“A Trumpet Shall Sound”

20 Feb. 05

Texts: 1 Thess 1: 5-10


            In verse 8 the Apostle uses a word used nowhere else in the New Testament.  The word most naturally means “sounded out,” as in the sound a trumpet makes--loud, clear and brilliantly musical.  The sound of a trumpet as in reveille, or taps played to honor the dead.  The trumpet’s sound as in the clarion call to arms and to battle.  “He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never sound retreat” or so begins the third verse of the immortal “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The church as God’s trumpet sounding forth, calling to arms the church militant in her struggle against Satan and all the forces of evil.  “Rise up, o Men of God! Have done with lesser things.  Give heart and soul and mind and strength to serve the King of kings.”  Or, from “The Church’s One Foundation” where we sing, “’Mid toil and tribulations, And tumult of her war . . .And the great Church victorious Shall be the Church at rest.”  Whose heart is so dead as not to be stirred by the trumpet fanfare which introduces the majestic hymn, “God of our Fathers” and serves as descant to “Thine is the Glory, Risen Conquering Son.”  And the triumphant notes to “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” a glorious Easter morning hymn.


            The trumpet’s sound resonates in other places, too.  If my memory serves me correctly, Peter Berger wrote, A Trumpet Shall Sound,  and Rumor of Angels back in the days when I was studying social anthropology.  He was unique in that he wrote from other than a Marxist perspective and on some level that was a real inspiration to me.  And whether he was writing about millennial movements, or signals of transcendence, he was solid, respectable and persuasive.  So the trumpet’s sound could be heard in the realm of academia as well as church music.


            Last, but by no means least, the trumpet sounding resonates biblically.  From Gabriel’s horn to the trumpets sounding throughout the heavens of John’s Revelation and on to the last day:

1 Cor 15:51  Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,

1 Cor 15:52  in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.

And, even from the wine-press of Gideon under Midianite oppression, we sense that trumpets are about to sound and to scatter the enemies of Israel.


            Let’s linger here for a moment and explain my poetic license.  There are indeed trumpets in the account of Gideon’s victory over the Midianites (Judges 6-8) but they were nowhere in evidence as the story began.  No, what we have is a sad picture of a once proud, but defeated nation.  The Israelites were hiding in dens in the mountains, caves and strongholds.  The Midianites would come at harvest time and “destroy the increase of the earth.”  They left no fodder for livestock and the whole nation became frightened and impoverished because they were terrorized by their enemies.  The people cried out to the Lord and in response the Lord sent a prophet who spoke to the people--he charged them with fearing the gods of the Amorites, that is reverencing them with worship as idols, and with disobedience.  And the implication is that this suffering, and this rebuke turned their hearts.  Why?  Because the next thing we know the angel of the Lord shows up “under an oak which was in Ophrah” (Judges 6:11).  This Ophrah is not a town of Benjamin (Joshua 18:23)  some five Roman miles east of Bethel near Jerusalem.  (This town appears to have been the place to which Jesus repaired after the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11:54).)  Rather it is a town not far from Shechem, ca forty miles north of Jerusalem at the pass between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal where Israel‘s ancient covenant renewal ceremonies transpired. Eventually a rival temple to that of Jerusalem was erected in this city of the Samaritans, the Northern Kingdom.  It was apparently towards the eastern end of the pass, near where the famous “Jacob’s well is claimed to have existed.  This Shechem is where Abraham is thought to have established an early religious center; it is also where Jacob hid the foreign gods--stolen by Rachel from Laban.  After Jacob’s encounter with the angel of the Lord at Bethel, Jacob put aside false gods.  Centuries later the bones of Joseph were interred there.  So, it was here that Gideon held his exploits against Baal, where he resided thereafter and where he deposited the ephod of renown that he made from the gold taken from vanquished Ismaelites (7:24)


            The angel of the Lord appears.  What he comes upon is Gideon threshing out his wheat in a wine-press to avoid detection by the Midianites. A sweaty, frightened man who lived in times of foreign oppression and terror.  The bible is so gnarly!  No trumpets here.  Except for this: the angel sounds a summons “The Lord is with they, thou mighty man of valor.”  According to the text, it looks as if Gideon tried to ignore this.  He tried to divert attention from the disparity between how he felt and what the angel declared.  He certainly wasn’t feeling like any man of valor!  Where is God?  Things are really terrible. We hear all about the might miracles of God in the past--we could use a few of them ourselves!  We have been forsaken.  The Lord isn’t biting.  The diversion falls to the ground.  “Go, thou, in thy might and thou shalt save Israel. . . Have I not sent thee?” (vv.12-14)


