God’s Power in Weakness
Bible Text: Judges 7 | Pastor: Craig Wilson | Series: Judges | We live in an image-conscious culture. It’s all about the image. Many people labor and strive to create a perfect image, a perfect personal image, a perfect family image, a perfect business image, or a perfect social image. But as we have seen, that image is nothing more than in illusion. Think about advertising, millions of dollars are spent each and every year by advertisers trying to convince the masses that image is everything. And of course, the image that they are selling is one of strength and wealth and youth and beauty.
So as Christians, we need to ask ourselves, does God care about our public image? As a church, we need to be asking ourselves, does God care about our public image? Here’s what I mean, does God want us, His church, to labor to strive to project the image of success? Does God want us to project the image that the church is filled with perfect people with perfect smiles? And we all live perfect problem-free lives?
Well, I think the current crisis teaches us that all of our attempts at presenting the perfect image, an image of strength, that our image is no match for reality. And a false image leads to a false sense of confidence. And even as God’s people, there’s a tendency for us to place more confidence in the image that we have created for ourselves than we do in God. And one of the things that we learned from Gideon is that God is good at smashing the idol of image.
Have you ever given much thought to the kind of person that God uses? For instance, is God looking for the best and the brightest? You know, it’s not unusual, I don’t know if it’s this way anymore but it used to be the Christian world would get all excited if some so-called celebrity came to faith in Christ. So is God looking for the celebrities? Is God looking for the best and the brightest? Does God only use those who have graduated from the top of their class? Does God only use those who have come from the best families and attended the best schools? Well, not according to Scripture. Paul wrote that God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. You say well, why is this true? Well, God makes it very clear. He said through the Old Testament prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 48, “I am the Lord, that is my name, my glory I give to no other.”
And we human beings have an overwhelming desire, a desire born in the soil of our fallenness and continually nourished by the falling rain of our pride, to take credit we don’t deserve and to claim the glory that isn’t ours. And whenever we take credit and claim the glory, we robbed God of the glory that rightfully and only belongs to him. And that God will not share His glory is a lesson that the people of Israel had to repeatedly learn. And it’s a lesson that we continue to need to learn today. That’s why Paul writes that God chose the foolish and the weak to shame the wise and the strong. So the story of Gideon is the example of God choosing the weak to shame the strong. And by the way, Gideon’s story could be, should be, your story.
So what is the lesson of Judges chapter seven? Let me give you the lesson before we look at the details. The lesson of judges seven is that God works through the weakness of Gideon and the people of Israel to teach them that He and He alone deserves credit for their salvation, that He and He alone deserves all the glory for their salvation. And the weakness of Gideon as well as the people of Israel is evident throughout chapters six, seven, and eight here in Judges.
For instance, in Judges chapter six, Gideon, until the angel of the Lord appeared to him, was known as an unknown man from an unknown tribe, an unknown family. Gideon was afraid. Gideon was so weak that he was afraid of his own family. And he’s afraid of the people the town. So he pulled down the altar of Baal at night. Gideon was a fearful man who needed continual, constant assurance from God that indeed it was God who was talking to him. And even after he was assured by God, that indeed it was God who was talking to him he was still afraid to engage the enemy in battle. And what did God do in his grace again, he gives him more assurance. Then in chapter seven, we are going to see a radical reduction in troop strength. Again, Gideon in his weakness needs more assurance from God.
So what are we seeing here? Gideon does not fit the mold of a hero and a leader of man. We would say he’s the strong silent type. We wouldn’t say he’s a natural-born leader. He’s anything but. Gideon wasn’t much. And he didn’t have much. Here we have to contrast who he was with the assignment that God gave him to do. Keep in mind that God was asking Gideon to go against a large, well trained, well-disciplined, and well-equipped army.
Now there’s something that is conspicuous by its absence in the account of Gideon. Do you know what it is? There’s no mention that Gideon or any of his men had any military weapons. Where were the weapons that Gideon and his men had? I don’t think they had any. And what’s an army without weapons? They’re defenseless, they’re helpless. They’re weak. But they were also the kind of army that God uses for His glory.
