Oct 30 - Selling Myself Short?

Selling Myself Short?

October 30, 2016

Judges 6

 

 

SELLING MYSELF SHORT?

Judges 6

October 30th, 2016

 

Here are a couple of quips about selling oneself short:

 

I used to think I was indecisive, but now I’m not so sure.

The workshop on procrastination has been cancelled as no one got around to enrolling.

I’m NOT in denial.

I used to be a perfectionist, but I’m trying to improve.

Don’t procrastinate ... put if off NOW.

My apathy causes all kinds of problems for me, but I don’t care.

I wanted to join the Optimist’s Club, but they probably won’t accept me.

 

[Of course, we can over-value ourselves as well:

I’m trying to be self-deprecating, but I’m really bad at it.

I’m the humblest person I know.

I thought I was wrong once, but I found out later that I was mistaken.

I’m not conceited.  Conceit is a fault and I don’t have any.]

 

2,000 years ago, the Celts celebrated their New Year’s day on November 1st.[1]  The believed that on the night before New Year, the ghosts of the dead returned to earth and caused trouble. Some people would wear masks when they left their homes after dark so the ghosts wouldn’t recognize them.  People would place bowls of food outside their homes to appease the ghosts and keep them from entering. Candles were lit to help the ghosts find their way back to the spirit world.

 

In the 8th century (900’s), Pope Gregory III designated November 1st as the time to honour and celebrate and remember all saints and martyrs.[2]  The evening prior to All Saints’ Day, was called All Saints’ Evening, which in the old English ended up being All Hallows’ Eve.  The Scottish called it All Hallow’s Even. All Hallows’ even was then shortened to Hallow-een

 

Over time, Halloween evolved and it really has very little to do with remembering and honouring saints, and instead returned to the pagan focus on witchcraft, sorcery, fortune telling, ghouls and the dead.  In the southern US Halloween used to include telling ghost stories and playing pranks on people. In the mid 1800’s, Americans began to dress up in costumes and go house to house asking for food and money.  Beginning in the 1920’s, trick or treating for children and having Halloween parties was revived and has survived to this day.  More recently, those parties have turned into a drunk fest for some people.

 

This is what Chuck Colson wrote:

 

Sure, go ahead and let the kids dress up like Batman and hit up your neighbors for candy. But when the hoopla of modern Halloween is over, encourage your kids to imitate some real heroes—not in what they put on, but in how they live their lives.                                    Chuck Colson

 

So for believers, the focus of Halloween should not be parties and trick or treating, but remembering the great cloud of witnesses that have gone ahead before us, as Hebrews 11 tells us.[3] 

 

One of the individuals mentioned in Hebrews 11:32 is a man named Gideon.  Gideon was active during the time of the Judges.  Looking at a rough time-line, you can see when approximately Gideon started as judge (ca. 1190 BC).

 

Maybe you remember the series of messages on the book of Ruth.  Ruth and Naomi were also alive during the time of the Judges.  

 

There is a recurring circle of sin to restoration in the book of Judges (actually mirrors the whole of the OT, if you really look at it).[4] 

 

This cycle happened 6 times in the book of judges, each beginning with “Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of YHWH.”[5]    

 

 

Enemy

Years of Bondage

Judge

Deliverance and Rest

Scripture

Mesopotamia

8

Othniel

40

3:7-11

Moab

18

Ehud

80

3:12-31

Canaan

20

Deborah

40

4:1-5:31

Midian

7

Gideon

40

6:1-8:28

Ammon

18

Jephthah

6

10:6-12:7

Philistia

40

Samson

20

13:1-16:31

 

As you can see, these judges were Othniel, Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah and Samson.  So let’s begin by seeing how that pattern held true during the time of Gideon.  Beginning to read at Judges 6:1.

 

1 The Israelites did evil in YHWH’s sight. So YHWH handed them over to the Midianites for seven years. 2 The Midianites were so cruel that the Israelites made hiding places for themselves in the mountains, caves, and strongholds. 3 Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, marauders from Midian, Amalek, and the people of the east would attack Israel, 4 camping in the land and destroying crops as far away as Gaza. They left the Israelites with nothing to eat, taking all the sheep, goats, cattle, and donkeys. 5 These enemy hordes, coming with their livestock and tents, were as thick as locusts; they arrived on droves of camels too numerous to count. And they stayed until the land was stripped bare. 6 So Israel was reduced to starvation by the Midianites. Then the Israelites cried out to YHWH for help.

