The Bible

 

Judges 6 : Gideon: You Mighty Man of Valour

     

Study the Inner Meaning

1 And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD: and the LORD delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years.

2 And the hand of Midian prevailed against Israel: and because of the Midianites the children of Israel made them the dens which are in the mountains, and caves, and strong holds.

3 And so it was, when Israel had sown, that the Midianites came up, and the Amalekites, and the children of the east, even they came up against them;

4 And they encamped against them, and destroyed the increase of the earth, till thou come unto Gaza, and left no sustenance for Israel, neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass.

5 For they came up with their cattle and their tents, and they came as grasshoppers for multitude; for both they and their camels were without number: and they entered into the land to destroy it.

6 And Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites; and the children of Israel cried unto the LORD.

7 And it came to pass, when the children of Israel cried unto the LORD because of the Midianites,

8 That the LORD sent a prophet unto the children of Israel, which said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I brought you up from Egypt, and brought you forth out of the house of bondage;

9 And I delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of all that oppressed you, and drave them out from before you, and gave you their land;

10 And I said unto you, I am the LORD your God; fear not the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but ye have not obeyed my voice.

11 And there came an angel of the LORD, and sat under an oak which was in Ophrah, that pertained unto Joash the Abi-ezrite: and his son Gideon threshed wheat by the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites.

12 And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him, and said unto him, The LORD is with thee, thou mighty man of valour.

13 And Gideon said unto him, Oh my Lord, if the LORD be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt? but now the LORD hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.

14 And the LORD looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?

15 And he said unto him, Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house.

16 And the LORD said unto him, Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man.

17 And he said unto him, If now I have found grace in thy sight, then shew me a sign that thou talkest with me.

18 Depart not hence, I pray thee, until I come unto thee, and bring forth my present, and set it before thee. And he said, I will tarry until thou come again.

19 And Gideon went in, and made ready a kid, and unleavened cakes of an ephah of flour: the flesh he put in a basket, and he put the broth in a pot, and brought it out unto him under the oak, and presented it.

20 And the angel of God said unto him, Take the flesh and the unleavened cakes, and lay them upon this rock, and pour out the broth. And he did so.

21 Then the angel of the LORD put forth the end of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the flesh and the unleavened cakes; and there rose up fire out of the rock, and consumed the flesh and the unleavened cakes. Then the angel of the LORD departed out of his sight.

22 And when Gideon perceived that he was an angel of the LORD, Gideon said, Alas, O Lord GOD! for because I have seen an angel of the LORD face to face.

23 And the LORD said unto him, Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die.

24 Then Gideon built an altar there unto the LORD, and called it Jehovah-shalom: unto this day it is yet in Ophrah of the Abi-ezrites.

25 And it came to pass the same night, that the LORD said unto him, Take thy father's young bullock, even the second bullock of seven years old, and throw down the altar of Baal that thy father hath, and cut down the grove that is by it:

26 And build an altar unto the LORD thy God upon the top of this rock, in the ordered place, and take the second bullock, and offer a burnt sacrifice with the wood of the grove which thou shalt cut down.

27 Then Gideon took ten men of his servants, and did as the LORD had said unto him: and so it was, because he feared his father's household, and the men of the city, that he could not do it by day, that he did it by night.

28 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.

29 And they said one to another, Who hath done this thing? And when they inquired and asked, they said, Gideon the son of Joash hath done this thing.

30 Then the men of the city said unto Joash, Bring out thy son, that he may die: because he hath cast down the altar of Baal, and because he hath cut down the grove that was by it.

31 And Joash said unto all that stood against him, Will ye plead for Baal? will ye save him? he that will plead for him, let him be put to death whilst it is yet morning: if he be a god, let him plead for himself, because one hath cast down his altar.

32 Therefore on that day he called him Jerubbaal, saying, Let Baal plead against him, because he hath thrown down his altar.

33 Then all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the children of the east were gathered together, and went over, and pitched in the valley of Jezreel.

34 But the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet; and Abi-ezer was gathered after him.

35 And he sent messengers throughout all Manasseh; who also was gathered after him: and he sent messengers unto Asher, and unto Zebulun, and unto Naphtali; and they came up to meet them.

