The Call of Gideon
March 13th, 1960 @ 8:15 AM
THE CALL OF GIDEON
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-13-60 8:15 a.m.
You who listen on the radio are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. Now the pastor is preaching through the Book of Judges, following the story of God and of His people in this seven hundred year period between their entrance into the Promised Land and the building of the kingdom under Saul and David. And, in our going through the book, we have come to chapter 6. Chapter 6 and chapter 7 tell the story of Gideon. And in the little time allotted for the message of this morning, we are going to follow through chapter 6. Now, if you have your Bible and will turn to it, it will bless your heart to follow the message in the Word. Chapter 6 of the Book of Judges:
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 them dens in the mountains, and caves, and fortified places.
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,
– clear down to the Mediterranean Sea –
and left no sustenance for Israel, neither for the sheep, nor the ox, nor the ass.
And they came up with their cattle and their tents, and they came as the locusts, 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.
Now 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, which 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 that 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.
That’s why they were delivered into the hands of the Midianite. Now, "there came the Angel of the Lord," there came Angel-Jehovah, the Angel-Jehovah:
And sat under an oak which was in Ophrah, that pertaineth unto Joash the Abiezrite: and his son Gideon threshed wheat furtively by the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites.
And the Angel-Jehovah appeared unto him, and said unto him, The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valor.
And Gideon said unto Him, Oh my Lord, if the Lord Jehovah be with us, why then is all this befallen us? And where be 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 Jehovah 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, Oh my Lord Jehovah, 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 he said unto Him, If now I have found grace in Thy sight, then show me a sign that Thou talkest with me.
Depart not hence, I pray Thee, until I bring unto Thee my present, and set it before Thee. And He said, I will tarry until thou come.
And Gideon went in,
prepared a meal for Him, a kid with the broth and the bread –
And the Angel… said unto him, Take the flesh and the unleavened cakes, and place 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.
And when Gideon perceived that He was the Angel Jehovah,
What is our name for it? What is our name for it? In the Old Testament, the Angel-Jehovah, what is our name for it? Jesus. The Angel-Jehovah; we know Him as the Word, "In the beginning was the Word," the Angel-Jehovah. And the Angel-Jehovah, "the Word was with God, and the Word was God" [John 1:1]. And Gideon perceived that He was the Angel-Jehovah. You can translate that "Angel-Jehovah" just as well as you can translate it "the Angel of the Lord," "the Angel-Jehovah." And "Gideon said, Alas, O Lord God!" calls Him God:
Alas, O Lord God! For because I have seen the Angel-Jehovah face to face.
And the Lord said unto him, Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die.
Then Gideon built an [altar] there unto the Lord, and called it Jehovah-shalom: unto this day it is yet in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.
And it came to pass the same night, that the Lord said unto him, Take thy father’s young bullock, even the second bullock of seven years old, and throw down the altar of Baal that thy father hath, and cut down the grove that is by it:
And build an altar unto the Lord thy God upon the top of this rock, in the ordered place, and take the second bullock, and offer a burnt sacrifice with the wood of the grove which thou shalt cut down.
So he begins. He took that altar and threw it down, and he cut down that asherah. And when they arose, the people in the city the next morning, they saw the altar of Baal cut down and the asherah cut down and:
The second bullock was offered upon the altar that was built.
And they said one to another, Who hath done this thing? And when they inquired and asked, they said, Gideon the son of Joash hath done this thing.
Then the men of the city said unto Joash, Bring out thy son, that he may die: because he cast down the altar of Baal, and because he has cut down the asherah that was by it.
And Joash said unto all that stood against him, Will ye plead for Baal? Will ye save your god, you? He that will plead for Baal, let him be put to death whilst it is yet morning: if he be a god, let him plead for himself, because he hath cast down his altar.
Therefore on that day he called him Jerubbaal, saying, Let Baal plead against him, because he hath thrown down his altar.
