Gideon The Brave Judges 6:12

The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valor.—Jdg_6:12.

I wonder how many of you keep a picture gallery of heroes? I don’t mean a real gallery of pictures, but one that exists in your mind. I expect most of you have such a gallery, and I think I can guess the names of some of the portraits that are hanging there. There are George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Florence Nightingale, General MacArthur, Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton.

Now it is a good thing to keep a gallery of Christian men and women, because if we look at their portraits often enough we shall perhaps grow a little like them. And I want you to find room among your collection for a hero of the olden times—Gideon, the “mighty man of valor.”

The thing that I like best about Gideon, and the reason why I have chosen him for one of my heroes, is that he was a man who was afraid. That seems a funny thing to say about a hero, doesn’t it? but it is only half the truth. Would you like to know the whole of it? He was a man who was afraid—and yet went on in spite of his fear. And that was just the reason why he was so brave. For the bravest men or women, the bravest boys or girls, are not those who feel no fear, but those who are afraid and yet make their will conquer their fear.

When we first meet Gideon he is beating out corn with a stick in the winepress for fear of the Midianites. But to understand that we must go back a little.

The Israelites had forgotten the God who had brought their fathers safely into the land of Canaan.
They had begun to worship the false gods of the Canaanites. So they had lost hold of the great pure faith in Jehovah which had bound them together in many a hard experience and brought them triumphantly through many a stern battle. As a consequence they had become weak and unnerved and cowardly.

It was then that the Midianites—fierce bands of marauders under their robber chiefs—came up and laid waste the land. When the corn was whitening to the harvest they cut it down, when the grapes were ripening on the vines they carried them away. They carried off sheep and cattle and everything they could lay their hands on. And the terrified Israelites fled before them and took refuge in the dens and caves of the mountains.

Year after year, for seven years, this happened. Then at last the people of Israel cried to God to deliver them. It seems shabby, doesn’t it? So long as they were prosperous they forgot God, but when things began to go wrong they were pleased to remember Him.

And if God were like most of us He would have let them go their own way. But our Father in heaven is forgiving and merciful and loving. He had allowed the Midianites to come up and harass His people because He knew that these fierce robbers would do the Israelites less harm than they would do to themselves by running away from Him. And when the people cried out to Him like hurt children He hastened to their aid as a mother does to the aid of her hurt child. He sent them as a deliverer Gideon, the “mighty man of valor.”

So now we understand why Gideon was beating out corn in secret. He had managed to secure a little of his father’s crop before the Midianites could steal it. But instead of having it threshed out at the threshing- floor, which was in an exposed place, he was laboriously beating it out in the winepress—a tank or trough hollowed out in the rock where the grapes were trodden.

It was while he was busy with this duty that the angel of the Lord appeared to him and bade him go and save his people from the Midianites. And it was then that Gideon showed the first sign of fear and hesitation. His family was the least in the tribe and he was the youngest son. How could he save Israel? Besides, he wanted to be quite sure that the messenger came from God, quite sure that it was God who was sending him forth. So he asked the angel to remain just where he was until he should bring him an offering of food. He went home and got ready a kid and some unleavened cakes. And he brought the flesh in a basket and the soup in a vessel. The angel bade him lay the flesh and unleavened cakes upon the rock and pour out the broth. Then he touched the offering with the end of his staff and fire came out of the rock and consumed it.

So Gideon was convinced that it was God Himself who had spoken to him in the person of the angel, and he was ready for any service, no matter how dangerous that service might be.

He had not long to wait. That very night God told him to go and destroy the altar of Baal that his own father had set up, and to erect in its place an altar to Jehovah. Gideon promptly obeyed. He took ten of his servants with him and in the darkness of the night they overthrew the altar of Baal and set up an altar to Jehovah whereon they sacrificed a bullock.

I sometimes think that Gideon was never so brave as when he dared to destroy the altar of Baal. To throw down the sacred symbols of a people’s religion is like thrusting your hand into a wasp’s nest. And I have often wondered if these ten men who accompanied him formed part of the valiant three hundred who later went with him at dead of night to surprise the camp of the Midianites.

