God Tells Gideon a Secret

Photo by Byron Johnson on Unsplash

Today we come back to the topic of our Master’s voice, which began with the painting “His Master’s Voice” and continues through the story of Gideon in the book of Judges, chapters 6 and 7.  So far, Gideon has done his best to discern whether God was really talking to him, then set out with an army of 22,000 soldiers, which Gideon faithfully whittled down to only 300, at God’s instruction.  Against an army “like locusts in abundance,” Gideon might have needed a little reassurance, because outside of a miracle[1] his army was going to fail miserably.

That very night, God spoke to Gideon, saying: “Arise, go down against the camp, for I have given it into your hand.  But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant.  And you shall hear what they say, and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.[2]  We know Gideon was still afraid because he took Purah and went down into the camp.  We also know that God made provision for Gideon’s fear, instead of counting on Gideon to have perfect faith.  Should Gideon have needed extra reassurance?  No, but God provided what was needed to overcome Gideon’s fear, which was a bit more insight into God’s plan.  Victory in battle is never a matter of how many soldiers are on God’s side, as if spiritual warfare was determined by democracy, but by whose side God is on.

When Gideon snuck into the camp: “behold, a man was telling a dream to his comrade. And he said, ‘Behold, I dreamed a dream, and behold, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian and came to the tent and struck it so that it fell and turned it upside down, so that the tent lay flat.’  And his comrade answered, ‘This is no other than the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel; God has given into his hand Midian and all the camp.’”[3]

Victory in battle is never

a matter of how many

soldiers are on God’s side

Some commentators suggest that the “barley” reference means that an inferior army would win, since barley was considered inferior to wheat and other grains, but what we know is that this dream put fear into the Midianite camp and emboldened Gideon to trust God, even though he didn’t understand Him.  Overhearing these words in the camp let Gideon know that that God was at work in far more ways than he could imagine, that victory belongs to the LORD, and that he can trust that God has the knowledge he lacked.  God is trustworthy, even if we don’t fully understand Him.

We only know part of our part in God’s plan.  He knows all of our part, and also all of everyone else’s part.  Each of us are but one of millions of Christians trying to figure out our relationship with God, and we have no idea what those other millions are up to.  But God does, and if we insist God tells us everything before we act, we not only disobey God, but lose out on the opportunity to impact those other lives and see how awesome God’s plan really is!

Our ability to hear and obey our Master’s voice is not a question of complete knowledge, but of wisdom.  Proverbs 17:24 says, “The discerning sets his face toward wisdom, but the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth.”  Since “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight,[4] from the story of Gideon, we learn that God was teaching Gideon to revere Him above any desire to see the “ends of the earth.”  Wisdom keeps us on the path of life but doesn’t always mark it out for us far into the future.  We can’t see the reasons God wants us to trust Him because there is far more at work than we could ever imagine.

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” – Deuteronomy 29:29


This post is third in a series that started with this post on His Master’s Voice. More to come…


[1] Or a certain action film directed by Zack Snyder…
[2] Judges 7:9b-11a
[3] Judges 7:13-14
[4] Proverbs 9:10

Giving Gideon the Benefit of the Doubt

Directions please. Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

When we want to hear our Master’s voice, we all have to overcome competing influences, like the lyrics of “Breathing” by Lifehouse say, “I’m trying to identify the voices in my head; God, which one’s you?”  We all need a filter to pick the right voices, or influences, that we base our lives on, and filter out anything that competes for our Master’s attention. The Bible recommends it, as 1 John 4:1 says “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”  Proverbs tells us to make our ear attentive toward wisdom and to incline our heart to understanding, and to treat wisdom and understanding as more valuable than silver and treasures.[1]  But how do we do it?

Gideon from the book of Judges might also have related to Lifehouse’s lyrics.  Gideon needed to filter out the voices, and probably the best-known part of his story is his use of a fleece to do that.  During Gideon’s life, as recorded in the book of Judges, Israel was being oppressed by the Midianites, Amalekites, and others, who would wait until harvest then rob all the produce and livestock.  The angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, saying he would use Gideon to “save Israel from the hand of Midian[2], but Gideon doubted that it was God speaking, and said “show me a sign that it is you who speak with me.”[3]  Gideon may or may not have doubted that God was able to save Israel, but he certainly doubted whether this was really God talking.  Therefore, Gideon needed to “test the spirits,” but how?

