NOTES on Hebrews
11:32-34 A (click here for
The time of the judges spanned the history of Israel from the death of Joshua to the establishment of the monarchy. During these years Israel rode a roller coaster of obedience, disobedience, discipline, desperation, repentance, and deliverance. Each time Israel fell into pagan practices, God allowed the heathen nations to begin oppressing them. After several years, the oppression would become too much for Israel to bear, and they would remember the Lord who had led them out of Egypt and into the Promised Land by his sovereign power. They would cry to him for deliverance, promising to repent and serve him.
God in his eternal graciousness would hear their cries and would provide someone to lead them to victory over their enemies. These people God provided were the people the Bible calls "judges". They led Israel. They provided spiritual and/or military leadership, and they were the people through whom God would perform his miraculous victories over the pagans.
Throughout the entire time of the judges, Israel's victories over their enemies continued to be God's victories. Even though they were now in their Promised Land, Israel was not on her own against the indigenous people. God continued to display his "eternal power and divine nature" (Romans 1:20) by miraculously defeating Israel's enemies.
Gideon, "Mighty Warrior"
Gideon, whose story appears in Judges 6 and 7, is the first judge mentioned in Hebrews 11. The author of Hebrews has taken his readers through a chronological history lesson of God's work among humanity from the first family through Joshua leading Israel into Canaan. Now, as he nears the end of the chapter, he lumps together in a few verses references to a collection of Israelite men of faith. Some of them seem hardly to deserve a place in such a roster. But for significant reasons God inspired the author to include each of these men. He begins with Gideon.
Gideon was born into the weakest clan of the tribe of Manasseh during a time of unendurable oppression by the Midianites. The Midianites had a history of intersecting with the people of Israel. They were descended from Midian, one of Abraham's sons with his wife (or concubine-see 1 Ch. 1:32) Keturah. Joseph's brothers sold him to Midianite merchants (Genesis 37:25-28), and Moses' wife was a Midianite, the daughter of "a priest of Midian".
The Midianites bolstered their limited numbers by banding with the Moabites (descended from the incestuous union between Lot and his older daughter) and the Amalekites. They systematically invaded the Israelite's land and destroyed their crops whenever they planted and also killed the Israelites' livestock. They filled the land with so many of themselves and their animals that they could not be numbered, and they impoverished Israel. At last Israel cried to God for relief.
God sent them a prophet who reminded them that God had saved them in the past and had told them not to worship pagan gods. "But you have not listened to me," God concluded through the prophet.
After God had chided the nation, "the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon." He said to Gideon, who was hiding in a winepress threshing wheat so the Midianites couldn't find him, "The Lord is with you, mighty warrior." (Judges 6:12)
The "mighty warrior", undoubtedly stunned by the visit and the title (although the title suggests that Gideon may have been born into an upper class family), responded, "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." (Judges 6:13)
Now Gideon's visitor gives him the shocking news. In fact, Gideon didn't understand it. "Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian's hand. Am I not sending you?"
"But Lord," Gideon asked, "how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manaseh, and I am the least in my family." (Judges 6:14-15)
The visitor's meaning was lost on Gideon. He had no idea what strength he had that could win a battle against the people who for seven years had nearly ruined Israel.
The Lord answered, "I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together." (Judges 6:16)
Suddenly Gideon realized what was happening, but he was still uncertain.
"If now I have found favor in your eye, 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."
The visitor told Gideon he would wait. When Gideon returned, the visitor instructed Gideon to put the meat and unleavened bread he had brought on a rock. Then the angel of the Lord touched the food with his staff, fire "flared from the rock," consumed the offering, and the angel of the Lord disappeared.
The significance of what happened finally sank home. His sacrifice had been accepted by supernatural fire, and Gideon knew he was in the presence of the Lord.
"Ah, Sovereign Lord! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!" (Judges 6:22)
God reassured him, "Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die."
Gideon finally knew God had called him to confront the enemy.
God's call of Gideon was reminiscent of His call to Moses. After God told Moses he had come to set Israel free, he said to him, " 'So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.'
"But Moses said to God, 'Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?'
"And God said, 'I will be with you.' " (Exodus 3:10-12)
Both Gideon and Moses pleaded inadequacy for their calling. To both God promised, "I will be with you."
