And when the men of the city arose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was cast down, and the grove was cut down that was by it, and the second bullock was offered upon the altar that was built.
The book of Judges recounts the history of Israel during the centuries which followed the conquest of the land of Canaan. These were checkered years in Israel's history, which frequently saw relapses into idolatry. After each time Israel turned aside from the Lord, Jehovah would graciously raise up a judge, who was a military not a judicial leader, to bring His chosen people back to Him. The cycle of relapse, repentance, and restoration occurred frequently during these turbulent centuries.
The narrative of Judges 6 opens with a record of the renewed idolatry of Israel. This time judgment came from the Midianites who swept down through the plain of Jezreel, terrorizing Israel as far south as Gaza. They did not permanently occupy the land, but each harvest season they would arrive unexpectedly and plunder the harvest. What spoil they could not carry away they destroyed. So insecure were the Israelites that they lived in dens, caves, and strongholds to seek safety for their possessions and for themselves. But suddenly things changed. An angel of the Lord appeared under the great oak by Ophrah, a little township on the southwestern border of the territory of Manasseh. There Gideon, the son of Joash, was beating out wheat with a stick. He did so secretly and with constant apprehension that a wild band of Midianite bedouins might sweep down on him, taking his grain and his life.
Gideon is typical of many believers today. Although the angel of the Lord called him a "mighty man of valor," Gideon's clandestine operations at his father's winepress did not exhibit great valor. For seven years his people had been oppressed by the enemy and this mighty warrior was despondent and discouraged. The angel of the Lord appeared unto him at his lowest ebb to encourage him.
Gideon was startled at first by this stranger, not certain who he was. When the angel proclaimed that the Lord was with him, Gideon's questioning response was, "If the LORD be with us, why then is all this befallen us?" (Judges 6:13). Gideon believed that if Jehovah had not withdrawn Himself from Israel, the present Midianite calamity would never have occurred. As well, this mighty man of valor, like Moses of old, questioned why the Lord would choose him to deliver Israel. His family was poor in Manasseh and he was the least of his father's household. But in the midst of Gideon's concern the Lord God promised, "Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man." Gideon was still not convinced. How did he know this person was really the angel of the Lord? Thus Gideon asked for a sign and the angel of the Lord flash-fired the flesh of a kid and unleavened cakes which Gideon had placed on a rock.
Having felt the hand of God upon his life and claiming the promise of divine presence and power, Gideon proceeded to be the delivering judge of Israel. At the command of the Lord he threw down the altar of Baal his father had built. In its place he built an altar unto Jehovah God. "And when the men of the city arose early in the morning behold, the altar of Baal was cast down, and the grove was cut down" (Judges 6:28). Who had done such a thing? The answer--Gideon, the son of Joash. The fearful men of the city stormed the house of Joash and demanded that he hand over his son to be slain. But the acts of an encouraged Gideon bred encouragement in the heart of his father as well. Joash challenged the men to allow Baal to plead for himself, if he truly was a god. It was becoming increasingly evident to the men of Ophrah that Baal was not a god to be feared, as was Jehovah.
All that was necessary for a discouraged people to rise up against their oppressors was for the heart of one man to be impressed with the presence and power of the Lord. How much the Gideons of the twentieth century need to recognize the still small voice of the Lord saying to them, "Surely I will be with thee." Be encouraged and let God do something courageous through you today.
MORNING HYMN Take my life and let it be, Consecrated, Lord, to Thee Take my hands and let them move, At the impulse of Thy love, Take my feet and let them be, Swift and beautiful for Thee; Take my voice and let me sing, Always, only, for my King.
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