“And there came an angel of the LORD, and sat under an oak which was in Ophrah, that pertained unto Joash the Abiezrite: and his son Gideon threshed wheat by the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites.
And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him, and said unto him, The LORD is with thee, thou mighty man of valour . . . .
And the LORD 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?”
There was a certain incongruity to the actions of that lonely figure that worked silently one day under an oak tree in Ophrah of Israel. In this place was a winepress, but the man was very evidently threshing wheat, and for this a more unsuited place could hardly be found. But both the incongruity of the place and the loneliness of the labor were not without purpose. It was not the time of grape harvest and so a winepress would be the last place where one would expect to find a person working. So also the man worked alone that no one would bow of his activity. The Midianites were about in the land, and they were ruthlessly wicked. If they as much as heard that anyone had food to eat, they would descend upon them with their wild, robbing bands. It was not so much that they needed the food themselves; it was more that they enjoyed seeing the expressions of shock and dismay upon people’s faces. That was the reason why this man, Gideon, was threshing what little grain he had managed to grow in guarded secret. But even though it appeared that he would be successful in his efforts, Gideon found no pleasure at all in his accomplishment. It was against his very nature to do anything secretly and in hiding. Even more, it hurt him to see the, wicked Midianites running rampant over the land which Jehovah God had given to Israel as its covenant heritage. To have to do perfectly rightful acts secretively scourged his soul even while he did it.
And still it was not this so much that filled the mind of Gideon that day as he went silently about his work. His thoughts were upon something which he had heard just recently in the village. A man had passed through with a message which he had said was from Jehovah God. He had said, “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, aid 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.” How these words had thrilled his heart. They had so needed saying. He, Gideon, had often prayed that God would send someone who could reprove the people for all of their sins. The land had become so very wicked. Altars and groves for the worship of heathen gods were to be found just everywhere. He remembered a day when it had not been that way, but that was long ago, after Deborah had judged the people. Through the years this had gradually changed. More and more the people had turned to idols, until the worship of Jehovah had seemingly become a very rare thing. It vexed his soul so, but what could he do? His own father maintained a grove for Baa1 on his land, and he did not dare to speak out against that. And besides, who would listen to him anyway? But he had been glad to see a prophet sent by God who could speak out against this wickedness. The people had been shocked to hear someone speak like that although no one had so much as answered.
Still the words of this prophet left questions in Gideon’s mind. He had said, “Thus saith the LORD God of Israel . . . 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 . . .” This all Gideon knew. He had learned it from his youth and still believed that it was true. It was just that especially in recent years those who had forsaken the service of Jehovah had an answer to this. They would just point to the host of Midianites and their allies which were overrunning the land and say, “Look at them and at what, their gods have don? to give them power. Jehovah may well say that we need not fear their gods; but meanwhile they are devouring our land, and Jehovah is doing nothing to drive then back.” Things like this troubled Gideon because it was hard to find a clear-cut answer. It was true, of course, that the people had forsaken the worship of Jehovah long before the Midianites had arisen to oppress them. But at the same time it was rumored about in recent days that there were those who were crying to Jehovah for deliverance, even as he had always continued to do himself, and still no answer had come.
So busily occupied with these thoughts was the mind of Gideon while he worked that he hardly seemed to care when the figure of a man approached and stood before him under the oak tree. The man spoke and his address to Gideon was extremely strange. He said, “The LORD, is with thee, thou mighty man of valor.”
But that the man singled him out for special recognition hardly mattered to Gideon at this time. All he noticed was that the man was evidently familiar with Jehovah, and, besides that, spoke with confidence and with authority. Here perhaps was someone who could answer all of his questions and doubts. Out from his heart suddenly burst forth all of the pent-up feelings and problems that burdened his life. “Oh my lord,” answered Gideon, if the LORD 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.”
The answer which came back, to Gideon was far from what he had expected. It was not an excuse; it was not an explanation; it was a promise, and even more than a promise, a command. “Go in this thy might,” said the man, “and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?”
