12. Reality versus Possibility

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!

7. To Gideon

“God turned up” Meditations: 7 :  To Gideon

Judg 6:11,12 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. When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.”

There are, I think, three sorts of people: the people who live in the past, the people who struggle in the present, and the people who live for the future. The people who live in the past tend to be those for whom the past has been painful and the pain or even, perhaps, the guilt of the past blights the present. They just cannot seem to let go the past. A good dose of amnesia might help!  Some people live in the past because it was better than the present and they have difficulty letting go the past and living in the present. The people who struggle in the present tend to almost be overwhelmed by the problems of life in this fallen world. Every day is hard graft. The people who live for the future have caught a vision and are going for it. It is probably true that some of us have elements of past, present and future motivating us. Gideon was a past and present person and God was just about to make him a future person.

When we first encounter Gideon he is definitely a present person. He’s threshing wheat in a winepress. Now normally you tread grapes in a wine press; it is a hollowed out area where you collect juice. A threshing floor was an open place where the husks could be blown away. The reason Gideon wasn’t threshing his wheat in the open was because the country kept getting invaded by Midianites. It was one of those down times for the nation that are recorded in Judges, when the people had turned from God and so He had stepped back and let them be disciplined by enemy invaders. When they cried out, the Lord raised up a new leader-deliverer.

In response to the angel, Gideon shows he is also a past-person: But sir,” Gideon replied, “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, `Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.” (Judg 6:13). The trouble about looking back to the past is that so often we forget bits of it and only have a distorted view of it. Gideon knows that in the past the Lord did great things for Israel, which makes the present seem even worse. It is good to remember what God has done in the past if we use it to generate faith for today but the feeling Gideon was left with was, the Lord has abandoned us. Hold on Gideon, that’s only half the picture. If you knew all your history you would know that God had spoken of blessings and curses for Israel (Deut 28), the former following obedience and the latter following disobedience, and it’s easy to move from one to the other.

But we haven’t yet picked up on a most crucial thing, the angel’s description of Gideon: “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.” Hold on, there must be a mistake; I’m not a warrior, let along a mighty one! No, but you are going to be. Ah, there’s that future dimension which only the Lord tends to see. We just see ourselves in the light of our past failures and present struggles but the Lord sees what He can do with us, and in Gideon’s case He can take this cowering, fearful individual and turn him into a mighty warrior.

Gideon is going to take some convincing of this. “The LORD turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” (v.14) What is the Lord saying? Go with the strength you have? “But Lord,” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” (v.15) But I haven’t got any strength? No, but you will have as soon as you start doing what I tell you because I will equip you. That is what is implied behind the words, “Am I not sending you?” i.e. if I send you I’ll give you everything you need to do the job. It’s not a case of what you have now, but what the Lord will give you as you get on what He’s given you to do. Yes, it’s all in the future and so, yes, that’s what faith is about – getting on and doing what He said in the confidence that those the Lord calls, He equips.

Surely this is what is behind every first encounter with the Lord. He comes to a nobody but He sees that He can make this person a somebody. The Lord knows the future and He knows what He can achieve given the human He has before Him.  Moses might have argued and argued why he wasn’t up to it, but he did end up actually doing it. Abram might have tripped over his feet half a dozen times, but he got there in the end. Jacob might have been a twister for a long way along the path, but he got to the place of faith in the end. Joseph might have completely misunderstood the message, but God’s plan got him there in the end. So if you’re in hiding from the enemy, it may be time to come out and have an encounter with God – if you want Him to use you that is! You may not think it, but He can get you ‘there’ in the end!

38. Reality

Meditations in Job : 38.  Working towards Reality

Job 14:19 as water wears away stones and torrents wash away the soil, so you destroy man’s hope.

Job, we saw in the previous meditation, has been pondering on the possible wonder of there being something more after death, of the possibility of  being reconciled to God through resurrection. But there is something in the back of his mind that is worrying away at him. It is like he had these thoughts of hope and yet they seem to contradict what he sees before him in this present world. It is rather like Gideon responding to the angel when the angel has said, The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.” (Jud 6:12). Gideon has two problems with this. First he doesn’t feel like a ‘mighty warrior’ and second, “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us?” (v.13). He heard the assertion but then looked at the present facts of their submission to an enemy and couldn’t see how the two go together. Thus, similarly, Job has these feelings about a future hope, but they don’t seem to correspond to present reality. Very often, for Christians. the big issue is about bringing understanding to receive the full picture so that we can see how apparent opposites harmonise.