When God told Gideon, "Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian's hand. Am I not sending you," Gideon did not understand what strength he had. God was telling Gideon that he had God's own strength. Gideon knew he had no strength; his clan was small and weak. He himself was the least significant person in his family. He was highly unlikely as a candidate for the position of general. But God was assuring Gideon of divine strength.
"Go in the strength you have." Go, Gideon; my strength is your strength. You can absolutely believe that. Of course you're the least person in the weakest clan. That's why I chose you. You can't deceive yourself about your power. You have no recourse but to trust me. This battle is mine. Your job is to go in the strength you do have-mine, not in the strength you don't have.
As if to underscore his call on Gideon's life and to emphasize his promise to him , God's call to Gideon was similar enough to that of his call to Moses that Gideon could recognize it. He would be able to see the parallels as the events of his mission unfolded.
Renewing the Covenant
Before Gideon could commence to muster an army, however, God gave him a preliminary assignment. He had to tear down his father's altar to Baal and the Asherah pole that stood beside it. Asherah, Baal's consort, was a fertility god (as was Baal). The worship of Asherah, however, was particularly lascivious. Worship of these deities included child sacrifice and both male and female temple prostitution.
Asherah was not just a god lost in antiquity. This is the same deity known to the Greeks as Astarte or Aphrodite and to the Romans as Venus.
Gideon's first job was to detroy the local shrines to these two deities and replace them with a "proper kind of altar to the Lord you God on top of this height. Using the wood of the Asherah pole that you cut down, offer the second bull as a burnt offering." (Judges 6:26)
Gideon destroyed the altar at night, and in the morning the local Israelites were enraged. "Bring out your son," they demanded of Gideon's father Joash. "He must die, because he has broken down Baal's altar."
To his credit, Joash defended truth. "Are you going to plead Baal's cause? Are you trying to save him? Whoever fights for him shall be put to death by morning! If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar." (Judges 6:30-31)
Before Gideon could become God's worker, he had to personally stand for truth and destroy the symbols of Israel's disobedience. He had make a clean break with the practice of evil and spiritual compromise. Gideon had to renew the covenant between God and Israel. He had to let God's call and commitment define him, and he had to have only one loyalty: loyalty to God over loyalty to the people in his life.
To emphasize the divine nature of the battle to which God was calling Gideon, God oversaw the muster of the troops. After the army had gathered, God told Gideon that he had too many men. This declaration didn't make logical sense; the Midianites and their allies were so numerous they could not be counted. But, God said, "In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her, announce now to the people, 'Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.' " (Judges 7:2-3)
Twenty-two thousand men left. In the early days of Israel God had given Moses instructions concerning going to war. In his list of instructions and provisions, God told Moses, "Then the officers shall add, 'Is any man afraid or fainthearted? Let him go home so that his brothers will not become disheartened too." (Deuteronomy 20:8)
Israel's battles were God's battles. As sovereign Lord, he would always accomplish his purposes in spite of the people. But God didn't want reluctant allies. If people were going to respond to His call to go to battle, he wanted them to trust him to be in charge and to fight for them. For the men of Israel to respond to a call to muster but to be afraid was not just a personal statement of cowardice. It was a statement of a lack of faith in God. For them to tremble with fear meant they were not believing that God was in charge and taking care of them as well as the enemy.
Fear is infectious. God didn't want faithless men infecting fellow soldiers with fear of battle as well as with lack of trust.
When God had helped Gideon eliminate men, he was left with 300 soldiers.
The night before the battle God told Gideon to go into the Midianite camp to "be encouraged to attack the camp." (Judges 7:11) As Gideon arrived at the outskirts of the camp he heard one man tell another of a dream he had.
" 'A round loaf of barley bread came tumbling into the Midianite camp. It struck the tent with such force that the tent overturned and collapsed.'
"His friend responded, 'This can be nothing other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands." (Judges 7:13-14)
Gideon returned to his camp praising God. This prophetic dream given to the enemy, combined with the miraculous signs God had already given him with the dry and wet fleeces, strengthened his faith and gave him courage to carry out God's commands.