36 And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said,

37 Behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said.

38 And it was so: for he rose up early on the morrow, and thrust the fleece together, and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water.

39 And Gideon said unto God, Let not thine anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once: let me prove, I pray thee, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew.

40 And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground.

   Study the Inner Meaning
From Swedenborg's Works

Explanations or references:

Arcana Coelestia 1925, 2332, 2463, 2724, 3088, 3242, 3519, ...

Apocalypse Revealed 242, 485, 598


References from Swedenborg's unpublished works:

Apocalypse Explained 279, 410, 412, 504, 543, 706, 727, ...

Spiritual Experiences 4250

Other New Christian Commentary

  Stories and their meanings:



  PDF Resources


Hop to Similar Bible Verses

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Exodus 3:10, 11, 12, 4:1, 8, 13:3, 14, 17:8, 20:2, 3, 33:2, 20, 34:12, 13, 14

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Word/Phrase Explanations

children
A child is a young boy or girl in the care of parents, older than a suckling or an infant, but not yet an adolescent....

Israel
'Israel,' in Jeremiah 23:8, signifies the spiritual natural church. The children of Israel dispersed all the literal sense of the Word by falsities. 'The children...

sight
The symbolic meaning of "seeing" is "understanding," which is obvious enough that it has become part of common language (think about it; you might see...

the Lord
The Bible refers to the Lord in many different ways, which from the text seem indistinguishable and interchangeable. Understood in the internal sense, though, there...

hand
In Genesis 27:22, 'voice' relates to truth, and 'hand,' to good.

Midian
'Midian' signifies people who are in falsity.

seven
The number 'seven' was considered holy, as is well known, because of the six days of creation, and the seventh, which is the celestial self,...

Midianites
'Midianites' signify people who are in the truth of simple good.

mountains
In Isaiah 40:12 'to weigh the mountains in a balance, and the hills in scales,' signifies that the celestial aspects of love and charity are...

Strong holds
Strong holds,' as in Daniel 11:39, signify the aspects of self-derived intelligence confirmed by he literal sense of the Word.

Strong
In the Word, people who trust to themselves and their own intelligence are sometimes called 'strong,' as in Isaiah 1:31. This is because they suppose...

increase
'Produce' denotes fruit derived from the good of charity, and truth of faith.

earth
"Earth" in the Bible can mean a person or a group of like-minded people as in a church. But it refers specifically to the external...

come
As with common verbs in general, the meaning of “come” in the Bible is highly dependent on context – its meaning is determined largely by...

Gaza
Gaza (or Azzah) signifies things revealed concerning charity.

sheep
It’s pretty easy for most people to read the Bible and get a sense for what “sheep” means without any help. They are simple, peaceful,...

Cattle
Animals in the Bible generally refer to spiritual activity, the things we actually do on a spiritual level. "Cattle," as typically used in the Bible,...

Tents
'Ohalim' or 'tabernacles' signify the holy part of what is good.

Grasshoppers
Grasshoppers signify the same as locusts: the false which vastates the extremes of the natural part of the mind.

Multitude
'A multitude' relates to truths.

without number
In Joel 1:6, 'strong' relates to the power of evil, and 'without number,' of the power of falsity.

Number
To number,' as in Isaiah 22:10, signifies falsifying. To number bones,' as in Psalm 22:14-18, signifies desiring to dissipate truths by reasonings and false principles....

Land
Land' in the Word, denotes the church, for the things which signify the church also signify the things relating to the church, for these constitute...

cried
As with most common verbs, the spiritual meaning of “crying” or “crying out” (meaning a shout or wail, not weeping) is highly dependent on context....

came to pass
The phrase “it came to pass,” often also translated as “it happened,” generally indicates the end of one spiritual state and the beginning of a...

Pass
'To pass,' as in Genesis 31:52, signifies flowing in. 'To pass the night,' as in Genesis 24:54, signifies having peace. 'To pass through,' as in...

