The opposite of courage, part 3 - Gideon

Ninth in the COURAGE series

The way of courage is the way of danger and harm. The soldier must not fear death but be willing to risk his life to defend his nation and troops. If he should desert or fail his comrades, he will be known as a coward.

The way of courage is the way of derision and insults. A bold-hearted person will stand up against the crowd and their popular opinions, knowing it may cost his life or livelihood.

The way of courage is the way of self-denial and willingness. The brave man cannot allow personal discouragement or needs to draw him away from duty and mission.

Whatever our circumstance or state of mind, the Lord will help us to take courage. Consider Gideon of Judges 6-8 as an example to us of a coward who became courageous by God's help...

After the glorious success of Barak and Deborah (Jdg 4, 5), Israel enjoyed 40 years of rest, but as we encounter Gideon, the Hebrews are a ruined people whose crops and livestock have been decimated by the Midianites. Hungry and cowed, they cried to the Lord, and he sent a prophet who explained their misery to them, "…but ye have not obeyed my voice." (Jdg 6:8-10)

After this, an angel of the Lord came and sat beneath an oak tree on the property of Joash the Abiezrite (of Manasseh), where his son Gideon was threshing wheat by the winepress to hide it from the Midianites. The angel said to Gideon, "The LORD is with thee, thou mighty man of valor." (Jdg 6:12) Yes, the angel was an appearance of the LORD.

Gideon replied, "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." (vs 13)

Gideon was deeply discouraged, fainthearted and without any national vision--the very opposite of a courageous man. Nevertheless, the Lord simply responded, "Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?" Evidently, all that we need to take courage is to know we are doing what God has told us to do. By his Word we can do valiantly. (Ps 60:12 et al)

Gideon continued to object-- his family was poor, he was the least in his household; but the Lord continued to encourage him: "Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man." (vs 16)

Gideon then asked for a sign, and upon realizing the Lord truly was with him, he proceeded to do as told, to …"throw down the altar of Baal that thy father hath, and cut down the grove that is by it". (vs 25) Furthermore, he was to sacrifice a bull belonging to his father on a new altar.

Gideon determined to do all this at night because he was afraid of his family and the men of the city, but in the morning, the work had been done and the bullock offered. The men of the city wanted to kill him on behalf of Baal, but Joash said, "If he be a god, let him plead for himself, because one hath cast down his altar." (vs 31)

Now that proper worship had begun to be restored, it was time to defeat the Midianites and their cohorts (Jdg 6:33). The sons of Manasseh and of Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali gathered as one, and the Israelites were ready to fight-- well, almost.

First, Gideon needed more assurance from the Lord. And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said, Behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said. (vss 36, 36)

Again, and then again, the Lord proved his presence and help to Gideon, but then he had his own test. And the LORD said unto Gideon, The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me. (Jdg 7:2)

Gideon was to select only those soldiers who were unafraid, which left 10,000 out of 32,000 (vs 3). But that, too, was too many. God tested them by noting which ones would lap water as a dog laps by its tongue. Then, only 300 troops were left to fight. Perfect! Yet, in the valley, the enemies lay like grasshoppers for multitude and their camels were without number, as the sand by the seaside for multitude (vs12).

O dear, another sign is needed! Then, a fellow soldier reported to Gideon a dream that a cake of barley tumbled into the host of Midian, and came into a tent, and caused it to fall. (vs 13) Gideon knew this portended victory for Israel, so he worshiped and rallied the troops after dividing them into three companies. Each man carried a trumpet and a pitcher that held a lamp. Upon arriving at the enemy camp, they were all to blow their trumpets when Gideon did, and to say, The sword of the LORD, and of Gideon! (vs 18)

They attacked at night in the middle watch, a strategic moment when the enemy was off guard. The battle was the Lord's.

And Gideon came to Jordan, and passed over, he, and the three hundred men that were with him, faint, yet pursuing them. (Jdg 8:4) In the end, …the men of Israel said unto Gideon, Rule thou over us, both thou, and thy son, and thy son's son also: for thou hast delivered us from the hand of Midian. But Gideon said, I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: the LORD shall rule over you. (Jdg 8:23) Israel then enjoyed 40 years of rest. (vs 28)

The entire account is encouraging to any Christian who struggles with depression, discouragement, fear and timidity.

The Web MD website describes numerous types of depression but all have similar symptoms such as anxiety, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, impaired concentration, insomnia or sleeping too much. We all experience these problems from time to time, and some among us have very good reasons. Nevertheless, we can count on the LORD to encourage us in his Word so that we become willing and determined, denying personal emotions and stepping forward to meet every challenge.

Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD. (Ps 27:14)

The opposite of courage, part 2 - Saul

Eighth in the COURAGE series

Like Cain in our previous post, Saul was a firstling who did not set a good example. As Israel's first king, much would be required of him, but in two of three initiating missions, he failed.

To Saul, as he did to Cain, the Lord could have said: If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it. (Gen 4:7) But after 2500 years of human history perhaps God thought that Saul should know the basics.

Saul was a courageous leader, chosen to lead the Israelites in battle against their enemies. His stature fit him for his role (1 Sam 9:2), and he received a special anointing by Samuel to signify and seal his election by God. (1 Sam 10:1) What went wrong?

As we look at the three challenges, let's also apply the lessons to our own lives, for this is the Bible's gift to us. (Rom 15:4)

When Samuel was old and it was plain that his sons could not succeed him, the people cried out for a king to be their judge and to lead them in battle (1 Sam 8:5, 20).

