Images of the Savior (11 - Gideon's Call)
As we arrive at the history of that enigmatical judge, Gideon, we must be struck with amazement at the manifold ways in which the gospel is foreshadowed, and the marvelous valor and salvation which comes by God's grace through a naturally weak and cowardly man, given to many foibles, and even susceptible to gross idolatry â€“ and that at the end of his life, after he had already seen the display of such gospel power in his surprising victory over the Midianites. Let us walk through the many types and shadows and appearances of Christ the Savior that we may encounter in these passages, for here there is much fine gospel-gold to be had for just a little labor, which even the weakest of saints might be able to dig up without too much trouble.
We may notice, first of all, that Israel's wickedness and obstinacy are not only displayed more fully than ever before; but furthermore, they are displayed in just such a way as to foreshadow her final apostasy before the eternal Light should dawn upon a world become utterly dark and hopeless. We see that Israel is cruelly oppressed by Midian, so that they are forced to hide away in the dens and mountains, and there is no food for the people, and the land is laid utterly waste by the hordes of enemies streaming in without number (Judges 6:1-6). Surely, this is the lowest condition to which Israel has yet been reduced; and in many respects it resembles the condition which Moses prophesied that the people would be reduced to in her great Exile, just before the Savior came (see Deut. 28:15-68; 31:14-32:43). In addition, the fact that Israel was thus oppressed for seven years, while it was not nearly as long as some prior periods of distress, probably had some typological significance, seven being often used as the number of fullness or completion, and thus indicating, in this case, that Israel had been reduced to the utmost condition of hopelessness.
Then, the state of Israel here resembles her condition before the coming of Christ in this respect, too: that when the people call out to the Lord, he sends them a prophet who reminds them of how the Lord had redeemed them, and of how they had stubbornly rebelled and disobeyed, and how they were therefore left in a fitting condition of punishment; and having said that, the prophet left them still in their terrible condition (Judges 6:7-10). This, too, is redolent of the times when God would later raise up many prophets who would remind the people of God's redemption and their own rebellion, and finally leave them in hopeless captivity, until the long-awaited Messiah should come.
The stage having been so perfectly set for the foreshadow of the coming of Christ, therefore, the next event cannot fail to amaze us by its marvelous and suggestive character; for in this time of deepest darkness, the eternal Son of God, in an amazing display of condescension, took pity on his helpless, sinful people, and came down to them in visible form (Judges 6:11-24)! Ah, the pity and mercy of God the Son for his guilt-laden, enslaved people. That Heaven's Darling should stoop to take on visible form and come to sinful earth! And yet, for its amazing depths of grace, we have not yet touched upon the half of it â€“ for even this act of love was but a taste and foreshadow of that later, fuller condescension, when he would not just come down to his people for a moment, in the form of an angel, but would even take their own weak flesh upon himself, and that not just for a brief space, but forever!
Let us observe a few matters of probable typological import here: first, Gideon was timidly beating out grain in a winepress, which was a very ineffective way of threshing, and scarcely provided any good grain at all while at the same time rendering the winepress useless for its purpose of treading out grapes. Thus, Gideon was fruitlessly struggling for bread and wine, fearful and left quite alone in the face of all his enemies. So, too, the people of Israel had been striving ineffectively after the heavenly bread and wine that was offered to them in the sacrificial system, but for all their bulls and goats and drink offerings, they had found no heavenly food, and were overcome by all their enemies, before the Savior came to be the Bread of Heaven, with food and wine for all his people and victory over all their enemies.
All this, in a way, is likewise symbolized by the Angel of the Lord, that is, the Christ: for first he calls timid Gideon a man of valor; and indeed, in calling him thus he makes him so to be, as we may discover in the subsequent history. Next, he promises lonely Gideon that the Lord will henceforth be with him, just as he would later come to his lonely people and comfort them with these words, â€œLo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the ageâ€ (Mat. 28:20). And then, he takes Gideon from the winepress, where he was ineffectually groping after bread and wine, and signifies the manner in which the true bread and wine will finally be provided for the people; for he touches with his staff the meat and bread and broth that Gideon places upon a rock, and immediately a fire springs up and consumes them. This shows that our food and drink of eternal life would be founded upon Christ, the Rock of our Salvation; and that when Jesus offered himself up to be consumed with all the fiery wrath of God upon the cross, just as the staff of wood made the fire to consume the meat, then would the true Bread and Drink of the people be offered up for them, so that they would nevermore have to thresh in the winepress of the ineffective shadows of the ceremonial law.