Then you have the beginning of the story of Jerubbaal, who blew the trumpet and gathered all Manasseh, and Asher, and Zebulun, and Naphtali, and they looked upon the Midianites who were pitched like the locusts and the grasshoppers for number in that great Valley of Esdraelon, the Valley of Jezreel [Judges 6:34-35].
Well, the story starts with that same black line. "And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord" [Judges 6:1]. This story of the Bible is our story, and the story of Israel is the story of the human race. Read the story, you’ll read about yourself. Follow the story and you’ll follow the history of humanity. Read these Words, and you’ll understand how life is lived and how you figure in it. It’s a strange thing that we never get away from, but life follows the same pattern over and over and over. It’s the same identical tale in the garden of Eden [Genesis 2-3].
Out of the garden of Eden, before Noah, after the Deluge, in the days of the Judges, in the days of the kingdom, in the days of our Lord, always the same: "And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord," that same black line. Our lives are lived on a short, short, ladder; up a ways, then back down – in prayer and repentance and faith and giving ourselves to God, then back down into our sin again – humanity never gets so far from evil but that it soon returns back to it. Up and down, up and down, a period of great revival, a period of drawing nigh to God, a period of great faith, then back down into the Slough of Despond and compromise and evil again; that’s the story of your life. That’s the story of the life of the church, that’s the story of the life of the nation; that’s the story of the life of the whole human race.
This same black line: "And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord." And it always is followed by that same judgment. And this judgment is the most severe in all the story of the four hundred years of the judges. These Midianites, they were Arabs, they were from the East, beyond the Jordan in that vast, almost illimitable country east of the Jordan. They came into Palestine by the droves. They came by the uncounted multitudes. That great Valley of Esdraelon is a big place, flat, wide and long, level like a floor.
And those Midianites filled that valley from one side to another. They came with their camels. They came with their tents. They came with their families. And when they came, they devoured the land like a plague. Before them, it was like the garden of Eden. After them, it was like a desert. Before them, the beautiful and bountiful and fruitful earth; after them, the whole country was left in wreckage, in desolation, and in ruin. And. because the people had lost the moral fiber of their souls, they had no will and no spirit to rebuke, to refuse, to deny, to stand up, to defend, to protect. They were like water.
You know that’s one of the strangest developments in human life and in history? You would think that the power and might of a nation would lie in its substance, in its increase, in the fertility of its land, in the richness of its forests and its mines. You would think that the ableness of a nation to be strong would lie in its great and powerful defenses, in its armies, in all of these measures by which we could attack and destroy. It has never lain in those areas. A nation is never strong because of its mines, or its forests, or the rich abundance of its land. Nor is a nation ever strong because of its vast outlay of defenses.
A nation is strong, and a people is strong because of its moral fiber. They have the will, they have the dedication, they have the moral, inward, spiritual strength to stand up, to resist, to defend, to march. When you take it away the people are like water. They collapse on the inside in their souls. They first die in their hearts. They die in their inward life, then any kind of an outside, and foreign, and alien, and oppressive power can wipe them away, push them aside.
That’s what had happened to Israel. Can you see what sin does to a nation? What sin does to a people? What sin does to a family? What sin does to you? And you? These are the children of the Lord, the chosen family and nation of the earth. These are the sons who under Moses, and who under Joshua, and who under Deborah and Barak, these are the sons of those who have been in God’s hands, able and capable of great miraculous deliverances.
Gideon speaks of it, "Where are those miracles by which God delivered our fathers?" [Judges 6:13]. These are those same people. It’s just a generation later, but they grovel, then furtively peek behind the rocks as the Midianites come and destroy their harvests. They live in damp caves, and they live in dungeons and in dens, they burrow in the ground like beasts – these, the children of God upon whom the benedictions of heaven had fallen and the love of God and the favor of God was bestowed. They’re living like animals. That’s what sin does; cuts down, destroys, empties out, makes weak, undoes the very strings that bind together the strength of a people. Why, it’s hard to believe! Here are the families of the Lord living like animals in the dust and the damp of the earth.
