Crises – of every type – have always been the backdrop for extraordinary leaders to emerge from obscurity and find their place in history. As we do everything we can to rise to this difficult moment in our generation, we’re examining the model God gave us from Gideon’s life, c. 1160 BCE.
Over the last two weeks, Gideon went from hiding in a winepress threshing wheat into a two-way exchange with a visitor whom the text reveals to be the Angel of the Lord (likely Jesus pre-Incarnation). God reveals Gideon’s calling: “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” (Judges 6:14). Gideon’s immediate reaction was to ask for a sign that this was a bona fide divine summons. He brought an abundant meal to the Angel, which He quickly incinerated with fire that flared from the rock (v 21), sufficient to elicit Gideon’s conclusion: “Alas, Sovereign Lord! I have seen the Angel of the Lord face to face!” (v 22).
This is not a story of love-at-first-sight that led to an instant bonding. Gideon needed to be assured of God’s credibility, but that same proof was required in reciprocity. God was willing to prove Himself to Gideon… but Gideon was going to have to do the same, with God.
Read on: “That same night the Lord said to him, ‘Take the second bull from your father’s herd, the one seven years old. 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 townspeople, he did it at night rather than in the daytime.” (v 25-27).
When the Jews returned to the Promised Land after 400 years in Egypt, they had to reclaim the land from the Canaanites who had populated their birthright during their absence. Though defeated as the Jews reclaimed the land, their cultural residue – along with their pagan worship of Baal and Asherah – were a continuing toxic effect of God’s truth being abandoned in the region. Whenever Israel turned away from Jehovah, their embrace of the Canaanite deities marked their unfaithfulness.
Before Gideon could pursue his heroic mission, a test of his devotion had to be conducted. The compromised faith of his family had to be resolved before God would move him into position.
Back at the ranch, God wanted the altar to Baal – and the wooden pole dedicated to Asherah – taken down, and a proper altar to Jehovah erected in its place. The wood from the pole would be put atop the altar, and his father’s second bull would be slaughtered and burned as a sacrifice to God.
What’s the “Second Bull?” For cattlemen, the first bull is the prime male used to impregnate the reproducing cows in the herd. When calves are born, males are castrated. Some would be beasts of burden; most would be slaughtered for meat; both required neutered males. The one exception was the Second Bull: the rancher’s back-up in the event of calamity for the First Bull, or his sure retirement.
The point: God would not accept spiritual compromise in His chosen leader. Baal and Asherah had to go. Those were the opposing deities in Old Testament times; with the New, Jesus cited the idol that draws our attention: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Mammon.” (Matthew 6:24). Before Gideon could engage his calling, he had to demonstrate fidelity; same with us.
And… about that Second Bull. If you’re holding on to anything as a back-up plan – security in the event that God doesn’t come through – it needs to go. Sacrificed, on a proper alter. You’re going to depend on God? Prove it; if you’d like to make your mark in Eternity’s History, there are protocols…
The story is going to get amazing, but it takes courage. For Gideon… and for us.