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Gideon: Seeing God’s Strength (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
August 16, 2022 4:00 am

Gideon: Seeing God’s Strength (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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August 16, 2022 4:00 am

When life is easy, we sometimes stop listening to God and start relying on ourselves. Study along as Alistair Begg explores the strange predicament of God’s people and their reluctant leader, continuing the ‘Encore 2022’ series on Truth For Life.



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When life is easy, we can find ourselves forgetting about God and calling on him only during the hard times.

But what happens when we ignore God and we rely on ourselves? Today on Truth for Life, Alistair Begg explores the answer by studying the strange predicament of God's people and a reluctant leader. What I'd like to do is to spend today and tomorrow morning with the story of Gideon. And I can't take time to read all the way through all of it, but perhaps I'll just turn you to verse 34 of Judges 6, which reads, Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet.

And in chapter 7 and in verse 2, the LORD said to Gideon, You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands, in order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her. The great danger that presents itself in preaching out of Old Testament narrative is the danger of a dreadful kind of devotional preaching. I don't mean that all devotional preaching is dreadful, but there is a dreadful kind of devotional preaching. The kind of sermon title out of a great chunk of Old Testament narrative, which would run something like, Gideon blew his trumpet, why don't you blow yours? The key to this kind of preaching is that you read the Bible, you close the Bible, and you never refer to the Bible again. Or dealing with the locusts in your life.

Or squeezing the fleece. Now, it's only funny because you preach some of these, and you're annoyed that I mentioned them. So we remind ourselves that if we're going to preach effectively from the Bible, we must always be men under control. First, that we would obviously be under the control of the direction of the Holy Spirit, but then that we would be under the control of the text itself. And if there are only three things in the purchase of real estate—namely, location, location, and location—then there are only three things in the faithful exposition of Scripture.

Context, context, context. And in order to safeguard the kind of leaps into oblivion which can be very impressive to the unschooled, we must always try our best to ensure that we pay attention to the context in which the verse is set and the context in which the surrounding verses are set. Now, I simply say that in passing, because all of us want to be better at our preaching, I'm sure. And one of the great dangers for us is that, for example, when we are preaching from the book of Corinthians, we are very keen to get from the text to Chicago or to Cleveland. This is what 1 Corinthians 3 says, and we are in Chicago, and this is what it means. And it is possible for us to do it without ever paying attention to what it had to say to Corinth.

And the only way to get effectively to Chicago is to go via Corinth. And the only way to get effectively to the application of these verses is, of course, to pay very careful attention to the historic context in which these matters arise. We can, I think, identify the fact that here in the book of Judges, there is a recurring cycle which is taking place. And in this recurring cycle of events, we read the story of Gideon. And it is vitally important that we understand that the story of what God is doing with Gideon finds its significance ultimately and only in the wider story of what God is doing with his people. And it is for that reason that it is very, very important that we do not make the application simply from Gideon to ourselves immediately, but that we recognize that that which was true of the people of God in an earlier era is the first point of identification with the people of God in the present era, and that we will find ourselves mirrored in this sad, recurring cycle of events into which God places his choice servants, not least of all this interesting chap by the name of Gideon. God's purpose throughout all of time has been to redeem for himself a people that are his very own. And his focus throughout all of time is upon that people who are his very own. And it is important that we understand it also because it serves as a healthy reminder in a generation that is increasingly preoccupied with individuals and with personalities. It is not that individuals are irrelevant or that personalities have no significance, but it is that in the unfolding plan of what God is doing in the totality of his kingdom, in that unfolding plan, individuals find significance.

But none of those whom God has raised up to be useful to him, whether known or unknown, whether apparently prominent or unprominent, none of us has any significance apart from the overarching and unfolding plan and purpose of God from eternity to eternity. And the message of Gideon is therefore to be understood in light of that. Whatever the story of Gideon is about, I suggest to you it is a classic illustration of what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12.9. The Lord speaks to Paul in his weakness, and he says to him, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Whatever else the story of Gideon is, it is a story of the weakness of the people God chooses to use, it is a story of the apparently overwhelming strength of the enemy, and it is a story of God's methods of perfecting his own strength in the experience of weakness. The Lord said to Gideon, You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands.

Why? In order that Israel may not be self-reliant. In order that Israel may not boast that they have done this in their own power or strength. And since God's concern is to get glory to his name, and since he will share his glory with no one else, it is his express purpose to pick up the most unlikely individuals, to put them together in the most uncertain kind of army, so that when victory is established, both those within the forces and those who observe the victory may know God surely did this. And it is to that that, of course, in pastoral ministry we must continually be giving attention. The enemy, we're told, had too many people to count—that's verse 5 of chapter 6—and God's people were too many, in this case, to be victorious. So in other words, the chapters provide for as a necessary corrective to the prevailing preoccupation in evangelicalism with numbers, skill, and self-congratulation. We are riddled with it.

