BECOMING A HERO
By David Feddes
“The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” (Judges 6:12)
The young man is no hero. He’s just trying to stay alive and put food on the table. He has work to do, but he does it in secret. He fears the squads of armed men who are on the prowl. If they find out he’s got something worth having, they’ll take it away. They might even kill him just for the fun of it.
The situation has been bad for years, and it keeps getting worse. Enemies with weapons swarm everywhere—more and more each day. They steal everything they can take with them, and they smash and ruin everything else. The economy is in shambles. Homes and buildings are run down. People live in fear.
Does the young man ever dream of changing things? No, there are too many enemies to fight. He doesn’t aim to be hero. He just wants to survive. The problem is too big. He can’t do anything about it. Nobody can do anything about it. Apparently God himself can’t do anything about it. The mighty God of stories from the past doesn’t seem to be doing much in the present. The young man sees no sign of God anywhere, just a grim cloud of cruelty, poverty, fear, and despair. With such powerful enemies and with God out of the picture, what can a guy do but lie low and try to survive another day?
Then one day, working in his secret hideaway, the young man realizes with a shock that he’s not alone. Someone is standing nearby, watching him. Have the thugs found his hiding place? No, this stranger is not one of them. He’s different, mysterious. The stranger says, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”
The young man can’t believe his ears. The Lord with him? Enemies everywhere, ruining everything—how can the Lord be with him? And mighty warrior? Cowering in his hiding place, afraid of his own shadow—calling him a mighty warrior must be a sick joke. The young man’s name is Gideon, and it turns out that the mysterious stranger isn’t joking. It turns out that the Lord really is with Gideon. It turns out that Gideon really is a mighty warrior. Soon the thieving thugs are going to be defeated and driven out. But it’s not easy. Oh, conquering the enemy is easy enough for God. But convincing Gideon to become a hero—that’s the hard part.
Maybe you know from personal experience how Gideon felt. When there’s trouble all around you, when the forces of evil have you hopelessly outnumbered, you don’t try to be a hero. You just try to survive and make it through another day. If somebody tells you that God is with you or that you can become some kind of hero, how are you supposed to believe it? You can’t detect God anywhere nearby, and you can’t see yourself as anything but a loser who will never amount to anything. You’re a wimp, not a warrior.
That’s how Gideon felt. But God told him something entirely different. And it was God’s Word, not Gideon’s worries, that ended up coming true. So if you think God is far away from you and that you’re a hopeless loser, think again. God may be a lot closer than you think. You may achieve greater things than you dare to dream. “Hero” might be the last thing you’d call yourself—but if God calls you “hero,” if God declares you a mighty warrior, then you become what God calls you.
A Hopeless Situation
I’ve already hinted at the problems Gideon faced. He lived in an area of Israel infested by armies of robbers from the region of Midian. These troubles came because God was punishing the Israelites for turning their backs on him. The Bible says in Judges 6 that “the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites.”
The Midianites were ruthless raiders. If you’ve lived in a neighborhood dominated by criminal gangs or in a country occupied by a greedy, cruel army, you’ve had a taste of the Midianites. They were so numerous and so nasty that “the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds.” Whenever they tried to plant crops or do anything productive, these bands of bullies swept in. “They camped on the land and ruined the crops… They came 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 ravish it. Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help.”
How did God respond? Did he send help right away? No, God sent a prophet to tell them that their suffering was their own stupid fault. Again and again in the past, God had been good to them. God had rescued them from slavery in Egypt. God had given them a land to enjoy after taking it away from the bloody, perverted, idol-worshiping Canaanites. God had warned his people never to worship the pagan gods of the Canaanites. “But,” said the Lord, “you have not listened to me.” End of message.
Not a very encouraging answer to a cry for help! Just a reminder of why they were in this mess, and not a word more. It’s bad enough to be oppressed by enemies, but it’s even worse if God says you have only yourself to blame and you deserve your troubles. Maybe you’re in serious trouble right now, and you know it’s your own fault for not listening to God. You may know some statements of God in the Bible, condemning sins like yours and warning of punishment. You may think you’re beyond hope.