How fitting was Gideon's response to all this, and how marked a difference did it make in his life! For when he saw what the Angel had done, at first he feared exceedingly, knowing that he had seen very God face-to-face. But he was comforted in this respect, that God had not revealed himself to Gideon as a God of implacable wrath and enmity, as he and his people all well-deserved â€“ no, he came as a God of Peace, so that, hearing his comforting words of assurance, Gideon immediately built an altar, naming it â€œYahweh-Shalomâ€ â€“ the LORD is Peace (Judges 6:22-24). In this, as well, we may clearly discern a foreshadow of the Savior; for before the eternal Son of God came as the Prince of Peace, in a form familiar and meek and sympathetic to our great weakness, we always feared to see God, and those very few saints who were allowed this great privilege, as Moses before, and now Gideon, and later Isaiah, all trembled with great fear; but after Jesus had come, then our fear was dissolved away in the vast ocean of his pity and lovingkindness, and he left us no more fear, but peace such as the world could never give (John 14:27). This event then, looks ahead to the incarnation of Christ, when the angels, after frightening the shepherds in the field, immediately comforted them in the same way that the Lord comforted Gideon, saying, â€œFear not! God is come down to you to bring peace to all the men of his goodwill, and not at all to destroy themâ€ (Luke 2:8-14).
As we press on into this text, we may see even more foretastes of the coming of Christ and the effects that his advent would have on his poor, struggling people, in the change that this divine appearance wrought in Gideon; for he who had been laboring to no avail, threshing wheat in the winepress, as a parable for the inefficacy of the ceremonial types to provide true meat and drink, immediately forsook that fruitless endeavor, and built a different altar, patterned after the revelation of the Son of God with which he had been vouchsafed, and bearing the true name, the LORD is Peace. In the same way, when the Son of God came fully and finally, he then caused the old, ineffectual sacrifices to cease, and built up his people as a new, living altar and temple, patterned after his own image (e.g. Eph. 2:19-22).
This truth is borne out much more fully in the subsequent events; for immediately, God charges Gideon to go take his father's ox and another ox, seven years old, and with them to tear down the altar to Baal and the Asherah, and to build upon the ruins a true altar, and on this new altar to offer up the young bull. Taking ten men, Gideon did this very thing; but still being fearful, he did it by night.
Consider how this, too, points ahead to the coming of Christ in human flesh, and how that coming would transform the people of God. In the first place, Gideon here tears down the idols with an old bull of his father and a young bull of seven years. This signifies how, when the Christ came, he should put an end to the old idolatry and superstition, not just through the works and testimony of his first people, the Jews; but also through that younger, and soon-to-be more fruitful son, that is, the Gentiles from whom he should call a people for his Name. Thus, when Christ came, he wrought mightily both through Peter, the Apostle to the Jews, and Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, and through those two mighty bulls, that is, through the elect of the Jews and Gentiles alike, he soon tore down the idolatrous abominations of the whole Roman empire, and shed the Gospel light on the whole world. Now, if you remember, at the beginning we said that the seven years of captivity signified the complete period of enslavement to which the people would be subjected before the coming of Christ. Now then, this younger bull, signifying the Gentiles who would believe, was seven years old, the truth thus being signified that, when they had been in chains for their whole history of slavery to the devil, then, in the fullness of times, when God came down to them as the Seed of the woman (see Gal. 4:4-5), they would cast off those chains and tear down the old idols by which they had been bound for all their history.
After thus tearing down the idols with the old bull and the new, Gideon then built a new altar, with the stones duly laid out in order; just as, through the apostles to the Jews and Gentiles, God's old people and new, God would build up his new altar, to offer up spiritual sacrifices (cf. Heb. 13:15-16; 1 Pet. 2:9-10). The fact that this younger bull was then offered up on this altar hints of how Paul would view his ministry among the nations as an oblation, that is, a spiritual offering up of the Gentiles (Rom. 15:15-16), the very truth to which this deed of Gideon mysteriously looks ahead.