Gideon asked God for a sign, which God provided, giving Gideon confidence to break down an altar to Baal and destroy an Asherah.[4] But Gideon asked God for more proof that it was truly Him speaking, and that He was calling Gideon to save Israel.  This extra step was the sign of the fleece, which is worth quoting in full, from Judges 6:36-40.

Then Gideon said to God, ‘If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said, behold, I am laying a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said.’  And it was so. When he rose early next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water.  Then Gideon said to God, ‘Let not your anger burn against me; let me speak just once more. Please let me test just once more with the fleece. Please let it be dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground let there be dew.’  And God did so that night; and it was dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground there was dew.”

A quick survey of study Bibles on this passage brings these comments on Gideon’s “test” of God:

  • “Even though the Spirit has come upon him, Gideon still struggles to trust the Lord.”
  • “The gathering of the tribes should have been sufficient evidence of God’s presence with Gideon, but he wanted a sign that God would do what He had promised.”
  • “Gideon’s desire for a second fleece sign evidenced his less than complete trust in God…He wanted to make certain that the first fleece sign was not merely a coincidence or the result of the natural absorption properties of a fleece.”
  • “Unlike Gideon, we have God’s complete, revealed Word. If you want to have more of God’s guidance, don’t ask for signs; study the Bible”

It’s easy, even encouraged, to criticize Gideon for testing God but if we put ourselves in his place can we do any better, even with the whole Bible?  Sometimes the Bible is clear, as in “you shall not murder,” but what about questions like, “what should I write next?”  Or “how can I encourage a friend?”

Consider that if Gideon had not put out the fleece maybe his story would’ve stopped right there, with him wallowing in doubt.  After all, Israel was being persecuted by a powerful enemy – why take any risks?  However, not knowing with 100% certainty what God’s will is does not mean that doing nothing is the right answer.  If we have a decision to make where the Bible doesn’t seem to provide explicit direction, do we just follow Yogi Berra’s sarcastic advice: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it”?

I can relate to Gideon because I needed a filter, a reason to take the time to “test the spirits,” because I rarely know for sure what God wants.  Much of the time, I “go with the flow,” and think if I avoid the wrong “flow” I’ll be ok.  I write often not because I’m disciplined, but because I’m not.  Writing is a tangible way to build the spirit-testing filter into my routine, even if it sometimes looks no wiser than Gideon’s fleece.  So, why publish publicly to anyone with an internet browser?  Because I take it more seriously, working on filtering out voices that aren’t useful to me, and wouldn’t be useful to anyone else.  A published blog takes more effort than not writing at all, which is the point, and it helps me move forward.

The Benefit of the Doubt
As I’ve written about Jeremiah and others, the Bible records openly the doubts of God’s people, because we all have a lot in common.  Finding and trusting God’s voice is hard.  If we criticize Gideon for demanding tests from God, are we really just criticizing ourselves and making it even harder?  Our filters are also imperfect – does that mean we do nothing and get nowhere?  Do we give up the call to “test the spirits,” leaving ourselves to “go with the flow” until we find a perfect method?  Like Gideon, we are also prone to take the safe route, when offered what looks like a riskier alternative.  To do something involves risk of not only doing the wrong thing, but also of being criticized for our methods.  Doing nothing is sometimes the right answer, but it is also a choice, and we can’t always be clear why we choose it.

David sometimes encourages us to “wait for the Lord,” and he also wrote “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!”[5] when he was feigning madness before Abimelech, a questionable decision.  We learn about God by experiencing Him, by taking action or by waiting, taking a chance either way, but over time learning that obedience is always the best decision, and also that He catches us when we fall.  We can’t be perfect in this world, but He wants us to try and He will help us grow.

Centuries ago, Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 11:4: “He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap.”  He may well have written to me: “He who observes the trolls will not blog, and he who fears the comment section will not write.”  Or to Gideon: “He who observes the Midianites will not save Israel.”  We all begin our trip to eternity wherever God finds us, where we are not only sinners, but also have a lot to learn about focusing on God’s voice.  What might we all be observing that’s keeping us from sowing the seed of the gospel God has given us?  Sometimes it’s doubt in our filters, in our ability to know for sure.

When we’re afraid of being compared to Gideon and his fleece, know that he is listed in Hebrews 11:32 as a faithful hero, and was received in heaven as a good and faithful servant by the grace earned on the cross by Jesus.  So, let’s take it easier on Gideon and give him the benefit of the doubt.  We are all in this together, including the heroes of the Bible.  It’s God’s faithfulness that matters and He will overcome all of our doubts.

In the meantime, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13a

This post is second in a series that started with this post on His Master’s Voice, and continues here.


