Preached: September 19, 2010
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit assures of our God's protections is Judges 7.
Jerub-baal, that's Gideon, and all the people with him got up in the morning. They were camped near the spring of Haron, and the Midianite camp was in the valley north of Mt. Moreh. The Lord said to Gideon, “There are too many people with you for me to give Midian into their hand, so that Israel does not glorify itself against me, saying 'My hand has saved me!' Now summon the people and say, 'Whoever is fearful or trembling let him return and go back from Mt. Gilead.” Twenty-two thousand of the people went back, and ten thousand were left.
The Lord said to Gideon, “The people are still too many. Take them down to the water, and I will test them for you there. Whichever one I tell you, 'This one goes with you,' he goes with you. And everyone of whom I say to you, 'This one does not go with you,' he does not go.”
He took them down to the water, and the Lord said to Gideon, “Everyone who laps up the water with his tongue just as a dog laps -- set him apart by himself, and also everyone who kneels on his knees to drink. The number of those who were lapping with their hands to their mouth was three hundred men. All the rest of the people had knelt on their knees to drink the water.
The Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred men who were lapping I will save you and give Midian into your hands. Everyone else went to his own place. The people took in hand the provision and their trumpets. He sent everyone of the Israelites to his own tent and kept hold of the three hundred. Midian's camp was below him in the valley. (Judges 7:1-8)
This is the word of our Lord.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
The high school basketball team did well that year. They were only a small town in Pipestone County, MN. It was the days before amalgamated school districts. Edgerton was only a town of under a thousand on the edge of the prairie. But their basketball went undefeated in the regular season. Maybe we can relate to that.
But then the playoffs came. This was fifty years ago before big schools and small ones were divided into class A, AA, AAA, and so on. There was only one state basketball championship. What chance did little Edgerton have?
But then they beat Mankato and after that Chisholm. Then came the biggest challenge of all. In the semifinals they faced Richfield, the number one ranked team in the state. Few sports writers gave Edgerton much of a chance. But at the end of regulation time the score was tied. In overtime Edgerton could make only free throws. But that was enough. They won 63-60. After that, the championship against Austin was an easy victory. (http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2010/03/26/edgerton-basketball-championship-50th/)
We love the story of the underdog. People refer to them as David vs. Goliath. Or we could also say Gideon vs. Midian, for Gideon and his three hundred men were certainly an underdog against the hordes of Midain. But there is a vital difference between the way the typical underdog story is told compared to the way the Bible tells the account of David vs. Goliath or Gideon vs. Midian.
What's the moral people usually attach to the underdog story? Doesn't it often go something like this: No matter how small you are, if your heart is big enough, you too can be a winner. Or if you try and do your best with all you've got, you'll succeed. Or with hard work and team spirit you can accomplish great things.
But dear friends, that is not the lesson the Lord taught David or Gideon. That is not what he wants to teach us. In fact, he teaches the opposite. For you see, the credit does not go to how big your heart is or whether you try your best or how hard you work. The credit goes to God. That's what the Lord taught Gideon and teaches us.
Notice what the Lord says to Gideon, “You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that their own strength has saved them” (Judges 7:2 NIV). The credit doesn't go to the human spirit, strength, drive, effort, or heart. And the credit doesn't go to good luck or chance either. The credit goes to God. So the Lord made it humanly impossible for Gideon and his men to win. Then there'd be no question about who gets the credit.
What was the situation? A few weeks ago we met Gideon threshing grain at the winepress. The Midianites were plundering the land. They were like swarms of locusts and their camels were as many as the grains of sand on the seashore. The Lord took timid Gideon and trained him to trust. He was going to lead Israel against the Midianites.
Now Gideon has gathered the troops. Did you catch how many soldiers he started with? Thirty-two thousand. That made him the clear underdog. Midian had over a hundred thousand more. They were outnumbered over four to one. Not good odds. It was like Edgerton against Richfield. But maybe with some skillful leadership, iron determination, and a little bit of luck -- maybe those thirty-two thousand could pull out an upset or at least irritate the Midianites enough that they left Israel alone.
That's why the Lord tells Gideon, “You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her” (Judges 7:2 NIV). Could you almost hear a victorious soldier saying, “Yea, they were big and strong. But we fought hard. We gave it our all. And we kicked their sorry butts out of here”? That's not giving credit to God, is it?
So the Lord had Gideon send away all who were fearful. If I were Gideon, I could feel my heart failing. “Lord, we barely had a chance the way it was. But what hope do we have now? Two out of every three of my men have left. Only ten thousand remain. How could we ever win?” And the Lord's answer? “You're right. That's still too many to win.”
The Lord whittled the number down to three hundred. They were outnumbered more than four hundred to one. Victory was impossible. Even surviving an attack on Midian was now impossible, no matter how strong or skilfully or lucky they were. You see, the Lord wanted to make it clear that the credit goes to God.
