This Nugget is late as I have just returned from a Wycliffe Retreat and could not post it yesterday.
This week we will look at examples of strongholds in the Bible. I want to focus on two, the first in detail and the second in summary. Let’s look first at the example of Gideon from Judges 6. A well-known example of asking for a sign from God when we are doubting. But we will look at it from the perspective of strongholds. Let’s look at the text carefully. Can you pick up any evidence for the fact that Gideon may have been struggling with a stronghold of the mind?
And the Angel of Jehovah came and sat under the oak which is in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite. And his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress, to hide it from the eyes of Midian. And the Angel of Jehovah appeared to him, and said to him, Jehovah is with you, mighty warrior. And Gideon said to Him, Oh my Lord, if Jehovah is with us, then why has all this happened to us? And where are all His wonders which our fathers recounted to us, saying, Did not Jehovah bring us up out of Egypt? And now Jehovah has left us, and has given us into the hands of Midian. And Jehovah turned to him and said, Go in this strength of yours, and you shall deliver Israel out of the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you? And he said to Him, Oh my Lord, with what shall I deliver Israel? Behold, my family is the weakest in Manasseh, and I the least in my father's house. And Jehovah said to him, Because I am with you, you shall strike Midian as one man. And he said to Him, Please, if I have found grace in Your eyes, then You shall do for me a sign that You are speaking with me. Please do not move from here until I come to You and bring my food offering and lay it before You. And He said, I will stay until you come back. (Judges 6:11-18)
Gideon was hiding out in the wine press under cover beating on a stalk of wheat with a stick (the verb used in Hebrew) to shake the wheat kernels off. It was not the normal action for threshing. This was clandestine threshing. The Midianites had been keeping watch on what the Israelites were doing and whenever there was anything worth stealing they would swoop in and steal it. Did you see anything in the text which might suggest that Gideon was struggling from a stronghold of mind? I italicised it for you. Go back and have another look.
The angel of the Lord greeted Gideon by saying to him, “The LORD is with you Mighty Warrior”.
Gideon didn't feel too much like a mighty warrior. You will understand better why if you read the first ten verses of the chapter. Gideon responded to the angel’s greeting by saying, “If the LORD is with us, then why has all this happened to us?”
To which the angel responded by saying, “Go in this strength you have now, and you shall deliver Israel out of the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you?”
Gideon replied effectively saying,
“How will I deliver Israel?
I come from the tribe of Manasseh
my family (clan) is the weakest in the tribe
and I am the least in my family?”
Do you notice now there are three levels to Gideon’s view of himself. His tribe, his clan and himself. Manasseh was one of the half tribes of Israel. Joseph’s inheritance was divided among his sons such that when the division of the land is mentioned in Scripture Joseph was not listed. Rather his two son’s were – Ephraim and Manasseh - the half tribes. At that point Manasseh became the smallest of the tribes. In those days fighting strength was measured by how many warriors you had to fight. Hence one of the keys to numbering of tribes. Gideon then comes from the smallest tribe in which his clan was the weakest and he was the runt of his family, the most insignificant. Gideon could have said, “Lord, you have come to the wrong man.” These are the verses which give us insight to Gideon’s personal stronghold he was struggling with, but there is more yet.
Among the Israelites children given names of significance: either because of the circumstances of their birth, or because of physical features or character traits evident at their birth, or for what their parents hoped they would become. When the angel came to Gideon he said to him:
יהוה עמך גבור החיל
Might Warrior with you the Lord
The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.
The Lord is with you mighty Gibeor.
Do you notice what has just happened? Gideon has been called Gibeor!
Gibeor in Hebrew means “warrior”.
Gideon could have been forgiven if he had said to the angel (the LORD) in response to the greeting. “You are speaking to the wrong man. I am not Gibeor, I am Gideon. If you want Gibeor, he lives in the next village to the south, the third house on the right.”
You see Gibeor is the word in Hebrew which means “warrior”.
Gideon’s name means “broken in little pieces” or “shattered in pieces”.
Why would his father Joash and his mum call him Gideon, “broken in little pieces”? Because of the circumstances in the land at the time of Gideon’s birth, due to the oppression of the Miidianites. Life in those times was bleak and many suffered economic hardship and starvation. Hence his parents naming him Gideon. However there is also another ironic twist to the story. The text tells us Joash was an Abiezrite. One of the descendants of Abiezer which means “my father is my help”. My father meaning my grandfather, my ancestor or it can refer to Father God. God is my help! But Gideon has emphasized that irony already by telling the angel,
“Why has all this happened to us?
And where are all His wonders which our fathers recounted to us, saying,
Did not Jehovah bring us up out of Egypt?
And now Jehovah has left us, and has given us into the hands of Midian.”
I.e. “Don’t you talk to me about God. There is no God or at least He is nowhere to be seen. He has deserted us.”
Now it is clear I am sure. Gideon had a stronghold. It comes out in his words. Can you imagine growing up with the name “Broken in Little Pieces”, “Shattered”. Imagine what life at school must have been like for him. Or even life in the family as the runt of the family and the bunt of jokes. But not only that, having a grandfather or ancestor called “My Father (God) Abba, is my help” and yet being in the situation Israel was and bearing the name he bore, was doubly irksome and painful. Yes the Bible is an extremely honest book and tells the story warts and all.
The second example I would like to use it that of Jacob. For those of you who really know me well know names in Scripture are important. Often they hide all sorts of information and Jacob is no exception. Jacob’s name means figuratively speaking to grasp the heel. Which is an idiomatic way of saying “a deceiver”, “a twister” or a “con man”. Yes that was what Jacob was until he turned his life around after wrestling with God. There is much I would like to say about Jacob similar to above approach for Gideon but this Nugget is already longer than I planned. In short whenever you see a name change for characters of the Bible, know that significant treasure lies behind the name change.
In Jacob’s case I want to take a look from a different perspective of the stronghold over him. Namely the clues that were there in the track record of his family. Isn’t it interesting that God is known as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, or putting them all together the God of Abraham. Isaac and Jacob. Let’s cast our minds back to what we know of Jacob’s forebears. I have preached on this before at MCBC. We are told by Paul,
“And Abraham’s faith did not weaken, even though, at about 100 years of age, he figured his body was as good as dead—and so was Sarah’s womb. Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise. In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God. He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises.” Rom 4:19-21
Excuse me, that is not entirely true. Anyone who knows the story knows that Abraham’s faith did waiver. He laughed. Isaac’s name means “He laughs”. Every time he called his son he recalled his laugh of unbelief. He also whimped out and tried to pretend Sarah was his sister to save his own skin. TWICE!. Of course his first faltering steps at trusting God to fulfill His promise ended in Ishmael. Let’s follow the family line a little longer to Jacob. His father Isaac repeated some of the follies of his father. Lying and deceiving. The sin of deception, deceiving and conning people ran in the family. Who could blame Jacob when it surfaced again in the third generation? Once strongholds gain a stranglehold it can stay with an individual, a family or a nation for a long time.
Ask God to show you those recurring things which trouble you or which trouble your family. He will point them out to you or bring them to mind. There are many examples in the Bible which trouble the heroes of faith. We are not immune to them. That is what is so amazing about the Bible: the heroes have clay feet just like us. Encouraging isn’t it?
Next week we will explore the Portals of Power which open us up to the dark side.