Gideon’s Christmas Message
Andy Hunter takes us to a familiar passage for our Christmas reflection – but his focus isn’t quite where you would expect.
Judges is probably not the first book that comes to mind when thinking about Christmas – but it was for Isaiah!
In Isaiah 9, perhaps the most famous of all Old Testament prophecies about the coming of Jesus, he takes us back to Judges 7…
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. (Isaiah 9:4)
The immediate context for Isaiah was the looming Babylonian invasion. His listeners were people whose ‘sell-by’ date for judgment was long overdue. Their history had been one of persistent sin and defiance despite all God’s goodness and repeated attempts to win them back. Isaiah wants the nation to know that the withdrawal of blessings will not be political bad luck, but the proactive intervention of God.
Amazingly though, the coming ruin will not be the end of the story. Beyond the darkness there will be healing and recovery. The very places facing the brunt of God’s wrath, the front-line provinces of Zebulun and Naphtali, will be the first to see the light of God’s subsequent mercy break out (v2). Jesus’ ministry would be centred around Galilee beyond the Jordan (v1).
The rest of Isaiah’s prophecy unpacks the implications of this – joy, peace and the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth (v3-7).
But there is another clue about the nature of this coming liberation and of the birth that will inaugurate it. That is, it will be like the day of Midian’s defeat.
Back in Judges 6 the people were similarly experiencing the consequences of having rejected God. For seven years they had been subjugated, belittled and impoverished by their ruthless Midianite neighbours. Eventually in desperation they cried out to God and, in what is an almost baffling characteristic of God, He once again responded with compassion. It’s baffling because their cry for help, as is the pattern of so many prayers, seemed to be a last resort made under duress.
That God responds with mercy in such situations is astonishing. Such is His compassion, that even after all the snubs and insults, even only after all other avenues of escape have been exhausted, God nevertheless is moved to have pity on them.
An unlikely deliverer
God’s answer however, announced by an angelic messenger, is going to be found in a most unlikely, and outwardly unpromising, place. For Midian’s yoke will be broken by a saviour from the weakest member of the weakest clan (Judges 6:15). Furthermore, this saviour will set aside all normal expectations in how to overcome a seemingly overwhelming enemy (read the story in Judges 7).
It’s why, as Isaiah looked forward, to another angelic messenger bringing good news to a whole world enslaved and oppressed by sin, Midian’s defeat is such an appropriate parallel. For the light that would break out in the darkness and overcome it, would first flicker in a stable, in a manger, at a peasant woman’s breast. The Saviour who would overcome the slavery of sin and roll back the judgment of God, would do so in apparent weakness – humiliated, stripped and crushed on a Cross – confounding human expectations.
Seeing past the ordinary
Gideon & Bethlehem are timely reminders not to be fooled by things that might appear to be ordinary or unimpressive. In our current circumstances we might imagine that God isn’t particularly active or even interested in Britain. We can equate God’s presence with large-scale gospel growth or revivals, assuming the lack of these is a sign of God’s remoteness. Actually God is 100% involved in the affairs of our nation, heaven is just as engaged here as anywhere else. Less than 3% of the population born-again, the church under-resourced, God’s people feeling belittled and weak – we’ve been here before!
Christmas testifies to a God who loves to do extra-ordinary things with the most unlikely people – and whose heart is to pour out mercy even the on the most outrageously underserving people.