“The Ground of Our Hope”

January 18, 2004

Texts: Joshua 5:13-15, Judges 6:11-32, 7:7-8, 13-22 & Matt. 14:22-36

 

Big Idea: Why we should never be discouraged.

Purpose: Encouragement.

Question: Will you give your insufficiency to God?

 

            What is the ground of our hope?  Our hope is in the Lord Who made the heavens and the earth.  Hope has its roots in a realization, the kind of realization that came to Joshua when he met the captain of the Lord’s army on the plain outside Jericho.  After forty plus years in the business of the Exodus, he was startled to encounter the real commander.  Joshua may have been the supreme commander of the armies of Israel, but this man who “stood over against him,” challenging him with a drawn sword was the captain of “the host of the Lord.”  Joshua wanted to know who this striking, powerful warrior was and, more than that, he wanted to know “whose side he was on.”  The man declares that he hasn’t come for this side, or that side--in human terms.  No, the captain of the hosts has come to do God’s own bidding for the battle belongs to the Lord.  God, having humiliated the gods of Egypt, is announcing His arrival in Canaan.  God was declaring His supremacy to the god Baal, the god of the river and sea.  It was flood time.  The priest stood with the throne of God, the ark of the covenant, right in middle of the stream, defying the waters.  And the waters stood up, in a heap for many miles upstream so that Israel could pass over the river dry shod.  It was a great sign, and a great deliverance and a stone monument consisting of two pillars was set up right where the priest had stood.  Then, and only then the river was released to resume its flow.  And twelve stones taken from the river where the priests stood were carried to Gilgal and a memorial monument was erected there.  Also of tremendous significance, the people celebrated Passover at this place, and all who were uncircumcised during the years of wandering in the wilderness were circumcised at this time.  Israel remained at that place until everyone was healed.  It was at this point in time that God ceased to provide manna for the people--from that time onward they were to eat of the produce of Canaan.

 

            What are we to make of all this?  Well, we need to see the necessity of putting our religious house in order, our spiritual lives.  Things go better when we are right with God.  Worship is a priority and a necessity, not an option or an elective.  Joshua was an example of a worshipper in the reading we shared.  When that is accomplished, things are in order, we can enter into the battle with the Lord, endeavoring to accomplish His purposes, and to advance His kingdom.  There was a custom in the ancient Near East, that you could tell if an accused person was guilty by throwing him in the river.  If he didn’t drown the gods had declared him innocent.  Anyone in Canaan, or Israel would have understood this as a defiant gesture: His Throne had not drowned in the flooded river during the entire time that it took to remove the whole nation from one side of the river to the other.  In other words, God’s claim to the land was incontestable!  It is almost as if God, Yahweh, was thumbing His nose at Baal, the river god.  This exposure of Baal’s impotence is a common element in the later episode with Gideon. 

 

            Do you remember the battle plan for taking Jericho? March around the city once daily, following seven priests who blew on ram’s horn trumpets, and do so in silence.  On the seventh day, circle the city seven times.  Then the trumpets sounded and the city fell down with their shout.  They were solemnly charged not to take any spoil and to put everything under the ban.  You will recall that Achan disobeyed this command and brought disaster upon the whole community.  Anyway, how do you calculate the cost of this campaign for Jericho?  Who in their wildest imagination would think, wars being what they were, that the city would be delivered into their hands for the price of seven trumpeters, an imposed silence and marching obedient feet?  Yes, it would appear that God harnesses our insufficiency to accomplish His purposes.

 

            Let’s skip ahead to the time of Gideon.  He also encountered the angel of the Lord.  An angel addressed him, “The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valor.”  Gideon wasn’t, apparently, very much in touch with his might, nor his valor.  Hardly up to delivering the people from the Midianites, Gideon cries, ”Wherewith shall I save Israel?” I’m poor.  I’m insignificant.  The Lord is unfazed and unimpressed: “Surely I will be with thee, and you shall smite the Midianites as one man.”  The message is clear.  If you focus on what you don’t have, and if you couple that with a pre-occupation with the impossible challenges, you will fail--because in your own eyes you have become a failure.  No, our hope is in the Lord.  Not in ourselves and not in our resources. We are to call upon His limitless resources and trust Him to equip us to do whatever He asks us to do.

 

            Now you recall the in-your-face throne in the river routine, right?  Well, God is about to do something very humorous with unleaven cakes and “a cake of barley bread.”  First, the unleavened cakes are baked by Gideon to reassure him that he has actually spoken to an angel of the Lord.  The cakes serve as a recognition sign.  The cakes return, I think, as a gentle tease, barley cakes are presented as instruments of doom by the dreaming Midianites: “I dreamed a dream and, lo, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the host of Midian, and came unto a tent and smote it that it fell and overturned it.

 

Judg 7:15  And it came about when Gideon heard the account of the dream and its interpretation, that he bowed in worship. He returned to the camp of Israel and said, "Arise, for the LORD has given the camp of Midian into your hands."

 

Now why did Gideon bow in worship?  Because he recognized in the dream the sign of the Lord’s presence expressly stated in his own terms: the cakes.  The dream interpreter, given his interpretation by God, is in fear of Gideon, the sword of Gideon and he believes that the hosts of Midian have been delivered to destruction.  God has implanted fear in the hearts of Gideon’s enemies--they are as good as defeated.