 

In these verses, we see three aspects of the recurring cycle.  Israel’s sin, the resulting oppression, and then their call to YHWH.  This last sentence, them crying out to God, is really code for the fact that the Israelites turned from their idols and back to God.

 

The Midianites, who had invaded Israel and were de-facto in charge and able to take from the Israelites what they wanted, are from the Arabian Peninsula, South-East of Israel, on the far side of the arm of the Red Sea called the Gulf of Aqaba, in what today is Saudi-Arabia.

 

The Amalekites were likely a nomadic or seminomadic people who traditionally had lived in Israel, likely in the wilderness in the south known as the Negev. They made extensive use of camels and likely raided some of the more fertile areas.  In the OT, they appear as recurring enemies of Israel.[6] 

 

So then we begin to see God intervening in the history in order to bring about the restoration of the nation.

 

11 Then the angel of YHWH came and sat beneath the great tree at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash of the clan of Abiezer. Gideon son of Joash was threshing wheat at the bottom of a winepress to hide the grain from the Midianites. 12 The angel of YHWH appeared to him and said, “Mighty hero [mighty man of valour], YHWH is with you!

13 “Sir,” Gideon replied, “if YHWH is with us, why has all this happened to us?  And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about?  Didn’t they say, ‘YHWH brought us up out of Egypt’?  But now YHWH has abandoned us and handed us over to the Midianites.”

 

We are told that Gideon was threshing in the confines of the family winepress when the angel of YHWH came up to him.  Although Gideon would end up with a lot of wives and 70 sons, this may have been prior to those marriages, at a time when he was still living with his parents.

 

He was standing at the bottom of the press, likely on the treading floor, the round hole hewn out of solid rock.  The grain he was threshing was likely on the floor of the winepress, the stone walls surrounding the wine press would hide him and the wheat from the view of marauding Midianites. 

 

The family had a threshing floor somewhere else, as we find out later in the story.  The wine press was a bad place to thresh and particularly to winnow since you needed to be in the open where the wind can blow and separate the grain from the chaff.  Threshing floors did not have any walls which would keep the wind from blowing in. 

 

Gideon was so afraid to be seen, that he was willing to take the frustration of trying to thresh and winnow in a place that wasn’t ideal, yet God calls him a mighty hero. 

 

His reply to the greeting from the angel of YHWH was honest, really more of a complaint. Where is God?  Why hasn’t he shown up?  So God may have acted in the far distant past, but what has he done lately?  Gideon doesn’t mention that the reason for the malaise is that the Israelites had failed God by worshipping idols.  Maybe he didn’t say anything because his own family was involved in idol worship, his father having set up an altar to Baal and an Asherah pole next to their house (1:1,10).

 

The angel of YHWH is an interesting individual.  The expression angel of YHWH is used in about 50 verses in the OT.  The Hebrew word for angel, malakh, like the Greek angelos, can either refer to a human messenger or, well, to a supernatural being, a messenger from God.

 

The angel of YHWH clearly wasn’t a human messenger, even though he appeared like a normal human being.  Unlike other supernatural messengers from God, the angel of YHWH seems to be the supreme representation of God Himself, so he speaks as if he were God himself.

 

Those who see the angel of YHWH state that they have seen God (Gen 16:13; Jud 13:22), and they worship him as God (Josh 5:14).[7]  So the angel is directly referred to as God and YHWH (Gen 16:13, YHWH who spoke to her).[8] 

 

Because the names, God, YHWH and angel of YHWH are used interchangeably, it appears as if the angel of YHWH is nothing less than a theophany, a physical representation of God himself.  Many commentators see in the angel of YHWH, a previous incarnation of Jesus, whom the NT speaks of as the radiance of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s nature (Heb 1:3).[9] 

 

[Also interesting is the phrase, “YHWH is with you” or “YHWH is with us.”  The name Immanuel is a name that means “God is with us.”[10]]

 

Let’s go on with the story. 