[1] Proverbs 2:1-4
[2] Judges 6:14
[3] Judges 6:17
[4] Judges 6:28
[5] Psalm 34:8

God Equips Those He Calls

Photo by Tim Wildsmith on Unsplash

When Jeremiah was called to serve as a prophet, God told him he was literally made for it, as covered in a recent post, but Jeremiah’s response was not an enthusiastic one.  Jeremiah 1:6-8 records this exchange:

“Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.’  But the LORD said to me,
            ‘Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’;
            for to all to whom I send you, you shall go,
            and whatever I command you, you shall speak.’”

Even though God had just said “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,” Jeremiah objects that he was too young and did not have the natural ability required for the job.  Maybe he doubted anyone would listen to him, so God must have the wrong guy.  God doesn’t disagree that Jeremiah was young (he already knew that), but knows that God’s ability is what matters, not Jeremiah’s.  God knew that someday you and I would be reading Jeremiah’s words regardless of his own youth or ability.  God never picks the wrong person for the job.

But if “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,”[1] why does the Scripture tell us that one of its own authors doubted and questioned God Himself?

The answer of course, is “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”  We should learn not only from Jeremiah’s prophecies to the people of his time, but also from His experience with God.  In hindsight, we think that because Jeremiah is a book of the Bible, of course he was able to do the work God gave him, but in the moment of his call, Jeremiah had no idea.  So, when we think our ability is not enough the job at hand, we should remember Jeremiah’s youth and remember that “God does not call the equipped; He equips the called,” as the saying goes.  Jeremiah learned this from his own experience, and we may learn from it as well because the Bible records it.

Also, God shows us Jeremiah’s flaws to comfort us when we feel inadequate, not only in ability but also in faith.  Even if we know that “God does not call the equipped; He equips the called,” we don’t always act on that knowledge.  Jeremiah doubts not only his call, but there are other examples, including when he questions why he should buy a field the Babylonians were about to seize.[2]  Doubt is not something that only some Christians feel – we are not alone in our weakness.  Even the Bible’s own authors had doubt because they could not see as God sees.

God is patient when we are honest with Him about our doubts, but He is also honest with us when He says we were literally made to serve Him.  No Christian is inadequate for the work God gives them, for in His power He accomplishes what He wants. He has no doubts and is faithful in providing everything we need.

Sometimes God sends us before we think we are ready, so we can learn to put our confidence in the right place like Paul, who wrote: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:13


[1] 2 Timothy 3:16
[2] The story is in Jeremiah 32, which I covered in an earlier post, here.

The Lord Cares Even for Your Wilderness

If you are like me, some days feel very eventful and productive, but other days remind me of the saying: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”  There are times when we all wonder: Who cares about what I did today?  Did today matter?  Did anyone notice?

When recently reading Psalm 29, verse 8 struck me, which says: “The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.”  Why is this verse here?  Earlier in the Psalm, the voice of the Lord thunders, shatters the tall cedars of Lebanon, and flashes like fire.  Who cares about the wilderness?  It reminded me of the tree falling with nobody around.  Why does it matter?

It matters because the Psalmist (David) wants us to know that God’s power exists even where we can’t see it and in ways we may see as inconsequential.  However, to Him, nothing is inconsequential, and no detail is too small.  Jesus tells us in Matthew 10:30 that “even the hairs of your head are all numbered.”  If a tree falls in the wilderness, God cares about it even if nobody else does.

Psalm 29 closes with “May the LORD give strength to his people!  May the LORD bless his people with peace!”  His strength and peace are available on good days and bad.  On days we feel motivated and days we don’t.  On eventful days and on days we feel we are in the wilderness with nobody to hear.

Today, God will notice you, and will work in ways that you may only know when you look back on them from eternity.  No tree falls without His knowing about it.

May His strength and peace be with you always.

When Bad Things Happen to the Greatest Disciples

Did Jesus fail John the Baptist?  John was identified as “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight’”[1] prophesied by Isaiah.  John publicly announced the coming of Jesus, and soon baptized Him, then watched the Spirit descend on Him like a dove and heard the voice of the Father declare Jesus as the Son.[2]  Was testifying publicly about Jesus and His miracles John’s mission in life?  If so, why did John find himself in prison, unable to preach in the open?  As Matthew’s Gospel records, Herod Antipas, the Roman ruler of Galilee and Perea, had John arrested for criticizing Herod’s immoral relationship with his brother’s wife.[3]  While under arrest, John began to have some doubts about Jesus and sent messengers to Him, saying “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?[4]  To John, his circumstances didn’t make sense and he reached out to Jesus for an explanation.

