The book of Judges describes the first 350 years of Israel�s experience in Canaan. The narrative begins during the time of Joshua (around 1398 B.C.) and ends just before Saul becomes Israel�s king (around 1043 B.C.). During this period, the Lord Himself was Israel�s King. Unfortunately, His people did not give Him much respect. In fact, the last verse in the book of Judges closes by saying, "everyone did as he saw fit." (Judges 21:25) After Joshua died, God called various men and women to be judges to guide and govern His wayward people, but they had limited success. Israel vacillated between submission to the Lord and rebellion against Him. Israel�s inclination toward rebellion was a constant problem. In fact, the Bible suggests that there were seven periods of apostasy, seven periods of servitude and seven restorations during the time of the judges! God is changeless and the carnal nature is predictable. The history between God and Israel was preserved in the book of Judges for thousands of years and is like a mirror, reflecting how He deals with all nations and people. In the same way, Israel�s treatment of God reflects, like a mirror, how most of the human race treats God. Actually, the Bible tells the story of our lives, only it uses different names! If you and I had lived in those days, most of us would have fit right in with Israel�s "on again" and "off again" relationship with the Lord! If God had destroyed Abraham�s offspring at Mt. Sinai as He proposed to do (Exodus 32:10), and replaced Israel with the offspring of Moses, the results would have been the same � only the names would have changed. The Bible is an amazing book. It describes the present human condition with a thousand parallels from the past! When I study the Bible, I realize my own human nature is not that different from the antediluvians who scoffed as Noah built the ark. Sometimes, I am rebellious, like Israel. In some ways, I am blind, like the Pharisees. Other times, I am like the disciples, I do not understand the words of Jesus. In some ways, I am like doubting Thomas and impetuous Peter. When I am totally honest with myself, I realize that I have a lot in common with many Bible characters. In good ways and bad ways, they are like me and I am like them.
Two Nasty Problems
Seven cycles of "apostasy � servitude � restoration" in 350 years says much about the longsuffering of God, and also the inherent rebellion of humanity. Two problems plague the human race: Man�s first and greatest problem is his innate rebellion against God�s authority. The second problem is the ignorance between generations. On the topic of rebellion, we are spring-loaded from birth to reject everything that God wants of us. (Romans 8:7) For example, God insists that we rest on His Sabbath. I have yet to hear a person say upon learning about God�s Sabbath, "Wow! Look at the wonderful benefit God�s has set up for us! A day of rest each week. Yippee!" Actually, our hearts respond with just the opposite reaction. It typically goes like this: "Whoa! I don�t know about this Sabbath rest thing. I have a job, family and friends, etc., to consider . . . ." Israel was no different and constantly struggled with their desire to abandon God�s Sabbath rest! (Ezekiel 20) Truthfully, before you break any of God�s commandments, you break the first commandment before any of the others! So, how is Israel�s apostasy different from our apostasy? Refusing to obey God or justify behavior that is contrary to God�s commands is the same as Israel�s rebellion. God knows that man�s propensity toward rebellion can be moderated through punishment, just as a good parent disciplines a child. In fact, if we were truthful, almost everyone will give in and say "uncle" if tortured long enough.
During the time of the judges, Israel experienced God�s judgments seven times and repented seven times, but for the wrong reason! Have you ever heard someone say, "Lord, I will do anything you want, just answer my prayer?" This is the religious equivalent to saying "uncle." Again, this response indicates submission to God, but for the wrong reason. When suffering accomplishes its highest calling, suffering from God brings us into humble submission. We will pray as Jesus did when facing death, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." (Luke 22:42)
Of course, God knew that the people of Israel repented because they experienced the hardships of His judgments. This is why God�s punishments were redemptive for many centuries. God designed His wrath to bring the nation of Israel to her knees so that she might look up and consider the wisdom of her King. Good discipline may be punitive, but it should also be instructional! "No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." (Hebrews 12:11) Did you notice those last words, "for those who have been trained by it?" Some people are punished, yet they never get the point or learn the lesson. For example, more than 90% of certain classes of felons return to prison after being set free! In this case, discipline does not help if the lessons are not learned. This is why God has a second type of punishment called destructive punishment. When redemptive judgments fail, destructive judgments terminate the problem. For example, the world�s inhabitants went beyond the point of redemption in Noah�s day. If a worldwide, waist-deep flood could have achieved redemptive results, God would not have drowned the whole world and started over. God knew the cancer of sin and that redemption was out of the question, so He killed all but eight people and started over. God disciplined Israel with redemptive punishments for many centuries because He wanted Israel to wake up and observe the deadly consequences of sin. Eventually, God gave up and destroyed Israel as a nation in A.D. 70. God has a message for everyone on Earth about rebellion: Rebellion begins with forbidden pleasure or profit, which produces a harvest of sorrowful consequences and broken relationships. In the end, sin requires the penalty of death.
