Sunday, June 10, 2012

Gideon (part 1 of 2)

In the sixth chapter of Judges, Gideon takes center-stage in the ongoing record of God’s faithful rescuing that is the Word of God.  Though we say that it is Gideon that takes center-stage, because this is an instance of deliverance from exile (exodus) that is rooted in the faithfulness of Israel’s God, it is He that actually fills our view.  At the very beginning of the story of Gideon, because exile (foreign subjugation) is the prevailing condition of God’s people, exodus language is heavy. 

While Gideon “was threshing wheat in a winepress so he could hide it from the Midianites” (6:11b), “The Lord’s messenger appeared” to him” (6:12a).  As was true of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, Gideon was not seeking God when God (or in this case, the Lord’s messenger) appeared to him.  This was also the case with Moses.  Owing to that, there is a great affinity between Gideon’s encounter here, and that of Moses with the burning bush.  Just as the Lord called out to Moses from the burning bush, effectively turning the bush into His messenger, the messenger that was encountered by Gideon as he went about his business (just as Moses was shepherding the flock of his father-in-law during his own time of exile) greets Gideon with “The Lord is with you, courageous warrior!” (6:12b).  This prompts what might be seen as a bit of a short-tempered response from Gideon, which is understandable, considering his situation. 

It would be quite natural for Gideon to be feel as if he is being mocked by this figure, especially in the light of the fact that Gideon is threshing wheat in a winepress, so as to keep it out of the view of the Midianites.  The last thing that Gideon is demonstrating, and he knows it, is the courage of a warrior, so he is rightly perturbed at the statement.  Concerning the statement of “The Lord is with you,” Gideon, in full consideration of the oppression of the people under heel of Midian, points to the fact of their exile from God’s promises and says rather pointedly, “Pardon me, but if the Lord is with us, why has such disaster overtaken us?  Where are all His miraculous deeds our ancestors told us about?” (6:13a).  In addition to this, Gideon reaches back to the grand story of the exodus, again pointing out to the reader the singular importance of this aspect of the Biblical narrative, and says “They said, ‘Did the Lord not bring us up from Egypt?’  But now the Lord has abandoned us and handed us over to Midian” (6:13b). 

With such language, Gideon might as well be one of the grumbling, murmuring, complaining Israelites following the Egyptian exodus.  In his voice, we hear a statement like, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the desert?  What in the world have you done by bringing us out of Egypt?” (Exodus 14:11)  We can also hear, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this desert to kill this whole assembly with hunger!” (Exodus 16:3) 

Seeming to ignore Gideon’s disrespectful response to His introductory statement, “the Lord Himself turned to him and said, ‘You have the strength.  Deliver Israel from the power of the Midianites.   Have I not sent you?’” (6:14)  With this, we are right back in Exodus, at the burning bush, with the Lord speaking to Moses and saying, “I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt…  I have come down to deliver them from the hand of the Egyptians (exile) and to bring them up from that land to a land that is both good and spacious (exodus)…  So now go, and I will send you to Pharaoh to bring My people, the Israelites, out of Egypt” (3:7a,8a,10).  We return to Gideon who, having heard these things from the Lord, says “But Lord, how can I deliver Israel?  Just look!  My clan is the weakest… and I am the youngest” (6:15).  What did Moses say?  “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, or that I should bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (3:11)  The Lord responds to Gideon by saying, “Ah, but I will be with you!  You will strike down the whole Midianite army” (6:16).  To Moses, the Lord replied, “Surely I will be with you” (3:12a). 

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