Judges 6:33-38 The fleece was wet

JUDGES 6:33-38
33 All the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples had joined forces. They crossed over the Jordan and camped in the Valley of Jezreel.  34 Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, calling out the Abiezrites to follow him.  35 He sent messengers throughout Manasseh, calling them to arms, and also into Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali, so that they too went up to meet them.  
The Valley of Jezreel is probably the most fertile and well-watered location in Israel. An American named Bayard Taylor visited the region in the 1850s and called it “one of the richest districts in the world” (The Lands of the Saracen, 1854). Although Jezreel seems quite close to the word Israel, Jezreel means “God sows,”  whereas Israel means “He struggles with God” (Genesis 32:28). 
The name applies to the large valley that separates Galilee from Samaria. Several Galilean towns are there, including Nazareth, Cana and Nain. The people of Zebulun and Naphtali had not been able to drive out all of the Canaanites who were there. Would those Canaanites have been happy to see the Midianites? Or would they have become used to their increasingly peaceful and accepting Israelite neighbors? 
The mass of Israel’s enemies camped in the valley must have been a terrifying sight to see. There were 135,000 warriors there, Midianites, Amalekites, and others from the Arabian desert (see Judges 8:10).  Gideon was able to call up 32,000 Israelites to face them. Israel would have been outnumbered four to one, but God was going to tell him that this was too many.
36 Then Gideon prayed to God: “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised--  37 see, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.”  38 And that is what happened. When Gideon rose early the next day, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl of water.
Gideon’s faith was there, but he didn’t exactly have confidence. His father, Joash, had already shown more trust in God in the brief moments since his repentance over building the pagan altar. But God knows his servants, and he even knows our weaknesses. Gideon asked for a sign, and God gave him the sign. 
The Greek myth of the golden fleece is not related to Gideon’s actual fleece in any way. The heroic Jason (who was mean to his wife), his Argonauts, the beautiful and tragic Medea, the mistrusting king Pelias, the field sown with dragon’s teeth and all of the other elements of the Greek myth are vastly distant from this simple historical account, even though the stories of Gideon’s fleece and Jason’s fleece are the only two such stories involving fleeces in antiquity that I know of. Side by side, the two stories show the difference between truth and fiction. Gideon’s fleece was ordinary of itself. We don’t know if it was the fleece of a sheep or goat, or from a ewe or a ram (Jason’s golden fleece came from a ram). The mythical fleece was the object of avarice and deceit; Gideon simply wanted to use this actual as a test for reassurance. In short, the mythical fleece was an illustration of sin; Gideon’s  true fleece was a picture of the gospel.
He set the fleece on his threshing floor—probably the winepress he had been using—and waited for morning. Just as he had requested in his prayer, when the sun came up, the fleece was wet and the ground was dry. God had spoken.
This first test reminds me that the water of baptism covers God’s lambs—all Christians—but that the blessings of baptism do not come to anyone else. Jesus said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16). Of course, if someone comes to faith but remains unbaptized at death because they had no opportunity for baptism, there is still no condemnation. The thief on the cross came to faith while in his dying hours, but he was still brought into paradise even though he could not be baptized on his cross (Luke 23:43). In fact, exceptions like that one prove that baptism is an act of pure gospel; it is not meant to be a condition to be met, but it is held out as the forgiveness of sins and the grace of God. 
Baptism is an act of the gospel, not of the law. It is not a work to be accomplished to gain something (like Jason’s quest for the golden fleece); it is a proclamation of reassurance and peace; it is the grace of God placed upon us with water and the word of God. You are still washed from your baptism, still blessed, when everything around you seems as dry as a winepress in a desert. Cherish your baptism, and know that you have God’s promise of forgiveness and everlasting life. 
In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith
Archives by Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel: http://www.wlchapel.org/worship/daily-devotion/
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul's Lutheran Church, New Ulm, Minnesota