So, let’s see how he expresses this. He uses examples of what he sees in nature to explain what he feels about man and his life. “But as a mountain erodes and crumbles and as a rock is moved from its place, as water wears away stones and torrents wash away the soil,” (v.18,19). He observes in nature a tendency for rocks and stones to be eroded and worn away. This, he says, is what he observes in the way God deals with mankind: “so you destroy man’s hope.” (v.19b). Look, he says, as I look around the world, all is see is that God seems to be working at bringing us down. I mean, look at what has been happening to me; all this has done is to bring me down. Then he looks forwards and contemplates the end of all this, as he sees it – death! “You overpower him once for all, and he is gone; you change his countenance and send him away.” (v.20) God has the power to bring death when He wants to – and He does exercise it! All God seems to do is ease us towards death – and that is a very negative thing: “If his sons are honored, he does not know it; if they are brought low, he does not see it. He feels but the pain of his own body and mourns only for himself.” (v.21,22). Whatever happens to those left behind, he doesn’t see it. He misses their success and (implied) cannot rejoice with them, or he misses their difficulties and (implied) cannot be there for them. In other words, death doesn’t seem to be a very helpful end! So if God works like this in life, why do I have a sense that it will be different after death?

This, of course, is another one of those occasions where only half the picture is being expressed. So what is the full picture? Why does it seem like this? Well the truth is that God does work to bring men to the end of themselves because only then will they turn to Him and receive His blessing. Our pride and self-centredness means that we struggle on in life without turning to the Lord and without receiving all of His resources to live out our lives in this fallen world. So, yes He does work to destroy man’s hope. The reason for this is that man ‘hopes’ in his own achievements. We each have hopes and dreams but so often they are self-centred and God knows they are not the best for us. He alone knows what is best for us, and so when He sees that we are aiming for something else, something less than the best that He knows we could be with His help, He works to undermine our false or inadequate ‘hopes’ so that we will come to our senses and realize our helplessness or our low self worth, and turn to Him for Him to remake us in the image of the one He knows we could be.

A second point to observe here is Job’s wrong assessment of death. Yes, death does mean that we are cut off from sharing in our children’s future, but the reality is that the next world will be so much more glorious than this one that we will not be concerned with hanging on to the things of this one; we will be content to allow the Lord to look after our children.  This perhaps brings us full circle to something we said right at the beginning of these meditations: we need to remember that God is love and therefore all of Scripture should be viewed with that in mind. Where we come across things in life, therefore, that seem to contradict that, we need to look afresh and ask the Lord to show us the full picture. To go back to the example of Gideon, the answer is twofold, when he says, how can God be with us when life is like this. The first answer, is that things are like they are because the Lord has made them like that as discipline for Israel to draw them back to Himself, so He IS with them – but to discipline them. Secondly, when He brings discipline, it is to bring change and bring us into a place of blessing and so He IS with Gideon to guide and equip him to become Israel’s latest savior.  So, yes, the Lord IS with you Gideon, but not in the way you expect.

Very often Christians want God to be with them to just bless them and make them comfortable, but He wants to work in their lives to mature them, and the move towards maturity may involve a number of things, some of which may not appear comfortable at the present: Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (Jas 1:2-4)  Peter also gives us a list of things to work through: “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.” (2 Pet 1:5-7) Remember, when ‘stuff’ is happening, the Lord is working to work these things out in us. Painful? Sometimes!  For our good? Always!

(We will be taking a break from Job for a couple of weeks but will return and continue with him later).

5. God of Signs

Lessons from Israel: No.5 : God of Signs

Ex 3:12 And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”

My daughter, now happily married and mother of two, was confessing the other day how useless she is at navigating around the country in a car. The fact that she had a qualification in geography didn’t help her reading maps and so out of exasperation I eventually said, “Well you could at least just follow the signs.” The signposts on Britain’s road are generally good and all you need to do is follow the signs and you’ll get there but my daughter, like many, obviously doesn’t like following the signs. I think this must be her equivalent to the male ‘thing’ of not wanting to read the instructions on the flat pack until we are desperate! Why are we blind to signs?

Well the Bible has a lot to say about signs and Moses is being given a sign at the moment (perhaps not a very helpful one you may think but we’ll come to that later). Probably the classic ‘sign-demander’ in the Bible was Gideon (Judges 6:36-40) with the famous fleece incident. The amazing thing is that the Lord went along with it.

