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Grown-Up Bible Stories

Challenging the Gods

He stole through the night with a handful of servants. History doesn’t remember such personal details, but the farmer had to have trembled just a little. His family owned the shrine he planned to destroy, but they didn’t control the spiritual powers behind that shrine or the emotions of the neighbors who prayed there. Destroying the abode of the gods wasn’t the kind of thing a guy did and lived to tell about it. But then, he’d just had one of the strangest experiences in history. Attacking a highly honored god was only one of the unsurvivable things he faced.

It had all started routinely. He’d been threshing grain on the family farm. Throughout the long summer day, he’d thrown small piles of wheat onto the ground and beaten them with a simple tool. As he beat the grain, the husks that coated it fell away. Later, the wind would carry away the husks, or chaff, leaving the grain for family use.

Yet, things hadn’t really been routine. He worked in secret. He threshed at the winepress, not the stone-paved threshing floor. He dared not work openly lest the enemy occupation army confiscate his grain. Time after time he raised his tool and slammed it against the wheat, not knowing if his hiding place was adequate or if his family would face starvation in the coming winter.

His name was Gideon, and his nation staggered under oppression. Armies from nearby Midian had invaded and deliberately destroyed huge quantities of crops. People had resorted to hiding themselves and their belongings in caves. Poverty reigned. The nation began to pray. Even their prayers seemed to fail. God hadn’t sent a warrior to rescue them. He’d sent a prophet to remind them that they’d left Him for the competition. Under the circumstances, God wasn’t in a hurry to help them out of their trouble. It wasn’t the very best time to be one of God’s chosen people.

An unexpected visitor  interrupted the farmer. He said, “The LORD [is] with you, you mighty man of valor.” (Based on Judges 6:12 other quotations not necessarily exact unless accompanied by a reference.)

Gideon answered this unusual greeting politely, addressing the stranger as “Lord”. But his underlying perplexities and hopelessness spilled out. “And Gideon said unto him, Oh my Lord, if the LORD be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt? but now the LORD hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.” (Judges 6:13) Whatever Gideon’s personal faith had been, he shared the bewilderment of a nation that had lost its way.

The visitor didn’t bother to rehash the question of why those who guide their lives by spiritual fiction must crash into reality. He just told Gideon to go in this his might, to go and he would deliver his homeland from the feared Midianites.

Gideon remained doubtful. He was the youngest son of a poor family. He wasn’t a military leader, although likely a reservist. Midian was exploiting his country. He was hiding from them as he spoke. How could he beat Midian?

The stranger spoke with confidence and authority, as if he were a messenger of God. He didn’t back down.

Gideon asked for further evidence that this guy knew what he was talking about. He also hurried off to fix lunch for his unusual guest.

When Gideon returned, the visitor instructed him to lay the food out on a flat rock. Gideon complied. The visitor touched the meat and bread with his walking stick. Fire leaped from the rock and burned the food. The man vanished.

It was enough to make anyone’s hair stand on end. Gideon was terrified. Only an angel could call fire from an ordinary rock and disappear. Angelic visitations were about as rare then as they are today. In his tradition, angels didn’t usually mean good news. They represented an often-offended Heaven. An angel’s visit seemed like God tapping him on the shoulder, fixing him in an angry stare, and whispering, “I’m coming for you.”

But even in the presence of the angel, there had been an even larger supernatural element. God had been speaking through the angel. God continued speaking when the angel left, and He spoke hope. Very few people have heard God speak in an audible voice. Gideon likely heard from God through a quiet inner conviction accompanied by the realization that the Almighty had just communicated with his soul. This spiritual voice within gave reassurance rather than judgment.

Now, he and his servants approached his father’s shrine. It was dark. The preceding day represented a spiritual experience like few have had before or since. But the experience hadn’t ended. That same divine voice had instructed him to destroy the shrine. The shrine included the altar where his family prayed for Baal to help their crops. It also included either a stand of trees or one or more Asherah idols. (A simple reading of older translations of the Bible strongly suggests that sacred groves of trees were planted around altars. More recent translations suggest that these “groves” were thin wooden idols of a pagan goddess. In either scenario, the wood towering above the shrine would have been seen as a dwelling place for deity.)

