Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, by John Nelson Darby, [1857-62], at sacred-texts.com
But again the children of Israel did evil in the sight of Jehovah, and He delivered them into the hand of Midian. And the children of Israel cried again unto Jehovah. God reveals the cause of their distress to the consciences of the people. This was indeed an answer; but, for the moment, He left them as they were. He did not act in their midst by delivering them at once; but He acted for them in the instrument whom He had chosen to effect their deliverance. God glorified Himself in Gideon: but the concentration of this work in one man proves the people to be in a lower condition than before. Nevertheless, in these humiliating circumstances, God chooses means which display His glory in every way. Where He works, there is strength; and faith also, which acts according to that strength in its own sphere.
We will examine a little into the history of Gideon, and the features of the Spirit's work in this deliverance, as well as in the faith of him whom He raised up. It is evident that many thoughts had occurred to Gideon, many serious reflections, before the angel spoke to him. But it was the angel's visit that caused him to give form and expression to the thoughts with which his heart was occupied. Gideon suffered with the rest from the oppression of God's enemies; but it led him to think of God, instead of making up his mind to endure the bondage as a necessary evil. The angel says to him, "Jehovah is with thee, thou mighty man of valour." That which preoccupied the mind of Gideon is now manifested. It was not his own position, but the relation between Jehovah and Israel [See Note #1]. "If Jehovah," said he, "be with us, why then is all this befallen us? And where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not Jehovah bring us up from Egypt? But now Jehovah hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites."
Faith, indeed, was the source of all these reasonings and exercises of mind. Jehovah had wrought all these wonders. He had brought the people up from Egypt. If Jehovah was with Israel, if such was His relation to His people, why were they in this sorrowful condition? (Oh, how applicable would this reasoning be to the assembly!) Gideon acknowledges, too, that it is Jehovah who delivered them into the hands of the Midianites. How the thought of God raises the soul above the sufferings one is enduring! While thinking of Him one recognises, in these very sufferings, the hand and the whole character of Him who sent them. It was that which lifted up this poor Israelite, labouring under the weight of oppression. "And Jehovah looked upon him and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel." The visit and the command of Jehovah imparted their form and their strength to that which before was only heart-exercise.
Nevertheless it was this heart-exercise which gave him strength; for it was the inward link of faith with all that Jehovah was for His oppressed people, in the consciousness of the relationship existing between them. We will look now at the development of this faith, and see it employed for the deliverance of God's people. Gideon experiences at first the sense of his own littleness, whatever may be the relationship between Jehovah and the people (Jdg 6:15). Jehovah's answer shews him the one simple means, "Surely I will be with thee." Precious condescension! Sweet and powerful encouragement to the soul! Gideon's faith was weak. The present state of the people tended, by its duration, to blot out the remembrance of the wonders which Jehovah had wrought when they came out of Egypt, and to weaken their consciousness of His presence. The angel of Jehovah condescends to tarry with him in order to strengthen his faith.
Gideon, who had addressed him with a secret consciousness that it was Jehovah, now knows indeed that he has seen the angel of Jehovah, of Elohim, face to face. It was a positive revelation, sufficient to annihilate him in himself, as was indeed the case; but also mightily to strengthen him in his walk amongst others, who had not known Jehovah in the same way. Although not with similar visions, yet it is always thus when God raises up a special instrument for the deliverance of His people. Jehovah had made Himself known, and now he reassures Gideon: "Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die.?' A man who is humbled by the presence of God receives strength from God, if that presence is in blessing. Gideon recognises and lays hold of this for himself: Jehovah is with him in peace and in blessing. The word Shalom, translated "Peace be with thee," is the same as that used in the name of the altar.
When God acts powerfully on the heart, the first effect shews itself always in connection with Himself. Gideon's thoughts are occupied with Jehovah, they were so before this manifestation. But being taken up with Jehovah, it is by worship that he expresses his feelings [See Note #2], when he receives an answer from Jehovah to all his thoughts [See Note #3]. He builds an altar to the God of peace. The relationship of peace is thus established between God and His servant; but all this is between Gideon and Jehovah.