            With a classic “send somebody else,” Gideon declares, “I’m from the smallest tribe of Israel and I, I don’t count for anything in my household.”  Not exactly the self-perception we’d attribute to a mighty warrior  But Gideon is a shrinking violet about to stand up.  Again the angel of the Lord exhorts Gideon, ministering healing to his wounded manhood.  The episode with a sacrifice of  the kid goat and unleavened cakes transpires and Gideon realizes that he has been face to face with a divine personage.  “I’m going to die,” he wails, or words to that effect.  After God reassures him that everything is going according to plan and that one does not necessarily die from a God encounter, Gideon offers sacrifice to God Jehovah.  Now it is true that two altars cannot co-exist in the same heart and that Gideon’s first battle is that of standing up to his father’s idolatry.  His father has an altar to Baal set in a sacred grove--the favorite site for pagan ritualism.  Gideon is told to thrown down his father’s altar and to cut down the offensive trees.  And on the new altar he is to offer up his father’s second bullock, a seven year old ox.  This is prime farm equipment and while it is not the most valuable ox, it is second in line.  Not little could be suggested which would provoke his father more.  Gideon fearing the paternal reaction (“he feared his father’s household” v.27) decides to perpetrate these acts at night and he used ten of his own men.  When dawn broke, it was apparent to all that some changes had taken place.  The men in the city are furious.  They demand that Joash bring out his son to be executed.  Apparently these folks took their pagan religion rather seriously. 


            Then something happened unexpected.  Perhaps Joash had perceived a turning in his son’s life.  Perhaps they had exchanged words on the matter of Israel’s plight and false worship.  We cannot know these things.  But Joash is suddenly unwilling to defend Baal.  Joash figures that if Baal is any kind of god at all, Baal would avenge himself.  If the throwing down of his altar matters a god should be able to deal with those responsible without any human intervention whatsoever.  I like this man.  I like how he thinks.  Gideon is known from that day forward as Jerubbaal, or “contender against Baal.” Those who are more taken with the military adventures of Jerubbaal, or Gideon tend to overlook the clear religious undertones of this judge’s history.  It all began with a conversion experience.  And by virtue of that change of heart, Gideon became a changed man--a man equipped by God to do and to dare great things for God.  Now it would appear that all this is prelude for what is yet to come.  For now we read that the Midianites and the Amalekites appeared in the valley of Jezreel to do their annual pillage and spoil routine.  But this time, things wouldn’t turn out quite the same.  The spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon and he blew a trumpet and the Abierites, and Ashur, Zebulun and the Naphtalites all answered the summons to war.  Apparently, they had had enough of occupation and oppression and, perhaps, even sensed a change in the air since the Baal episode, since Baal had been exposed as impotent, as no god at all.  Still this false god was the idol of the enemies of Israel. Gideon blew the trumpet but it wasn’t the sound of that trumpet that dispersed the enemies of Israel . . . That trumpet sound was reserved to a later hour--and we are listening for that same sound signaling the Lord‘s return as the Israelites listened for deliverance from the Midianites.


            Apparently the episode with the altar wasn’t sufficient though to convince Gideon that he was the man of the hour, so we are treated to the test of the dew and the fleece.  A test.  He repeated the test in reverse just to make sure he had not misread the first test results.  Thereafter God urges a troop reduction upon Gideon, lest the Israelites mistakenly believe that they delivered themselves by their own force of arms.  As it is written, “not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.”  32,000 became 10,000 and the Lord said, “Still too many.” (7:4)  He reduced the troops to a meager 300 men and these were the ones that lapped like dogs--that is, in human turns, not the most likely specimens of fine fighting men!  Gideon and Phurah, his servant venture down into the enemy camp and are encouraged to hear of the victory God had prophesied to Israel’s enemies about Gideon and “the sword of the Lord“: “into his hand has God delivered Midian and all the host.”  The 300 were divided into three companies and each man received a trumpet, and a pitcher which contained a torch.  At a given signal they would all sound their trumpets, break their pitchers exposing by those lights their presence all around the host of the enemy.  In the ensuing confusion the Midianites panicked and slew each other.  The Israelites pursued and Gideon, after soothing the ruffled feathers of those astounded at his success (and envious) sent a cry up to all of Ephraim to join in the pursuit.  Over 120,000 of the enemies of Israel had fallen to the sword at the sound of the Lord’s trumpet. But to a large extent, the enemies of God’s people slew themselves and so did their self-destructive life-style turn itself on them and the fear they imposed upon the Israelites landed on their own heads!