As he got into camp he called out, "Get up! The Lord has given the Midianite camp into your hands." (Judges 7:15)
The battle was as unorthodox as was the siege against Jericho. They surrounded the Midianite camp with three companies of 100 men all carrying a trumpet and torches under clay jars. When Gideon and his company blew their trumpets, all the others blew theirs and shouted, "A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!" and broke the clay pots, revealing 300 blazing torches.
When the 300 trumpets sounded, the Midianites turned on each other in fear and killed one another with their swords. The Midianite army fled.
Gideon sent messengers calling for reinforcements, and men from the tribes of Naphtali, Asher, Manasseh, and Ephraim joined the 300 and pursued the Midianites up the Jordan River. Men from Ephraim "took the waters of the Jordan as far as Beth Barah." In addition, they captured two Midianite leaders named Oreb and Zeeb whom they beheaded.
God's conquest of Midian both reflects and foreshadows God's consistent plan for his people. From the beginning of Israel's deliverance from Egypt, Israel never won victory or independence from her enemies. Every time Israel's enemies suffered defeat before Israel, it was the result of God's miraculous intervention. Israel's formation as a nation as well as her growth and freedom and conquest over oppression was never because of Israel's strategy or strength. Every victory Israel enjoyed was God's victory.
Neither Israel nor her enemies could give Israel the credit for her success. Everyone involved had to acknowledge and honor God as sovereign Lord.
This acknowledgement of God's sovereignty over the affairs of men did not end with Israel. Revelation 19:11-16 describes Jesus at the end of time appearing as a warrior leading the armies of heaven. From the beginning until the end of history, God accomplishes his purpose. When God's people lose trust and try to fight God's battles for him, they fail. Only when God's people stand back in reverence and wait for God's commands are they functioning in his will. Only then does their participation contribute to victory.
God's commands often seem to defy common sense. But God wants everyone to acknowledge his sovereignty. Consequently, his commands to us may not make sense from the standpoint of human wisdom. God wants to include us in his activity on earth. In order to participate, we have to let him direct us. We can't decide how we will help.
Israel got into repeated hardships because of their refusal to honor God. They persisted in embracing pagan deities and participating in their worship rituals.
Pagan worship is seductive. Whether it involves temple prostitution or "merely" self-indulgent beliefs that put one's self at the center of one's universe, ungodly and non-scriptural practices and beliefs are deception and spring from the same source: Satan.
The New Testament churches struggled with learning to live as followers of Christ. James, the writer of the earliest New Testament book, wrote his epistle to the first generation of scattered Jewish believers in 45 AD, just a few years after Pentecost and the birth of the church. He reminds his readers that Abraham and even Rahab were considered righteous because their deeds matched their faith. When people profess to be followers of Christ but behave antithetically to His teachings, their faith "is useless". (James 2:20) If a professed Christ-follower is behaving like a pagan-or even like a self-centered, arrogant "good person", he is not living by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is living by his own works.
Paul spoke strongly on several occasions about Christ-followers needing to match their beliefs with their behaviors. He took the Corinthians to task for sexual immorality, prostitution, litigiousness, disunity, greed, slander, and other wordly behaviors. He also admonished the Galatians not to "indulge the sinful nature." (Gal. 5:13) He defined behaviors in which Christ-followers should not indulge: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.""(Gal. 5:19-21)
The Israelites were not unique. God's people have always struggled to surrender their lives to God and to live by faith. In the Old Testament God clearly defined the consequences for dishonoring his covenant with them. They would be oppressed and exiled if they did not honor God and keep the covenant. They would not be successful financially if they dishonored God. For certain sins, they would even be killed.
In the New Testament God is no less exacting of his people. The administration of justice, however, is different now. Because God's people have the Holy Spirit in them, their relationship to God is potentially more intimate than the Israelites'. We now can have new hearts. God still leaves room for discipline, however, when a Christ-follower gives in to the sinful nature.
If a Christ-follower (or a professed Christ-follower) persists in indulging in behaviors clearly forbidden in the Bible, the local church is instructed to "expel the wicked man from among you." (1 Corinthians 5:13) Paul even told the Corinthians church that because of their refusal to treat each other with respect as equally loved members of the body of Christ, they were eating and drinking judgment on themselves.
"That is why," he says in 1 Corinthians 11:30-32, "many among your are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world."
Paul is actually telling the Corinthians that God's discipline, even to the point of falling asleep, or dying, is happening to some of them because God is doing whatever he can to save them from condemnation.
