Gideon: The Weakest and the Least
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Gideon: The Weakest and the Least

Judges 6:1-40  (ID: 2405)

After seven years of oppression at the hands of the Midianites, God’s people made their homes in caves and cried out for deliverance. Hearing their cries, the Lord sent the prophet Gideon to speak His word into their circumstances and liberate the Israelites from oppression. As Alistair Begg highlights the Lord’s compassionate response, we are reminded that the answer to our greatest needs is always God Himself.

Series Containing This Sermon

The Strength of Weakness

Series ID: 24601

Encore 2015

Series ID: 25906

Sermon Transcript: Print

Before the throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea,
A great High Priest whose name is Love
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see him there
Who made an end to all my sin.[1]

Thank you for the reminder of your great mercy and faithfulness to us. Thank you that it is because of your mercy that you come and reveal yourself to us; otherwise we would know nothing of you. And thank you that when we open our Bibles, Holy Spirit, you come and take the word of truth as we find it there in the Scriptures and bring it home to our lives. We pray that you will do that now so that we might hear the voice of God, for we seek you in Jesus’ name. Amen.

I invite you to turn to the book of Judges, to the sixth chapter—Judges 6.

Now, we’re in Judges 6, although we read from chapter 2, and we’ll make reference to both. Those of you who’ve gone through the series with us, The Big Picture of the Bible, will know that the book of Judges is the story of the people of Israel in the promised land after the death of Joshua. And frankly, the story of the book of Judges makes depressing reading, and the reason for the depression is on account of what we read in 2:10: “After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.” And in response to that, God gave to the people judges. They’re a great sign of his grace, but they were not an adequate solution to the problem, and you find that the book of Judges ends with the thought that perhaps if the people had a king, then it would be better from there,[2] and so the story goes, and the king arrives, always pointing forward to the leader who would come and the King who would be the King of all kings.

And in the midst of the story that is recorded for us in Judges we find a recurring cycle, which goes rebellion—they knew what God said, but they didn’t do it—followed by retribution—God brings judgment upon them—followed by repentance, followed by God’s intervention—in the form of a judge, often—and rescue. So the people know what God says, they refuse to do it, God comes and intervenes, they finally repent of their sins, and then finally God rescues them. You’ll find that that is the recurring cycle throughout the whole book.

Now, the reason that we’re here this morning and will be next Sunday or the following Sunday is on account of the fact that we began last week to consider the principle that is throughout the whole of Scripture and God’s dealings with us, and that we referred to as “the power of weakness”—the power of weakness. And we saw how Jehoshaphat, when confronted by daunting circumstances and aware of his own inadequacy, instead of bolstering himself and the people up with the kind of silly chanting that goes, “You can do it, you can do it! You can, you can!” he came before God, and he acknowledged, frankly, that he couldn’t do it and that he was helpless and he needed God. And we saw then, and we’ll see again now, that God works his purposes out in the lives of those who know themselves to be helpless.  And the story in these hundred verses here that begins in 6:1 and goes through, essentially, to the end of chapter 9 is the story of God securing victory for his people against insurmountable odds.

Now, mentioning “insurmountable odds,” you will notice that there are forty verses here in chapter 6, and I want to go through all forty verses. And I want to gather our thoughts around four straightforward headings.

Deep Trouble!

Heading number one—and each heading has just two words, followed by an exclamation mark, I think, in each case—heading number one: Deep trouble! Deep trouble! If your Bible is open, you will see that the story begins in just the way that I’ve mentioned: “The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites. And the power of Midian was so oppressive that the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds, and when they planted their crops, the people came in and just ravaged the place and took away all of their food.”[3]

Now, this is history. This is the record of a group of people living in a particular place in a moment in time. And we do well to remind ourselves of that, because it helps us then to at least identify in some measure with what’s going on. And if you think for a moment of families going about their business, living in this land, and hearing the prospect yet again of the marauding forces coming from the east: the children would be asking, “Mommy, do you think those dreadful people are going to come again this year?” “Well, I’m afraid so, honey. I think they probably will.” “Dad, are we gonna have to go back to that dreadful cave that we were in the last time? I don’t like it in the cave. I don’t want to go back to the cave. Mommy, can I bring some of my playthings with me?” “No, you can’t. We can only take the absolute essentials.” “Oh, dear! This is dreadful. This is deep trouble.”

