On that very night the LORD said to Gideon, "Take your father's young bull and a second bull seven years old, tear down your father's altar to Baal, and cut down the Asherah pole beside it.
I. IT IS A RELIGIOUS WORK OF INDIVIDUAL AND NATIONAL CONSEQUENCE. An idolatrous sitar to be razed, an altar to the true God to be reared. The plan of the altar of Baal was different from that of the altar of Jehovah, and could not be mistaken for it. The whole neighbourhood knew. How many such substitutions are taking place every day - the symbol of wickedness and unbelief giving place to that of faith. Our works are our true words to men. Much of the Christian religion consists in witnessing. There cannot be too marked a contrast, if it be real. A religious revolution of the most radical description took place. The whole question of religion was once more raised, and settled otherwise.
II. IT WAS A COMPLETE WORK. Not only destruction, but construction; negative and positive. All true witnessing should be such. Negative criticism merely is mischievous. It is not enough to declare ourselves by abstention and inaction, or by rebuke and captious judgment; we must do the works of God. We must build as well as destroy.
III. IT WAS A TEST OF his SINCERITY.
1. It committed Gideon. There could be no drawing back. It was a challenge to the whole people. The hill-top was seen from afar.
2. It required energy. No slight task even as a manual labour. Organisation, leadership, vigorous and timely effort were necessary.
3. Courage was demanded. A new beginning, a great reform, had to be made. Difficult to take the initiative. Many reasons could have been found for conformity to established usages. The most rancorous hatred would be at once aroused. Only high faith and clear, Heaven-informed purpose could have secured his success.
III. IT WAS A PERSONAL, IMMEDIATE, AND DOMESTIC WORK. Joash, infirm as his faith in Baal was, was responsible for the erection and maintenance of the altar of Baal. The worship was popular, and he patronised it. That had to be publicly retracted. How near at hand was the field of Gideon's first work I His own life had to be openly changed; his home had to witness his zeal for God. There are many who profess to be at a loss for something by which to testify their love for God and righteousness. Let them do righteously, love mercy, and walk humbly before God, and there will soon be disturbance and persecution. Our own homes are to be the scenes of our first obedience. What have we done there? And although, apparently, a day intervened between the vision and the work of demolition, yet no time was lost. The first fitting opportunity is sought and utilised, and the interval is occupied with the necessary preparations. So God expects prompt obedience from all his children. The smoke of that new altar - how much it signified I Are we yet his? Let us lose no time in giving our hearts to him. What is our record? Let our deeds speak for us. Time is short. - M.
I. Observe GOD'S COMMAND TO GIDEON.
Mark 9:43-48). Another lesson to be derived from Gideon's conduct on this occasion is the duty of obeying the commands of God with unquestioning promptitude. Too rash and impetuous we may be, but we can never be too prompt. Instructive as the example of Gideon is, still more so is that of his Master and our Exemplar who, when the bitter cup of retribution due to us was put into His hand and He was satisfied that it was indeed the will of His Father that He should drink it, drank it to the very dregs.
Throw down the altar of Baal.1. Observe God's command to Gideon. He had been hitherto protesting against the idolatry of his family and country by a life of opposition, inasmuch as it was a life of humble, pious fear, and love of Jehovah, and of the worship of Him as the true God. But now he is commanded to perform an act of opposition. Gideon is to destroy Baal's altar before he builds God's; the same altar will not do: God will have no polluted sacrifice; if there is any connection at all between the two, it shall be only this, that the wood of Baal's grove shall be made fuel to burn the sacrifice on Jehovah's altar. Now may not this act of Gideon's, under the Old Testament dispensation, be made to speak the language of the New? "No man can serve two masters; ye cannot serve God and Mammon," any more than God and Baal. But it is a noble act, worthy of the imitator of Gideon, to make the things which were before "an occasion of falling" the instruments of doing good, by putting them to a sanctified use; making them subservient to the furtherance of the gospel, instead of fostering "the lust of the eye and the pride of life," as they did before. Whatever has been the accompaniment of your idol-worship, cut it down, and apply it to a holy purpose; make it fuel for the altar of God. But where shall Gideon build the altar of God? Is it to stand in the place of Baal's? No; as if this were a contamination, the thing is forbidden: "Build an altar unto the Lord upon the top of this rock." The reason was obvious. That rock was the place where the angel of the covenant had met him. That rock was the place on which the miracle had been wrought, to show the Godhead of Him that wrought it and to confirm the faith of him who witnessed it. That rock was the place from whence ascended the sacrifice which the angel had made acceptable by ascending with it. That rock had already witnessed the manifestations of God to Gideon; and there was written, as it were, upon it, "Jehovah-shalom."
