Updated: Nov 26, 2019
Faith overcomes fear.
“32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised, who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who
became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.” (Hebrews 11:32-34).
The writer to the Hebrews is correct: There isn’t enough time to tell all of stories of all the people of faith mentioned in the Scriptures. The list was never meant to be exhaustive. Even though several more are named in these few verses, their exploits are not described, and there are some whose faith experiences are mentioned while they themselves remain unnamed. We can guess who these might be but it is possible that there were others who went through similar experiences.
“…who shut the mouths of lions” = Daniel
“…quenched the fury of the flames” = Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
But the fact that the writer to the Hebrews does mention a few names that he considers significant means that they are indeed examples that we need to look at. We begin with several who demonstrated faith through a very dark period in Israel’s history. If nothing else the stories of Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah are a testimony to God’s faithfulness despite the lack of faithfulness in His people. These men appear in the book of Judges.
Peter writes to believers in 1 Peter 1: 15, 16: “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” This quote is from the book of Leviticus. God’s intention when He chose the Hebrews was to create a nation that would reflect His glory and bring fame to His Name among Israel’s pagan neighbours. They were to be different from all the others. Peter’s quote is a reminder that this is also His purpose for our lives as well.
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God…I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against you soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”
A. W. Tozer describes this heavenly viewpoint this way: “…The man who has not been on a farm walks around gingerly, trying to keep out of the mud and keep his shoes from being soiled. He is acting like a city man on the farm. As Christians, we ought to act that way. In a manner of speaking, we belong up there. Our culture belongs up there. Our thinking belongs up there. Everything belongs up there…we act awkward here because we belong up there…you speak this world’s language with an accent.”
But rather than be influencers for God and speak with an “accent,” Israel was often influenced by the pagan nations around it, becoming like them rather than the other way around. And that was to have serious consequences for them, consequences that we read about throughout the book of Judges.
Prior to the appearance of the judges in Israel, and during the time of the conquest of Canaan, significant statements are made that describe what led up to the problem that we find when we get to the book of Judges. Early in the book of Joshua we are reminded of the instructions that God had given to Israel as to what they were to do as they entered the land God had promised to give them: “Joshua took all these royal cities and their kings and put them to the sword. He totally destroyed them, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded…not sparing anyone that breathed. As the Lord commanded his servant Moses, so Moses commanded Joshua, and Joshua did it; he left nothing undone of all that the Lord commanded Moses…Except for the Hivites living in Gibeon, not one city made a treaty of peace with the Israelites, who took them all in battle. For it was the Lord himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally, exterminating them without mercy, as the Lord has commanded Moses. At that time Joshua went and destroyed the Anakites from the hill country: from Hebron, Debir and Anab,from all the hill country of Judah, and from all the hill country of Israel. Joshua totally destroyed them and their towns. No Anakites were left in Israelites territory; only in Gaza, Gath and Ashdod did any survive.”
We retreat from the picture of a God who would bring such destruction down on the nations. But we need to understand two things here:
1. Abraham had been told that one day the nation that he would father would return to Canaan to become God’s instrument to punish the sins of these pagan nations.
2. The nation who was to be holy as God was holy needed to be protected against the influences of the pagans around them. The destruction of these pagan nations would ensure that.
The trouble was, as we see in the passage in Joshua, the Israelites did not follow the Lord’s instructions completely. The three specific cities mentioned, Gaza, Gath and Ashdod, for example, were to become thorns in the flesh of Israel. Guess where Goliath came from, who much later defied the armies of Israel and who was killed by David?
The picture of Israel and its failure to completely root out its enemies describes for us our own spiritual battles. As believers we are to called to root out all those things in our lives that do not bring glory to God. Leaving anything behind in our own spiritual “scorched earth” policy opens us up to being influenced once again to what the writer to the Hebrews describes in Hebrews 12. Based on the example of these heroes of the faith (good and bad) we must “…throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”
Joshua divided the land according to the size of each of the tribes of Israel, clan by clan. But it was the responsibility of each clan, each tribe to remove those living in the space assigned to them. But there were issues.
