Then Gideon said to God, "If You will deliver Israel by my hand, as You have said,
I. THE ENEMY PRESENTS HIMSELF IN SUDDEN, OVERWHELMING FORCE. A remarkable juncture. Esdraelon, the battle-field of Canaan. Here thrones and kingdoms had been lost and won. To the heart of flesh it would have been the death-knell of hope. There was no proportion between the extent of his possible preparation and the magnitude of the crisis. Many would have advised a policy of temporizing inaction. To the sent of God the circumstances pointed all the other way. Elijah at Horeb. Paul at Athens. The Son of man longing for his "hour." Are you in a minority; the only Christian in your office; with everything to discourage and tempt you? "Let not your heart be troubled." Outward difficulties are balanced and overpowered by spiritual reinforcements. "The Spirit of the Lord came upon him."
II. GIDEON'S SUMMONS TO ARMS MEETS WITH UNEXPECTED SUCCESS. "He blew a trumpet," i.e. he used the means. But probably he did not expect anything like the result. He was touching chords that vibrated in unforeseen directions. He didn't know the moral power he had acquired by his first work. We never can gauge the extent of our moral influence. Jerubbaal is the magnet. Strong in God, in himself, at home, throughout the nation. We are all guilty herein; we think God's people fewer and worse than they are. How much one steadfast, heroic soul can effect; how many others he can fire with enthusiasm and endue with courage by his example and actions!
III. SUDDEN SUCCESS OCCASIONS HUMILITY AND DOUBT. Clearly this man is not as others. He becomes strong against odds and vast oppositions, weak and hesitating when all goes well. Adversity and difficulty are plainer in their problems to the spiritual man than prosperity. But perhaps it was the quality of his soldiery he mistrusted. They did not seem of the right stuff for a duel a outrance. Perhaps the very suddenness of his power terrified him.
IV. HE SEEKS FOR WISDOM AND CONFIRMATION OF THE HEAVENLY GRACE.
1. Probably the very scene of his first vision - Association helps an imaginative, spirit. Spiritual associations are mightiest.
2. He proposes a sign that shall reveal his duty. Under ordinary circumstances this is dangerous and misleading. But the whole background of Gideon's career is miraculous, and he had a warrant to expect miracles. We have a complete revelation and a Divine example. The dew abundant in Canaan; the wetting of the fleece a rustic idea. The doubt is then suggested, What if all this be natural? Therefore -
3. The proof is reversed. As in experimental science the test of variations is employed, so here in spiritual divination. God accommodates himself to our weakness that he may vanquish it. Henceforth the path is clear and his mind is made up. Have we done all that conscience and revelation have made plain and obligatory? Have we gone to the Divine footstool for the wisdom and strength we required? - M.
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCE RECORDED IS HIGHLY HONOURABLE TO THE CHARACTER OF GIDEON. It shows that there was in him that caution and waiting, for the want of which how many a man has mistaken his mission, and instead of doing the work of the Lord, has made a wreck both of himself and his own work! "If Thou wilt save Israel by my hand." A full consciousness that Israel needs saving; but an indisposition to feel that such an honour could be conferred on him; such is a good index to the character of a man — a disposition to test ourselves. Am I fit? Am I capable? Can God use me? Am I he whom God will choose to do this work? Yes, I think we do well to apply tests to ourselves and to our position; to our religious life, and to our relation to God by our religious life. Do you not believe that there is an influence that covers a man with blessings? Do you not believe that there is a conduct which attracts to itself blessing? Hence the image is constantly occurring in Scripture between moisture and drought (Jeremiah 17:5-8; Psalm 1:3). "He shall be like a tree." There is the test — a tree, moistened by unseen springs, whose leaves are green even in the parched land and not inhabited. See David in the court of Saul. A dewy fleece in the midst of a land of drought. See Daniel at the courts of Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar. While all the uproar goes on, there the blasphemy, and the tokens of a coming doom; Daniel and his companions are in waiting on the Lord; without wine they are brave; their spirits are fresh, and they are ready for the service of God — a dewy fleece in a dry place. Who are the happy? I do not ask who are the successful, because I find often the happy are the unsuccessful. Setting all the world's calculations on one side, "Behold," says James, "we call them happy which endure." Whence, then, is the spring supplied which will never dry? The calm, the contented, and the hallowed blessedness of the holy heart. How often we find wealth is a dry fleece, while poverty is a dewy one! True, there is nothing in wealth to curse especially, but then there is nothing in wealth to bless especially; because of wealth, it is not that the dew refuses to fall, but the dew will not fall because wealth is there — only proving that wealth needs something more before it can be regarded as really a blessing; and poverty must be forgotten of God, and cut off from the dew before that state can be regarded as a curse.