In Hebrews 12:7, 11 the author states, "Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."
God still disciplines his people. The purpose of discipline, however, is not punishment. It is to makes disciples who will live for Christ. The purpose of discipline in the church is always to be restoration and protection. If a believer sins persistently, the body of Christ is to protect, if necessary, other members of the body from the person's sin while simultaneously disciplining the offender as a means of bringing him or her to acknowledge truth and to repent.
Both Moses and Gideon asked God for signs so they could know he would be with them and so they would know it was really He commissioning them. God honored their requests. To Moses he gave the sign of Aaron's rod budding, and of his own staff becoming a living snake. To Gideon he granted the wet and dry fleeces as well as the offering consumed by fire from the rock.
In the New Covenant, God still gives his followers signs, but in general the signs are different from those he gave the people he called in the Old Testament. God's people today are sealed with the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit at work in them gives signs in and through the believers.
One of God's most convincing signs among believers is the presence of Love in them. "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another," Jesus said. (John 13:35) This love among believers impacts the world. People do not naturally have true love in their hearts. Their hearts are ultimately selfish, even if they treat certain people with some degree of love. But love that transcends differences and disappointments, hurts and misunderstandings; love that erases pride and arrogance, greed and ambition and instead displays compassion, authority, gentleness, and truth, confuses and puzzles people who aren't born again. (1 John 3:14-15)
The Holy Spirit has also confirmed his work in believers by "signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will." (Hebrews 2:4) When the church first began, God's power in people performed acts that could only have been from God. Unbelievers saw and were convicted. Today, as necessary, God still performs wonders through his believers. He does these things, however, according to his sovereign wisdom and according to his will. (see also 1 Corinthians 11:29-32)
A sign that God gives to all believers is the fruit of the Spirit: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." (Galatians 5:22,23)
Christ followers know when they are living in the will of God because their hearts know peace, rest, joy, and love, and their lives reflect patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These realities are miracles no self-help book can yield and no mind-over-matter concentration can achieve.
God confirms himself to his people with signs that are unmistakable to them. He confirms himself to the world by filling his people with love and peace in situations which seem to demand self-protection and defensiveness.
It is normal for Christ-followers to discover that sinful motives and self indulgence are creeping back into their lives following their conversion. But a converted person belongs to God, and he won't allow them to sin without bringing some sort of discipline into their experience.
God is asking you to look honestly at the struggles you face. He wants you to understand what drives them. He wants to shine the light of truth into your experience and help you know how he wants you to grow and change.
When you become aware of a problem in your life, God is trying to teach you something about the part of yourself enmeshed in the difficulty. You may not have any idea how to resolve your trouble, and you may not have a clue what the true cause of the problem is. But God knows, and when he allows these unresolved things to surface in our lives, it is because he wants to heal us there.
Instead of rationalizing your stance, God is asking you to surrender the dilemma to him. He is asking you to be completely open to knowing the truth. He is asking you to open your clenched emotional fists and let go of whatever it is you hold, allowing Jesus to take it from you, keep it if he wishes, refine it if he wishes, reshape it if he wishes, and give it back if he wishes. He also asks you to let him take it from you completely or change your relationship to it completely if he wishes.
God is asking you to trust him. He's asking you to lean on the love which called you out of bondage and set your heart free. He's asking you to have faith in his sovereignty and his ultimate will for you. Jesus is asking you to trust him with the details of your life and of your heart. He wants you to trust him with your fears of loss and deprivation.
Jesus wants to show you that He is enough, that his love can fill you more completely than can the love of or for any other person or thing.
Jesus wants not just your head but also your heart. He wants to accomplish his will through you. He wants you to give him 100% of yourself.
Jesus wants to be your great reward. Open the hard and fearful places in your heart to him. Let him show you what needs to heal. Let him break the bondage that still connects you to relationships and things that keeps your heart from being at rest. Let him rebuild the relationships he wants to heal. Let truth and love replace bonds of fear and manipulation.
Let the light of truth heal your life. Let the love of God heal your heart. Let the power of God heal your spirit.
"This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are
not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the
victory that has overcome the world, even our faith." (1 John 5:3-4)
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Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Revised August 11, 2001.