Keep on keeping on

Or, God’s timetable isn’t like ours…

Luke Chapter 1 tells the story of an old man named Zecharias. He was married to an old woman named Elizabeth who was a relative of the Virgin Mary. They lived in the hill country of Judah, exact location unknown.

Both were of the priestly line. They had no children – Elizabeth was barren, and in their culture barrenness was considered a punishment for sin. Yet both were righteous in God’s eyes, and to the best of their ability they continued to worship Him, keeping the law.

Zecharias (and no doubt Elizabeth) had long prayed for a son. But, he was old and she was barren, so it was now impossible. So, was he still praying? He was still faithful to do his job, in any case.

One supposedly ordinary day Zecharias was going about his business, doing his ordinary priestly job. This soon became an other than ordinary day for him, however…

“Now it came about, while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense.” (Luke 1:8, 9)

It was his turn to minister before the golden altar of incense in the Holy Place, possibly for the first time in his priestly service. With so many priests serving in the Temple, entering the Holy Place and kindling the incense upon the golden altar was possibly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared to Zacharias, standing to the right of the altar of incense. The angel gave him an extraordinary message, on this extraordinary day. His prayers had been answered; he and Elizabeth would have a child. And not just an ordinary child, an extraordinary son. He was to give him the name John. Read the chapter for yourself.

Some thoughts about Zecharias:

  • He was old. So was his wife.
  • He was childless, thought by the culture to be a punishment for sin.
  • He was considered by God to be righteous, however. Blameless.
  • He had prayed for a son, starting in the days when having a child was still possible, biologically speaking.
  • He was faithful to his job, his calling, despite that disappointment.
  • He was granted favor, mercy, compassion; an answer to his prayer.
  • His prayer wasn’t answered in an ordinary way, in an ordinary location – an angel came to his job site, while he was doing his job; being faithful to do his job.
  • He was human; he doubted the angel’s message. Considering his age and the length of time he had been praying, that was a quite understandable response.
  • He was corrected but not condemned for his doubt.
  • He wasn’t removed from his ordinary job, or replaced in his extraordinary new job: being a parent. A very old parent!
  • He was granted a device to help him assuage his doubt: silence until the baby was born.

How long have we prayed the same prayer, over, and over, and over? How often have we decided to give up, quit doing this job, quit worshiping, quit praying, quit believing? Until it will take a supernatural, extraordinary miracle for it to happen?

But those do still happen. Zecharias and Elizabeth were just two of many people who received miraculous answers to prayer.

Never quit being faithful to your current assignment. Never quit praying. Never quit believing.

Gideon’s do-nothings

“They also serve… ”

The soldiers were gathered, 32,000 of them! Why did they come?

Gideon was a nobody. Why follow him? Why come when he called?

Read Judges 6-8. Fascinating story. Israel was surrounded and hounded, ridiculed and harassed by her enemies. Things had gotten bad, really bad. Midian, a pagan country to the far southeast of Israel, had overrun everything and everyone. Stealing herds and crops, they were reducing the population to a life of abject poverty and constant fear.

Why? Well, Israel had been warned about idol worship but they had ignored the warnings. They were reaping what they had sowed.

And then God sent an angel to a nobody, the youngest of his family and least of his tribe. Hiding in a winepress, Gideon was trying to thresh enough grain to keep his family from starving, when the angel showed up.

A series of strange events followed, first to convince Gideon that he was indeed God’s choice to rescue his people, and then to convince those people that Gideon wasn’t crazy, that he had indeed heard from God.

Well, he did a good enough job to round up 32,000 fighters! And then God sent 22,700 of those fighters back home. How weird is that?

But the point of my thoughts today is this: those who went home were following God’s will, too. Those 10,000 who were afraid. Those 700 who didn’t do things exactly right. They were willing to fight, but they didn’t have to. Others fought and some of those died, but the battle was won. It was a huge victory! God got the glory.

And those back at home… what did they do?

They probably prayed, we’re not told. They didn’t get any thanks, any awards for valor, any recognition for a job well done. But they obeyed Gideon and God, and their return home was just as necessary as Gideon’s 300-man army.

They were obeying God’s will, too.

Remember that, when it seems like God hasn’t called you to do anything spectacular. “They also serve who only stand and wait.” *

* John Milton, 1655.

Here are a few more posts about Gideon:


Gideon, Man of Valor

The people of Israel had come out of Egypt, God had provided a homeland just as He promised, and then when everything seemed hunky-dory, peachy-keen, they went back to their own way of doing things. Before long, trouble arrived in the form of their cousins the Midianites who lived on the eastern side of the Jordan River. For some reason, the Midianites wanted the crops the Israelites grew, and every time the harvest was good, they came along and took it.

Instead of trying to learn why this kept happening, the Israelites griped about their situation. Why did God let this happen, they complained.

One man, Gideon, was trying his best to provide for his family. He found a hidden place to thresh his wheat so the Midianites wouldn’t get it, and one day while he was hard at work, an angel showed up.

