April 26, 2020

God’s Grace in Hard Times – Part 2

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Passage: Judges 6:11-27, 36-40
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Do you wonder why God doesn't act when or how you think he should? Do you find yourself at times asking God questions? Do you find yourself worshiping anything other than God? If your answer to any, or perhaps all, of those questions is yes, then you will easily identify with Gideon. Gideon wondered why the people of Israel, God's chosen people, found themselves in such a mess. He asked God question after question and he was guilty of worshipping false gods. And if we're honest, we see ourselves in Gideon. But do you wonder how God responds or how God reacts to his people who question his ways, who question his timing and take the worship that belongs to Him alone and squanders it on false gods?

What is your view of God? Many people have a distorted view of who God is, they have a distorted understanding of who God is. Some believe that God is nothing more than a harsh and cruel taskmaster who is just waiting for us to go against him. Who's just waiting for us to step out of line so he can whack the world with a plague or a pandemic or send a massive disaster our way. Others believe God is more like a grandpa. He's a kindly old gentleman who's sitting on the front porch of heaven in his rocking chair. And sometimes he's amused by the actions of His creation other times he's annoyed by the actions of his creation. But he's either powerless to do anything about it or he's just simply too interested to do anything about it.

So where can we turn? Where should we turn to learn the truth about God's character? Well, we turn to the Scriptures. It is in the Scriptures that God has chosen to reveal himself to us. In Judges chapter 6, paints a beautiful portrait of the character of God. We see God's character in his patience, in his purifying work, and in his power. And in Judges chapter 6 we see how God reacts to his people who question his timing and his ways, and who split the affections of our hearts between him and the false gods of our own making.

Last week we looked at the problem. The children of Israel, God's chosen people, they had a problem. And it was a problem of their own making. Remember, they had disobeyed the clear command that God had given to them. And because they had disobeyed his clear command he had given them into, or into the hand of, the Midianites who were oppressing the people. And each year, the Midianites would descend upon the land and they destroyed the land and the crops. And finally, the people of God would cry. Finally, the people of God cried out to the Lord and he heard their cry. And how did God respond when he heard the cry of the people? Well, we would think that he would immediately send them a deliverer, but he didn't, did he? He sent them a preacher, he sent them a prophet. And why did God do this? Because God knew that his people needed to understand it was their disobedience, it was their own actions, that had landed them in the mess that they were in.

So we learned that the problem of the people and the prophet of God teaches us that God will not tolerate his people dividing their affections between him and any other false god. He will not tolerate us dividing our worship. Moses made this clear to the people of God in Deuteronomy chapter 6:4-5. Moses wrote "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might." If we love God with all of our heart, with all of our soul, and all of our might that would mean by definition that we have nothing left over to give to a false god.

So if we love God the way that God tells us to love him, you know what? Idolatry is not an issue for us. But how did God respond? How did God respond to his people, when they disobeyed his command to love him with all their heart, soul, and might? Well, there are two things that we see that are apparent in the text. The first one we looked at last week and that was we see the judgment of God on the people of God for their disobedience. Make no mistake about it, the Midianites came and were used by God as an instrument of his righteousness, of his righteous judgment against the people. The second thing that we see is the patience of God. And that's really going to be our theme for today is the patience of God.

Now, do you know anybody who tries your patience? Well, if you're a parent, certainly you do. If you're a parent, you tell your children to do something, and many times what do they do? They may ask questions. They keep asking questions. Or they're just asking for more information. Or perhaps they're making excuses. You know what, it's very easy to become frustrated with them. What happens to your children when they're younger, you want to get them ready for bed, you want to put them to bed. All of a sudden you think they've just come out of the Sahara desert and they're dying of thirst and they've got to have something to drink and they've got to have more to drink. Or perhaps starvation is suddenly set in right around bedtime and they've got to have something to eat. And maybe you think to yourself or perhaps you say to them, you're trying, you're beginning to try my patience. If Gideon were one of your children, you'd be tempted to say to him, you know what, buddy, you're trying my patience.

When the Lord God of Israel came to Gideon and said to him and told him that he was going to deliver God's people from under the oppression or out from the oppression of the Midianites Gideon kept asking for signs. And as we examine how God responded to Gideon we learn a lot about the patience of God. Think about this. God had every right to say to Gideon, now look, Gideon, I told you once, that should be enough. Gideon, don't make me come down there and give you a sign. But God didn't do that, did he?

