Even the most devout among Christian believers will have moments of struggle and doubt. While our minds may fully grasp the promise that God does indeed hear our prayers, we are challenged by the silences that we encounter from time to time. There may be longer periods – ‘seasons’ is the popular way to refer to them – where we perceive God to be silent on all things. We feel overwhelmed by life and its inherent challenges and wonder why God doesn’t step in and alleviate some or all of them. In extreme moments of despair, we may look around and consider the possibility that God has abandoned us. Such was the fuel for Gideon’s doubt and his question to the Lord, “…why has all this happened to us?”
Israel had devolved into an apostasy of previously unheard of depths explaining God’s distance from His people. The cycles in Judges of apostasy and repentance are demonstrated by the repeated chastening that God allows to be visited upon the land. True to human nature, the Israelites fail to consider their personal contributions to the times of silence and simply point out that maybe, perhaps, God has just given up on them despite the Covenant. Being able to consider the scriptures from our distance of time, the source of their troubles is obvious but to the Israelites living in the middle of it, not so much.
The problem with apostasy is one of degree, as we see with the Gideon cycle. Where brief periods of separation bring us to repentance, longer periods bring on bigger problems. Israel’s apostasy in the Gideon cycle is so deep and prolonged that even the proper method of worship has been forgotten. Gideon demands a sign as proof of the legitimacy of his calling and he will prepare an offering to see if it is accepted in a divine fashion. Gideon’s struggle with proportion makes its first appearance as he goes about preparing his test offering.
Forgetting the proper forms of worship offering spelled out in the Law, Gideon’s preparations are based solely on his own evaluation of what is appropriate. He prepares bread, for example, from nearly a bushel of wheat. He brings this and a goat to the Lord as his offering to which God shows patience. This could have gone two ways as we look at it now. God could have refused the flawed, human oriented offering or He could do as He did and sanctify the offering but creating an altar for it’s proper presentation. The consuming fire convinces Gideon of exactly who stands before him.
We talk much about proper worship today, perhaps banking on the fact that God will accept just about anything as a form of worship. I wonder if our own apostasy leads us to believe this and stretch the boundaries of worship further and further from God and closer to ourselves. We trust in God to know what’s in our hearts and ignore the outer trappings that we bring Him as worship. Gideon certainly did and God demonstrated patience with him. Is there a point where we take it too far?