Sent
'Being sent' everywhere signifies, in an internal sense, going forth, as in John 17:8. In similar manner, it is said of the holy of the...

prophet
The idea of a "prophet" is very closely tied to the idea of the Bible itself, since the Bible was largely written by prophets. At...

said
As with many common verbs, the meaning of “to say” in the Bible is highly dependent on context. Who is speaking? Who is hearing? What...

God
The Lord is love itself, expressed in the form of wisdom itself. Love, then, is His essence, His inmost. Wisdom - the loving understanding of...

egypt
In the Bible, Egypt means knowledge and the love of knowledge. In a good sense that means knowledge of truth from the Lord through the...

house
A "house" is essentially a container - for a person, for a family, for several families or even for a large group with shared interests...

before
In most cases, the meaning of "before" is pretty straightforward, both as a way of assessing relative time, and in its use meaning "in someone's...

Fear not
Fear not, as in Revelation 1:17; Daniel 10:5, 12; Matthew 17:5, 7; 28:10, etc., signifies resuscitation to life, and at the same time adoration from...

Fear
Fear has various significations according to the thing which causes it. Fear signifies love. Fear, as in Gen 28:17, signifies a holy change.

gods
The Lord is called "Jehovah" in the Bible when the text is referring to his essence, which is love itself. He is called "God" when...

dwell
Many people were nomadic in Biblical times, especially the times of the Old Testament, and lived in tents that could be struck, moved and re-raised...

Voice
'Voice' signifies what is announced from the Word. 'Voice' often refers and is applied to things that cannot have a voice, as in Exodus 4,...

angel
"Angels" in the Bible represent qualities of the Lord himself, or a variety of things that come directly from the Lord. On a lower level...

sat
If you think about sitting, it seems fair to say that where you're sitting is more important than that you're sitting. Sitting in a movie...

under
Generally speaking things that are seen as lower physically in the Bible represent things that are lower or more external spiritually. In some cases this...

Oak
'Oak' signifies the sensory good and truth of the church, and consequently, the lowest part of the natural, which is either the truths and goods,...

son
Marriages in the Bible represent the union we all can have between the desire for good and the understanding of truth (or an understanding of...

Hide
'To hide themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains,' as mentioned in Revelation 6:15, signifies being in evils and in falsities...

Mighty
Mighty,' as in Revelation 19:18, signify people who are educated about doctrine derived from the Word. By extension, 'mighty' signifies education or learning derived from...

man
"Man" is a tricky word to discuss, because the Hebrew of the Old Testament uses six different words that are generally translated as "man," with...

my lord
Characters in the Bible will often address others using the term “my lord,” and it seems to be no more than an expression of respect....

Us
Because people are governed by angels and spirits, in Genesis 1:26 it says 'let us make man into our image.' But because the Lord alone...

bring
As with common verbs in general, the meaning of “bring” is highly dependent on context, but in general it represents an introduction to a new...

hands
Scientists believe that one of the most crucial developments in the evolution of humans was bipedalism – walking on two legs. That left our hands...

upon
'Upon' or 'over' signifies being within.

go
In the physical world, the places we inhabit and the distances between them are physical realities, and we have to get our physical bodies through...

Might
'Might' denotes the forces or power of truth.

save
To be saved or rescued means getting true ideas that we can hold to even in the face of a storm of false thinking. Sometimes...

Poor
'Poor' signifies someone who is not in truths, and people who are ignorant of good and truth, but desire instruction.

Manasseh
'Manasseh' signifies the will of the spiritual church.

the least
'Tittle' or 'the least' in the Word represents heavenly things.

least
The idea of "least" is not addressed directly in Swedenborg, but a central idea is relatively clear from several references to Matthew 25:40: And the...

father
Father in the Word means what is most interior, and in those things that are following the Lord's order, it means what is good. In...

Smite
'To smite' signifies condemnation. 'To smite,' as in Genesis 14:15, signifies vindication. 'To smite,' as in Genesis 32:8, signifies destruction. 'To smite the earth with...

one
A company might have executives setting policy and strategy, engineers designing products, line workers building them, managers handling personnel and others handling various functions. They...

Shew
'Shew' signifies instruction to the life.

Sign
'A sign' is mentioned in the Word in reference to the future, which constitutes revelation. This also refers to truth, when it constitutes testification. It...