You know, human reasoning, human logic would say, “Gideon, you need a bigger army.” Isn’t that the way that we as humans think? Isn’t that the way that we operate? “Bigger is better.” Bigger is better. Some people in churches think, “I gotta go to a big church because it’s a better church.” We want more we demand more. Churches are tempted to believe that size equates to effectiveness, it doesn’t beloved. Smaller churches are tempted to believe that if they just had more, they could do more or they would do more. If we just had more people if we had more money. If we just had more programs. more and more and more, we need to be stronger in order to do something for God or in order for God to work through us. But the story of Gideon teaches us that is not God’s way. In order for God to work through us, in order for God to use us to accomplish His glory, we must cast aside the false image of our sufficiency and learn to embrace our weakness. That is so unAmerican, isn’t it? But it’s distinctively Christian. God insists on the necessity of weakness. And why is this true? Again, I point you back to Paul’s words. When he said, “when I am weak, then I am strong.”
And the key that really unlocks our understanding of chapter seven is found in verse two. “The Lord said to Gideon, ‘The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand,” Notice “lest Israel boasts over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.'” See God knows how quick we are to take credit for his accomplishments. God knows how quick we are to take credit for his activity. God knows that we will take every opportunity to boast to claim the glory for ourselves that belongs to him and him alone.
We have an example of this illustration of this in Acts chapter 12. Herod gives a speech to his adoring public, I guess, and how does the crowd respond? Well, they say “the voice of a god and not have a man.” What happened to him? Scripture says immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down. Why? Because he was taking credit for the glory that he did not deserve. God struck him down because he did not give God the glory. Herod learned the hard way and a final way that God will not share His glory. I point you back to Isaiah 42. Again, “I am the Lord, that is my name, my glory I give to no other.” And one of the greatest dangers that we face spiritually, is believing that we can save ourselves or that we have saved ourselves.
But let’s look at another Old Testament character. Jonah. What did Jonah confess from the belly of the whale, or the great fish when he had absolutely no hope of escape? Well when Jonah finally came to his senses, and he realized that he could not save himself, he confessed to God in verse nine, “salvation belongs to the Lord.” And I would add, “and to the Lord alone.” And just as God demonstrated to Jonah, that He alone was his only hope of salvation God was going to demonstrate to Israel, that He alone was responsible for their victory.
So what does God do? So instead of building up the army, instead of undertaking a massive recruiting campaign, you know, I think about this morning, I thought, “well, you know, if this happened in modern-day Christianity, whoever the leader of the movement was, they would have went out and they would have had up those war posters printed up ‘uncle Gideon needs you.’ Right? But instead of giving them the latest in military tech, God opens the door to the barracks, as it were, and he tells Gideon “tell the men that if you’re afraid to fight you’re free to go.” Shocking news to Gideon I’m sure.
So 32,000 men had he originally responded to Gideon’s initial call. And I’m sure as the number of men swelled, so to did their enthusiasm as and their confidence. But as those who responded to the call, looked down into the valley, filled with the Midianites they looked like a swarm of locusts down there. These were all their enemy. I’m sure their enthusiasm, their confidence began to wane and the reality of the situation began to dawn on them. And maybe they looked around and took note of the fact that not many, if any of them had any weapons at all, maybe they realized that the deck was stacked against them. And as reality set in, so too did the fear. And so God said to Gideon in verse three “Now, therefore, proclaim in the ears of the people saying, ‘Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home and hurry away from Mount Gilead.’ I have to admit, I’d probably be one of those boot-scooting it out there. “Then 22, 000 people returned and 10,000 remained.”
So God’s instruction to Gideon, say, why would God do this? Well, here’s why. God was acting in a way that was consistent with his word. So what do you mean? Well, back in Deuteronomy, chapter 20, verse eight, Moses, said, by God, “And the officer shall speak further to the people and say ‘Is there any man who’s fearful and fainthearted?’ Let him go back to his house, lest he makes the heart of his fellows melt like his own.’ See, God knew the psychological impact of keeping those around who were afraid to go into battle. There was the potential that their fear would cause others to fear as well. And after all, you don’t want to go into battle, lacking the confidence that the fellow beside you is not really committed to the fight. Who wants to do that?
