Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 12. Reality versus Possibility
Judg 6:11 The angel of the LORD came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites.
The Judges Context: We’re about to consider another of my favourite incidents in the Old Testament, that has so much of significance about it. The context is clearly stated: “Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites. Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count the men and their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it. Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the LORD for help.” (Judg 6:1-6)
Now I’ve titled this study ‘Reality versus Possibility’ and the verses above are the reality of life in Israel at that moment. They were a people that had turned from the Lord and so the Lord lifted off His hand of protection from over them, so that the Midianites invaded the land and oppressed Israel. That is why there is such irony in our starting verse: Gideon was threshing wheat in a wine press which, in those days, was a dip in the ground and he’s doing it there because he is hiding from the Midianites of whom he is afraid. Yes, that is the reality of this situation.
Parallels Today? What is the reality for the Christian living in the West today? Well in most of the advanced Western nations Christianity appears in the decline and the world about largely derides Christians and their voice is muted. In America, much of its voice is associated with a particular political party and because of that has lost much of its uniqueness and is far from the pattern of the New Testament. In the UK it is such a minority that even where it is thriving, it is a battle against the world around it. In Western nations Christians are struggling to cope with materialism and relativistic morality that permits things that the Bible calls unrighteous and ungodly. Both the USA and the UK are struggling with changes that have come from changes in thinking and the outcomes are unclear and perhaps even questionable (that may bring the clear judgment of God). In many places the Church is inward looking and the majority in society continue with little or no Bible knowledge or knowledge of God. The quality of church life is so often far from the New Testament standards. That again is reality; you may disagree if your experience is different but the picture I have painted is largely true across both nations.
God chooses a Nobody: Now here’s the question: does it have to stay like that? Israel had started crying out to the Lord and so we find, first of all, a prophet coming to the land with a message of confrontation of their sin (see v.7-10) and you might have thought that that was the end of it – this reality would continue as it was – but the Lord deals in possibilities. So, he sends an angel to Gideon and this is where it starts getting funny. Here is this little man hiding away in fear and the angel says, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.” (v.12) Gideon splutters over this and says, look at the reality of our situation, how can you say God is with us? But the Lord just turns to him and says, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” (v.14) This is a little like Moses at the burning bush. “Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” (v.15) i.e. I’m a nobody! The Lord replies, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.” (v.16) and so it turns out.
Basic Facts: Notice the characteristics of this: 1. Gideon IS a nobody but 2. The Lord obviously knows his potential, what He can do with him, and so 3. Sends him to deliver Israel, but 4. Says He will be with him and will be part of it. We have moved from the reality of the situation to consider the possibilities of the situation. If God says He’s going to sort the Midianites – and use Gideon to do it – He WILL do it.
And Today? So what does God feel about our situation today? Well certainly He must be angry with two nations who have known His blessing in the past in such measure, but there are also signs, despite how we have described the overall picture, that He IS moving in His Church where they are open to Him. And that seems to be the key issue – are the people of God open to His leading.
With some encouragement, Gideon did get on with it and Israel were delivered. It happened in stages, but it did happen. First of all it needs a people who will look at their situation and say, “This is NOT how God wants it!” Does God want a little church that huddles fearfully making no impact on society? No. Does He want a mega-church where people get spiritually fat, sitting and listening to affluent preachers whose lifestyles are the exact opposite of Jesus of Nazareth, who run church like a corporate business? Definitely not!
A New Testament Church: So what are the signs of a church that is operating on New Testament lines? Yes, they will study the Bible, and yes, they will pray and worship, but they will not be pew-fodder. They will be Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered people who are able to minister revelation and power to one another – and to the world outside. They will be serving the community and opening the hearts of the community to receive the love and the word of the Lord and His salvation.
And in case you wonder when I say ‘they’ that is not just leaders, that is the whole congregation. Now if your church is not like that, face the reality of where it is but see the possibility of where God wants it to be, and pray and seek His grace and His wisdom and declare your availability to be used to help bring it from the present reality into the glorious possibility that the New Testament reveals.
If you find yourself making excuses why you can’t be part of that, then you are in the place of Gideon – but the Lord IS with you. Listen to Him and follow what he says. He will have specific instructions for you in your particular life circle and when you follow them, get ready for change! Hallelujah!