2. Observe Gideon's prompt obedience to God's command. He seems to have begun the destruction of idolatry that very night in which God had given the command. Oh, the sad effects of procrastination in matters which respect the overthrow of the idols of the heart and the dedication of the heart to God! How is it that when the command of God is proclaimed to do this there is such hesitation and delay? It is not so much from a determination not to obey it at all as from a fallacious hope of being better able to comply with it at some other time, which time is constantly keeping its distance in proportion as life itself advances.
3. We notice the influence of Gideon's character and conduct over those who were in his service: "Gideon took ten men of his servants, and did as the Lord said unto him." It seems that Gideon had not only kept himself from the defilement of his country's idolatry, but that he had used his influence and authority in endeavouring to preserve his servants from it also; and now, when he has to perform a work beyond his own strength — a work in which not one man in his father's house, nor in all Israel, can be found to help him — the hearts of his own ten servants are made willing to unite with him, and they give him a proof on which he can depend that his counsel and example have had a proper effect by assisting him at the risk of their lives. Here, then, is a point of Gideon's character which deserves the imitation of every master of a family. Gideon keeps his own servants from bowing the knee to Baal. He instructs them in the knowledge of the true God. His authority is exercised for the best of purposes.
4. Observe how professing Christians may often be put to confusion and shame by a comparison with those very idolaters whose ignorance appears so pitiable in their sight. Here is a god made of a log of wood or a block of stone; it is a lifeless and senseless image: and yet his worshippers "rise up early in the morning" to worship him. See how diligent they are in his service, how zealous for his honour, how fervent in their devotions! Compare that god with our God, and then compare those worshippers with ourselves.
5. Observe how the enmity of the carnal heart shows itself when any effort is made for promoting the worship and glory of God. "The men of the city said unto Joash, Bring out thy son, that he may die: because he hath cast down the altar of Baal." As long as religion remains a dead letter, a mere matter of profession devoid of practice, the world will not cry out against it. But when the decisive part which the Christian takes shows the difference which exists between him and others as to motive and principle; when his life is seen to be a constant reproach to theirs, and his love for God a contrast to their love for mammon; when Baal's altar is cast down, and God's altar built; then the carnal mind becomes a spirit of persecution; then a man's foes become those of his own household; and because he is not content to think or speak about religion merely, but is active enough to do something for the cause, he is made to suffer for it. Hence the calumny which a zealous Christian undergoes; hence all the misconstruction put upon his good works; hence all the evil motives charged upon him, and all the hard speeches which are spoken against him. Lastly, observe that God can "make the wrath of man to praise Him, and the remainder of wrath He can restrain." It might have been supposed that Joash, whose bullock had been slain and whose altar had been thrown down, would have been more enraged than the rest. But, lo! he takes the part of the accused. It seems as if he had been secretly influenced by his son's pious example; and perhaps he was struggling with the convictions of his own mind upon the folly and wickedness of his idolatry when the conduct of these men brought him at once to the point. Gideon commits his cause to God; and God not only takes care of the cause, but of Gideon. And so it is, and always shall be, with the Christian who is called forth to fight the battles of the Lord. He shall be able, in the strength of his Master, to put to flight all who oppose his progress.
(W. W. Duncan, M. A.)
1. Gideon is commanded to destroy the altar of Baal. "God or Baal" — not "God and Baal" was the point to be settled before any deliverance could be expected. Now, throw New Testament light upon this, and what do we learn? The lesson is trumpet-tongued. No compromise — no halting between two opinions — is the language of the command. God hates a divided heart. He will not endure two altars. He will give no deliverance as long as Baal's altar stands. No sacrifice, however costly, is, or can be, accepted, which is offered upon the polluted altar of man's corrupt heart. A new altar must be built up — an altar of God's workmanship — of God, and for God, that is the only altar which will sanctify an acceptable gift. Any attempt to worship at Jehovah's altar on one day in seven, and to worship at the altar of Baal or Mammon on the other six days of the week, is not only vain, but suicidal. God will have a new heart, and a whole heart, or none.