Pressing on, the fact that Gideon did all this with ten men â€“ that is, by himself and ten others he united God's old people and new, as it were, and with them destroyed the old idolatry, built up a new, spiritual altar, and on it offered up the Gentiles as a spiritual sacrifice to God â€“ must remind us of how it was with eleven men, or in other words, the twelve apostles with the exception of the Betrayer, that Jesus would first begin to usher in this great change, where one people from all nations would be united, and would soon overthrow the very gates of hell. And finally, the fact that Gideon did all this by night shows that what he was doing was still a dark and shadowy thing â€“ it was not complete in itself, but rather an imperfect and hard-to-see type, which had not yet been done in the broad daylight of the Gospel era that the Sun of Righteousness, in arising, would cause to dawn upon the whole earth.
We must hasten to point out a few more ways in which this initial call of Gideon looked ahead to the first advent of Christ; and first of all, we will note the response of the people round about to these strange things. First, all the people of Israel were against Gideon, and wanted to put him to death; and then, all the Midianites, Amalekites, and the peoples of the East â€“ in short, the whole world â€“ gathered together as well to oppose him (Judges 6:28-35). In the same way, when the first apostles began to destroy the old idolatry through the preaching of the gospel, the Jews were rabidly opposed to them, and all the nations set their hands against them, to destroy them. But in all this, it was really not they, but the prince of the power of the air, who still held them in bondage, that fought madly against them; and this we may see in how Gideon's name was changed to â€œJerubaalâ€ â€“ let Baal, the false god, contend against him; even as Satan, the god of this world, was forced to show his hand and fight against the first apostles, when they began to announce the gospel. Then, too, the fact that Gideon's father wisely said, â€œIf Baal be a god, let him contend against him,â€ foreshadows how Paul's mentor-father, Gamaliel, would later say with unusual wisdom, â€œIf these men be with God, he will fight for them, and we cannot resist,â€ so saving the disciples from the death-wishes of the Jews (Acts 5:33-42), even as Joash saved Gideon from death. And in sum, in spite of all the opposition, Gideon was clothed with the Holy Spirit, sounded upon the trumpet, and thereby gathered together all the people from every tribe to fight and win (Judges 6:34-35); just as the apostles would be clothed with the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, and would thenceforth sound the gospel-trumpet of salvation in Christ, and through it, gather together a victorious people from every kindred and tongue upon the earth.
Our time is swiftly closing, and so we must be brief on our last, but wonderfully significant point; and that is, the matter of the fleece (Judges 6:36-40). For when Gideon still wavered in doubt, God answered his prayer, and gave him a sign: first of all, the dew of heaven rained upon a lamb's fleece alone; then, the next night, the heavenly dew was upon the land all around, and the fleece was dry. Many of the fathers, including Irenaeus, saw this event as a shadowy prophecy of how, when God finally took his favor away from earthly Israel, when they rejected their Messiah, he would then cover the whole world with the life-giving water of the Spirit; and that is a point that I will not contend with. But perhaps we may discern in this marvelous occurrence a more wonderful lesson yet; for even as it is true that dew, which God rains in his mercy from heaven, is doubtless a type of the Spirit who through the anointing from above washes and brings to life; so also it is true that a lamb is the paramount type of the Savior who would suffer for his people's sins. Now, just as the Lord first poured out his life-giving Spirit upon his eternal Son alone, to anoint him for the office of winning a salvation for his people, so God on this occasion first rained the dew upon the fleece of the lamb alone, when all the world was dry. But then, when the refreshing dew was taken from the fleece, that was thus struck dry and dead, it was the occasion for the spiritual dew to be shed abroad throughout all the world. In the same way, when Jesus, who had been alone anointed with the life-giving spirit, went to the dust of the grave, that was a perfect sacrifice which won life for the whole world. By his death, signified by the dry, dusty fleece of the lamb, there was wrought eternal life for the world, signified by the universal dew.
And so we have come to the conclusion of our chapter for today, dear Christian. Wonderful and manifold things were certainly stored up for us in this chapter, including the very appearance of the Son of God, the destruction of idolatry, the salvation of God's people, all wrapped up, in a manner befitting this shadowy era of types and foretastes, in many rich signs and suggestive details. But lest our eyes grow dim in peering too earnestly into that vale of types and shadows, let us now turn our face full upon the Son of God, come down from heaven for our eternal salvation, not only with deep, obscure mysteries and utterances, but with plainness of speech and the very Truth and Light of the Gospel. Of this wonderful Gospel we will have much more to say, in God's grace, as we look next time at the beautiful and astonishing victory of Gideon over all the Midianites. Until that time, child of the Savior, continue in the grace of God, looking ever unto Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, now clothed in human flesh for our salvation.