These words from God to Gideon should encourage anyone who considers themselves ordinary, even weak, and perhaps of not much use. Gideon saw himself like that, but God had plans for him, including a commendation written in the New Testament over 1000 years later that lists him amongst those ‘who, through faith… from weakness were made strong’(Hebrews 11:33-34). In many ways Gideon was very ordinary, perhaps flawed even (remaining so if you read his whole story) just like us, mixed, but through imperfect yet faithful obedience to his calling he was enabled to do something useful under God’s mighty hand.
Gideon was an Israelite living in troubled times. God’s people had entered their promised land but they ‘did that which was evil’(Judges 6:1), in particular bowing to ‘“the gods of the Amorites”’(Judges 6:10). As a result they’d been ‘brought very low’(Judges 6:6), plagued by Midianite raids. Gideon had resorted to ‘beating out wheat in the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites’(Judges 6:11). Moreover, he saw himself as from a frail family and ‘“the least in my father’s house.”’(Judges 6:15).
But God had started with such material before. Moses seriously doubted that he could be used effectively by God, saying, ‘“Who am I…?”’(Exodus 3:11) and, ‘“I am not eloquent”’(Exodus 4:10). Later God would start with such material again. Jeremiah had similar misgivings to Moses, exclaiming, ‘“I don’t know how to speak; for I am a child.”’(Jeremiah 1:6). So this is how God can start with any of us, ordinary, weak and flawed as we might be.
So God commissioned Gideon to, ‘“save Israel from the hand of Midian”’(Judges 6:14). Obviously this seemed like a very tall order to Gideon. He wanted to be sure it really was God speaking to him, so requested this ‘angel of Yahweh’(Judges 6:12)/‘Yahweh’(Judges 6:14) wait while he prepared an offering. When fire consumed the offering following a simple touch from the messenger’s staff it was sign enough. However, before starting his main task, the nervous Gideon asked for a further confirmatory sign – the famous ‘“fleece”’(Judges 6:37) incident, in which he asked God to miraculously influence morning dew formation on and around a fleece. Gideon seemed to realise that this was perhaps an inappropriate request, ‘“Don’t let your anger be kindled against me”’(Judges 6:39), but God graciously obliged, and amazingly afterwards provided further unsolicited reassuring confirmation in case Gideon remained ‘“afraid”’(Judges 7:10), a miracle of circumstance and dreams.
Gideon was commissioned in a quite remarkable way (although interestingly he wasn’t completely sure that this was from God initially, so perhaps the ‘angel of Yahweh’ was not so obvious as we might imagine); and like ‘Thomas’(John 20:27) Gideon seemed to require more reassurance than is perhaps appropriate. Nevertheless, such signs might graciously be given to us, especially confirmations like the unsolicited encouragement Gideon received, which might come to us through various means.
Once commissioned, Gideon did exactly what God asked of him and ‘went in his might’ i.e. using the ability he had, which probably didn’t seem enough, and he remained afraid. In his first task, to tear down the local idolatrous altars, ‘he feared his father’s household and the men of the city’(Judges 6:27). He did it though, but under cover of darkness, ‘by night’(Judges 6:27).
Then, for Gideon’s main mission to rout the Midianites, God deliberately cut back his resources. The reason for this is instructive, ‘“lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’”’(Judges 7:2). It’s good for us to feel our limitations, so that we realise any success depends on God’s hand. We are to go with the resources we have and success comes through Him. This is a key lesson to learn when it comes to serving God. He taught the apostle Paul the same, ‘“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”’(2 Corinthians 12:9). Although we’re to set off in our own strength, doing things as best we can, we’re to depend entirely on God’s blessing for any success. He will make our feeble efforts efficacious if he wants to achieve something through them. It’s a bit like surfing. We are to struggle up onto the board in the right place at the right time, according to God’s calling, do our best to stay upright, and we’ll find ourselves swept along by a greater force.
So God called Gideon to ‘Go’, he went tentatively, using the ability he had, ‘the Spirit of Yahweh came on Gideon’(Judges 6:34), effected His plan, and the Israelites enjoyed peace. Likewise we’re called to ‘“Go…”’(Matthew 28:19) enacting this general ‘great commission’ through our individual specific roles.