Says here, "and Israel was greatly impoverished" [Judges 6:6]. They lived under famine conditions all the time. When they planted the harvest and time came to reap it, these Midianites came and took away everything that the Israelites had raised. And they were brought to great extremities. You know, we can look on a country like Babylon and a country like Greece, and a country like Rome, and we say, "it happened to them. It happened to them." Then we can turn the page to modern history, and we can say, "and it happened to Japan. And it happened to Russia. And it happened to Germany. But, ah, it could never, ever happen to us!" Because of the merciless, ruthless, driving armies of an alien – Russia in famine, Germany destroyed, Japan a shambles, and Babylon a desert – "But it could never happen to great, rich, affluent America. Ah, these are just our stories!"
That’s why God put it in the Book. And the things that overtook them, God’s chosen people, are things that can overtake us. Overtake us in our families, overtake us in our churches, overtake us in our cities and our states and our people. They lived next to starvation and despair every day of their lives. When the sun rose in the morning, it rose upon a miserable people, and when it set in the evening, it set upon an even more miserable and despairing people. And in their misery, and in their famine, and in their poverty, and in their need and their dearth, they cried unto the Lord!
I’ve said a thousand times: were it not for affliction, people would forget God! They’d never even think of His name. "Why, look, why should I pray? Why should I call on the name of the Almighty? Why should I cry unto God? Here I am increased and my barns overflowing and my problem is to pull them down and find space to build bigger barns where to store my substance. Why should I call on the name of God? Why should I think of God? Why should I be persuaded there is a God anyway? Look at the strength of my own might and the glory and abundance of my own life. Why?"
Affliction does that to people. Sickness does that to people. Age does that to people. Sorrow does that to people. Death does that to people. And Israel cried unto the Lord. You’re going to need Him some of these days, and that’s why my heart goes out to people who are not Christians. They face the darkest, starkest, blankest wall in this earth. No wonder they drink! No wonder they do! They have to! How can a man face the stark, dark, realities of life without God? Here, open that bottle. Here, pull out that cork. Here, let’s get together and drown our miseries and the boredom of our existence.
Life has in it great solemnities and sobrieties, and when you leave God out of your life, you’re like a reed. And when the wind blows, it bows you into the dust of the ground, and you have to drink. I don’t blame them. If I didn’t have God, and no hope, and no destiny, bring on anything that could drown out the depravity, and the darkness, and the dearthness, and the famine of my lean and starved soul!
And I’m talking about people in our churches who do that. That doesn’t mean a man believes in God because he’s a member of the church, baptized into it when he was an infant, sprinkled into it when he was a baby. That doesn’t mean that he’s right with God or that he believes in the Lord. He’s just a baptized infidel. He’s a heathen church member, that’s all. And they drink to drown their lives.
Greatly impoverished, and they cried unto the Lord. And that’s how you can tell a real Christian. When the day of trouble comes, and affliction comes, and sorrow comes, and age comes, and need comes, and famine comes, you’ll find a Christian knocking on the door of the Lord. "O, God! O, God! How I have drifted away! How I have backslidden! How I have forgotten my great vows and my great devotions. O, God, my lack of prayer, my prayerlessness, O God, my lack of watchfulness, O God, my derelictions and indifference, O God, remember me!" You’ll find a real, born-again Christian always crying unto the Lord just like they did here in the day of Israel. They’re God’s people. They’re God’s people. They’re just God’s people away from God. They’re God’s people, backslidden. They’re God’s people who come short of the glory of the Lord.
