J.T. It is important in understanding the book of Judges to read the two opening chapters and the closing chapters. The closing chapters disclose the underlying moral state, and what one is forced to believe is that the difficulty lay largely with the Levites.Morals became extremely low. I refer to the chapters following upon the eighteenth. You have there the underlying moral conditions in Israel, and it is to be noted that they appear in connection with the Levites. There were two. The first hired himself to a common person to be a priest in a man’s house (chapter 17:7 – 13); the second Levite took a concubine (chapter 19:1). In connection with these two men you have a remarkable disclosure of the underlying conditions in Israel. The responsibility of the people as a whole is seen in the opening chapters. Judah and Joseph were faithful in taking hold of their inheritance. The others, generally, did not take possession. Of one tribe after another it is said, “Neither did he dispossess”. There was failure to dispossess the Canaanites; they were allowed to continue alongside Israel, hence the corrupt state of things that ensued. If the Levite and the priest had done right they would have saved the situation.
I thought it would be profitable if we looked at the history of Gideon, because he, above all others, represents the manner of the divine interventions that occurred in the days described in this book. What marked the state of affairs at this juncture was that the people were impoverished. The attack of the Midianites was to deprive the Israelites of their food, of their means of sustenance. It will always be found that where there is departure from divine principles a scarcity of spiritual food will ensue.
The house of God was still in Shiloh; it was a serious thing for the people that the house was there and under the influence of Phinehas, the faithful priest: one who is typical of the Lord Himself, in a sense. The house was there, and the priest was there but the Levite was not under the control of the priest. The Levite had hired himself out to Micah, who had a houseful of gods, and ultimately became priest to the tribe of Dan, which had set up idolatry. The levitical class had dissociated themselves from the priesthood: they were, in other words lawless. The man went from mount Ephraim wherever he might, because he was doing what he pleased, and ultimately hired himself to these men, in that way setting up what was typically the clerical principle. Then along with that there is a licentious state, all of which is connected with a general low moral condition. There are certain outstanding traits, but that is the underlying condition you get at the end of the book. Inasmuch as we have to mourn the same conditions in our own day, nothing can be more interesting, or more important, than to see how God intervenes in such circumstances.
The clerical order has sprung up in that connection. Those who had the place of servants, ministers, Levites, hired themselves out to the common people, and that has resulted in the establishment of an idolatrous state of things. It is very important to see how God intervenes, and in what sort of a man He intervenes, and how He prepares His man. For it will be observed that in the opening chapters it is said that God, in His consideration for the people, while in a general way giving them over to discipline and the will of their great enemies, intervened from time to time in judges. But it does not say that He was with the people. He was with the judge. They get the benefit of God being with the judge. God gives deliverance, and then He gives protection to the people during the days of any given judge; yet you will observe there is still departure. One feature of departure from divine principles is that there is poverty, deprivation; the people are wanting in right food, there is no spiritual ministry. The nature of the Midianite attack is to destroy all right food intended by God in His goodness as support for the people. Verses 3 – 5: “And so it was, when Israel had sown, that the Midianites came up … And they encamped against them, and destroyed the increase of the earth … and left no sustenance for Israel, neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass. For they came up with the cattle and their tents … as grasshoppers for multitude”. Verse 6: “And Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites”. That which God in His goodness provided for the maintenance of His people, the Midianite would take away. We cannot live spiritually, any more than we can live physically, without food. What you will observe is that where divine principles are departed from, there is really no spiritual food, and that becomes a guide as to how things are. The Galatians, for instance, were misled by Jewish leaders, and the effect was to vitiate the pure ministry of the apostle by mixing it with something else, and in that way nullifying it.
Rem. The Midianites are referred to previously as being a wily people.