Present
It was customary in the representative Ancient Church, and later in the Jewish Church, when people went to the judges, and at a later time,...

Tarry
'To tarry,' as in Genesis 27:44, signifies almost the same thing as 'to dwell,' except that 'to tarry' relates to the life of truth with...

Kid
'A kid' signifies the truth of the church. 'A kid,' as in Isaiah 11:6, signifies the genuine truth of the church and also innocence and...

unleavened
For something to be “unleavened” means that it's been made without yeast. Since yeast is what makes bread rise and take on its airy texture,...

ephah
The Bible uses a somewhat dizzying array of unfamiliar measurement, leaving translators a choice between being accurate and confusing or inaccurate and clear. Since they...

flour
In Revelation 18:13, 'wine, oil, flour, and wheat' signify celestial principles of worship.

Put
'To put' has reference to order, arrangement, application, and influx.

pot
There is an interesting relationship between facts and truth. It's necessary to have facts if we want to know the truth, but facts on their...

Rock
'A rock' signifies the Lord regarding the divine truth of the Word.

Pour out
Pouring out the vials upon the earth, which contained the plagues,' in Revelation 16:1, signifies influx of the reformed into the church, or into people...

staff
In a general sense, "rod" and "staff" both represent power, in particular the power of true ideas coming from the Lord. There are a number...

touched
Imagine having your mother touch your cheek. Then imagine having your spouse or someone you love romantically touch your cheek. Then imagine having a baby...

rose
It is common in the Bible for people to "rise up," and it would be easy to pass over the phrase as simply describing a...

fire
Just as natural fire can be both comforting in keeping you warm or scary in burning down your house, so fire in the spiritual sense...

Face to face
"I have seen God face to face" (Gen. 32:30), signifies to sustain the most grievous temptations.

face
“The eyes are the windows of the soul.” That’s a sentiment with roots somewhere in murky antiquity, but one that has become hopelessly cliché because...

peace
In ordinary life, we tend to think of "peace" as essentially "a lack of conflict." As a nation, if we're not at war, it's a...

die
Death in the Bible represents spiritual death, or the destruction of everything that is good and all true beliefs in someone. This happens when people...

built
To build something generally means to put together a variety of simpler pieces to make a useful and more complex structure, as to build a...

Altar
The first altar mentioned in the Word was built by Noah after he came out of the ark. On that altar, he sacrificed clean animals...

called
To call someone or summon someone in the Bible represents a desire for conjunction between higher and lower states of life. For instance, imagine someone...

Jehovah
The Lord, in the simplest terms, is love itself expressed as wisdom itself. In philosophic terms, love is the Lord's substance and wisdom is His...

night
The sun in the Bible represents the Lord, with its heat representing His love and its light representing His wisdom. “Daytime,” then, represents a state...

young
'The son of a cow' signifies the celestial natural level and natural exterior good.

second
The number "two" has two different meanings in the Bible. In most cases "two" indicates a joining together or unification. This is easy to see...

old
'Old waste places' signify the celestial aspects of faith.

down
"Down" is used many different ways in natural language, and its spiritual meaning in the Bible is highly dependent on context. Phrases like "bowing down,"...

Grove
A grove, and plantation, signifies intellectual knowledge.

build
There are really two meanings for "build" in the Bible. When something is being built for the first time, or built in the most typical...

Place
'A dry place,' as in Luke 11:24, signifies states of evil and falsity which are in the life of someone who does the work of...

wood
To ask counsel at their stocks,' as in Hosea 4:12, signifies the good of the delight that comes from some lusts.

ten
Most places in Swedenborg identify “ten” as representing “all,” or in some cases “many” or “much.” The Ten Commandments represent all the guidance we get...

servants
“Servant” literally means “a person who serves another,"" and its meaning is similar in reference to the spiritual meaninngs of the Bible. Our lives in...

