So Israel was brought very low because of Midian, and the sons of Israel cried to the Lord.
Times were desperate and the people of Israel were in hiding. Having been forced to leave their homes, they were barely surviving in caves and holes and animal dens . With hardly enough food for themselves, their livestock was perishing also. God’s people were, “brought very low.”
There is a pattern of the ancient Israelites and their interaction with God. In times of plenty, comfort and ease, they tend to forget God and all that He has done for them. They forget His past works, His present promises and His future plans for them. Their attitude and posture becomes rather self-sufficient and seems to say, “Thanks God for all the blessings, we’ve got it now. We’ll call you again if we need you, but we’re good for now.” Treating God like a magician with a bag of tricks never ends well. God is not a god among many or the best of the choices…..HE IS THE ONLY LIVING AND TRUE GOD! He will not share His glory or our affections with any other! Like the Israelites, I forget who He really is and the position He holds. Often, God uses unpleasant and desperate circumstances to bring us back to our senses and the reality that HE IS GOD!
Oppression by the Midianites is where we find Israel in Judges chapter 6. The Midianites were a cruel people who frequently teamed up with another enemy of Israel, the Amalekites. Taking the harvest from the Israelites fields wasn’t enough. The Midianites would utterly decimate the fields and leave nothing behind. Killing and enslaving captives, stealing livestock and casting our their opponents from their homes, were all trademarks of the Midianites. Conquering was not the consummate goal; destruction and despair was the objective. This scenario is where we find God’s people; totally defeated, hopeless, despairing with no champion among them.
A young Israelite named Gideon is among the defeated and cowering. We are introduced to him in a winepress but he is not, however, pressing out grapes. He is threshing wheat instead. I can almost imagine the scene: Him beating the sheaves, a few at a time, and peeking over the edge of the press to see if his enemies saw or heard anything.
Working as fast as he can, he tries to separate the wheat from the chaff. Normally, you thresh wheat out in the open so that the wind carries away the unwanted parts but desperate times have called for desperate measures and Gideon is not only hiding, he is having to settle for a less than desirable end product.
I can imagine that while the sweat and dust and chaff cling to his face, he wonders how long will he and his people live like this. “God, where are you? When will you deliver us?” I don’t know if he could even remember a time that was free of oppression, defeat and fear or when daily survival wasn’t literally a struggle between life and death. A young man, in his prime, found himself living in fear among a family and nation who were crippled by fear. But God appears on the scene doing what He alone can do. He greets Gideon with a salutation that is in direct contrast to Gideon’s self identity and circumstances. He also reaffirms God’s relationship status for his people:
12 The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “The Lord is with you, O valiant warrior.”
The Lord is with you, O valiant warrior. I can almost see Gideon turn and look behind him to see who God might be talking to. “Um…Are you talking to me?” God is addressing the right person and the man of his choosing, a fearful, oppressed young man hiding in a winepress. Gideon’s response goes straight to the heart of the matter:
Then Gideon said to him, “O my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”
God answers him with a calling. The calling was that Gideon would deliver his people from the Midianites. Again, I am sure Gideon looked over his shoulder. His response backs me up in this:
“O Lord, how shall I deliver Israel? Behold, my family is the least in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father’s house.”
The least among the least, what a moniker! Proving once again that God’s ways are not our ways, He chooses the least among the least to accomplish mighty things. God is not a respecter of a person’s status, age, lineage, wealth, or social standing. God chooses the base and weak things to confound the wise and strong. God uses the Gideons of the world. There is great hope in that! God did indeed work thru Gideon to defeat the Midianites. Be encouraged if you feel like the least among the least in desperate circumstances. God can use you!
God, let me remember that you are with me! Even when I find myself fearful and despairing and hiding, you desire to accomplish great things thru me. Lord, your power is perfected in my weakness. Thank you for renaming me and being with me always, even to the end of the age!