Judges 6:25-32 Godly vandalism

JUDGES 6:25-32
25 That night the LORD said to him, “Take the second bull from your father’s herd, the seven-year-old. Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it.  26 Then build an altar to the LORD your God on the top of this one in layers of stones. Offer the second bull as a burnt offering, using the wood of the Asherah pole that you cut down.”  27 So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the LORD told him. But because he was afraid of his family and the men of the town, he did it at night rather than in the daytime.
God had commanded Israel to break down the Canaanite altars (Judges 2:2), but now more a hundred and fifty years since the time of the judges had begun, there were more pagan altars than ever—many of them built by the Israelites themselves! This is the way of sin in our lives. We wouldn’t even imagine some sins, but then we see someone else doing a thing, and we think, “I’d like to try that.” And then someone sees us, and so on it rolls. The devil is a wily teacher of wickedness. He uses everyone and everything to promote his doctrine of sin and corruption. 
God’s first command to Gideon was to break down this altar and cut down the Asherah pole next to it. Asherah poles were either totem-like poles with obscene images of the goddess Asherah carved into them, or actual trees planted near altars. There are ten references in the Bible to idolatry and adultery committed “under every spreading tree.” These are all connected with worship of the same fertility goddess.  
God wanted the altar built of ranks (ma’aracah) or rows. God told Moses and Aaron not to cut or shape stones to be used for an altar: “Do not build it with dressed stones, for you will defile it if you use a tool on it” (Exodus 20:25; cp. Deut 27:5). Gideon did everything as God commanded. He did it at night, because he was afraid, but as we shall see, everyone found out about it.
28 In the morning when the men of the town got up, there was the demolished altar of Baal, with the Asherah pole cut down beside it and the second bull sacrificed on the altar he built!  29 They asked each other, “Who did this?” When they carefully investigated, they were told, “Gideon son of Joash did it.”  30 So the men of the town said to Joash, “Bring out your son. He must die, because he has broken down Baal’s altar and cut down the Asherah pole beside it.”  31 But Joash said to those who stood against him, “Are you going to contend for Baal? Are you trying to save him? Whoever fights for him shall be put to death by morning! If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar.”  32 So that day they called Gideon “Jerub-Baal,”  saying, “Let Baal contend with him,” because he broke down Baal’s altar.
Joash defended his son, even though the altar Gideon wrecked and defiled had been built by Joash himself! Notice how quickly Joash goes on the offensive. Not only does he forgive his son, but he immediately takes up Gideon’s cause and defends him, putting all the other townspeople to shame. This teaches us an important lesson. Baal worship had nothing to offer Joash that would make him defend it. He had drifted into this pagan worship and had even taken some kind of leadership role (he built the town altar). But when faced with the command of God and its results, he remembered the promise of the gospel, and immediately he turned away from Baal. He was so shamed of his idolatry and apostasy that his son’s act was a sermon all in itself. There was the smashed altar, the stump, the sawdust and the cut logs of an Asherah pole burned in the fire, and a properly sacrificed bull on a true altar of God. 
We don’t always need carefully crafted arguments to preach the gospel. Sometimes a child can bring a parent to repentance with a simple question: “Why didn’t we go to church last Sunday?” “How come we don’t send our church an offering when we’re on vacation? Does our offering only ‘pay for church’ if we’re there?” “Mom, you and Dad don’t go to Bible class. Does that mean that when I’m done with Catechism classes, I’ll know everything about the Bible, and that there’s nothing more to learn?” 
Gideon didn’t even ask any questions. Maybe he wasn’t the most eloquent public speaker. His leadership skills were more in the area of doing rather than speaking. So what did God do? He had already provided Gideon with a good speaker: his father, Joash. When Joash spoke up, he showed his skill in rhetoric by playing on the term jarab, “contend, fight against.” Are you men of Israel really so devoted to this block of wood that you’re willing to contend (jarab) for Baal against people who believe in God and worship him? Have you forgotten what happened to Korah, Dathan, Abiram, On and the others (Num. 16:1)? Dig into the earth at the foot of Mount Sinai into the smoking crack in the ground. Can you dig down deep enough to find their blackened bones and their 250 skulls? Shouldn’t Israel have learned something from Korah’s sons, who separated themselves from their rebellious father and who survived (Numbers 26:1-11)?  Joash’s words ring with joy in his remembered faith. He takes up the cause of God Almighty and pours out his heart in words that challenged the faith of everyone there. 
Gideon’s new nickname is a riddle, and that’s probably what was intended. Joash had brought up the word jarab, “contend,” so they called Gideon “Let Baal Contend.” That means one of two things: 
1, May Baal Contend, that is, we hope Baal will rise up and strike Gideon. Gideon’s death will (we hope) be proof that Baal is true.
2, Let Baal Contend if he can, that is, Baal really is worthless, and he proves it every day by doing nothing to battle Gideon. Gideon’s life is proof that Baal is false.
Maybe the nickname meant both. Maybe some men of the town thought one thing, and others thought the other. But at the very least we know what Gideon’s father Joash thought, and what he believed. What an amazing God we have, who calls us back in repentance by every possible means. God is a brilliant teacher of righteousness. He uses anyone and anything to promote the doctrine of grace and salvation. He even rescued this one lost sheep (Luke 15:4) by the godly vandalism of his son. 
In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith
Archives by Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel: http://www.wlchapel.org/worship/daily-devotion/
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul's Lutheran Church, New Ulm, Minnesota