 

14 Then YHWH turned to him and said, “Go with the strength you have, and rescue Israel from the Midianites. I am sending you!”

15 “But Lord,” Gideon replied, “how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!”

 

[Gideon’s words and God’s reply mirror Moses’ words and God’s reply.[11]  ]

 

Up to this point, Gideon had been the son of a landowner who had been working the land.  Now he is called upon to be a general who would personally lead an army into battle.  Gideon just couldn’t see it.  Not only was his clan, his extended family, the least prominent and likely numerically one of the smallest, in the tribe of Manasseh.  But Gideon himself, was of insignificance when compared to the other men within his rinky dinky clan. 

 

Yet, despite his fear, and his limited strength, talent, skills, training, and experience, the angel of YHWH told him that he only needed to go in the strength which he actually possessed, and he would still be successful.  Gideon wasn’t some superhuman hero.  He was very human, but, as the angel of YHWH told him, he would nevertheless still be a hero and free the nation from the Midianites and Amalekites. 

 

God uses ordinary people to accomplish the extraordinary.  What is true of those people, however, is that they overcome their self-doubts and excuses.  Let me comment a bit about self-doubt.  It can be that troubling and pervasive and persuasive voice that holds us back from doing anything of significance, telling us that we aren’t able, that we’ll fail, or that it will be too hard.  Self-doubt keeps us from even trying

 

Self-doubt isn’t the same as being aware of one’s current limitations.  Nor is it that which keeps us from doing something stupidly dangerous or risky.  That’s common sense. 

 

Self-doubt simply takes limitations and blows them up into that which keeps us from attempting anything that may appear challenging or difficult or where success isn’t guaranteed, where there is even a modem of risk.   

 

That is why self-doubt will also keep us from taking steps to better ourselves or our current situation.  In Gideon’s case, what would it take for him to climb out of the wine press and be able to thresh his grain on the threshing floor? 

 

In your case, what would it take for you to do better at school, or to leave a dead end job, or for your marriage to succeed, or for your life to improve, or for you to be able to improve the lives of others?

 

Self-doubt is that which most often holds us back in life.  So how did the angel of YHWH reply to Gideon’s self-doubt?

 

16 YHWH said to him, “I will be with you. And you will destroy the Midianites as if you were fighting against only one man.”

 

Here is the promise, “I will be with you.”  This is to make all the difference in the world.  It’s not about Gideon’s significance, but about God’s presence. 

 

After the angel of YHWH left him, God still communicated with Gideon, but we aren’t told how.  So God first commands Gideon to destroy his own father’s [Joash] altar to Baal and the Asherah pole that was beside it.[12]    

 

I think the point is that God wanted Gideon to realize that before he could free the Israelites, he had to get rid of the idols near his own home, possibly near his own heart.  So for us to try to do something of significance it would be better for us to get rid of the idols in our own lives first.  Just like self-doubt, the things we cherish too much will keep us from living lives of significance.

 

So what happened next?  I’ll continue to read in Judges 6.

 

33 Soon afterward the armies of Midian, Amalek, and the people of the east formed an alliance against Israel and crossed the Jordan, camping in the valley of Jezreel. 34 Then the Spirit of YHWH clothed Gideon with power. He blew a ram’s horn as a call to arms, and the men of the clan of Abiezer came to him. 35 He also sent messengers throughout Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, summoning their warriors, and all of them responded.

 

When it came to gathering an army, Gideon’s own strength was supplemented by the power he received from God’s Spirit.  So when he sent out messengers to call the men of Israel, they actually responded. 

The valley of Jezreel is in the northwest of Israel.  Today the city of Haifa, the largest port in Israel, is where the valley meets the Mediterranean.  The valley would also become known as the plain of Meggido (based on the city that would be built on its south border). 

 

You may have heard of the battle of Armageddon.[13]   To my mind, it is highly unlikely that the one biblical reference in the book of Revelation (Rev 16:16) is referring to the literal valley of Jezreel as the battle field of the end times – however because the valley was a traditional battle field, it came to symbolize that place of battle.

