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The Darkest Hour

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Scripture

Judges 7:1–8 NRSV
Then Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the troops that were with him rose early and encamped beside the spring of Harod; and the camp of Midian was north of them, below the hill of Moreh, in the valley. The Lord said to Gideon, “The troops with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand. Israel would only take the credit away from me, saying, ‘My own hand has delivered me.’ Now therefore proclaim this in the hearing of the troops, ‘Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home.’ ” Thus Gideon sifted them out; twenty-two thousand returned, and ten thousand remained. Then the Lord said to Gideon, “The troops are still too many; take them down to the water and I will sift them out for you there. When I say, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go with you; and when I say, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.” So he brought the troops down to the water; and the Lord said to Gideon, “All those who lap the water with their tongues, as a dog laps, you shall put to one side; all those who kneel down to drink, putting their hands to their mouths, you shall put to the other side.” The number of those that lapped was three hundred; but all the rest of the troops knelt down to drink water. Then the Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred that lapped I will deliver you, and give the Midianites into your hand. Let all the others go to their homes.” So he took the jars of the troops from their hands, and their trumpets; and he sent all the rest of Israel back to their own tents, but retained the three hundred. The camp of Midian was below him in the valley.
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Judges 1:1–7 NIV
After the death of Joshua, the Israelites asked the Lord, “Who of us is to go up first to fight against the Canaanites?” The Lord answered, “Judah shall go up; I have given the land into their hands.” The men of Judah then said to the Simeonites their fellow Israelites, “Come up with us into the territory allotted to us, to fight against the Canaanites. We in turn will go with you into yours.” So the Simeonites went with them. When Judah attacked, the Lord gave the Canaanites and Perizzites into their hands, and they struck down ten thousand men at Bezek. It was there that they found Adoni-Bezek and fought against him, putting to rout the Canaanites and Perizzites. Adoni-Bezek fled, but they chased him and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and big toes. Then Adoni-Bezek said, “Seventy kings with their thumbs and big toes cut off have picked up scraps under my table. Now God has paid me back for what I did to them.” They brought him to Jerusalem, and he died there.
Judges 1:1-7

Introduction

How many of you got to watch this movie. What a great piece of acting by Gary Oldham, no? The movie only covers a few weeks, but what a few weeks they were. If England had asked for a settlement with Germany can you imagine what would have happened. There is a scene in the movie where Churchill calls FDR for help and FDR refuses because of the neutrality act. Of course we did go on to help. But in that scene I though about the hoarding of resources.
What this movie doesn’t illustrate is that by World War 2 Churchill had become a man of faith. His great grandson Jonathan Sandys writes about this in his book “God and Churchill.” In the book the author talks about how Churchill felt he had a divine destiny. He believed his whole life was a preperation for that moment in history. In the book the story is told that at 16 Churchill told a friend that “that London would one day be attacked and that he would lead England to victory.” The co-author, Wallace Henly, comments, "God was intervening through this man in that period of history, So God will intervene in our history. He will raise up people like that."
This is the same thing God did with the Judges in the Old Testament and we’re going to take a look at Gideon this morning.

Contextual Background

The Book of Judges is written by an unknown author and the time of the composition is unknown. The book covers the period of time, about 480 years, after the conquest of the land by Joshua to the coronation of Saul. It was a time of uneasiness, fighting, and idolatry of the Israelites.
The nation was a loose collection of the 12 tribes that were supposed to have God as their King. A kind of theocracy if you wish. But even though they recognized God was their King they treated God like an absentee owner. It says this in:
Judges 17:6 NRSV
In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.
Judges 17
So we have a process of Israel falling away from God and the consequences of that and then God raising up a Judge to save his people. In this case we have Gideon, a most unlikely choice. Gideon, who’e name means hacker or slasher was part of the tribe of Manasseh the clan of Abiezer.
Gideon is visited by an Angel of YHWH in his hometown of Ophra. The angel recruits Gideon and promises him that YHWH will be with him. But Gideon calls for a sign. YHWH then comes to him in person and tells him to destroy the idolatrous sites in his area. Gideon complies even though reluctant.
And of course this need for assurance leads to the story of the Fleece when God recruits him to fight the Midianites. The fleece is not a sign of faith. It is a sign of weakness an indecision. A sign that Gideon is not entirely sure of himself. It is a sign of self doubt in the face of trying times. Here are Gideon’s true colors:
Judges 6:27 NRSV
So Gideon took ten of his servants, and did as the Lord had told him; but because he was too afraid of his family and the townspeople to do it by day, he did it by night.
Judges 7:10 NRSV
But if you fear to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah;
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So we see Gideon is an unlikey character for God to raise up.