If we divide 350 years by seven "apostasy � servitude � restoration" cycles, the average is one cycle every 50 years (which is approximately once per generation). Since generations of people come and go, the second problem God has with man is "the next generation." A punished generation may repent and learn from God�s discipline, but the next generation rarely reaps the benefits of discipline given to its elder generation! In fact, God has to start over with the next generation because it does not understand that God means what He says and is a powerful force. So, the younger generation arrives on the scene and makes the same mistakes as the previous generation and travels down a rebellious road, yielding to the temptations of sin. Then, the cycle of degeneration starts again. History constantly repeats itself because it is almost impossible for the next generation to possess the wisdom and experience of its elder generation! Therefore, the mistakes and the apostasy of former generations are repeated by the next generation.
God Keeps Vigil
With these thoughts in mind, I would like you to consider the story of Judge Gideon that includes several end time parallels. The story begins during one of Israel�s suffering cycles � a time of servitude: "Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites. Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count the men and their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it. Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help." (Judges 6:1-6)
When the majority of a nation becomes decadent and degenerate, the "Land-Lord of Earth" moves into action. God hates sin and people who insist on rebellion. In Israel�s case, God gave His land over to the Midianites for seven years. (If you want to know why the promised land is "God�s land" rather than Israel�s land, see Leviticus 18:24,25; 25:23.) God made Israel�s defenses weak and her borders porous. Israel�s "Homeland Defense Minister" could not stop the terrorists from Midian from entering the land occupied by Israel. The Midianites destroyed their homes, took their crops and killed their animals. The Midianites decimated the promised land "that flowed with milk and honey" because God was displeased with His people. "When the Israelites cried to the Lord because of Midian, he sent them a prophet, who said, �This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. I snatched you from the power of Egypt and from the hand of all your oppressors. I drove them from before you and gave you their land. I said to you, "I am the Lord your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live." But you have not listened to me.� " (Judges 6:7-10) The words of the prophet address the core problem. Israel had abandoned God and His Sabbath rest and merged with mainstream religious practices. Israel worshiped the hedonistic gods of the Amorites (the Baals) because the Baals, unlike the God of Heaven, gave people freedom to do whatever they wanted. Sexual immorality was not a controversial issue. In fact, it was considered entertainment, a popular part of fertility cult worship. The religion of the Baals was bewitching; a sensual religion that appealed to the carnal passions of its worshipers.
When the seven years of Midianite occupation had been served, God changed Israel�s desperate situation. Israel was not allowed to weasel out of punishment. "They did the crime; they did the time." The ironic point about this turn of events is that God used the Midianites to punish Israel for their rebellion against Him, and then God used Israel to destroy the Midianites because of their great sexual immorality and depravity! When the time came to set Israel free from Midianite occupation, God chose the son of a prominent Baal worshiper to be a Judge for Him. (Imagine that!) Gideon was a timid, but sincere young man, who refused to worship the Baals. When the story begins, Gideon (in his early 20�s?) was threshing wheat in his hideout. "The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, �The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.� �But sir,� Gideon replied, �if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, "Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?" But now the Lord has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.�
Note: The Lord offered no explanation to Gideon why Israel was in the hands of Midian. God had already explained this through a prophet.