            What a great and stirring tale of military exploits!  What an exciting account of the Lord’s trumpet and the power of its sound.  But, if we return to our focus, verse 8 of 1 Thessalonians, well might we ask what is the significance of Gideon’s trumpet for the case at hand.  The trumpet’s sound out of Thessalonica is not at all martial in the literal sense, but in the figurative sense, it is about the deliverance of God’s people from the pillaging, oppressiveness of sin.  For truly our battles, even though they are not against flesh and blood, are real battles.  There are casualties in this warfare.  But the stakes, if one can imagine it, are immeasurably higher than those on the plains of Shechem.  For the Adversary of us all, ancient Israelites and the contemporaries of Paul as well as us, is still seeking to work us woe.  And Paul is exultant because in that battle, that spiritual oppression which is anterior, which under-girds persecutions of the saints, historical and current, the church has taken to the field, the battle has been joined.  Paul knows that if the battle has been joined, and the outcome is victory, that the Lord’s return is imminent--nearer than when we first believed.  And we should join him in that joyful anticipation!


            Let us recall that Paul, like Gideon, came in great weakness to a place of godly significance--no one knows why Thessalonica was more fruitful than Philippi, or Athens, or even Corinth.  Mighty warrior?  Powerful apostle?  But God uses these weak vessels for His great purposes.  And the truth is that God will use you, too.  He wants to harness your faith, too.  If you are willing to stand up, throw off idolatry--allegiance to the things of this life, the world and the flesh--and tear down the altars and high places in your life.  Yes, to the amazement of all who know you to be, well, quiet and unassuming and compliant, you could start a change of climate in your home, at the workplace.  The word of your standing up, your backbone and love of the truth, your courage of conviction will spread abroad.  And that might just be the encouragement someone else needed to also stand up and be counted.  You never know, abortion clinics might shut down.  People might return to prayer.  A marriage might be redeemed just because you listened, and acted upon what you heard.  Persecution is common, beloved, but rising above it shines!  Look at Jesus.  Look at Paul.  See their joy in the midst of strife, their willingness to be weak in order to cast down strongholds.  They are examples to us as we should be examples to others.  The, the word, “oh, God is up to something here” will go out.  There will be a ripple effect.  There will be resonance as others echo your faith.


            Look, they’ll say, these Christians are turning from idols still[1]--just as in the days of pagan Thessalonica!!  Look!  They are serving the living God.  They are serving with all they’ve got and people are being saved, the gospel is being preached.  What idols, you ask: how about the idols of pleasure, comfort, abundance, and entitlement?  How about the crass commercialization of the unexamined life?  And how are these Christians able to do this?  By serving the living and true God and by their hope of Jesus’ return.  They know that they are free from the grip of sin, the tyranny of guilt and the wrath to come.  So they live expectant, confidant and daring lives--lives which please God rather than man. . . lives that matter, lives that aren’t wasted, lives that count eternally.  Oh, yes, rise up O men of God/ Have done with lesser things.


[1] Beloved, the “Midianites” are in the land; they are unbelievers/consumers and there are many of them.  Midianites, then, only we know some of them as the present oriented, now, and as the historically impaired pleasure seekers.  Where are their frontal lobes?  Some of them are “tourists of this life” who take advantage of what’s here seemingly without contribution, they leave behind their trash and sometimes death and the wreckage of their alcoholic-related bashes.  They buy trinkets while our artisans go begging.  Farms are failing for lack of a market.  Good food has to be imported.  Party-goers all, they seem to be devouring the increase of our land  they even appear seasonally.  Some seem to pillage and spoil just as they always have--and we, who live here, hide out in the hills.  Which family is there here which hasn’t experienced loss to these marauding Huns?  If not material loss, how about loss of relationship?  How about the falling away from faith as the seduction of our minds, our souls continues: buy, enjoy, party now.  Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we may die.  Something for nothing consumerism invades and lays waste the land.