Saturday, July 07, 2007

This Might of Yours (Judges 6-8)

Idolatry, oppression, rescue, and idolatry again – this is the endless cycle of Israel in the book of Judges. This time the oppressor of choice is Midian, the folks who hired Balaam to curse Israel back in the book of Numbers. It is here that we first meet Gideon, hiding in a winepress to thresh grain without these overlords spotting him. All of a sudden, the angel of the Lord appears to him, greeting him as if it’s an honor to be in his presence:
The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.
Gideon isn’t buying it. If the Lord is with them, then why does he have to hide in the winepress for fear of the Midianites? Why indeed, the Lord replies:
Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?
Gideon immediately pulls out a list of excuses that would do Moses proud. He’s from the weakest clan, and he is the youngest son of his father. But the Lord’s reply to Moses is more than appropriate here. It is no use appealing to lack of eloquence, when you are talking to the one who gave man his mouth to begin with. He called Gideon a mighty man of valor, and, well, when God says things, they happen.

He starts off, admittedly, rather slow. He gets a group of his servants to come with him to tear down the idols of his clan, but does it in the middle of the night. And then Gideon does something to delight our inner skeptic. He runs a series of scientific experiments to verify that this is actually the Lord. Here I am reminded again of Moses’ negotiations, demanding signs to prove to the people that God has spoken to him. But the Lord is willing to go along with this, and I even sense less indignance about it than before. Is God growing more patient with his people?

In attacking the Midianite army, the Lord allows Gideon a mere 300 men. They split into three companies, surround the camp, light torches, blow trumpets, and shout “a sword for the Lord and for Gideon.” The Midianites are terrified – in their panic attacking each other – and Gideon’s little band easily rout an army of thousands. The Ephriamites then raise an army and cut off the escape route over the Jordan.

Gideon crosses over with his 300, pursuing the two kings Zebah and Zalmunna with the survivors of the Midianite army. On the way, he asks the cities of Succoth and Penuel to lend him supplies. They refuse, not wanting to throw their chips in with little Gideon when the two kings of Midian and all their mighty men of valor are still at large.

Finally Gideon catches up with the army, and captures the two kings:
Then he said to Zebah and Zalmunna, “Where are the men whom you killed at Tabor?” They answered, “As you are, so were they. Every one of them resembled the son of a king.” And he said, “They were my brothers, the sons of my mother. As the Lord lives, if you had saved them alive, I would not kill you.” So he said to Jether his firstborn, “Rise and kill them!” But the young man did not draw his sword, for he was afraid, because he was still a young man. Then Zebah and Zalmunna said, “Rise yourself and fall upon us, for as the man is, so is his strength.” And Gideon arose and killed Zebah and Zalmunna, and he took the crescent ornaments that were on the necks of their camels.
“As the man is, so is his strength” – another jab at his calling. But those scoffing lips are soon silenced, and when he returns to Succoth and Penuel, there is Hell to pay for those Israelites who refused to recognize the Lord’s anointed. Gideon is known to be mighty by the only opinion that counts.