This week as we get back into our series, Going It Alone, we’re talking about legacies. How do you want to be remembered? Your answer tot that question matters a great deal. Whatever you might affirm verbally, your behavior will always bear out what you really believe. A strong, good legacy can last for generations…but so can a weak or ugly one. Let’s talk about it.
What Will You Leave Behind?
How do you want to be remembered? What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind after you’ve left this place? That’s a question most folks wrestle with at some point in their lives. It’s something that everybody thinks about whether they are a follow of Jesus or not. Christians don’t have any kind of monopoly on that kind of thinking. In fact, for folks who aren’t followers of Jesus, this is an even bigger deal because if there’s nothing after this life, then the legacy we leave behind is the closest thing to immortality there is. And so, for many, many people, the idea of their legacy is a really important one. But, not only will we leave a legacy behind us, but we are also the heirs to someone else’s legacy. Most of us are the way we are and have experienced the things we have experienced because of what someone else did before us. It may have been your parents. It may have been your grandparents. It could have been someone else as well. It could be that you’re doing the things you’re doing as a conscious effort to continue the legacy of one of these people. It could be that you’re doing them as a conscious attempt to thwart it.
With the same thing in mind, let’s ask the question again: What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind? Are your kids going to live their lives a certain way because of the choices you’ve made and the patterns you’ve set, or are they going to do so in spite of or even in opposition to them? Which is it going to be? On top of even all of this, if you are a follow of Jesus, you need to answer the question of whether or not you are or have effectively passed on your faith to the next generation like we talked about just last week. Your own parents and grandparents may have been saints, but that doesn’t mean you are. It doesn’t mean your kids will be either. In fact, as we continue our series, Going It Alone, this morning, we are going to see that even God’s own great faithfulness in our lives is not enough to guarantee the faithfulness of the next generation if we do not consciously live it out ourselves.
This morning brings us to the fourth part of our journey through the book of Judges. For this few weeks, we are not simply journeying through this exciting little book, we are getting front row seats for a show unlike any ever set on a stage or put on a screen. Judges is the incredible drama of what happens when a people whom God loves decides to try and live life apart from Him. As we’ve seen so far, it doesn’t go very well. Simply put, Judges offers us pretty incontrovertible proof that life is better when we live it God’s way.
In the first couple of chapters and as the people set out on their path of rebellion and disobedience, we learned that disobedience always has consequences. From there we saw that we can fall into a pattern of disobedience when we develop bad habits. If we want to stay on the path of life that God calls us to walk, then we need to establish habits of righteousness. Finally, two weeks ago, we jumped straight into the thick of the book by looking at the story of Deborah and Barak. We reflected on the call God places on our own lives and saw that if we refuse His call, He’ll call someone else. But then, just as Barak discovered, the glory that He intended to share with us will be experienced by someone else as well. His plans will still unfold, but we will miss out on their sweetest fruits.
Fittingly, the next story we are going to encounter in our journey brings us face to face with the question of what happens if we do say no to God’s call. It forces us to ask what will be the consequence of a life marked by the faithless cowardice of someone like Barak. The story of Barak ended with a note of victory: the Lord led the people in freeing themselves from the hand of Jabin, the king of Canaan. The story of this next judge, though, takes us beyond the victory and actually shows us what happens next. What we are going to see is that a legacy of faithlessness can wipe away the fruits of God’s faithfulness.
This judge’s name was Gideon, and his story begins in Judges 6. It starts like every other story in the book does: “The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.” This time it was the Midianites whom God used to get the people’s attention. And under the oppression of the Midianites, things were bad for Israel. Really bad. It got so bad that the people literally headed for the hills and abandoned their villages and towns. They made dens up in the mountains and hid out there in hopes of eking out a meager existence until things changed. The problem was, as we find in v. 3, that “whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites, Amalekites, and the people of the east came and attacked them. They encamped against them and destroyed the produce of the land, even as far as Gaza. They left nothing for Israel to eat, as well as no sheep, ox, or donkey. For the Midianites came with their cattle and their tents like a great swarm of locusts. They and their camels were without number, and they entered the land to lay waste to it. So Israel became poverty-stricken because of Midian, and the Israelites cried out to the Lord.”