Matthew, in preparing his gospel message, intentionally placed this question from John to Jesus after a long section about followers of Jesus meeting opposition and persecution in the world. If you have time, read Matthew chapters 10 and 11 now, or keep reading here and I’ll quote key verses and ideas as we go, starting with these:

A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.” – Matthew 10:24
Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” – Matthew 11:11

I think Matthew was making several points, starting with this: living like Jesus does not mean Christians will avoid uncomfortable circumstances, including criticism and/or persecution.  Circumstances are not always a sign we’ve done something right or wrong. In Matthew 10, when Jesus said “a disciple is not above his teacher” the context tells us that what He meant was that His perfect life and obedience led to the cross, and if we are like Him we can’t expect to be treated better than He was.  Still, we may be tempted to think that if we live the right life, if we preach the truth of the gospel perfectly, if we do everything we should, then we will not be like “sheep in the midst of wolves,”[5] but loved and admired by the world.  By moving right to the story of John in the next chapter, and saying “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist,”  Matthew is saying that not even the greatest disciple of Jesus who ever lived was exempt from the warnings of chapter 10, including “Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you sin their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.” – Matthew 10:17-18

Even the very best lives and preaching meet opposition, perhaps even more opposition from those who have no interest in the kingdom of God.

Second, by placing these stories side-by-side, Matthew shows that John the Baptist is an example for us when we have doubts[6].  In prison, John had doubts, but did not give up on Jesus.  If Jesus was who he said He was, then not only the warnings of chapter 10 apply to John and us, but also the assurances and instructions:

When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour.” – Matthew 10:19
What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops” – Matthew 10:27
Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.  So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven” – Matthew 10:31

John sent disciples to Jesus not to ask for rescue or to complain, but to confirm whether He really was the Messiah.  When we have doubts, we can also seek and find comfort.

Third, there is always more God is doing than we are aware of.  Instead of commenting directly on John’s prison situation to John’s messengers, “Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.[7]  In other words, Jesus was doing everything the Messiah should be doing, and even with John sidelined from public ministry, the kingdom of God was advancing spectacularly.  John had the information needed to believe and should not be “offended” by his unexpected circumstances. God remained in control of the situation.

Lastly, the circumstances of our lives may be what inspire others to better follow Christ, although it may be invisible to us.  Therefore, our patience and faithfulness in those times, or even the way we express and deal with doubt, can be a powerful witness.  As “The voice of one crying in the wilderness,” John saw his audience as those coming out to see Him and be baptized.  From this perspective, being in prison made John feel useless or like a failure to his calling. What had he and/or Jesus done wrong?  But God (see related post on these two words), through Matthew’s Gospel, saw John’s audience as all future generations, who could be encouraged that even the “great” John the Baptist faced criticism, persecution, and even doubt.  John may have thought his purpose was to keep preaching publicly, but instead his example benefits other believers in ways that his freedom couldn’t.

Faith Over Circumstance
Don’t let circumstances determine your faith and willingness to serve Christ.  In Matthew 10, Jesus said political and religious leaders, and even our own families, will resist Christ in us.  Often, they will appear to succeed.  Also, some will tell us that when things aren’t going our way, we need to “have more faith”, “pray harder”, “go to church more”, and convince God to improve our situation.  They argue we need to fix something we’re doing and our circumstances will improve.  But this is not the message of John’s story, and Matthew made sure of that by the way he wrote it.  There is no record of Jesus or Matthew telling John the Baptist why he was suffering and in prison, or that he could do anything about it.  Jesus only asked him to trust.  However, when John was ultimately beheaded[8], he met Jesus face-to face again, but fully glorified, and I believe John understood.  There is always more to our circumstances than we can see or comprehend, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”[9]

If even John the Baptist was not exempt from the warnings of Matthew 10, neither are we.  But also, if John could trust his Lord and Savior to love and provide for him, we can too. Odds are that nobody reading this will face what John the Baptist faced, but his story helps in whatever circumstance God asks us to glorify Him in.

And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it…And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”” – Matthew 10:38-39, 42


[1] Isaiah 40:3, quoted in Matthew 4:3.
[2] Matthew 3:16-17
[3] Matthew 14:3
[4] Matthew 11:3
[5] Matthew 10:16
[6] Also, I recently posted an example from the life of Jeremiah the prophet.
[7] Matthew 11:4-6
[8] Matthew 14:10
[9] Romans 8:28