 

But Gideon still struggled with self-doubt.  He therefore did something that we shouldn’t.  He laid out a fleece, that’s the wool and skin of a sheep.  Literally.  He wanted God to let dew moisten the wool, but not the surrounding floor. Keep in mind that the threshing floor was out in the open.  If there is dew, everything would be wet.  So Gideon was asking for a miraculous sign.

And God in fact did what he asked. The fleece was soaking wet the next morning while the ground was dry. 

 

Then Gideon wanted the fleece to be dry and the floor to be covered in dew.  Again, the next morning it was so.  By the way, this was the only such test in the Scriptures and Jesus himself condemned this approach when he said that no one should put God to the test.  “If you do this and this for me, God, then I will do what I think you want me to do.”  Not a good approach, even though it worked for Gideon.

 

In the end, Gideon and a rather small contingent of men routed the enemy army, not just once, but twice.[14]  Gideon became the “mighty hero” that the angel of YHWH addressed him as, because he overcame his self-doubts and knew indeed God was with him. 

 

Some of you may have seen the animated movie, Zootopia, which is the major city on a planet inhabited by intelligent and upright walking mammals. (By the way, if you didn’t notice, there is a store in Zootopia called the fish bazaar, so it seems not all of the animals were vegan.) 

 

Whatever, the main character, the rabbit who became a police officer, Officer Hopps, ends the movie with a monologue.  Here are a few sentences from that monologue:

 

When I was a kid, I thought … anyone could be anything. Turns out, life's a little bit more complicated than a slogan on a bumper sticker. Real life is messy.  We all have limitations. We all make mistakes. …. But we have to try.  So no matter what kind of person you are,... I implore you: Try. Try to make the world a better place. Look inside yourself and recognize that change starts with you. It starts with me.  It starts with all of us.                                                                                  Officer Judy Hopps

 

Whoever wrote the monologue put some thought into it.  When people quote the apostle Paul, “I can do all things through God who strengthens me,” out of context, they really do Scripture a disservice.  Or when Jesus said that those who have faith like a mustard seed can tell a mountain to fall into the ocean, you understand that he wasn’t referring to a literal mountain.

 

Nevertheless, the point that we can take from Judges 6 is that, while we may all have limitations and we all make mistakes, God wants us to be Gideons in our own right, men and women of faith who are willing to step out and do things that mean something, things of significance, things that will bring about positive change, in our own lives and in the lives of others, things that fulfill God’s purposes here on earth.  And he’s not looking for perfect people.  He is not looking for supermen and superwomen.  He’s looking for you and me.

 

So what do we do with our fears and self-doubts?    Here are some suggestions:

 

HOW CAN I OVERCOME SELF-DOUBT?

 

1. I need to show compassion toward myself

 

Few people are able to temper their self-criticism with self-compassion, with being kind to themselves.  So let’s say that you failed at something that is important to you.  Do you keep things in perspective, or are you consumed by feelings of failure and inadequacy? 

 

In order to be compassionate toward self, we need to notice when we are suffering, especially when the cause of our suffering is our own self-judgment and self-criticism.  So you’re not perfect?  Where is the contract that you signed when you were born that stated that you had to be?

 

2. I need to stop comparing myself to others

 

There will always be those who have it more together, who are able to accomplish more than we can, who seem happier or more content or more balanced, who are always optimistic, smarter, more able, more successful, who accomplish more with less time and less resources.

 

So what?  The reality is that there also will always be those who have it less together, who accomplish less, who are less happy and balanced and so on.  So when we are tempted to compare ourselves with those who seem to be able to do more than we are, we need to stop ourselves.

 

Much better to remind ourselves of what we mean to God and how important we are to him.

 

3. I need to stop being so concerned about what others think

 

No one likes to be criticized or thought less of.  But if we’re constantly thinking about what others think of us, it will continue to hold us back from doing something potentially huge and important. 

 

4. I need to become more self-aware

 

Most people simply aren’t very self-aware.  They never ask themselves about the root causes of their self-doubt.  They never ask about the kind of things that trigger self-doubt?  They never ask themselves how they could overcome it.

 

So if I simply stick with my natural tendency not to take risks or do anything outside of my comfort zone, what opportunities and awesome chances to grow and improve have I missed out on - and will I miss out on?

 

Self-awareness helps us to figure out if we really need to get more training or whether we need to take the next step … to just do it.

