This is part of a series: I’m taking a moment in the lives of people in the Bible to see how it might be relevant to our lives, today. That moment may be just part of their story, or it may be all we’re told about them. Either way, you should read it directly from the source. This week’s story comes from Judges 6:11-15:
The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”
“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”
The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”
“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”
What do we talk about when we talk about being chosen by God? There are plenty of Biblical characters and verses that fit the bill, David, the disciples, Paul of Tarsus. But I think sometimes we get the idea that God is just looking for the most unlikely character, that he will always pick the runt of the pack, and indeed, it does seem like God is often out to nip our bragging rights in the bud (it’s like He knows us or something).
As Paul describes it, “God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And He chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God.”
So, paraphrasing Paul for our own purposes (oh, come on, everyone else does it!), our How-to-Be-Chosen-by-God checklist looks like this:
- Be thought foolish
- Be powerless
- Be despised
- Be counted as nothing (better yet, count yourself as nothing)
So, you want to be chosen by God? Be like that.
A Heart Like God’s
But before we get carried away with the fairy tale notions of seventh sons, frogs as princes and baker’s wives as heroines, let’s remember that God is not a Grimm brother. Don’t get the idea that Gideon (or David, or Moses) was picked just because he was from a tiny clan, because he was the youngest in his family and because he was scared. There must have been other youngest sons in Israel, and I don’t think Gideon just happened to out-wimp them all. In this interaction with the angel, Gideon shows he’s unique in some other key ways.
When the angel first appears to Gideon and says, “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor!” Gideon doesn’t react the way I expect him to. Mary, when she was similarly greeted by an angel, was “confused and disturbed,” and wondered if this was some new kind of greeting. But if Gideon is surprised or flattered by being called a mighty warrior, he doesn’t show it. He objects to what the angel has said, but something more important to him has his attention.
The first thing Gideon says is, “If the Lord is with us . . . ” See how he misquotes the angel? Maybe the reason Gideon isn’t worried whether he’s really, technically “mighty” and a “warrior” or not is because Gideon isn’t thinking about himself at all. Gideon’s heart is with his people. “Why has all this happened to us?” he asks, showing that the fate of Israel was weighing heavy on his heart. And before the angel can even draw breath, Gideon follows it up with, “And where are all the miracles we were told about?” showing he had been studying the history of Israel. He was studying the words of the Lord! So much so that the first thing out of his mouth when greeted by a stranger is a reference to them.
That was the kind of youngest-son-of-a-weakest-tribe God was looking for. Can you think of someone else who cared deeply about the fate of Israel? God did. This was an attribute Gideon shared with God himself. When God explained His choice of David as king, He didn’t say it was because he was the youngest of many sons, or because he was the underdog in a fight against a giant, or because he was ruddy and handsome (ahem), or any of the things fairy-tale heroes usually have going for them, but because he was like Him in heart.
So, you want to be chosen by God? Shape your heart after His.
Good Answer, Gideon
God’s response? “The Lord looked at him and said . . . ” It’s hard for me to picture this action without picturing him smiling. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something important in this look, or the author wouldn’t have mentioned it. The other versions say the angel turned to him. Now Gideon had his attention. That was just what he was hoping Gideon would say.
So, he delivers the punchline, “Go with the strength you have, and rescue Israel from the Midianites. I am sending you!”
Whoops. It’s important to understand that when you ask God a question, you’re likely to become the answer.
So, you want to be chosen by God? Start asking the right questions.
Remember what happens next in Gideon’s story? He puts out a fleece before the Lord, right? At least, that’s what I always remembered happening next, maybe because all too often that’s the way my story goes: God speaks, two heartbeats later, I doubt.
But because I so disparaged Balaam for testing God, and Zechariah for seeking a sign, I want to make clear what actually happens next. That very same night God comes to Gideon and tells him to tear down the altars to the foreign gods that his own father has erected, an act that could (and very nearly does) get Gideon mob-lynched.
Gideon obeys God, at threat of his own death, first. It’s when his ability to hear from God could mean the death of tens-of-thousands that he asks for a little extra certainty. And once God answers, he never again asks for surety from God, though it’s clear he’s shaking in his boots.
So, you want to be chosen by God? Give up your own safety.
Do Not Fear What They Fear
But God is testing Gideon here. In fact, he’s testing him on the two grievances he had against the people of Gideon’s day. Right before Gideon’s story begins, God sends a prophet to the people of Israel to tell them this: “I said to you, ‘I am the LORD your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you live. But you have not obeyed Me.'”
So, will Gideon fear Baal? And will he obey?
This is an aspect of Gideon’s character I’ve never heard mentioned before. He was counter-cultural. God is very clear about what we are to fear. And, for all that Gideon was afraid of, he feared God more. More than the people, more than the gods of his day, more than his own father.
So, you want to be chosen by God? Give up the worries of our day, and fear Him most.
“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower,” Jesus said. “Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ . . . In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.”
So, you want to be chosen by God? Are you willing to give up everything you have and count yourself as nothing? Do you care deeply about the people around you? Are you willing to be the answer? Are you be willing to be tested? Are you willing to be different?