Before the fleeces. Before the whittling down of an army. Before the torches and trumpets... God asks Gideon to do something audacious: Tear down his father's alter to Baal and the Asherah pole (which honored the pagan goddess Asherah), then build a proper alter to Jehovah God and use the wood from the pole to offer a burnt offering.
Radical stuff. And Gideon does it. But not the way I want my Biblical heroes to go about their escapades.
He doesn't storm the castle at dawn. He doesn't go to the town square and take a stand before a crowd. He doesn't boldly stare down a giant or defiantly stand before a king. "Because he was afraid of his family and the townspeople, he did it at night rather than in the daytime." (Judges 6:27)
I want to criticize him for doing it at night. What kind of bravery is that?
But isn't character defined as what you are when no one is watching? Isn't it wisdom to know “when” and “how” in addition to “what”? And isn't bravery taking action despite the fact you might be terrified?
The bottom line is, he did it. He was scared. But he did what the Lord asked. (And he didn’t put it off. While we waited for night, he waited for that night.) And it turns out his previously noted fear turned out to be well founded. When the townspeople found out what he did, they demanded for him to be put to death. Scripture describes them as “hostile.” It wasn’t pretty. They were riled up and ready for combat.
Where's Gideon? Proudly standing by his actions? Delivering a charismatic message communicating why he did what he did and turning the hearts of the crowd from Baal and Asherah to Jehovah God?
Nope. He's offstage somewhere hiding. For some reason, I can identify with that. With doing the right thing, and the hard thing, and then bracing for the ramifications and not really knowing what to do next. Have you ever been there too?
Feeling deeply passionate about something, but not having eloquence to explain it? I can identify with that too. Can you?
He’s just destroyed his father’s idol, publically defying him. So you might imagine his father would be the first in line to root him from his hiding place and turn him over for punishment. Instead, he’s the one standing between his son and the angry horde. (Way to go dad!)
Why is that? He should be the angriest guy in the town.
Perhaps it’s because he knew what it had cost his son to do what he did. It brings to mind Pride and Prejudice, when Lizzy talks about the reserved nature of her sister Jane. To the crowd, Jane’s countenance might just communicate politeness. But Lizzy knows her sister. She sees every nuance that shows how deeply Jane loves Bingley. Others might not see it, but to Lizzy it’s loud and clear.
Maybe that’s why Gideon’s dad has just a great change of heart. Because he knew his son’s personality, and understood how deep his convictions must be if he felt driven to destroy the idol and the Asherah pole. He knew how much it meant for Gideon to do what he did. Or maybe he just realized he loved his son more than he loved his idol. Regardless, there he is. Not just keeping his son from harm, but standing up for him too. (There’s the movie-ready speech I was looking for!)
So yeah, I want to criticize Gideon for doing his task at night. I want to change the story to have him boldly facing the music instead of hiding in his father’s house. But not all courage is the mid-day duel. It is doing the right thing and the hard thing, even when you’re scared. Acting on your convictions even when there might be hostile repercussions come morning…
Especially if what you’re doing has never been done before. (While Asherah poles are mentioned several times in the Old Testament, this is the first time in scripture anyone is mentioned taking a stand against one. And Gideon goes straight for the jugular and cuts it down, then uses the wood to burn an offering to Jehovah God. Like I said, pretty radical stuff.)
Gideon didn't know how to stand up for himself. But what matters is he knows how to stand up for God. He might not be the poster child for it, but he’s a trailblazer nonetheless.
And his methods didn’t make the outcomes any less epic. At the end of this story, the town is idol-free, his dad has a change of heart (and an awesome speech), and Gideon has a new reputation (complete with a new nick-name). That will come in pretty handy down the road.
His story shows me not all courage is facing a crowd, or being the voice that rises above the din. Sometimes it’s about feeling small and scared, and doing the right thing when no one is looking.
His story also shows me an advocate might come from the place you least expect it. Sometimes it’s about opening the eyes of the right person.
Maybe Gideon’s story makes me uncomfortable because it hits close to home. I can relate to him. I want to criticize him. But if I’m truly honest, I want to be like him too.