J.T. It was through the Midianites that Satan sought to ensnare Israel in the wilderness. He taught Balaam to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel. They are a people socially related to the people of God, they were descended from Abraham through Keturah. There was an outward relation with Israel, and it is in that that the greatest danger really lies, to have relation with people who are not spiritual. Amalek is a descendant of Esau, and the spirit of that is seen in Amalek seeking to prevent the weak from getting into the land to enjoy it. Amalek himself represents the pure worldling, the Egyptian.
Rem. I suppose the children of Israel doing evil in the sight of the Lord would throw them open to attack by the Midianites?
J.T. God allowed it in the way of discipline. The result of it was that they cried to the Lord, and there was a deliverer brought forward. The Lord sends a prophet; He does not send Gideon first. Before you can feed the people their consciences must be put in relation to God. If there is departure, before you can set right food before a person you must put his conscience in relation to God, there must be a return to God. Where has God been in all this? How have His rights been regarded? “And it came to pass, when the children of Israel cried unto the Lord because of the Midianites, that the Lord sent a prophet unto the children of Israel, which said unto them, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, I brought you up from Egypt, and brought you forth out of the house of bondage; and I delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians … but ye have not obeyed my voice”. That is to say, God has His rights over the people. He was their Redeemer, their Saviour, and on these grounds He has His rights over our souls.When difficulties arise, it is a question of where God is. What about His rights? That is what a prophet is sent for. It is to appeal to the conscience, to renew the link between the conscience and God, so that God should have His place in the conscience.The word brings God into the conscience. But you need more than that. The saints need to be ministered to, and Gideon is the man that God is pleased to bring forward to minister to the people.
So you find in connection with Gideon that food has a great place. In fact, he is symbolised by a cake of barley bread, tumbling into the host of Midian, and he destroys the camp of the Midianites. He comes in in an irregular sort of way. According to the vision it tumbled into the host of the Midianites, but it did the work. It is remarkable that it is a cake of barley bread; it is not wheaten bread. It shows that Gideon had Christ before him. The barley is Christ, the wheat is the saints. He began with the wheat: he threshed wheat, but he was himself symbolised by the cake of barley bread.
Ques. Do you think in that way the ministry of Christ helps the saints to dispossess the enemy?
J.T. That is the thought in it, evil principles have to be judged, and the prophet brings that about. Now, if this is done and the people brought back to God, then you get the ministry.
Rem. So that the point of recovery would be that they did not take so much account of Midian as they took account of their condition and relation to God.
J.T. Yes; that is the point. Midian was only a rod in God’s hand which God can break into fragments and throw away, but the point was to bring Israel back to the recognition of God’s rights over them. In 1 Corinthians 14 the prophet brings God in, so that, if there is an unbeliever there, he falls down and acknowledges that God is in you of a truth. We want to see people falling down in recognition that God is present. God will come in publicly. But He is in His house now. The prophet is indispensable in that way to the house, because the spirit of prophecy amongst the saints keeps God and His rights before us. A man coming in recognises that God is there, and he falls down. That is the wonderful effect.
Rem. The preservation of the people was in the hands of the prophet. “By a prophet the Lord brought Israel out of Egypt, and by a prophet was he preserved” (Hosea 12:13).
J.T. Yes, a prophet always thinks for God. The idea really is that he comes from God. The prophet’s name is not given here. It is not a question of who the prophet was, but that there was prophecy. There was a ministry that asserted the rights of God over the people. We do have, however, a great deal recorded about the man who brings deliverance and food in, and who destroys the destroyer of the food. The ministry of the prophet is light, but there is power with it. It is not ministry in the way of food it is rather to awaken the conscience as to the rights of God. It is noticeable that it was after the people cried to the Lord that He came in, as in Psalm 107. You find yourself in a straight place, then you cry to God, and God intervenes when you cry. It is the beginning of deliverance. It opens the door for God to come in. It is the way you arrive at the sense in the history of your soul that there has been departure; you arrive at a point where you feel there is no help anywhere except in God. “Vain is the help of man” (Psalm 60:11). Directly you cry God sends His messenger, and he touches the spot where the difficulty really lies, because the difficulty is always moral.
