I’ve always loved the story of Gideon. As a first grader, I remember sitting in chapel service in the gym of the Christian school I attended watching the fear-filled antics of Gideon as acted out by Pastor John. This was especially hilarious to us all because we knew Pastor John as a man of unnatural fear. We had seen him run—literally run—through the halls of our school, a tiny barking dog at his heels. I grew up with the legendary story of how he hesitated one day to get out of the car while on visitation ministry with my stepfather, claiming that people who owned a dog didn’t need Jesus. So he gave a realistic and very believable impression of Gideon, stealthily threshing grain inside a winepress for fear he would be seen by the Midianites.
As the writer of Judges tells us, the angel of the Lord greeted Gideon in a surprising way given his hideout location, calling him a mighty warrior. “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” Gideon, a mighty warrior? Maybe David, slayer of lions, but this guy? He didn’t believe it either. He kept questioning the angel, trying to convince God’s messenger that he was weak and insignificant; then he put out that infamous fleece. And still God wasn’t done. He made Gideon winnow down his small army to pitiful proportions before letting him go into battle.
God did this, we learn, to teach Gideon that he could not rely on himself. For all of his protestations, Gideon was relying on himself, a self he knew was inadequate. The second thing the angel told Gideon was, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand.” Now before you take this to mean that God believed in Gideon and was giving him a ‘you can do it!’ pep talk, stop to consider what strength Gideon had. The answer is in the first words that the angel uttered: “The Lord is with you.” The Lord was Gideon’s strength all along. He had the power of the Almighty, but he was relying on his own paltry fighting ability.
As the catchphrase goes, “I resemble that remark.” I have found myself saying to friends, “I know God only gives us what we can handle, but sometimes I wish He didn’t have such a high opinion of how strong I am.” There’s me—climbing into the winepress, throwing out a fleece, thinking my 32,000 warriors will do the job, instead of remembering that the Lord is with me (Matthew 28:20) and going in the strength I have.
“But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble. O my Strength, I sing praise to you; you, O God, are my fortress, my loving God” (Psalm 59:16-17).