Now let me take a little sidetrack here for just a moment. There are a couple of areas that must be guarded against when reading, teaching, or preaching from the Old Testament. First of all, we must guard against taking events from the lives of Old Testament personalities and turning them into moral examples for us to follow. Certainly, there are qualities in the lives of Old Testament characters that we can learn from and some that we can even imitate. Some we should do, some we shouldn't do. But the Old Testament was not given to us as a set of moral stories. The Old Testament is not some kind of spiritual Aesop's Fables. The Old Testament is the ongoing revelation, the unfolding of God's revelation, of the plan of redemption. And it is through the plan of redemption that we learn the character of God.

The second thing we need to avoid and that is this: we must not be so quick to condemn the actions of the personalities of people in the Old Testament for what we perceive to be character flaws. Despite what you may have heard about Gideon, he demonstrates some admirable qualities. And there are two extremes that we can go to and therefore two mistakes we can make with characters from the Old Testament. One extreme is we simply condemn them for being human. The second extreme is we hold them up as such moral examples that you're almost encouraged to be a Superman. Have you ever heard a sermon that told you “dare to be a Daniel”? And Gideon is a prime example of this kind of bias. We see Gideon asking for signs and immediately we jump to the false conclusion that his questions, that he's asking for signs, they're nothing more than expressions of his doubt and a man of weak faith. But if we do that, you know what we're doing? We're not only condemning him, we're condemning ourselves for being human.

And when you dig below the surface, you will find that there is real wisdom in Gideon's actions. So we have to ask ourselves, was Gideon wrong? And again, there's this clear and present danger of making the mistake, of mistaking the actions of Gideon. And I think that's what many people have done and I don't want you to make that same mistake. Here's something that we must learn to do. And I know this is difficult, especially when we read a story or an account from Scripture that let's say that we're familiar with, perhaps from our flannel graph days or Sunday school days, such as Gideon's story. We must work very hard to set aside our presuppositions about what we think we know about this story and carefully examine why Gideon, in this case, behaved in the way that he did.

The question is that we need to ask about Gideon is what was his end game? Why was he asking for these signs? After all, Gideon knew what God wanted him to do. God was very clear. So was Gideon acting like one of your children and employing stalling tactics? Was he saying God, you know, I need just one more drink before I do this. God, I just need one more cookie before I do this. Was he after more information? I don't believe that either of those things are true.

So if Gideon isn't asking for more information, what was he after? He was seeking confirmation. He was seeking confirmation that it was indeed the Lord God of Israel who was asking him to do these things. Now, why do I say that? Well, Gideon explains it to us in verse 17. Look at verse 17. Gideon said, "If now I have found favor in your eyes, show me a sign that it is [what?] you who speak with me." And I find it interesting that Gideon didn't ask for confirmation that he would be successful in his military campaign against the Midianites. At this point, that's not what concerns him. He wanted confirmation that he was speaking with the one true God of Israel.

Now, why would he do this? Now, here again, we have to understand something about the day, the culture in which he lived. Again, we read this with westernized bias. We have to understand that the people in that land, in that time, they lived amongst the people who worshiped a multitude of false gods. In fact, from this account here we see where the people of God, also were worshipping false gods. Now listen, they worship the false gods because, and on some level, they believed that they were real. So Gideon is just expressing a desire to be assured that he really is talking with the Lord God of Israel. He wanted to make sure that he was dealing with the angel of the one true God of Israel. So I ask you, when he asked for a sign was his asking for a sign a lack of faith or a demonstration of wisdom? And the first sign that Gideon asked for he asked of the angel of the Lord who appeared to him-- and remember the angel of the Lord found him down in the winepress and he's threshing the wheat and he's hiding out doing this-- and the angel of the Lord comes to him and refers to him as what? "Mighty man of valor."

Well, let's take a moment to just reflect on this imagery here. Who would expect a mighty man of valor to be hiding from his enemies, to be afraid of his enemies? It's like the children's game "one of these things is not like the other". A mighty man of valor hiding in a wine press doesn't fit. So it's really not hard to understand why Gideon reacted the way that he did. Now, let's take note of God's patience with Gideon. When the angel of the Lord appears to Gideon and tells him that the Lord is with them, what does Gideon do? Gideon does what so many of us would do? He begins to ask questions. He does so, but notice this now, he does so respectfully. He begins by saying "Please, sir", and then he goes on to ask an "if" question: "If the Lord is with us, why then has all this happen to us?" He begins with an "if". Then he moves on to a "where": "And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us."