But God is full of surprises. The Lord may thunder his wrath against sin, he may say nothing about helping, and then … he may decide to help anyway. We may be stupid; we may be sinful; we may not listen to him; we may get ourselves into a heap of trouble; we may not be able to give God one good reason why he should help us. And yet, just when there’s no hope, just when God tells us we’re to blame for the mess we’re in, just when our prayer for help seems to get a resounding “No!”, God may decide to go ahead and help us in spite of what we’ve done.
Wimp or Warrior?
After the prophet spoke those stern words from God, Gideon and his fellow Israelites may have thought they could never be saved. Gideon was busy threshing grain in secret. He was doing it not in the usual place for threshing grain but in the pit of a wine press, a hole in the ground that wasn’t being used in that season, a place where the Midianite thugs wouldn’t think to look for him. To this frightened young man, bogged down in a culture of spiritual and moral confusion, plagued by swarms of enemies, came a mysterious stranger speaking unbelievable words: “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”
Everything was about to change—and the first thing that had to change was Gideon. The wimp had to become a warrior. For that to happen, Gideon had to have faith: faith that God was indeed with him, faith that he could indeed be the hero God declared him to be. The story of how God built up Gideon’s faith and won a great victory through him just might draw us out of holes we’re hiding in and transform us from wimps to warriors.
When God wanted to save his people from the swarming gangs of Midian, where did he start? Not with a bold leader but with a depressed, frightened young man cowering in a hole. The angel of the Lord said to Gideon, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”
“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 hands of Midian.”
Have you ever had those same thoughts? If the Lord is with us, how can such rotten things happen to us? Where are all those miracles our parents told us about when they read Bible stories to us? All that God-talk sounds great, but what has God done lately? Gideon, you took the words right out of my mouth!
But when Gideon asked his oh-so-logical questions and mumbled his oh-so-sensible complaint, the angel of the Lord (who was really God himself taking on a visible form) simply replied, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”
But that raises another problem. If I were in Gideon’s sandals and God said to me, “Go in the strength you have?” I’d be thinking, “Strength? What strength? Would I be hiding in this hole if I were strong? If I had the strength to get rid of those thieving thugs, don’t you think I’d have done it long ago? You call me a mighty warrior. Are you sure you’re talking to the right person?” That’s what I’d be thinking, and apparently that’s what Gideon was thinking.
“But Lord,” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” Gideon felt like the lowest loser in the weakest family in a wimpy tribe of a captive nation. Gideon figured that if God was looking for a hero, he was looking at the wrong person.
How did the Lord react? He brushed Gideon’s objections aside and said, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.” Gideon found it hard to believe that God could be with him in such circumstances, but God declared, “I will be with you.” Gideon didn’t think he could be a hero and defeat the enemy, but God declared, “You will strike down all the Midianites together.” Gideon’s objections made sense to him, but Gideon’s opinion didn’t matter. God’s promise was what mattered. If Gideon didn’t yet measure up as a mighty warrior—well, God would make sure his word became fact.
“Peace! Do Not Be Afraid.”
Gideon wasn’t ready to start marching just yet. How could he be sure this person talking to him was really God? Gideon replied, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.”
And the Lord said, “I will wait until you return.”
So Gideon went and prepared some meat and broth and bread without yeast, and returned to the oak tree where his visitor was waiting for him. The Lord told him to put the meat and bread on a rock and pour out the broth. But when Gideon had done so, his visitor didn’t start eating. Instead, says the Bible, “with the tip of the staff that was in his hand, the angel of the Lord touched the meat and the unleavened bread. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the angel of the Lord disappeared. When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he exclaimed, ‘Ah, Sovereign Lord! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!”