But this time, instead of rushing to their aid has He had done before, God gave them the what for. Check this out starting at v 7: “When the Israelites cried out to him because of Midian, the Lord sent a prophet to them. He said to them, ‘This is what the Lord God of Israel says: “I brought you out of Egypt and out of the place of slavery. I rescued you from the power of Egypt and the power of all who oppressed you. I drove them out before you and gave you their land. I said to you: I am the Lord your God. Do not fear the gods of the Amorites whose land you live in. But you did not obey me.”’” In other words: I did all these great things for you and asked one thing in return; that you would do what I commanded. But you haven’t done that. So why should I help you now?
And yet ours is a God who is gracious even (and…kind of by definition…always) when we aren’t deserving of it. So, when the people cried out for help, just like He always did, God came to their aid. He raised up yet another judge. This time his name was Gideon. God’s call to Gideon was direct and personal in a way no other judge had received before Him. The text says the angel of the Lord came to Gideon while he was threshing wheat. But, as a case in point to how bad it was for Israel under the Midianites, he was threshing grain in a winepress. Normally, a threshing floor was up on the top of an open hill where the wind could effectively blow away the chaff. Thanks to the Midianites, though, such activities only invited attack. The people were having to do the same work down inside what was probably a pit carved into the rock of a mountain where there was no breeze to blow away the chaff, meaning the work was a lot harder than it should have been. Yet in this case, hard work was preferable to no bread, and so the people made do the best they could.
In any event, the angel (who some interpreters think was the pre-incarnate Jesus, though we have no way of proving that), offers Gideon this incredible greeting: “The Lord is with you, valiant warrior.” Now, keep in mind that the angel was saying this to a guy who was threshing his grain in a pit so the bad guys didn’t see him and come steal it. Doesn’t sound terribly valorous to me. And then, as if to prove this point, Gideon—who doesn’t yet realize exactly who it is he’s talking to—launches into this whiney, back-and-forth conversation with the angel that is just sad. Instead of responding with something bold or courageous, Gideon speaks out of his frustration and hopelessness. Look at this in v. 13: “Gideon said to him, ‘Please, my lord, if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened? And where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about? They said, “Hasn’t the Lord brought us out of Egypt?” But now the Lord has abandoned us and handed us over to Midian.’”
What we get here is a very different perspective on the state of Israel than we’ve seen so far. At whose feet did the author lay the blame for where Israel was? Israel’s. It was their faithlessness that put them in such an awful place. At whose feet did Gideon lay the blame, though? God’s. “Why is God doing all this awful stuff to us if He’s supposedly ‘with us’?” In other words, “We were going along, minding our own business, and God just smote us for no reason. How are we supposed to trust in a God like that?” Isn’t that how many of us respond to hard things going on in the world around us today? We are very quick to lay the blame at God’s feet, but rarely consider whether or not our own unfaithfulness has played any kind of a role in our current predicament. There’s probably another sermon there, but that’ll have to be for another time.
The angel responds with a great deal more humility and patience than Gideon deserved. It notes that God is doing something about the problems of the nation: He’s calling Gideon to save the people in “the strength you have.” Gideon promptly responds from out of this strength with a rousing, “Please Lord how can I deliver Israel? Look, my family is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father’s family.” And just so we’re clear: this isn’t humility. Like Barak demonstrated to Deborah, this is cowardice plain and simple. The man threshing grain in a pit isn’t secretly brave; he’s openly afraid.
The angel encourages Gideon a second time to which he responds by asking for a sign. The angel agrees, performs the sign, Gideon realizes who it is he’s been talking to the whole time, and he figures he’s toast. God Himself reassures Gideon yet again and it seems like things are ready to roll. Yet we can’t forget about what we’ve just seen. Gideon responded to one of the clearest and most patient calls of God anybody in the whole of Scriptures received not with bold faithfulness, but with a fear-filled faithlessness.
He puts this fearful faithlessness on display once again almost immediately. With his call from God finally validated to his liking, you would think Gideon would be ready to go. After all, he had at least heard the stories about the grand deeds of God on behalf of His people in the past. Wouldn’t that knowledge plus the assurance of this call to lead his people in victory over the Midianites be enough to inspire him to great and courageous boldness? In a word no.
Look at v. 25: “On that very night [meaning right after all this incredible stuff happened to Gideon] the Lord said to him, ‘Take your father’s young bull and a second bull seven years old. Then tear down the altar of Baal that belongs to your fathers and cut down the Asherah pole beside it [this would have been a wooden pole dedicated to a local fertility goddess]. Build a well-constructed altar to the Lord your God on the top of this mound. Take the second bull and offer it as a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah pole you cut down.”