If, then, where. Do you know what these are? These are questions of frustration and forgetfulness. Gideon is frustrated over the seven years of oppression and devastation that he and the people have endured from the Midianites. It's a frustration birthed of forgetfulness. The reason for his frustration is that he, along with his countrymen, had forgotten who God was and what God had told them to do as well as what not to do. And I don't want to be so quick to condemn Gideon because I know how easy it is for us, in the midst of the struggles of life, to forget the goodness of God. One of the songs that has been coming to my mind repeatedly during these last six weeks or so is that old hymn "Count Your Blessings". Remember how the first verse goes: "When upon life's billows you are tempest-tossed when you are discouraged thinking all is lost." What's the songwriter’s advice? "Count your blessings, name them one by one and it will surprise you what the Lord has done." So I wonder if you've taken any time since I say the last six weeks since all of this has kind of started, to stop and count your blessings. And I wonder what would happen to your outlook. What would happen to your attitude if you would take sometime later today or in your time meeting with Jesus tomorrow morning, and just begin to count your blessings and you thanked him for each one of them?

Think about the Scriptures. Why did God repeatedly tell the children of Israel that they needed to remember what he had done for them? Because he knows quickly we forget his work on our behalf. We endure six weeks of discomfort and we forget all the other years of his blessings. I wonder if we've been more like Gideon and have we forgot what we know to be true about God. Forgetfulness leads to frustration. And if you're feeling frustrated right now, if things aren't working out the way that you had hoped by now, perhaps you need to go back and remember what God has done for you in the past and what God continues to do for you in the present. And it's not like we lack knowledge. In the Scriptures God has revealed His law, God has revealed his will. He tells us that obedience brings blessing. At the same time, he tells us that our disobedience brings his displeasure and, yes believer, sometimes his punishment. But how quickly we forget.

So many of us are like the ten lepers, or the nine lepers actually. In the Gospel of Luke Jesus heals ten lepers. Nine of them go away. One of them returns and throws himself at the feet of Jesus and thanks Jesus for healing him of this awful disease. And Jesus said, “what happened to the other nine?” I wonder, where are you? Are you the one or are you the nine? Did you go on your way or are you returning back to Christ and thanking him for healing you of that terrible disease called sin? When we sin, when we disobey and suffer as a result of our actions, how quickly we can forget the blessings of God and how quickly we can become frustrated. And like Gideon, the reason for our frustration is our forgetfulness. You say now wait a minute, where do we see the patience of God in all of this? We see the patience of God in the fact that God allowed him to ask his questions and to vent his frustrations. God let him vent. He let him ask questions that when I read them, I think Gideon, you're accusing God. If God is with us, why has this happened? Where are all these wonderful deeds?

But God didn't drop the hammer on him, did he? Why? God was patient with him. And God reveals himself as a God of really great patience all throughout the Scriptures and we could look at a number of verses, but let's just look at one from Peter. 2 Peter 3, Peter writes, "But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." God is patient with us to bring us to repentance. And we also see God's patience in the fact that Gideon wanted God to provide immediate deliverance from the oppression of the Midianites. But God understood that the Midianites were not the real problem. God was patient enough to deal with the internal problem of the people. They had divided hearts. They tried to worship him and worship Baal and Asherah all at the same time. That was a real problem that needed to be dealt with first. And what you and I as believers need to understand is so many times we cry out for deliverance from whatever it may be. But God knows that unless the internal problem that's causing the external problem is first dealt with, we will find ourselves right back in the mess that we were in before he delivered us. We're addicted to sin. And unless we get the cure from sin, we'll be right back into the soup. So God demonstrates patience by dealing with the internal problem of the people before he deals with the external problem, the Midianites. And God's patience, beloved, is always for our good.

