If you tuned into my Birthday post yesterday, you know I was sitting on a log saturday trying to unruffle the feathers of my relationship with God. My reading that morning was from Hebrews 11, the "Hall of Fame of faith" chapter. Here, the writer celebrates many of the Old Testament heroes of faith- Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, Moses as well as his parents. And then, he mentions four figures from Judges that many may not be as familiar with- Gideon, Barak, Jephthah, and Samson. Except for Samson and his "super-powers", many people might not know this set. And I had a hard time trying to figure out why God was pointing them to me in order to get to my own problems.
Barak was a military leader, who defeated his foes under the guidance of the Prophetess Deborah. His problem came when he refused to go into battle unless she came along- a choice that led Deborah to tell him he will lose the glory of the battle and a woman shall take it. Which is what happened- when the time came, Barak routed the enemy, but it was the woman Jael who killed the enemy general Sisera in his sleep.
Gideon, aside from passing out Bibles at hotels, also became a military leader chosen by God. But as the "least in his family" which was "least of his clan", he had self-assurance issues. After basically asking God to perform three feats of divine power "to prove it was Him", Gideon crushed the enemy as well.
Jephthah was a castout from his own family because his father, er, begat him with a foreign woman. He became a warrior of some renown, gathering "worthless men" (AKA others like himself) around him. When the enemy attacked his hometown of Gilead, the townsfolk came crawling to him for help. He agreed, at the price of being named town leader. Before the attack, he made a vow involving the sacrifice of whatever came from his tent to greet him first if the Lord would grant him victory. The Lord did, and it was his young daughter that came out. While the vow specifically said a "burnt offering", the language of the text indicates that, rather than killing her, he made her take a vow to be a perpetual virgin. As she was his only child, this would snuff out his line as effectively as killing her.
And Samson you know; always in trouble over women, so confident in his God-given strength that he lost it, and had to beg for it back to defeat his enemies at the time of his death.
So there I was, watching the ants, asking God to show me something in these men I needed to know. And He did; the difference of if/then.
Observe, in the preceding heroes of faith before them, it was God saying "If" and promising "then". Abel lived by what God told Cain, If you do right, will you not be accepted? Abel did right, and was accepted where Cain was not. Enoch, according to the writer of Hebrews, pleased God; his "then" was to be taken bodily to his reward. Noah was given the "if" to build; his reward was to repopulate the earth. Abraham's if was to "Obey My word and walk in My ways;" his then was to be the Father of Many Nations. See the pattern? When God gives the "if", He gives a then that affects not just us but the entire future! But if WE ask the "if"?
Barak asked for Deborah to come along. It was not enough for him to have God on his side, he needed the tangible presence of someone else, something he could see. He still got a then, but it was a one-point-in-time then; and it was diminished for not trusting God to be there.
Gideon's self-esteem issues led him to a very common if; "If you are God, prove it." How many requirements to we put on God to do thus-and-so? I know I do it way too much. I require him to keep me from disaster, to heal all sick people, to eradicate evil, so that He will "make sense to me". Gideon was still blessed- once he was convinced, he moved mountains. But God severely tested him. I really wonder if God would have made him trim his army to 300 men if Gideon hadn't doubted- if he hadn't asked the if.
Jephthah took me a while to figure out- which is funny, because he had the most obvious if then. If God does thus and so, THEN I will act- and only then. Do you find yourself asking that if, like I do?
So we have had one man who couldn't do it alone (even though God was with him) in Barak, one man who couldn't believe that God would want to use him because of low self-esteem in Gideon, one man who wouldn't act until he could have an effect on what OTHERS said about him in Jephthah, and one- Samson, so confident in his own God-given abilities, he forgot the "God-given" part. And at his end, his if-then was, "remember me, and I will take vengeance." God remembered, but the forfeit was his life.
Each of these men were faithful once God did the if they asked; but their rewards lasted 20, 30, 40 years at the most- if they lasted beyond the moment. But the men who let God ask the if, they got rewards that stretch into eternity, far beyond their own physical lives. And here I sit, as I said at the beginning of the birthday post, being envious, getting frustrated, asking God why does He allow blades to break, engineers to be overworked and sloppy, and why the heck He couldn't have said, "FIVE days you shall labor," so I could justly condemn my company for working us Saturdays? I have been bombarding God with ifs. But if I stop and look what the BIG heroes of faith got, I should be:
Building for Him
Obeying and walking in his way.
Then maybe I might just GET something better than a stupid boat.