City
In the ancient world cities were very nearly nations unto themselves – they existed within walls, with their own laws and customs, generally centered on...

early
Since the sun represents the Lord, the early morning and sunrise represent a state of enlightenment, with a new and clear understanding coming after a...

morning
Morning comes with the rising of the sun, and the sun – which gives life to the earth with its warmth and light – represents...

asked
The words "ask" and "question" are used a number of different in natural language, and a number of different ways in the Bible. The spiritual...

plead
To 'intreat' denotes humiliation.

Gathered together
'The waters were gathered together' signifies falsities collected.

over
'Over' or 'upon' in the Word, signifies being within, because the highest part in successive order becomes inmost in simultaneous order. This is why the...

valley of
'The valley of Siddim' signifies the uncleanness of lust, and the falsities derived from them.

valley
Mountains in the Bible represent people's highest points, where we are closest to the Lord - our love of the Lord and the state of...

spirit
There are two aspects to the life of each person. We might call them "heart" and "mind," a part of us that wants and feels...

Trumpet
The sounds of trumpets are heard in heaven when assemblies and appointments happen. So among the children of Israel, for whom everything was representative of...

Naphtali
'Naphtali' in a supreme sense, signifies the proper power of the Lord’s divine human. In a spiritual sense, he signifies temptation and victory and a...

meet
In natural language, to "meet" someone can be positive or negative: it can be a welcoming and greeting, or it can be "meeting" them in...

wool
The instruction not make clothing that mixes 'Woolen and linen' threads means, in the internal sense, that people's spiritual states of good and truth should...

Floor
The floor, as in Matthew 3:12, signifies the world of spirits which is between heaven and hell, and where the separation of evils and falsities...

Dew
Dew, in Deut. 32:2 signifies the multiplication of truth from good, and the fructification of good by truth.

know
Like so many common verbs, the meaning of "know" in the Bible is varied and dependent on context. And in some cases – when it...

Full
'To satiate' relates to the extent of a person's will, for good or evil.

water
Water was obviously of tremendous importance in Biblical times (and every other time). It is the basis of life, the essential ingredient in all drinks,...

Anger
Anger is an emotion so common to people that it requires no definition. However a couple of points of interest can be raised. 1) The...

Hot
'Hot' signifies being in spiritual love.

speak
Like "say," the word "speak" refers to thoughts and feelings moving from our more internal spiritual levels to our more external ones – and ultimately...

ground
Is there any difference in meaning between “earth” and “ground”? At first it doesn’t seem so; both refer to the soil making up the land...

Resources for parents and teachers

The items listed here are provided courtesy of our friends at the General Church of the New Jerusalem. You can search/browse their whole library at the New Church Vineyard website.


 Gideon
This lesson discusses a story from the Word and suggests projects and activities for young children.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 4 - 6

 Gideon and the Fleece
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Gideon’s Sacrifice
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 I Am the Lord Your God
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 The Angel Who Appeared to Gideon
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 The Story of Gideon
A New Church Bible story explanation for teaching Sunday school. Includes lesson materials for Primary (3-8 years), Junior (9-11 years), Intermediate (12-14 years), Senior (15-17 years) and Adults.
Teaching Support | Ages over 3

 The Worship of Idols
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

Commentary

 

Gideon: Weakness and Strength, Part 1 - You Mighty Man of Valour      

By Rev. Coleman S. Glenn

"Weltchronik Fulda Aa88 174r detail" by Anonymous (Meister 3) - Hochschul- und Landesbibliothek Fulda.

You Mighty Man of Valour

(A Sermon by Rev. Coleman S. Glenn)

This is part 1 of a 3-part series following the story of Gideon, one of the judges of Israel.

To understand the story of Gideon it’s important to have some context. The book of Judges describes the period in Israel’s history after the children of Israel had been led out of slavery under the leadership of Moses and had settled the land of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua. For the next several centuries after Joshua’s death, the twelve tribes of Israel were led by judges whom the Lord appointed, who would liberate Israel from their enemies, settle disputes, and ensure that justice was done - but who did not rule over the people as kings.
If the children of Israel had kept Jehovah’s law, this would have been a period of peace and stability. But they did not consistently obey the Lord; instead, a pattern emerged, a cycle that repeated itself over and over again. First, the people would disobey God. As a result, they would be defeated by an enemy. They would cry out for help, and the Lord would raise a judge to save them. After learning their lesson, for a time, they would obey; but after the judge’s death, inevitably they would backslide, and the cycle would start again.

