The Thief and the Cross

Photo Cred: (1)| Updated: 5/27/2019

In light of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, I wanted to take some time to write about the thief on the cross. By thief on the cross, I am referring to one of the two thieves that were crucified with Jesus. One became a believer, while the other did not. So for now, any references to the thief on the cross are towards the thief that became a believer.

Why Were People Crucified?

Bart-d-ehrman-2012-wikipedia
Bart D. Ehrman, PhD | James A. Gray Distinguished Professor University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

This thief on the cross is an interesting figure in the historical account of the crucifixion of Jesus, but is often overlooked in the grand scheme of things. He most likely would have been a Jewish man due to a number of factors like his belief in one God (2) and his familiarity with the teachings of Jesus about the kingdom of Heaven (3), along with his punishment. Bart Ehrman, a New Testament scholar, points out the uniqueness of the crucifixion and why only a certain group of people would receive this form of punishment when he writes

Crucifixion was reserved for special cases. But there were lots of special cases. Two of the most common were low-life criminals and enemies of the state. These are two very different matters – they are not the same thing… This was especially the case – I reiterate – for enemies of the state. Rare exceptions might be made for low-life criminals – escaped slaves, horse thieves, general riff-raff who did not matter to anyone in power (4).”

In other words, the two thieves were most likely crucified for either stealing something very valuable like horses as their names would suggest or for being insurgents that were sworn enemies of the state. Regardless of why they were hung in the first place, these two men died alongside Jesus and witnessed His final moments before His death. This will be the bedrock for the rest of this blog-post moving forward.

Artistic Depictions of Christ’s Crucifixion

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What is also of note is how artists depict where the three men are in different works of art. For instance, Peter Paul Rubens and Titian seem to have placed the thief on the cross to the right of Christ, while the proud thief is to His left. This deliberate creative choice of putting the thief on the cross beside the right hand of God is significant.

In both Judaism and Christianity, to be on the right hand of God was a sign of God’s “ruler-ship, authority, sovereignty, blessing, and strength and is significant in Scripture (5).” We can see this in many places in the Bible such as Psalm 110:1b where it says “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” To be fair, there are other works of art like Rembrandt van Rijn’s Christ Crucified between the Two Thieves: The Three Crosses (6) that appears indifferent to where each thief is in the picture and is rightly so focused on Christ Himself.

Likewise, James the brother of Jesus once wrote “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you (7).” It would seem that in the spirit of this passage and the current state of the thief on the cross, that Rubens and Titian visually depicted what was spiritually taking place inside this thief’s soul. That as the thief on the cross was up there next to Jesus, his heart and mind were radically changed. A series of events that brought this man to a point of understanding.

Things like Jesus asking for the forgiveness of His executioners (8), soldiers dividing His garments by way of casting lots, and those passing by railing blasphemous statements towards Christ in a taunting way (9) all occurred before the thief on the cross had a change of heart. In the Gospel of Matthew (10), it even records both thieves mocking Jesus until a certain point where only the proud thief is left to mock Jesus. Sometime between both thieves mutually mocking Jesus and the proud thief continuing to mock Jesus, was there a sharp change in attitude from the thief on the cross.

A Change of Heart

What happened so suddenly that a thief dying on a cross would suddenly have a complete change in how he perceived Jesus? I’d argue it is a combination of moments, but for now we will only focus in on one aspect. What Jesus said and how He acted during this whole ordeal.

Gamelin2_t01
Anatomical Crucifixion Sketch | Jacques Gamelin, 1779 (12)

Just for a little more context, their punishment by way of crucifixion was not so nice. In fact, it was one of, if not the most painful form of torture at that time. According to Maslen and Mitchell’s article written in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (11), crucifixion had many cruel ways of ending one’s life.

Some of those causes of death may have been, but are not limited to acidosis, arrhythmia plus asphyxia, cardiac rupture, hypovolemic shock, and so on. Death by crucifixion was a brutal, yet extremely prolonged way to die. For some, they died in a matter of hours. For others, they died in a matter of days.

I believe of the three events that took place before the thief on the cross had a change of heart, the moment of Jesus forgiving His executioners had the most impact on the thief. Christ’s response showed the thief a direct contrast to the way He lived His own life. A seed of regret was planted.

Jesus forgave those that were killing Him. The two thieves probably hated those that were crucifying them. Jesus was known as an exorcist and a teacher who wanted to help the poor and sick. The two thieves were most likely men that spent the majority of their lives only helping themselves.

As if the name was any indication, these thieves were probably selfish. Christ was selfless. The thieves died for crimes they committed. Jesus died for crimes we committed. For the thief on the cross and from his perspective, this man was different in almost every single way from him and the other thief. They deserved this death, but Jesus didn’t.

This strong distinction between a thief and the giver of eternal life is a drastic black-and-white difference. One died for taking that which was someone else’s, while the other died for giving all that He had for others. This I believe is what changed the thief on the cross from mocking Jesus to defending Him in front of everyone.

By everyone, I mean everyone. Gentiles and Jews. Pharisees and Roman soldiers. Family, friends, neighbors, and so on. Everyone there at the crucifixion knew of or had heard of these three crucified men and were probably shocked watching the thief on the cross have a change of heart. A thief for the first time encountering something he had never seen before: unlimited love in response to unbridled hate. The love of God in reaction to the darkest of human deeds. The Gospel happening before his very eyes.

The short story of the thief on the cross ends in a profound way. Luke chronicles the rest of that story when he writes

But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you shall be with me in paradise (13).””

In response to the thief’s change of heart and his humble demeanor, God gives Him grace. A grace that surpasses all understanding. This is the thief and the cross. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. https://www.pexels.com/
  2. Luke 23:40
  3. Luke 23:42
  4. https://ehrmanblog.org/why-romans-crucified-people/
  5. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christiancrier/2015/06/13/what-does-the-right-hand-symbolize-or-mean-in-the-bible/
  6. https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/41.1.31/
  7. James 4:6-8b
  8. Luke 23:34
  9. Luke 23:35-37
  10. Matthew 27:44
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1420788/
  12. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/historicalanatomies/gamelin_home.html
  13. Luke 23:40-43

Deception Part I: After An Innocent Mistake | Mark Cribari

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 5/27/2019

In this first segment of a three-part series on deception, I would like to focus on where it all began: in the beginning. Since the Bible clearly tells us in multiple places that Satan was the source of the very first lie spoken through an animal in the Garden of Eden, we have our starting point. Then, we will follow the progression of deception from the serpent to separation to “The Secret” in parts II and III.

The Genesis record reveals that every physical thing God made in its original state was declared “good” in the opening two chapters. The only exception to this was loneliness as described in Genesis 2:18, but then again, the LORD wasn’t finished creating at that point. The results from His short surgery (v21‭) included the beauty of ceremony (v22), poetry (v23), unity (v24), and shameless transparency (v25). Even verses 16‭-‬17 imply God’s love by the mere fact that He warned the first man within His first command. Then things took a turn for the worse in chapter 3 when doubt was introduced by that serpent of old (Revelation 20:2).‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

One of my favorite aspects about the Bible is that God used progressive revelation to continue revealing to us things He wanted us to know. What amazes me is that He was also able to use different types of literary genre to do so like historical narratives, poetry, prophecy, and even letters. A good example of this can be found in John 8:44 where Christ gave us more insight about the devil than Moses did in Genesis 3:1 when Jesus said, “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.” Details like this should be helpful as we take a closer look at the subject of deception throughout Scripture.

Since the Gospel according to John and Genesis are both in the genre of historical narratives, it becomes almost seamless to use Scripture to interpret Scripture since that literary style deals primarily with people, places, things and events. It could get interesting when we use other styles to help us understand this historical event and possibly assist in answering some of the questions I have for you as well. Now before I get to these specific questions so you can come to your own conclusions about the first deception and, at the same time, test what I’m saying based on the facts presented (1st Thessalonians 5:21), I’d like to remind you about the difference between explicit and implicit observations.

