March 4, 2020

The Second Wednesday in Lent

Scripture Reading: Judges 6:36-40

The Sign of the Fleece

36 Then Gideon said to God, “In order to see whether you will deliver Israel by my hand, as you have said, 37 I am going to lay a fleece of wool on the threshing floor; if there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will deliver Israel by my hand, as you have said.” 38 And it was so. When he rose early next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water. 39 Then Gideon said to God, “Do not let your anger burn against me, let me speak one more time; let me, please, make trial with the fleece just once more; let it be dry only on the fleece, and on all the ground let there be dew.” 40 And God did so that night. It was dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground there was dew.


Sermon: “Fleeced

My name is Gideon, son of Joash of Ophrah—the town, not the talk show host. Let me start by admitting that I wasn’t the brightest flame in the campfire of life.

Back in the village, the other boys called me, “Gidiot the Idiot.” How I hated that nickname! Still, the sad truth is that I sometimes earned it.

I grew up in a troubled time for Israel. The great judges of the past had driven the Canaanites out of the land. But my people, as they always did, fell back into idolatry and sin. God unleashed the Midianites and Amalekites upon us, desert nomads from the east.

Their raiding parties waited until it was harvest time, then swarmed over the land like a plague of locusts, stealing our crops and livestock.

My family and I were wheat farmers. Usually, at threshing time, we’d carry the freshly cut wheat to the top of a hill. Once there, we’d throw it into the air, where the wind blew away the chaff. We may as well have put up a billboard that read, “Rob Me Now” for the desert raiders.

I outsmarted them. I took our wheat and threshed it in a wine press, a stone-lined pit. No Midianites or Amalekites could see me there!

Of course, the wind didn’t reach the bottom of the pit, either. Most of the chaff fell right back down…on me. I’d just about decided this wasn’t one of my best ideas when a messenger from God joined me and said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

Mighty warrior? Me? God didn’t know everything after all!

As long as someone from the head office was there, though, I decided to get some answers. “If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened?,” I asked. “Where are all God’s wonderful deeds? The Lord has tossed us aside and given us to Midian.”

The angel said, “Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian; I hereby commission you.”

In other words, “You are the answer to your own prayer.”

That was unexpected. I built an altar on the spot to mark the occasion and waited to see what happened next.

I didn’t have long to wait. “Take your father’s prize bull,” the Lord said to me that night, “and pull down the altar he built for Baal and his consort. Build an altar to the Lord there, and then burn up the prize bull as an offering using the wood from Baal’s altar.”

I did what any other freshly minted judge of Israel would do. I snuck out in the dead of night, took ten servants with me, and did as the Lord commanded.

Having passed my first test as a judge—sort of—it was now on to the main event, leading an army against the Midianites and Amalekites. “The Spirit of the Lord” fell on me, people said. If it did, it didn’t leave much of a dent.

I asked God for not one, but two signs. First, I laid a piece of fleece on the threshing room floor, and asked God to leave the fleece wet, but the floor dry.

It happened just as I’d asked. Then it dawned on me that since the stone floor soaked up the heat of the sun all day, whatever dew fell on it wouldn’t linger long.

The fleece, on the other hand, would soak up and hold all the dew it could. That wasn’t much of a test, especially for God.

So, I tried again. This time, I asked that the stone floor stay wet, while the fleece remained dry. Again, it was just as I’d asked.

Now I had no choice. Gidiot the Idiot prepared to lead his people into battle. When I sent out word that I was gathering an army, to my surprise people came—a lot of people, 32,000 in all.  

God wanted to make sure that no one got credit for this victory except God. The Lord told me to order all those who were afraid to go home. 22,000 left.

God then told me to take the rest down to a creek to get a drink. I sent home all those who cupped their hands and lifted water to their mouths. The 300 who lapped up water like dogs were my army.

It was an army of people like me, the outcasts and mocked. Suddenly, I felt much better about this whole battle thing. We’d show them—with God’s help, of course!

My troops and I made our way to the rim of a valley. The Midianite army sprawled out below us, 120,000 troops in all. I scattered my soldiers along the rim. Each one had a trumpet, a clay jar, and a lit torch hidden inside the jar.

When I signaled, everyone blew on their trumpets, shattered their jars, and lifted their torches high, racing down the hillside shouting, “For the Lord and for Gideon!” Hey, I deserved some credit for all of this… Didn’t I?

The Midianites turned on each other in the confusion and darkness, and then ran like rabbits. My army chased them back across the Jordan.

Once home, I wasn’t Gidiot the Idiot anymore. In fact, people wanted to crown me king. “Rule over us, you and your sons and your grandsons, too; for you delivered us out of the hand of Midian.”

It was one thing to lead an army when God did all the work, but another thing to lead a whole country. “The Lord will rule over you,” I said.

“All I want,” I went on, “is for each soldier to give me one of the golden earrings they took from the bodies of our enemies.” Everyone happily obliged.

I took the gold, melted it down, and made what my people call an ephod, a tool used to find out the will of God.

Though I had no wish to be king, that didn’t stop me from making the ephod’s home right there in Ophrah. Neither did it stop people from worshiping the ephod as if it were truly the Lord.

In true idiot fashion, I began my career as a judge by pulling down a pagan altar, and ended it by building one myself.

I’d lost my most important battle—to trust God and keep Israel faithful. You still fight that battle, pulling down altars to other gods and other loyalties while trying to make your life an altar of worship and service to the one true God. Take it from me—we wrestle with the task forever.

Remember, often you’re the answer to your own prayer. Don’t sit idly by expecting God or someone else to magically carry out what you could do yourself.

Most importantly, never assume that you aren’t good enough, smart enough, or strong enough to answer God’s call. God works in spite of and often through our weaknesses.

You who follow Jesus should know that best of all. It is as your Apostle Paul said:

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: few of you were wise, powerful, or of noble birth by human standards. In fact, God chose what’s foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what’s weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what’s low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.

(1 Corinthians 1:26-29)

 

The God I struggled to follow is also the God of Jesus Christ. This God leads the weakest of the weak to victory over cross and tomb, defeating everyone’s last, greatest enemy, death itself. You’d have to be a real idiot not to follow a God like that!