The LORD turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”
A marvelous old Southern adage says, “God protects where He directs.” (To hear its full music, use a drawl: “God pro-tects where He die-rects.”) With or without the accent, it’s easier said than accepted, because God seldom sends us to do anything we’re likely to try on our own. We rarely remember He’s not in the habit of confusing the best person for the job with the right person to get it done. We forget He chooses instruments, not experts—people who’ll commit to His will without getting in His way. Thumbing through the Bible, we consistently find God calling on those least likely to succeed: Jacob, Moses, Esther, Peter, et al. Spectacular as these and so many other stories are, few tales of an unlikely candidate’s outrageous success equal Gideon’s.
He’s as mediocre as they come—a putz if ever there was one, a middling man from a middling tribe stuck in middling times. Israel’s disobedience has angered God once again, and once again, He’s allowed their enemies (Midian, this time) to send them running for the hills. An angel appears to Gideon and what he’s up to tells us he’s not the brightest candle in the chandelier. Afraid his enemies will catch him threshing his family’s wheat and steal it, Gideon tries to shake its chaff loose in a winepress. He’s in plain sight, but the dust he stirs up in the tight space hampers his vision. He doesn’t see his visitor until the angel addresses him as “a mighty warrior.” Gideon looks through the haze and rambles through a tedious response that basically comes down to, “Who? Me?”
Bargaining with God
The angel tells Gideon he will command a force to liberate Israel from Midian’s clutches and his response is persuading the angel he’s not the guy for the job. “Look, I’m from Manasseh, the weakest tribe,” Gideon says. “Who’s going to follow me?” When the angel insists, this man who should be honored no end to be chosen starts bargaining with God. “OK,” he says, “if this is real, I need a sign.” The angel comes up with an elaborate sacrifice and tells Gideon he’ll know God is in this if the offering is consumed a certain way. When it is, Gideon still can’t be sure, so there’s another round. And then when that’s not enough, there’s all this business about setting out pieces of woolen fleece overnight and its being found a specific way in the morning. Every time I read this story and get to Gideon’s third or fourth “Wow-that’s-amazing-but-I’m still-not-so-sure,” I want the angel to say, “Forget it, we’ll get somebody else.”
Too Much and Too Many
God chooses Gideons—people whose faith needs coaxing, whose abilities fall short, and whose understanding is dim—for two reasons. First, He will receive greater glory when it’s more apparent what we accomplish would be impossible without Him. But second, He takes these opportunities to turn Gideons into giants of faith by proving Himself to them. When Gideon finally gets the nerve to do what he’s challenged with, God looks at the group he’s assembled for battle and says, “It’s too much. You have too many soldiers. Send some back.” God keeps whittling away at Gideon’s numbers until there’s no question that the power and victory are His.
When we’re asked to live by faith—to do things outside our normal capabilities—we’re apt to respond like Gideon: “Who? Me?” (or, its first cousin, “Why me?”) We may be equally prone to bargain and test God, asking for all sorts of indicators that He’s sure we’re whom He wants. And once we’re convinced that He’s convinced, we may put together all sorts of elaborate plans to ensure we’ll be properly equipped to do what He asks. When the angel first called to Gideon, he said, “Go in the strength you have… Am I not sending you?” That’s why Gideon’s army had to be reduced. He wasn’t a strong leader. He didn’t need more help from friends and neighbors. He needed to face his battles in his own strength, trusting God’s power to work through him when the moment of truth arrived. Waiting until we’re strong enough to do what we must do pretty much means we’ll never get anything done. The strength we have isn’t enough on its own, but it’s what God uses to convey His might and power—which means it’s more than enough. (Oh, and of course, Gideon triumphed over MIdian in the end.)
We may think we're too ordinary and mediocre to be used, but that's why we're chosen. (Tissot: The Angel and Gideon; 1900)