Judges 6:19-24 The LORD is Peace

JUDGES 6:19-24
19 Gideon went in, prepared a young goat, and with an ephah  of flour he made unleavened bread. He put the meat in a basket and its broth in a pot, and brought them out and offered them to him under the oak.  20 The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread and put them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And Gideon did so.  
The amount of flour Gideon prepared as an offering may seem large to some, but in many cultures it is usual when making bread to make a lot at one time, some of which may be used over the course of an entire month. So the 35 to 45 pounds of flour (an ephah was about 3/5 of a bushel) would not have been unusual for the time, except that it was a time of great poverty, and Gideon didn’t have very much to start with. 
Manoah also cooked a young goat in similar circumstances (12:15). This process would have taken quite a bit of time—a couple of hours at the very least. But the oak offered a nice shady spot, and the thing was done at last. The LORD told Gideon to set the food on a large stone that was there, but what about the broth? 
Broth (maraq) is the juice stewed out of meat and vegetables which carries the flavor and many of the nutrients. It takes a couple of hours to prepare correctly. We think of simmering stew like this on a stove, but of course Gideon would have done this over a campfire or in connection with the oven in which he was baking the bread, probably close to the tent were he and his wife made their home. If there was a scarcity of firewood, he might have wrapped or buried the pot to seal in the heat, but since he was baking bread, he should have been able to stew the meat without much trouble.
We don’t know what really was happening with regard to the broth when the LORD told him to pour it out. It’s possible that he was told to pour it over the food like Elijah telling the people to dump twelve jars of water onto the altar and the ditch he dug before praying to God to call down fire on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:33-38). However, some think that God was commanding him to dump it out as something unwanted, since broth is never mentioned in connection with any acceptable offering (cp. Isaiah 65:4; Ezekiel 24:10 RSV), and the broth is not mentioned in verse 21. There is a passage in Haggai about the relationship of consecrated meat when it comes into contact with defiled food (Haggai 2:12-13), but here the broth just seems to be unwanted.
21 With the tip of the staff that was in his hand, the angel of the LORD touched the meat and the unleavened bread. Fire leaped up from the rock and consumed the meat and the bread. Then the angel of the LORD disappeared.  22 When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the LORD, he exclaimed, “Oh, God the LORD! I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face!”  23 But the LORD said to him, “Peace to you. Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.”  24 So Gideon built an altar to the LORD there and called it The LORD is Peace. It still stands in Ophrah of the Abiezrites to this day.
Now at least Gideon has proof that he has been talking with the LORD in person. The translation “God the LORD” in verse 22 is an attempt to catch the combination of God’s name Yahweh and the Hebrew title adonai, “lord.” 
We need not concern ourselves with the staff God used. It was not a magical item which we should go hunting for in the rest of the pages of Scripture. The Lord had a use for it—he touched the offering with it—but apart from that, it had no special or lasting value. Like the donkey Jesus rode, the cross he was crucified on, the cup from which he drank the Lord’s Supper, and the tomb in which he was buried, this staff was not holy of itself, but God used it for a special purpose. That made it special in the moment, but that’s all.  
Notice that the Lord continued to speak to Gideon even after he  disappeared from view. David said, “To the LORD I cry aloud, and he answers me from his holy hill” (Ps. 3:4). Remember how the Lord called out to Abraham when he was about to offer Isaac. The voice came from heaven and not from an appearance of God in a body of any kind (Genesis 22:11). The message of God to the terrified judge was “Peace to you.” So Gideon named the altar he built: “The LORD is Peace,” Yahweh shalom
The definition the Bible gives of peace is being whole and intact (“The LORD blesses his people with peace” Psalm 29:11), or to be unaffected by dangers (under King Asa “the land was at peace,” 2 Chron. 14:6). Peace is also to have a state of well-being or health (“Peace to those far and near. I will heal them,” Isiah 57:19), and true is to have salvation (“Peace be upon Israel,” Psalm 125:5). We have all of these things through Christ. Even physical health is a blessing that God normally gives to us. The Apostle John reminds us that spiritual health is more important than any other sort of health: “I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well” (3 John 2). And Solomon said, “Fear the LORD and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones” (Prov. 3:7-8). This doesn’t mean that the Lord may not challenge us with sickness and disease, but we should praise him even when we have troubles, as Job did. “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). 
God is not a God of disorder but of peace (1 Cor 14:31). Christ himself is our peace (Eph. 2:14). And God—the God of peace—will crush Satan under our feet (Rom 16:20). All of the chaos and guilt of our sinfulness is washed away in Christ, so that his sacrifice has brought us peace. This is the peace that is the most lasting, and will extend out into eternity. Isaiah said, “Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:7). This is the peace of God (Numbers 6:24), which Paul says transcends our understanding (Philippians 4:7), and which guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. 
In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith
Archives by Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel: http://www.wlchapel.org/worship/daily-devotion/
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul's Lutheran Church, New Ulm, Minnesota

Ruth 2:1-3 As it happened...