In the New Testament, the Gospel writer, John, referred to Jesus’ miracles as signs (see Jn 2:11,23, 3:2, 6:2, 26, 7:31, 9:16, 11:47, 12:37, 20:30). For him, you had to be blind not to realise who this was that was doing all these amazing things which were like signs pointing out who Jesus was. Now the interesting thing there, was that the things that Jesus did were ‘signs’ for those who had eyes to see, whose hearts were open to him. In fact Jesus chided them sometimes that it was only the miraculous that would get them to believe (i.e. they couldn’t believe the character or the teaching, they had to have the impossible done in front of them): “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.” (Jn 4:48)  Signs, therefore, as seen with Jesus, were miraculous things but which would only be seen as signs by those with hearts open to him.

On the day of Pentecost, the apostle Peter, under the inspiration of the Spirit, spoke of Joel’s prophecy, part of which had God declaring, “I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke,” (Acts 2:19) before the last day and the return of Jesus. In other words there will be catastrophes on earth which will be signposts to the days nearing an end (there are other signs given in the New Testament as well), and one might ask, do we have eyes to see the things that are happening in our day and do we see the truths that they are pointing to?

So let’s now look at what the Lord is saying to Moses. Remember, these are very early days in Moses’ relationship with the Lord. Moses hasn’t actually asked for a sign and so the Lord simply volunteers this information: this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.” I think, in all honesty, if I had been Moses at that moment I would have been thinking, “Well excuse me Lord, but that is not very helpful. If you’re going to give me a sign could I have it as a means of reassurance before I go off and do what you want me to do? Signs come to show the way ahead, don’t they?”  Having been around for some time and having observed the prophetic gift working quite extensively, I have learnt that so often prophecy (like God is giving Moses) is considered by the Lord sufficient to encourage. “How will I know if this is the Lord?” sometimes comes the question. Well follow it and then when it’s happened you’ll know it was Him, is the reply.

If you’re struggling with this, stop and think about what is happening to Moses. He’s standing before a burning bush that isn’t being consumed and he’s clearly hearing a voice coming out of it that is clear, coherent and understandable. What more do you need to convince you that this is God? Aren’t these things sufficient in themselves? And when you read on you’re going to see the Lord show Moses how to perform the miraculous with his staff and then, when he starts out, everything he says to Pharaoh is going to be fulfilled as they go along. Won’t all these things be sufficient signposts?

Look back on your own life. Hasn’t the life transformation when you were born again been an incredible sign of God’s love for you? Consider the answers to prayer or the things that the Lord has done for you. Aren’t they sufficient signs of God’s love for you? When that prophetic word was brought to you, didn’t the Holy Spirit within you give you a ‘buzz’, didn’t it come with a sense of authority and blessing? Hey, if you’re still not sure, know that God loves you, understands your hesitancy and will probably speak it again if you’re still being slow.

This ‘sign of completion’, for that is what it will be, is just going to be a further bonus from the Lord and He’ll no doubt remind Moses of it when they get back to Sinai with all the people. But don’t think negatively about it. Really Moses has and is going to get so many signs along the way, that this is just the icing on the cake. If you want to pray, “Lord, open my eyes,” He’ll show you the incredible number of things He’s already done for you which, when you have eyes to see, will be more than enough! Go on, risk it, pray it!

6. Locked in Unbelief

ADVENT MEDITATIONS No.6

6. Long-Term Unhappiness Locks in Unbelief

Luke 1:18-20 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” The angel answered, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.”

It’s a strange thing, but you might think that people who have a tough time in life would be really grateful when God turns up to bless them, but you would often be mistaken. We’ve already referred to that tendency that we all have, that the Bible calls ‘Sin’, and in such situations it frequently shows itself in ungratefulness or unbelief.  If we can put it gently, perhaps we might say that it is quite natural, after you’ve been in a particular prison for any length of time, to be wary when you’re told you’re now free from it.  This phenomenon is quite common, and it may be as you read yesterday’s meditation, you struggled with the concept that God is good.  If you did, it’s most likely that it is simply because you’ve lived with circumstances that seem to fly in the face of that.

In the Old Testament, Gideon is a classic example of this. An angel comes and tells him that God is with him (Judges 6:12). His reply is, “If the Lord is with us… where are all the wonders that our fathers told us about?” In other words, how can you say God is good, how can you say He’s with us, when I’ve been through what I’ve been through, and there’s still no sign of change? Do you see how long-term unhappiness over the past can lock us into unbelief in the present?