God works his purposes out in the lives of those who know themselves to be helpless.

Well, of course, it is. Look at what we read in the text. They are invaded in verse 3: “Whenever [they] planted their crops, the Midianites, [the] Amalekites and [the] eastern peoples invaded the country.” As a result of the invasion, they were oppressed—verse 2—and the power of the enemy was absolutely “oppressive,” and the result was that they were “impoverished”—verse 6—absolutely overwhelmed, overrun, impoverished, wishing desperately that they could carry on with life in the way in which they enjoyed it; wishing, perhaps, they would be able to thresh the wheat in a normal context, out in the open air, allowing the wind to blow it, allowing all of the good stuff to fall down for their benefit later on.

Now, all of us approach the text of Scripture through the prism of our own experience and interests. We try not to read ourselves into the Bible, but we cannot read the Bible without it setting off all kinds of thoughts. And when I approach my text, on a routine basis I write down everything that comes into my mind. That’s the first thing I do. I think myself empty, and I scribble down on a sheet of paper anything that occurs to me when I read the Bible. I read it once, read it again, and write down everything that comes into mind. Sometimes that doesn’t take very long because there isn’t often that comes into my mind. And I can’t always say the things that come into my mind, and most of them end up getting thrown away, in any case.

But one of things that came into my mind as I read the circumstances here was a line or two from My Fair Lady, one of my favorite musicals. And I found myself identifying Eliza Doolittle, as she sings, “All I want is a room somewhere, far away from the cold night air.” Remember that wonderful song? “Lots of chocolate[s] for me to eat, lots of coal making lots of heat.”[4] Her circumstances are so bad that she just longs for the essentials of life: “Wouldn’t it be lovely to get ourselves in a wonderfully warm room, able to enjoy what we enjoy?” Of course it would! And that is exactly what these people are finding here: often chased into the caves and mountains, wishing that, somehow or another, they could enjoy life a normal fashion.

Now, you will notice in verse 6 that Midian “impoverished” them, and then “they cried out … for help.” But there is a cause behind that cause, if you allow your eyes to go up to verse 1: “The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites.” Why were they overwhelmed? Because God did this. Why did God do this? Because they did that. Why would God do this in response to that? Because he had told them in the establishing of the covenant that if they obeyed him they would be blessed, and if they disobeyed him they would be judged and they would be impoverished. So their circumstances were directly related to their disobedience. And God’s plan and purpose was and is to bring his people to the place where they cry out to him for help.  “God moves,” says Cowper, “in a mysterious way his wonders to perform,”[5] giving them into the hands of the Midianites.

You see, there is an approach to Christianity, and it’s most prevalent in the circles in which we move. And it goes something like this: if you follow Jesus everything falls into line, and if you’re a good boy or girl everything goes swimmingly. It’s a really dreadful story, because there are so many illustrations for each of us, as we make the pilgrimage through our days, of our coming up against experiences that we do not like, we apparently cannot change, and we clearly do not understand. And they cause us to do what these people in their day did, and that is to cry out to God for help.

And when we cry to God for help, the psalmist tells us, “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.”[6] God promises to come to the aid of his people. Psalm [139]: “He hems us in behind and before; he set his hand upon us.”[7] “The sun will not harm us by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will watch over our lives. He will watch over our coming and our going, from this time forth and even forevermore.”[8] These are categorical promises of his Word. But the way in which he unfolds the fulfillment of these aspects is often down rocky terrain and dark valleys and strange waiting rooms.

And so, in response to their cry for help in verse 7, “He sent them a prophet”[9]—sent them a prophet! “Lord, we need your help. We’re being overwhelmed; we’re living in caves, in clefts of the rock; we are completely overrun by these dreadful people; they come in every year, and they steal our food. God, we’re sorry, please help us,” and he sends them a prophet. One of my favorite Old Testament commentators says, “What a strange answer! That’s like a stranded motorist calling for roadside assistance and the garage sending out a philosopher rather than a mechanic.”[10] Someone comes out and says, “Do you know—I can see your car is parked on the side of the road—do you know that Bertrand Russell said, ‘Only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation be built’?”[11] The person says, “Forget that jazz! Fix the car. I don’t need a prophet. I don’t need poetry. I need a mechanic!”