Rem. When the Lord touched the woman’s conscience, in John 4, she said, “Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet”.
J.T. Yes. He brought her soul into direct touch with God, but then, He went further. He told her that He was the Christ. Gideon is typical of the Lord as “the Christ”, the One whom God has anointed for the carrying out of His purposes. The woman looked on for “the Christ;” “when he is come, he will tell us all things”. But the Lord says, “I that speak unto thee am be”. He was the Christ. His work as prophet made room for His person. So she went to the Samaritans and told them, “Is not this the Christ?” That was a step in advance of the prophet.
I think the thought of Gideon threshing wheat by the wine-press showed that he was qualified personally. He was hiding it from the Midianites; he valued the food. You may get a brother who is very obscure, but he values what is of God, and God owns that.Gideon threshed wheat by the wine-press to hide it from the Midianites. The wine-press is usually the place of judgment. I think it refers to judgment here, but his hiding it shows that he valued it. The Lord hid the treasure. He valued the treasure, and He hid it until the time would come that He could bring it forward to display it. When the Lord was here He was food for His people; He was the standing corn. The question of right food is most important for us. He was engaged with the wheat. The Lord was not with the people as such, neither did the angel say that. Gideon had a good bit to learn. “The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour”. That is in keeping with the dispensation. The Lord was with the judge.
It is very beautiful how tenderly the Lord deals with Gideon. “And the Lord looked upon him”, it says in verse 14. How beautiful to think of the Lord looking on one! Gideon was figuratively Christ. Who would God look upon except Christ? At His baptism God was engaged with that Man as the One in whom all things were centred; everything is made to depend upon Him. As I was saying, the question of food is most vital, because the saints are weakening and succumbing for want of good food. If the food supply is cut off all is hopelessly lost. The Midianitish attack was to cut off the food supply, and it was necessary for Gideon to master the enemies who were preventing the people from getting food.
You get the Lord taking account of the secret exercises of Gideon. That is what is so beautiful about it. The Lord gives him credit. He is called a man of might and valour. It says, the Lord looked upon him, and said, “Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?” He does not say, “Go in this my might”, but “Go in this thy might“, showing that God took account of Gideon according to the Spirit he was to receive. It says the Spirit of the Lord came upon him.It is not what Gideon was then literally, but God speaks from His own standpoint and takes account of what was to come to pass. The Spirit was to come upon him. So that the work would be Gideon’s work; in that way the power of the Spirit is attributed to the individual. The source of his strength lay in the place he took as a man; his was a small house in Israel, and he was a small man. That qualified him for the reception of the Spirit. He was morally suited to become a vessel for God. It was encouraging for Gideon that the Lord should call him a man of might. “Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?” God’s principle is, “not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit”, (Zechariah 4:6). God graciously attributes the power of the Spirit to the individual. Gideon was specially attractive to the Lord. The Lord looked upon Gideon; there must have been that which was morally attractive: and think of God adding to that, “Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel”. But the might was by the Spirit; it would be divine power. The soul may be faltering, as, for instance, Timothy, who was a timid man. The apostle says to him, “God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).
I think it was praiseworthy that Gideon should think of the people. But it is right to be in keeping with the light that governs the position, and the light that governed the position was that God is with the judge. The Lord was not really with the people. We are very apt to connect God with a state with which He cannot be connected. It was quite out of keeping with the conditions and with what God is, to assume that He could be with the people, but He was going to be with Gideon. It would be quite right to think of the people, but God is careful about what is due to Himself, and He could not be with the people as they were, but He could be with a man like Gideon to bless the people. That is what comes out here.
Now, this question of food is most important. If the supply is cut off all is hopelessly lost in the way of testimony. People may get to heaven, but the question is whether we are sustained here in our souls now. When the Lord raised up Jairus’ daughter He desired that something should be given her to eat. She was to be supported by good food. Our being raised with Christ, according to Colossians, is not in itself sufficient. It is wonderful light surely which entitles us to take the position, but we are only supported in that position by food.
