Failures of our Fathers

Honouring our father and mother does not mean honouring our father and our mother’s sins. And we do not honour our family when we ignore the sin that is tearing them apart.

JDudgeon on May 26, 2024
Failures of our Fathers
May 26, 2024

Failures of our Fathers

Passage: Judges 6:1-32
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It’s been said that If you want to change the world, make your bed. One of the ways we can take that statement is that if you want to do great things out there, you need to start by taking care of things closer to home.

That was certainly true for Gideon, the fifth judge in the book of Judges. Gideon’s story is the longest judge cycle that we’ve seen until now, spanning four chapters which we’ll take up over four weeks. Gideon is one of the better-known Judges. Unlike Ehud, I learned about him in Sunday school. Who can forget about the 300 men with torches and pots routing the Midianite army?

But before he got there, before he could deal with the enemy from without, he had to deal with the enemy a lot closer to home. And that’s what our time this morning will focus on.

1. The Sin Cycle (vv. 1-10)

But before we even get to that, we need to start with the sin cycle. The story of Gideon begins with words that are familiar to us by now—“The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian seven years” (Judges 6:1).

This time it’s the Midianites, a nomadic people from the south that Israel had encountered and fought against during the exodus and wilderness years. We might think that seven years is an improvement, compared to the twenty years they were under the rule of Jabin. But these seven years sound like the hardest years of oppression that Israel has faced yet. Listen again to verses 2-5:

“And the hand of Midian overpowered Israel, and because of Midian the people of Israel made for themselves the dens that are in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds. For whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them. They would encamp against them and devour the produce of the land, as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey. For they would come up with their livestock and their tents; they would come like locusts in number—both they and their camels could not be counted—so that they laid waste the land as they came in” (Judges 6:2–5).

Over seven years, Midian absolutely destroys the land of Israel. The people have to make caves and dens, perhaps as a place to hide food, just to survive. This is not like Eglon, exacting a tribute from Israel. This is more like an swarm of locusts, as verse five says—destroying everything in their wake.

God had promised His people in Deuteronomy 28:38 that if they broke his covenant, “You shall carry much seed into the field and shall gather in little, for the locust shall consume it” (Deuteronomy 28:38). And now that’s happening, although these locusts are the vicious peoples of Midian and Amalek and the Easterners.

No doubt verse 6 is summing up a lot when it says that “Israel was brought very low because of Midian.” And the oppression is so excruciating that it only takes them seven years before they begin to cry out for help to the Lord.

But this time, instead of sending help right away, the Lord sends a prophet. We don’t know this prophet’s name, where he was from, or anything about him, but we do know his message. Verse 8: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of slavery. And I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you and gave you their land. And I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.’ But you have not obeyed my voice” (Judges 6:8–10).

You see what’s going on here? God is reminding them of why they are experiencing what they are experiencing. He is making sure they don’t forget this is their fault. He warned them. Many times. They’ve been through this before. Many times. And the way that this speech from the prophet ends gives you the sense that God doesn’t owe them anything. This is their doing. He would be just to leave them in this spot. This is on them.

2. Gideon’s Call

But He’s not going to leave them in this spot, right? He’s going to respond to His people’s plea and save them. He’s going to raise up a judge who is going to save His people.

What’s unique about this story is that, unlike some earlier stories, we don’t just read “and the Lord raised up Gideon, and he saved Israel.” We read, in detail, how God raised up Gideon, and how he saved Israel. And so verses 11-24 tell us about Gideon’s call.

Let’s consider verse 11: “Now the angel of the Lord came and sat under the terebinth at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites” (Judges 6:11).

The angel of the Lord, this messenger of God so closely associated with God himself, takes on a human form, and comes and sits nearby Gideon, who is beating out wheat in a winepress.

Wheat was not usually beat out in a winepress. It was beat out on a threshing floor, an exposed platform where the chaff could blow away. But of course, if it’s exposed, the Midianites can see it and take it. So Gideon is hiding out with some contraband wheat in a winepress, which is the opposite of a threshing floor. It was a low area, looking a bit like a shallow hot tub, where grapes were crushed.

Have you ever had to use the wrong tool for a job? Like using the back side of a screwdriver to pound a nail into a wall? It’s miserable work.

We can imagine Gideon, hunched over, trying to avoid detection, threshing the wheat in this small hot-tub like area, where the chaff isn’t blowing away very well, the job is taking way too long, and he’s looking around nervously hoping someone isn’t going to see him. Meanwhile, through the heat waves, he barely notices the man sitting under the nearby tree, watching him.

