Imagine you’re sitting at home with your nearest and dearest, around a fire, eating some food, watching a movie. You’re trying to make the most of those few weirdly glorious days in between Christmas and New Year when everyone loses touch with the day of the week and the time of the day. What day is it? Don’t know. What time is it? Who cares?
Next, imagine that it’s night time and a crowd of one thousand people silently appears outside your house. Vaguely familiar, they stand facing your fort of refuge with large, flamed torches illuminating one thousand columns of cumulus breath rising toward the naked sky and the stars beyond.
There is nothing but evil intent. Your home and your family are under attack.
Then, like waking to terminal illness after an evening’s rest, a gradual remembrance of fractured thinking ghosts through your skull – you do know what to do.
Muting the TV, kicking off slippers, putting on winter shoes with layer upon layer of woollen clothes, the whole house leaves through the back door with a kind of silent distress.
The Eastern People have come to invade, pillage and destroy everything that you hold dear. Just like every year for the last half a decade, a looting swarm of oppressors have marched onto your land to comprehensively consume your life.
So, you and your kin head for the cave dwellings in the mountains, shivering and tired.
God approached Gideon in a cave very much like this.
Facing the catostrophic consequences of their own idolatrous sin, the people of Israel had cried out to God under the vice-like hand of Midianite power and God had heard and, once again, God had relented.
And so God came. God came to Gideon? Selah.
We all know the story of Gideon: God calls him a mighty man of valour and then sends him on his way to smash up the enemy.
But what might we have missed?
Gideon couldn’t see what his Fathers were talking about. Surely God had abandoned them:
“Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?…everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation” (2 Pet. 3:5) was all Gideon could think while he worked in darkness, hoping against all hope for the faintest breath of wind for his wheat.
There is a peculiarly debilitating distress that comes from the fear that God has abandoned us but it is a fear based only on a lie from the pit of hell. Nonetheless, this enemy stronghold was a real and legitimate enemy for Gideon and it can be for us as well.
As we can easily understand, Gideon’s complaint seems reasonable because of these relentless blows from the enemy. After all, Gideon likely saw his friends murdered, his family tortured, his favourite animals killed and his best efforts dashed.
He was just a young man in hiding.
What on earth was the point in this?
But God loves to breach our secure caves!
Gideon’s faith stoked into holy, roaring flame, I love to imagine him running out of the winepress, leaving the wheat behind & tearing down the altars to Baal under the cover of night. I love to imagine him carving up the demonic asherah poles, building another altar for Yahweh and then all that followed in his life of sign and wonder.
But it was Gideon’s inner healing and immovable conviction that comes first.
Gideon didn’t just go on from this cave to rescue Israel as a Spirit-anointed Judge for the corporate wellbeing of a nation. Much more specifically, in a moment of personal, intensely-intimate epiphany, Gideon realised that he’d encountered God Almighty and been commissioned – sent – to be all that he was born to be.
This was the real purpose of the cocooning winepress:- God wanted to finally end Gideon’s doubt-filled wondering about:
a) His power
b) His faithful covenantal love (hesed) for His people and, crucially,
c) His granted permission for Gideon to smash up the enemy.
Listen up! God was going to use Gideon as a mighty warrior and man of valour to reach back to honour the prayers and faith of his Fathers. Yes, as a man of might but, first, as a warrior of peace.
The most profound altar in Judges 6 is not the crushed altar of Baal or the restored altar of Yahweh. The most profound altar in Judges 6 is the personal altar of peace constructed in Gideon’s heart before he’d even gotten off his knees.
That altar built, Gideon stands to build a physical altar as a permanent, lasting memorial to his inner breakthrough (Judges 6:23-24).
But the Lord said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.”
So Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and called it The Lord Is Peace.
Gideon’s colossal might in slaying thousands of men in war is not at odds in any way with his heart and posture of peace. Gideon was fully a man of peace and yet he was also a man of violence, aggressive strategy, confrontation and victory. He would never have achieved this – never would have functioned as one of Yahweh’s Judges of Israel – had his own personal peace with God not first been built.
Gideon wasn’t worried about whether or not ‘his heart was right’. It was this settled relational peace (with God) that made him foundationally capable of destroying the locust scum that came every year to infect Israel with the sickness of ‘deferred hope’ (Proverbs 13:12) by obliterating their covenant hope.
Gideon wielded peace and might; he wooed many and talked straight; he tore down and built up. As did Jeremiah.
So, to every prophetic, disruptive, forerunning messenger of Jesus, I say:
God is with you, God is your peace and He is your strength. He knows your heart. Settle your calling once and for all because, only in His settled peace, will you rise in full might to slay that which needs slaying, dismantle that which needs dismantling and build that which must be built.
Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him. He sent messengers throughout Manasseh, calling them to arms, and also into Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali, so that they too went up to meet them ~ Judges 6:34-35