Now, just hold that thought for a moment as you think about your own individual pilgrimage. Here you are, and you’re confronted by circumstances that you don’t like, you’re overwhelmed by them, and you can’t change them. “God, will you help me?” “Yes, I will help you.” We have an expectation of how that help will come. It comes in a different way. Do we still trust God, that he knows best?

You see, what these people thought was that they needed, first of all and immediately, deliverance from their predicament. God knew that what they needed first and foremost was an explanation as to how it was they were in the predicament in the first place.

God’s plan and purpose was and is to bring his people to the place where they cry out to him for help.

Now, we could apply this at all kinds of levels, and I’m going to resist doing so, but we daren’t miss this simple application: that when God intervenes with his people, he turns them always to his word. And “when [they] cried [out]” in verse 7, “he sent them a prophet,” and the prophet reminded them of what they needed to know: “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Remember, I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. I snatched you from the power of Egypt and from the hand of all your oppressors. Remember what I did. Remember what I told you. I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.’ But you haven’t listened to me.”[12]

Deep trouble. “Here we are. Lord, hear our cry.” “People, hear my prophet. Remember, remember. But…”

And then in this wonderful little twist in the tale, just when we perhaps anticipate in reading these verses that God is going to respond in anger and in judgment, instead of that we read in verse 11 that “the angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak … that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing … in [the] winepress.” It’s a wonderful illustration of the mercy of God. What the people deserved, he did not give them; instead, he displayed his grace towards them.

Where would we be this morning if God did not operate that way in our lives—if he gave to us the judgment that we deserve instead of showing his mercy?  See, because were it not for the Lord’s mercy, says Jeremiah in Lamentations 3, we would be “consumed”—apart from the Lord’s mercy—and his mercies are “new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”[13] It’s the story of conversion. When we were dead in our trespasses and sins, when we had our fingers in our ears, when we ran with the crowd that opposed God and had no interest in him, God comes (“God, who is”—Ephesians 2:4—“rich in mercy”), and he raises us up to a new life in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Good Question!

Well, that’s the first heading. We move on from Deep trouble! to Good question! Good question! Incidentally, you will notice that in verse 11 it says “the angel of the Lord,” and then in the conversation that ensues it changes from addressing “the angel of the Lord” to addressing “the Lord” himself.[14] This is typical of the sort of enigmatic disclosure of God that we find in the Old Testament in a variety of places. And what we have, really, in the angel of the Lord is a preincarnate manifestation, a theophany, of Yahweh himself.

And the angel of the Lord comes to this fellow Gideon where he is, in a classic expression of the impoverished circumstances of the people. It’s as if God narrows the camera down onto Gideon and shows in a microcosm the big picture of the people. The significance of Gideon is tied to his part in what God is doing with his people. It’s a good reminder to us when we’re tempted to think that personalities are the key, that individuals are the key. In point of fact, Gideon only has a part in this because of what God is doing with his people. And the way in which any one of us have a part in anything is because of what God is doing with his people. 

And his circumstances don’t tie in with the greeting he receives: “When the angel of the Lord”—verse 12—“appeared to Gideon, he said, ‘The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.’” And you can imagine Gideon looking over his shoulder, I’m sure. Here he is, hiding away with the rest of them, trying to thresh wheat in a winepress, and this strange individual shows up with this quite dramatic greeting. And then the dialogue continues in verse 13: “‘But sir,’ Gideon replied”—and here’s this good question—“‘if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?’”

Now, if this was a school class, I’d say, “Okay, hands up: all those who have not gone through something in the past week where the if… why…? scenario has not unfolded.” “If this is the case, if you are a good God and a powerful God, then why this? If this, then why? If you watch over my coming and my going, then why did I get this diagnosis? If you desire the best for your children, then why am I going through it? If you are who you claim to be, then why are my circumstances as they are?” It’s a good question. It’s a sensible question. It’s an honest question. It’s a question that recurs in the Psalms: “My foot had almost slipped when I observed the wicked; they seem to be doing so well.[15] They cheat on their taxes, they sleep with women, they clown around, they’re a total disaster zone, and yet everything seems to be fantastic. And God, here I am, trying to obey your law, pay my taxes, live in fidelity, be a good fellow, and it’s a disaster! If… why…?”

The way in which any one of us have a part in anything is because of what God is doing with his people.