Now the interesting thing, when Zechariah responds like this, is that he’s not given an explanation why he didn’t have children. We’d like to have explanations and then come to belief, but it doesn’t work like that. The truth is that until our hearts can accept God’s love is there for us, we’re going to constantly criticize and grumble. Zechariah is still in grumbling mode when he basically says, this is stupid, this can’t be, because I’m too old. When we start telling God what He can’t do, we’re in trouble! God can do anything; it’s just our unbelief that thinks He can’t, so we reject His words of goodness towards us.

The angel’s response is basically this: OK, you don’t think God can change your circumstances, you don’t think God can make you become a father, you want a sign, I can see that. All right, I’ll give you a sign that will remain with you every day until the child is born – you won’t be able to speak until then. This is going to happen, you having a son, but you obviously need a bit of encouragement along the way.

You see God loves us so much that sometimes He does intervene in our lives and bring ‘unusual’ circumstances, if He sees that is the only way we’ll come to belief. (There are some people He sees that won’t ever come to belief so He leaves them – but that doesn’t include you, because you wouldn’t be reading this if it did!). If a little crisis is the only thing that will bring us to our senses and bring us to a place of believing (and that without the explanations!) then that’s what He’ll bring to us – in love of course. Of course it’s in love because that’s what He’s trying to bring us. It’s much easier to believe without a crisis! Can we say, yes Lord, I believe what I’m reading in this Christmas story – teach me; I receive all the good you’ve got for me in this season? Dare to, go for it!

15. God’s Signs

MEDITATIONS IN ISAIAH – No.15

Isa 7:10,11 Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, “Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”

There are two things about signs in Scripture, both of which seem to go against popular understanding. The first is that God is not put off when His people ask for signs and is not averse to providing a sign for them. The second is that despite the fact that God gives signs, people are notoriously bad at responding to them.

Gideon is an example of the first when an angel came to him: Gideon replied, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me.” (Jud 6:17). The angel then set fire to the offering Gideon presented. Pharaoh is the classic O.T. example of someone responding badly to God’s signs: “though I multiply my miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt, he will not listen to you.” (Ex 7:3,4). In John’s Gospel Jesus berated the Jews for their unbelief: “Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.” (Jn 6:26). ‘Signs’ are really for people with open hearts.

There is a third thing we should note about God’s signs and it is that often the signs is an “afterwards sign”. For instance when Moses was asking for guidance the Lord told him: “And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.” (Ex 3:12). In other words when you have done it and find yourself back here, that will be a sign that it was me leading you! We find something similar in this passage in Isaiah.

In our verse today, the Lord asks Isaiah to ask for a sign. Now that is incredibly gracious. The Lord is willing to help Ahaz’s unbelief and is willing to do something to reassure him. The Lord knows our frailty and is willing to help us in it. Perhaps one of the most famous instances of this is Gideon’s fleece (Jud 6:36-). Twice the Lord did what Gideon asked for. I have always felt that it was a sign of immaturity to go asking the Lord for signs, but in reality we are frail people and we are called to a life of faith and not sight (2 Cor 5:7) and the Lord does not chide those who ask for such confirmation. In fact in chapter 7 of Isaiah He chides Ahaz for not asking! Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also?” (7:13)

It is at this point that the Lord says that HE will provide a sign even though Ahaz will not ask for one: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. He will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right. But before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste. The LORD will bring on you and on your people and on the house of your father a time unlike any since Ephraim broke away from Judah–he will bring the king of Assyria.” (7:14-17)

Now most people miss a large part of this ‘sign’. It is not merely the child; it is also what happens in his early years. Yes, this is the verse that Matthew picks up and applies to Mary (Mt 1:23) and the child will be Jesus. Here, however, a child will be born to a young woman but before this child is old enough to know the difference between right and wrong, the Lord will bring Assyria to deal with the two kings opposing him – and on Ahaz’s land! In other words, when this has happened, Ahaz will know that this was not an accident, but the discipline of the Lord. He can take it as a sign of the Lord’s dealing with him and (implied) he will then need to put his life right with the Lord.