Explicit facts are those that are usually obvious to most people whereas those that are implicit would be those truths that are implied by the text within its context. I’m clarifying this distinction so that you as the reader know that if the things I share from this point forward are not supported by the text and the context, you’re welcome to throw them out as assumptions. There is a phrase used by many to describe this as “chewing the meat and spitting out the bones.”

Now there are two reasons why I titled this “After An Innocent Mistake.” First of all, this brief conversation with the serpent reflects the purity and innocence Eve had when she made the mistake of trusting that what he said could be the truth, even though this creature was planting doubt in her mind and denying what God said to her husband in chapter 2. Secondly, the terrible consequences of sin took place only after they both broke God’s original command. At this point, I’d like to present you with some inductive questions to consider in regards to when Adam was actually with Eve during this account.

First off, working from the New King James Version of the Holy Bible, why do Genesis 3:1 and Genesis 3:4 record that “the serpent said to the woman” instead of saying to them (i.e. Adam & Eve) if her husband was there when this initial conversation took place? Why do most people assume that “her husband (was) with her” during the serpent’s deception in the verses previous to verse 6 since we don’t know “when” Eve “saw, took, and ate its fruit” in Genesis 3:6?

Why does the wording in Genesis 3:6b, “She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate” appear to be an afterthought as if it could be a separate event from her choice? The Holy Spirit confirms a fact about this event in 1st Timothy 2:14 when it is written, “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.” If Adam was there when the serpent lied to Eve as many people believe, wouldn’t “they” have been deceived instead of the strong clear wording of 1st Timothy 2:14? It’s safely been said that Scripture interprets Scripture, so we can’t ignore this New Testament insight into Old Testament history.

Since all the pronouns turn plural in Genesis 3:7-8 after Adam ate (e.g. them, they, themselves, up to the phrase “Adam and his wife”), why did Adam blame her instead of the serpent? As well as in Genesis 3:12 when addressed by God and she then blames the serpent in the singular when she admits in verse 13, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” instead of including her husband if he was actually there when she was lied to? When Paul expressed his concern in 2nd Corinthians 11:3, why didn’t he include Adam when he wrote, “as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness” if her husband was actually with her during moment that lie was delivered by the Devil?

Genesis 3:17‭ reads: Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of the serpent…” Oh, wait a minute. He didn’t say that at all! Adam’s curse and consequences were because he listened to his “wife.” Don’t you think this would have been a great opportunity to clear things up for us since “God is not the author of confusion?” (1st Corinthians 14:33a). God says what He means and means what He says. Nowhere in Scripture does He say nor infer that the serpent said to the man or that Adam heard from the serpent.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Finally, when reading through Romans 5:10-21, I find it interesting that the Spirit of God holds Adam solely responsible for disobeying the LORD’s command and bringing sin into the world instead of holding both Adam and Eve liable for it in phrases such as “through one man sin entered the world,” “those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam,” “by the one man’s offense many died,” “through the one who sinned,” “the judgment which came from one offense,” “by the one man’s offense,” “as through one man’s offense,” and lastly “as by one man’s disobedience.” My only question at this juncture is why do some sermons and many pieces of art depict both of them together in the garden with the serpent when the source material, Holy Scripture does not seem to support it? For more on this, click here and this here.

Although I’d prefer not to be dogmatic about this, I do believe that it’s important to understand the true circumstances of that first deception to the best of our ability in light of 2nd Corinthians 2:11 which warns us that “lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices.” That last word has also been translated “schemes” and this brings me to my final thought. Could it be that the progression of the devil’s plan as recorded in Genesis chapter 3 to destroy Adam and Eve by introducing doubt, denial, deception, and disbelief of God’s loving warning in Genesis chapter 2 actually began with the strategy of separation? If the old adage, “there is safety in numbers” proves true, then his scheme worked if Satan intentionally waited for these two to be apart from each other before he approached the weaker vessel (1st Peter 3:7). Stay tuned for part two in this series on deception in the future.

Footnotes

  1. Free stock photos · Pexels
  2. https://answersingenesis.org/bible-characters/adam-and-eve/was-adam-with-eve-when-she-spoke-to-the-serpent/
  3. https://www.gotquestions.org/amp/Adam-with-Eve.html

Leaving So Soon?

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 5/27/2019

There is an epidemic in the church. This brewing problem has been growing exponentially since the 1950s when the youth culture truly took root in the West. It was a time of peace after WWII when the war for the hearts of the next generation flourished under the guise of prosperity and progress.

Whether that be the technological advancements, the race relations that led to the Civil Rights Movement, or the sexual revolution that changed the way we process perversity versus pleasure. This youth culture, Gen Z especially, has been in the process of a mass-exodus of sorts in fleeing the church to join the culture. According to various studies, “70 percent of youth stop attending church when they graduate from high school. Nearly a decade later, about half return to church (2).” As my good friend Andrew Morrison keeps saying, “we are on the verge of a second 1960s counterculture revolution” and this revolution is going to get ugly.

Now who exactly is leaving and why are they leaving so soon? To be precise, the youth from middle school to college are leaving the church. By ‘the church’ I mean that as both Christianity specifically and religion in general, as the youth embrace the pressures of society to conform to the inward and outward expressions of sin. This grand departure is happening primarily in the Western part of the world (i.e. North America and Europe), which is due to a number of circumstances.

From personal online investigation to public inquiry with others in this age range, I have whittled down the leading reasons as to why the youth are leaving so soon to 5 options. These 5 options include a) unable to freely question, b) not enough reason to believe in God beyond morally therapeutic deism (3), c) not challenged or tested to do otherwise in their way of thinking, d) objective truths have been exchanged for relevant subjectivism, and e) other undisclosed reasons that are specific to the individual. Regarding the last option for instance, the problem of suffering has caused a lot of people to leave because of both immense personal doubt and sorrow, along with the theological implications over any given situation of suffering (natural disaster, miscarriage, rape, etc). Another notable example for the final option would be the controversial views of the church as it is both pro-life and for traditional marriage, rather than pro-choice and in support of non-traditional forms of marriage.

This ‘generation gap’ of the youth rebelling against the truth has been an issue that has always been present within the church as it lies in direct conflict with the culture and its way of thinking. For the youthful in particular, one of the greatest choices one can make is whether to go with the flow downstream (i.e. the culture) or go against the flow upstream (i.e. the church). Once one chooses either option, they must therefore reject the other for we are to be in the world, but not of it as Christ’s church (4).

The question remains: how do we avoid leaving so soon or if we have already left, how do we come back home to Christ and in fellowship with His church? As I have thought upon this topic, I believe the answer lies in one of my favorite books in the Bible: the book of Colossians. It is here where I think the young believer, such as you or someone you know, can find solutions to this inveterate problem in the church.

Just as the prodigal in Luke chapter 15 left to indulge in sin and was still a son of his father, we too are sometimes in a state of being a prodigal, but we do have the hope of always being a child of God as believers. There is always the hope that no matter how far a believer temporarily runs away from God, they still have the opportunity to turn back and ask for forgiveness. In the book of Colossians, we find 5 factors that will guide us on the straight and narrow or for those of us who have already left so soon, a way back home. The first of these factors is a matter of the mind.

1) Protect Our Minds

“I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument… See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ (5).”

In this day and age, the battle for the mind has never been a more intense struggle for the youth. Whether we acknowledge it or not the Enemy, the World, and even our own sin nature desire to corrupt our minds to the point of permanent decimation. Do not give in to those temptations. Resist and fight back by protecting your mind as you hold fast to the truth of Christ’s victory at the cross and pray for the LORD to do a work within you.

