In Judges 7:25-32, we learn of the next important stage of the history of Gideon as the God appointed deliverer of His people. Immediately, one naturally wonders whether Gideon was ready for his work as deliverer. Would Gideon, as so many did in that time, do what was right in his own eyes, or would he serve Jehovah faithfully? To reveal the spiritual readiness of Gideon’s heart, Jehovah commands Gideon to endure a spiritual test in the very night in which he was commissioned. Would Gideon pass this test? Let us see how ready Gideon was as a leader, see the challenges and issues involved in this test, and also consider how this applies to the young Reformed believer today.
Jehovah commanded Gideon to perform a drastic but important task in his own hometown. In Judges 7:25- 26, Jehovah said to Gideon,
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.
Jehovah did not specify which time of the day to do this, but left that up to Gideon. We discover that timid Gideon went out at night to fulfill the LORD’S command. He did not do it during broad daylight “because he feared his father’s household, and the men of the city.” (Judges 7:27) So, while the town of Ophrah was asleep, Gideon fulfilled the LORD’S command under the cover of darkness.
The next morning the town found what had been done. The altar of Baal was destroyed. The grove (the female counterpart to Baal called Asherah) that was beside it was cut down, and its wood was used to sacrifice a bullock upon the altar that was built. At the sight of this destruction to the altar of Baal and the nearby grove, the men of the city were burning with fury. Immediately they hunted for the man who did it.
They found the man who did it. It was Gideon the son of Joash. Having found him, the men were ready to kill Gideon for what they thought was a high crime worthy of immediate death. They wanted to stone him for destroying the altar to Baal.
We learn that immediately Joash defends his son by exposing the foolishness of these Baal worshipers who were furious at Gideon. Joash silenced them when he said in Judges 7:31,
Will ye plead for Baal? will ye save him? He that will plead for him, let him be put to death whilst it is yet morning: if he be a god, let him plead for himself, because one hath cast down his altar.
Joash’s point was clear and simple. If Baal is a god, let Baal have his vengeance upon Gideon. But, the very fact that Baal was helpless against Gideon exposed that Baal is no god at all. There is no god beside Jehovah, and He alone must be worshiped.
The test for Gideon was in harmony with that truth that Jehovah is God alone of His people. Would Gideon destroy the altar of Baal? Would he take a stand against the idol worship of his fellow countrymen? Would he lead Israel in the true worship of Jehovah which is antithetically opposed to the idol worship of the heathens? Would Gideon take the lead in the spiritual reformation of the people of God away from idol worship back to the true worship of Jehovah?
By the grace of God, the answer was “yes.” Gideon endured the test by faith. Through his weakness of his timidness and lack of confidence, by the grace of God alone he was made strong to take a stand against Baal worship in Manasseh. He took a stand for the true worship of Jehovah, the Covenant God of Israel.
If Gideon had not passed this test, Gideon would have failed as a leader and shown himself unqualified as a deliverer. Let us examine some reasons why that is true.
First, if Gideon had failed to break down the altar of Baal in his hometown, then Gideon would have been a spiritual ally of the heathen Midianites. He would have had no reason to fight the idol worshiping Midianites if he did not oppose Baal worship in his own country.
Secondly, if Gideon failed to oppose Baal worship and yet tried to fight the Midianites, he would have been trying to do the impossible. You will recall that Gideon was commissioned by Jehovah to serve under His banner in His army. How could Gideon then try to fight in two armies at the same time in the same battle? It is impossible to do. He could not serve two masters at the same time. He could not fight under two banners. Jehovah by His grace would not raise up a deliver appointed over His people with his feet on both sides of the battle line. Jehovah raised up a man with both feet on Jehovah’s side ready to fight under His spiritual flag.