“Judah could not dislodge the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the people of Judah…Ephraim…did not dislodge the Canaanites living in Gezer, to this day the Canaanites live among the people of Ephraim but are required to do forced labor…Yet the Manassites were not able to occupy these towns, for the Canaanites were determined to live in that region. However, when the Israelites grew stronger, they subjected the Canaanites to forced labor but did not drive them out completely…The people of Joseph replied, ‘The hill country is not enough for us, and all the Canaanites who live in the plain have iron chariots, both those in Beth Shan and its settlements and those in the Valley of Jezreel.’ But Joshua said ‘…you are numerous and very powerful. You will have not only one allotment but the forested hill country as well. Clear it, and its farthest limits will be yours, though the Canaanites have iron chariots and though they are strong, you can drive them out’”
The presence of pagans within the borders of Israel spelled disaster. The Hebrews began to disregard the Law of Moses, they desecrated the Sabbath, offered sacrifice to idols and began to be like the nations around them. As a consequence of their disobedience God delivered them into the hands of those nations. And at those hands they suffered oppression and persecution until they finally cried out to the Lord for help. God then sent judges to rescue them and to restore their relationship with Him.
The first of the judges mentioned in Hebrews is Gideon.
Judges 2:17-19 goes on to describe the cycle that was continually repeated by Israel throughout this period. Both Moses and Joshua knew from experience that Israel would not remain faithful, that this time of judgment would come. Israel had been commanded to completely destroy the nations that occupied Canaan. They were told what would happen when they became contaminated by the remnants of the pagan nations that they did not destroy. By the time Joshua came to the end of his life, the seeds of destruction were among them (Joshua 23:6-16) and he issued the same warning to the people that Moses had issued.
“Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left. Do not associate with these nations that remain among you; do not invoke the names of their gods or swear by them. You must not serve them or bow down to them. But you are to hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have until now. The Lord has driven out before you great and powerful nations; to this day no one has been able to withstand you. One of you routs a thousand, because the Lord your God fights for you, just as he promised. So be very careful to love the Lord your God. But if you turn away and ally yourselves with the survivors of these nations that remain among you and if you intermarry with them and associate with them, then you may be sure that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you. Instead, they will become snares and traps for you, whips on your backs and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land, which the Lord your God has given you. Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed. But just as all the good things the Lord your God has promised you have come to you, so he will bring on you all the evil things he has threatened, until the Lord your God has destroyed you from this good land he has given you. If you violate the covenant of the Lord your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and will quickly perish from the good land he has given you.”
But while Israel had been commanded to remove the pagan nations from the land, their failure to completely do as He commanded also fell within His divine plan. Faith must be tested in order to ensure that it is real. It appears that, though the Lord had told them to destroy all these nations, He made sure that enough were left behind “…to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the Lord and walk in it as their forefathers did.” Unfortunately, Israel failed the test many times.
In the record given to us in Joshua 16 we see a pattern that so often repeats itself in our own lives as people of faith. Israel was told to destroy all the nations that were present in the land He had given them They didn’t do that completely, and sometimes couldn’t do it. In the cases where they were unable to dislodge the Canaanites, they apparently didn’t go to Him to ask Him to do what they couldn’t, or to inquire as to why it was impossible to do what He asked. The writer of the book of Judges concludes that these lapses allowed for Him to leave behind the test of obedience in the form of the survivors of His original command to remove all pagan influences.
In our own journey with the Lord we are asked to be holy as He is holy as well. This means dislodging things in our lives that hinder us from being like Him. There are times when things just don’t go away no matter how hard we try. How often, when one of these “enemies of the soul” lingers, do we then go to Him to ask that He remove the problem, or inquire as to why this habit or circumstance continues to be a stumbling block in our lives?
Paul, having been stricken with a “thorn in his flesh” at least asked the Lord to remove it so that the Lord could respond to him with “my strength is made perfect in weakness.” I guess the question arises that if the Israelites had asked would the Lord have said to them (again) “to test you and see if you will keep the way of the Lord.” Does He say something similar to us when some issues never go away, and we are tempted to walk away from Him because they don’t, when all the while He leaves our “thorns” in place to test that faith we claim to have or to remind us that our victories don’t come from us, but from Him?