Know what Jesus died and rose again for in the first place. Know the truths of Scripture. Most importantly, stay on guard spiritually. This is where apologetics is key for personal devotion in the believers life. Apologetics is the sledgehammer of evangelism because it destroys strongholds of skepticism hiding in our hearts, but also acts as a chisel of continuous refinement as we seek to be more Christ-like as believers. Apologetics protects the mind, but prayer solidifies that defense like nothing else.

By knowing the truth and consistently learning to be better equipped mentally, the believer is that much more ready for the battle of the mind. Nothing can stop the truth and if Jesus is the truth (6), then we can have full assurance in times of doubt that what we believe is worth fighting for in the end both mentally and spiritually. Fight off the mental warfare of this world system that is intent on crushing you.

Get up and brush off those books. Be a student of God by protecting your mind with the truths of God’s Word and His glorious Creation through the avenue of apologetics, while at the same time constantly praying for God to shield your mind from what knowledge cannot protect you from. We live in the information age and we should act like it for once as the church. The best offense is a better defense. Be an apologist, not an apostate. Be informed, not uninformed.

2) Purpose In Our Minds

“Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth (7).”

After the mind is protected, it must be redirected to the things of God. To purpose in our minds and to think upon the spiritually good, rather than the spiritually bad will ensure a sober mind for the backsliding believer seeking to please God. Be sober and be vigilant as the Apostle Peter once said (8). Think like Christ thinks. As Daniel purposed in his mind to honor the LORD by obeying the Mosaic Law (9), so too we must purpose in our minds to honor God above all else through the process of renewing our minds (10). It will take time to reconfigure the way you think, but it is a natural change as you turn back to God.

3) Purpose In Our Church Body

“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father (11).”

From the mental to the social, Paul lines out how we should purpose and aim as the church to live as one body of believers submitted to the authority of God’s Word. There must be a deliberate attempt to be in constant fellowship with other believers because it is what unifies the Bride of Christ in a way that glorifies God. We bear burdens, we forgive sins, we wisely teach, we wisely admonish, and most of all love because He first loved us.

As Christians, either we are one or we are none. As was said by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses (12).” Be active in both the local church you attend and the church at large. Pray with believers and seek God. Camaraderie is the key in a community, especially for us as the church. As the 1st century Christians lived (13), so we should live in fellowship with one another in Jesus name.

4) Purpose In Our Hearts

“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve (14).”

For most, if not all who leave so soon, it is a matter of the heart. By a matter of the heart, I mean to say a combination of internal motivations and external attitudes we may have in our day-to-day living. These things must change as we purpose in our hearts not to live like we once did, but to live according to what the LORD insists for each and every one of us. The Israelites had to purpose in their hearts as they chose to love God with all their heart, with all their soul, and with all their strength (15). Once you know how to love God, only then will you be able to love.

Later on in history, we find Ezra the priest and scribe displaying this fourth point in action as he “set his heart” on learning the Word of God, living out the Word of God, before teaching others in a like manner (16). Yet before any outward actions took place, Ezra had to fix his heart and aim it towards God. We must do likewise, if we intend on getting right with God before our inevitable prodigal exodus or on the way back from one. We must set both our minds and our hearts on the things above, not on the things below.

5) Purpose In Our Speech

“Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person (17).”

Nothing says that you are looking to change quite like the way you transform the way you speak to others. How do you communicate to people? To family? To friends? To enemies? Can you truthfully say that you speak with a courteous and tactful manner that stands out from when you chose to leave God or before you were even with God? Is there a difference in the way you talk from when you were a prodigal to now as another member of the pasture of the Good Shepherd?

Eventually, on the way back to the loving arms of the Lord you should notice a change in the way you speak. Not just in vocabulary, but most importantly the intent of your speech in the first place. Why do you talk in the first place? What is the intent in what you say when, where, why, and how you say it? Jesus put special emphasis on what we say (18) as it can lead to either our declaration of our salvation in Christ or our damnation away from His grace.

In his book, Fool’s Talk, author Os Guinness lays out the biblical pattern in which every believer should speak both publicly in social gatherings and even privately in our hearts and minds. He argues that everyone is a fool. Either you are a fool for Christ or a fool of the world. As Jesus put it when preaching on the Beatitudes, out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (19), so in all things learn to speak wisdom. Like salt, speak in a way that preserves the humanity of whoever you talk to, while simultaneously expelling the hardheartedness of their sin nature. It’s about time we spoke like fools.

Final Thoughts

It’s a hard road leaving sin to seek the Savior, but is totally worth it in the end. Adjustments will be made both consciously and unconsciously as you grow more spiritually attuned to God’s liking and as the Holy Spirit does His refining work within you. If we return back to God, then we will radically change in three main ways: our thought life, our feelings, and our speech. This trifecta can be seen in the return home for the prodigal son of Luke 15 and is a pattern that has been seen in every prodigal throughout time.

Be against the flow, not with it! Return to the Lord and all His goodness! Put on the full armor of God and doing all to stand up to sin, stay standing. I pray that God would do a mighty work in you as He guides your mind, heart, and words to be in alignment with His Word.

Why are you leaving so soon? Your life with God has only just begun! Stay and see what the triune God has in store for you. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless!

Footnotes

  1. https://www.pexels.com/
  2. http://www.churchleaders.com/children/childrens-ministry-articles/166129-marc-solas-10-surprising-reasons-our-kids-leave-church.htmlhttp://crossexamined.org/youth-exodus-problem/. See also Galatians 5:7-8 when Paul the Apostle address the same issue in the first century.
  3. http://www.christianpost.com/news/top-3-false-christian-beliefs-leading-americas-youth-astray-american-family-association-172100/
  4. NASB John 17:9-16
  5. NASB Colossians 2:4, 8
  6. NASB John 14:6
  7. NASB Colossians 3:2
  8. KJV 1 Peter 5:8
  9. NASB Daniel 1:8
  10. NASB Romans 12:2-3
  11. NASB Colossians 3:12-17
  12. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community (P. 86)
  13. NKJV Acts 2:42, NKJV 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22, NKJV Hebrews 10:23-25
  14. NASB Colossians 3:23-24
  15. NKJV Deuteronomy 6:5-7
  16. NASB Ezra 7:10
  17. NASB Colossians 4:5-6
  18. NASB Matthew 12:36-37
  19. NLT Luke 6:45

 

 

Gideon: A Character Study | Part 12: Eternity + Legacy

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 5/21/2019

As we come to a close on the brief brush stroke covering the life and death of Gideon, we come to the last segment of the series where we take a moment to reflect on the man’s legacy. A legacy that is unique to Gideon and to Gideon alone. This week we will examine what the author of Hebrews has to say about the many figures of faith in history, including Gideon. Starting in Hebrews 11:1.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval.” (NASB Hebrews 11:1-2)

“And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword,  from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.” (NASB Hebrews 11:32-34)

Now the author of Hebrews is a never-ending issue because since its canonicity, no one truly knows who wrote the letter as it has the writing style and rhythm of many different people. Such as most notably Paul the Apostle, Luke, Barnabas, Apollos, Priscilla, or even Clement of Rome just to name a few. Regardless of who wrote this letter, God inspired the author to write it and so we will examine it as such: God’s Word.

Within Hebrews chapter 11, the author outlines and makes mention of many historic figures that appear in this text like Enoch, Moses, and our guy Gideon. Although mentioned briefly at the end, the author takes note of Gideon and describes him, along with Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets (v32). The author describes this bunch as those that conquered kingdoms (Judges 8:28), performed acts of righteousness (Judges 7:19-22), obtained promises (Judges 6:16, 8:28), shut the mouths of lions (Daniel 6:16-23), quenched the power of fire (Judges 6:19-22, Daniel 3:8-27), escaped the edge of the sword (1 Samuel 23:6-14), went from weak to strong (Judges 6:15, 8:22b), mighty in war (Judges 8:10-12), and caused armies to flee (Judges 8:12b).

