Chapter Sixteen

Earl and Joyce returned to their room after dinner. It was a relief to have a semblance of privacy, at least at night. Refugees had been steadily trickling away over the past week and that, combined with the loss of the original residents due to their transferal to the main facility, had allowed them to have their own room. Once inside the doorway she turned to Earl. “So tell me about Gideon,” she said.

“The full story’s in Judges Chapters 6 through 8,” he replied. “Israel had fallen away from God, and God in turn had disciplined them by sending the Midianites to harass and bully them, and threaten them with starvation. I’ll read from the beginning of Chapter 6:

“’And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years. And the hand of Midian prevailed against Israel; and because of the Midianites, the children of Israel made themselves the dens which are in the mountains, and caves, and strongholds. And so it was, when Israel had sown, that the Midianites came up, and the Amalekites, and the children of the east, even they came up against them; and they encamped against them, and destroyed the increase of the earth, till thou come unto Gaza, and left no sustenance for Israel, neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass. For they came up with their cattle and their tents, and they came as grasshoppers for multitude; for both they and their camels were without number: and they entered into the land to destroy it. And Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites; and the children of Israel cried unto the Lord.

“’And it came to pass, when the children of Israel cried unto the Lord because of the Midianites, that the Lord sent a prophet unto the children of Israel, who said unto them, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, I brought you up from Egypt, and brought you forth out of the house of bondage; and I delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out from before you, and gave you their land. And I said unto you, I am the Lord your God; fear not the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell; but ye have not obeyed my voice.’

“God certainly made it clear to the Israelites what their problem was,” Joyce interrupted.

“He always does, especially to those to whom He is close. Jesus talked about asking much from those He has given much.” Earl frowned, attempting to recall the source of that quote. Finally he went over and picked up his concordance. “Ah! There is is!” he exclaimed. “It’s in Luke 12. I’ll read it to you:

“’But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required; and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.’

“There is no excuse for misunderstanding the cause-effect relationship for God’s people between good and bad times. It’s certainly happened that way in America. Since we who live in America historically have thought of ourselves as uniquely close to God, we also can expect God to demand that we toe the mark. According to the book The Light and the Glory by Peter Marshall and David Manuel, God would chastise the Puritans whenever they began to drift away from Him.” Earl went over to the bookcase and took a well-worn paperback off the shelf. He leafed through it until he found what he was looking for. “According to the authors of The Light and the Glory, it took only one or two generations after they landed before the pilgrims, in experiencing an increasing ease of existence, began to fall away from their daily devotion to God. At first the chastising was mild, and quickly returned to blessing as the people heeded the correction. Here’s an example,” he said to Joyce.

“Perhaps the most extraordinary chastisement in this vein was the rain of caterpillars which Winthrop reported in the summer of 1646. ‘Great harm was done in corn (especially wheat and barley) in this month by a caterpillar, like a black worm about an inch and a half long. They eat up first the blades of the stalk, then they eat up the tassels, whereupon the ear withered. It was believed by divers good observers that they fell in a great thunder shower, for divers yards and other bare places where not one of them was seen an hour before, were presently after the shower almost covered with them, besides grass places where they were not so easily discerned. They did the most harm in the southern parts, as in Rhode Island, etc., and in the eastern parts in their Indian corn. In divers places the churches kept a day of humiliation, and presently after, the caterpillars vanished away.’

“That’s kind of frightening,” Joyce remarked. The more we’re committed, the more we have to watch ourselves.”

“Well, yes and no. Remember, the more we’re committed, the more we have of the indwelling Holy Spirit to help us keep on the path. That’s the Christian’s unique blessing. The committed Christian simply has a closer relationship with God, so he sees and experiences things that others don’t. And there’s also two sides to that coin: God shows favor as well to the committed Christian. Listen to another example, a sea story this time:

“Our favorite of these sea stories involves two ships in distress. The first, under the mastery of William Laiton, was out of Piscataqua and bound for Barbados, when, some thousand miles off the coast, she sprang a leak which could not be staunched. He crew was forced to take refuge in their longboat. It happened that they had a plentiful supply of bread, more than they could possibly eat, but so little water that after eighteen days of drifting, they were down to a teaspoon per man per day. Meanwhile, another ship, captained by one Samuel Scarlet, was having its own difficulties, being ‘destitute of provisions, only they had water enough, and to spare.’ They spied the drifting longboat, but as Scarlet made ready to take them aboard, his men ‘. . .desired that he would not go to take the men in, lest they should all die by famine. But the captain was a man of too generous a charity to follow the selfish proposals thus made unto him. He replied, ‘It may be these distressed creatures are our own countrymen, and [anyway] they are distressed creatures. I am resolved I will take them in, and I’ll trust in God, who is able to deliver us all.’ Nor was he a loser by this charitable resolution, for Captain Scarlet had the water which Laiton wanted, and Mr. Laiton had the bread and fish which Scarlet wanted. So they refreshed one another, and in a few days arrived safe to New England. But it was remarked that the chief of the mariners who urged Captain Scarlet against his taking in these distressed people, did afterwards, in his distress at sea, perish without any to take him in.’”

“I kind of got off the track in responding to you,” Earl continued. Let me get back to Gideon.”

“I’m still all ears.”

“Okay. So God has patiently explained to the nation just why they were being oppressed. He also has decided to show mercy to them, for right after that passage we read of an encounter between an angel and Gideon.

“’And there came an angel of the Lord, and sat under an oak which was in Ophrah, that pertained unto Joash, the Abiezrite: and his son, Gideon, threshed wheat by the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites. And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him, and said unto him, The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valor.’