2. The next thing Gideon was commanded to do was to cut down Baal's grove and make it fuel for the altar of God. Groves were not idolatrous — there was no harm in them — but they were occasions of sin, How many had been ruined, and ruined for ever, under the foliage of those groves! Perversion of nature's growth to the dishonour of nature's God! Many would plead for the harmless trees who would condemn both: Baal and his idolatrous worship. But God knows the heart of the sinner better than he knows it himself; and therefore He says, "Cut down the grove." Cut down the occasion of sin. Touch not, taste not, handle not that which causes men to perish with the using. Avoid the spot, shun the places, where Satan's seat is. Do more than this! God commanded Gideon to "offer a burnt sacrifice with the wood of the grove." This was turning the idolatrous grove to a good purpose. Let there be no waste — no useless destruction. Money, health, time, influence, example, all, once expended for Baal, now let them all be as fuel for the altar of God.
3. The third thing God commanded Gideon to do was to build an altar unto the Lord his God. But where was this altar to be reared? Was it to stand on the spot whereon Baal's altar stood? No! the place is polluted. On no unhallowed spot must this altar be raised. Build it, said the Lord, "upon the top of this rock, in the ordered place." Gideon must build it upon the rock already consecrated by the wondrous doings thereon of the angel of the covenant. May we not say of this rock what Paul said of the smitten rock in the wilderness, "That rock was Christ." He is indeed both altar and rock — yea, He is Himself the sacrifice. Standing on Him alone as our Rock, we ever hear the words, "Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt riot die." He only is the true Rock — higher than we — far above the flood which sweeps the impenitent into the depths of woe. He, too, only is the Rock on which we can with safety place the altar of our hearts. The old foundation will not do — it is polluted — it is defiling. No altar, no sacrifice will God accept if it be offered upon the site of Baal's altar. "Behold, I make all things new" — this is our hope to come. This must be the rule of our faith and practice now.
II. And now we come to GIDEON'S OBEDIENCE.
1. His obedience was prompt. He did not give himself time to take counsel of his fears. He did it by night, lest he should be opposed and hindered. He had no fear on account of detection. He must have known that his deed would be proclaimed over the whole nation. His aim was to do the work out of hand, and leave the consequences with God. Duty was his, events were God's. Noble example. Half the shipwrecks of faith would be escaped were it followed. Procrastination is the bane of true godliness.
2. We observe, however, that Gideon's obedience was attended with personal danger. He needed courage and strong faith. Doubtless he sought for grace equal to that night of danger whence alone all strength cometh. The followers of Baal — the men of the city — were zealous for the worship of Baal. If idolaters be zealous for the honour of Baal, he will be no less zealous for the honour and glory of God. Now, it is just this zeal and this courage, in the face of danger and difficulties, which prove the character of the true Christian. If a man will venture nothing for Christ he is not worthy of Him. Ah, we need a Gideon to rise up in Israel! Rather we need that all the people of God should be as zealous for the true God, for His Word, for His day, for His worship, as idolaters are for the worship of Baal.
3. Mark, also, that Gideon's obedience was eminently successful and strikingly rewarded. He was for God, and God was for him. The Lord made his way prosperous. Gideon's ten servants did their work well. He was not left to do all the work himself. Doubtless they caught their master's spirit and zeal. It is astonishing how much influence for good or evil every master exercises over his own household. Eyes are upon him when he leasts suspects it. But Gideon was defended by one who of all others seemed pledged to oppose him. His father ceased to be an idolater that very night. Perhaps the bravery of his son, or his steady and consistent piety and zeal, convinced him of his sin, or perhaps the impotency of Baal to save himself was conclusive logic to his mind. Who can tell how many fathers and mothers in Israel, how many sons and daughters, relatives and friends, would be converted and saved, were Christian men and women as faithful to their God as was Gideon? You think to conciliate the world by concession, by connivance at their sinful principles and customs. Alas! your inconsistency only leads them to despise you. Be consistent, be uncompromising in serving the Lord; be courageous — obey God rather than man, and God will honour you, as he Has honoured many, and made them instruments in winning father and mother, brothers and sisters, to Christ.
(G. A. Rogers, M. A.)
(R. A. Watson, M. A.)