Here was more than, Gideon’s mind could begin to grasp. That the Midianites should be driven out was a wonderful thought; that Israel should once again be saved was his oft-repeated prayer; but that he shouldbe the one through whom this should take place? that removed it almost to the realm of the impossible. “Oh my Lord,” he responded, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.”
But the man who stood there was determined. Gideon was called of God to deliver Israel from the oppressor, and so it should be. He said, “Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man.”
Still to Gideon the whole idea was just too impossible. It was not so much that he was unwilling to serve God and His people in this way; it was more that he could not imagine a place like this for himself in the counsel and plan of God. The whole approach and presentation of the man who stood before him was such that he could not question his right to speak with authority in the name of God. But what he did feel the need of was some assurance that this whole thing was not a hallucination, a mere dream, some kind of imagining of his own troubled mind. Plaintively he looked to this stranger for some assurance. “If now I have found grace in thy sight,” he pleaded, “then show me a sign that thou talkest with me. Depart not hence, I pray thee, until I come unto thee, and bring forth my present, and set it before thee.”
Calmly the man answered, “I will tarry until thou come again.”
Quickly Gideon returned to his house to prepare a meal for this messenger of God. In the eating of it Gideon would have not only the proof of his reality but a testimony of his covenant love and fellowship. Without hesitation he drew from the scanty stores which he had so carefully hoarded and hid for his family to live upon as the Midianites plundered the land. From its hiding place he took a young kid, which had been kept from the marauding Midianites only by the greatest difficulty, and prepared its flesh to eat. From his precious, hidden store of flour he took a most generous portion to make cakes and a broth for this strange messenger. When at last all had been prepared in a most savory manner, he returned to the oak tree to spread this meal before the visitor. It was a meal such as one rarely saw any more in Israel; but when Gideon presented it unto the stranger, it was met with a strange response. The man commanded, “Take the flesh and the unleavened cakes, and lay them upon the rock, and poor out the broth.” Completely awed, Gideon proceeded to do so. He laid the meat and cakes upon a large, nearby rock, and poured the broth over them. The meaning of this action was unknown to him. It was just that, instead of spreading a meal to be eaten as he had planned, he was preparing a sacrifice as though to God, only without the customary wood. And then happened the most amazing thing of all. The man took the walking staff which he held in his hand and touched the meat and cakes upon the rock. Immediately there burst from the rock a flame to devour the sacrifice. Finally, while Gideon watched, the man disappeared from his sight.
Now suddenly it dawned upon Gideon who this was to whom he had spoken. This had not just been a man speaking in the name of God, a prophet; this had been the angel of the LORD Himself, the very One Who had met with Moses upon the holy mountain, and with Joshua when he entered the promised land. He had stood before the very holiness of God and in his shallowness of vision had not even understood. From his heart went up a cry almost of anguish; “Alas, O LORD God! for because I have seen an angel of the LORD face to face.”
And Gideon’s surprises for the day were not yet done. He had been called by God to be a prophet and judge in His name unto Israel. Now, no sooner had Gideon cried to God with this prayer of fear and anguish than the answer of God came back to him by immediate revelation to his heart. God said, “Peace be unto thee; fear not, thou shalt not die.”
An irreversible change had come over Gideon. His life would never be the same. Gideon felt it himself, and his first expression of it was with an act of worship. There at the foot of the oak tree in Ophrah he built an altar unto Jehovah. Through the means of the sacrifice he expressed his complete reliance upon the promise of God even as he would have many occasions to do in the days to come.
Gideon, however, was not yet ready for the great work which God had called him to perform. Although his heart was right with God, all of the old weaknesses of his nature, his timidity and hesitancy to speak out for his convictions remained. Gradually he would have to be weaned away from that. This became evident yet that same day. Once again God appeared to him and gave him his first command for action. God said, “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.”
In faith Gideon went out that very night and did as the Lord commanded him to do. But he did it at night, and not during the day, because he was afraid of the people.