Well, in the morning there was a terrible uproar. Of course the overthrown altar was discovered, and somehow or other it leaked out that Gideon had done the deed. The followers of Baal wanted to put him to death immediately, but his life was saved by the shrewd council of his father who argued that if Baal were really a god he himself would take revenge upon the destroyer of his altar. Of course nothing happened, and from being a much miscalled person Gideon became a popular hero.
It was just then that the Midianites gathered together a huge army, invaded the land of Israel, and encamped in the valley of Jezreel.

And the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon and he blew a trumpet and gathered together the men of his own clan. Then he sent messengers throughout his tribe—the tribe of Manasseh—and throughout the tribes of Asher and Zebulun and Naphtali; and he gathered together an army of thirty-two thousand men.

It was then, just when he had got together his army, that Gideon began to be afraid again. This time he wanted to make sure that God would really save Israel by his hand, and again he asked for a sign.
He had with him a sheepskin—perhaps his sheepskin cloak. He laid it down on the threshing-floor in the evening and asked that, if God meant to save Israel by him, the fleece might be wet with dew in the morning and all the ground round it dry. And he rose up early in the morning and found it as he had desired. Then he asked that the miracle might be reversed, and that this time the fleece might be dry, and the ground wet. And so it was.

Then Gideon went forward bravely to his task. And you remember what a task it was. He had thirty-two thousand men, but the Midianites had four times as many, and yet he was told to reduce his army. First of all he was told to send home all the men who were afraid. And twenty-two thousand deserted him. Then God told him to take the remaining men down to a pool of water at the bottom of the hill and test them there. Those who knelt or lay down to drink were to be sent away, and those who remained alert and on guard, merely tossing a little water to their mouths in passing, were to be kept. Of all the ten thousand only three hundred stood the test.

I am not going to tell you the story of the faithful three hundred, because it is splendidly related in the seventh chapter of Judges and you can read it for yourselves; but I want you to notice that before Gideon fell upon the Midianites God gave him a final assurance. He didn’t ask for it; he had made up his mind to go forward whatever happened; but I think he must still have been feeling a little nervous. And no wonder! For who would not feel nervous about attacking one hundred and thirty-five thousand men with a feeble band of three hundred?

So God told Gideon to take his servant Phurah and creep down into the Midianite camp at dead of night. There he would hear something that would give him confidence and strength. And when the two scouts reached the camp they heard one soldier relating a dream to another. He told how he had dreamt that a loaf of barley bread, the coarse fare of the poorest peasants, came tumbling down the hill and fell against the tent. And instead of being stopped by the tent the loaf had knocked the tent over. Then the other soldier replied in terror that the dream meant nothing else than that God had delivered the whole host of Midian into the hands of Gideon.

You know how Gideon went back to his three hundred men strengthened by that story, and how he led them on to complete victory.

One more glimpse we get of Gideon’s courage. It is when, at the end of that day’s battle, he and his three hundred men come to the Jordan and cross over “faint, yet pursuing.” He had the courage to endure as well as to fight, and these words “faint, yet pursuing” have often been taken as a motto of the Christian life.

So, boys and girls, don’t be discouraged if you sometimes feel afraid, only be afraid of giving way to your fears.

There is a famous story of a great soldier, Lord Napier of Magdala, which might well stand beside that of Gideon. When, as a young subaltern, he was riding into his first action his face was as pale as death. And a burly soldier who rode beside him and had been through many a fight sneered at him. “Why, you’re afraid!” said he. “Yes,” replied the other, “I’m horribly afraid; and if you were half as afraid as I am, you’d cut and run!” Don’t you think that was a splendid answer?

And one thing more I want you to remember. God is able to make heroes of cowards. That was the message to Gideon—“The Lord is with thee.” Gideon would not have been half the man he was if it had not been for his faith in God. And so he was thought fit to take a place among that great gallery of heroes in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews who through faith “out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.”

We began by speaking of picture galleries, and we shall end by speaking of them. I asked you to find room for the portrait of Gideon. Will you find room for one other? It is the portrait of Jesus Christ, the greatest Hero who ever lived. If you keep that likeness always beside you, if you look at it often enough, you will find that, of even the most timid among you, He is able to make a hero like Himself.