I will put a fleece of wool in the floor.1. Impossible though it may be to acquit Gideon of unreasonableness, in demanding farther proofs of the certainty wherewith he might rely on the presence and blessing of the Lord on his perilous undertaking, we cannot deny that he displayed at the same time a becoming and praiseworthy concern lest he should be deserted of Him.
2. Again, in the kind and condescending manner in which it pleased the Lord to accommodate Himself to Gideon's infirmity, and to allow him to put Him to the proof, may we not recognise a pleasing evidence that such concern as that to which we have referred — such solicitude and nervous apprehension lest there be some mistake on his part — is far from being displeasing to Him. Oh, what a tender, sympathising, long-suffering, easy-to-be-entreated High Priest is He with whom we have to do! Instead of upbraiding Gideon with his unbelief in spite of all that had passed, He bears with him (oh, with what marvellous condescension, and slowness of wrath!) and at once yields His assent to the proposal. Well says good Bishop Hall, in his meditations on this passage: "What tasks is God content to be set by our infirmity!"
3. From this incident in the life of Gideon we may also learn this lesson: that every believer needs fresh supplies of grace and strength for every new turn in the affairs of his soul, and for every new phase in the spiritual conflict. Whoever thinks of finding fault with a man, on the ground of a defect in faith, because he goes so often to the throne of grace, or because he comes "boldly to obtain mercy to pardon, and grace to help"? Nay, rather would he not justly expose himself to the charge of ignorance and presumption, if, on the pretext or plea that he has already received the promise, "as thy days, so shall thy strength be," he should go forth to do battle with his spiritual adversaries without repairing afresh to the fountain of all spiritual blessing, and asking as Gideon asked?
(W. W. Duncan, M. A.)
1. The condescension of God in the performance of this twofold miracle. Gideon's doubts and fears prevail, and he goes to God for courage and confirmation, and he obtains them. He asks still further, and he still obtains. What doctrine does it teach? It tells us that "The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and of great goodness." "The bruised reed He will not break, and the smoking flax He will not quench."
2. Some spiritual uses to which this miracle maybe applied.(1) We may learn from this emblem that God is a sovereign God, and giveth none account of His matters. We behold some nations scourged with famine, pestilence, and the sword, while others are enjoying plenty, health, and peace. We see vast parts of the globe in an unenlightened state, as it respects the knowledge of salvation; while others, like our own favoured land, are living in the full blaze of gospel day. What shall we say to these things? Why is there dew on one nation and drought on another? Are we better than they? No, in no wise. God is showing that He will do whatsoever it pleaseth Him. Just and true are all Thy ways, O God, Thou King of saints!(2) We may view the miracle, in the next place, as an emblem of the state of the Jewish nation. The contrast between the wet fleece and the dry was not more striking than the contrast between Israel in her state of national prosperity under the favour of God and in her after-state of degradation when that favour was withdrawn. And how awfully striking when the same contrast is marked in her spiritual state! The miracle sets before our minds the time when the nations were lying in the darkness of idolatry, and "dry," as it respected any knowledge of God, like the earth round Gideon's fleece.(3) But, in order to make some practical use of the subject, we will consider it as an emblem of a congregation under the preaching of the gospel. It need hardly be observed that the Divine blessing upon the ordinances is often compared to the dew of heaven. Thus, speaking of the quickening and enlivening effect of His Word upon the heart when blessed by the Holy Ghost, the Lord says, in Deuteronomy 32, "My doctrine shall drop as the rain; My speech shall distil as the dew." The metaphor is simple and sublime. As the dew distils silently, and almost imperceptibly, into the plants on which it falls, so shall God's Word and doctrine, under the Spirit's influence, descend upon the soul. As the dew insinuates itself into the plant, giving it fresh life and vigour, so shall God's Word accomplish the thing whereunto He sends it, giving renewed life to the soul. This figure will appear still more apt, and strong, and beautiful, if you consider that in eastern countries, where the rain is scarce, the dew, as the only substitute, is invaluable. With these ideas attached