Exegesis

So now with that background we can unpack these 7 verses. Gideon has received the sign of the fleece and recruits an army of 32,000 soldiers and God says that’s too many. God doesn’t want this army to take credit for the victory. God wants to make sure all Israel knows it was YHWH as warrior God that wins the victory. So he begins to “thin them out” as the NIV says. Poor translation though because the Hebrew uses language of metallurgy, god is really removing the dross if you will, or even better he’s smelting.
He first tells Gideon to let those that are afraid to go home (technically Gideon should have been one of these.) Believe it or not this is actually a Jewish law. if somone is going to desert or break rank it would be better for them to leave now instead of doing it in battle. Here’s the law from Deuteronomy
Deuteronomy 20:1–8 NRSV
When you go out to war against your enemies, and see horses and chariots, an army larger than your own, you shall not be afraid of them; for the Lord your God is with you, who brought you up from the land of Egypt. Before you engage in battle, the priest shall come forward and speak to the troops, and shall say to them: “Hear, O Israel! Today you are drawing near to do battle against your enemies. Do not lose heart, or be afraid, or panic, or be in dread of them; for it is the Lord your God who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to give you victory.” Then the officials shall address the troops, saying, “Has anyone built a new house but not dedicated it? He should go back to his house, or he might die in the battle and another dedicate it. Has anyone planted a vineyard but not yet enjoyed its fruit? He should go back to his house, or he might die in the battle and another be first to enjoy its fruit. Has anyone become engaged to a woman but not yet married her? He should go back to his house, or he might die in the battle and another marry her.” The officials shall continue to address the troops, saying, “Is anyone afraid or disheartened? He should go back to his house, or he might cause the heart of his comrades to melt like his own.”
So, the troops were reduced by 22K. That left 12K. But God is not finished, now he tells Gideon to separate the lappers from the kneelers. This leaves 300. 300 to counter 125,000. Sounds a little like Dunkirk 330,000 versus 800,000. Dunkirk was a miracle , but so was this battle of Gideons. He defeated 125, 000 with 300.
Now, let’s go back to Churchill. The man chosen by God has the weight of the world on him 330,000 men are trapped on the beaches. His government is falling apart because of his political foes that want to sue for peace. He is afraid, and full of self doubt. You can imagine, he saw himself as destined for this and it looks like he’s failing and the British will soon be speaking German. A swastika to soon fly over Buckingham Palace. Let’s take a look at this video.

Video

Application

Churchill from a teenager felt he was destined to lead England out of a dark hour was at his wits end. The support of the King and later a ride on the London subway convinced him that God was with him, maybe it was his fleece? Just days after this he gave his famous we shall fight them on the beaches speech. Churchill was probably not as an unusual character as Gideon, but he wasn’t perfect. He drank far too much, he had a volatile temper and had made scores of political enemies during his career. Yet God used him in a pivotal point in history. God raised up Gideon and God raised up Churchill.
And according to his great grandson, it was his faith in God that got him thorough it.
Sandy’s says, "Unlike Adolph Hitler, great grandpapa directed the hope of the people toward God. Whenever he used God or used a Bible quote within a speech, it was always to push people's hopes toward God."
At one time Montgomery, a commited Christian asked Churchill,, “"'What do you think about Jesus Christ?' And Churchill said, 'Jesus Christ was unsurpassed in his capacity to save sinners.' Those were his words. We quote them in the book," Henley said.
So what can we learn here from Gideon and Churchill? Well first sometime we need all our confidence stripped away before we really can serve God. We have to realize there is nothing we do on our own. God was convincing the Israelites of that by smelting Gideon’s army. Churchill too realized it was all God’s doing.
Sometimes God has to expose our fear and lack of trust in him. He has to break down our egos so it all becomes about him.
Aren’t we the same? Aren’t we all a little afraid to risk everything for God? That’s why Churchill was having second thoughts about peace. He risked a whole nation to defeat evil. Many were for peace at all costs because they felt the risk was too much especially after the number of young men killed during WW1. When Churchill met with the King in that shabby room at 10 Downing Street he felt all alone . Don’t we sometimes? Isn’t that human when it seems we are up against unsurmountable odds?
Does God want to use you in some way? it could be mentoring a child, teaching Sunday School, or give more money than you thought possible. But we are timid, can God really use us? I’m too old. I’m too weak. I don’t have the education. I don’t have the time. In words of my Brother in law killed in Vietnam who was trying to teach me to hit a baseball, and I kept saying I cant, I can’t , I can’t, he looked at me and said “Can’t never could.” He didn't get to see me lead the fast pitch softball league i played in led that league in batting average. I have taken that phrase my entire life, “Can’t never could.”
And as we sit and wait for the building to be sold and to by property and the coop. There will be those who say we can’t we can’t we can’t, will can’t never could! But God can and will!

Video

Nevah give in!
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