So here in a flash, almost 70% of the army walks away. But God’s not finished. God says ‘Gideon, there are still too many men left.’ So he tells Gideon, ‘I’m going to test the men. And the test is very simple. Those who lapped up water like a dog laps water from his bowl, they were going to stay. And the rest who kneeled down to take a drink was sent home.’ Now let me say this. Do not try and read anything into those who lapped and those who kneeled. Here’s why I say that: the Bible doesn’t say. So for us to speculate. It’s just pure speculation. Really, it’s a waste of time. Don’t read anything into this. This was just God’s simple test. And so what’s Gideon left with he’s left with 300 men. How many men did Gideon start with? 32,000. And now he only has 300 left. Do the math. That’s over 90% of the men he started with they have gone.
So what is happening here? God was teaching Gideon that his strength lay in the Lord God of Israel and not in the number of soldiers he had at his command. And Beloved, this is how God works in our lives. If we are tempted to trust in our own resources, if we are tempted to trust in our own ability, or if we are tempted to trust in the public image, the public persona that we have carefully crafted, God will begin to strip away the layers that we have surrounded ourselves with in order to teach us that He and He alone is our strength.
Now, let’s be honest, none of us here, or there, could fault Gideon if his confidence was a little shaken when he realized that 90% of his men were gone. And as I was preparing this week, I thought to myself ‘this should be the time when Gideon’s probably getting ready to ask for another sign. If ever there was a need for a sign you would think it’d be right now. After all, if the assignment that God had given to him seemed difficult before, it must seem impossible now.’
So first God exposed the weakness of the people… By the way, God did not make the people weak they were weak. He just helped them see their weakness. So he exposed the weakness of the people. But now he’s going to encourage them in their weakness. In verse nine, God tells Gideon to go down against the camp. Now notice this, “for I have given it into your hand.” “I have given.” What is God saying the Gideon? ‘The victory is already won, Gideon. But you still have to fight the battle. But I have given the camp into your hand.’
Then in verse 10, God says to him, “but if you are afraid,” See, God knows us. God understands us. God is gracious to us. “But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant.” Now think about what God is asking him to do. He’s asking Gideon to go right down, right into the belly of the beast, if you will, right into the teeth of the lion. So why did God want him to do this? Did God want to scare him some more? Did God want to discourage him even more? Was God wanting to take what few hours of life expectancy get it getting had left away from him? No, no. God wanted Gideon to go down into the teeth of the enemy because that was the place that God had chosen to encourage him in his weakness. God said in verse 11, “and you show hear what they say, and afterward your hand shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.”
So as Gideon’s prior actions have shown us, he is not a naturally courageous man. But that’s okay. Because God does not ask him to be courageous. He asked him to be obedient. And it was his obedience that brought encouragement. Please, please, please focus in on that. God is not necessarily looking for the courage he’s looking for obedience. Remember, God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. Here’s probably a much-overlooked fact by many Christians: do you want to know the power of God? Then you have to admit and acknowledge and embrace your weakness. That sin, that you can’t seem to overcome, that habit, you can’t kick. Have you ever admitted your weakness to God in that area? Have you embraced your weakness and confessed to God, “I’m too weak to handle this”? So that’s the first step and in experiencing the power of God.
And I think one area of our lives that we can immediately apply this to is evangelism. Let’s admit to ourselves that when it comes to evangelism, most of us lack courage and we’re weak. And that’s okay. That’s really that’s okay. Because God does not ask us to be courageous evangelists. He asks us to be obedient evangelists. That’s why I’m so excited about the Tell the Truth training that starts this week because we’re going to learn together the necessary elements of the gospel. I believe that when the current crisis is over, the hearts of many will have been prepared by God to at least give the gospel a hearing. And I want you and I want us as a church to be prepared for that opportunity. Yes, let’s admit right up front we’ll be scared, we’ll be timid, we will be weak, we will be weak evangelists but all God is looking for is obedient evangelists. And again, I think perhaps the church is to blame for some of this because we kind of put the evangelists on some pedestal and like “he’s really something special, you know what? and I can never be like him.” You know what? That’s great and fine for those who have the gift of evangelism, but for the rest of us who don’t have the gift of evangelism, and are commanded to evangelize let’s just admit who we are, we’re weak, we’re powerless, we’re timid. And our weakness is overcome by the strength of God.