It is after this had already occurred several times that the story of Gideon begins, as recounted in the sixth chapter of the book of Judges. The chapter begins as so many in the book of Judges do:

“Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of Jehovah” (Judges 6:1). The consequence of their evil, as always, was that they were conquered by an enemy; in this case, by the people of Midian, who would come down in raiding parties every time the children of Israel grew crops or bred livestock and take everything, leaving the Israelites hungry and poor. As a result, the children of Israel lived in a constant state of fear, hiding themselves in dens and caves of the mountains. When we first hear of Gideon, we find him threshing wheat in a winepress, trying to hide what little he has from the Midianites.

Let’s pause here and take a step back and ask a big question: what does all of this have to do with life here and now? In the New Church, we are taught that every part of the Lord’s Word describes an eternal spiritual reality. Everything in this story of Gideon represents something in our own spiritual lives.

According to the teachings of the New Church, the specific enemies that defeated Israel reflected the specific evils they had fallen into; so if we understand what Midian represents, we can understand what kind of spiritual state this story is all about. According to the book, Secrets of Heaven, the Midianites represented “truth which was not truth, because there was no good of life [attached to it]” (Secrets of Heaven 5955) - that is, a knowledge of truth divorced from any application to life. In particular, the Midianites are said represent a state where “the delight of pleasures,” rather than goodness of life, is regarded as the goal (Secrets of Heaven 7602). We're attacked and defeated by the Midianites, then, when we might know the truth, but we don’t particularly care about learning or applying it because we’re more concerned about just doing what feels good.

There’s an exercise you can do that may help you identify the Midianites in yourself. Listen to this statement, and pay attention to your response to it. Here’s the statement: “I will set aside a significant amount of time every day to read the Lord’s Word and seriously reflect on how I can practically live by what it teaches me.” Now, pay attention, and see if there is a part of yourself where your reaction to that statement is, “Ugh,” where that feels tedious and boring. That’s Midian. Maybe for some of you, that response isn’t there at all. Maybe for others, you recognise it as being there, but also recognise part of yourself where you long for that time set aside. And maybe for some of you your reaction is, “What do you mean, the part of myself where my reaction is ‘ugh.’ That’s all of me!” If that’s you - you may have a Midianite problem.

And here’s the problem with the Midianites, which most of us have probably experienced. When we’re living exclusively for the sake of worldly things - food, pleasure, fun, entertainment, video games, TV, recreation, socialising, parties, etc. - even though we enjoy ourselves, after a while we realise there’s part of us that wishes there were something more, that even feels like it’s starving. Life starts to feel meaningless and flat. Those Midianites - that living for the sake of pleasure - are plundering the part of you that yearns for a life of depth and meaning.

But there is hope, because there is something in us that is represented by Gideon, too. As the story begins, Gideon is doing what he can with the little bit he has, threshing wheat in the winepress. That’s a picture of the part of us, that even when we’ve become obsessed with worldly things, is still trying to do a little bit to live by God’s Word. There’s power there - but it might not feel like it, and Gideon doesn’t know it yet.

While Gideon was there threshing wheat, suddenly the angel of Jehovah appeared to him. This angel was a manifestation of God Himself. And his first words to Gideon were shocking: “Jehovah is with you, you mighty man of valour!” Both parts of that statement were shocking: Gideon - hiding out in a winepress - certainly didn’t feel life a mighty man of valour. And it certainly didn’t feel like Jehovah was with him. If Jehovah was with him, why were things so bad? He said to the angel, “If Jehovah is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not Jehovah bring us up from Egypt?’

When we’re in states where we’ve gotten totally wrapped up in worldly things, we might have similar feelings. When we hear the Lord say in His Word, “I am with you always,” our response might be pretty similar to Gideon’s. Really? Because it sure doesn’t feel like it. In these states, it’s difficult to believe that there’s anything beyond the physical world, let alone the kind of powerful, loving, personal God that we’ve heard people talk about and maybe even have a dim memory of experiencing ourselves. If the Lord is with us, why does it feel like He is so completely absent as to be non-existent?