"The Lord turned to him and said, �Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian�s hand. Am I not sending you?� �But Lord,� Gideon asked, �how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.� The Lord answered, �I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.�
"Gideon replied, �If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.� And the Lord said, �I will wait until you return.� Gideon went in, prepared a young goat, and from an ephah of flour he made bread without yeast. Putting the meat in a basket and its broth in a pot, he brought them out and offered them to him under the oak. The angel of God said to him, �Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth.� And Gideon did so. With the tip of the staff that was in his hand, the angel of the Lord touched the meat and the unleavened bread. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the angel of the Lord disappeared." (Judges 6:11-21)
These verses give me goose-bumps! I can just imagine Gideon running around, trying to get his offering together. Then, returning breathlessly, he puts the offering on a rock. The Lord stretches out His staff and "poof" � fire comes out of the rock and consumes the meat, bread � everything! The Lord suddenly disappears from view, but not from Gideon�s presence!
"When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he exclaimed, �Ah, Sovereign Lord! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!� But the Lord said to him, �Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.� So Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and called it The Lord is Peace . . . .
"That same night the Lord said to him, �Take the second bull from your father�s herd, the one seven years old. [Evidently, the first bull was their best breeding bull.] Tear down your father�s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it. Then build a proper kind of altar to the Lord your God on the top of this height. Using the wood of the Asherah pole that you cut down, offer the second bull as a burnt offering.� So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the Lord told him. But because he was afraid of his family and the men of the town, he did it at night rather than in the daytime.
"In the morning when the men of the town got up, there was Baal�s altar, demolished, with the Asherah pole beside it cut down and the second bull sacrificed on the newly built altar! They asked each other, �Who did this?� When they carefully investigated, they were told, �Gideon son of Joash did it.� The men of the town demanded of Joash, �Bring out your son. He must die, because he has broken down Baal�s altar and cut down the Asherah pole beside it.� But Joash replied to the hostile crowd around him, �Are you going to plead Baal�s cause? Are you trying to save him? Whoever fights for him shall be put to death by morning! If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar.� So that day they called Gideon �Jerub-Baal,� saying, �Let Baal contend with him, because he broke down Baal�s altar.� " (Judges 6:22-32, insertion and italics mine)
The Lord used this notable incident to let Israel know that He had chosen the young, timid Gideon as a leader. This action by Gideon was completely out of character! However, when God�s Holy Spirit power rests on a willing heart, there is no limit to what God can accomplish! Gideon�s father (a member of the elder generation) recognized the power of God upon his son and he successfully defended his son�s behavior! (I believe Gideon�s father�s conscience condemned him in his heart for worshiping Baal.) God chose the weakest man in town to send a signal through the land that He was about to rescue His people. A few days later, this signal made perfect sense!
The Sword of the Lord and of Gideon
"Now all the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples joined forces and crossed over the Jordan and camped in the Valley of Jezreel. [They were intent on plundering the possessions of the Israelites.] Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him. He sent messengers throughout Manasseh, calling them to arms, and also into Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali, so that they too went up to meet them. Gideon said to God, �If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised � look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.� And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew � a bowlful of water.
Note: The ever timid Gideon needs assurance, so he asks the Lord for a sign. God faithfully responds.
"Then Gideon said to God, �Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece. This time make the fleece dry and the ground covered with dew.� That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew.
Note: Again, the ever timid Gideon needs assurance. God patiently responds.
"Early in the morning, Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) and all his men camped at the spring of Harod. The camp of Midian was north of them in the valley near the hill of Moreh. The Lord said to Gideon, �You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her, announce now to the people, "Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead." � So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained.
Note: The ever timid Gideon begins to have heartburn. "Lord, too many soldiers?" How can an army ever have too many soldiers?
"But the Lord said to Gideon, �There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will sift them for you there. If I say, "This one shall go with you," he shall go; but if I say, "This one shall not go with you," he shall not go.� So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the Lord told him, �Separate those who lap the water with their tongues like a dog from those who kneel down to drink.� Three hundred men lapped with their hands to their mouths. All the rest got down on their knees to drink. The Lord said to Gideon, �With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the other men go, each to his own place.� So Gideon sent the rest of the Israelites to their tents but kept the three hundred, who took over the provisions and trumpets of the others.
"Now the camp of Midian lay below him in the valley. During that night the Lord said to Gideon, �Get up, go down against the camp, because I am going to give it into your hands. If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah and listen to what they are saying. Afterward, you will be encouraged to attack the camp.� So he and Purah his servant went down to the outposts of the camp.
Note: An ever timid Gideon needed more assurance. Notice how the Lord assures Gideon of victory over the Midianites and uses an enemy to confirm to Gideon what the Lord is going to do!