Ahaz’s failure to ask for a sign, when asked by the Lord, was an indication of his state of unbelief, and it was that unbelief that the Lord was moving against. Do we see that? The Lord is going to discipline Ahaz but the intent of the discipline is to bring him back into a right relationship of belief with the Lord, which his father had had. Because the Lord wants Ahaz to learn from it, He tells him before it happens what He is going to do, so that when it does happen it will act as a sign to Ahaz of the Lord’s activity that should bring him to his senses. Tragically, the record, that we looked at in the previous mediation, reveals that Ahaz didn’t learn and went from bad to worse, but he could never say, when he faced the Lord in eternity, that he didn’t know.

Oh no, when each of us comes before the Lord, when our time on earth comes to an end, we will never be able to say we didn’t know. I am convinced that when such a time comes, the Lord will be able to show us countless ‘signs’ that He gave us throughout our lifetime. The truth is that God is continually working to draw us into relationship with Him so that we can receive His blessing on our lives. He wants to bring us into a good place where we are living the way He has designed us to live so that we can be most fulfilled, but because of the nature of sin, He has to speak again and again to us. Have you heard or missed the quiet whisper that recently came, or the loud proclamation that came on a Sunday morning, or through the circumstances that make up your life, that are partly there by the Lord’s making as He seeks to draw you closer? Do we have eyes to see the wonder of what He is doing, of the wonder of His love as He constantly reaches out to us, giving us indication after indication of His love for us? May it be so!

God’s Presence Denied

‘WHY?’ QUESTIONS No.12

Jud 5:13 But sir,” Gideon replied, “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us?

There are times when the prophetic word has come for someone, “The Lord is with you.” Yes, it goes on more than that but that was the starting place, but even as it comes you watch the face of the person receiving it and you sense exactly the same response as Gideon gave in our verse today. Well let’s check this out. Suppose I said to you the reader at this moment, “The Lord is with you!” I wonder what your reaction would be? I wonder if it would be a ‘worthiness-qualification’ answer, “Oh I’m not good enough for the Lord to come to me,” or would it be a ‘situation-analysis’ response like Gideon, “Well I can’t see any signs of Him!”?

What does it mean, “The Lord is with you!”? Well, going on the times in Scripture when that is said, as with Gideon for instance, it means that God’s presence is here to do stuff. Now surely, as Christians, there is a sense whereby that is true of us all the time, temples as we are of the Holy Spirit, but the truth is that God DOES make His presence more real at some times than at others.

But let’s consider Gideon’s situation and see why Gideon feels like this. It is a time in Israel ‘s history when, again and again, Israel seemed to drift away from God and so He disciplined them by simply stepping back and allowing enemy nations to overrun them. The present people oppressing them are the Midianites: “Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites.” (Jud 6:1) In fact what follows show just how bad it was: “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.” (Jud 6:2-6) Now if you read that carefully you will realize just how bad it was!

The first mention of Gideon was, “Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites.” (v.11) This shows you how bad it was. Normally you threshed wheat in an open exposed place where, after you have beaten it, the husks could be blown away. A winepress was, in fact, a dip in the ground, where he was hiding away. Suddenly a man turns up and declares, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.” (v.12). If you wanted to be sarcastic about Gideon, this would be a good way of doing it! He is not a warrior and he certainly doesn’t feel mighty and as for God, well! No wonder this prompts Gideon’s response: “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, `Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?” There is a simple logic here: God is a God of deliverance – as Egypt showed us – we need delivering but He’s not doing it. Conclusion: God can’t be with us!

Isn’t that what we think sometimes? We read of Jesus’ miraculous works in the Gospel, and then some enthusiast says, “This is the sort of life God wants us to live!” Oh yes? So where are the signs and wonders? Gideon’s question is surely one that is in the minds of many Christians today. So what was the Lord’s answer: “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?(v.14). Pardon? Me? You’ve got to be joking. Isn’t that what your response would be if the Lord said He was coming to change the world – through you? Listen to Gideon’s response: “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! Isn’t that how so many of us feel when it comes down to it? How could I change the nation?

The answer is that you start by doing the next thing that the Lord puts before you to do – and don’t start rationalizing what that might be. Wait on Him, seek His face and ask Him what He wants of you – and listen. The answer He puts into your mind may be something immediate or it may be a long term answer. It may be something apparently unspiritual – like the man who used to take a bunch of American kids to a church youth group each week, and one week managed to persuade a young man to come who subsequently came to the Lord there, who we know of as Billy Graham. You don’t know what your small actions will achieve! It may be He puts something big in your heart – but it will take time. Be obedient, start with the small things and let them get bigger and bigger. You and I are the answer to the question.