So Gideon and Purah, they go down to the camp the enemy and the reason God told him to go down, quickly becomes obvious. Gideon overhears to the soldiers talking. And one is telling the other about a dream that he had. One says, ‘you know I dream that a cake a barley bread…’ by the way it’s significant that is called barley bread because barley bread was the bread of the poor. You wouldn’t find this on a king’s table. He said I dreamed that a cake a barley bread tumbled into the camp and struck a tent and completely turn it upside down.’ So get the image here, this is what he dreams, this loaf of barley bread, the bread of the poor, the bread of the insignificant, comes into the camp of the mighty Midianites and overturned it. Strange dream to be sure but the interpretation is even stranger. The other man says this… I have to laugh at this because this is the providence of God at work here, God is in complete control. How in the world does the fella who’s on guard duty with you say ‘you know what I had a dream about a loaf of bread,’ and the other guy says, ‘Oh, I know exactly what that means? This is no other than the sort of Gideon, the son of Joash, a man of Israel. God has given into his hand Midian and all his camp. How do you get that from a loaf of bread? God was at work here. And what was the result? What was Gideon’s response? You know what? He does what he has done earlier, he worships. Lord willing, next week we’ll take a look at the faith of Gideon and see how his faith grew, how Gideon grew.
So he worships but then he returns to the camp with complete assurance. Now notice what he says. He goes back to the man he says “Arise, for the Lord…” Now notice how his language has changed, “the Lord has given the host of Midian into your hand.” He’s got the same message that God gave him. ‘Hey fellas, the victory has been won. Yeah, we’ve got to fight the battle but don’t worry victory is assured. We are going to win. We are going to come out on top.” Now what change has taken place in Gideon? Back in chapter six, verse 15. Gideon said to God, “how can I save Israel?” And then 6:36 “if you will save Israel by my hand,” this guy was a “how” to “if.” These aren’t questions or statements of confidence, but now he’s ready to go, he’s been strengthened. Tim Keller said, “going into the enemy camp is dangerous for Gideon and his servant but it is the place where God gives him confidence, leads him to worship and stirs him to action.”
Perhaps the reason so many of us lack the strength, the confidence, is because we never venture into enemy territory. We try and surround ourselves with other Christians. We try and stay in our Christian cocoon. And ‘don’t anybody else come near. Don’t contaminate us.’ Too many Christians have been practicing spiritual distancing for far too long.
But there’s a lesson here for us. So the lesson is that God often gives us what we need as we do what he has asked us to do. Again, let’s apply this truth to evangelism: God will give you whatever you need in your evangelistic efforts as you evangelize. God will supply all the strength you need in evangelism. Can I share something with you? I don’t really like to use myself but I think this fits. I told the guys in pastoral training several months ago, the most terrifying part of my week is when I sit down and my study is done and I stare at a blank screen on my computer wondering “what do I have to say?” Now if I continue to dwell on that question, a sermon would never be produced. But you know what happens? God has never failed me. He always gives me something. But he does it–I have a very strange sermon prep. I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody–He always gives it to me when I need it.
And see, when we think about evangelism, you may be sitting there thinking right now, “I could never do that. I wouldn’t know what to say.” Stop thinking that way. Begin to tell yourself “when I begin to evangelize, God will help me. God will give me the words to say. God will give me the strength to say it.” See? If you never attempt to evangelize, you’ll never experience the strength of God in that area of your life. And you can apply that to other areas of your life as well.
Would you remember this: In evangelism, God wants to see people saved more than you want to see people saved. And as the story of Gideon clearly demonstrates–I love this–God can take the weakest and achieve the greatest. Why? Because his strength is made perfect in weakness. But make no mistake about it. Gideon is not the hero. God is the hero.
Do you think you’re too weak for God to use you? Gideon’s story proves you’re not. In fact, the weaker the better. Do you think your fear disqualifies God using you? It doesn’t. Fear comes from weakness, and God’s strength is perfected in weakness. Do you think you’re too frail for God to use you? You’re not. God’s strength is perfected in your weakness. Let’s flip the coin. Do you think your strength, your ability, and your image is enough is all that you need? Let me warn you. God will smash the false idol of your image. God can use anyone. Gideon is proof of that. Do you wonder if God can use you? Gideon says wonder no more.