So, here was Gideon’s chance to do something bold for God. This was a kind of warm-up act to leading the people in victory over the enemy that had been dominating them for so long. And so naturally, with his call affirmed, Gideon steps up to the plate, marches to the alter of Baal at high noon the next day, yanks it down, chops down the Asherah pole, hacks it into firewood, builds the altar to the Lord, and then in front of all the people boldly offers his sacrifice and calls them to follow the Lord with him once again. Yeah…not so much. Verse 27: “So Gideon took ten of his male servants and did as the Lord had told him.” Ta-da!!! Oh wait…there’s more here: “But because he was too afraid of his father’s family and the men of the city to do it in the daytime, he did it at night.” The next day, the men of the town responded just exactly like Gideon figured they would, but instead of standing up and facing them down himself, he lets his dad go out and handle them.
And then again, when the Midianites threaten the people once more and Gideon actually follows through on God’s call and summons an army to stand against them, he pulls his infamous fleece nonsense which God again actually goes along with. He says in v. 36: “If you will deliver Israel by my hand, as you said, I will put a wool fleece here on the threshing floor. If dew is only on the fleece, and all the ground is dry, I will know that you will deliver Israel by my strength as you said.” God responds with a wet fleece and a dry floor the next morning. Case closed. Off to battle! Nope. Gideon asks for the reverse to happen the next night just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke. And at this point, you have to be wondering whether there was anybody else in Israel who God could have chosen to lead the people. Gideon is a faithless coward. Yet against all at least human reason, God keeps right on patiently encouraging him on to the task he wanted him to accomplish. God was faithful over and over again…a faithfulness that Gideon refused to reciprocate just as often.
Finally, then, we get to the battle for which Gideon is so well known. Gideon summons a huge army to get the job done. God tells him it’s way too big. He needs to make it smaller so God is the only possible one who could get any credit for a victory. First, Gideon dismisses anyone who’s afraid to go into battle. Two-thirds of them hit the road [which is a sad commentary on the state of Israel all by itself]. But the group is still too big. So, he does this weird drinking test and whittles the army down to a group of 300. And it’s with this tiny unit—1% of the original army—that God leads Gideon (after some proactive encouragement—He probably got tired of Gideon asking and so just beat him to the punch this time) in first terrifying and then decimating the army of Midian. In other words, God faithfully did exactly what He had been saying He was going to do all along.
In the next chapter, then, we see Gideon continuing to clean house against the Midianites and a few others. He even punishes a couple of Israelite towns who refused to aid his forces when they needed it. The people reveal they want to make a king out of him and his family, which, to his great credit, he refuses. But then he bafflingly creates a little idol which sets not only his family, but the whole of the people back on the path to trouble before he even had a chance to die. Usually the people didn’t turn back to idolatry until after the judge died. Gideon led them to it before then. And while his death marks the end of his direct involvement in the story, that’s not actually the end of the story.
You see, while Gideon refused to let the people make an official king out of him, he lived like one nonetheless. He had lots and lots of wives and from these wives had 70 sons along with an undisclosed number of daughters. And because 70 wives apparently weren’t enough, he had concubines too. One of these concubines bore him a son named Abimelech (a name which means, “son of the king,” which is not a little hubristic and ironic). In the next chapter, we see that Abimelech was an ambitious monster.
From Judges 9:1: “Abimelech son of Jerubbaal [which was apparently Gideon’s nickname] went to Shechem and spoke to his uncles and to his mother’s whole clan, saying, ‘Please speak in the hearing of all the citizens of Shechem, “Is it better for you that seventy men, all the sons of Jerubbaal, rule over you or that one man rule over you?” Remember that I am your own flesh and blood.’” And here we thought only modern politicians could be that conniving! He’s making a play to have himself made king. But then in a move that is thankfully very much unlike modern politics, he goes and murders all but one of his 70 brothers. With all the competition out of the way, his mom’s family gets together and names him the king of Israel.
What follows is a thoroughly depressing scene in which we see the nation as a whole adopt this evil man as their leader in spite of a pretty strong warning from Gideon’s one remaining son to not do so. The relationship between Abimelech and his mother’s tribe eventually falls apart and a civil war starts brewing between the two parties. The whole thing ends when a woman drops a millstone out of her window onto Abimelech’s head, crushing his skull, and he dies at the hand of one of his soldiers who runs him through with his own sword so that nobody would be able to say he was killed by a woman. What a mess! The final note on the chapter from the author is this: “In this way, God brought back Abimelech’s evil—the evil that Abimelech had done to his father when he killed his seventy brothers. God also brought back to the men of Shechem all their evil. So the curse of Jotham son of Jerubbaal came upon them.”