Now, you ought to be encouraged by this, those of you who think it’s wrong ever to ask the question—those of you who think that what you have to do to encourage the world to turn to faith in Jesus Christ is to go out and say, “I never knew an if, and I never asked a why.” You think that’s attractive to people? Their lives are full of ifs, buts, and maybes. These are the kind of questions they’re asking—hence the helpfulness of the books that we’ve recommended routinely by John Dickson: “If I were God, I’d remove all pain. If I were God, I’d make things a little simpler.”[16] Why? Because those are the very things that people are saying.

Now, what he says is, “If the Lord is with us, why has this happened?” and secondly, “Where are all the wonders that our fathers told us about? I mean, we’ve read the history, but look at where we are. And didn’t God bring us up out of the land of Egypt? But now we’re abandoned. And he’s put us in the hand of Midian.”[17] You see, there’s no sense in which the response of Gideon is to say, “I live in a chance universe. Oh, I don’t know what’s going on, and I know, God, you’re perhaps taken by surprise as well. I mean, you must have looked down and said, ‘Wow, look at these Midianites, look at what they’re doing!’” No, there’s none of that theology at all. He says, “No, God, you are sovereign; you’re sovereign in what’s happening. My disobedience—the disobedience of my people—is my disobedience. The invasion of the Midianites is the invasion of the Midianites; they’re bad people, they’re greedy people, they are territorial in their invasive practices. But beyond that I see, O God, that you are in this. And that’s what makes it hard for me. If… Why…? Where…? Didn’t you…? So why aren’t you…?”

Now, that highlights the importance of the strangeness of the response to the cry for help. Because remember what we said: when they cried for help, they didn’t get a warrior to deliver them; they got a prophet to teach them. And God knew that what they needed to hear was his word into their circumstances, because actually all they would have to go on was his word. And that is true for us today. What do we have to go on? His Word. Anything else? No, his Word. If… why…? If… where…? If To the Book!

See, all of the good questions that we raise are ultimately answered in God’s disclosure of himself. See, the good questions that we raise are not answered with slick little itsy-bitsy “five keys to fixing” questions, you know, or that kind of prosaic approach to “If you ask this question, then this is the answer, and if you ask this question, this is the answer,” and “2000 questions and 2000 answers,” but the trouble for me is that none of my really good questions are in the 2000; they always seem to be question 2001, and I look up the index, and then there isn’t an answer.

Now, the response to this is no answer at all: no dialogue concerning the circumstances, no explanation of the Midianites, no big statement regarding God’s purposes for the Amalekites. No, in verse 14, “The Lord turned to him and said, ‘[I want you to] go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand.’” Haha! What a joke that is! “I want you to go in the strength you have.”

Verse 15: “But Lord … how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” In other words, “God, I am totally inadequate.” God says, “Okay, this is good. Now we’re making progress. Now class is about to begin.” But until the child of God, until the people of God, until the church of God reaches the point—as a result of circumstance and question and wrestling with the deep things of the faith—until the people of God get to the point where they say, “I am completely inadequate,” then they never, ever make the discovery of the adequacy of God.

You see, that’s why self-assured people don’t pray. If we’ve got everything covered, why would you pray? If we have the plans and strategies to repair, and to fix, and to renew, and to go on, what purpose would there ever be of standing in silence before God, saying, “We [don’t] know what to do, but our eyes are upon you”?[18]

Do you know why some of us are used as little as we are? It’s strange, this, but it’s true: it’s because we think we are just so wonderfully useful.  And God wants to bring us to the place where he shows us that we’re actually useless. And in the experience of his presence and his provision, the useless becomes useful.

Now, you can run this principle throughout the whole Bible. You don’t need to stay in the Old Testament. “Jesus, I think it’s probably time to get rid of the crowd,” said the disciples. “We’ve got a major problem on our hands. There’s thousands of them here, it’s meal time, there’s no food, there’s no shops in the area, there’s nothing at all. I think, Jesus, it would be good—and you’re the one to do it, Jesus—just ask them to go away.” And Jesus said, “Well, why don’t you give them something to eat?” They must have looked at one another and said, “Here we go again!” And someone chimes up and says, “There’s actually nothing here, apart from a small boy with five loaves and two fish, but what are they among so many? I mean, this is against all odds. This is a completely inadequate solution to a magnificently large problem, Jesus.” And then at that point Jesus said, “Okay, here we go. Class begins.”[19]

Do you know why some of us are used as little as we are? It’s because we think we are just so wonderfully useful.