We don’t know how long this occurs before the angel makes himself known to Gideon and speaks to him, verse 12: “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.”

What an interesting greeting. Nothing about Gideon suggests that he’s a mighty man of valour. In fact, a man hiding out threshing grain in a winepress seems like the opposite of a mighty man of valour. Some had suggested that the angel’s words describe who Gideon is going to become. God sees who he will be in the future, much like calling Peter a rock.

On the other hand, these words could also be taken to refer to God Himself. The God who is with Gideon is the mighty man of valour. That fits with the theme that came out last week of God the warrior fighting for His people.

Either way, Gideon probably doesn’t feel like a mighty warrior, probably doesn’t see God as a mighty warrior, and definitely doesn’t think God is with him. As he says in verse 13, “Please, my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian’” (Judges 6:13).

Apparently Gideon didn’t hear the prophet’s message in verses 8-10. He talks about the same events—God leading them up out of Egypt, doing wonderful deeds for their fathers. But he asks, “Where is God now?” as if what’s happened is God’s fault and not their fault.

Gideon does not seem to understand the way the covenant works. Gideon does not seem to understand that Midian’s oppression is a covenant curse, and thus evidence of God’s continued faithfulness to His covenant. He does not seem to understand that their own idolatry and sin got them into this mess.

And the greatest irony is that Gideon himself is speaking to the angel of the Lord, Yahweh’s personal messenger. The Lord was literally with him. And he’s blind to it.

But notice how God responds. He doesn’t get into an argument with Gideon. He doesn’t even rebuke him for His foolishness. He answers Gideon’s question by sending him to go and save Israel.

Verse 14: “And the Lord turned to him and said, ‘Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?’”

What “strength of yours”? Again, Gideon doesn’t seem like a man of much strength. I’ve heard people explain this verse by suggesting that God saw some might inside of Gideon that Gideon himself didn’t see yet. That sounds very Disney. And it’s probably not what’s going on here. Whatever might or power Gideon is going to have comes from the fact that, as we’ve already heard, the Lord is with Him. He has power because the powerful God has graciously committed to being with Gideon and using Gideon to save His people.

But Gideon is still struggling. Verse 15: “And he said to him, ‘Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house’.”

Does this sound familiar at all? Making excuses to dodge God’s call. Sounds like Moses. Neither of them wanted to obey God right away. Both of them put up a fuss. Both of them needed signs to obey, as we’ll find out soon enough with Gideon. And this reminds us again that God does not pick the strongest people and use them. He often chooses those who are weak in faith, those who struggle, because it gives Him the glory when the victory comes from Him. As He says in verse 16, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.’”

And by this point Gideon has started to figure out who might be talking to him. And now comes the request for a sign. Gideon needs some proof that this is really God talking to him.

Verse 17: “If now I have found favor in your eyes, then show me a sign that it is you who speak with me. Please do not depart from here until I come to you and bring out my present and set it before you.’ And he said, ‘I will stay till you return’” (Judges 6:17–18).

So Gideon goes in to his house and prepares a feast for his guest—a young goat and flatbread from about 22 litres of flour. We’re reminded again of middle eastern hospitality, and how generous they are with guests. And he brings them out under the tree to his guest. And that’s when he gets some interesting instructions in verse 20: “And the angel of God said to him, ‘Take the meat and the unleavened cakes, and put them on this rock, and pour the broth over them.’ And he did so.”

What’s going on? That’s not how you eat a meal. That is how you arrange a sacrifice. Maybe Gideon was catching on to this, maybe not, but either way he obeys. And then, in verse 21, “the angel of the Lord reached out the tip of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened cakes. And fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened cakes. And the angel of the Lord vanished from his sight” (Judges 6:21).

Gideon didn’t know it, but his goat and cakes became a burnt offering to the Lord. And this sign—this supernatural ignition and disappearance of the angel—tells Gideon what he needs to know. Verse 22: “Then Gideon perceived that he was the angel of the Lord.”

And his reaction is very telling. Gideon responds the way that everybody in Scripture responds when they see the Lord or His messenger. Verse 22: “And Gideon said, ‘Alas, O Lord God! For now I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face.”

To see God is to die. “Man shall not see me and live” said the Lord to Moses (Ex 33:20). And that goes for the angel of the Lord as well, who is so closely associated with God that to see the angel is to see God. Gideon has seen God’s personal messenger, and now he fears for his life.