Israel’s failure to stay true to God resulted in years of suffering. But when the nation recognized that failure and cried out to God for help, He sent a judge to rescue them. Peace reigned as long as the judge ruled but once the judge died within a generation or so Israel returned to idol worship and the story repeated itself.
GIDEON Judges 6-8
Judges 2:6-15 describes the specific conditions that existed just prior to Gideon’s arrival on the stage of Biblical history.
“The people served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things the Lord had done for Israel…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. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshipped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the Lord to anger because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. In his anger against Israel the Lord handed them over to raiders who plundered them. He sold them to their enemies all around whom they were no longer able to resist. Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the Lord was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them. They were in great distress.”
God’s answer to the distress of His people is recorded for us in Judges 2:16, “Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders.”
Before Gideon appears on the scene, other judges who came to Israel’s rescue are mentioned:
Othniel = 40 years of peace (Judges 3:11)
Ehud (Shamgar) = 80 years of peace (Judges 3:30-31)
Deborah = 40 years of peace (Joshua 5:31)
After Deborah, and Barak, the cycle repeated itself once again.
“Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and said, ‘Because this nation has violated the covenant that I laid down for their forefathers and has not listened to me, I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the Lord and walk in it as their forefathers did.’ The Lord allowed those nations to remain; he did not drive them out at once by giving them into the hand of Joshua. These are the nations the Lord left to test all those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars in Canaan (he did this only to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience): the five rulers of the Philistines, all the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites living in the Lebanon mountains from Mount Baal Hermon to Lebo-Hamath. They were left to test the Israelites to see whether they would obey the Lord’s commands, which he had given their forefathers through Moses.”
Verses 5 and 6 that follow are the reminder that Israel failed the test: “The Israelites lived among the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. They took their daughters in marriage and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods.”
God allowed the Midianites to oppress Israel. Midian, from whom the Midianites descended, was the son of Abraham and Keturah. Several nomadic tribes descended from Midian. Moses lived among them for forty years. Israel was commanded to treat the Midianites as enemies and destroy them.
Why did Israel never learn the lesson? Why did one generation not do what God had told them to do in Deuteronomy 6? Why did they not instruct their children in what God required of them so that a generation that didn’t know God would not spring up? Not rooting out, or as Hebrews 12 puts it, “throwing off” that which no longer should define us as believers opens the door to embracing those things once again and seeing them embraced by the next generation as well. Let Israel’s gradual slide into their destructive cycle be a lesson to us. The proverb preserved for us in Song of Solomon rings as true for us as it did for Israel: “Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom.”
Beware those “little foxes.”
When Gideon appears on the scene, the oppressors are the Midianites. According to Judges 6:1-6 the situation is dire.
“The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites. Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count them or their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it. Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help.”
Under the oppression of the Midianites the situation was grim. They were forced to abandon their homes, go into hiding. Every time they tried to grow crops to feed themselves the Midianites would come and take everything from them. They are described as “impossible to count” and “like swarms of locusts.” The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges comments: “The Bedouin of the desert always looked upon the agricultural population as lawful prey.”
A notable point is what happens in Judges 6:7-10. When Israel turned to plead for God’s help, He sent them an unnamed prophet to remind them of why they were in this predicament in the first place!
“When the Israelites cried out to the Lord because of Midian, he sent them a prophet, who said, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. I rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians. And I delivered you from the hand of all your oppressors; I drove them out before you and gave you their land. 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 have not listened to me.’”
Since God does not change we can conclude that the same is true for us today. God blesses our lives. But when we replace Him with something else, we can’t expect those blessings to continue. There are consequences to following other “gods.” And it is interesting to note that there is no record here that the prophet actually promised any deliverance despite the fact that Israel had called on God for help.
But though there is a prophet in the land, this man is not the one chosen to deliver Israel from Midian.