Ques. What would you call food now?
J.T. We have to go to John 6 for the general principle as to food, but you may have a variety of food. In the case of Jairus’ daughter the Lord said that something should be given her to eat. It was for the parents to select some wholesome food for her. There is no doubt that there is variety in spiritual food. The Lord is like the parent of the house now; He apportions and He provides food; He sees to it that everything is provided for the household. If you have the prophetic ministry the next thing is to bring in the positive thing in the way of food. The faithful and wise servant is the one who ministers the portion of meat. If you have not such you do not get the meat. If you have a man who smites his fellow-servants, and eats and drinks with the ungodly, there is no good food in the house; there is no portion of meat in the house. So that it is for the saints to see to it that they are not allowing persons in the place of ministers of food who have not any to minister. We must disallow the clerical principle. The underlying condition in the days of the judges was largely attributable to the levitical unfaithfulness.
Ques. What is indicated in Gideon having a desire to give a present to the angel of the Lord?
J.T. That is very fine. You have a picture of what takes place in the assembly there. It says, “And he said unto him, If now I have found grace in thy sight, then show me a sign that thou talkest with me. Depart not hence, I pray thee, until I come unto thee, and bring forth my present” — I understand it may be rendered “meat-offering” — “and set it before thee. And he said, I will tarry until thou come again”. Then you have a beautiful picture of assembly activities. You have what Gideon does and what the angel does. There is what we do before the Lord out of the willing desires of our hearts to present something, and, on the other hand, what He does with what we present. It all ascends in perfection, and He goes up, He departs with it. Gideon now is in the full light of what God is, and he rears up an altar to the Lord. It says, “And the Lord said unto him, Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die”. Then Gideon built an altar there unto the Lord. There is a man now who has committed himself; he has built an altar. A man’s measure is always his altar.
Rem. That would be answering to his light.
J.T. Yes; answering to the light he had in his soul, the way in which God revealed Himself to him. Before a man ministers I want to see his altar. You want to see the measure of the man’s altar. That is, what he is with God. He cannot be anything more with the people than he is with God.
The Lord said “peace”. That is the meaning of his altar, and that was his measure, for, if a man ministers, and undertakes to serve the Lord’s people, they are quite entitled to go and see the size of his altar, that which he has reared up Godward. You see that in his house. You do not build your altar in the house of God; God prescribes the altar that is to be built in His own house, the length, breadth and height of it. But if you are going to build one He will let you prescribe, and what you do indicates just what you are; that is your measure.
Ques. Do I gather that it is the measure of surrender or sacrifice we have made?
J.T. Yes. It is the place that God has in your heart: that is what your altar shows; anyone can see your altar.
Rem. Lot did not have an altar.
J.T. You could not have an altar in Sodom. Before you can have an altar you must be separate. Altars are reared by people who are separate. After Gideon has built his own altar, he has to go and throw down the altar in his father’s house. He has set his own house right, now he has moral power to set his father’s house right, which shows a man increasing in power, and ultimately he has to set Israel right. He began with himself first, then his father’s house, then the camp of Midian. But before he goes to the camp of Midian he has to train his soldiers. They have all to become imitators of Gideon. That is to say, the Lord Jesus is the great model for us. We have all to do likewise, that is the idea.
When you come to the end of the chapter, the signs are evidences of weakness on Gideon’s part, but the Lord, I think, only uses our weakness to increase the light. They are typical, I think, of the two dispensations. The fleece is the Jews specially favoured on earth, but when the water is wrung out it is measurable, it is only a bowlful; whereas when the dew falls on the ground around it is immeasurable, unlimited, it falls all around. That is Paul’s ministry. The one is Judaism, a limited sphere; the other is Paul’s ministry, which is extended and unlimited.