Choosing the Wrong Script: Gideon

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Today's post is written by Benjamin Davis. Benji is a 2013 (MDiv) graduate and is currently a research assistant to Dr. Tom Keiser.

Last week Wesley Davey wrote a post entitled “Reading from the Right Script!”  In that post, he framed living life simply as a choice between two storylines or scripts: (1) the Adam script and (2) the Jesus script. The idea of life being a choice between two radically different scripts has proven helpful in my current study in Judges and particularly in the Gideon narrative which presents Gideon’s choice to live and lead by either the YHWH script or the “adam” script.

The YHWH script is given in its essential form in 6:12 as the angel of YHWH initially addresses Gideon saying, “YHWH is with you, mighty (גבור) warrior.” The idea communicated here is that the presence of YHWH constitutes one as a mighty warrior. This understanding is further strengthened by YHWH’s statement in 6:14. “Go in this your strength and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” The strength Gideon needs to free Israel from Midianite oppression comes from YHWH’s commissioning and hence his presence. In contrast, the “adam” script is seen as a rejection of YHWH’s presence in favor of finding strength within one’s self. This is seen in 8:21 when the captured Midianite kings taunt Gideon saying, “Come on, do it yourself. Strength (גבורה) is the measure of a man.

Will Gideon seek to find strength in the presence of YHWH (the YHWH script) or will he attempt to find it within himself (the “adam” script)?

1.       “YHWH is with you” 

In Judges 6:25-32, YHWH instructs Gideon to destroy the cultic site on his father’s land. 

That night YHWH said to him, ‘Take the bull from your father’s herd, as well as a second bull, one that is seven years old. Pull down your father’s Baal alter and cut down the Asherah pole beside it. Then build an alter for YHWH your God on the top of this stronghold according to the pattern. Take the second bull and offer it as a burnt offering on the wood from the Asherah pole that you cut down.” 

YHWH’s command is given, it seems, in order to establish his presence (“YHWH is with you”). It should be mentioned though that Gideon betrays a lack of trust in YHWH’s presence by exhibiting conduct in line with the anti-YHWH “adam” script. Notice that YHWH only instructs him to take two bulls, but Gideon decided it would be better to take along ten of his servants because of his fear. Although Gideon accomplishes the task he was given, he did so on his own terms. Gideon may have torn down the physical objects of false worship, but he does not relinquish trust and thus worship in his own strength. So, there is tension within Gideon’s characterization: Will he fully devote himself to a life of trust in the presence of YHWH which will entail a counter intuitive way of living and leading? 

2.       “Mighty warrior

In 7:9-25, YHWH instructs Gideon to get up and attack the Midianite encampment. 

That night YHWH said to him, ‘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.’”

Now that YHWH’s presence has been established and the army whittled down to a force so small that it would be impossible for them to take glory for themselves by saying “My own hand (i.e., my own strength) has delivered me” (7:2), YHWH commands Gideon to attack the Midianite camp with his 300 men. The introduction to these commands (highlighted above in bold) serve to draw together these two particular episodes. Furthermore, it’s interesting that each section corresponds to the angel of YHWH’s initial address to Gideon: “YHWH is with you, mighty warrior.” In this episode, YHWH accounts for Gideon’s fear by instructing him to take a small boy (slightly ironic don’t you think) and sneak down to the edge of the Midianite encampment and eavesdrop. Gideon being fearful takes the boy Purah with him. While at the edge of the camp, he overhears a Midianite soldier recounting a dream and his comrade’s interpretation of it; saying, “This can be nothing other than the sword of Gideon. . . God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands” (7:14). 

After hearing this, Gideon comes back to the camp a “new man” as it were. He seems no longer fearful; and in fact, he takes charge and devises a plan of attack that culminates in the men blowing trumpets and shouting “[A sword] for YHWH and for Gideon.” Wait, for Gideon?” Gideon buys into the Midianite interpretation wholesale and forgets that YHWH desires that no human take credit for this victory. The narrative reveals that Gideon lacks trust in YHWH’s presence and only pays lip service to YHWH’s involvement. Gideon, not YHWH, instructs each of the 300 men to take a trumpet. Why the trumpets? It seems that Gideon never in fact sent home the 10,000 men that took part in the watering hole test. God instructed Gideon to send those who failed to their homes (מקום 7:7), but Gideon only sent them to their tents (אהל 7:8). He never intended to encounter the Midianites with only 300 men because the trumpets were used, it appears, to signal those Israelites who were in their tents to fight. “Israelites from Naphtali, Asher and all Manasseh were called out, and they pursued the Midianites” (7:23). Although the narrator informs us that YHWH was responsible for the rout of the Midianites, Gideon’s actions display that he trusted in his own strength (his tactics). Gideon is shown acting according to the “adam” script once again. 

In the next chapter, Gideon is shown pursuing his own revenge and blood lust. He begins to function like a king (although he denies kingship) and develops a false center of worship around an ephod he made, which “all Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family” (8:27). Gideon chose to live according to the “adam” script. 

The same choice confronts us today. Which script will we choose to live and/or lead by? Will we seek to find strength to live and /or lead within ourselves or will we seek to find it in the presence of YHWH (by union/participation with and in Christ and the indwelling of the Spirit)?  

This post originally appeared at The Pannenberg Circle.

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