Now, you see, when Gideon says, “My clan is the weakest, and I’m the least in the clan,” the angel doesn’t say, “Oh, come on Gideon, you are not! Come on. You got a nice clan, and you’re a good boy, Gideon. And a lot of people like you, and I was talking to someone the other day, and they said, ‘That Gideon, he’s got some potential, I’ll tell you. Yeah, he can blow a trumpet, and he is a… he is your man!’ Come on, Gideon. You can do it, you can do it! You can, you can!”

Do you realize how pervasive that is in our culture? I mean, it is totally pervasive in our culture. And it is pervasive in the church culture, too. Instead of saying flat out, “I can’t, I don’t, I won’t, I don’t understand,” and then someone comes and says, “Oh, yes you can, yes you will, yes you do, you did… Come on now, come on. You can go out there. Put on the armor. This is very good armor, I got this, it’s wonderful armor. Put my armor on, David. You’re gonna love this.”[20] And God says no, David says no, the kid says, “I don’t know what you’re gonna do with this,” Gideon says, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I don’t know what this ‘mighty warrior’ stuff is.” And what’s the answer? “I will be with you.” “Go,” he says. “Go, and I will be with you.”[21]

Wow! Now there’s a cliché, isn’t it? “I will be with you”—verse 16—“and you will strike down all the Midianites together.” “I will be with you; you’ll strike them down.” It’s like your math teacher sitting next to you on the bench. It’s just nice to have her beside you. You still have to do the problem, but she’s there. I drew great comfort just from her presence. I figured if she sat there long enough, I’d get her to do the problem. It was great to have her right beside me.

Each of us know this with our children, don’t we? In those early nights, when finally they begin to dream, and when the world becomes big and huge to them, and they can’t distinguish between reality and fiction, and you have those moments, and what do they ask you? “Will you stay in here till I fall asleep? Will you hold my hand till I fall asleep? Will you stay on my bed, Daddy? Will you be with me?” Some of us have done it in the anesthetic, haven’t we? Walking in there, all of those lights, masks, the smell, the trolley, your child, and all they want to know is, “Will you be with me?” It doesn’t mitigate the experience they’re about to go through. It doesn’t alter the lights, it doesn’t alter the masked figures, but all they want to know is, “Will you be with me?”

This is not a cliché; this was the very word… remember, he has asked, “If you are God, where are all the wonders, such as happened coming out of Egypt?” And he gives to Gideon the same response that he gave to Moses in the prospect of coming out of Egypt: “Moses, you go and tell Pharaoh, ‘Let my people go.’” Moses says, “I’m not good at this. I’m not a very good speaker, I have another guy who’s a good speaker, he’s Aaron,” and God says to him, “I will be with you.”[22] And if Gideon’s putting two and two together, he realizes that the angel got him: “Where… what… how did that happen?” “Let me tell you how it happened. Let me tell you how it will happen for you: in the exact same way.”

Well, that would be enough, wouldn’t it? But it isn’t enough. And what happens? He asks for a sign. Verse 17: “If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign.” I love Gideon for this. I love it. And for those of us who are tempted to criticize him, we have not been looking in the mirror very much.

Big Challenge!

Thirdly—the third heading, we must move on—was Big challenge! Do the food saga for your homework. Notice, in verse 24, that “Gideon built an altar.” And then on the same night that he built the altar—verse 25—the Lord came and gave him a big challenge: “Nice work on building the altar, Gideon. This is what I want you to do: I want you to tear down another altar. Good job on the building; let’s see how you are on the demolition. I want you to demolish your father’s altar to Baal. Your father’s altar. Your father’s altar.”[23]

You see, the invasive practices of the culture had not only seeped into the people of God, they had seeped into Gideon’s own house, and his father had the Asherah poles, and he had the altars to Baal, and it was right in his own operation, and God comes to this guy and he says, “Now, I’m gonna be with you, mighty warrior.” And he responds as we’ve seen, and God gives him this big challenge, reminding us of what Jesus made clear: that you cannot live with two altars simultaneously; you cannot have a nighttime altar to Baal and a daytime altar to the living God. You cannot worship on a Friday night at the altar of whatever it is you want to worship at, and worship on a Sunday morning at the altar to the living God.  It’s not impossible, but it is incongruous. “No man,” said Jesus, “can serve two masters, because either you will hate one and love the other, or he will cling to one and forsake the other.”[24]

You cannot live with two altars simultaneously. You cannot worship on a Friday night at the altar of whatever it is you want to worship at, and worship on a Sunday morning at the altar to the living God.