to the Word, take our text as setting forth an emblem of the state of a congregation, sitting under the sound of the gospel. Is this the house of God? Are we at this moment preaching to you "the truth as it is in Jesus"? Then the dew is now falling, and it is indeed "a time of refreshing." Will it fall upon that careless soul that is as unconcerned about salvation as if none were necessary? Will it fall upon the soul of him who actually disregards the offer of salvation through a righteousness not his own? Will it fall on the soul of the poor thoughtless trifler? Miracle of grace! but not too great to expect from almighty power, nor from almighty love. And therefore we will pause, and secretly pray the God of power and mercy to do this now; that while the dew is descending some drops may fall on these sinners, carrying conviction to their consciences and conversion to their hearts. But we ask, also, where is the dry and empty fleece? Oh, how quickly may we find it in any congregation! We may find it in those seats where there has been no prayer, but only the form of prayer; we may find it in those pews where there is no attention to the preached Word nor any desire after the salvation which it holds forth. In short, wherever carelessness and indifference prevail, there we shall find the dry and empty fleece. Oh, let not this opportunity pass without a prayer for grace. It is said respecting the answer to Gideon's prayer, "The Lord did it that night." "Ask," then, "and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you."
II. Thus, then, WE JUSTIFY THE GIDEON TEST. Upon the heart and the home the dew will fall and remain. Thou askest, "Am I a child of God?" You shall know by the dew. "Have I religion?" You shall know by the dew. Walk forth in the morning — the sweet morning, when the bright drops sparkle on the hedgerows, and behold the twinkling thorn, the rose, the tree, the floor of grass, such shall be your words, and such your mind, your action — the dew shall be on your fleece!
III. I shall attempt to illustrate this a little further. For I say the world will insist on applying its test to us; THE WORLD WILL WATCH FOR THE DEW ON OUR FLEECE. When I was a boy it was my privilege to know a very holy man. He had been in the beginning of things a poor man; but how sacredly, how steadily, he served God! He worked in a shop where proverbially all were Sabbath-breakers. He would not break the Sabbath. The master could do as he liked with all his men — it was a kind of old-world tyranny. He would not break the Sabbath. He led a sweet, sacred, holy life. His master was a swearer in the midst of a gang of unholy men. His conversation became the gospel of Christ. By a steady course he was able to provide for his widowed mother; he was able to provide for his sister. And he died, but his work lasted; the dew has not all evaporated yet; the shop is in ruins; his master was long since a bankrupt, and his whole family is in ruins too. The name of the one man is fragrant, all else is gone — it was a dewy fleece in a land of drought. Thus gratitude in the heart, thus holiness in the life, are dew. You shall know them by the dew upon the fleece.
(E. Paxton Hood.)
I. Observe, first, that it was none other than THE LORD JESUS CHRIST HIMSELF WHO THUS ANSWERED GIDEON'S PRAYER. God, to whom Gideon prayed in ver. 36, is the same who "looked upon him," and spake to him in ver.14. He was the angel of the covenant, who said, "Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?" Gideon prayed to this same Lord, that He would grant him a sign that He would save Israel by his hand, "As He had said." The answer to Gideon's prayer — the twofold miracle which was wrought — proved the proper Deity of Christ. It proved that the government of all things was indeed upon His shoulder.
II. NOW, IT IS OVER THE LAWS OF NATURE THAT CHRIST REIGNETH, FOR THE GOOD OF HIS CHURCH IN ALL AGES. We know not how little, nor how much, other worlds are affected by the redemption of Christ's people in this world. It may be that inhabitants of other spheres and of other systems are learning the wisdom and the goodness and the love of God in the book of man's salvation. Angels study it, the highest orders of intelligence make it their theme of praise, and why not beings in untold worlds which fill up the immensity of space? But be this as it may, all the laws of the universe are under the rule of the Lord Jesus for the good of His people. There is no law but the will of God. To deify law is to undeify God. So to enthrone nature as to make her reign is to dethrone Jehovah, who alone does reign "God over all, blessed for evermore." Time would fail us to dwell upon the many instances of the suspension of the laws of nature recorded in the Word of God. We will adduce but a few remarkable examples.