See a pattern among these nine categories? Gideon nearly matches every category listed here and is praised by the author for his tremendous faith alongside some other faithful figures of history. What a legacy am I right? That Gideon is known for his years of prime faithfulness and not his latter years of consistent compromise. I find it fascinating that people of the past are remembered the way they are remembered.

Like how Albert Einstein is esteemed as one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century, yet was extremely unfaithful to both of his wives during his lifetime and cheated all the time on them with countless other women. Yet he is presented unanimously as a great man. Why? Because his feats overshadowed his faults. And the same can be said of Gideon whose journey was one that began with fear, flourished with faith, bore fruit that brought about feats that gave glory to the Father, and then ended in a series of sinful faults.

The hero’s journey encapsulated in one sentence. It is a journey we all have the opportunity to take, but not all do take it. As is said in an ancient Chinese proverb, a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. We all are called to live lives of great importance in this world like that of Gideon, even more so for the kingdom of God.

Yet most of us never take that first step. That step from fear to faith. The one toward ultimate meaning, purpose, and value by abiding in the will of Christ for our lives. Is it a risky step of direction? Yes. Is it a rewarding change in scenery? More than you could ever imagine. But in order to reap those rewards of diligence along this journey in life, we must act and take the first step of many steps.

It is a narrow path that few take because of the cost of following Christ, but it is essential in living fulfilling lives of heroic proportions. Look no further than how many people are mentioned in the Bible and how many are mentioned in the hall of faith in Hebrews chapter 11. A stark contrast of the few faithful versus the many who remain inactive in life.

Who will you be? A Gideon that is faithful to God or like the men of Succoth that stood back as the world darkened. The choice is yours and it’s only one step away from fruition. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. http://www.dopeame.com/blog/2016/5/16/the-heros-journey

Gideon: A Character Study | Part 11: Back to Square One

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 5/21/2019

As this is our final segment within the book of Judges regarding the life of Gideon and his rise to the status of a military legend, we finally come to the wrap up of Gideon’s story. The beginning of things always has an end and thus we have come to Gideon’s end. How does his story of fear to faith and farm-boy to warlord conclude? Let’s find out! We’ll be in Judges 8:18-35 this week and that’s where we will pick up starting at verse 18.

“Then he said to Zebah and Zalmunna, “What kind of men were they whom you killed at Tabor?” And they said, “They were like you, each one resembling the son of a king.” He said, “They were my brothers, the sons of my mother. As the LORD lives, if only you had let them live, I would not kill you.” So he said to Jether his firstborn, “Rise, kill them.” But the youth did not draw his sword, for he was afraid, because he was still a youth. Then Zebah and Zalmunna said, “Rise up yourself, and fall on us; for as the man, so is his strength.” So Gideon arose and killed Zebah and Zalmunna, and took the crescent ornaments which were on their camels’ necks. Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, both you and your son, also your son’s son, for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian.” But Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the LORD shall rule over you.” Yet Gideon said to them, “I would request of you, that each of you give me an earring from his spoil.” (For they had gold earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.) They said, “We will surely give them.” So they spread out a garment, and every one of them threw an earring there from his spoil. The weight of the gold earrings that he requested was 1,700 shekels of gold, besides the crescent ornaments and the pendants and the purple robes which were on the kings of Midian, and besides the neck bands that were on their camels’ necks. Gideon made it into an ephod, and placed it in his city, Ophrah, and all Israel played the harlot with it there, so that it became a snare to Gideon and his household. So Midian was subdued before the sons of Israel, and they did not lift up their heads anymore. And the land was undisturbed for forty years in the days of Gideon. Then Jerubbaal the son of Joash went and lived in his own house. Now Gideon had seventy sons who were his direct descendants, for he had many wives. His concubine who was in Shechem also bore him a son, and he named him Abimelech. And Gideon the son of Joash died at a ripe old age and was buried in the tomb of his father Joash, in Ophrah of the Abiezrites. Then it came about, as soon as Gideon was dead, that the sons of Israel again played the harlot with the Baals, and made Baal-berith their god. Thus the sons of Israel did not remember the LORD their God, who had delivered them from the hands of all their enemies on every side; nor did they show kindness to the household of Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) in accord with all the good that he had done to Israel.” (NASB Judges 8:18-35)

Sad isn’t? In fact, it’s a bitter-sweet ending. That the thing Gideon was trying to destroy ended up destroying him. Just as Two-Face said in the The Dark Knight, “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” As we can observe here, in Gideon’s early years he rose from a nobody to a somebody, but then took a turn for the worse as he transformed into something ugly by the end of his life. Succumbing to his inward sinful desires as he fell victim to adultery (v30), which tarnished his reputation as a man of God. Instead, he ends up as a man of man and based off of the text before us, it would seem that his poor example in his latter years was the fuel for a future rebellion against God. A rebellion that would draw the people of Israel back to idolatry (v33) and who were cruel towards the house of Jerubbaal (v35).

Now let’s reign back a bit and look at how the initial war ends against the Midianites. At the beginning of this passage we see Gideon is speaking to the two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, and this happens directly after he punished the men of both Penuel and Succoth (v16-17). He reminds them of a previous battle where the two kings barbarously slaughtered Gideon’s extended family at Mt. Tabor, which geographically is a mountain near modern-day Nazareth. A sin not soon to be forgiven on Gideon’s part. But before Gideon goes off on these two kings, he allows his son, Jether, to strike them down (v20).

What is interesting about this certain part of the passage this week is that this is the first mention of one of Gideon’s children by name, that is Jether. What this passage reveals is that Jether was alongside Gideon during the war or Gideon was reunited with his family including Jether when he and the kosher 300 returned home. Either way, Jether is shown here in a rock and a hard place. His father has just told him to slay the two kings, but he hesitates out of fear.

It is hard to blame Jether for his actions. I mean, was Gideon asking too much from this young man? Based off the text and basic logic, I concur that Jether was anywhere in between 13 to 18 years old. This is based off of how Joseph, David, and other notable Biblical, figures are described when they are in their youth. Also, he bears a sword which begs the question: why would a child have a sword? Not likely. He had to have been in his teens.

Gideon thus commands his son to kill these two kings, so the kings taunt Gideon to kill them (v21a). Well Gideon does just that and kills them, then takes the crescent ornaments from their camel’s necks. Crescent moons are a very prevalent symbol in the Middle East even to this day and are mostly associated with Islam, so for Gideon to take those was a statement that his Triune God was greater than their gods.

Once the final sword is swung of this long war, the people of Israel ask Gideon to be their king and for Jether to rule over Israel alongside his father (v22). Surprisingly, yet wisely Gideon declines their offer and states that God is their king, not him or his son. In fact, he says that God will rule over them. Gideon is humbly letting God lead and giving Him all the glory.

What fathoms me about this whole situation is that Gideon could potentially have become the first king of Israel, but says no to the offer. Just imagine how much history would change if Gideon was king of Israel. Would Saul become king? Would David? The timeline of history would have looked far more different from today’s present timeline.

Instead of becoming king, Gideon takes a percentage of the spoils of the war and constructs an ephod (a portable idol that was clothed usually) in the city of Ophrah (v27). This is the mistake that will tarnish Gideon’s life and reputation as it would become a “snare to Gideon” and those of his family lineage. Sad to think that after his entire arc is completed, his hero’s journey, he falls into such an idolatrous lifestyle. After this whole span of time he gives into a stupid, sinful desire: misguided worship.

Although God kept His Word and spared the Israelites from any trouble for the next 40 years as the Midianites were subdued. But that does not mean all was well for Gideon. In fact, far from it for he falls into another sin: adultery.