So Gideon asked the angel of the Lord to not depart from him until he's had a chance to cook him a meal and present it to him. Now, again, this may seem rather strange to us, but what Gideon was doing, he was making an offering to the angel as part of receiving the sign that it truly was God who was speaking with him. So he prepares the meal and he brings it to the angel. What does the angel do? The angel says, alright, I want you to take the meat and I want you to take the unleavened cakes and I want you to put it on the rock. And then I want you to take the broth and I want you to pour it over the meat and the unleavened cakes. In other words, I want you to saturate this meat and the unleavened cakes with the broth. In other words, he's going to soak it down. And when Gideon did that, what did the angel of the Lord do? He reached out with a tip of a staff and the moment he did that the Bible tells us that fire sprang up from the rock and totally consumed the meal. Then the text tells us the angel immediately vanished. His work was done.

See, Gideon was seeking assurance. That's why he asked for the sign. But when he got the assurance, he's terrified. As one commentator said, his assurance turned into alarm. Look at verse 22 "Then Gideon perceived that he was the angel of the Lord. And Gideon said, 'Alas O Lord God!" That's an exclamation of fear. "For now, I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face." Now, why is he including the "face to face"? Because the Bible was clear, the people of Israel understood, you can't see God's face and live. So it was at this point that Gideon realized that he had indeed been talking to the angel of the true God of Israel. And what's his response? The only proper response. He builds an altar there and he worships. So God demonstrates his patience with Gideon when he asked his questions and when he asked for the sign. But Gideon's not done asking for signs.

This time it has to do with the famous fleece. When the angel of the Lord first appeared to Gideon, he told him that he was going to deliver the people from the oppression of the Midianites. So the time had come for Gideon to take action against the Midianites. In verse 33 Scripture tells us that the Mennonites, the Amalekites, and the people of the East came, they crossed into Jordan, they crossed over the Jordan, and they settled down, they camped in the valley of Jezreel. Then verse 34 tells us that the Spirit of the Lord clothed Gideon and as a result, Gideon sounded the trumpet. So the picture here is the Holy Spirit comes upon Gideon to empower him for leadership for the battle. And we know this really happened because Gideon, the man who was recently hiding in the winepress, grabs the trumpet and blows the trumpet. He's calling the people to battle. He's getting them ready to fight. But before he goes into battle, Gideon asks God not for just one more sign, but for two more signs. You would think if God were like us, and thankfully he's not, that God would have been frustrated with Gideon. You would think that God could say, look, I burned up the meat and the cakes and the broth. What more do you want? But God didn't do that. God doesn't rebuke him.

Look at verses 36-40 "Then Gideon said to God, 'If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said, behold, I am laying a fleece of wool on the threshing floor." Now isn't it interesting he's moved from the winepress, he's moved from hiding. He's back on the threshing floor. He's back out in the open. "'If there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said.'" Now notice without any fanfare or commentary, but what's the Scripture say? "And it was so." There's no displeasure of God noted here. There's no rebuke of God noticed here. There's no frustration of God here. "And it was so. When he rose early the next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water." Isn't that crazy? It wasn't just damp it was soaked. It's like God said hey, that's okay. You want water, I'm going to give you water. "Then Gideon said to God, 'Let not your anger burn against me; let me speak just once more. Please let me test just once more with the fleece. Please let it be dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground let there be dew." Again, no frustration, no consternation from God. No heavy sighing. No rolling of the eyes. "And God did so that night; and it was dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground there was dew."

So Gideon asked not for just one sign but two signs. And many have taken his asking as a demonstration or an illustration or example of weakness. As a sign of his lack of trust, that he doesn't have any faith in God. But what if that's not it at all? What if the signs that Gideon asked for were simply his way of seeking assurance from God? Well, why do you think that's what's going on here? It comes down to the false gods of Baal and Asherah. Baal, which was the dominant god of the Canaanites, he was known as a nature deity. He was known as the weather god. The clouds were said to be his entourage and lightning was his weapon. He was known as the king of the gods. He was also known as a fertility god, affecting the production of crops, livestock, and even human reproduction. And then we have Asherah. She was known as the goddess of the sea. She was known as the one who treads upon the seas. She was also known as a fertility goddess. Baal and Asherah, they were the power couple of Canaanite idolatry.