Gideon trembled with fear. He had just seen the Lord! True, it was the Lord appearing in human form and not with the overwhelming glory that no sinful mortal can see and live. But it was still a real encounter with the Almighty. What if the fire that consumed the sacrifice was about to consume Gideon as well? Gideon suddenly felt more afraid of God than of Midian. That was a good sign. Gideon was getting serious about God—so serious that he thought he might end up dead!
But the Lord said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.” So Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and called it The Lord is Peace.
What a beautiful discovery, to discover that the Lord is with you, and the Lord is Peace! The “angel of the Lord” often mentioned in the Old Testament was God himself, coming to people in a form they could see and relate to without being destroyed. Eventually, the Lord went far beyond simply appearing to people in this form, and he actually became one of us: not just appearing to be human but actually sharing in our flesh and blood in the person of Jesus Christ.
Just as the Lord’s message to Gideon was, “The Lord is with you,” a biblical title for Jesus is Immanuel, “God With Us.” Just as Gideon built an altar and named it the Lord is Peace, so the Bible calls Jesus, “Prince of peace.” In Jesus God came near, not to destroy us but to be with us and to bring us peace. When you know God’s presence and peace through Jesus, you can also move forward in God’s power to do great things.
Change Begins At Home
Back to Gideon. Now that he was taking God seriously and had been assured of peace with God, Gideon had work to do. His first job, however, wasn’t to take on the outside enemy. First he had to deal with the enemy within. He had to deal with anti-God evils right in his own home and family.
Gideon’s father and his family had an altar to Baal, a pagan god of prosperity, and a pole for Asherah, a goddess of sex. Isn’t it amazing how blind we can be to our own sins? Earlier Gideon had asked God why such bad things were happening to the Israelites, when right in his own home the worship of God was mixed with idol worship and sexual perversion.
Have you committed a certain sin repeatedly and then wondered why God seems far away? Have you bowed before certain images, or worshiped spirit powers besides the Lord, or prayed to Mary or saints or angels or anything else that isn’t God? You might think that such things aren’t serious sins—you might even think you’re doing something good—but God says in the Bible that we must never bow to an image, that we must never worship any God but the Lord, that we must never try to contact the dead or pray to any being but God himself. You can’t expect power from God to defeat enemies on the outside if you don’t face the enemy within. Before you do anything else, first deal with the sin and idol worship right in your own life and in your family’s life.
Before Gideon could go out to fight the occupying armies, God first ordered him, “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.” Gideon did as the Lord told him, but because he was afraid of his family and the men of the town, he did it at night rather than in the daytime. He knew he had to do the right thing, but he didn’t want to be noticed.
Have you ever had to break with past patterns and practices of your family and community in order to be in tune with God? You want to do the right thing, but you don’t want to be noticed. Family and neighbors can be intimidating when you want to make a new beginning with God. What will they think? How will they react? If you stand up for the Lord Jesus and challenge false religion and immoral behavior among the people you know best, you could be in for a tough time.
No wonder Gideon decided to demolish the idols secretly, in the middle of the night. But faith and obedience can’t be kept secret for long. The people of Gideon’s town soon found out who had demolished their idols and built an altar to the Lord. They went to Gideon’s father and demanded, “Bring out your son. He must die.”
But Gideon’s father sided with his son. He said to the hostile crowd, “Does Baal need you to save him? If anybody tries to fight for Baal, he’s a dead man! If Baal is really a god, he can defend himself.” Gideon’s first act on behalf of God had been timid, but already it was having an impact on his father and was changing his father’s attitude toward the idol.
Maybe the Lord has called you, and you want to follow him, but you’re afraid of how your family and friends will react. Well, no matter how they react, obedience begins at home. You have to break down false idols and cast away any sins you’ve been committing. You need to let people around you know that you stand with Jesus Christ. God can strengthen you and shield you and begin a change in your family, just as he did for Gideon.
Once the problems at home had been tackled, however, what about those swarms of Midianites? What about all the problems and enemies that had Gideon feeling so abandoned and helpless in the first place? Well, the huge armies were joining forces for another massive nationwide raid, getting ready to plunder Israel for the eighth year in a row. The Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet and called many of his countrymen to him. At last he was ready to be a hero and mighty warrior.
