20 February 2007

Test #1--Obedience (Gideon, Judges chapter 7)

I remember when I was growing up, I'd be watching TV. And every once in a while a screen would come up, and you'd hear, "This is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System." The guy always had this deep, rich radio-type voice. "This is only a test." Then you'd hear this long "BEEEEEEEEP." But what I remember most about these "tests" was, they always came on right when they were about to nail the bad guy. Or in the last inning of a baseball game. These tests came along just when you DIDN’T want them. But without those tests, we wouldn’t know what to do in an emergency. So while we didn’t like the fact that now we'll never know who the real killer was, or "Now I'll have to wait to read the paper to know who won the ballgame," they were a necessary part of life.

This brings me to my main point. When you come to know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior it doesn’t guarantee a pain-free life. Don’t listen to what most of the TV preachers tell you, that following Christ will open up this treasure vault of earthly wealth. 'Cause brother, it ain't gonna happen. In fact, if you read the Bible close enough, you will find that those who followed GOD the closest suffered the most. Hebrews 11:35-38 says that many of these were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were slain with the sword. They wandered about having been sewn up in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented of whom the world was not worthy. You'll hear some people say, "But!! Brother Copeland said that GOD guarantees us a life of health, wealth, and prosperity!!" WRONG!!! Listen to these verses. 1st Timothy 3:12—…all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. 1st Peter 4:16—Yet if [any man suffer] as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God in this matter. When we decide to follow Jesus, there will be times in our lives when we will be tested.

We can find at least three types of tests in the Bible. We can be tested because of some disobedience, like Jonah. Another type of test shows Satan who you belong to—or maybe show US who we belong to. We see that in the life of Job. But the first is a simple test of obedience—or simply GOD asking "do you trust Me?"—like what Gideon went through in the book of Judges. So turn if you will to the Book of Judges, the beginning of chapter 7. Let me give you a little background. In chapter 6, the Midianites and the Amalekites have gathered together to attack Israel. GOD has told Gideon that he wanted Gideon to lead the army of Israel against the Midianites and defeat them. Now, keep in mind Gideon was looking at fighting against an army of over 135,000 men. And just like many others in the Bible that GOD wanted to use, he was rather hesitant.

I have a phrase to describe when I feel like GOD is asking me to do something, but I just need a bit more reassurance. I call it "having a Gideon moment." And at the end of chapter 6, Gideon throws a fleece on the ground and asks GOD, "If this is really You, then please make the ground dry and the fleece wet." The next morning when Gideon wakes up, the ground is dry and the fleece is wet. When the book of Judges was written, nobody had yet invented the phrase "Don’t ask GOD for an answer if you don’t want to hear it." How many people say, "LORD, send me wherever you want to, and I'll go!!" But when GOD says, "OK, I'm sending you to northern Alaska." ".......Anywhere but there, great!" So Gideon says "LORD, I'm pretty sure that was you, but just one more time. This time, make the fleece dry and the ground wet." So, he gets up the next morning, sees the fleece is dry and the ground is wet and says, "oooookaaaay."


In chapter 7, verse 1, we see…THE PREPARATION FOR THE JOURNEY.
Judges 7:1
Then Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the people who were with him rose early and encamped beside the well of Harod, so that the camp of the Midianites was on the north side of them by the hill of Moreh in the valley."

When we receive that word from GOD, that He has something He needs for us to do immediately, delay is not an option. Now, keep in mind, this thing GOD would have you to do may not need to be done right away. But, we need to start preparing for it right away. As Gideon did. Notice this: Gideon's preparations included gathering the most important thing an army needs (other than swords and shields). Of course they can have those things, but they won't even make it to the battlefield without water. Napoleon once said that "an army marches on its belly". I would have a hard time arguing with that. A sword doesn’t do a soldier any good if he can't pick it up and swing it.

That said, let's take a look at GOD's army. Let's face it—we are an army. We fight against an enemy. And when GOD calls us to action, we need to be prepared. Not only as it says in Ephesians by taking on the armor of GOD. But we need to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Because if we try to answer GOD's call by using "our own strength"—that is, just trying to go forward using our willpower, or any knowledge we may have in our head, we're going to fail.But, if we are seeking His guidance, Psalm 48:14 says, For this God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide... If we seek His wisdom James 1:5 says, …if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God…and it will be given to him. Gideon and his troops camped near a spring of water. Thing is, they would need to refill their canteens eventually, because their water would run out. But we can be confident in the fact that we draw from a well of living water which will never run dry.

Next we see…THE PRUNING OF UNNECESSARY THINGS
Verses 2-3
And the LORD said to Gideon, “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel claim glory for itself against Me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’ Now therefore, proclaim in the hearing of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is fearful and afraid, let him turn and depart at once from Mount Gilead.’” And twenty-two thousand of the people returned, and ten thousand remained."

Boy there's a blow to your confidence. 22,000 people went home. I'd say about his point Gideon looked up and said, "Could we do that fleece thing again?" But you know that's just how GOD works. We are put here to glorify Him. And when GOD decides there are things in our life that get in the way of our doing that, He will show us a way to get rid of them. Just like those men who were too afraid to go into battle. If you think about it, there may have been a huge number of men, but if they were afraid, they may very well have gotten in the way of Gideon's ability to carry out GOD's will.