Another stab at Gideon’s reputation as a man of God. If that was not enough, after Gideon passes away after living a long life that the people of Israel turned back to the gods of Baal, turning their backs on God (v33). Hence, the cycle of dependency and independence in relation to God continues to spin over and over again. A cycle many of us find ourselves in a lot of the time. The cycle of sin continues to spin.

Gideon’s story is over, yet is legacy will always live on in a positive light despite the sour note that it ended on. Next week we will examine just what exactly Gideon’s legacy is and how he is known today in further detail. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless!

Footnotes

  1. http://theupwardway.org/tag/book-of-judges/

Gideon: A Character Study | Part 10: A Man of His Word

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 5/21/2019

In last week’s study, we went over the post-war ramifications of Gideon’s actions as well as those jealous of the grace bestowed upon him by God during this time of his life. As Winston Churchill once said, You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” This statement by Churchill is definitely a truth that was apparent in Gideon’s life as he continues his mission to cut off the Midianites for good by hunting their two kings: Zebah and Zalmunna. This week we will be in Judges 8:10-17 and verse 10 is where we will pick up.

“Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor, and their armies with them, about 15,000 men, all who were left of the entire army of the sons of the east; for the fallen were 120,000 swordsmen. Gideon went up by the way of those who lived in tents on the east of Nobah and Jogbehah, and attacked the camp when the camp was unsuspecting. When Zebah and Zalmunna fled, he pursued them and captured the two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, and routed the whole army. Then Gideon the son of Joash returned from the battle by the ascent of Heres. And he captured a youth from Succoth and questioned him. Then the youth wrote down for him the princes of Succoth and its elders, seventy-seven men. He came to the men of Succoth and said, “Behold Zebah and Zalmunna, concerning whom you taunted me, saying, ‘Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna already in your hand, that we should give bread to your men who are weary?’ ” He took the elders of the city, and thorns of the wilderness and briers, and he disciplined the men of Succoth with them. He tore down the tower of Penuel and killed the men of the city (2).”

So the two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, escape to a place called Karkor. Some speculate that this place of Karkor may have been another name for a place called Qarqor, which is a place East of the Jordan River. Karkor may have been a type of enclosure that the Gadites built to protect their cattle and livestock. If this is true, then the Midianites were smart in seeking such a place for refuge because it would be seriously fortified with walls encompassing the area to keep the large animals enclosed.

I find it ironic that an army that began with 135,000 soldiers that waged war with Gideon’s mighty men would in a twist of fate dwindle down to 15,000 men because they lost 120,000 soldiers to Gideon’s kosher 300. When we first started, Gideon had an army of 32,000 men going against an army of 135,000 soldiers of Midian. Whittle those numbers down and we get a ratio of 8:34. Those were the odds at first.

Then God made Gideon send away thousands of soldiers that amounted in the kosher 300, while the Midianites still had 135,000 soldiers. A new ratio of 1:450, but after Gideon’s back-to-back victories over Midian and a series of battles shrunk that massive number all the way down to the current 15,000. The current odds of Gideon winning in spite of all of this success is even still tremendously low as the ratio is 1:50 and at this rate some could have said that Gideon was pushing his luck. I mean, how does one even fathom that comparison and those odds? If I was in that batch of 300 guys, I would at this point have serious doubts.

Yet God is faithful and once again lets Gideon accompanied by his dope band of misfits have another critical victory. We are only 3 verses into this study and Gideon already won. He has captured both Midianite kings, has had another victory, and caused the army to be routed (to retreat or flee) back to their lands. Some translations say the Midianite army left in confusion and fear from the surprise attack that squashed their forces.

It is quite impressive when put into proper perspective. The war is over. Gideon has won and peace is just around the corner to being restored in the nation of Israel.

What’s next for the mighty Gideon? Being a man of his word. This story takes a new turn when on the march back home, Gideon captures a youth from Succoth (v14). Once the youngin’ is captured, he is questioned.

Next, there is the way of travel that Gideon took which has multiple interpretations concerning what exactly it means. In the translation we are using (the NASB), it says “by (from) the ascent of Heres.” Now is this a time of day like before the sun comes up? Is it a city? Is it a mountain? Hard to say, but biblehub.com takes good time clearing the confusion by providing multiple responses here. As for the youth of Succoth? He spills the beans and writes down the names of every prince and elder of Succoth, which amounts to a grand total of seventy-seven men (v14).

Based off of its uses within Scripture (Genesis 5:31, Judges 8:14, Ezra 8:35), the number 77 represents closure as the number is used to amount to a satisfactory sacrifice to the LORD (see: Ezra 8:35-36), as well as here where it symbolizes Gideon’s fulfillment of his own promise that he would execute after God had given him victory in battle. The men of Succoth mocked the things of God, so God sends Gideon to judge them on His behalf for taunting Gideon who was an ambassador for God.

Word of advice: don’t mock God. It never ends well. Just look at 2 Kings 2:23-24 where some dumb lads mock God’s prophet, Elisha, so two female bears kill 42 of them. Yeah, the things of God and those who do the things of God are not something worth mocking. The consequences are severe.

Speaking of severe consequences, Gideon now knows who the men of Succoth are that taunted him, thus justice is about to be served to these pansies. Gideon brings his undeniable proof to the 77 elders with the 2 captured kings in his possession and then commences to do exactly as he warned he would do. What fascinates me about this whole subplot of the men of Succoth and Penuel is how there were all of these men mocking Gideon for trying to stop the Midianites from terrorizing the surrounding lands, yet they stayed home and remained on the sidelines of the whole war. Neither would they support Gideon’s men or the Midian men. They were lukewarm and that is the exact reason that they were punished so severely because they remained apathetic during the whole war as thousands of men died. They were cowards, plain and simple.

As promised, Gideon takes the elders and beats them with briers and thorns (v16). Then he goes onto the next city and tears down the great tower of Penuel before slaying every man in the city (v17). Jesus spoke of this lukewarm nature in Revelation 3:14-22 where he rebukes the church of Laodicea for their lukewarm ways. They neither loved nor hated God. They were indifferent and apathetic to it all.

In life, God desires for us to give our all to Him or to keep our all to ourselves. In this situation, the middle ground is the worst possible place to be because it shows how much you really do not care. Lesson of the week: either give God everything or give God nothing. Both are better options than giving God only a portion of what is yours and lying by saying you gave it your all or vice versa. I mean look at what happened to Ananias and Sapphira in Acts chapter 5. They died for making this crucial mistake.

Learn from history and live wholeheartedly either for Jesus or for the world. There cannot be a middle ground when it comes to this issue. It’s all or nothing. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless!