Now comes his public service, which is also fulfilled by re-establishing, first of all, in the bosom of his own family, and in his own city, the relationship between God and His people. Israel must put away Baal before God can drive out the Midianites. How could He do so, while the blessing might be ascribed to Baal? Gideon is therefore commanded to give a striking testimony, which calls the attention of the whole people to the necessity of casting out Baal, in order that God may intervene. Faithfulness within precedes outward strength: evil must be put away from Israel before the enemy can be driven out. Obedience first, and then strength: this is God's order.
When Satan's power in superstition (in whatever way it may be outwardly manifested) is despised, it is destroyed; supposing always that God is with him who pours contempt on it, and that he is in the path of obedience. Gideon overthrows Baal; and, on the anger of the people fearful through superstition-What can this god do? he cannot defend himself, said even he to whom the altar belonged. The power of God acted on their minds, for faith was there. But the opposition of the enemy did not cease on that account. There is nothing so despicable as a despised god. But if Satan cannot be a god amongst men, he is not at the end of his resources, he will incite them to open hostility against those who overthrow his altars; but if we are standing on God's side, the only effect of this will be to bring him thereby into the presence of God's power, and to give us victory, deliverance, and peace.
The Midianites come up against Israel. All is ready for the Lord's intervention. The Spirit of Jehovah comes upon Gideon. This is a new phase in the history; not only faithfulness, but power. Gideon blows the trumpet, and those who shortly before would have slain him now follow in his train. He sends messengers to all his tribe. Zebulun, Asher, and Naphtali come up also. The power of the Spirit, which sways the minds of men, is with the faith that acknowledges God, that acknowledges Him in His relationship to His people, and faithfully puts away the evil which is incompatible with that relationship.
God gives another proof of His great condescension, by granting a sign to strengthen the weak but real and sincere faith of Gideon; who feels, whilst repeating his request (Jdg 6:39), that God might well chasten him for his lack of faith. Nevertheless the Lord grants his petition.
Not the elevation of Abrahamic promises, but the manifestation of redeeming power in Jehovah in favour of Israel. Something like Moses, to whom Jehovah had said, "thy people," but who ever said, "Thy people." So Gideon cannot separate himself from all Israel-God's people. "Jehovah is with thee," said the angel. "If Jehovah be with us," says Gideon, "why then is all this befallen us?" But this is an immensely important principle of faith and its activities. Note, too, what was passing in the heart of faith was the ground Jehovah took in testimony (Jdg 6:8), only adding the charge of disobedience.
We observe a similar feeling in Eliezer (Gen 24:27). It is very interesting to notice the different circumstances in which altars have been built to Jehovah. I will name a few passages: Gen 8:20; Gen 12:7; compare Gen 13:4; see Gen 21:33; Gen 22:9; Gen 26:25; Gen 33:20; Gen 35:7. We may also remark Exo 24:4; Jos 8:30; and here Judges 6. It appears even that Gideon built two altars; the one for himself in worship, and the other by command as a testimony. Sa1 7:17; Sa1 14:35; Kg1 18:32. We may add Sa2 24:25; Ezr 3:2.
It is instructive to observe here the difference between the exercises of heart which are the result of faith, and the answer of God to the wants and difficulties which are caused by those exercises. In Jdg 6:13 we have the expression of these exercises in a soul under the weight of the same oppression as his brethren, but who feels it thus because his faith in the Lord was real. Then we have the answer which produces peace, and, with peace, worship. It is the same, when, after having suffered death, the risen Jesus reveals Himself to His disciples with the same words that God uses here, and lays down the foundation of the church gathered together in worship. In Luke 7 we find the same experiences in the woman who was a sinner. She believed in the person of Jesus. His grace had made Him her all; but she did not know yet that one like her was pardoned and saved, and might go in peace. This assurance was the answer given to her faith. Now this answer is what the gospel proclaims to every believer. The Holy Ghost proclaims Jesus. This produces conviction of sin. The knowledge of God in Christ, and of ourselves, casts down (for sin is there, and we are in bondage, sold under sin); but it produces conflict, perhaps anguish. Often the soul struggles against sin, and cannot gain the mastery; it cannot get beyond a certain point (the greater number of the sermons from which it expects light go no farther); but the gospel proclaims God's own resources for bringing it out of this state. "Peace be unto thee," "thy sins are forgiven." "Thy faith" (for she has faith), says Christ to the poor sinful woman, "hath saved thee." This was what she knew not yet. Compare Act 2:37-38.