We might expect here a note of reassurance from the angel, some comforting explanation of why God feels absent. But that’s not what Gideon was given. Instead, Jehovah said something even more startling: “Go in this power of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have I not sent you?” Not, “Don’t worry, I will save you.” No. “You, Gideon - you’re going to save Israel, because I’ve told you to. Go, do it.”

Gideon protests, as we all probably would: “Lord, how can I save Israel? Indeed my thousand are the poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house.” As we might say, “Really Lord? I’m nobody! I think you’ve got the wrong guy.” There’s truth in Gideon’s confession, and it’s important. Any of us who have tried and failed to make a change in our lives know how weak we are of ourselves. Acknowledging that weakness is the first step toward asking for the Lord’s power in place of our own. And as Jehovah reveals, it is because of His power that Gideon will be able to succeed; he said to Gideon, “Surely I will be with you.”

But even having said this, He continued to focus on Gideon’s part; he said, “Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man.” It’s still Gideon doing it. And this “you” here in Hebrew is singular - not “you, the Israelites” shall defeat the Midianites. No, “you, Gideon.” You personally. Because of My presence with you, yes - but you’re still the one who is going to do it.

Gideon cannot believe it, and he challenges the angel to prove he is who he says he is. And we’ll see several more times that Gideon is faltering and uncertain, in constant need of reassurance that he can do this. And it seems that maybe his responses, although they contain a healthy humility, also contain an unhealthy element of fear and avoidance. In some ways, it seems like Gideon’s doing everything he can to get out of the job he’s been called to do. He’d asked where the God was who’d performed miracles in Egypt, and quite possibly he was expecting a miraculous, instantaneous salvation from the Midianites. Instead, it turns out that he himself is going to have to work hard for it. It might not be exactly the rescue he’d had in mind.

The same thing can be true for us in our path of regeneration or rebirth. It really is true that the Lord does everything for us, that all power comes from Him. But that’s not how we experience it, especially not at first. Even if intellectually we’ve been taught that everything good we do is from God, we’re not really going to get what that means until we’ve done a fair amount of fighting that feels like work we’re doing from our own power. Gideon wants a miracle, and he does get several of them, but only with his own participation - miracles that still require him to act.

The first miracle - the confirmation that he has been speaking with God - occurs when he brings food to his guest. He brings out a young goat as an offering, along with unleavened bread and broth. He puts them down on a rock. According to the teachings of the New Church, these things represent the ingredients we need to recognise that God really is present, even when He feels absent. That rock represents God’s Word, the truth. The young goat represents innocence, a willingness to simply do what God says. And the unleavened bread represents a desire for goodness.

So what does this all mean in the context of oppression by Midian? Well, think of those states of mind, where it seems like God is absent. The first thing we’re called to do is to make a humble, innocent decision - I’m going to start following God even if I don’t feel like He’s real. I’ll try to build my life on the rock - laying down that sacrifice before the Lord. And in making that decision, we might notice a shift in ourselves. This is something different from the life of pleasure that we’ve been living. Maybe there is a different kind of life, where we experience power beyond our own. That’s represented by the angel reaching out that staff. And maybe there is a deeper kind of love than the surface-level interactions we’ve been having. That love is represented by the fire from heaven consuming the offering.

Now here’s the thing - even though it was blindingly obvious in the story as it happened, it might not be so obvious to us that we really have caught a glimpse of God. We’ll think maybe we saw something, and maybe we didn’t. Even Gideon, who did see this miracle, asked again later for another confirmation. The state of mind represented by the Midianite oppression is murky and unclear - that’s why we see so many images of caves and darkness and night throughout the story. We're not going to be sure of ourselves until those Midianites are gone. Until then, we’re going to be wavering and in the dark.