The angel said, “The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor.” (Yeah, hiding out from the bad guys.) Oh, what a wonderful thing to say about me, Gideon should have thought. Oh, how great that God has sent me of all people, a nobody in my family, an angel!

Is that what he thought? No…

Did he fall down in fear and awe? No…

Did he worship and praise God that an angel had come to see him? No…

Gideon did what all the rest of his family had been doing. He wallowed in self-pity, he griped and complained. He said to the angel, bold as brass — If God is with us, why is all this happening? Our ancestors told us tall tales about miracles, but I sure haven’t seen any — (That sounds familiar.)

Gideon was remembering what his father had said about the miracles, but he was forgetting what God’s prophet had said: I delivered you from the Egyptians, and I gave you this land. I only gave you one warning: don’t get yourself tangled up with the gods of the Amorites whose land this used to be. But did you listen? No, you didn’t. You didn’t obey me, and see what it got you. Trouble again.

When things don’t seem to be going our way, we tend to be like Gideon and his folks. Gripers and complainers.

Fortunately, God’s patience is better than ours. The angel gave Gideon another compliment: “Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have not I sent thee?”

Oooh, Gideon should have said, We’re going to be delivered again! But instead he said, Wait, what do you mean, Me go? Me? And Gideon argued with the angel. He demanded proof that the angel was really from God, and not a secret agent from the enemy or something.

Fortunately again, God had patience with him. He provided the proof, and finally Gideon had to acknowledge, This is really an angel! A for-real, real angel! Now came the fear, and the awe, and the worship, and finally he was ready to do what God told him.

You know the rest of the story, don’t you? God used Gideon to deliver his people from the greedy Midianites. He did become a mighty man of valor.

Do you suppose that would have happened if Gideon had ignored the angel? Refused to listen to instructions? If you read Judges chapters 6-8, some of those instructions were a mite peculiar.

Circumstances don’t look too pleasant sometimes. Hardships. Loss of job. Family breakups. Sickness. Bad weather. Earthquakes. Volcanoes. Tsunami. Blizzards. Floods. Mud slides. Lots of things that make us think God has deserted us, abandoned us, just like Gideon.

Have we listened to God’s messengers? Are we listening for God’s instructions? Sometimes they come in disguised packages, angels who don’t look like angels. Sometimes we’re tempted to ridicule and think, “Who, me?” when we’re instructed to do something.

Food for thought.

Gideon and the Angel

Reposted from 2006

In Judges chapters 6 through 8, we find an interesting story about a man named Gideon who had an encounter with an angel. Gideon’s response to the angel showing up was unusual, to say the least… (This is part two of a Bible study about Gideon. Read Gideon Man of Valor for more of the story.)

1. Who did Gideon think the angel was?

Obviously he didn’t think he was an angel. We know some of who he didn’t think he was. He wasn’t a Midianite. Gideon would have been running, or attacking, or defending, something.

He didn’t think he was a neighbor. He knew all his neighbors, surely.

He didn’t think he was a long-lost relative. He didn’t think he was a visiting dignitary, or a friend-of-a-friend, or just a traveler passing through. How do we know? Because he would have made an effort to welcome him, honor him, take him home and feed him. He didn’t do any of the normal, every-day things he would do for a visitor.

So what’s left?

I believe Gideon thought he was just another run-of-the-mill itinerant prophet/preachers, somebody he didn’t hold in high esteem. He certainly didn’t think he was an angel who might strike him with a bolt of lightening for his disrespectful attitude.

2. What did the angel look like?

Well, he must have looked like a native. Not like you’d think an angel would look like, from other verses in the Bible. Not shiny, super tall, or cloaked in clouds. No shimmering garments or multiple arms or four faces or eight wings. No thundering voice, either.

If he’d looked like a foreigner, then he might have been an enemy — maybe a Midianite. But Gideon didn’t treat him like that, he treated him like he would somebody familiar, but unliked.

3. Why did the angel sit down under the tree for a bit, before he made himself visible to Gideon?

Maybe he wanted to watch Gideon for a few minutes, see how he acted, what his demeanor was like. Maybe Gideon’s attitude came out in the way he threshed the wheat. Angry, frustrated, feeling helpless — “Bam, take that, you foul Midianite!”

Or wallowing in self-pity — “Bam, how long do we have to hide out like criminals in our own land,” sniffle, sniffle.

I used to operate a huge paper-cutter made like a guillotine. Every time I sliced a ream of paper, I’d imagine somebody’s head rolling — somebody that had done me wrong, of course. Other times, I’d think it might as well be my head doing the rolling, things felt so bad.

Was the angel observing Gideon’s actions in order to get an idea of his attitude?

In Hebrews 13:2 we’re told not to be afraid to entertain strangers, for many have entertained angels unaware. If Gideon had known that fellow was an angel to start with, I bet he’d have behaved a little better, don’t you?