Now the angel of the Lord came and sat under the terebinth at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.” And Gideon said to him, “Please, sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” – Judges 6:11-13
It’s a familiar story, the calling of Gideon. I also think it’s a familiar happening, if we can but see it. I think this happens all the time, albeit not usually with the outwardly spectacular results that happened in Gideon’s case (read Judges 8-9).
But this happens. Perhaps it has happened to you.
There are a few things we can discern about Gideon even in this short passage. First, he’s scared, threshing his wheat in a winepress. I’ve had some experience with wheat, and a wheat thresher/combine. I’m also insanely allergic to wheat dust. Threshing wheat in an enclosed winepress would be miserable for me, and my guess is it wasn’t much fun for Gideon either. He was hiding because he was scared. Unless you’re in a child’s game, hiding is never much fun, and generally only done in grave necessity. Hiding demonstrates anxiety, fear of being found out, terror.
Many of us live in fear. Fear of the future, fear of enemies, fear of circumstances, the wrong kind of fear of God. This happens.
In the midst of this the Angel of the Lord appears, bringing joyful tidings of the Lord’s presence, and royal compliments to Gideon’s valor. Who is this Angel of the Lord? Bible scholars call this appearance a theophany, meaning a pre-incarnate visitation by Christ himself.
Gideon responds to the Lord with no small measure of cynicism and bitterness. “If the Lord is with us, why?”. That’s ironic, to say the least, because the Lord was standing right there. But Gideon couldn’t see. He didn’t perceive the Lord’s presence. This happens. It might happen to you, more than you think. We are, many of us, even as believers, dull of sight regarding the presence of the Lord. It’s common as believers to intellectually assent to God’s omnipresence and Jesus’ promise to be with us always, especially when all is well. But when you’re scared and at your wits end, you’ve got to know it in your gut. Gideon didn’t know it, not yet. In his defense, I often don’t either. This happens.
But here’s the beautiful thing that happens! The Lord God has no fear, and has perfect sight, and is infinitely valiant! He sees his children not as they see themselves, but rather as he has made them to be. You and I don’t often perceive the workmanship that we are, partly because we’re locked into time. So what we may only see as a half-formed and useless block of, well, something, God sees as a glorious work of art. God is not blinkered as we are,
“The Lord is with you, O might man of valor.” True words, though Gideon did not yet understand them.
This happens. I hope it has happened to you. It happens when God’s presence breaks into your despair. It happens when you find yourself used by him in ways you never would have thought possible, for things you never thought you could do. It happens when he saves you out of desperate straits and sets your feet on solid ground. It happens when God transforms you into a beautiful vessel of light and blessing to others, his courage courses through you, and against all odds the obstacles fall and his kingdom expands.
The story of Gideon gives me a hunger to have the Lord’s valor and to see his delivering work.