Challenging Baal was dangerous. After all, Gideon’s family and community depended on Baal for rain to grow their crops. Baal was a widely revered god who was believed to have risen to rule over a whole pantheon of regional deities. Smart people tried to keep Baal appeased. They certainly didn’t attack his shrine. If the popular god did shrug off the insult, his worshippers wouldn’t. Gideon had threshed his grain by a winepress to hide from the enemy. He attacked the altar of Baal at night to hide from his friends and family. His life had been dangerous before God spoke to him. Things were only getting worse. Gideon took his life in his hands, and the grove began to fall.

Gideon hitched one of his father’s oxen to the stone altar. “Gidup!” The oxen pulled against its yoke. The altar collapsed, the sacred reduced to rocky rubble. No cheering crowds supported him--just ten servants who likely hoped the gods and neighbors would remember the whole thing was the boss’s idea, not theirs.

Gideon finished his night’s work by building an altar to God. He sacrificed the ox that had toppled Baal’s altar and burned the sacrifice with wood from the grove. He’d made a statement, even if he’d done it with as much anonymity as a rural community afforded. He could only trust that the God who’d spoken to him was really as superior as claimed.

The neighbors found their place of worship desecrated the next day. An ox had been offered on a new altar. The statement was obvious. Someone wanted to stop their spiritual progress. They’d moved beyond the old traditions of an exclusive God they couldn’t see. They were now in tune with the surrounding culture. They were no longer shackled by God’s all-encompassing Law. Many of their needs were now met by this popular contemporary god. They’d learned to stand in awe not only of God but also of Baal. They’d found freedom in a god they could buy off with sacrifices. They didn’t plan to risk the wrath of Baal or challenge their newly found spirituality.

They asked around, figured out who’d done what, and came to Gideon’s father. Gideon wasn’t exactly a teenager at home. He was a man with a teenage son of his own. But in the ancient Middle East, he was still part of a family group ruled by a father. He was also part of that father’s farming business. It was natural that the vigilantes would ask the older man to hand over his son.

They came to the father and stated their case. Gideon had insulted their god. This was offensive to them. Moreover an angry Baal might ruin them all. They intended to fix the situation. “Hand over Gideon so we can kill him.”

Gideon’s father had honored Baal up to this point. After all, the altar and the grove stood on his land. Whether motivated by loyalty to his son or a sudden realization of how far he’d strayed from the God of his fathers, the old man took a stand. “Are you advocating for Baal?” he challenged. “Let anyone who pleads for Baal die. He is a god. Let him plead for himself.” He went so far as to put his son on the line, “Let Baal plead against him.” It became Gideon’s second name—Jerubbaal, let Baal plead against him.

Perhaps many of the neighbors found that name terrifying. Baal had overpowered other gods. Everybody believed in Baal. The last thing a thinking man in that culture would want was for Baal to speak against him. His father’s defense had turned into a potential curse. Let Baal plead against him? Thanks, Dad! The decision to follow God alone had better be right.

The decision to follow God was right. The neighbors backed off. Baal, of course, had never been a real god in the first place. The curse of the destroyed altar never caught up with Gideon. He led a fraction of an army to defeat the dreaded Midianites. He conquered a powerful enemy nation, a nation which, incidentally, depended on Baal. Gideon would live to old age, judging and leading his people in the name of God. Let Baal plead against him? No big deal!


Most of us know of Baal only as an item from history and archeology. We don’t believe in him. We don’t fear his power. But we all face our own cultural idols. For some, those idols are real stone images their friends believe house living spirits. For others, the temptation whispers subtly. “There is no God,” is really the same statement as: “Baal is a god.” It’s just a more sophisticated way of claiming that what “we the people” believe in is more important than God’s revelation of Himself. But blatant atheism isn’t the only problem. “This is what we think today,” applied spiritually, is the same statement as: “Everybody worships Baal.” It’s just a less obvious rebellion. God still calls each of us to reject the dead pseudo truths of our fallen cultures and step out in exclusive faith in Him and obedience to His Word.

Let science, let the gods, let culture, let the smartest people of our world plead against us. If we’re true to the God of Gideon, we face no meaningful threat. We can only win. 

And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD. (Joshua 24:15)

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. (2 Corinthians 6:14-18)

But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. (Galatians 6:14)

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