"The Midianites, the Amalekites and all the other eastern peoples had settled in the valley, thick as locusts. Their camels could no more be counted than the sand on the seashore. Gideon arrived just as a man was telling a friend his dream. �I had a dream,� he was saying. �A round loaf of barley bread came tumbling into the Midianite camp. It struck the tent with such force that the tent overturned and collapsed.� His friend responded, �This can be nothing other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands.� When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he worshiped God. He returned to the camp of Israel and called out, �Get up! The Lord has given the Midianite camp into your hands.�
Note: The ever timid Gideon is now ready to lead 300 men into the camp of the Midianites.
"Dividing the three hundred men into three companies, he placed trumpets and empty jars in the hands of all of them, with torches inside. �Watch me,� he told them. �Follow my lead. When I get to the edge of the camp, do exactly as I do. When I and all who are with me blow our trumpets, then from all around the camp blow yours and shout, "For the Lord and for Gideon." �
"Gideon and the hundred men with him reached the edge of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch [midnight] , just after they had changed the guard. They blew their trumpets and broke the jars that were in their hands. The three companies blew the trumpets and smashed the jars. Grasping the torches in their left hands and holding in their right hands the trumpets they were to blow, they shouted, �A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!�
"While each man held his position around the camp, all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled. When the three hundred trumpets sounded, the Lord caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords. The army fled to Beth Shittah toward Zererah as far as the border of Abel Meholah near Tabbath. Israelites from Naphtali, Asher and all Manasseh were called out, and they pursued the Midianites. Gideon sent messengers throughout the hill country of Ephraim, saying, �Come down against the Midianites and seize the waters of the Jordan ahead of them as far as Beth Barah.� So all the men of Ephraim were called out and they took the waters of the Jordan as far as Beth Barah. They also captured two of the Midianite leaders, Oreb and Zeeb. They killed Oreb at the rock of Oreb, and Zeeb at the winepress of Zeeb. They pursued the Midianites and brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon, who was by the Jordan." (Judges 6:33-7:25)
End Time Parallels
There are a few end time parallels in the story of Gideon to consider. Here are four:
1. The empowerment of Gideon and his army parallels the 144,000.
First, God chose a timid, self depreciating man. Then, God reduced Gideon�s army to a mere 300 soldiers to eliminate any possibility for Gideon or the nation of Israel to claim victory over the Midianites. Similar circumstances will occur during the Great Tribulation. Contrary to what many people believe, God is not going to use a religious denomination to preach the gospel to the world. Instead, He will hand pick a few thousand people like Gideon. God�s 144,000 servants will not be arrogant people, nor will they be influential scholars or great preachers. For the most part, they will be ordinary people. The victory they achieve will be the Lord�s doing, not theirs! The ratio of God�s servants to the population of the world will be about one per 50,000 people. God likes impossible odds. God will not share His glory with man. God is above man. God is omnipotent and He will show His strength through human weakness. "But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things � and the things that are not � to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him." (1 Corinthians 1:27-29)
2. God�s wrath parallels the seven trumpets and the seven bowls.
God�s punishment of Israel (seven years of occupation by the Midianites) was justified and God�s destructive wrath toward the Midiantes was also justified! God gives every nation a measure of grace and a cup to measure iniquity. Grace runs out when the cup overflows with iniquity. When the majority of a nation�s citizens conduct themselves in a way that is offensive to the "Lord of the Land," He moves into action. God�s actions are redemptive at first. If they fail to accomplish redemption, God�s judgments eventually become destructive. Historians may disagree with me, but I believe war is the handiwork of God. He uses one nation to destroy another when the offending nation fills its cup of iniquity. Then, if necessary, God destroys the destroyer if He deems it appropriate. Nations rise and fall � not by the prowess of man, but by divine decree. (See Daniel 5.)
God�s wrath against Israel and the Midianites parallels the seven trumpets and the seven bowls of Revelation, respectively. The seven trumpets will be seven first plagues that have a generous measure of mercy mixed in. The seven trumpet judgments are redemptive judgments. This is why the quantity of "one-third" is mentioned twelve times during the seven trumpets. God spares two-thirds! The seven bowls are seven last plagues. These judgments have no mercy mixed in. God utterly destroys Earth and everyone on Earth (except the saints) by the time the events of the seventh bowl conclude. We see both types of judgments in the book of Judges. Israel received redemptive judgments and the Midianites received destructive judgments. (Eventually, Israel also received a destructive judgment as well.)