And it came to pass, and it came to pass when they cried unto the Lord that the Lord sent a prophet [Judges 6:8] and said, I have nurtured you like a mother, I have carried you like a lamb in My bosom. I have sought you and delivered you and asked you not to fall into the idolatry of the world. And behold, you have set up Balaam and Asherah, and you worship that Astarte – Ashterah – and all the host of the heaven. But the Angel-Jehovah said, "I remember you still for you are graven on My hand, and you are the apple of My eye, and your name is written on My heart." Isn’t that God for you? [from Isaiah :14-16]
Were it not for the kindness and goodness of the Lord, we’d all be damned. We’d all be lost, everyone of us. The Lord is gracious, and merciful, and kind, and forgiving, and if there is just in a man’s life, just the willingness to turn and to be saved, just a willingness to cry unto God and call on His name – "Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved" [Romans 10:13] – and there came the Angel-Jehovah.
And I’ve already commented upon Him, the Angel-Jehovah. He is called in verse 14 and in verse 15, "Jehovah." And here in verse 11 and in verse 21 and 22, He is called the "Angel-Jehovah." You don’t have but that same Lord all the way through, just that same faith all the way through, that same wonderful, revelation of God all the way through: the Angel-Jehovah. Jacob said, "He redeemed me" [Genesis 48:16]. He spoke to Moses out of the burning bush and said His name was, "I Am That I Am" [Exodus 3:14]. And Jesus said, "Before Abraham was, I Am" [John 8:58]. The Angel of the covenant, as Malachi calls Him [Malachi 3:1]. "The Angel of the face," "the Angel of the presence," as Isaiah calls Him [Isaiah 63:9]. The "Angel-Jehovah," as He is referred to here. He appeared unto Joshua and said, "As Captain of the host of glory am I come to lead My people" [Joshua 5:14]. In the New Testament He’s called, "The Word," the Lord Jesus [John 1:1].
"And there came the Angel-Jehovah, and He sat under the oak, which is in Ophrah where the Abiezrites lived, and He looked upon Gideon the son of Joash, one of the members of that family of Abiezer. And the Lord looked upon him and said, Thou mighty man of valor" [Judges 6:11-12]. You suppose He was mocking? There Gideon is, the son of Joash, in that clan of the Abiezrites. There Gideon is in some hidden corner, some out of the way place, some little cave back up there in a tall craggy cliff. There he is furtively beating out a little wheat. The Midianites are everywhere, and he’s just able to gather in his hand a sheaf of the standing, golden grain. And somewhere, frightened to death, like a scared rabbit, somewhere, he’s buried underneath there, thrashing out a little grain. And the Angel-Jehovah looks upon him and says, "The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valor."
Well, there’re a whole lot of people who say that was done in ridicule and in mockery. This Gideon, like an animal buried somewhere in fright and in fear, threshing out a little handful of wheat. But I don’t think so, and I don’t think you would either. It is an amazing and astonishing thing what God can see in a man, in a man, what God can see in him! "The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valor." Oh! It is a wonderful thing, and you could illustrate it endlessly.
Would you have ever thought, would you, that Simon Peter – Rock – cussing? You know that’s another funny thing about human nature? Whenever you develop a habit, did you know, that thing’ll stay with you ’til you die? That’s a strange thing. If you have a violent temper when you become a Christian, you’re still going to have that violent temper. If you are volative, if you’re fiery, if you react and respond immediately and with hostile feeling, because you become a Christian doesn’t mean you’re going to be any different. You’re just going to have a little more of a problem on your hands to war against it and to fight it. You just got to bite your tongue a little oftener, and you gotta pray for more grace.
Simon Peter, he was a rude, rough, crude, fisherman that knew how to cuss. Well, when he got converted, he quit his cussing. Law me! When that little old girl, she’s called a maid, that little damsel, while Peter warming by the fire – Jesus in there being tried for His life – that little girl came up and poked her finger in his face and said, "You are one of His disciples." Peter said, "I am not!" That little girl said, "Yes you are. You talk like Him." Simon Peter said, "You think I talk like Him? Then listen to this!" And he mouthed an oath, a blue streak of cussing. See, the old habit got back into him. That’s the reason the church people ought to remember: if a man has been converted out of a life of sin, don’t be down on him if he happen to stumble back into it.
