I was reading through one of my favorite devotionals yesterday morning, New Morning Mercies by Paul David Tripp (another one I highly recommend). And it referenced a passage of Scripture that hit me in a new way, perhaps because of the current crisis we are all facing.
Judges chapter 6 tells the story of an unlikely hero named Gideon.
The scripture reference started with verse 11:
Two things immediately jumped out at me:
There is a lot about the Old Testament that I don't really understand, most of it because I'm not educated enough on the Israelite culture or the historical context in which these accounts are told. But this -- beating wheat on a winepress -- was not a cultural oddity. There was nothing mystically "holy" about it and a winepress was not a multifunctional tool. It was meant for wine and wine only.
Gideon was doing something inside that is normally done outside...because he was scared.
How many of us are currently hunkered down in our own homes?
How many are actively seeking ways to avoid unnecessary contact with those outside our doors?
Because we're scared of a virus with no vaccine.
Because we're scared of collapsing our hospital system with the infected and sick.
Because this virus can spread through the air and live on surfaces for an extended period of time.
Gideon and his people were scared, too.
For the last seven years, they had been oppressed by another group of people called Midianites.
If you read the beginning of Judges chapter 6, you will find the Midianites had encircled Israel. They had made camp at every stronghold in the land. And they did this to keep watch on the Israelites. Whenever the Israelites would plant crops, the Midianites would swoop in and "devour the produce of the land" and "leave no sustenance for Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey" (Judges 6:4).
For this reason, Gideon and his people were devastated.
They were forced to figure out a way to survive under the Midianite surveillance.
And so we find Gideon beating wheat inside his home at the winepress.
So naturally when the angel of the Lord says, "The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor," Gideon's first response is one of honest confusion.
Here we see a response that all of us have probably uttered to ourselves at some point:
"If the Lord is with us, then why has all this happened to us?"
How often have I thought this to myself when facing a difficult situation!
It's mostly in the painfully hard or confusing moments of life that our first reaction is to doubt God's goodness. We rarely doubt his existence or his power. But we doubt his presence. We doubt his love. We doubt his good heart.
"If the Lord is with us, then why has COVID-19 happened to us?"
Right now, we fear for our health or for the health of our loved ones.
We wonder how we will pay the bills or keep our businesses running.
And so, for good reason, we are scared.
If that's not enough to give you a connection to Gideon and his people, the story continues.
The angel says that God will use Gideon to save his people from the Midianites.
And before you think that this is because he is especially brave or holds an important role in society, Gideon basically tells the angel, "Are you sure you have the right guy? I'm the youngest son in my family and part of the weakest clan."
To which the God responds, "But I am with you."
Now, the story goes on that Gideon actually tests God -- something Deuteronomy 6:16 explicitly says you should NOT do. In fact, Gideon ends up doing this three times throughout the passage! Yet God proves himself through Gideon's tests, and the Midianites are defeated.
But before you go get your own fleece (Judges 6:36) to start testing God for yourself, take a moment to consider another point:
God meets us where we are...as we are...and uses us despite that.
The story of Gideon is not to prove we should test God.
The story of Gideon is not about needing exact confirmation of God's command before you act.
The story of Gideon is about God's faithfulness and ability.
He is faithful to us despite our unfaithfulness to Him.
He will save us despite our unworthiness.
He will use us despite our inadequate belief, talents, or abilities.
Since the fall of man, the world is not as God designed it to be.
And God's calling us as His people does not make US any less broken on the outside.
I'm a really big animal person. Actually, my whole family is.
What grieves my heart probably more than it should is the fact there are thousands of animals in rescues and shelters throughout the country who have no home. And I can't even think that deeply about some of their past experiences of abuse or neglect without getting very emotional.
But we've all seen that adoption story.
The one that starts with a shaking, pitiful creature huddled in a corner getting adopted by a loving family and then becoming a care-free, fun loving, genuinely happy dog in the home of her dreams.
I ask you what changed?
Did the dog become more brave or strong?
Did the dog just try harder?
Of course not!
The dog was adopted.
And that changed everything else.
Both our dogs are rescues.
They still chew things they shouldn't.
And I know there are times when they feel they deserve two treats instead of one.
I do not love them because they are perfect, I love them because they are mine.
That is our story as believers.
For some reason, God has chosen us and loves us.
We will never be perfect in practice or belief this side of Heaven.
True, as believers our lives will change in response to this great Gospel, but anything contrary to brokenness -- anything good -- that we see manifested in our day to day lives is a result of God's ability, not our own. As our hearts change or motivations change or our lifestyles change, it is a supernatural change from God calling us His own.
"If the Lord is with us then why has COVID-19 happened to us?"
Because the world is broken.
Because Christ's blood has redeemed our souls from death, but not our bodies.
Because nothing about this world functions as it was intended to, including our bodies.
Gideon was using this question as a way to prove God was with his people.
He was relying on external circumstances to be proof of an internal truth.
The entire story of Israel wandering through the desert, battling with other nations, and enduring oppression proves that just because we are God's children, doesn't mean bad things won't happen to us.
Just because we adopted our dogs doesn't mean that bad things won't still happen to them, either.
They'll still get sick or hurt -- sometimes because of their poor decisions, but sometimes not.
What it does mean is that when they do get sick -- regardless of how or why -- I will take care of them.
And that is the story of Gideon.
That is the call during the bad times or the hard times or the scary times:
He loves you because you are His.