“I will be with you. And you will destroy the Midianites as if you were fighting against one man.” – Judges 6:16
I like those odds. God has reduced the 120,000 Midianites, who are holding the Israelites hostage, to just one man. Gideon, the man God picked to rescue the Israelites, should be feeling pretty good about this by now, but he’s not. He’s still afraid, and I don’t blame him. All the power of God made available to us doesn’t erase our normal human emotions. Besides, how does Gideon know this is truly the Lord speaking?
So “Gideon replied, ‘If you are truly going to help me, show me a sign to prove that it is really the Lord speaking to me.’” (6:17)
This was the first of three requests Gideon made for a miraculous sign to bolster his confidence. And then, before the angel had a chance to respond to that request, Gideon added, “‘Don’t go away until I come back and bring my offering to you.’” (6:18) And the angel promised to stay. So Gideon hurried home and cooked a young goat, baked some unleavened bread, and brought the meat, the bread and the broth back to the winepress where the angel was waiting under a great tree. Gideon must have suddenly realized he was not being a proper host, and, if this was truly an angel of the Lord, he would want to bring him an offering. The key here is what happens to his offering.
“The angel of God said to him, ‘Place the meat and the unleavened bread on this rock, and pour the broth over it.’ And Gideon did as he was told. Then the angel of the Lord touched the meat and bread with the tip of the staff in his hand, and fire flamed up from the rock and consumed all he had brought. And the angel of the Lord disappeared.” (6:20-21)
Just like that. Poof! Gone! Meat, bread, broth and angel of the Lord — all gone in an instant. Nothing left but a little curl of smoke spiraling upward. All the time and effort Gideon put into creating a nice young goat dinner for his guest went up in smoke.
But that’s what’s supposed to happen to offerings to the Lord. They are burned up, and the fragrance goes upward — a sweet smelling sacrifice to God the Father. How can death smell sweet? Because all those burnt offerings were pointing to the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross, and the sweetness of that is the fact that sin has been atoned for; the price has been paid; relationships can be re-established; God can love us, and we can love back.
But it is also God’s final assessment of the good of humankind which is never good enough. It’s the whole human experiment, in fact, burned up so that now He can start over, and He can start over with people emptied of self, humbled, and yielded totally to Him with nothing in their hands but what He gives them.
This is a requirement before we can be used mightily by God: there has to be the death of us — the all-consuming fire of God’s judgment on our best self. Oh we train, we study, we practice, we hang our certificates of merit and degrees and diplomas on our office walls, and we bring all this to the Lord, eager to serve Him with our best, and Poof! Gone! It’s all sucked up to heaven in a cloud of smoke leaving us with nothing, and face to face with almighty God, humbled and terrified. “‘Oh, Sovereign Lord, I’m doomed!’” [said Gideon.] “‘I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!’” (6:22)
“‘It is all right,’ the Lord replied. ‘Do not be afraid. You will not die.’” (6:23)
God gives us our lives back, but it is never quite the same. It’s just a life devoid of pride, achievement, wealth and position. Nothing matters but what is given to God and used for His purposes. No breath but what He breathes. No strength but what he gives. No trust but what He has promised. And in this place, we are ready for anything.