Suppose an old drunkard was converted here in this church, as they’re getting to be here lately. And he’s been drinking for thirty years in his life. And he’s overcome it. And God has saved him, suppose he stumbled and fell and got back into it? Ah, don’t give him up! Don’t give him up. Don’t you do it – don’t you do it. He just had a habit, he had a weakness and he got back into it. If he’s been saved, he’ll get back out of it. Same way about a man using cuss words. If you’ve cussed all of your life and have been saved, the chances are, even in the services of a church once in a while, you might say something that wouldn’t be very nice. "Mmmm," the Christian people look on him and, "Oh! Ah! Oh!" He just, he just kind of fell back for a minute into that old thing. Remarkable what God can see in a man and take that man Simon Peter, look what He did with him!
Who would ever have thought that Saul of Tarsus, blaspheming the name of God, and persecuting the church, and putting the Christians to death, that he would ever have been the great exponent of the religion of Jesus Christ? [Acts 9:1-2]. Isn’t that an astonishing thing? Isn’t it amazing what God can see in a man? "The Lord said unto him, thou mighty man of valor" [Judges 6:12].
Let me tell you about a man that was converted in this city, in this town. He was my predecessor at Muskogee in the First Baptist Church there. He was pastor of that church for twenty-nine years. He was an illustrious man of God. They called him the George Truett of Oklahoma. He looked like Dr. Truett. He had the physique, and the form, and the presence, and the looks of Dr. Truett. And he spoke kind of like Dr. Truett. He was a greatly beloved man, and when I came to be pastor of the church, upon the death of Dr. A. N. Hall, when I came to be pastor of the church, I was given his little library. I have it out there in my study.
Do you know what I found in that library? I found little simple books that you would say would belong to the first and second and third grades in school. And that man of God had taken those books of grammar, and page after page, and volume after volume, he had done this in his own handwriting:
The dog run – ran – underscore "ran."
I ain’t – I am not, and he underscored "am not."
And all of those little simple rules, year after year he had taken those little books of grammar and had taught himself how to speak, and how to do it correctly. For when he was saved here in the city of Dallas, he was a grown man and uneducated, untrained and untaught.
Isn’t it remarkable what God can see in a man? Here’s just one of the workmen in this city, grown, mature, untrained and uneducated. God reached down into his heart, into his life, and said, "I’m going to make this man the leader of a great spiritual building in a great state in America." Isn’t it remarkable, remarkable?
Don’t ever sell short the power of God in a man’s life, or in a child’s life, or in a youth’s life. God looks down into that heart and into that soul, and it is a remarkable thing what God can see; a pure, sweet, Mary Magdalene in a harlot, a wonderful writer of the gospel in a tax gatherer, a man sitting at the receipt of custom, the great preacher of a Pentecost in a volative, fiery, temper-filled man out there doing the work of a sailor and a fisherman, a mountain boy in North Carolina sat in here in this pulpit and he gets to be known as the greatest preacher in the world. Isn’t it remarkable what God can do with a man? "The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valor."
Well, He has got something for all of us – something for you, something for all of us – and it’s a glorious, happy, blessed life when we come into the will of God. "Here I am, Lord. These hands, these feet, this heart and soul and life, they’re Yours. They’re Yours."
We’ll follow the life of Gideon next Sunday morning, and the love and Spirit of Jesus, as the Angel-Jehovah touches him with the end of His staff and baptizes him with the Holy Spirit from heaven, and he delivers God’s people – not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit of the Lord [Zechariah 4:6] – with a pitcher and a lantern.
Now, somebody you give his heart to Jesus this morning; somebody you put his life in the fellowship of the church. While we sing this song and make this appeal, would you come and stand by me? Would you make it now, would you make it this morning? Is there a family to come? Anyone, somebody you, on the first note of the first stanza, while we stand and while we sing.