We have embraced it to such a degree that it is impossible for us now to disengage ourselves sufficiently to be able to be objective enough about how endemic the issue really is. Let's take a look at God's people, and then let's take a look at God's servant. We're in chapter 6. What are we told of God's people? Well, we're told that, again, the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord.

Now, this is the expression of the cycle. If you turn over back one page in your Bible to the 31st verse of Judges 5, that ends, Then the land had peace for forty years. So after forty years of peace, here we go all over again, just when we might have anticipated that they had finally cracked it, that they had understood it, that the pathway of trust and of obedience was clear to them.

We turn the page, and here we go again. Again, the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord. And for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites. And they were, according to verse 2, oppressed. So we find the people of God oppressed. And the strength of the oppression, the strength of the opposition against them, is depicted for us there as we find them preparing shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, hiding in caves, creating strongholds, and finding themselves on the receiving end of the devastating intervention of the Midianites, the Amalekites, and a whole host of other Eastern peoples who invaded the country. And they came whenever the fancy took them to maraud the place, to burn the crops, to pillage them, and to return to the place that they'd come from. The people of God were oppressed.

And whenever these folks chose, it would seem, they would come, they would attack, and they would destroy. Now, the size of the oppression is given description there in the second half of verse 5. When they put down their livestock and their tents, they were like swans of locusts, and it was impossible to count the men and their camels, and they invaded the land to ravage it. So quite straightforwardly, as we look at the text, the first thing we notice is that the people of God went back to their same nonsense, they began to do evil again in the sight of the Lord, and they found themselves oppressed. They found themselves, according to verse 6, impoverished. And the oppression and the impoverishment were interwoven—ruined crops, livestock destroyed, and the sense of the enemies against them being of such an overwhelming dimension that they could do nothing to stop them. And right at the very beginning of it all, we read the phrase, For seven years God gave them into the hands of the Midianites. God took his own people, the object of his special affection, and he ordered the events of their lives so as to ensure that they would experience in their physical frames, in their hearts, in their minds, in their families, in their worship, the devastating impact of what happens when the people of God become self-reliant. It cannot be done without cost.

It will never be done without pain. And God is true to his word today as he was then. Into this land of too many people, God had given his own people. And so, as before, the folks cry out to him. And when the Israelites cried out to the Lord because of Midian, verse 7, you see the cycle—rebellion, retribution, a cry for rescue, some posture at least of repentance—when the Israelites cried out to the Lord because of Midian, it doesn't say he sent them a Savior, but he sent them a prophet.

Now, this is what we'd seen before back in chapter 4, the exact same thing. The people had found themselves on the receiving end of all this kind of oppression, and in that instance, it was Deborah, a prophetess, who was leading Israel at that time, and God had raised her up, along with Banach, for this express purpose. Now, what does the prophet do? Well, the prophet speaks, because that's what prophets are supposed to do. But he doesn't speak to them in the way that they might have wanted, nor does he speak to them in the way that they might have feared. They might have wanted him to say, you know, God has been a little displeased with you, but he's not very displeased, and he's glad to hear that you're wising up, and so he wants you to know that it doesn't really matter, and have a nice day. They might have expected and hoped for that kind of message. They might have feared, on the other hand, that the prophet would come and say, if you think this is bad, wait till you see what the next seven years are going to be like.

But neither of the two things happen. The prophet simply brings a word of explanation. He sent them a prophet who said, this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says, I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

They could remember that. I snatched you from the power of Egypt, and from the hand of all your oppressors. I drove them from before you and gave you their land. I said to you, I am the Lord your God.

Do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live, but you have not listened to me. The word of the prophet was not, in this case, a word of condemnation. It was a word of explanation.

And the prophet came to reveal to the people the incongruity of doing what they were doing. After all, says God through his servant, I did this for you. I redeemed you with an outstretched hand. I brought you safely to this place. I have protected you all along the way, and yet here you are, despite all of that, and you don't listen to me.

Now, loved ones, I want to pause here and make a point of application. The prophetic voice is very necessary in our day. I don't mean, now, words of prophecy that predict the future.

Leave that aside. I'm talking about the prophetic voice in terms of the voice of the prophet speaking the Word of God with clarity to the people of God in their generation. The voice, if you like, of John the Baptist, who is a forerunner, who is a finger pointing, he's a light shining, he's a voice crying. But he knows he's not the bridegroom.

He knows that he's just the best man. But he is able to speak into his generation in a way that both understands the times in which the generation is living and understands the Word of God for those times. In other words, that the great need in every generation is for men like the men of Issachar, of whom it is said, as you know, that they understood the times and they knew what Israel ought to do. Now, the great need for the people of God in this context was on account of the fact that they did not understand the times.