But God responds with mercy. Verse 23: “But the Lord said to him, ‘Peace be to you. Do not fear; you shall not die.’” His life is spared, perhaps symbolically by the sacrifice that he didn’t even know he was offering. And so Gideon builds an altar to the Lord and calls is, “The Lord is Peace.” Yahweh Shalom. Gideon is at peace with God because God has been merciful to him.

3. Gideon’s First Mission

So, Gideon has been called by God, and we’re left wondering what the next steps are. What the grand battle plan is. How the Midianites are going to be chased from the land.

But not so fast.

Before the Midianites can be dealt with, the sin that brought them upon Israel needs to be dealt with. Israel has cried out to the Lord for help (v. 6) but they have not yet repented of the sin that God them into trouble in the first place.

And so getting rid of the enemy without addressing the underlying sin is like spray painting over a rusty spot on your car. It’s going to come back. You have to get rid of the root cause before you go after the symptom.

And so Gideon is given his first mission. This is our third and final stop in the passage, and it begins in verse 25: “That night the Lord said to him, ‘Take your father’s bull, and the second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal that your father has, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it and build an altar to the Lord your God on the top of the stronghold here, with stones laid in due order. Then take the second bull and offer it as a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah that you shall cut down’” (Judges 6:25–26).

Gideon’s father has an altar to Baal, as well as a carved wooden idol of Asherah. Just consider this: Gideon has been appointed the deliverer for Israel while his own dad is engaged in the very idolatry that got Israel into this mess in the first place.

And Gideon is not told to negotiate. He’s not told to talk to his dad and try to reason with him. That’s happened already. These people have been challenged and taught and rebuked and disciplined for this over and over again. The time for talk is long past.

It’s time now for obedience. Way back in Deuteronomy 12:3 God’s people were told, “You shall tear down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and burn their Asherim with fire. You shall chop down the carved images of their gods and destroy their name out of that place” (Deuteronomy 12:3). And that’s what Gideon is going to do.

But that’s scary, isn’t it? It’s one thing to tear down a pagan alter in the middle of a war. It’s another thing to tear down your dad’s alter that you’ve grown up with and everybody accepts as normal. Turning this altar to Baal into an alter to Yahweh would be the ultimate insult to his father’s religion and a direct challenge to every Baal worshipper in the community.

Not to mention destroying his property. Not just a highly prized shrine to Asherah and Baal, but a valuable bull that had somehow been kept hidden from the Midianites all those years.

But sweeping things under the rug is not an option. God tells Gideon to take his dad’s bulls, tear down the alter and the shrine to Asherah, and then use the stones and the wood to make an alter to the one true God—and then burn one of his dad’s bulls on it.

And Gideon accepts. Verse 27: “So Gideon took ten men of his servants and did as the Lord had told him. But because he was too afraid of his family and the men of the town to do it by day, he did it by night.”

It’s good that he obeys, and right away. This is encouraging. What’s not encouraging is that he has to do it at night because he’s afraid. Now I don’t think this reflects poorly on Gideon. This reflects poorly on the people in that village. His family is so devoted to Baal and Asherah that when he tears this down, they’re not going to say “finally, I’m glad someone did that.” He’s going to be in danger. So he has to get this job done under cover of darkness.

Can you imagine how hard his heart would have been pounding? Trying to keep the bulls quiet. Hooking up the ropes to that alter his dad had used in worship of Baal time and time again. Pulling over that idol to Asherah that he’d seen at the centre of lusty orgies, probably as a participant. Taking the axe to it. Cutting the throat of his father’s prize bull. Starting the fire and hoping nobody is up and notices it. Going back to bed exhausted and barely believing it had even happened.

But it did. And in the morning, his fears are confirmed. “When the men of the town rose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was broken down, and the Asherah beside it was cut down, and the second bull was offered on the altar that had been built. And they said to one another, ‘Who has done this thing?” And after they had searched and inquired, they said, ‘Gideon the son of Joash has done this thing.’ Then the men of the town said to Joash, ‘Bring out your son, that he may die, for he has broken down the altar of Baal and cut down the Asherah beside it’” (Judges 6:28–30).

Sure enough, Gideon is facing his second brush with death. And isn’t this sad? So devoted are they to Baal that they want to kill him, even though, according to the law, they are the ones who deserve death for worshipping Baal and Asherah (Deut 13:6-10). But deliverance comes from a really surprising place: his own dad, whose property he just destroyed.

Verse 31: “But Joash said to all who stood against him, ‘Will you contend for Baal? Or will you save him? Whoever contends for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been broken down.’”