Well, what are we to make of all this? To answer that, look at what’s happened over the course of these four chapters. The people ran off course yet again, God came to their aid yet again, but the judge He raised up to save the people left not a legacy of faithfulness, but of faithlessness. And the simple truth is that a legacy of faithlessness can wipe away the fruits of God’s faithfulness.
Think for a minute about all the incredible things God has accomplished in your life. Some of them may be big and obviously incredible, while others might be more subtle but no less critical to the shape your life has taken to this point. Do you know what those mean for your own legacy? The answer to that question depends a great deal on what you do with them; on how you live in light of them. Because, a legacy of faithlessness can wipe away the fruits of God’s faithfulness.
Come back to the text with me to see why this is the case. Think about everything God did for the people and even for just Gideon here. Think of how patiently faithful He was in shepherding him toward the task to which he’d been called. The angel waited while Gideon got the stuff to make a sacrifice. God endured Gideon’s cowardice in tearing down the idols of Baal and Asherah. He put up with the request for a wet fleece and then a dry fleece. He gave Gideon a behind-the-scenes look at what He was doing to weaken the enemy’s resolve ahead of the battle. He engineered an incredible defeat of a much more powerful enemy—a story that’s still being told today! On and on the list goes. His faithfulness throughout this season was astounding. Now, of course, we should expect no less from God, but that’s exactly the point! God is unendingly faithful to His people…to us. But if we respond with faithlessness as Gideon did, it will all have been for naught. Oh sure, God can work around that and call other people to accomplish His ends. He does that here. But imagine what God could or even would have done had Gideon left behind a legacy of faithfulness. Instead, he was faithless, and God’s faithfulness was forgotten. A legacy of faithlessness can wipe away the fruits of God’s faithfulness.
Now, come on parents and grandparents, this one’s for you. Do your kids serve the Lord? And I don’t mean have they been baptized. I think sometimes Christian parents urge their kids to get baptized before they’ve actually accepted Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior and then hold on to the hope that the baptism will somehow be enough to cover them when they go on to live lives that do not demonstrate any of the fruits of the life of a follower of Jesus, not to mention the fact that the kids themselves are led to believe that the baptism by itself was sufficient as well. No, I meant that just as I said it: Do your kids serve the Lord? Now, kids are responsible for their own choices when it comes to Christ and sometimes they choose to abandon the amply demonstrated and consistently applied faith of their parents. That’s on them. But sometimes they live the way they do because they haven’t witnessed a faithfulness in their parents that matches the faithfulness of God in the lives of their parents.
Come on, folks: Dragging your kids and grandkids to church isn’t enough. Dropping them off certainly isn’t enough. Making them memorize books of the Bible isn’t enough. Even pushing them to get baptized isn’t enough. They have to see the faith in you. They have to have you teach them the faith. Explain to them why you believe what you do (and if you can’t explain it, then it’s on you to figure out it out so that you can). Explain how those beliefs compel your actions. Live out your faith alongside them. Let them regularly catch you reading your Bible and praying. Serve with them. Teach them how to give sacrificially and then make sure you do so yourselves. Make sure prayer isn’t just something you do once a day at the dinner table. Make sure church isn’t something you only do when you walk into a building or—as is the case right now—log onto Facebook or YouTube. Teach them to love the Lord, not merely to do what He says for the social benefits. Gideon was faithless in spite of all God actively did in and through his life. So can we be. A legacy of faithlessness can wipe away the fruits of God’s faithfulness. But, a legacy of genuine faithfulness can solidify those blessings for generations to come. Some of you are still enjoying the faithfulness of your forebears. Make sure your kids and their kids and even their kids can do the same.
Let’s just ask the question we started with one more time: How do you want to be remembered? Do you want to be the hero everyone looks to, but never tries to emulate? Do you want to be the community pillar who is highly revered, but whose legacy is only in things? Or do you want to be the one who is responsible (even quietly so) for inspiring and encouraging the faith and faithfulness of the next generation…and the one after that…and the one after that. The choice is yours and will be borne out by the decisions you make from here on out. Let us together commit to creating a foundation of faithfulness that though perhaps physical in some ways, is a spiritual rock to which many will cling and find refuge and hope. Let us together commit to exalting the legacy of Jesus, our risen Lord, king over all the world, and seeing the world transformed by that starting in our own backyard. That’s a legacy worth celebrating.