1. Observe the suspension of the laws of physical nature for the good of the people of God. Although heaven and earth should seem to oppose the fulfilment of His Word, although physical impossibilities may raise up a barrier the top of which no eye of sense can scale, yet the eye of faith soars above all nature, up to nature's God, and rests calmly and peaceably upon His enthroned promise (Isaiah 43:2).
2. We might go on and educe instances of the like suspension of the laws of animal nature, in carrying out the purposes of Jehovah on behalf of His people. Birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and the beasts of the earth, have all obeyed other influences than the laws of their nature, in doing the will of their Creator. The instinct which they possess, is just that law which God sustains in them. Unclean and carnivorous birds forget their own natures, and spread their wings, and, as angels of mercy, visit the prophet in the wilderness, and daily spread his table. The fish devours not Jonah, but, at the word of the Lord, safely lands him on dry ground. The lions, too, become the harmless and the friendly companions of Daniel, and not a hair of his head is injured in their den.
1. Gideon's need of a confirmation of his faith. The only question with this mighty man of valour was, "Is the Lord indeed with me? Is He on my side? Can I possibly have made any mistake? I do not doubt the Lord's power. If He will, He can save Israel by my hand. But am I certain that I have not put too favourable an interpretation upon His promises? I will ask a sign of the Lord." He did so, and you know with what result. Are you as anxious as was Gideon to learn the Lord's will, and to insure His blessing in your undertakings? Do you make your daily callings a matter of prayer? Do you pause in your worldly business, and inquire with deep anxiety, "Is the Lord with me?"
2. You see the nature of that proof which the Lord gave to Gideon that His promises were sure: the dew was given and withheld according to the sign proposed. We may regard the dew as a striking and beautiful emblem of the Holy Spirit.
(G. A. Rogers, M. A.)
(R. A. Watson, M. A.)1. Just before the occurrence of the facts narrated in this passage Gideon had received his call from God. Former judges, Othniel, Ehud, and Barak, had been moved by the Spirit of God to their work of delivering Israel from the oppressor. But to Gideon alone a theophany was vouchsafed in order to intimate that the God, who had visibly manifested Himself to the patriarchs, was the same Jehovah ready to save their descendants if only they would penitently return to the covenant.
2. God permitted His people to be brought so low in order that affliction might drive them to prayer, and that thus their extremity might become His opportunity. Such was the result in the gracious ways of His providence.
3. Next, God called Gideon by two revelations. The first, by a visible manifestation of the angel of Jehovah. Next, in a dream of the night, Jehovah commanded him to throw down his father's altar to Baal.
4. As in the first manifestation Jehovah acknowledged Gideon, so in this second one He required Gideon to acknowledge Jehovah. Gideon accordingly, with ten men of his servants, overthrew Baal's altar, and cut down the Asherah pillar by it in the night; for he durst not do it by day through fear of his father's household and the men of the city. But God does not reject the first sincere efforts of His children to do His will, though attended with timidity (John 3:2; John 19:38). Gideon did not by secrecy effect his purpose of escaping detection.
5. Then followed the gathering together of the enemy to the plain of Jezreel: And the Spirit of Jehovah clothed Gideon as with a coat of mail. At his trumpet-call his own clan, recognising the champion and deliverer of Israel in him who, as an iconoclast, braved Baal's revenge with impunity, was the first to rally around him. The neighbouring tribes, Manasseh, Zebulun, and Naphtali, next obeyed his summons by heralds. But still there were renmants of doubt and fear in Gideon, though he was very different in respect to faith from what be was when the Angel of Jehovah first appeared to him.
