We’ve all had moments in our lives where it seemed like all hope was lost. I remember sitting at my desk in high school, staring at an AP Chemistry test that might as well have been written in Latin. I felt so doomed. My mind spun. I was going to fail this test. I was going to fail the class. Would I have to take summer school? Would I be able to get into my dream college? I had catastrophized this one test into determining the trajectory of my future years.
We’ve all experienced failure and hopelessness: the creeping dread of loss.
Why does God allow us to fail? And how can God bring victory in hopeless circumstances?
In Judges 6, fear is spread like a blanket over the hearts of Israel. The Midianites have “overpowered Israel,” scattering the people of Israel into dens “in the mountains and the caves of the strongholds” (Jdgs 6:2). Israel cannot even harvest crops, “For whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them” (Jdgs 6:3) and “leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey” (Jdgs 6:4). The Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey, had become a barren graveyard.
In their despair, “the people of Israel cried out for help to the Lord” (Jdgs 6:6).
And God responded in the most unexpected way. He sends an angel to a fearful Gideon who is beating out grain not on a true threshing floor (where wheat was usually threshed), but to a Gideon who is tucked into a winepress (traditionally carved into a rock) away from Midianite eyes. Without proper access to wind which was needed to carry away the chaff, the return for his efforts must have been nearly inedible grain: as much chaff as wheat.
“The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor!” (Jdgs 6:12), the angel of the Lord greets Gideon.
Gideon’s head swivels, his heart thumps. Where did this intruder come from? What did he want with him? Gideon wants to run, but freezes instead. He then musters the courage to question the faithfulness of God, “Please, my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us?” (Jdgs 6:13).
Why did God choose Gideon? He was fearful. He had accomplished nothing. He was the weakest member of the weakest clan (Jdgs 6:15). How was God going to use Gideon to bring about victory for his people? The angel of the Lord simply responds, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man” (Jdgs 6:16).
How is victory going to come? Through God’s hand alone. What is Gideon’s responsibility? To worship.
Gideon builds an altar to the Lord and calls it “The Lord is Peace.” The Lord then gives him his first command: tear down your father’s altars to Baal and build another altar to me. Gideon does so, albeit in the middle of the night “because he was too afraid of his family and the men of the town to it by day” (Jdgs 6:27). Gideon is obedient even while being afraid. Is that you sometimes?
Worship and obedience precede victory.
God then gives himself unmistakable recognition for the way in which he orchestrates the Israelites’ victory against the Midianites. He dwindles Gideon’s force from 32,000 men to 300 men. The small band of three hundred men (that would go into battle against a vast Midianite army) held no weapons: only torches and trumpets. But they needed no weapons. They only needed their worship and their Lord. They had run to the caves for peace and protection, but the Lord was their only peace, their only stronghold.
And so, with hearts set on their only hope, they blew the trumpets, broke the jars covering the torches, and cried out (with no small irony), “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” (Jdgs 7:20).
Are you desperate for victory? Over sin? Over despair? Over loss? Bow down and worship. “Draw near to the Lord and he will draw near to you,” (Jms. 4:8) James admonishes. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise,” (Ps. 51:17), David echoes.
This is not a promise of victory in our way and in our timing. God’s victories often look very different than our version. But God’s glory is made manifest when our hearts draw low in worship.
Let us heed the warning in the conclusion of the text. Having witnessed God provide rescue for his people, Gideon begins to siphon off glory that was due God for himself. He accepts tribute as a king would and fashions an ephod in order to claim a priestly role. And he and the people return to worshiping false gods. God again allows cyclic judgement to come on his people to draw them back to himself. Worship is a daily invitation. “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!” (Ps. 139:23) David cries out. Repentance and worship must be formed as a lifestyle, as a pattern of godly living. We cannot rest on the worship of yesterday. We cannot presume on the mercy of God.
“The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor!” God has victory for you, even if you are hesitant or afraid like Gideon. Step into obedience and worship. God promises to be with you and invites you to worship him as you behold his mighty hand at work.