Or was he? Sure, Gideon had survived the showdown with his family and his little town, but was he really ready to take on the thieving killers of Midian? They were battle-hardened, they were equipped with the swiftest camels and the latest weapons, and there were too many of them to count.
So Gideon asked for a sign to reassure him. He told God, “Look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said.” And that’s what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew—a bowlful of water.
Did that convince Gideon? Not quite. He told God, “Don’t be angry with me, but could we run just one more test? Would you do that miracle in reverse? This time make the fleece dry and cover the ground with dew.” That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew.
At long last, Gideon was ready to march, and he had 32,000 troops ready to march with him. But God said, “Hold on! You have too many men. Now that you’re feeling brave and you have a big army, you people might think you saved yourselves. Let’s get this army small enough for me to use.” By the time God finished sending men home, Gideon’s army of 32,000 had shrunk to 300.
Well, as you can imagine, Mr. Mighty Warrior was feeling pretty wimpy once again. 300 men—against an army swarming like locusts, as uncountable as grains of sand on the shore? God told Gideon, “If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp of Midian and listen to what they are saying. Afterward you will be encouraged to attack the camp.”
So Gideon sneaked through the darkness up to one of the Midianite tents. He arrived just as a man was telling a friend about a dream. In his dream, a loaf of bread tumbled into camp and knocked over the tent. The friend replied in panic, “This is the sword of Gideon. God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands.” When Gideon heard this, he worshiped God.
Winning the Victory
Then Gideon sneaked back to his men. He gave each of them a trumpet, a torch, and a clay jar to hide the torchlight. Gideon and his 300 men crept through the darkness and spread out around the vast camp of sleeping Midianites. Then, at Gideon’s signal, they blew their trumpets, smashed their jars, held high their torches, and shouted, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon.”
The thousands of sleeping enemies awoke in a panic. They heard smashing and crashing, they saw torches all around the outside of their camp, and they thought a huge army had surrounded them and was about to destroy them. The Midianites took off running in the dark, howling in fear. In all the clatter, cries, and confusion, they could not tell friend from foe. The Lord caused the frightened killers to turn on each other with their swords. When it was all over, the enemy swarms were dead or fleeing out into the desert. Gideon’s plan had worked. The people all hailed Gideon as a great hero.
In fact, Gideon’s name appears later in the Bible on a list of mighty heroes of faith recorded in Hebrews 11. I can’t help chuckling at that. Gideon a hero of faith? When God said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior,” Gideon came back at him with a whole series of questions. God gave him a sign by causing fire to flare out from a rock, but Gideon wanted more proof. God made a fleece wet, but that wasn’t convincing enough, so God made a fleece dry. When Gideon still wasn’t sure, God encouraged him by letting him overhear a strange dream and its meaning. Now, would you call a man who asked all those questions and needed all those reassurances a hero of faith? We may chuckle, and God may chuckle too. But it must be true, because God says so. The Lord came to depressed, doubting, despairing Gideon and encouraged him until the timid coward became a mighty warrior and ended up in the heroes’ hall of fame.
What God did for Gideon, he can do for you. Jesus is God with us. Because of Jesus and by the Holy Spirit’s power, you may be a hero in the making, a victory waiting to happen. The Bible says, “This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 John 5:4-5).
You may feel God has abandoned you. You may feel like a helpless nobody. You may feel you can’t handle the problems and challenges that face you. You may have sins you’re barely aware of, idols in your life or in your family that you’re afraid to break away from. You may think that the enemies of God are too strong to resist and that the troubles in your community and nation are too severe to overcome. Your faith may be, at best, wimpy and weak. But all that can change if you hear God saying, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” God’s Word is more powerful than all your worries. Gideon is proof of that. Believe God, and you will be on your way from wimp to warrior.
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.