Footnotes

  1. https://www.pexels.com/
  2. NASB Judges 8:10-17
  3. http://biblehub.com/topical/h/heres.htm

Gideon: A Character Study | Part 9: A Farewell to Kings

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 5/21/2019

We’re nine installments into this commentary series and are now approaching the final few parts of this blog series. So far we have journeyed with our protagonist, Gideon (also known as Jerubbaal), as he went from zero to hero. This week will focus on the afterward, post-war ramifications of Gideon fighting for God. As Billy Graham once famously said, “Courage is courageous. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.” And that type of stiff-necked, opposition will be observed today in Judges chapter 7, picking up in verse 23:

The men of Israel were summoned from Naphtali and Asher and all Manasseh, and they pursued Midian. Gideon sent messengers throughout all the hill country of Ephraim, saying, “Come down against Midian and take the waters before them, as far as Beth-barah and the Jordan.” So all the men of Ephraim were summoned and they took the waters as far as Beth-barah and the Jordan. They captured the two leaders of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb, and they killed Oreb at the rock of Oreb, and they killed Zeeb at the wine press of Zeeb, while they pursued Midian; and they brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon from across the Jordan. Then the men of Ephraim said to him, “What is this thing you have done to us, not calling us when you went to fight against Midian?” And they contended with him vigorously. But he said to them, “What have I done now in comparison with you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abiezer? God has given the leaders of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb into your hands; and what was I able to do in comparison with you?” Then their anger toward him subsided when he said that. Then Gideon and the 300 men who were with him came to the Jordan and crossed over, weary yet pursuing. He said to the men of  Succoth, “Please give loaves of bread to the people who are following me, for they are weary, and I am pursuing Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian.”The leaders of Succoth said, “Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna already in your hands, that we should give bread to your army?” Gideon said, “All right, when the Lord has given Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, then I will thrash your bodies with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers.”He went up from there to Penuel and spoke similarly to them; and the men of Penuel answered him just as the men of Succoth had answered. So he spoke also to the men of Penuel, saying, “When I return safely, I will tear down this tower.” (NASB Judges 7:23-8:9)

Within the first three verses (7:23-25) we see Gideon strategically split his forces into two groups, in order to annihilate the enemies of Israel.  At first he summons Israelites from all sorts of places. Then they all go after the Midianites. Knowing he cannot do it alone, Gideon asks the men of Ephraim to aid in stopping Oreb and Zeeb by hunting them in Beth-barah and the Jordan river. So two groups of soldiers are pursuing two different armies for one ultimate aim: decimation of the enemies of God.

So why were the men of Ephraim so mad after having killed their enemies? The short answer is that they were not called upon sooner to help. You see, Gideon went first with his men before calling for help after having already started chasing the Midianites down. It was a matter of wanting a part of Gideon’s glory given to him by God on the men of Ephraim’s part. They wanted to be apart of the action.

Gideon basically compares what each party has done and shows how the men of Ephraim did far more in the grand scheme of the war versus a single victory Gideon and his kosher 300 did against the Midianites. So all of the men of Ephraim take a chill-pill and calm down, instead of fuming with rage against Gideon.

Once this debacle is settled, Gideon and the kosher 300 get back to their unexpected journey in hunting down the kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna. As they journey, they eventually come to a point of pure exhaustion, but they endure through their weariness. Eventually, they come to the men of Succoth and ask for resources to fuel the soldiers for war. This was not an uncommon practice either.

Over the centuries, it was very common during times of war that armies would ask the locales for supplies in exchange for protection like building a wall around the city or fighting off bands of thieves. Back in these days everything revolved around trade. In fact, the majority of the world still lives with that bargaining mentality.

What happens here is a bit alarming as the people of Succoth do not cooperate with Gideon and his army. They say no because Gideon and his army have come empty handed. Gideon has not taken care of Zebah and Zalmunna, thus the men of Succoth will not help Gideon or his forces during their time of need. So Gideon responds with,

“All right, when the LORD has given Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, then I will thrash your bodies with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers.” (v7)

In other words, Gideon’s a savage with no chill. That sounds awful. Again, showing how much of a character arc he has had throughout his hero’s journey so far. From being a weakling afraid to fight to now being a warlord who is relentless in his God-driven pursuit of the Midianites. What is of note here is that Gideon answers with the assumption that God will deliver the Midianite kings into his hands and was promised beforehand by God. It’s a sign of Gideon’s faithfulness to the promises of God and how he acts accordingly throughout his campaign.

Interesting enough, the name Zebah means victim or sacrifice, while Zalmunna’s meaning is split into two parts. “The first part is probably the noun צל (sel) meaning shade or shadow, from the verb צלל (salal III), meaning to be or grow dark” (http://www.abarim-publications.com/Meaning/Zalmunna.html#.VzvOrxMrLnB). What’s interesting is that names of individuals usually reflect a major aspect to those mentioned in the Bible. Gideon means to hew down or cut off, Jesus is a combination of the Tetragrammaton (YHWH) and the root verb yashu which means to deliver, and the list goes on. In the instances just mentioned, this seems to be the case here as well since the Midianites are like a shadow that grows constantly as Gideon continues to cut them off.

Next, Gideon moves onward to his next pit-stop which was Penuel (Peniel in Genesis 32:30-31) and sought the same supply of resources. Like last time, they say the same thing and Gideon has a similar response:

“When I return safely, I will tear down this tower.” (v9)

What strikes me with this response is two-fold:  (1) how Gideon mentioned that when he returns “safely” and (2) that he will tear down “this tower.” Statements worthy of further examination. Let’s break these down. The first statement that he will return safely goes back to what was mentioned a bit earlier when he assumes God will bring about victory. It once more is a testament to the faithfulness Gideon has had with God thus far. One that continues on this second encounter.

The second statement about tearing down this tower is significant because in these days towers represented power or dominance, so to threaten to take out their tower was to basically say that Gideon was going to end them. Actually, this idea of man-made symbols of power (castles, high places, pyramids, towers, etc.) versus God-made symbols of power (mountains, etc.) has always fascinated me. Next week we’ll examine the expansion of Gideon’s campaign and how power corrupts. Until next time, Godspeed and Jesus bless!

Footnotes

  1. https://www.pexels.com/

Gideon: A Character Study | Part 8: It’s Clobbering Time

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 5/21/2019

The moment we have all been waiting for has finally arrived! The moment Gideon’s name is forever cemented as a warrior of the one, true God! It’s a pretty enthralling moment to see the hero finally come to form. It’s the peak of his origin story and a moment that will have a rippling effect throughout history.  Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s check out the text for this week starting in verse 19 of Chapter 7:

“So Gideon and the hundred men who were with him came to the outskirts of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, when they had just posted the watch; and they blew the trumpets and smashed the pitchers that were in their hands. When the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the pitchers, they held the torches in their left hands and the trumpets in their right hands for blowing, and cried, “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!” Each stood in his place around the camp; and all the army ran, crying out as they fled. When they blew 300 trumpets, the LORD set the sword of one against another even throughout the whole army; and the army fled as far as Beth-shittah toward Zererah, as far as the edge of Abel-meholah, by Tabbath.” (NASB Judges 7:19-22)

After reading the text for today, there is such a uniqueness to how God does things versus how we do things. For starters, it speaks volumes as to how powerful God truly is and what He is capable of doing. It shows how God can use anything to accomplish His ultimate will in life, whether with or without our participation. Even if that participation is so small like doing what Gideon’s army did.

Secondly, God’s plan kills pride. Think about it. How could Gideon or anyone of his soldiers take pride in the way this battle played out? They had two options: if they lost, then they were humbled by the might of men. If they won, they were humbled by the grace of God. Which of course they did win and were praising God in humility. God’s ways are always higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). Hence, we are always humbled by His great works in our lives.

Lastly, this plan made it loud and clear who defeated the Midianites: the God of Israel. The Kosher 300 literally shouted “For the LORD and for Gideon” before the Midianite soldiers unintentionally killed each other in the confusion of it all. It was their anthem of triumph over their enemies as God made them His footstool. It was a declaration on both Gideon and God’s part: let my people go and let go the Midianites did. As a matter of fact, they fled in fear. Talk about a reversal!

The battle took place during “the beginning of the middle watch” and middle watch is from 12am to 4am. So around that time frame, Gideon’s men attacked the enemy camp and awoke them in their sleep as they bellowed downward from the hills with those deafening noises as they were instructed. The enemy army fleeing to “Beth-shittah toward Zererah” with some going even farther to “the edge of Abel-meholah, by Tabbath.” This was not a good day for the Midianites or anyone opposing Israel for that matter. Things will never be the same from this pivotal point onward.