“I love that passage, Joyce. I can picture this angel playing the hayseed, probably with a shoot of wheat sticking through his front teeth, grinning up at Gideon, who at that point is anything but a mighty man of valor. The angel probably startled Gideon, whom I visualize pointing to his chest and saying, ‘Who, me?’ Anyway, to continue,

“’And Gideon said unto him, O my Lord, if the Lord be with us, why then is all this befallen us?’

“Boy, if that doesn’t sound familiar!” Joyce interrupted again. “It’s always God’s fault. Sorry. Go on.”

“You’re right. Okay. Gideon is still talking to the angel.

“’And where are all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt? But now the Lord hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.

“’And the Lord looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have not I sent thee? And he said unto him, O my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? Behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house. And the Lord said unto him, Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man. And [Gideon] said unto him, If now I have found grace in thy sight, then show me a sign that thou talkest with me. Depart not from here, I pray thee, until I come unto thee, and bring forth my present, and set it before thee. And he said, I will tarry until thou come again.

“’And Gideon went in, and made ready a kid, and unleavened cakes of an ephah of flour. The flesh he put in a basket,and he put the broth in a pot, and brought it out unto him under the oak, and presented it. And the angel of God said unto him, Take the flesh and the unleavened cakes, and lay them upon this rock, and pour out the broth. And he did so. Then the angel of the Lord put forth the end of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the flesh and the unleavened cakes; and there rose up fire out of the rock, and consumed the flesh and the unleavened cakes. Then the angel of the Lord departed out of his sight.’

Earl looked up from his Bible. “Gideon then was told to destroy his father’s altar to the false god Baal, which he did, and, acting under the influence of the Holy Spirit, directed messengers to the various tribes of Israel to gather together to confront the Midianites. Here’s where Gideon shows a bit of nervousness about the scope of what he’s been asked to do. He’s probably overwhelmed by the magnitude of it all, and he reacts about the same as any of us would. I think you’ll get a kick out of what he does next:

“’And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said, behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be one the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside it, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said. And it was so; for he rose up early on the next day, and thrust the fleece together, and wrung the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water. And Gideon said unto God, Let not thine anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once: let me make a trial, I pray thee, but this once more with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew. And God did so that night; for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground.’

“I’m surprised that God put up with Gideon’s lack of faith,” Joyce said.

“I don’t know about that. Gideon was asked to do something that the entire nation shied away from, even the leaders. And he certainly wasn’t a leader. It was a task that went against every molecule of his being. I’m not sure I’d be any different. But the whole situation gets hairier. God really demands the last ounce of faith that Gideon is able to give.” Earl picked up his Bible and continued to read.

“’Then Jerubbaal, who is Gideon, and all the people who were with him, rose up early, and encamped beside the well of Harod, so that the host of the Midianites were on the north side of them, by the hill of Moreh, in the valley. And the Lord said unto Gideon, The people who are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me. Now, therefore, go, proclaim in the hearing of the people, saying, Whosoever is fearful and afraid, let him return and depart early from Mount Gilead. And there returned of the people twenty and two thousand; and there remained ten thousand. And the Lord said unto Gideon, The people are yet too many. Bring them down unto the water, and I will test them for thee there: and it shall be, that of whom I say unto thee, This shall go with thee, the same shall go with thee; and of whomsoever I say unto thee, This shall not go with thee, the same shall not go.

“’So he brought down the people unto the water: and the Lord said unto Gideon, Everyone who lappeth of the water with his tongue, as a dog lappeth, him shalt thou set by himself; likewise, everyone who boweth down upon their knees to drink water. And the Lord said unto Gideon, By the three hundred men who lapped shall I save you, and deliver the Midianites into thine hand; and let all the other people go every man unto his place. So the people took provisions in their hand, and their trumpets: and he sent all the rest of Israel, every man, unto his tent, and retained these three hundred men: and the host of Midian was beneath him in the valley.

“From thirty-two thousand to three hundred. That’s huge, Earl. No, I mean that’s tiny.”

“I know what you mean. Like God said, He wanted Israel to understand that they aren’t to rely on themselves. That God is there with them. I think that the situation is prophetic. Look at Israel now, surrounded by vicious enemies sworn to murder them to the last man, woman and child, while the rest of the world stands idly by, allowing the hatred against Israel to build to an inevitable point of ignition.

“Not just idly. I don’t think Israel has a friend left in the world. So what happens to Gideon?”

“’And it came to pass the same night, that the Lord said unto him, Arise, get thee down unto the host; for I have delivered it unto thine hand. But if thou fear to go down, go thou with Purah, thy servant, down to the host. And thou shalt hear what they say; and afterward shall thine hands be strengthened to go down unto the host. Then went he down with Purah, his servant, unto the outermost part of the armed men who were in the host. And the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the children of the east lay along in the valley like grasshoppers for multitude; and their camels were without number, as the sand by the seaside for multitude.

“At this point a man in Gideon’s company told of a dream involving the battle ahead that stiffened Gideon’s resolve. After worshiping the Lord in thanksgiving, Gideon split the men into three companies of a hundred each, armed with trumpets and pitchers into which lamps had been inserted. At the change of the next watch of the host arrayed against them, Gideon and his three hundred men blew their trumpets and broke the pitchers in their hands, crying ‘The sword of the Lord and of Gideon’. As they stood fast, the enemy cried out and ran away in terror.

“’And the Lord set every man’s sword against his fellow, even throughout all the host: and the host fled to Beth-shittah in Zererah, and to the border of Abelmeholah, unto Tabbath.’

[to be continued]


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