3. The confusion and defeat of the Midianites
Gideon and his army shattered the stillness of the night. Out of nowhere there came "a large army" with lights and trumpets. Generals in ancient times customarily directed their armies by the sound of "a" trumpet. The emphasis here on the word "a" is important. If there were many trumpets, no one would know which trumpet to follow. A soldier would hear multiple trumpets when various battalions converged on a battle. When the Midianites awoke to the sound of 300 trumpets, they had one thought. "We are out gunned and vastly out numbered!" Their resulting panic confirms this point.
When God�s judgments (the seven trumpets) begin, the world will be taken by complete surprise. The world will awaken to a new reality. The inhabitants of Earth will realize there is a living God and He is a deadly, formidable force. The ensuing panic will confirm this. To those people who have set their face and lives against God�s laws, this will come as a complete surprise � like a sneak attack. God is about to send panic through the camp of His enemies. Eventually, the wicked will be destroyed and the saints of God will at last, have peace on Earth! The occupation of His land will be over and the saints will live happily ever after.
4. The trumpets and the lamps
In ancient times, wars were not typically fought in darkness. It was too risky. Warfare was often hand-to-hand and close proximity to the enemy was necessary. In total darkness, it is impossible to tell a friend from an enemy! When Gideon�s army startled the sleeping Midianites with shouting, 300 blazing lamps and 300 blaring trumpets, the Midianites instinctively knew they could not survive the battle. The Lord filled the hearts of Israel�s enemy with overwhelming panic so that they fled in fear. This scenario also describes how the wicked will feel when the Great Tribulation begins. Fear will be everywhere. Anxiety will be out of control. Jesus said there will be distress that has no equal since the beginning of the world! (Matthew 24:21) Paul wrote, "If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God." (Hebrews 10:26,27) During the Great Tribulation, wicked people will have no rest, day or night (Revelation 14:11) because the Lord will fill their hearts with fear and anxiety.
During the Great Tribulation, God will send His servants, the 144,000, to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to every kindred, tongue and nation. People who love the light illuminating the truth will step forward into the light and unite themselves with God�s servants. The saints will have peace in the middle of the raging, chaotic storm. People who love iniquity will run for the cover of darkness so their deeds will not be seen in the light. In the darkness of sin, Paul writes there is a fearful expectation of judgment and raging fire. God will ensure it for He wants everyone to come to repentance. "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives." (2 Peter 3:9-11)
The Cycles Continue
"Thus Midian was subdued before the Israelites and did not raise its head again. During Gideon�s lifetime, the land enjoyed peace forty years. Jerub-Baal [Gideon] son of Joash went back home to live. He had seventy sons of his own, for he had many wives. His concubine, who lived in Shechem, also bore him a son, whom he named Abimelech. Gideon son of Joash died at a good old age and was buried in the tomb of his father Joash in Ophrah of the Abiezrites. No sooner had Gideon died than the Israelites again prostituted themselves to the Baals. They set up Baal-Berith as their god and did not remember the Lord their God, who had rescued them from the hands of all their enemies on every side." (Judges 8:28-34, insertion mine) As far as I know, Gideon holds the world record for having the largest number of children. (I do not know what happened � he was a timid guy at first!) If Gideon had 70 sons (and 70 daughters), his offspring would number around 140 children! In a way, Gideon�s heritage parallels the ministry of the 144,000. Because of their efforts, the seed of Abraham produced during the Great Tribulation will be numberless! ". . .And there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands . . . . Then one of the elders asked me, �These in white robes � who are they, and where did they come from?� I answered, �Sir, you know.� And he said, �These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.� " (Revelation 7:9, 13,14)
Regrettably, this story ends where it began. When Gideon died, the next generation prostituted themselves to the Baals again . If Israel�s history proves anything, it proves how quickly and how easily so many people can turn away from obeying the Lord. We would do well to take note of this fact as we draw near to the Great Day of the Lord! Remember, if we had been there after Gideon died, some of us may have followed the rebellious majority.