Thirdly, if Gideon had failed the test, he would have opposed the principle set down by Joshua many years before. Before Joshua died, he made very clear to Israel the relationship between fighting the battles of Jehovah against the heathen and the worship of Jehovah. The relationship is very close. Faithfulness in worshiping Jehovah was the way of victory and triumph over the enemy. Joshua said,
One man of you shall chase a thousand: for the LORD your God, He it is that fighteth for you, as He hath promised you. Take good heed therefore unto yourselves, that ye love the LORD your God. (Joshua 23:10-11)
Indeed Gideon must be a man that feared Jehovah. Only in that way could he go into battle as one man against a hundred thousand Midianites in confidence that Jehovah would fight for him. Only in the way of faith and obedience to Jehovah would Jehovah reveal and grant to Gideon a gracious triumph over the enemy. That inner faithfulness to Jehovah by grace through faith was that necessary qualification which Gideon had to fight the ungodly and heathen Midianites.
Finally, to oppose Baal worship was to take the lead in turning the people to full repentance unto Jehovah. The reason the Midianites were oppressing the land was to chastise Israel for the very sin of Baal worship which was being committed in his own hometown. If Gideon had not torn down the altar and the grove next to the altar, he would have denied that Israel had sinned and needed to repent. By his failure to destroy the altar of Baal, Gideon by his action would have made Jehovah a liar as if really Israel had not committed a sin of which they had to repent and a sin for which they deserved chastisement. Therefore, this was also a test of humility for Gideon and the people. Would they acknowledge their sin before Jehovah and turn from it, and confess that Jehovah is the God alone? Gideon and the faithful did. The contrite and repentant heart which possesses by faith the peace of forgiveness is the heart ready to do battle with the enemy.
In this passage, we learn then that Gideon’s first successful battle is with his own townsfolk. That was probably the toughest test he had to face. Those of one’s own household can sometimes become the bitterest of spiritual enemies. Jesus experienced that fact in his hometown of Nazareth. They tried to kill Him when He plainly showed that He was the Messiah. By the grace of God, Gideon endured the test of taking a stand against the idolatry of his own countrymen. By that action, he was proven for the work of the position of judge among the people. Being proven, he was later anointed with the Spirit of the LORD to qualify and appoint him to the work. We read of this in verse 32 which says that “the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon.” That does not mean that he did not have the Spirit of the LORD before. It means that now he is officially qualified and appointed for the task so that in the minds of the people of God there is no question that Gideon is the LORD’S choice to lead them under the banner of Jehovah-shalom into battle against the Midianites.
The fact that Gideon must fight a battle under the banner of peace, and that he must first fight a battle among his own countrymen, raises a question. How can there be peace and warfare together in this passage? How can those two ideas fit together? Gideon created quite a stir in Ophrah by destroying the altar of Baal. Gideon by his example strongly called the people back to the true worship of Jehovah. However, that work created a riot in Ophrah by which he was almost lynched. Is that peace? How can Gideon fight under the banner that has to do with peace?
That same question applies to the Church of the New Testament age. God raised up men in church history to fight the battle of faith under the same banner under which Gideon fought. The battle in the Reformation was against the heresy of the Roman Catholic Church and the spiritual enemies in the Roman Catholic Church. Today, there is still on-going battle to reform the church, and turn her back unto the Scriptures and the truth of the Reformed Faith. Through all the battles we might wonder where is the peace?
To answer our questions we must look to what the Prince of Peace Himself said. Jesus said in Matthew 10:34-36 the following.
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I am come not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.
Jesus teaches that the battle of faith will cause turmoil in our earthly relationships. Through that battle of faith and self-denial in which the believer remains faithful to God, there is not only earthly struggles, but also the sure reward of spiritual peace with God.
Further, Jesus Himself, the Prince of Peace, established our peace through the great battle on the cross of Calvary. There Christ destroyed the seed of the Serpent and his whole dominion decisively. Through the destruction of the enemy and by the shedding of His own blood, Christ reconciled us unto God in peace. Therefore, through the warfare of Christ upon the cross and His battle against and victory over death, we have everlasting peace and eternal life with God. You see, then, that “peace” and “warfare” fit perfectly together in Scripture.