RUTH 2:1-3
Ruth and Boaz
2 Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side, a man of standing from the family of Elimelech. His name was Boaz. 
Now that Ruth and Naomi have arrived in Bethlehem in Judea, our author introduces the man who will be the key in the rest of the story. He was Boaz, a “man of standing” (gibbor hayil). Recall that Gideon was called by the same phrase in Judges 6:12, where we translated “mighty warrior.” 
Boaz was related to Ruth’s late father-in-law, Elimelech. Since our author does not say something like “the brother of Elimelech,” we take him to be a somewhat more distant relation, but not through Naomi; only through Elimelech. This fact shows us that Boaz was in line to redeem what was lost through the widowhood of Naomi’s daughter-in-law. The appearance of Boaz is the first spark of new life in Naomi’s emptied life, like a tiny green shoot pushing up through parched soil. There was still life in Naomi’s family line—just. It would take coaxing, care, and cultivation. Naomi would use whatever was available to her. 
2 Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, “Let me go out to the field, and gather fallen grain from the sheaves of barley, behind someone who might favor me.” Naomi said, “Go, my daughter.” 3 Ruth went out, and entered a field and gathered fallen grain behind the reapers. As it happened, she had come to a piece of the land that belonged to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech.
Ruth’s words are only about the moment’s need. Ruth would do whatever she must to take care of herself and the woman she now called her mother. If that meant hot, hard and humiliating work, she would do it gladly—because Naomi had brought her safely to this place that could be their home. 
Barley harvest happens around the time of the Passover, in late March or early April. Ruth wanted to glean, or pick up fallen or dropped sheaves behind the workers. God has commanded: “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 23:22). Ruth was both poor and an alien, and as we shall see, she didn’t fully understand the ways of Israel or the harvest. 
Ruth’s prayer—spoken as a wish to Naomi, but surely a prayer to God in her heart—was that someone might favor her. By this Ruth meant that she hoped that no one would act cruelly to her, or abusive, or with some evil intention. She wanted to be left alone, and even helped if possible. She had no need to expect anything other than what would be spontaneous and not forced (as Paul said, Philemon 14), but she prayed that God would help her, and that his angels would surround and protect her. They are, after all, ministering spirits “sent to serve those who will inherit salvation” (Heb 1:14). 
Our author shows us the hand of God. “As it happened,” he says, but this “happening” was the work of God and his holy angels. The field Ruth chose belonged to Boaz, and we are reminded yet again that he “was of the family of Elimelech.” This was no coincidence. 
Sometimes God moves us around with hints and suggestions. Sometimes he picks us up and puts us down like chess pieces. I will always remember the day at Northwestern College when I was walking across the campus after class musing or mooning to myself about a crush I had, when one of my professors casually asked as he passed me, “Smith, when are you going to ask that Meyer girl out?” That “Meyer girl” and I were married later that year. Like I said—sometimes God moves us around with hints, and sometimes more like chess pieces. But if we remember to do whatever we do to his glory, then even the decisions we make (like who to marry) will be blessed, no matter how frightening or challenging they seem to be. 
There is a popular series of commentaries by Moody Church pastor Warren Wiersbe. Generally, the background and explanations he gives are correct and sound. But he consistently gets the personal applications backwards, and since the focus of the whole series is on what we should “BE” (the name of the series), it’s important to point out the error he makes. In the volume on Ruth, he says: “If we want God to work in our lives and circumstances and accomplish his gracious purposes, then there are certain conditions we must meet.” (p. 33). After this, he gives three conditions which he overlays on his outline of Ruth chapter 2: (1) We must live by faith in the Lord (2:1-3), (2) We must live by the grace of God (2:4-16), and (3) We must live in hope (2:17-23). He has confused the Bible’s teachings of how we are saved and our response to salvation (justification and sanctification). He has made being a Christian contingent on being a good Christian.
Ruth already knew her God, and had pledged her life to him like a bride promising to be faithful to her husband. She did this by pledging to be a confessing, lifelong member of the only true, confessional church she knew: Naomi (1:16-17).  We are not saved because we join the right church, but we show our faith to the world by means of the church we join. Some people want to stay “solo Christians” their whole lives, and miss out on the gracious blessing of God to build up the faith of others by worshiping and praying with those others. Ruth understood the value of showing her faith through worship and through every aspect of her life. 
Our confession summarizes this: “We believe, teach and confess that if we would preserve the pure doctrine concerning the righteousness of faith before God, we must give special attention to the ‘exclusive terms,’ that is, to those words of the holy apostle Paul which separate the merit of Christ completely from our own works and give all glory to Christ alone. Thus the holy apostle Paul uses such expressions as “by grace,” “without merit,” “without the law,” “without works,” “not by works,” etc. (Rom 6:46; 3:20,21,24,28; 11:6; Gal 2:16; Eph 2:9; Titus 3:5). All these expressions say in effect that we become righteous and are saved “alone by faith” in Christ.” (Formula of Concord, Epitome III,10).
So Pastor Wiersbe would be better to say “God works in our lives…and so we should want to…” rather than the conditions be places on God’s blessings, and the terror he strikes in the hearts of his readers—a terror that is not soothed by any gospel, because he has turned the gospel into a law. We need to understand the difference. This is the difference between these statements: 
A. Give God your faith and your trust, and he will promise to be with you to everlasting life. (Law)
B. God has promised to be with you to everlasting life, therefore give God your faith and your trust. (Gospel)
Thank God for his gospel!
In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith
Archives by Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel: http://www.wlchapel.org/worship/daily-devotion/
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul's Lutheran Church, New Ulm, Minnesota