Big challenge. Look at how he responds: phones up ten of his friends and takes them with him. “So Gideon”—verse 27—“took ten of his [friends].” See, there comes a time when we need to nail our colors to the mast, whether it’s at home, or business, or college, or whatever else it is. “How long halt ye between two opinions?”[25] Remember that one? “When are you going to make up your mind? When are you going to decide?” Don’t play the Augustine game. Remember, Augustine prayed, “Lord, make me pure, but not tonight.”[26] “Lord, I do want to be pure, but I don’t want to start until Monday. Lord, I do want to serve you, but I don’t want to serve you just right now. Lord, I do want to do what you say, but I need to be here, and I need to be here.”

And so, Gideon did as he was told. He did so fearfully, he did under the cover of darkness. “Evidently,” says Ralph Davis, “obedience was essential and heroism [was] optional.”[27] And for your homework, you can see the response of Joash when the news leaks out, and they come to Joash, and they say to him, “Hey, your boy, he’s been doing some bad business in the middle of the night, and you better take matters into your own hands and sort him out,” and Joash says, “Listen, if Baal is really a god, he can take care of it himself.”[28] Sometimes the dads learn through the sons.

Great Patience!

And finally, Great patience! Verse 36, Gideon goes back to his favorite word; you’ll notice what it is: If “Gideon said to God, ‘If you will save Israel…” Now, wouldn’t you think that God would just say, “I’m not going to put up with any more of this, Gideon. I’m so sick and tired. I told you you’re a mighty warrior; you come back with this, you’re asking questions, you want things burned up, you’ve got all sorts of things going; really and truly, Gideon, would you get with program, son? Let’s get this thing going here.”

But what does he say? He says, “Well, what I want you to do is, I want you to just show me that you’re in charge. I’d like to have a wet fleece with a dry ground,”[29] and God says, “Okay.” And then Gideon says, “Can I… can I just… can I just ask you once… just one more, nothing after this, this is the last one! How about… dry fleece, wet ground?”[30] And God does both. Why? Because that’s the kind of God he is. You remember when James says, that “if any one lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all men generously without finding fault”?[31]

Now, most of us, if this was us, we’d say, “Look, when I say what I say, that’s over. I’m not giving you any sign. I’m your dad. I mean, don’t you trust me? How many times have I let you down?” It goes like that, doesn’t it? “There’ll be no sign. I’m not leaving the light on. I told you the door would be open. There’ll be no light on,” it goes on.

How good that God is not like us! He says, “This is what you’re gonna do, mighty warrior: you’re gonna go down there, you’re gonna be victorious, here’s my word”; he sent his prophet, he did everything, and then his servant comes back and says, “You know, could you do a little thing for me here with the wet fleece on the dry ground?” And so God says, “Yeah, fine,” and they wrung out the dew from the fleece, and there was a bowl full of water, and then… (This is fantastic. Oh no, I can’t hardly read it; when I look at it, I’m embarrassed.) Then Gideon said, “Ahem. Excuse me? Just, uh… You know, just… Whew! One more: Just ah… just… I’m going now, I’m definitely going, we’re gonna defeat the Midianites, but… the wet fleece and the dry ground, that’s easy, because, I mean, the moisture’s gonna be absorbed by the fleece, and it’s gonna get wet, the ground can be dry, wet fleece, dry ground, but… how about dry fleece, wet ground?”

Until we come to the point of acknowledging our total inadequacy—for salvation, for progress, for service, for usefulness—we will be destined to live in the shadows.

And “that night God did so.”[32] What a great God! What a really nice, good God. What a wonderful heavenly Father, who stoops to our weakness, mighty as he is—who has all the power and all the might of the universe at his disclosure, who is not in need of Gideon, who has no responsibility for this little character to allow him to be used in such a mighty way. But because of the God that he is, he reaches down and he takes this helpless character—once he knows how helpless he is, and he is simply a microcosm of the helplessness of the people of God—and he wants the people of God to know how helpless they are, in this generation, and in the next generation, and in the next generation, so that when he sends “the Lamb of God who will take away the sin of the world”[33] they will say, “That’s the very Savior that we need!” Because they know they are helpless, and they know they are hopeless, and if God does not stoop to their weakness, then there’s nothing they can do.