They did not understand. And therefore, God sent them a prophet to ensure that they would understand. See, this is part of the pastoral responsibility. Part of the definition of preaching is surely this—to ensure that people understand. Not first to ensure that they feel, not first to ensure that they are emoted, but to ensure that they understand. And we can never make others understand what we do not understand ourselves. Now, you're a sensible man and woman.

You judge for yourselves. Is it wrong for me to say that we're living in an era of great cluelessness? I mean, you find books in the airport as you travel.

I saw one not so long ago. It comes to mind as I speak. It's not in my notes. But I think the book was entitled, Whatever Happened to Common Sense? And someone had written a book of, you know, the most sensible stuff, I guess.

You know, like, tie your shoelaces, brush your teeth, stuff like that. Essential things. And you say, how could anybody ever make money simply explaining these routine things? Well, as a culture gets increasingly crazy, common sense is at a premium. And as the people of God get increasingly confused, common sense in spiritual, theological, biblical terms is increasingly at a premium. There is in our generation an increasing lack of spiritual discernment. There is in our generation, I suggest to you, an increasing theological vagueness, a blurring of the distinctives that have always marked historic evangelical Christianity.

And it is passing people by. And therefore, for today, we need to pray God that he would raise up people who with sensitivity to people, a sensitivity to his words, a bold, unashamed conviction of the rightness of God's truth to stand up and say, hey, this is what God says. Now, that's what we want. We don't want stories. We don't want jokes. We want to hear what God has to say. When our people come on the Lord's Day, they want to hear from God. They don't care about your grandmother, frankly. They're not so concerned about the funny story that you got from the Reader's Digest. They're not interested in the fact that you've got a great closer about a golden retriever that got run over by a freight train.

All of that stuff is bogus, ultimately. But they do long to hear the voice of God. And it is our conviction that when the Word of God is truly preached, the voice of God is truly heard.

And that is the word which comes here. God says, I heard your cry. Interestingly enough, you want me to listen to you, but funnily enough, you don't want to listen to me.

Isn't that what it says? They cry to him, Oh God, listen to us. And God comes by, and he says in his servant, interestingly enough, you haven't listened to my voice. But you know, as I move around, I find people wandering around going, Does anybody here know what's going on? God says, I'll tell you what's going on.

You're not listening to me. That's the issue in Hebrews. That's why you have all these warning passages in Hebrews, is it not? What's the great warning in Hebrews chapter 2 and verse 1?

We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard so that we don't drift away. And what was the problem with the folks in chapter 4? It was that the message that they heard, that they had preached to them, was of absolutely no value to them, because although they heard it, they did not combine it with faith.

They were akin to those who died in the wilderness with their fingers in their ears and their hands over their eyes. And so says one commentator in light of all of this, It is no coincidence that innumerable Midianites are sent as a punishment for the rejection of innumerable mercies. See, God said, You've been singing great is thy faithfulness, and I know that you know those things. But why are you not listening to me?

And so, in order to get you to fasten back your ears, I'm going to bring you under a period of retribution. We have a difficulty fitting this into many of our theologies, but the Bible has no difficulty with it at all. It's not hidden in some covert somewhere in an obscure passage of Scripture. It sits on the very surface of Scripture. And I think it is actually an explanation as to where the church in the West is at the present time. Are we paying attention, tuning in, listening to what God has to say? This is Truth for Life. Alistair Begg with part one of a message titled, Gideon, Seeing God's Strength.

Alistair continues this message tomorrow. Being a believer is a lifelong pursuit of getting to know God better. It's an ongoing journey. It involves studying the Bible, gaining a deeper understanding of who God is. One of the best ways we can learn more about him is by exploring his attributes. And that's the subject of a book we want to recommend to you today.

The title is easy to remember. It's called God Is. This is a book that explores 26 unique attributes of God. Each chapter dedicates a few pages to a specific characteristic. And each chapter closes by answering the question, how does Christ show this attribute?

And what does it mean for my life as a Christian? This is an outstanding book to help you increase your understanding of God's nature. And it's a book you'll want to return to over and over again as you spend time alone with God in meditation or in prayer. Request your copy of the book God Is today when you give a donation to Truth for Life. You can tap the image you see on the mobile app or visit truthforlife.org slash donate or call us at 888-588-7884. If you'd rather mail your donation along with your request for the book, write to Truth for Life at P.O. Box 398000, Cleveland, Ohio.

And the zip code is 44139. I'm Bob Lapine. We hope you can join us tomorrow for the conclusion of today's message. We'll find out what happens when God calls on an unlikely man to be a warrior. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-08 09:40:51 / 2023-03-08 09:49:06 / 8

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