I just love how God called Gideon a “mighty man of valor” before he’d done anything remotely valiant, even when he was a little bitter and a lot doubtful, and even when he needed reassurance, over and over again. To me, a valiant warrior is someone who charges into battle, unquestioningly following his leader with no trace of fear. But God, as always, knows better and thinks higher. This week, standing near the spring of Harod where part of Gideon’s story took place, I thought about how God uses unlikely men and women to accomplish His purposes.
This is another of those scenes I wish I could see with my own eyes: an angel of the Lord, sitting under the low-hanging, thick branches of a terebinth tree not far from where Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to hide it from the plundering Midianites. Was Gideon startled by the appearance of this angel? What did the angel look like? And after Gideon’s doubtful questions, the Bible says that the Lord – not an angel, but Yahweh– turned to him and said,
“Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you?”
The rest of the account is fascinating – from Gideon’s repeated requests for proof and reassurance, to his nervous destruction of his father’s idol, to the vast gathering in the Jezreel Valley of Israel’s enemies, to God’s winnowing process of soldiers from thousands down to 300 by the spring of Harod. Those 300 men didn’t even have to raise a sword to win the battle…they lifted trumpets and smashed jars. But men, trumpets and jars didn’t defeat the enemy…”the Lord set the sword of one against another even throughout the whole army…” God’s power saved them.
Water still flows from the spring of Harod today, protected by a small cave at the foot of Mount Gilboa. There is a fence preventing visitors from stepping into the spring, but its water flows further out into a stream where children splash and play, and where tourists snap pictures of themselves pretending to lap the water. The spring is inside one of Israel’s many national parks, a place where families picnic and communities hold festivals (which seems a bit surreal for Americans who still have a hard time thinking of biblical sites as real places.) If you travel just a little way up on Mount Gilboa, you can see the Jezreel Valley spread out below, still an international crossroads but thankfully, with fewer enemies.
Gideon’s doubt and need for assurance is comforting to me. He was human, after all. He saw himself as absolutely unimportant in God’s scheme – his clan the least significant and he himself, the “least”. He was afraid. I can relate to Gideon. Who am I to think God can use me? Why would He want to use me? Gideon wanted to know God was with him before he stepped out in faith. And as much as I want to think my faith is solid, sometimes I need to hear Him say: “I will be with you.” And, through Gideon’s story and many, many others, I do hear Him say that.
I learned a lot about God from Gideon’s story. There are obvious things – He is patient, and He requires obedience. Not so obvious – if He seems to have abandoned me, He hasn’t…but there may be something in my life that I need to make right with Him. But most of all, I learned that He is more confident in me than I am in myself. He knows what I am capable of when I submit to His guidance and rely on His might. He knows that I am afraid, but despite my doubts and fears, He still loves me and leads me. “Have I not sent you?” I have had to ask myself – where is He sending me? Why has He put me in these faraway places that I never, in a million years, would have seen myself? What does He want me to do with this blessing? I feel so insignificant – I am so insignificant. But He doesn’t see me that way. I pray to be like Gideon – to know Who sent me, to follow where He leads despite my fears, to be willing to be used by Him, to rely on His might and not my own, and to do whatever I do only to bring glory to Him, not to me.
We’ve been a lot of places since my last update. Last Thursday we all got off the ship – amid cruise ship disembarkation chaos – in Israel from the port in Ashdod and found our three-day guide, Murray. Murray is the one who told us a few years ago that “Israel is just a nice little country in a bad neighborhood!” He was born in Brooklyn – and 60ish years later, even after living in Israel, he still has the Brooklyn accent! He owned a falafel pushcart in New York City years ago, and at one point opened a falafel restaurant on the corner of 1stand 15th(with good reviews! http://gothamist.com/2015/07/28/best_falafel_nyc.php) It’s closed now, and he does mostly private tours in Israel, but he works some with Lindy, so she put us together. He is very particular about Hebrew pronunciation and didn’t mind correcting us (Gideon was Gee-DOAN, Bathsheba was Bat-SHEH-va, Baal was Buh-AWL…on and on. But at one point we asked him to ask the bus driver, Manash, to take us to a bathroom, and I heard him, in the middle of lots of Hebrew words, say “pee-pee”.)