I. REFORM AT HOME SHOULD BE PREACHED TO NATIONS. These are days of rapid travel and national interchange. We visit all the world, and all the world visits us. This enables us to see the excellences and the defects of our neighbours; and I do not think that Englishmen have been slow to speak of the faults of others. But it may be well for us as a people to look a little more at home. If the angel of God came to us as he came to Gideon, I have a suspicion that he would say, "Break down the altar, turn out the idols, heal your own diseases, sweep before your own door, and reform your own abuses and inconsistencies." We send our missionaries to convert the heathen from their darkness and superstitions, and it is good that we should. We send our missionaries to convert the heathen, but what else do we send them? We send them our ardent spirits, our rum fiend, which undoes the good work the men of God succeed in doing. I feel like saying, "Before you send any more missionaries, sweep your own door-step, clean your own house." We have sent our ships into many waters, and our soldiers into many lands, to put down slavery; we have spent much in blood and treasure in this direction; but if the angel came to us as he did to Gideon, wouldn't he rebuke us for the slavery in our midst? If a tenth part of what we hear about the sweater be true, of poor women making clothes for the army, and I know not what beside, at a price on which they cannot live, isn't it time we swept in front of our own door?
II. REFORM AT HOME SHOULD BE PREACHED TO CHURCHES. We want revivals among the people which shall save them. Then the Church must be revived. We desire to lead the masses to Christ, that they may feel the warm glow of His love, and know the joy of His service. Then the Church must get nearer Christ. We must put out of the Church everything contrary to the spirit of Him whose name it bears. The Churches must be warm, generous, and large hearted, and this should apply both to pulpit and pew. The pulpit is not always as broad and sympathetic as might be. And there is a good deal of room for reform in the pew. Cold men in the pews create cold men in the pulpit. Let there be warmth and love in the pews, and the pulpit will warm up. But if icebergs be in the pews you will get marble in the pulpit, and seeking souls will be warned off by the chills which will be as cutting as the east wind.
III. REFORM AT HOME SHOULD BE PREACHED TO INDIVIDUALS. All reform should begin at self. We can only mend the universe as we mend its units. We want the nation better, then we must mend its men. We desire to see the Church of God pure and holy, then its members must be holy. Let us break down every altar, and eject every idol, and let the Lord of life, who has a right to rule ours, enter into possession of us.
(C. Leach, D. D.)
(R. A. Watson, M. A.)
(J. D. Jones.)
If he be a god, let him plead for himselfJohn 10:38); "Believe Me for the very works' sake," said He again (John 14:11). If, then, we say, "Judge our religion by its works, the tree by its fruits," you ask, "Well, what has it done?" And when this question is put, whole continents stand up to bear witness to the power and saving might of Jesus Christ. Whole peoples, who have come out of paganism and heathen darkness, say, "Look at us. We are what we are by Christ Jesus the Lord." What has Christianity done? It has filled dark places of the earth with light. It has sent help to the poor, hope to the despairing, comfort to the sad, salvation to the sinful, and restored fallen man to his reconciled God. But let us suppose for a moment that we listen to those who would take Christ and His religion out of the world. We ask them, "What will you put in place of these? What have you to offer us? Before I give up the old I want to see the new. Bring out your god, let us have a look at him. It will be interesting to see what he is like. We should like to know what he has done. We want to apply our test of results to him. We challenge you on this ground." A meeting was once held at which number of very clever people set themselves the task of opposing Christianity and slighting God. When the speaking was over, criticism and questions were asked for. After a short pause an old woman rose up on the floor of the meeting-place and said, "These men have been opposing religion and almost laughing at God. I want to ask what they can give me instead of what I have? I was left a widow with six children, not one of whom could work. I rested upon the promise of God, who says He is a husband to the widow and a father to the fatherless, and I have found His word to be true. For, though I have had a hard struggle, not one of my six children or myself ever wanted a bit of bread. I have brought them all up, and now I am just waiting till God thinks fit to take me home to rest. Will these men up there tell me what could have done better for me than my loving God has done?" It was an old woman's argument, but as it was one of experience it was powerful. I put her question, "What has infidelity done?" Until we can see something of its results we shall not be disposed to part with the religion which has lifted us into the higher regions of life and hope. We know too much of the blessings which result from Christianity ever to be persuaded to give it up. We have seen it reconstruct, remake men. It is said that now science has invented a way of dealing with the waste slag which comes from the iron furnaces which used to be thrown away in heaps as worthless. I have seen somewhere various useful articles, vases and others, made from the slag — waste, worthless materials worked up into articles of use and beauty. That is just what Christ does. He takes men who are cast off by the world as worthless and waste, and remakes them.
(C. Leach, D. D.)
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