The chosen judge is approached. Judges 6:11-24 tells us that Gideon appears to be an unlikely candidate. Gideon is a farmer and the angel of the Lord encounters him threshing wheat in a winepress hopefully away from the notice of the Midianites. But then, God works like that! A messenger from God appears to our candidate and greets him with: “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”
Gideon’s name attracts attention. According to the K. Lawson Younger Jr. in the notes on Judges in the Zondervan Study Bible, “Gideon” means “(‘hacker, cutter, thresher,’ an indication of his warring ability: the thresher of wheat will become a thresher of men) is the Lord’s choice to save Israel” But when he first appears Gideon is anything but warrior-like. But God knows what he can become if he is willing to obey.
Oddly enough Gideon may be afraid of the Midianites but he isn’t afraid to challenge God’s messenger. He questions whether God is really with Israel at all. “’Pardon me, my Lord’ Gideon replied, ‘but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about…But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”
Gideon’s challenge sounds remarkably like we often sound. “If God…why then…?” But this is a question that God doesn’t answer nor does He rebuke Gideon for asking it. His response is: “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”
This was the crossroads upon which faith was tested for Gideon. Gideon has a “Moses moment,” a “who am I that…” couched in these phrases: “…but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” In response and in addition to “Am I not sending you?” Gideon gets an “I will be with you” promise along with a precise description of just what is going to happen when Gideon obeys. It doesn’t matter who YOU are, but only who I am, is the message from the Lord. Perhaps the cynic in Gideon was quieted with that—it is one thing to be sent by God another to be assured that the God who is sending you is with you on the journey!
Still Gideon wanted proof that the messenger was who he said he was—an angel appearing before him wasn’t quite enough! So Gideon asks for proof. He prepares a sacrifice and places it before the messenger. The sacrificed is consumed by a fire that the messenger himself produces and Gideon realizes “that it was the angel of the Lord.” He has challenged the Almighty.
Gideon was afraid—and who could blame him! But Gideon’s fear was not confined to his fear of the Lord. He was also afraid, not only of the Midianites but also of his own people God will now test him to help teach His chosen instrument to put his faith ahead of his fear. And God was just about to find out if he could put his faith ahead of his fear!
Gideon is assigned a smaller task than the one he will eventually end up assigned. He was to go and destroy the altar to Baal that his father had built. Not only does he risk the displeasure of the community, but that of his own family. Big test. His fear of the consequences of his actions results in a night attack. He is found out anyway but must have been gratified to know that his father pulled a “Elijah on Mount Carmel” and when the townspeople threatened to punish Gideon for what he had done, Gideon’s father basically told the people that Baal should be able to defend himself without their help!
But the passing of the first test led to a much bigger test. The Midianites and their allies gathered to teach the Israelites some manners and Gideon was now forced to raise his army to meet them.
And once again fear pushes back against faith. Gideon needs more proof that God will do what He has promised.
“Gideon said to God, ‘If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised—look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing-floor. If there is dew on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.” And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew—a bowlful of water.”
But not content with that proof Gideon asks God to reverse on the second night what He had done on the first. And once more God does what Gideon asks. Perhaps what blows our minds here is that God never rebukes Gideon for these moments of doubt but patiently responds. Gideon doesn’t have the privilege of a long record of seeing God’s hand at work in his life or in the life of Israel. Perhaps for this “newbie” at faith, God demonstrates His mercy, grace AND patience.
But as Gideon has tested God, God is about to test Gideon.
As we begin Judges 7, Gideon and the army of thirty-two thousand men he has gathered are camped and ready for action. Then the Lord speaks to Gideon and instructs him to reduce the number of his troops.
Younger suggests that since Gideon had asked the Lord two signs, God twice reduces Gideon’s force. The purpose? “’You have too many men, I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, My own strength has saved me.’”
God did not want Israel to think they could defeat Midian by their own strength so He needs to reduce them to a weak force that would demonstrate whose strength would bring them victory. So He commands that those who were afraid return home—and twenty-one thousand do!
When we are first introduced to the Midianites, we learn that “They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count the men and their camels…Their camels could no more be counted than the sand on the seashore” Judges 8:10 tells us that the Midianite army numbered 135,000 men. Even before God began his culling of the Israelite “army” Gideon was seriously outnumbered. But God isn’t done yet.