 

            The hosts of Amalekites and Midianites, numbering in the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands, are opposed by three hundred water lapping men, hand chosen by God--a human insufficiency, mind you, thousands having been sent home, an insufficiency declared to be a sufficiency by the will of God.  And these warriors are equipped with divine issue weaponry--the very latest--trumpets, a pitcher and a torch.  I do not know of any other war won with such an inexpensive inventory, with so little in terms of supplies against such incredible odds.  But our God pulls these things off all the time.  It is astounding what a little army can do, with such limited resources if they are open to God’s innovative ways of doing things.  Anyway, at the given signal, the pitchers are broken, the trumpets are blown and the torches are now exposed for all to see.  Great panic ensues.  The enemy begins to slaughter themselves and the host flees--we are told that 120,000 soldiers had been slain in the process.

 

            Before we leave Gideon for the Sea of Galilee, I want to underscore something important.  Gideon, following his interview with the angel of the Lord, had taken it upon himself (6:24) to build an altar and to worship God.  True worship restored, good even great things begin to happen.

 

Judg 6:25  Now the same night it came about that the LORD said to him, "Take your father's bull and a second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal which belongs to your father, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it; Judg 6:26  and build an altar to the LORD your God on the top of this stronghold in an orderly manner, and take a second bull and offer a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah which you shall cut down." Judg 6:27  Then Gideon took ten men of his servants and did as the LORD had spoken to him; and it came about, because he was too afraid of his father's household and the men of the city to do it by day, that he did it by night. Judg 6:28  When the men of the city arose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was torn down, and the Asherah which was beside it was cut down, and the second bull was offered on the altar which had been built. Judg 6:29  And they said to one another, "Who did this thing?" And when they searched about and inquired, they said, "Gideon the son of Joash did this thing." Judg 6:30  Then the men of the city said to Joash, "Bring out your son, that he may die, for he has torn down the altar of Baal, and indeed, he has cut down the Asherah which was beside it." Judg 6:31  But Joash said to all who stood against him, "Will you contend for Baal, or will you deliver him? Whoever will plead for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because someone has torn down his altar."

 

Isn’t this awesome?! Worship God and the idols come down, enemies are routed and bondages are broken .  And this is as true today as it was way   back then.  How human this portrait is: Gideon is asked to sacrifice Joash’s second bullock on the altar of God and he is afraid of his father’s displeasure.  Secondly, he is to cut down the sacred grove and replace the Baal worship there with a pleasing sacrifice.  He is to enter the stronghold of a pagan god and destroy that “high place.”  Joash, wonderfully, comes to his son’s defense and exposes Baal to be an impotent, false god.  In this he is just like Joshua, taking a stand in the middle of the Jordan!  Unless deluded men do his work for him, Satan, too, is a powerless thing. The name given Gideon, Jerubbaal, means “Let Baal Plead”--it is a taunt.  God is the ground of our hope we should worship Him knowing that He will vindicate His people.

 

            Now, on the Sea of Galilee, the same battle lines are drawn for those who have eyes to see.  God is advancing against the powers of darkness through the work of His mighty Son.  Again, this work begins in true worship, in prayer on the mountain.  Jesus has sent His disciples on, and has sent the multitudes away.  He is intending to journey to Gennesaret where an astounding healing ministry will transpire.  He needs the refreshment of prayer, the oneness with the Father which Joshua and Gideon accessed through their acts of worship.  The disciples find themselves opposed by the wind, by contrary spirits.  Yet another stronghold of the Canaanite deity Baal is about to come down--but the disciples are caught in the midst of this confrontation.  Just as we, the church of Jesus Christ, are.  We experience various trials and distress, our Lord walks on the water.  And we, like them, even when we see help coming are prone to panic.  Remember, it’s the enemy who is to tremble at the Name of Jesus!  We are not to be afraid because the battle belongs to the Lord, with Him long odds are the best odds.  It matters not how little we think ourselves to be, it matters not how insufficient our means appear--the means that God appoints are totally adequate. “Be not afraid.”  Peter, like Gideon, wants to test his comprehension: “Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.”  Sure sounds like unleaven cakes to me!  So Peter gets out and starts to walk and then he learns an invaluable lesson--keep your focus on the Lord.  Don’t be distracted by the circumstances, no matter how scary they appear--no matter what their nature.  We know that the outcome of the Lord is secure; He will have His way and His way is victory.  Don’t give in to doubt, rather ask that your faith be increased.  When Jesus and Peter came into the boat, the wind ceased--the turbulence was over, the storm past. 

 

            We next read that they worshipped Jesus as the Son of God.  Together they came to their destination and all the diseased in that region were brought to Him and all who even touched the hem of His garments were healed.  Like Jericho, Satan’s stronghold was destroyed.  Like the hosts of Midian, diseases fled the scene and as many as touched were made perfectly whole--again, something only God could do.

 

            So, what is the application for us, the saints gathered at East Winthrop and poised to enter into our annual meeting?  This: be encouraged.  Because we have worshipped well, we can anticipate that great things are about to happen. . .our faith walk is about to become a great and bold adventure.  God usually supplies us for that adventure out of our insufficiency, and not our sufficiency.  If we only attempt what we can do, there’s a danger that we will take credit where we should not.  (Precisely God’s concern for Gideon with his thousands of conscripts!)  Rather, let’s encourage one another, knowing we can do all things through the God who strengthens us. Doing His will is the only wise and affordable thing to do.  Our hope is in the Lord who made the heavens and the earth. 

 

                                                            Amen.