This moment in history is what has made Gideon such a popular figure of reverence in military history. In the 12th-century, a poet in his poem Prefatio de Almeria describes a Count Ponce de Cabrera as

“the leader of the troops of Extremadura, is said to have possessed the strength of Samson and the sword of Gideon and he is compared to Jonathan.  He was a leader of the stature of Hector, strong and truthful like the invincible Ajax, fearless in battle and as wise as Solomon, but nevertheless humble enough to serve his knights at table. [78]” (2) PA, vv. 176-98.

Quite the description of a military leader campaigning against 12th-century Islamic expansion. Although, this is just one occasion where Gideon’s name is associated with something war-related. There are others like the 16th-century Swiss poet Benedikt Gletting wrote that the Swedish need the “Sword of Gideon” in his work, Song of Warning for the Confederacy, in wake of the Swedish Reformation and is the 1934 edition created by Hanns In der Gand (Ladislaus Krupski).

Then there is the British-led special forces group nicknamed “the Gideon Force” who were primarily stationed in East Africa and the surrounding area during World War II. Nowadays, the name evokes a sense of victory in the hearts of soldiers familiar with the legend-like status of Gideon. Next week, we will see the ramifications of Gideon’s bold act of faith in God that resulted in the fleeing of the so-called great Midianites. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless!

Footnotes

  1. The Victory of Gideon Against the Midianites by Nicolas Poussin
  2. http://deremilitari.org/2014/01/from-tyrants-to-soldiers-of-christ-the-nobility-of-twelfth-century-leon-castile-and-the-struggle-against-islam/

Gideon: A Character Study | Part 7: A Matter of Loaf and Death

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 5/21/2019

So far we have read about the whittling down of Gideon’s army to the Kosher 300 and with them proceeding to take out the Midianites. Where we pick up today we will find an interesting encounter before the great battle with the Midianites. Gideon is about to go to war, but first must see what odds he is up against with my dude Purah and hear a word from God through a stranger. Let’s read the text of Scripture for today’s study starting in verse 9 of Chapter 7:

“Now the same night it came about that the LORD said to him, “Arise, go down against the camp, for I have given it into your hands. But if you are afraid to go down, go with Purah your servant down to the camp, and you will hear what they say; and afterward your hands will be strengthened that you may go down against the camp.” So he went with Purah his servant down to the outposts of the army that was in the camp. Now the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the sons of the east were lying in the valley as numerous as locusts; and their camels were without number, as numerous as the sand on the seashore. When Gideon came, behold, a man was relating a dream to his friend. And he said, “Behold, I had a dream; a loaf of barley bread was tumbling into the camp of Midian, and it came to the tent and struck it so that it fell, and turned it upside down so that the tent lay flat.” His friend replied, “This is nothing less than the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel; God has given Midian and all the camp into his hand.” When Gideon heard the account of the dream and its interpretation, he bowed in worship. He returned to the camp of Israel and said, “Arise, for the LORD has given the camp of Midian into your hands.” He divided the 300 men into three companies, and he put trumpets and empty pitchers into the hands of all of them, with torches inside the pitchers. He said to them, “Look at me and do likewise. And behold, when I come to the outskirts of the camp, do as I do. “When I and all who are with me blow the trumpet, then you also blow the trumpets all around the camp and say, ‘For the LORD and for Gideon.’”” (NASB Judges 7:9-18)

Starting off, we find Gideon at night after the day when Gideon’s forces were divided into a mere 300 soldiers. God then reveals how powerful He is by showing His knowledge of Gideon’s heart, specifically the fear that encroaches it. The LORD tells Gideon that he is to go and take out the camp of the Midianites, yet at the same time offers an alternative way of approaching the Midianite camp down in the valley (v9-11a). One way to understand the two options is that Gideon could either a) immediately go down against the camp with his army of 300 soldiers or b) go with Purah his servant to the border of the camp to hear a word of confirmation, then gather his troops to go against the camp. Basically, God offers an alternative to someone and yet approves of both actions.

The only time I can think of a situation playing out like this is when God told my Mom that she could either marry my Dad or not marry him, but either way God would approve of her decision. As my Mom recalls, God did not favor either option, but instead allowed my Mom the freedom to choose. Whatever she chose, God was going to bless her decision.

Like my Mom’s situation, we know from reading the text which option Gideon chose because he was afraid. It’s Gideon’s most common trait since we started reading about him. He’s a man of great fear, but will one day be known as a man of great faith. He’s about to go to war for the first time and has never fought a day in his life. To even begin to describe what Gideon must have been feeling or thinking in this moment is too hard to articulate as someone who has never faced the fires of war.

The dawn of battle is a very scary thought even to the toughest of soldiers. It’s hard for me, a civilian, to describe to you what those moments feel like on the battlefield, so here is a quote from a former soldier on his experiences in combat:

“Several hours of pure terror, your heart pounding so hard you think it might leap out of your chest, your best friend on fire, running as fast as humanly possible, pure luck, sleeping with one eye open and your hand on your weapon, laser focused on the task before you, the world melting away as the only thing you observe is a heart beating and breath being taken in, then silence. You walk along with the rest of the group. Everyone celebrating that we’re going home, but you just give a fake smile. All you can think about is not having been there 5 minutes earlier, or why didn’t he duck, or why him… And the sound still stays muted even through the great yell being given by everyone as the plane lifts off the ground and heading home, the high fives given are half hearted and unenthusiastic as we stop at several airports on the way to the states. Everything quiet and just as dead as your best friend.”–mherick, Reddit

With this in mind, not only is going to battle a jarring experience of courage conflicting with fear, going to your first battle even more so than most people can describe. From the testimonies of soldiers I have heard from online and in the past face-to-face, it’s an odd combination of a love/hate relationship with war. Love because there is no adrenaline surge on Earth that can match the testosterone high that combat can give to someone, especially men. Hate because of the atrocities and effects that result from combat afterwards: death, destruction, purple hearts, body bags, remorse, regrets, and the like. Again, I can’t do justice to what that moment is like before going to your first battle, but it’s something that every soldier that has gone to combat can understand. Gideon is going through this swell of emotions and thoughts, along with 300 soldiers ready to die for their country.

Choosing the alternative option, Gideon goes down to the border of the Midianite camp with his servant Purah and finds two men discussing a dream that one of them had. Just a side note, the name Purah is very similar to the English word “purity” and means “bough” like the central branch of a tree. Some biblical scholars say that Purah was most likely Gideon’s armor-bearer as he is referred to as a servant, which an armor-bearer was a type of servant during battle. When the two arrive at the edge of the battlefield, they stumble upon an army innumerable in size and appeared like a blanket of “locusts” in the valley below (v12).

It must have been humbling to see such a site of human power. Numbers are always impressive, no matter what it is that the numbers signify: a yearly-salary, a sports car’s horsepower, Big Z’s world record log press. It doesn’t matter. To us, numbers are impressive because they always represent power, which leads to pride.

As this immense enemy camp looms over Gideon, he and Purah find two other men by the edge of the enemy camp as one of them is “relating a dream to his friend.” The dream is told as the following:

“Behold, I had a dream; a loaf of barley bread was tumbling into the camp of Midian, and it came to the tent and struck it so that it fell, and turned it upside down so that the tent lay flat.” (NASB Judges 7:13b)

Then once the dream had been proclaimed in the presence of Gideon, Purah, and the interpreter, the latter man responds with an interpretation that reveals some very important truths. Let’s see the interpretation before dissecting it:

“This is nothing less than the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel; God has given Midian and all the camp into his hand.” (NASB Judges 7:14b)

In the dream of the first man there is a loaf of barley bread representing Gideon and his army. The loaf of bread may also signify how the Midianites were known for taking the Israelites resources, only to have it literally come back on their heads. Boy, this is a matter of loaf and death. The tumbling into the Midianite tent and turning it upside down symbolizes the victory that God has promised to Gideon. Thus, Gideon’s fears were finally squashed as he hears the final confirmation that God will deliver the Amalekites and the Midianites into Israel’s hands.

