This week’s treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson (for July 24) is written by Steve Carr, teaching minister at Echo Church in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Let God Rule (Judges 7:2-4, 13-15; 8:22-26)
By Steve Carr
In the late 16th century there emerged a religious/political doctrine known as the divine right of kings. As the Protestant Reformation spread across Europe, monarchs attempted to solidify their positions with this philosophy. This divine right claimed that God gave kings their authority, so kings were accountable to God alone. Even if a king was evil, the doctrine dictated, he could not be overthrown because it was God who divinely selected him for the position. As a result, monarchs were unaccountable and acted however they pleased.
Divine right was definitely misguided, and even the Scriptures seem to testify against it. By examining a story from an Old Testament book, we can see that even those truly chosen by God could act in opposition to his cause.
The book of Judges is cyclical: when God’s people sin the Lord punishes them, permitting an outsider to oppress them. The Israelites then cry out for salvation, and God raises up a judge (a deliverer) to save them. This cycle of sin, punishment, crying out, and salvation happens repeatedly throughout the book.
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Additionally, almost all the judges had some sort of shortcoming that would seem to disqualify them from their role. The subject of this week’s lesson, Gideon, was a coward who performed his agricultural work while hiding from the oppressive Midianites (Judges 6:11, 12). Nevertheless, God chose him to lead his army and bring salvation to Israel.
The Mind of the Chosen
In Judges 7:2-4 the Lord instructed Gideon to alter the size of his army. He carved down his fighting unit from 30,000 soldiers to a mere 300. This move runs counter to combat logic; a general typically wants the greatest amount of firepower he can muster. But God wanted to teach Gideon that victory over Midian would not be won with human might. It’s a lesson the Lord was constantly teaching his people. Just 60 years earlier, Israel battled a Canaanite army that possessed superior technology, and yet the Lord had delivered victory to the Israelites (Judges 4:1-16).
God guided Gideon toward a truth that we too need to grasp: rather than relying upon our own brilliance to succeed, we must believe that God will win the victory. A slew of management books and videos promise to unleash your inner leadership potential. The godly leader, however, recognizes that the Lord can maximize our inferior resources if we merely dedicate them to him. This can be difficult for those of us who take pride in our self-reliance. But when hubris dies, the Lord is glorified.
The Doubt of the Chosen
Before the small army was to launch its assault against the Midianites, Gideon received word from the Lord instructing him to spy on his enemies. We read about the encounter in Judges 7:13-15. Gideon overheard a conversation between two Midianite soldiers. As one man shared a dream he had, the other man interpreted it, saying, “God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his [Gideon’s] hands.” This was the confirmation Gideon needed to finally trust the Lord; if even his enemies recognized that God ordained his victory, the judge could proceed fearlessly.
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The irony here is that God had already given Gideon multiple signs to confirm his work in him, but Gideon continued to doubt. The modern reader will mock Gideon for needing yet another sign, but we must be careful with our criticism because we too are prone to skepticism. We have the Bible at our disposal—a wealth of encouragement from God to trust in his ways—and yet we don’t exhibit trust. While it can be difficult, we who are chosen by the Lord must take him at his word. When God promises, he fulfills.
The Bold Apostasy of the Chosen
Gideon’s victory over the Midianites should be the poetic end to an underdog story. But the Bible continues to follow his exploits, and the ending goes awry. In Judges 8:22-27, the Israelites ask Gideon and his family to rule over them like kings. Gideon boldly refuses, stating that the Lord would rule over the people. But when given a share of golden plunder, Gideon fashioned it into an ephod that eventually was worshipped by the people as an idol.
Gideon’s assertion for God’s reign was powerful, but those words became empty when he empowered idolatry. When our actions fail to match our words, our credibility is tarnished. Additionally, as those chosen by him, our failings are projected on the Lord so we shame his rule.
The story of Gideon is a critical reminder to us Christians: God’s chosen can still go astray. As a result, it is imperative that we guard our hearts and minds, living lives in full submission to the true King.
*Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, unless otherwise indicated.
|HOME DAILY BIBLE READINGS|
|July 18: 1 Samuel 2:1-10|
|July 19: Deuteronomy 13:1-5|
|July 20: Judges 6:1-10|
|July 21: Judges 6:11-16|
|July 22: Judges 6:25-32|
|July 23: Judges 6:36-40|
|July 24: Judges 7:2-4, 13-15; 8:22-26|
ABOUT THE LESSON WRITER: Steve Carr is teaching minister at Echo Church (www.echochurch.org) in Cincinnati, Ohio. He and his wife, Kelly, have a 5-year-old daughter, Kaelyn.