Judges 6:12-18 Am I not sending you?

JUDGES 6:12-18
12 The angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon and said, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.”  13 “Sir,” Gideon replied, “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about? They would say, ‘Didn’t the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hands of Midian.”  14 Then the LORD turned to him and said, “Go with the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”  
The story of Gideon will occupy us for three whole chapters to come, and his son Abimelech is the subject of the next chapter after that (the longest in the book). Our author is taking us back to the first moment when Gideon was called by God to rise up as judge to save Israel. Little details like the name the Lord used for him, “mighty warrior” and the simple act of the Lord turning as he said, “Go with the strength you have” show us that the Holy Spirit inspired this account to be told with recollections that came from Gideon himself.
Even before Gideon raised any objection, the Lord showed what he had in mind when he said, “Go with the strength you have and save Israel.” It is to God’s glory that he so often chooses the small, the weak, the insignificant and the poor to do his will. He did not require a fleet or a navy to rescue all living things from the flood. He required one boat and one small family. He did not require an empire to establish the nation of Israel, but one childless, homeless immigrant and his barren wife. He did not require armies and legions to fight Midian, but just one small band led by this wheat farmer. All of the power of God is behind the rhetorical question: “Am I not sending you?”
When we face a conversation or a confrontation with someone who seems hostile to God’s will and to God’s word, we should remember one thing above all others: We have the Great Commission behind us. Christ himself has told us to go and make disciples by baptizing and by teaching them the Law and Gospel (Matthew 28:19-20). We might pray for his help as we begin such a conversation, but don’t forget that part of his answer will be: “Am I not sending you?”
15 “But Lord,” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”  16 The LORD answered, “I will be with you. You will strike down all the Midianites as one man.”  17 Gideon said, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me.  18 Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.” And the LORD said, “I will stay until you return.”  
He was arguing with what God already told him. God called him “mighty warrior” (gibbor hayil), which can also be “man of standing” (Ruth 2:1). Gideon had standing in God’s eyes, and that meant more than any fame or fortune. Also, God said, “I will be with you.” By now, Gideon had realized who the Stranger was. He was face to face with the Living God, and his first “sir” (adonai) continued to be on his lips, but we’re pretty confident that for Gideon, his adonai now meant Lord. He even asked for a sign, but he also promised an offering (lit. a gift). Torn by what he wanted to do, he blurted out, “Wait right here!” The Lord is compassionate and gracious (Psalm 111:4), and his patience on this day was no less infinite than at any other time. “I will wait,” God said, and settled into the joy of the lovely afternoon he himself had created while Gideon hurried off like Martha to get the meal ready. 
Gideon’s impulse was commendable. Standing there in the winepress ankle-deep in his harvest, he wanted to give some of what he had to the Lord. He didn’t have much grain, but he had God’s blessing, God’s promise of help, and God’s assurance. It didn’t matter if God demanded every grain of wheat Gideon had—God was with him. If only we would remember that, too!
In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith
Archives by Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel: http://www.wlchapel.org/worship/daily-devotion/
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul's Lutheran Church, New Ulm, Minnesota


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