Whose strength matters?
Is it ours or is it God’s?
How many people does it take to change the course of history?
Can we do it in our own strength?
Can we do it by ourselves?
Even if we all banded together to make it happen–on our own–without God’s hand of blessing on it–can we do it?
I love that old hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, especially the part of the second verse that reads,
Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side,
The Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is He…
…And He must win the battle!
Do you remember the story of Gideon from Judges 6-8*? Gideon is one of my favorite heroes of all time! His story begins like this:
The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian seven years… 6 And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel cried out for help to the Lord.
The details are horrific: the people of Israel are hiding out in caves, they’re at the mercy of this invading horde, their fields are being wrecked, their crops and herds keep getting stolen, and they are totally, utterly wretched!
Wickedness always leads, inevitably, to a withdrawal of God’s blessing. In its absence, misery and persecution swell to fill the void.
7 When the people of Israel cried out to the Lord on account of the Midianites, 8 the Lord sent a prophet to the people of Israel.
And he said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of slavery. 9 And I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you and gave you their land. 10 And I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.’ But you have not obeyed my voice.”
I.e., I did all these amazing, fantastic, totally miraculous things for you, and–what did YOU do? You’ve rebelled against ME while singing, “I did it MYYYYY way!” and daring me to stop you. What did you think would happen? Didn’t you know I would stop you?
11 Now the angel of the Lord came and sat under the terebinth at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites.
12 And the angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.”
<SNORT> He’s hiding in the wine press because he’s desperate and terrified!
13 And Gideon said to him, “Please, sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.”
Why are we always so amazed and upset to discover that God really means it when He says, “Be holy so I may bless you!”? Why do we refuse to embrace and understand that our sin has consequences?
14 And the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?”
Oooh–did you catch the sarcasm? “You strong man, you! You can do it yourself! You can fix it!” etc.
15 And he (Gideon) said to him (the angel of the Lord), “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.”
And here, finally, is an admission grounded in humility and a genuine knowledge of weakness and inability to handle the problem himself.
God gets down to business:
16 And the Lord said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.”
How many people, again, does it take to change the course of history? Whose strength does it take?
Gideon builds an altar, and God sends fire down from heaven to consume the offering.
Gideon abases himself in fear and trembling, recognizing that God is VERY powerful, but he really hasn’t gotten the whole picture even yet.
Gideon’s progression from pitiful self-knowledge and terror of the Midianites to learning the fear of the Lord has dramatic results: he goes and tears down the local altar to Baal– but he’s still more afraid of men than he understands or is comforted by God’s protection on those He calls, so–he sneakily does it under cover of darkness!
But of course everyone soon knows who did it, and this leads to a confrontation…
30 Then the men of the town said to Joash, “Bring out your son, that he may die, for he has broken down the altar of Baal and cut down the Asherah beside it.”
31 But Joash said to all who stood against him, “Will you contend for Baal? Or will you save him? Whoever contends for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been broken down.” 32 Therefore on that day Gideon was called Jerubbaal, that is to say, “Let Baal contend against him,” because he broke down his altar.
Oooh… If Baal is really a god, let HIM fight on his own behalf! Go, Joash!
(And of course, Baal, not being a real god, is impotent and nothing happens.)
Gideon is still having difficulty believing that God has it all in hand, so he messes around with a fleece, but God is patient with him…Fast forward to chapter 7!
Gideon puts out a call for men to fight the Midianites, and 32,000 men respond. God isn’t impressed:
Judges 7:2 The Lord said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’
He tells Gideon to send home any that are fearful and trembling. 22,000 go home!
Gideon still has 10,000, but God says that is STILL too many, so–he makes them drink from a stream, and only those who drink in a certain way are allowed to remain.
Gideon is left with just 300 men against:
12 And the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the people of the East lay along the valley like locusts in abundance, and their camels were without number, as the sand that is on the seashore in abundance.
And God knows Gideon really, really well:
9 That same night the Lord said to him, “Arise, go down against the camp, for I have given it into your hand. 10 But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant. 11 And you shall hear what they say, and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.”
The end of the story is pretty exciting: Gideon and his pitiful 300 surround the Midianite camp (at night) and sound their trumpets and smash pots hiding torches. The Midianites thinks it’s this massive army, and panic and run, and in the darkness, confusion, and chaos they can’t tell who they’re fighting, and they slaughter each other! Gideon and his men chase after them.
All of Israel turns out to help, and the Midianites and their allies are utterly destroyed.
Gideon becomes a great leader in Israel, and as long as he lives, Baal worship stops.
It’s a great story, isn’t it?
Why does it matter? What’s the application here?
Well, let me ask you: if we embrace sin and wickedness as a nation, will God bless us any more than He blessed the Israelites?
It is God who turns the course of history, not us! It is God who chooses who He will lift up to lead us–not us–though we are always wise to follow!
Sheer numbers cannot overwhelm God’s choice of leadership. There is no human strength that can prevail. To be frightened of wicked people is natural, but this is what the Bible says about the fear of the Lord:
- …the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding. Job 28:28
- the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. Psalm 19:9
- The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. Psalm 110:10
- The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. Proverbs 1:7
- The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate. Proverbs 8:13
- The fear of the Lord prolongs life, but the years of the wicked will be short. Proverbs 10:27
- In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge. Proverbs 14:26
- The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death. Proverbs 14:27
- Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble with it. Proverbs 15:16
- The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor. Proverbs 15:33
- By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the Lord one turns away from evil. Proverbs 16:6
- The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm. Proverbs 19:23
- The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life. Proverbs 22:4
…There are lots of other passages that also describe or illustrate the fear of the Lord in other ways, but I think these are most instructive, don’t you?
God prizes our fear and awe of Him, not because He wishes to terrify us into good behavior, but because He is worthy of our respect and obedience, and when we place a proper value on God, we place a proper (humble) value on our own abilities and efforts, and those of others, and we learn to reject and refuse what is evil, and cling to that which is good, bringing God’s blessings into our lives and protecting ourselves from the harm that comes from associating with evil.
We cannot succeed in bringing our country back to God or in restoring righteousness, and a renewed understanding of good and evil, right and wrong, unless we, as a people, embrace the fear of the Lord, and stop winking at evil! We cannot overcome evil by trying to embrace a lesser evil. God will not honor that. He cannot honor that–
What will move God to intervene and save us is our humility and repentance. We have to turn from our sin, ask God’s forgiveness, ask the forgiveness of others, pay restitution wherever it is possible, and extend forgiveness to those who ask it of us. Only then will God save us from the consequences of godlessness now overtaking our nation.