Now you're intelligent people so let's think this through. The signs that Gideon asked for had to do with what? Nature, but specifically dew. And what is dew? Water. Could it be that Gideon asked for God to demonstrate his power by controlling the location of the dew? Why? Why would this be important to him? Again, dew is water. Baal is the god of the thunderstorm, Asherah is the goddess of the sea. What is that all about? Water, water. He was wanting, by asking for these signs, he was wanting to make sure that the God of Israel-- and I don't say this irreverently-- but he was wanting to make sure that the God of Israel was powerful enough to get the job done. If he was going to go against the Midianites, he needed to know that God, the God of Israel, was powerful enough to accomplish the assignment. He wanted to see if the Lord God of Israel could demonstrate clearly and convincingly that he was superior to Baal and Asherah. And in light of what God was asking him to do, he wanted to be assured of God's promise to save Israel through him. Dale Ralph Davis says he is hesitant, not unbelieving. It's not the absence of faith, but the caution of faith that we see here. Now can we fault Gideon? I think he's wise.

Now keep this in mind. Please keep this in mind. Gideon's actions then are not normal for us today. This is not how we as believers are to interact with God today. When we're seeking the will of God we should not presume upon God and put out our own fleece, whatever it may be. Why? Because we have, as Peter describes it, a more sure word of prophecy. What is that? It's the Scriptures. How do we determine the will of God today? By the Scriptures. God has revealed not only his character but his will in the Scriptures. That was a unique event that took place one time in history, never to be repeated again. So please do not take this as normative. When you're looking for the will of God do not, do not, do not put out a fleece. You're probably going to be disappointed. What we take away from this passage is that God is not afraid to stoop down and reassure us in our fears. I mean, when you read this thing, when you try and read it with fresh eyes and a fresh perspective, you can't help but walk away noticing the fact that God is not upset with Gideon at all. God gives Gideon everything that he asked for. Did Gideon deserve it? Frankly, no. But God was gracious. God was patient. There's a real lesson to be learned there. The lesson is for you and me today is that if you are in Christ, God the Father acts towards you in patience. I'm going to preach this next week I think, Lord willing, but do not mistake patience, the patience of God as the permissiveness of God. Patience does not equal permission. God is long-suffering with his children.

But here's something that we need to understand what if a person is not in Christ? What if a person is not a Christian? Is God patient with them? Yes, to a degree. Who is a Christian? A Christian is one, who by the grace and the power of the Holy Spirit he has shown them that they can't make themselves a Christian. And that they're not a Christian because of some family affiliation. In other words, just because grandma is a Christian doesn't make you a Christian. Just because daddy is a preacher doesn't make you a Christian. Just because daddy's a preacher doesn't make him a Christian. And I want to say this as delicately as I can. The fact that perhaps an unsaved one is hearing my words today is a demonstration of God's patience towards you. You need to ask yourself, why has God been patient with me? Well, Peter gives us the answer, remember what he said? "But [God] is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." See God's patience with you provides you with the opportunity to repent of your sins and to trust in Christ. Being a Christian is all about what Jesus has done and nothing about who you are, or what you have done, or what you are trying to do, or what you're promising God that you will do.

When you sin, even if you only sin once in your lifetime, that sin created a debt between you and God who is your Creator. Because he's your Creator he owns you and he has the right to tell you what to do. And this debt that's been created, even if it's one sin, must be satisfied. Why? God is holy, God is righteous, God is just. He's not going to violate any of that for you. One way or another, the debt has to be satisfied. And one way that you can try and satisfy that debt is by rejecting the work of Jesus Christ and try and pay yourself which is an impossible task. And even if it were possible, you would have to pay that debt by absorbing the wrath of God for your sin. Say, what's the wrath of God look like? Go back and read the story of Jesus on the cross. Are you willing to endure that to pay for even one sin, much less the hundreds of thousands you've committed? And the place where you would have to experience the wrath of God is hell.

Or your debt can be satisfied, the debt you owe to your Creator can be satisfied, if you acknowledge that you are powerless to pay the debt and trust in Christ. You have to do a couple of things. Number one, you have to repent of your sins. Repentance is not you turning over a new leaf. Many people mistakenly equate repentance like a New Year's resolution-- "I'll try and do better". Repentance is not you trying to convince God of just how good you are. Repentance is not promising God I'll never do that again because you will do it again. Repentance is turning from self and turning to God and trusting in Christ as your only hope of salvation. Say well what does it mean to trust in Christ? First of all, it has absolutely nothing to do with something you attempt to do on your own. There are not enough good works to save you. You don't try and reform your behavior nor do you try and convince yourself emotionally that you have enough faith to believe in Christ. How many times have people said, "Just believe, just believe, just believe!"? You can't believe apart from the work of the Holy Spirit.