Now, look at it this way: when GOD needs to use us for some purpose of His, he will point out things in our lives that have simply got to go. We may have a lot of friends we hang out with. But in order to follow Him, we may have to get rid of them, even if it leaves us friendless. We like our cable TV. But if it's getting in the way of the things we need to do in order to draw nearer to GOD, then we may have to get by with rabbit ears. And you know, a paper clip works real good in that little antenna hole. When I came to know Christ as my Lord, I had about 80 cassette tapes of Aerosmith, Motley Crue, and Metallica, and Van Halen. GOD told me "get rid of them". I stood next to the trash can and in they went one by one. Well, for Gideon, as if it wasn’t bad enough that GOD left him with 10,000 out of 32,000 soldiers, know what GOD said? "That's still too many." Sometimes we still have things we need to get rid of that are actually harmful.


So now we go through THE PURGING OF HARMFUL THINGS.
Verses 4-7
But the LORD said to Gideon, “The people are still too many; bring them down to the water, and I will test them for you there. Then it will be, that of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ the same shall go with you; and of whomever I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ the same shall not go.” So he brought the people down to the water. And the LORD said to Gideon, “Everyone who laps from the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set apart by himself; likewise everyone who gets down on his knees to drink.” And the number of those who lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, was three hundred men; but all the rest of the people got down on their knees to drink water. Then the LORD said to Gideon, “By the three hundred men who lapped I will save you, and deliver the Midianites into your hand. Let all the other people go, every man to his place.”

Boy, things just keep looking up for this adventure don’t they? "OK, first you tell me that my 32,000 are too many. Then you tell me 10,000 are too many. So now I'm left with 300? Has anybody got a Tylenol?" Now, it may seem odd that GOD would give this test of how men drank from a stream. But check it out: I remember my Sunday school teacher from when I was a kid telling us about this. If you are bent down over a stream to drink, you can't see what's going on around you. But, if you bring the water to your mouth with your hand, you can see everything. GOD wanted men who would be ready to fight at the snap of a finger.

The same is true today. In 1st Peter 5:8, it says to Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. And if we're not able to see that roaring lion when he comes stalking around, we're gonna get swallowed up whole. But, if we are constantly bringing that "living water" to our lips to drink, it's easier to see that roaring lion when he comes our way. After all, think about the shape of your hands when you cup them to take a drink of water. Then think about the shape of your hands when you hold your Bible open. See what I mean? Now, I'm not saying you have to memorize every verse in the Scriptures. But if you learn the major passages it makes it a lot easier to find the others. When we get ourselves prepared to go, when we prune unnecessary things out of our lives, when we purge those things that will hold us back from doing His will, then we will hear the promise of GOD.


THE PROMISE OF GOD
Verses 9-11
It happened on the same night that the LORD said to him, “Arise, go down against the camp, for I have delivered it into your hand. But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant, and you shall hear what they say; and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.” Then he went down with Purah his servant to the outpost of the armed men who were in the camp.

You see, so often, by looking at things through our own eyes, we don’t see that it's not a matter of whether GOD will work it out. He already has. All we need to do is go. So many times people in the Bible wrote "GOD WILL", or "GOD SHALL". But many more times, they wrote how GOD told them "I have delivered the enemy into your hand." In other words, before it even happened, IT WAS A DONE DEAL!! But, sometimes we need proof.


THE PROOF WE SEEK
Verses 13-15
And when Gideon had come, there was a man telling a dream to his companion. He said, “I have had a dream: To my surprise, a loaf of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian; it came to a tent and struck it so that it fell and overturned, and the tent collapsed.” Then his companion answered and said, “This is nothing else but the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel! Into his hand God has delivered Midian and the whole camp.” And so it was, when Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, that he worshiped. He returned to the camp of Israel, and said, “Arise, for the LORD has delivered the camp of Midian into your hand.”

Remember "the sword of Gideon?" So many times when people who have put their trust in GOD for just about everything-and sometimes for their very survival-see their prayers answered, their lives are a testimony to the world about how GOD provides. And here, GOD proves to Gideon that He has indeed delivered the enemy into his hands. Then, when GOD provides, there has to be an act of faith on our part.

THE PERFORMANCE OF OUR FAITH
Verses 20-22
Then the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the pitchers—they held the torches in their left hands and the trumpets in their right hands for blowing—and they cried, “The sword of the LORD and of Gideon!” And every man stood in his place all around the camp; and the whole army ran and cried out and fled. When the three hundred blew the trumpets, the LORD set every man’s sword against his companion throughout the whole camp; and the army fled to Beth Acacia, toward Zererah, as far as the border of Abel Meholah, by Tabbath.

That passage from Hebrews that I read earlier talks about not only those people's faith, but how they acted on that faith. And our good friend Gideon is mentioned along with Abraham, and Moses, and Abel. When he heard the dream, he went to the 300 men, told them the plan, and when the time was right, GOD delivered. Now I need to give you a little background here. After all, how does an army of 135,000 get scared off by a couple hundred trumpets? I'll tell you. At the time they used ram's horns or shofars as trumpets. Normally, one shofar signaled 1000 men. When you sound 300 shofars, you signaled 300,000 men. See what I'm saying?

But then they heard these words—"The sword of YHWH and the sword of Gideon!" You know what one man must have asked. "Hey that's what did he say about that dream?" They were confused, they were scared. This great battle plan they had went out the window. They had no idea about what was going on. And Gideon saw how GOD fulfilled His promise. Just like we will when we let Him do what He needs to do. And when we do what we should—simply trust Him. You know, I think the reason that things work so much better when we trust GOD—other than the fact that He is GOD—instead of our own resources is this: when we try to fight spiritual battles using physical means—Satan knows how to confuse earthly things. But he still, to this day, has no idea how GOD is going to do something.

In fact, I'll bet Satan scared off those 22,000 that took off to begin with. And he convinced the other 9700 to get down on their knees to drink, not thinking for a second that GOD could use 300 men to defeat 135,000. Not thinking for a second that GOD can use simple people to complete His most awesome tasks.

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