Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Do you sometimes feel like Gideon? Maybe you can understand Gideon’s response to the Angel of the Lord’s greeting: “the Lord is with you.” Gideon said to Him, “If the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us in Psalm 78? But now the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” There are times when the people of God, feel like Gideon. Maybe there have been moments in the darkening days of this Adventtide when you asked questions similar to his. If God is with us, why is the Church struggling or mistreated or ignored if he really is Emmanuel? If God is with me, then why are things such a mess? Why do I feel alone? Why am I sick and suffering? Where is the power of God that we hear about in the Bible? The story of Gideon has some answers for us
“The People are Still Too Many”
Israel was in hiding, and the Midianites had overrun the land. This repeatedly happens in the Book of Judges. The Israelites forsake the Lord to run after other gods they think will give them more of what they want. God’s anger is aroused against his rebellious people, and he allows their enemies to overtake them. Then, in their distress they cry out to the Lord for help. And the Lord raises a judge, a deliverer, to rescue them from the power of their enemies. Then everything goes well for some time. But when, the judge dies, the people become spiritually complacent and apathetic, and they forsake the Lord again. The whole process starts all over.
This time, the Midianites had come up against Israel with an immense number of troops and ravaged the country. The combined army of Midian was massive, numbering some 135,000 fighting men (Judg. 8:10). The Lord had appeared to Gideon and said, “Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian.” (Judg. 6:14). Gideon tried arguing that he was a nobody from an unimportant clan. He was weakest in his father’s house. But the Lord did not change his mind because these things were not that important to him. The Lord was sending Gideon to save Israel so that he would save Israel.
The Lord starts by dismissing most of the army Gideon could gather. Instead of defeating the Midianites with a massive army, the Lord insists that Gideon reduce his army. First, the Lord lets those who are afraid go home and the army drops from 32,000 to only 10,000 men. Once God had whittled the army down to 10,000 men, He gave Gideon one more way to reduce the number. God told Gideon to take them to the water and watch them drink. The ones that lapped the water like dogs would be the ones who would make up the fighting force. Gideon would send all the rest home. Now, there is nothing special about lapping water like a dog. God was not trying to recruit a particularly elite team of special forces. He wanted to ensure that the victory would not be a cause for human pride. Notice what the Lord says, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, ‘My own hand has delivered me,'” (Jdg 7:2).
A mere 300 Israelites will take on 135,000 Midianites. The Israelites don’t have numbers on their side. But they don’t need numbers. They have the Lord. His Word is on their side. The Lord has said that Gideon will save Israel from Midian, and so that’s how it’s going to be. This was so that the victory would not be won by human strength, so they could boast in themselves, but solely by the power of the Lord. The battle belongs to the Lord and not human strength. Statistics don’t matter when the Lord is the one fighting. And win, they did. The Midianites, in their confusion, would end up turning on and killing one another in their camp.
“God Chose What is Weak”
Gideon is a picture of Jesus. He was the one chosen by God to deliver Israel. Even though he was weakest and least, he was the Lord’s man for the job. This is a consistent theme even to the end of the Gideon narrative. Instead of defeating the Midianites with strength of arms, the Lord defeats them with weakness. If you are weak, you aren’t going to impress very many people in this world. But weakness is one of the tried and true tools of our God. St. Paul makes the same point in 1 Corinthians, “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong… so that no flesh may boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor 1:27b, 29).
The power of God is hidden beneath what looks like powerlessness, and that points us to Jesus. Weakness is the way that Christ saved you. It was through simple and unimpressive means. He came not to the main streets of Rome but a lowly manger in lowly Bethlehem. He was born not to royal parents but poor, young peasants. His birth was not front-page news but proclaimed to some third shift shepherds. His birth changed history forever, yet Jerusalem slept through it all. He is the mighty and eternal Son of God, yet he does not appear to be so. He seemed to be nothing more than a poor peasant boy.
Jesus, our mighty man of valour, appeared to be vulnerable and helpless—not only in his birth but also in his life and death. His life was the greatest that has ever been lived, but no one knew who he was when he was thirty! After three years of schooling, he was followed by fishermen and tax collectors, who still failed the test! He won the most significant victory the world has ever seen. He won it by being defeated, tortured, and with blood dripping down a Roman cross.
This is how God has chosen to save us – hiddenly, quietly, gently, weakly, rejectable. You may not have done it this way, but then you’re not God. You may want it some other way, but this is the way God has provided so that your faith, hope, and trust is not in yourself or displays of power but the hidden strength of the cross. God has hidden his power in weakness precisely to get you to trust him instead of yourself or anything in the world. We have experienced that power. We have faith to see the weakness of the cross is the power of God’s love! We have it because God gave it to us! He gave it to you, not because of your wisdom or your prestige or your strength. He gave you his grace because God is love! He chose you not because of your life, but because of his love! He forgives you not because of what you bring to the table but because he wanted you at his table and the heavenly feast that he’s prepared for us!
Just like God used the weakness of the cross to save you, he continues to use weakness to deliver that salvation to you. God uses weak things to build his Church! Those are his tools! That’s how he operates. For thousands of years, he’s been putting the treasure of forgiveness and grace into Clay Jars! Look at how the Grace of God comes to us in weakness – we get Scripture, words, baptismal water, Eucharistic bread and wine. The strength is hidden, and the glory muted. The gift is rejectable. Talk to anyone who rejects the Lord’s Supper. They all say the same thing: It’s only bread and wine. Or anyone who rejects Baptism: It’s only water. Or someone who rejects the Scriptures: they’re only the writings and opinions of men. Or anyone who rejects Jesus: He’s only a man, a carpenter from Nazareth who got crucified.
But in that all weakness, there is an infinite well of power. It’s the power in our Isaiah passage. It is the power of sins forgiven, washed away by the blood of Christ crucified. It’s the power of the open, empty tomb that conquers death forever. The power of God is hidden in words, water, bread and wine. That power of God is hidden in weakness, and that’s the power that allows you to trust God in any and all circumstances. Since God’s strength is hidden in weakness, you can understand that God’s grace in Jesus truly is sufficient for you. Even in weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, calamities, and whatever else gets thrown your way, you “more than conquer through Him who loved you.”
Finally, when the Angel of the Lord departed from Gideon, he perceived fully that he had been in the very presence of God. Gideon thought he would die for having seen the Angel of the Lord face-to-face. But Gideon is given a word of peace. So, also, we are given peace, an invitation to come into the Lord’s presence without fear, through faith in Christ Jesus. Jesus is an army of one, the only one who can deliver us from the world, the flesh, and the devil. The man Jesus came in weakness and defeated our powerful enemies through his weakness because He is the God in the flesh. That same Son of God also comforts us by saying, “Peace be to you. Do not fear; you shall not die.” So, during this Advent season, look to Jesus as your Gideon, whose might is hidden in weakness. With repentant hearts, hope in him who is born to be our eternal Deliverer and Saviour.
May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.