According to Scripture and the passage, the believer also must fight spiritual battles in that peace. When the believer is faced with spiritual battles, they are battles to maintain his confession and enjoyment of that peace established by Christ and given to us by faith in Him.
That is the battle a young Reformed believers fights, too. You are called to fight false doctrine and heresy to maintain a pure confession of the truth so that the conscious enjoyment of the peace of salvation in Jesus Christ is not lost, smudged, or compromised in any way. We are called to break down the altars to Baal and return to the true worship of Jehovah. Make no mistake, such warfare will not bring us earthly peace. It will not make you very popular in this world and in this life. Church history up to the very present day has shown that spiritual Gideons, who seek to reform their denominations or congregations from error, will often meet the same reaction Gideon did the morning after.
Therefore, we object to all that would call itself “peace” when really there is no peace. The basis of true peace and unity is not compromise of cardinal doctrines, but in a faithful confession of the Reformed Faith. True peace is not merely the absence of no battles in the church. Peace is not to avoid the necessary conflicts for the peace and prosperity of Zion. Preservation of peace is not by means of the path of least conflict and disturbance. According to the passage and all of Scripture, God preserves peace and prosperity of Zion by means of diligent and vigilant battle and defense of the truth against spiritual enemies of sin, worldliness, false doctrine, heresy, discontent, and strife. God preserves His people by raising up among them spiritual Gideons who are prepared for battle.
We must also use some space here to notice carefully that what Gideon does in the passage comes before the real battle against the Midianites. What Gideon does here is part of the preparations. He prepares the heart of the people unto proper battle against the Midianites.
That applies specifically to the manner in which we must fight. We also need to prepare ourselves first. We must first take care of business at home in our own hearts. There in our own hearts we must repent and reform. If we have not thrown down the altars to Baal there, you and I really live as allies to the enemies on the battlefield. If that is true, then we have no reason to fight. If Gideon had sacrificed to Baal instead and not thrown down the altar, and then went to fight in the LORD’S battles, we would label him a hypocrite. Would not we be hypocritical for doing the same thing?
There is no peace in refusing to repent in our hearts and then to live before men as a member of the church militant, and pretending to fight the LORD’S battles. In other words, it is hypocritical for us to make confession of faith before God, His Church, and the spiritual enemies, but then in our hearts and lives behind the backs of others still sacrifice to the Baals of our sinful hearts. In that way of life, we become useless soldiers. We live as spiritual traitors to the cause of God’s Kingdom and Covenant. In that walk of life, there is no enjoyment of the peace and prosperity of Zion in that lifestyle, but only spiritual misery.
Step number one in the battle of faith is to throw down the altar to Baal and cut down the idols in our own hearts. In that way of returning to Jehovah in repentance, there is the humble and contrite heart prepared to do battle against the mighty enemies. Thus, we learn from the history of Gideon here a principle that applies to the church history. Step number one in the reformation of the church institute is repentance from sin in the hearts of the individual spiritual Gideons.
Let us never forget that this first step requires the almighty and sovereign grace of God. We cannot repent of ourselves. Gideon could not throw down the altar by himself. Only God can and does work in us by His Spirit of sovereign grace to destroy our spiritual idol worship, and to live and confess the One True and Eternal Jehovah. Let us pray for that grace!
Going forward in the battle by faith and repentance, our trust is in Jehovah alone of our salvation. He has set over us the Prince of Peace, the Captain of our salvation. In Him we have forgiveness for our past failures to repent and break down the idols in our hearts. In Him we have the strength and life to repent and then to fight. He fights in and through us by His Spirit. Because Christ has fought for us and won the war on the cross and fights in and through us by His Spirit, one of us shall indeed chase a thousand as God promises. Therefore, we shall do valiantly by grace through faith for the sake of His Zion and His own glory. ❖