Most of this week the OT readings are from the Book of Judges, which recalls the time when the Israelites, after being led by Moses and then by Joshua, take possession of the Land of Canaan, the Promised Land.
It’s not vacant land. The Canaanites who lived there before still live there, strongly entrenched. Instead of establishing themselves according to the commands of God, the Israelites decide to fit in. They split into isolated households rather than living as a united people, They begin to intermarry with the Canaanites and even set up altars to Baal, the Canaanite god.
This is a time of religious and political disorder. One of the worst times in Jewish history. On Thursday of this week we hear how Jephthah kills his own daughter because of a vow he made to God. Not an easy story to make any sense of. Hard to make sense of anything in this age.
God raises up leaders, judges, but they’re not powerful enough to give the community the direction it needs.
Gideon– his story is told this week– is an example of the kind of leader the judges were. He’s a lonely farmer expecting an invasion by the Midianites, a tribe of nomads who periodically raided the land of Canaan. He’s busy trying to save some wheat from his fields before they come, and probably hide.
The angel of the Lord appears and calls him a “Champion of Israel,” but Gideon wants no part in championing Israel. He’s a man who’s lost faith in the promises of God. He has no big dreams or ambition to do anything except save himself. Even when God gives him a sign, one sign isn’t enough. Gideon wants no part in it.
“Go with the strength you have.” That’s what the angel says to Gideon at a time when he and so many others have lost their trust in God’s promises. The strength you have, not the strength you would like to have, or the strength you once had. Go with the strength you have.
That was God’s command in the time of the Judges. Is it God’s command to us now?