It’s always fascinating to me how God uses dreams in the Bible to confirm or reveal information. Jeffrey Kranz of www.overviewbible.com has found that there are 21 dreams in the Bible, including this one in Judges Chapter 7. He summarizes the dream in Judges Chapter 7 as “a piece of bread rolls* into Midianites’ camp and turns over the tents, foreshadowing Gideon’s victory. *bun intended?” Yes Kranz, the bun is most certainly intended and the victory is now going to happen with this divine word from God through these two men conversing.

After hearing the interpretation, Gideon worships God and then heads back with Purah to gather the kosher 300 to annihilate the enemy. He divides the 300 into groups of 100 and places trumpets in every man’s hands, along with empty pitchers for their torches. Lastly, Gideon gives instruction to his army by telling them to do as he does. He ends with giving his men the battle cry of the night, which will cement his name as one of the greatest warlords in Israel’s history:  “For the LORD and for Gideon” (v18b).

Not only does this battle cry ring loudly as to how God will deliver Israel, but to whom God has appointed to unleash His will on those who oppose it: Gideon. A name that will send shudders down the spines of those who stand in opposition against God once His wrath is let loose upon the enemy. Our next study will show how Gideon’s life will become a legend that will forever define his legacy as a man of faith. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless!

Footnotes

  1. Wallace and Gromit: a Matter of Loaf and Death (2008)

Gideon: A Character Study | Part 6: Kosher 300

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 5/21/2019

Quick recap: we just finished Chapter 6 where God has appointed Gideon (Jerubbaal) to lead Israel to destroy the Amalekites and the Midianites. Gideon starts out as a dweeb and is still a dweeb, but he’s getting there. It’s in this chapter of Judges that we meet the Gideon everyone is most familiar with: the warlord. They’re about to start their campaign against the Amalekites and Midianites starting with selecting the best men fit for the job. Let’s first examine the passage for this week and then dive into the deeper themes within the text:

“Then Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the people who were with him, rose early and camped beside the spring of Harod; and the camp of Midian was on the north side of them by the hill of Moreh in the valley. The LORD said to Gideon, “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands, for Israel would become boastful, saying, ‘My own power has delivered me.’ “Now therefore come, proclaim in the hearing of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is afraid and trembling, let him return and depart from Mount Gilead.’” So 22,000 people returned, but 10,000 remained. Then the LORD said to Gideon, “The people are still too many; bring them down to the water and I will test them for you there. Therefore it shall be that he of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go with you; but everyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.” So he brought the people down to the water. And the LORD said to Gideon, “You shall separate everyone who laps the water with his tongue as a dog laps, as well as everyone who kneels to drink.” Now the number of those who lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, was 300 men; but all the rest of the people kneeled to drink water. The LORD said to Gideon, “I will deliver you with the 300 men who lapped and will give the Midianites into your hands; so let all the other people go, each man to his home.” So the 300 men took the people’s provisions and their trumpets into their hands. And Gideon sent all the other men of Israel, each to his tent, but retained the 300 men; and the camp of Midian was below him in the valley.” (NASB Judges 7:1-8)

So Gideon and his mighty men are gathered together beside the spring of Harod near the camp of the Midianites who are by the hill of Moreh in the valley. They’re about to vanquish their enemies, but then God gives one final command to Gideon: you have too many men and need to send some home. What the what?! Why would God demand such a strange act of obedience from Gideon before going to battle? Doesn’t that seem counter-productive?

Pride. That’s the reason for God’s command. Pride is one of the deadliest sins one could ever commit. A spiritual blindside to all who allow it to take root in their life. God wants the Israelites to understand who is delivering their enemies into their hands. Not the number of men, but the God who created mankind. What’s so wrong with pride? Let’s take a look at a couple passages from the Bible:

“Why do You stand afar off, O LORD?

Why do You hide Yourself in times of trouble?

In pride the wicked hotly pursue the afflicted;

Let them be caught in the plots which they have devised.

For the wicked boasts of his heart’s desire,

And the greedy man curses and spurns the LORD.

The wicked, in the haughtiness of his countenance, does not seek Him.

All his thoughts are, “There is no God.” (NASB Psalm 10:1-4)

 

“Pride goes before destruction,

And a haughty spirit before stumbling.” (NASB Proverbs 16:18)

 

“For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.” (NASB 1 John 2:16)

Instead, I believe God was desiring this response from Gideon and a heart like that of David who once sang in Psalm 20:7 about the subject of boasting:

“Some boast in chariots and some in horses,

But we will boast in the name of the LORD, our God.”

Notice the difference? Rather than boast in themselves, God desired that they boast in Him. Paul the Apostle has a response very similar to David’s as well:

“But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD.”” (NASB 1 Corinthians 1:30-31)

What’s even more interesting is what Paul quotes because it’s a paraphrase of Jeremiah 9:23-24. That’s really all that God wants from the Israelites: properly fixed worship. Instead of worshiping themselves, they were meant to worship God.

So first, Gideon is accompanied by 32,000 soldiers, but the fearful are sent home which results in 10,000 being left to go to war against the Midianites (v3). Not bad, but not ideal either. I mean, it’s a third of the army, so they could win. Yet that’s not the last cut of the Israelite army either. No, God makes another crucial cut to their forces by dividing them into two camps of ways to drink from a body of water, most likely the spring of Harod. I know it sounds silly, but God does what He wants even if we don’t quite understand why. The passage sounds a little confusing in this translation, so let’s look at it in the NLT:

“When Gideon took his warriors down to the water, the LORD told him, “Divide the men into two groups. In one group put all those who cup water in their hands and lap it up with their tongues like dogs. In the other group put all those who kneel down and drink with their mouths in the stream.” Only 300 of the men drank from their hands. All the others got down on their knees and drank with their mouths in the stream.” (NLT Judges 7:5-6)

There are those who lapped (made their hand a cup) to drink the water with their tongues, like a dog might (300 men) and then those who knelt down to drink the water with their mouths (9,700 men). So the 9,700 were sent away and Gideon was left with 300 men. Well, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that there were probably some within those 300 that were having some serious doubts about their victory against the Midianites. I mean, they went from 32,000 to 300. Not exactly great odds, yet that is the point. God wants Israel to know who is delivering them: God, not men. He wants moldable vessels of honor, not dried-up vessels of dishonor.

Now God, after narrowing down the army to 300 men, gives Gideon an affirmative and comforting promise (v7). He tells Gideon that two things will happen: 1) He will deliver them and 2) He will give them victory over the Midianites. It’s incredible how actively involved God is in the proceedings of bringing redemption to Israel through the use of a judge like Gideon. It reminds me of Proverbs 16:9 where it says,

“A man’s mind plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.” (RSV)

Gideon may be doing all of the planning, but God is doing all of the directing of those plans. Like in film, an actor may have an idea on how to portray a character in a script, but the director will guide and direct them to ensure that their portrayal is what the director has in mind. According to the director’s will, the actor will behave and inhabit their specific character in alignment with that vision. In the same manner, God will guide us as our plans align with His will for what to aspire or do for in our lives. In John 15:1-11, Jesus speaks on this idea and explains how the Father finds joy in those who bear much fruit according to living lives aligned with His will for them.

“Getting up and living in God’s great story.” Trip Lee, a pastor in Atlanta, wrote those words in his book Rise and I think it sums up this passage quite well. Although God could do everything He wills without us, He desires us to participate because it gives Him great joy to see us rise up to the occasion and bear much fruit for His name’s sake. It’s similar to how a parent knows they can carry their toddler across the room, but instead waits for the toddler to eventually walk towards them. Desiring that they learn and grow, which always brings joy to a loving parent’s heart. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless!

Footnotes

  1. 300 (2007)