 

5. I need to just do it

 

There is nothing wrong with thinking something through, but you likely have heard of analysis paralysis or paralysis by analysis.  That’s when we over-analyze (or over-think) a situation to the point where we never make a decision and never take action, so things always stay the same.

 

And whatever we do, whether it means looking for another job, taking a course of studies, moving, starting to paint or write a book, doing something significant or positive for ourselves or others, course corrections are always possible IF WE ARE ON THE WAY.  It’s hard to turn a vehicle that isn’t moving.

 

So while setbacks are a necessary part of life, they do NOT have to be permanent if we correct our course along the way.

 

We need to stop making excuses or finding reasons why we can’t do something great.  Self-doubt often makes us rationalize how we feel.  We may be afraid to fail, afraid to look bad, afraid to take on more than we think we can handle.  So we become adept at making a lot of excuses for why an opportunity that presents itself isn't a good fit for us.

 

In essence our brains are our enemy, as they will start producing a million excuses and reasons why we can’t, shouldn’t, do what we know we need to do.  So often, we just need to get out of our own way and do it. 

 

We all have a negative, doubtful, scared part of ourselves.  In fact, every human being on this planet has faults, failures, fears, and self-doubt.

But that is our shadow side.  And all of us also have that side to ourselves that is in the sun.  That side that is positive, optimistic, and near to God.

 

Maybe the side that is in the sun could write a letter, I mean a literal letter, to our shadow side, stating all the encouraging and good things that are true about ourselves.

 

6. I need to remind myself that God is with me

 

How often do we forget that God is on our side?  We may even say something similar to Gideon:  Look God, you may have done something for me that one time many years ago, but what have you done for me lately?

 

If God is for me, as Paul reminds us in Rom 8, it really shouldn’t matter anymore who or what is against me.  We need to get our lives out of neutral and into gear.

 

IS GOD ASKING ME TO STEP OUT IN FAITH AND MAKE A SIGNIFICANT DECISION OR CHANGE OR CONTRIBUTION?

IF SO, WHAT IS IT AND WHAT WILL I DO ABOUT IT?

 

 

 

[1] Called Samhain

[2] Previously, in 609 AD, Pope Boniface IV established the All Martyrs Day on May 13th. 

[3] Heb 11:32-34 - Time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak ... who through faith ... were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight ....

[4] Sin - Oppression/Exile - Repentance - Restoration

[5] There were actually a total of 12 judges, but the other six (Shamgar, Tola, Jair, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon and Samuel), were different in that they did not lead the Israelites into battle against whichever foreign power had conquered and oppressed Israel, “only” presiding over the court cases where a judgment between two Israelites had to be made.

[6] God first sent a prophet to the Israelites telling them that the reason why this was happening was because they were worshipping the gods of the indigenous population, despite being told not to do so.  However, despite this, God begins to act.

[7] In Joshua 5:14 it was “the commander of YHWH’s army.” 

[8] It was the angel of YHWH who appeared to Moses in the burning bush (Ex 3:2), yet it is God who calls to Moses from the bush (Ex 3:4), and YHWH himself who talks with Moses (Ex 4:2).  Note Gideon’s response in Jud 6:22: “Alas, O Lord YHWH! For now I have seen the angel of YHWH face to face.”  Gideon thought that he would now have to die (cf. 6:23).

[9] Also, according to John 1:18, no one has ever seen God (the Father); cf. Ex 33:20; 1 Tim 6:16. 

[10] Found in Isaiah 7:1-2 and applied to Jesus in Matt 1:22-23

[11] Ex 3:11-12a, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” He (God) said, “But I will be with you ....”

[12] When the men of the town wanted to kill him for it, Gideon’s father saved his life by stating that Baal can kill Gideon himself if he wanted to, he didn’t need their help.

[13] Har Maggedon = mountain of Meggido.

[14] Unfortunately, Gideon used a huge amount of gold taken from Midian to cast a portable idol (cf. 1 Sam 2:28), an “ephod” that is not a linen tunic or metal breast plate, which was said to be a snare to him and his family (Jud 8:27).  After Gideon’s death, the people returned to worshipping Baal-berith (Jud 8:33).