Douglas McMillan, who’s now in heaven—went to heaven 1986 at the age of 56, young man—told this story, when he was preaching in Carlisle, and you know this story, but it’s a good story; it’s the right story with which to finish. He was moving from the north of Scotland to Glasgow. He was moving to a Free Church manse in Glasgow, and he was moving all of his belongings into the house. The removal van was there, and he wanted to take care of his own books, and so he was overseeing the careful deposit of his books in his study in a second floor. And his little boy who was about three and a half or four years old asked if he could help his dad, and he gave him little bits and pamphlets and stuff to carry up the stairs, and the boy was going up and down the stairs. And then all of a sudden, Douglas said, “And I came around the corner, and I found him crying.” And he was struggling, and he had taken, like, a E. J. Young’s Analytical Concordance or two volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and they had brought the little guy to his knees, and he was down on the floor, and he was frustrated, and he was weeping. And Douglas McMillan said, “So I knelt down, and I picked up my boy, and I picked up his burden, and I took them both safely to their destination.”[34]

That’s God here for Gideon. “Stoop to my weakness, mighty as you are.”[35] Until you, me, we come to the point of acknowledging our total inadequacy—for salvation, for progress, for service, for usefulness—we will be destined to live in the shadows.  The greatest detriment to the progress of Parkside Church is Parkside Church thinking that it can do it. And God will do whatever he must do to bring Parkside Church to the place where it knows collectively that it can’t do it. And at that point, class will begin. But I have a sneaking suspicion that this is just the preparation for the class—just the preparation.

Father, I thank you that out of a multitude of words we can turn again to your Book and hear your voice. And I pray that you will come to those of us who have been confronted by obstacles and hurdles, and we find ourselves like Gideon, saying, “If this is true, then why is this our experience?” And I pray, Lord, that you will bring us to an end of ourselves in order that we might find you, in all of your might and in your fullness.

And may your grace and mercy and peace that comes from Father, Son, and Holy Spirit rest upon and remain with each one of us, now and forevermore. Amen.

[1] Charitie Lees Bancroft, “Before the Throne of God Above” (1863). Alternative words by Vikki Cook.

[2] Judges 21:25 (paraphrased).

[3] Judges 6:1–5 (paraphrased).

[4] Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Loewe, “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” (1956).

[5] William Cowper, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” (1774).

[6] Psalm 34:6 (KJV).

[7] Psalm 139:5 (paraphrased).

[8] Psalm 121:6–8 (paraphrased).

[9] Judges 6:8 (NIV 1984).

[10] Dale Ralph Davis, Such a Great Salvation: Expositions of the Book of Judges, Expositor’s Guide to the Historical Books (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990): 92. Paraphrased.

[11] Bertrand Russell, Mysticism and Logic (Mineola, NY: Dover, 2004), 37.

[12] Judges 6:8–10 (paraphrased).

[13] Lamentations 3:22–23 (NIV 1984).

[14] Judges 6:14.

[15] Psalm 73:2–3 (paraphrased).

[16] See John Dickson, If I Were God, I’d End All the Pain: Struggling with Evil, Suffering and Faith (Kingsford, AU: Matthias Media, 2003).

[17] Judges 6:13 (paraphrased).

[18] 2 Chronicles 20:12 (NIV 1984).

[19] See Matthew 14:13–21, Mark 6:31–44, Luke 9:12–17, and John 6:1–14.

[20] See 1 Samuel 17:38–40.

[21] Judges 6:14, 16 (paraphrased).

[22] Exodus 3:10–12; 4:10–17 (paraphrased).

[23] Judges 6:25 (paraphrased).

[24] Matthew 6:24, Luke 16:13 (paraphrased).

[25] 1 Kings 18:21 (KJV).

[26] Augustine, The Confessions, trans. Philip Burton, Everyman’s Library (New York: Knopf, 2001), 174.

[27] Davis, Such a Great Salvation, 98.

[28] Judges 6:30–31 (paraphrased).

[29] Judges 6:37 (paraphrased).

[30] Judges 6:39 (paraphrased).

[31] James 1:5 (paraphrased).

[32] Judges 6:40 (NIV 1984).

[33] John 1:29 (paraphrased).

[34] Source unknown.

[35] George Croly, “Spirit of God, Descend upon My Heart” (1854).

Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.