The second test would also prove who was apt for the job. The men were told to drink water and depending on how they lapped up the water from the stream they were either sent home or selected to stay with Gideon. Only three hundred remained after the test.
Barnes suggests in his commentary that: “Try [‘sift’ in the NIV] - The word used for refining metals by separating the dross from the pure ore. They who threw themselves on the ground and drank freely were the more self-indulgent; while they who, remembering the near presence of the enemy, slaked their thirst with moderation, and without being off their guard for an instant, were the true soldiers of the army of God.”
Gideon is now faced with another test of faith.
At the Lord’s command Gideon and his servant snuck into the Midianite camp at night. It seems a foolish thing to do but God wanted Gideon to know that though the enemy were superior in number they were not superior in heart or faith. Eavesdropping on the conversation taking place in one tent he hears this prophetic word from one of the Midianites: “God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his [Gideon’s] hands.”
Gideon had been left with three hundred facing thousands. This would be daunting for the most fearless leader. But God was once more merciful and gave His judge and military leader a little insight into the thoughts of the enemy. The enemy was already defeated! As is often the case, battles are won or lost first of all in the mind, and the Midianites, for whatever reason, were afraid and doubtful that they would win the day despite their superior numbers.
Gideon’s response to what he heard is an expression we have not seen from him before. “When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he bowed down and worshipped.” This is now a man who believes, who needs no more proof, who is ready to do battle against thousands with only three hundred, confident that he will prevail because God said so.
He assembled his troops, divided them into three groups, and armed with trumpets and jars concealing lit torches, they rout the Midianites.
Fear kills worship. Worship feeds faith.
God is a superior military strategist. Others learned the same lesson that Gideon learned. As we read in 1 Samuel 14:6, Saul’s son, Jonathan, believed that about God. Faced with an enemy superior in numbers, he says to his armor-bearer: “Perhaps the Lord will act on our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.”
Zechariah 4:6 tells us: “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.” If ever anyone could prove the truth of that statement, Gideon and his band of three hundred did. But like the un-military-like strategy of Jericho, the Lord’s instructions to Gideon were equally odd yet, like Joshua, Gideon yielded the strategic planning to God and obeyed in faith.
CONVERSATIONS AND CONSIDERATIONS
1. We often feel inadequate for the tasks that God assigns for us to do. What lessons do you take from Gideon’s experience?
2. How does fear cripple you when it comes to exercising faith? How do you deal with that fear?
3. In what ways have you ever challenged God to prove Himself to you?
4. God was patient with Gideon’s resistance. God was also patient with Moses’ resistance. But at one point, God lost patience with Moses. Look at Exodus 3:1-4:17. What was the difference between the two examples?
5. Why do you think Gideon’s eavesdropping in the Midianite camp, above all the other experiences, was so convincing that it ended in worship?
6. We often hear it said that God will not give us more than we can handle. How does Gideon's story disprove that statement? And why does God give more than we can handle?
7. Report on how you are doing in strengthening your relationship with God as a vital part of your faith journey.
 Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2; 20:7
 1 Peter 2:6-12
 A. W. Tozer, complied and edited by James L. Snyder The Crucified Life (Ventura, CA: Gospel Light Worldwide, 2011), 41
 Joshua 11:12-22
 Genesis 15:14-19
 Hebrews 12:1, 2
 Joshua 16:10; 17:12, 13, 17, 18
 Deuteronomy 20:16-18
 Deuteronomy 27-31
 Joshua 23:6-16
 Judges 2:22
 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
 Judges 2:20-3:4
 Genesis 25:2
 Numbers 31:32-39
 Exodus 3:1; 18:1
 Numbers 25:17
 Judges 6:12
 Judges 6:13
 Judges 6:14
 Judges 6:15
 Judges 6:16
 Judges 6:17-32
 Judges 6:25-32
 Judges 6:33-35
 Judges 6:36-40
 Judges 7:2
 Judges 7:4-8
 Judges 7:9-14
 Judges 7:15
 Judges 7:16-25