Our first stop was in the Valley of Elah, where David killed Goliath. It was still blazing hot even in October, but we stood under some shade and looked at the surrounding hills and valley where the Philistines and Israelites had camped, where Goliath shouted his challenges every day. John said “an ordinary day turned extraordinary, because of David’s faith and trust…sometimes we go through our daily activities not knowing how God will use us to defeat a Philistine who is defying God…how many giants will we slay?”
We drove on in to Jerusalem, to the Mount of Olives – seeing the grand city of Jerusalem, a combination of ancient and new, with the iconic sparkling Dome of the Rock shrine always seeming to be the center of attention. John and Jon pointed out landmarks – the white tombs of the Jewish cemetery below us, the grey dome of the “Church of the Holy Sepulcher”, the southern steps of the temple not far from the “spur of Ophel” where the City of David is located. John spoke of and showed us the location of many of the biblical accounts that took place here, beginning with Abraham on Mount Moriah and ending with the path that Jesus took on the week of His crucifixion. We walked down the steep road into the Kidron Valley to the traditional site called the “Garden of Gethsemane”. I was shocked that in October, the crowds were larger than I’d seen before. We then walked up the hill into Jerusalem via the Lion’s Gate, then down through part of the “Via Dolorosa” – through the quarters of the old city. We stopped at the church of the Holy Sepulcher, with its open courtyard crowded with hundreds of visitors; its dark interior thick with the smoke and smell of incense. We traveled on to observe the Western Wall from a high platform across from it, and then walked through the Dung Gate down to the City of David, for our trek through Hezekiah’s tunnel. (No, I didn’t go through it. No, I don’t know if I ever will! Sorry!) I did go under and around the first bend to see the water, before I went out and back through the chicken (dry) tunnel. Most of our group went through – and most enjoyed it! Later that night some of us went back to see the Western Wall at night. At our hotel in Jerusalem, we happened to run into Tsvika, our usual guide. He was with a group finishing a tour – it was so good to see him (and he will be our guide for the May Digging Deep tour.)
The next day we went to Caesarea Maritima, and then up Mount Carmel and on to the spring of Harod. That afternoon, we met up with Maurice and Inaam Jadon on top of Mount Precipice in Nazareth – so good to see them, especially after his triple heart attack a few months ago. He looks well but we need to continue in prayer for all of the Christians there.
We drove on to spend the night in the Galilee, pulling into our hotel as Shabbat began. Since it was past sunset, we were not allowed to bring the bus all the way into the parking lot – we had to pull our luggage from under the bus and walk farther to the entrance. Since we were staying in a kibbutz hotel, many orthodox Jews were gathered for their Shabbat meal. Lots of children were running and playing loudly in the halls (and, I noticed, sticking their fingers into the noodles!) Many beautiful Jewish women were dressed up, looking at us as curiously as we looked at them, and men with round fur hats stood visiting – it’s interesting to see them observe their traditions. Saturday morning we rose early to try to see the sun rise behind us, and then we traveled to Tel Dan and Caesarea Philippi (all while making record time, trying to condense a two-week tour into three days!) We visited Capernaum, then took a boat out onto the Sea of Galilee and headed back to collapse in exhaustion in our rooms on the ship.
We worshipped together Sunday morning in the big dining room on the ship – with people below us still eating breakfast and lots of noises around us. We were joined by two crew members who are Christians – Chantel from Canada and Ernest from Ukraine. We’ve gotten to know Ernest quite well since then – what a blessing!
Our group has been so much fun. Our ages range from 16 to 70-something. We come from Tennessee, Texas, Ohio, Alabama, Kentucky and Oklahoma. We have a 29-year-old prosecutor (or, as one of our men calls her, a persecutor…) an audiologist, a librarian, a pilot, a CPA, a podiatrist, an occupational therapist, engineers, managers, business owners, men who have worked in oil and gas, homemakers, students, teachers – and we are Christians. One of our women delayed back surgery so that she wouldn’t miss the trip – in pain most of the time but determined to see all that she can. A group of several couples came together from Ooltewah (it’s just fun to say) Tennessee. Jon (not my John but the other Jon 😉 ) did a fantastic job working on our itinerary and has worked so hard to put everything together. His wife, Kim, is one of the most gracious, kind people I’ve ever known. Each of these individuals are dear to me. We’ve slogged through the rain together, escaped from Rome’s subway together, eaten falafel together, taken lots of pictures together, and maybe even shared a germ or two with each other. We’ve laughed together, cried together and prayed – a lot – together. God’s people are the best people in the world. What a blessing it’s been to share this experience with them.