But even in the dark, Gideon did go through with what he was called to do. The first thing he was called to do was to tear down the idols of his father’s household, effectively declaring war on the false god that had led to their enslavement by Midian. And this is the first step in taking up arms against the spiritual Midianites that beset us now - to make a commitment to shape our lives around what the Lord calls us to in His Word, to make a commitment to living for more than our own pleasure, to look at concrete steps we can take to bring our lives more into alignment with what the Lord wants us to do. It’s a commitment to do that daily work, to say, “I will set aside time every day to read the Lord’s Word and seriously reflect on how I can practically live by what it teaches me.” It is a commitment to reject behaviour that is forbidden in the Word. If we’ve never done this, it can be a scary thing, since we don’t really know what we’re doing. Do I have to become one of those religious people? Do I have to go to church every Sunday? Do I have to be serious all the time? And yet, despite the fact that we can’t see clearly, we know we have to do something.

Above all, here’s what we can’t do: we can’t sit idly by and hope for inspiration, to hope that a sudden bolt of divine intervention will shake us out of our pleasure-seeking sedation. That’s not the way it works: we have to do the hard work of compelling ourselves before we start to experience the presence of the Lord. It was only after Gideon - at night, confusedly, fumblingly, of his own power - knocked down his father’s idol that the spirit of God came over him. Self-compulsion doesn’t feel like it brings freedom, and it doesn’t feel like it brings the presence of God - but after we’ve done it, in hindsight, we recognise that this is exactly what it does. Listen to this passage from Secrets of Heaven:

They who have compelled themselves to resist what is evil and false - although at first they supposed that this was from themselves or from their own power, but were afterwards enlightened to see that their effort was from the Lord, even to the least of all the particulars of the effort - these in the other life cannot be led by evil spirits, but are among the happy. Thus we may see that a person ought to compel himself to do what is good and to speak what is true. (Secrets of Heaven 1937)

This dynamic is summed up in the Lord’s own words: “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” The abiding in the Word, the discipleship comes first; the sight of truth, the sense of freedom, only comes afterward.

This is only the beginning of the story, though. Gideon has a success. When we make that commitment to topple the false God of pleasure, to live for something more, we can feel a sense of accomplishment, a new clear-sightedness - we know who the enemy is, and we are ready to go into battle against it. Gideon blows the trumpet and rallies the tribes around him. And yet - things are still not entirely clear. Gideon still asks for another sign, which the Lord graciously grants, the sign of the fleece. Even after that initial sense of progress, we will start to feel unsure of ourselves again, and the Lord understands that - and He asks us to trust that if we keep following, He’ll keep giving us signs that He’s there. Making that commitment to a spiritually-focused life does not mean the battle is won; but it does mean that there is a battle, that we recognise two sides within us now, that there is more than Midian. We will strive against Baal, and Baal against us. We’ll do that by compelling ourselves away from evil and toward goodness.

But that is starting to get ahead of ourselves - that is the battle, the story for next week. For this week, if nothing else, take away this: you have great power when the Lord is with you, and the Lord is with you. Act from your power which He gives you. Don’t wait for Him to flow in and take over your life - start doing what He says, and give Him a good vessel to work with. Compel yourself to set aside time to focus on spiritual things. Commit yourself to entering that spiritual battlefield, to toppling the false gods you’ve set up. Know that you will stumble, and things will not always be clear. But know this: you are a mighty man or woman of valour, because the Lord is with you. Go now, in this your power, and overcome the enemy.

Commentary

 

Fire      

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Photo by Caleb Kerr

Just as natural fire can be both comforting in keeping you warm or scary in burning down your house, so fire in the spiritual sense can mean both love and hatred depending on the context. If you think about this for a bit, you can see in our language how we can have a smoldering hatred or a burning love, as well as many other examples. So fire is love, either love of the neighbor and to the Lord, or love of oneself that, if unchecked by conscience, leads to hatred of any that oppose.

Love of the neighbor and love to the Lord are the loves that reign in heaven and those who try to make those loves the ones that govern his life, gravitate toward heaven. The mutual love of all these inhabitants gives to heaven a warm and springlike atmosphere. But in hell, the mutual dislike and hatred from the unchecked self love that the inhabitants there have inside themselves are the fuels of the fires of hell. There is no Devil prodding people toward the flames, the flames originate inside each and every person there, and reach out toward all around them. The atmosphere of hell is generated by its inhabitants.

(References: The Apocalypse Explained 504 [1,2,15])


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