After some events and discussions, Saul was anointed and Samuel prophesied to him to grant him assurance of his kingship. He prophesied certain things that came true quickly (1 Sam 10:9); however, one prophecy was of a more cryptic nature, that is, Samuel said that Saul would go to Gilgal, preceding Samuel's arrival there, and wait for Samuel seven days; then he would come to show him what to do. This word was to test Saul.

Saul was accepted by nearly all his subjects (1 Sam 10:27) before his first challenge arose: the Ammonite king threatened the Hebrews in Jabesh, cruelly promising to gouge out their right eyes if they would not submit to him. They asked for seven days' respite, using this time to call for help, and Saul courageously took the initiative to rally 300,000 troops who wiped out the Ammonites. In celebration, Saul refused to take revenge on any who had not approved of his appointment as king, and credited the victory to the Lord. (1 Sam 11:13) Success! He had fulfilled his first mission! The people then went to Gilgal and made Saul their king before the Lord (1 Sam 11:15).

After a year, Saul was still in Gilgal. His son caused a stir with the Philistines, and the people were afraid for their lives. And he tarried seven days, according to the set time that Samuel had appointed: but Samuel came not to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him. (1 Sam 13:8)

In his distress he sacrificed burnt offerings rather than waiting for Samuel to tell him what to do next. Some commentators state that Saul sinned by upbraiding the constitution of Israel that divided roles to kings, priests and prophets, but others say Saul's sin was to act precipitously instead of practicing patience and endurance. Thus, he failed his second test, and Samuel prophesied that his kingdom would not continue (1 Sam 13:14).

For the latter cause, I confess I have often failed in this test of faith. But is it cowardly not to wait on the Lord? Perhaps in some instances it is merely foolish, but if due to fear in a circumstance, then it is.

Saul's third test was of a final nature, and perhaps this was because he was the leader of God's people. Others may err and not suffer drastic consequences, but a leader is measured by a different standard.

Samuel charged Saul to annihilate the Amalekites, the ancient enemy of the Israelites who had been first to come against them after their exodus from Egypt. (1 Sam 15:1-2) The instruction was to utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass. (vs 3)

In partial obedience, Saul did not kill Agag, king of Amalek, nor the best of the sheep, oxen, fatlings or lambs. It was his idea to use the livestock for sacrifices, and perhaps his kindness to Agag was as a peer to peer favor. We do not know.

He would soon learn that to obey is better than sacrifice (1 Sam 15:22), and that he had been rejected as king over Israel (1 Sam 15:26). After this incident we read of Saul's cowardice as he would attempt to kill David. The coward is afraid to lose his own life. (John 12:25)

The third test of his faith required that he be fully obedient to God's Word without questioning its mandates, and that there would be no enjoyment of a spoil for this obedience.

For us, too, though we may not fully comprehend what the Lord requires of us, it is our duty to obey his Word, and not anticipate a payment for that. In a general sense, the spoils of war are for victors, but to apply the lesson of this Scripture, some wars are for the honor of God alone.

To consider that we ought to be rewarded for our courage in battling our worst enemies-- attitudes, predispositions, behaviors, sinful ways-- misses the point that it is God's will for our lives that we be delivered from evil. To live victoriously in Christ having defeated many major provocations of our flesh is a reward in itself and glorifies God. Full victory is not possible till after death.

The opposite of courage, part 1 - Cain

Seventh in the COURAGE series

For the next several posts we will look at some of the cowards in the Bible, and some who had a brief lapse into cowardice. By understanding what a thing isn't, we can see better what it is.

The first coward was Cain, the firstborn human. As the eldest son of Adam and Eve he should have set an example for Abel, but parenting had not yet become an art.

When it came time to bring an offering to God, Abel was the exemplary son. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering: But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. (Gen 4:4, 5)

At this, Cain's countenance fell, but he was not sad; he was mad! (vs 5).

The Lord explained to him that it was only a matter of bringing an appropriate sacrifice. He would then be in God's "good graces" so to speak, but if he did not, then he was opening a way for the evil one to take control: If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him. (Gen 4:7)

"The Lord has no grandchildren" (only children), so he personally explained to Cain that a confrontation was imminent unless he brought an acceptable offering. Satan was taking him apart; Cain must regain "the upper hand." Resist the devil! (Jas 4:7)

Cain talked with Abel, but later in the field, killed him. Then, when asked by God, Where is Abel thy brother?, he denied that he knew. Am I my brother's keeper? (Gen 4:9)

For this murder the Lord's sentenced Cain to hard labor, that is, the earth would not yield a good return for his work, and he would be a fugitive and vagabond on the earth. (Gen 4:12)

Cain whined that the judgment was more than he could endure. I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me. (Gen 4:14) No one would like him! He was afraid of enduring in his person what he had done to Abel.

The cowardice of Cain is shown in three ways:

  1. He did not stand against the devil. Though warned that the enemy was at hand, he ignored the message and the Messenger. The heart of a rebel does not want to hear from the Lord, preferring its own ways and choosing the path of least resistance. It takes great bravery to come against the devil!
  2. He would not confess his sin. Considering oneself to be in the wrong requires strength of character. It takes deep humility to repent. We must be bold to break down our own walls of defense against the Lord's exhortations. We all need to pray for help to be humble and repentant.
  3. He would not accept his punishment. We should face the consequences of our sins without railing or complaint. (1 Pet 5:6-11) Have courage and take your lumps.

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