In a really unlikely turn, Joash turns out to be Gideon’s ally and protector. I mean, I wouldn’t have been surprised if Joash himself wanted to kill his son. But it seems like Joash has been harbouring his own doubts about Baal. Or perhaps, seeing Gideon standing alive after destroying Baal’s alter, Joash has just started to recalculate his faith. Commitments

What he helps these people understand is the silliness of them thinking they need to stand up and defend Baal. If Baal is a god, he can take care of himself.

If Baal needs people to defend him and save him, then he’s not much of a god at all, is he? So, he says, if you try to defend Baal by killing my son, I’ll kill you. We’ll stay out of this and let Baal take care of himself.

Who knows what exactly was going on in Joash’s heart, but his words certainly invite reflection on the powerlessness of Baal. If he’s a real god, he’ll deal with Gideon. The fact that Gideon is still alive suggests that maybe they’ve been wrong about Baal all along.

Verse 32 wraps up this portion of the story by saying, “Therefore on that day Gideon was called Jerubbaal, that is to say, ‘Let Baal contend against him,’ because he broke down his altar” (Judges 6:32). Gideon picks up a new name, one that’s almost a living prayer by the Baal worshippers that Baal himself would contend against him. Which means that, every day Gideon is alive, he’s living proof of how fake and powerless Baal is.


And that’s as far as we’ll make it today. Gideon has scored an early victory, but the Midianites still loom. And that’s where we’ll pick up next week.

For now, let’s consider the grace of God, who chooses to save His people despite their sin. Who chooses to save using Gideon, despite His foolishness.

Let’s consider the importance of Gideon dealing with the idolatry in his own family before he could do anything for the nation. Consider how different this is from some of the ideas people embrace today. I’ve heard people say, and certainly watched them practice, the idea that we should turn a blind eye to sin in our families because maintaining those relationships is more important than anything else.

I’ve heard people explain that the Bible’s clear instructions on how to deal with sin do not apply when it comes to family because those family ties take precedent.

And God does not see things that way. Earlier I referred to the words from Deuteronomy 13, but just listen to these instructions God gave Israel: “If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son or your daughter or the wife you embrace or your friend who is as your own soul entices you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ which neither you nor your fathers have known, some of the gods of the peoples who are around you, whether near you or far off from you, from the one end of the earth to the other, you shall not yield to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him, nor shall you conceal him. But you shall kill him. Your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. You shall stone him to death with stones, because he sought to draw you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Deuteronomy 13:6–10).

Family doesn’t get a pass. Instead, family was to be first in executing capital punishment against those who sought to entice people away from the Lord.

Now, just in case it needs to be said, capital punishment was a part of the old covenant. Christians do not put people to death for apostasy. The instructions for us would come in 1 Corinthians 5:11, which says, “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.”

And the consistent pattern of Scripture would tell us that these instructions still apply when the person in question is related to us.

Another way to put this is that honouring our father and mother does not mean honouring our father and our mother’s sins. And we do not honour our father and mother or our grandparents or brothers or sisters or children when we ignore the sin that is tearing them apart and tearing apart their relationship with God and others.

Ignoring sin feels nice in the moment, but it’s not actually love. What Gideon did for his father that day was an act of love, even though nobody probably understood that at the time. Sitting across from a family member and saying, “I can’t celebrate around the family table with you as long as you claim the name of Christ and persist in this lifestyle of rebellion against the Lord’s word,” is love, even though few will recognize it at the time.

I’ll warn you, from experience, that choosing to obey God instead of maintaining family expectations is one of the hardest things you might ever do. But let’s nor forget the call of Christ: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37).

And let’s not forget the wonderful truth behind all of this. Choosing Christ over family, if that’s what’s required, is possible because of what Christ has done for us. “You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” (1 Peter 1:18–19).

We’ve been given a new identity through the blood of Christ. A new family history—no longer chained to the failures of our fathers, but a new lineage of “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

And for that we owe everything to Christ and His redeeming love.

And so it’s a joy now that we get to turn to the table, where we remember Christ’s death as our substitute, his body and blood given and shed for us. We remember the new identity, the new heritage, the new reality we live in as a result of His grace.

We’re given a fresh opportunity to repent of any idolatry we’re convicted of—any places in our lives where we know we’ve wanted things that God has not chosen to give us. The New Testament tells us that covetousness is idolatry. That craving for more, of prizing things above God. Maybe that’s possessions. Maybe that’s even family. The Lord’s table is a fresh chance to cast down our idols as we remember who we are, and who Christ is, and celebrate who we are together in Him.