – what are you doing with your life; and why?  Are you intentionally living your life in accordance with the purposes for which God saved you?  Or are you floating along with the ways of the world?  The time is short, make any necessary changes today! –Dave

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