Week of July 24
Rev. Herchel Sheets
Lesson Scripture: Judges 7:2-4, 13-15; 8:22-25
One of the earliest splits in American Methodism occurred in 1792 in Charleston, South Carolina. William Hammett, a Methodist preacher from England, had arrived in Charleston and immediately become popular with the Methodists there. With his encouragement, they decided they wanted him as their pastor. He was not only willing, he was determined. But Bishop Francis Asbury had other ideas, and when Hammett failed to get Asbury's approval, he decided to start his own church, the Primitive Methodist Church. He was effective for awhile, but died after a few years, and the Methodist denomination he formed soon died also.
I remembered William Hammett as I thought about the people of Israel trying to get Gideon, their proven leader, to accept the title and role of king. Unlike William Hammett wanting to be the pastor in Charleston, Gideon had not asked for the job of king, and he refused it when some tried to get him to assume it. Why did he refuse it? This was his answer: "I will not rule over you," he said, "and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you." He would not assume a role that he believed belonged to God.
A Reluctant Leader
Gideon had been hesitant about accepting the role of a leader of his people. Like his fellow Israelites, he shivered with fear because of the oppression of the Midianites and others who were invading their communities and taking whatever they wished from them. When an angel of the Lord addressed him as a "mighty warrior" and told him the Lord was with him, he denied that such a title belonged to him. He also denied that the Lord was with him. "If the Lord is with us," he asked, "why then has all this happened to us?"
We can identify with Gideon, can't we? We, too, have wondered where God was when times were hard and bad things were happening. But, really, are we all that conscious of God's protection and help when things are going well with us? Isn't it true that the tendency is to forget about God in those times? That's what the Israelites were doing.
You would have to say that Gideon was an unlikely prospect for a major leadership role in his country. But with the Lord's persuading, he eventually decided to take a first step in turning his people back to God. That first step was to tear down his own father's worship center, which was devoted to Baal, the Canaanite god, and to erect in its place an altar to Yahweh, the Lord. But out of fear he did it at night rather than in broad daylight.
When what he had done was known by the people around him, they were ready to kill him, but his father defended him. He said that if anyone was to contend for Baal, it should be Baal himself.
Tests for God and for people
Encouraged, Gideon "sounded the trumpet" and sent out a call to people in the surrounding areas to join him in the attempt to shake off the oppression of their enemies. But still he was not sure he could count on the Lord's assistance. So he put the Lord to the test: He put out a fleece of wool with the condition that if it was wet the next morning and the ground around it was dry, he would know that the Lord would be with him in battle. That was the way it happened.
But he was still not sure he could trust the Lord. So he changed the test: The next morning if the fleece was dry and the ground was wet, he would know God would be with him. That was what happened that night. So now how could he avoid believing that the Lord would be with him?
In the meantime, plenty of people had joined him for the fight, but the Lord told him he had too many men. If the battle went in their favor, they would think they, not the Lord, had won the victory. So when he was told to tell those who were afraid to go home, 22,000 did so. Only 10,000 remained with him. But the Lord said that still was too many, and so suggested another test to determine who should comprise the attack force.
After that test was carried out, Gideon was left with only 300 men. But that proved to be enough. Gideon's strategy was perhaps the most unusual successful military strategy ever used, but it proved effective. Then when it was over, Gideon had no doubt about the real Victor in the battle. It was not he and those 300 men. It was the Lord.
Truths worth knowing
Let's note some things now that we can learn from this story of Gideon.
1. Don't underestimate what you can accomplish with God's help.
2. Trust in God leads to effective service for God.
3. Don't think God has deserted you just because things are not pleasant, easy, and prosperous for you.
4. You don't have to go far away to do work for God; such work is needed close by as well.
5. We, not God, are the ones who need to show signs or evidence of trustworthiness.
6. Lots can be accomplished with a few if the commitment is there.
7. Never put yourself in the place that belongs to God.
The Rev. Herchel Sheets is an author and retired pastor. E-mail him at HHSheets@aol.com.