Our views of God are critically affected when, in an attempt to understand Him and know Him, we make Him into our image so we can relate better. We are people made in the image of God, so we look at ourselves like shadows on Plato’s cave wall, instead of looking at the one who “is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3) Yes, “Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood” (Hebrews 2:14), but we are only broken images, not “exact imprints.”
Gideon’s story in Judges 6-8 reflects this well. I think it’s possible that the angel who appeared to Gideon might have been a manifestation of Christ prior to His incarnation (like perhaps with Jacob) because Gideon actually makes an offering to him and then feels doomed when he realizes who it is. The angel does not tell Gideon not to make a sacrifice or build an alter after, as one might suspect and angel would, and the angel touched the sacrifice with his staff and it was consumed.
It is not instrumental to the story nor is it a matter of doctrine to believe one way or the other, but I find it intriguing, and like to think of the story this way because it shows God’s extraordinary faithfulness in the face of our lack of faith, so I will write as if it was a non-material manifestation of our Lord even though if it was a messenger it was still God speaking.
Gideon had his strengths, to be sure, but he also made those from Missouri look like pure mystics in comparison. Like usual, showing He can use the “weakest member from the weakest clan,” God called Gideon. Gideon shows how corrupted Israel had become (his father even had an alter to Ba’al) by saying “If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us.”
This is actually encouraging to me. While I don’t like it when I too feel that way, God demonstrates it’s not Gideon’s faith but His faithfulness that matters. He doesn’t consume Gideon on the spot, as He could and would be just and right in doing, as with any of us. The Lord actually addressed Gideon as “Mighty hero,” and when Gideon showed his doubt, God didn’t rebuke him; he actually commissioned him: “Go with the strength you have, and rescue Israel from the Midianites. I am sending you!”
Incredible! God says “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you”–perhaps even as the one uttering those very words. Gideon basically replies “Yeah, right. You say so, but it’s obvious to any rational person He’s not.” And God’s response is to commission him!
It gets better. Gideon then whines like Moses and Pigglet “Bbbb-but, I’m too ttttt-timid.” (I’m not mocking the man, but Moses stuttered, too, right?) With infinite patience, the Lord says “I’ll be with you.” Gideon b?n Missouri says “show me.” “If you are truly going to help me, show me a sign.” So he runs home, whips up some tasty goat and bread and rushes back. Then after the Lord consumes the offering Gideon has what might have been the granddaddy of all “Oh, crap!” moments in history.
So now he’s on board, kinda, sorta, at least for a while. God tells him to destroy a pagan alter and a pagan pole, build a true alter and sacrifice a bull. Well, OK, Gideon does it, but he takes 10 servants with him and “did it at night because he was afraid.” He almost gets killed again, this time by the people, but his father grows a pair and defends him.
Is Gideon ready to go up to the big leagues, get in the Show. Nope. Basically he’s still going with “the strength he has,” which is just fine because it’s God’s faithfulness that matters and not Gideon’s weak faith. Gideon still wants to be sure God really wants him to actually go into battle against the allied armies. So this time he asks God for a sign, and then when he gets it replies like a Teletubbie: “Again, again!” (OK, I’m missing my children’s childhood. I loved Pooh and hated the Teletubbies, but I have a fondness for them now.)
God gives Gideon the back-to-back signs he asked for. He roust the allied armies with 100 men, kills their leaders and then kills the town people who refused to help him. He refuses to be king and tells the people “The Lord will rule over you.”
<<Fade to Black>>
But wait! It’s just a “Return of the King” type long pause to make you think it’s over. This man who had just been used by God to rescue his people now asks them all for a gold earing from the plunder which he uses to make a sacred ephod and place in his hometown. According to the Talmud, the wearing of the ephod atoned for the sin of idolatry on the part of the Children of Israel. Yet, they had just days before been rescued from years of immersion in a pagan, idol-worshiping culture. So what did they do? “The Israelites prostituted themselves by worshiping it, and it became a trap for Gideon and his family.”
It’s no where indicated God told him to do that, and wisdom would have dictated not creating something so like an idol in that culture and climate because, as you say “He is not made with human hands” and they still were acculturated after years of living within that worldview to think He was.
Idolatry, weak faith, making God into our image, cultural conditioning, pagan warriors, fear, uncertainty, doubt. Through the whole story, again and again, God proves Himself faithful.
I am like the weak parts of Gideon, Jim, and we live in a pagan culture (no sense pretending we don’t) but you know what? God is still God and He loves me. “All the promises of God have their Yes! in Christ Jesus” my Lord.
Faith alone? I wonder sometimes. James actually says “Not by faith alone.” However, I don’t ever wonder if it’s Faithfulness Alone. Whatever else this new life is, surely it’s grounded on God’s faithfulness. By His faithful mercy and grace, He’s taking me along for the ride. From my perspective it is a scary ride. Sometimes we’re lost in the jungle, sometimes caught in raging waters, sometimes doingImmelmann’s in a dogfight, sometimes crawling through a desert.
Thanks be to God it’s not dependent on my frail faith but on His Glorious Faithfulness. Thanks be to God that He is not made in my image.