I realize that each of you here knows that the credit goes to God. And your willing to say it too. But are you living it? You see, Gideon put his life on the line trusting God. If the Lord didn't live up to his promise, Gideon would have been slaughtered. Either Gideon was giving God the credit even before the victory happened or he would have been running the other way.
The credit goes to God. Do you and I live our lives convinced of that? If we did, we wouldn't worry, would we? For even now we can give God the credit for taking care us no matter what problems come. So why worry? We wouldn't complain either. For rather than giving God credit, complaining claims that he hasn't taken good enough care of us. It robs him of credit. How far we are from putting our lives on the line for God as Gideon did! We struggle to even put a portion of our time and treasures on the line for God. Do we really think he isn't credible enough so that we can already give him the credit for taking care of us in the future? Or do we need to hold something back as if some of the credit for our future has to go to the money we earn or the plans we make?
How dim Gideon's future looked! Three hundred vs. the hordes of Midian. And Gideon didn't have any advanced weapons or technology. Do you remember from Sunday school what the Lord's strategy was? Those three hundred men were armed with a trumpet and a torch in a jar. After sneaking around the Midianite camp during the night, they were to break their jars, hold the torch in their left hand, blow their trumpet, and shout. That would be like trying to win a basketball game with only the fans shouting in the stands and no players on the floor. As important as fan support is, it's impossible to win without players. How can an army win without fighters?
How impossible that strategy must have seemed to Gideon and his men. Only the Lord could make such a plan work. It sounded as stupid as marching around a city seven times to make the walls fall down -- but the Lord did that as well, didn't he? All the credit goes to God.
How can we be more like Gideon? First of all, although Gideon demonstrated great faith in facing the Midianites with only the Lord's promise of victory, he did not perfectly learn the lesson of giving God all the credit. After the victory, the people wanted to make him king, but he refused. “The Lord will rule over you” (Judges 8:23 NIV), he said. That was good. He gave credit to God. But then he made a golden ephod, which was a religious symbol. The people worshiped it, and it became a snare for Gideon and his family. He robbed God of credit.
So also our life is a continual time of training. If you reach a point where you imagine, “Now, I will always give God all the credit; he doesn't need to train me any more,” you are in grave danger. Throughout our life on earth,we need God to continually train us to give him the credit. Often he does it like he did for Gideon. He puts us in situations where we cannot figure out how we'll make it. Maybe it's a health issue or a financial issue. Maybe its a struggle in raising your children or not knowing what to do to take care of an aging parent. Maybe it's losing friends or difficulties at work or school. Maybe it's on the inside, feelings of loneliness, helplessness, even depression. Life seems so impossible. At times we rather face the hordes of Midian than our own future.
But dear friend, take heart. The Lord makes it look hopeless, just like he did for Gideon, so that we give up trusting ourselves and claiming credit. Rather our only recourse, our only hope, is the Lord and his promises. When he promises not to give us more than we can bear, that promise does not say, more than we can bear with our own strength. Rather the Apostle Paul writes, “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13 NIV). What's that way out? It's giving up on our own strength and trusting him alone, relying only on his promises, so that the credit goes to God.
For you see, when we turn to him first for all our needs, trusting him for the good he's promised despite the troubles we see, that's when we're giving credit to God. This begins in the heart. It's not simply an outward show of crediting God when something good happens. Such an outward show can actually be a type of boasting. Not to judge hearts, but sometimes I wonder when an athlete points up, are they giving credit to God or are they saying, “Look how good I am that even God likes me so much that he let me score this touchdown”? Don't let that be the message of your life.
Give credit to God by turning to him at all times, especially when life seems impossible. Find shelter in your God as you rest secure in his word. That word is our mighty fortress, our stronghold, our sure defense. When we turn to him in prayer, calling out, “Lord, help me!” he answers that prayer through his word. For the word in Scripture and the Sacraments bring us our Savior and his promises. And with Jesus at our side, what else do we need? “If Christ, my head and master, Befriend me from above, What foe or what disaster Can drive me from his love?” (Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal, “If God Himself Be for Me,” 419:1).
For look, far worse than the hordes of Midian, Jesus has defeated the hordes of hell. He marched in victory through Satan's domain. That was no underdog victory. Although to human sight Jesus seemed weak and powerless as he hung on the cross and became our sin for us, although he appeared defeated as his limp, lifeless body was laid in a borrowed tomb, yet he is God over all. As the God-man he paid for your sin. He has delivered you from death and the devil. He has won the victory for you. For he lives. Now washed in his blood, sealed with his Spirit, kept in his love, you are saved -- yes you, who eat his body and drink his blood, you are saved. All the credit for our eternal salvation certainly goes to God, so also all the credit for every earthly good goes to him as well. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.