When Gideon is called by the Lord (“The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor”), his first reaction is doubt and skepticism concerning God’s presence and activity in Israel. Why had trouble befallen Israel? Why, if the Lord was with them, were they being ruled by the Midianites? Gideon is sure the Lord’s presence and blessing has left his people: “But now the Lord has cast us off, and given us into the hand of Midian” (Judges 6:13). I cannot help but imagine that in this and other similar situations God is chuckling to himself, slightly frustrated at his people’s lack of faith, but determined to pour out his grace and provision and show them what it is to be a vessel of clay in the potter’s hands. A few books back in Numbers we read about a group of whining desert nomads who are sick of bread and hungry for steak. A perturbed Moses brings his people’s complaints to the Lord. The Lord tells Moses he is going to shove more meat into the people than they can possibly handle (“until it comes out your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you”) and Moses’ naive response is: “How the heck are you going to feed meat to 600,000 people? We’d have to slay every flock and herd to make that a reality!” Again, faith in God’s power is overrun by doubt. I think God’s response probably caused Moses to shut up mid-sentence: “Is the Lord’s hand shortened?” Enough said.
Gideon receives a similar response to his dubious queries. It’s as if God pretends to not even hear his grumbling skepticism. “Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” (Judges 6:14). And still, Gideon writhes in doubt through the whole process of preparing to lead God’s people against Midian. After offering a sacrifice, Gideon witnesses the Lord’s angel call down consuming fire, then disappear. He seems convinced. For a moment. But that pervading skepticism returns and he continues to plead with God to show him a number of signs to assure him of God’s presence. Like a compassionate father who patiently awaits his child to jump into his arms in the deep end of the pool, God continually gives Gideon signs to boost his confidence. Gideon eventually follows through on his mission, and we learn that the whole story is not even about Gideon, but about what God can do when he sets out to do something. When Gideon’s army is being prepared, God wants to make darn sure that Gideon and the people of Israel don’t forget who this battle belongs to, so God (rather comically, if you ask me) shrinks his army down to 300 men. Yes, 300 men will conquer the entire land of Midian. The battle ensues and we know the outcome.
Like Gideon, we often wallow in skepticism and anxiety about the future. Will God really provide for us? Does he really want us to persistently ask, seek, and knock? What if he doesn’t answer? What if his presence is not with us? I wrestle with this often, find myself unable to trust in God’s methods, and consequently turn to my own. I don’t even have the courage of Gideon to ask for a sign and reassurance of God’s presence. Fortunately, God is patient in our relationship. He allows me to dart around frantically, trying to figure things out for myself, until I realize the only option left is to surrender my situation to him.
God always remains calm. He is unmoved by our worry. We see this constantly in the gospels. The disciples are freaking out about storms or about how to feed a multitude of people, and Jesus, without a single iota of worry, reproves them for their lack of faith, and calls down the provision and power of heaven. God has a way of doing what he intends to do, providing what he intends to provide, abundantly giving what he decides to abundantly give. As we approach the difficulties and tasks we face in life, we can take one of two approaches. Either we can continually question God’s presence, purpose, and provision, or we can stand courageously behind him as he calms the storm, provides bread for the hungry, and brings nations to naught. God will bring about his good purposes. He will provide and he will sanctify any reality he chooses and use it for his glory. May we follow faithfully behind him, trusting him to provide and to endue us with his own power for those purposes in which he calls us to participate. Will the Lord’s hand be shortened?