6. But before setting out on his perilous enterprise with the assembled army, Gideon desired a further sign from God to assure him of success. His prayer for a sign did not betoken want of faith, but weakness of faith. The flesh strove against the willing spirit, and so created misgivings and fears. The sign which Gideon asked, and which the Lord vouchsafed, was one especially significant. The dew was in the Holy Land a leading source of fertility (Genesis 27:28; Deuteronomy 33:13). Thus dew naturally became the image of spiritual influences. The type may be viewed in a threefold relation.
I. THE DEW IN RELATION TO GIDEON'S ENTERPRISE. To Gideon in his fears the filling of the fleece with dew from heaven whilst the earth around was dry, intimated that, whereas Israel was heretofore, through apostasy, as dry spiritually as the heathen around (comp. the "dry places," Matthew 12:43), Jehovah was now about to fill Gideon and His nation with His reviving grace. The reversing of the sign at Gideon's request, and the dryness of the fleece whilst the dew rested on the earth around, assured him that Jehovah could, and would, manifest His power even amidst the weakness and helplessness of His people in the face of the nations which were flourishing all around. The army was reduced to three hundred. The poor and weak one should overturn the rich and mighty.
II. THE DEW IN RELATION TO ISRAEL PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE. The type has a deeply interesting relation to Israel, the elect nation.
1. First, in the past, the fleece filled with dew whilst the ground around was utterly dry, answers to Israel filled with heavenly blessings from the Lord, whilst the Gentile world was a moral wilderness, dry and unwatered by the dews of His grace. It was not because of Israel's merits, but because of God's gratuitous choice, that the nation was singled out to be the Paradise of Jehovah cut off from the spiritual waste: just as the dew is not of man's procuring, but of God's bestowing. Had Abraham, the forefather of the nation, been left to himself he would have continued an idolater like all his neighbhours in Ur of the Chaldees, a city dedicated to moon-worship (Joshua 24:2, 3). There was much imperfection in him, and Isaac, and Jacob. Jacob's sons, excepting Joseph and perhaps Benjamin, were far worse. Yet God remembered His own covenant of grace, and preserved Israel in Egypt as a separate people unto Himself in the land of Goshen, like a fleece full of heavenly dew in the midst of a dry and parched land.
2. The dew representing the present state of Israel. The fleece remaining dry, whilst all the ground around was saturated with the refreshing dew, represents Israel in a state forming a sad contrast to the former image and what it represents. Israel has now for ages been spiritually dry, without any of the dews of heavenly blessing which descends from Jehovah, the God of the covenant. And what makes her case the sadder is, she is singular in her state. For the gospel of the grace of God in Christ Jesus is making many a spiritual desert throughout the Gentile world to become a garden of the Lord, blooming with the life-giving dews of the Spirit poured down from on high.
3. The dew representing the future of Israel. The relation of the type to the future of Israel. As the fleece was full of dew at first, and all the earth dry: and next, the fleece was dry, and all the earth wet; so the blessed time is coming when the fleece shall be again full of dew, and all the earth, through its instrumentality, shall be filled with the dew of the Lord (Micah 5:7; Jeremiah 3:17; Psalm 72:6, 8).
III. THE DEW IN RELATION TO THE CHURCH OF CHRIST AND ITS PROFESSING MEMBERS. Lastly, the type has a profitable lesson to teach us in its relation to the Christian Church and its professing members.
1. The fleece represents not only Israel, but Israel's Antitype, Jesus; and secondarily, His people who are one with Him. Originally He had from everlasting the fulness of the Godhead (Colossians 1:19). The fleece was full, but the ground around had no dew from heaven. Then at His crucifixion the Church might say, "Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost" (Ezekiel 37:11); just as the fleece was dried whilst the earth around was saturated with dew. But at His resurrection not only did He live again, but becomes the Lord of life to us. Meantime the effect of Christ's presence as a dew in the soul is "He shall grow as the lily, and cast forth His roots as Lebanon (Hosea 14:5). Prayer will fill the fleece with the heavenly dew. Moreover, there is great danger of losing the dew.
2. The dry place amidst the dew-covered ground is a symbol of the sad state of many a one who remains spiritually dead and lifeless, whilst dews of heavenly blessing are descending on every side.
(A. R. Fausset, M. A.).
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