The Cowardly, Mighty General [Sunday School Review]

This past Sunday, your kids learned that “God sees the best in us” through the story of Gideon. My co-leader at Smoky Mountain Christian Camp works in this story every year, because it’s exciting and also incredibly encouraging. (Also, she’s really good at telling it and I hope she doesn’t mind me skimming a few sections.)

So Israel, per usual in Judges, is in the pits of a recurring cycle where they disobey God, get conquered, cry out, and finally are rescued. Midian and some other nations have come by to pilfer the Israelites food supplies, and the sheer number of enemies makes fighting back impossible. So the people cry out, and at first, God sends a prophet to remind the people just why this is happening, “You were told to faithfully commit to one God. You disobeyed.”

Immediately, though, the story shifts to a picturesque scene of a cowardly young man hiding in a winepress (dug into the ground) trying to thresh wheat. Threshing wheat is usually done on a hill, with wind, since the wind catches the chaff (the unwanted parts of the wheat) and leaves the grain, which is heavier. So, I imagine Gideon throwing the grain in the air and blowing on it really hard to separate the two parts and getting frustrated at his lack of success. As he’s focused on this task, an angel poofs into material being beside him and startles the heck out of him with an odd greeting.

“Greetings, mighty warrior. The Lord is with you,” said the angel.

Gideon, with as little sarcasm as possible, motions around to where he is and what he’s doing and politely explains that, no, he isn’t a warrior and asks where God has been during all of this pain and suffering. The angel replies that God has heard and is acting now… through Gideon. Gideon stares for a minute, trying to suppress his laughter. Gideon is remarkably self aware, recognizing his own cowardice and how that might be an impediment to waging war. Gideon proposes a test. A belief in the biblical period was that angels would/could not participate in human meals, so Gideon makes an enormous amount of bread and meat and brings it to his guest. As Gideon watches, the whole meal is consumed by fire and the angels poofs out of existence. Stunned, Gideon panics, thinking he’s going to die having seen God. But he’s relieved when God replies, “All is well.” And maybe adding, “Chill, man. You are so uptight.” Maybe. I’m not sure, but occasionally I sense some humor and sarcasm in the way God speaks to his people.

Anyway, Gideon is surprised when God calls him to wage war on Baal, whom some people in his town seem to be worshiping. Gideon is told to tear down Ball’s altar, and the Asherah pole next to it, and build an altar to the One True God and make a sacrifice. Gideon does… but he does it in the dead of night, with a little help from some servants. (Apparently Gideon’s family was loaded.) Anyway, the town is a little on the angry side when they woke up in the morning and obviously someone had let slip who had done the work because the town was crying for Gideon’s blood. Gideon’s dad, Joash, though makes a good point, “Let Baal fight his own battles. Check back in the morning. If Gideon’s dead, then Baal has made his point. Otherwise, maybe you shouldn’t have been bowing to that thing in the first place.”  Gideon survives. God 1, Baal 0.

The Midianite army gathers en mass and seems to be preparing for a raid. God tells Gideon its time to gear up and head out. Gideon asks for some more signs, using a square of fleece and some freaky weather patterns, and finally feels shaky enough to proceed. He gathers up 32,000 men and is ready to fight when God whispers, “That’s too many, tell anyone who’s scared to go home.”

Gideon, feeling a little confident, makes the declaration that anyone who is scared can head on home, God’s got this. And 22,000 men take him up on the offer. Gideon’s jaw drops as he watches over two thirds of his army walk away. He sighs, makes another count and feels much less confident but like this thing is still doable with the 10,000 he has left. God whispers again, “Still too many. Try this, take them down to the river and I’ll sort them out for you.” Gideon has a bad feeling about this, but does what God says.So after they all take a drink, God has sifted out all but 300 of the men Gideon started with.

Interestingly, the Hebrew for why people were chosen or not chosen is open to interpretation, maybe it was because they hadn’t “bent the knee” and worshiped another God, or maybe they were inept/cowardly. Either way, it would seem God sifted out the men who actually knew what they were doing and left Gideon with whatever was left.

After overhearing a dream while scouting out the enemy camp that highly favored Gideon and his men. Gideon explained the plan. “God is going to win this,” explains Gideon, “we’ll have no swords.” The 300 men, who were definitely not Spartans with CGI enhanced pecs and abs, squirmed a little and nodded slowly. “We’re going in dark with torches and trumpets.” The 300 men nodded slowly again, feeling their hearts sink. “When we get into place, we shout, break the jars on our torches and blow the trumpets and God will handle the rest.” One guys raises his hand. “Yes, Elias?”

“So, what happens then?” asks Elias, genuinely puzzled how this one’s going to turn out.

“Well,” said Gideon, “that’s uhm… a… surprise! Yes! God will surprise us!” A few skeptical looks let Gideon know his improvisational skills need work.

Everyone is in place. The signal is given. “For Gideon and for the Lord!” goes the cry! The trumpets sound. The torches alight, burning bright with more oxygen! The Midianite camp below sees the massive army overhead. The Midianites panic, run about, and begin killing one another.

God saw that Gideon could lead. He saw that Gideon could trust, which could overcome his cowardice. God saw the best in Gideon. He saw the best in the unlikeliest 300 casting call in history. Even when we cannot see our worth, or why we should be loved, God treasures us and loves us more than we could ever know.

Your child is a unique creation. You are a unique creation. Despite your hang ups, problems, failures, and quirks, you are loved and God sees the best in you. Work this week to see the best in your child and others in your life. Pray for them, especially when you’re annoyed.

How do you model seeing the best in others? When do you point out the positive in your kids? Are you on the hunt for the negative or the positive in others? Why?

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