The Fearful Man Named Gideon

Title: The Fearful Man Named Gideon

Bible Book: Hebrews 11 : 32

Author: David E. Owen

Subject: Fear; Faith



There was a filmed documentary released in 2003 called “Unlikely Heroes” that presented previously untold stories of Jewish resistance and individual heroism that took place during the Nazi Holocaust. The film highlights seven extraordinary individuals who each, without any fanfare and in very different ways, took it upon themselves to take action. They each made a great impact on the lives of many people and their stories add new insights to the history of the Jewish resistance.

This morning, we’re beginning a series of sermons that I’m calling “Unlikely Heroes.” And this series will highlight six extraordinary individuals who each, in very different ways, were used by God to make a great impact on the lives of many people in their respective time in history.

The word “hero” has come to refer to an individual who, in the face of danger and adversity or from a position of weakness, displays courage and the will for self-sacrifice.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer.”

The Italian philosopher and novelist Umberto Eco said, “The real hero is always a hero by mistake; he dreams of being an honest coward like everybody else.”

The American journalist Ellen Goodman said, “I have never been especially impressed by the heroics of people who are convinced they are about to change the world. I am more awed by those who struggle to make one small difference after another.”

Christopher Reeve said, “I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”

Someone else has said that “the greater your doubt the more heroic your faith.”

All of these things are really true of the six individuals that we are going to look at in this series. Our unlikely heroes are listed in Hebrews 11:32 where the Bible says, “And what shall I more say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets.”

Arthur Pink commented on the distinctiveness of this verse by saying…

“In some respects the verse we have now arrived at is the most difficult one in our chapter. It commences the last division of the same. Therein the apostle changes his method of treatment, and instead of particularizing individual examples of faith, he groups together a number of men and summarizes the actings of their faith. The selection made, out of many others who could have been given, is most startling: those whose names we might have expected had been registered on this honor roll are omitted, while others we have never thought of are given a place.”

But isn’t that the way of God … to use the unexpected and the unlikely ones for His glory? Listen to the words of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29…

(1 Corinthians 1:26-29) For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: {27} But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; {28} And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: {29} That no flesh should glory in his presence.

This morning, we’re looking at the first name in the listing of Hebrews 11:32, the name “Gideon.” And the exemplary point of Gideon’s life is that he stood firm even when his friends were few in number, and even when he felt inadequate within himself to do anything for God. The account of Gideon is confined to Judges chapter 6 thru chapter 8. In order to understand more about Gideon and his unlikelihood as a hero, we must go to Judges 6 and…

I. Let’s Consider The Terrible Situation In Gideon’s Land

J. Sidlow Baxter said, “The main narrative of Judges is remarkable for a striking fourfold emphasis, which it sustains throughout. The six apostasies, servitudes, and deliverances are each set out in this quadruple order: Sinning, Suffering, Supplication, Salvation.”

The account of Gideon gives us the 4th episode of apostasy, and we learn in this episode that…

A. There Were Problems In Israel

(Judges 6:1) And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD: and the LORD delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years.

1. The Problem Of Israel’s Evil

The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says that this word “evil,” with “meanings ranging from ‘displeasing’ and ‘injurious,’ to ‘bad’ and ‘evil,’ inherits … a dual meaning of being wrong in regard to God’s original and ongoing intention and detrimental in terms of its effects on man.”

John Gill wrote…

“And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord,” … After the death of Deborah and Barak, during whose life they kept to the pure worship of God, and who, perhaps, lived pretty near the close of the forty years’ rest, or of the twenty years from their victory over Jabin; but they dying, the children of Israel fell into idolatry, for that that was the evil they did appears from Judges 6:10, even worshipping the gods of the Amorites.

2. The Problem Of Israel’s Enemy

(Judges 6:3) And so it was, when Israel had sown, that the Midianites came up, and the Amalekites, and the children of the east, even they came up against them;

(Judges 6:5) For they came up with their cattle and their tents, and they came as grasshoppers for multitude; for both they and their camels were without number: and they entered into the land to destroy it.

The troops of the Midianites were decimated in Numbers 31, but now 200 years later, they have once again become a formidable foe, and they have made alliances with the Amalekites and others who come with them against Israel. God has raised them up to judge His people.

B. There Was Praying In Israel

(Judges 6:6) And Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites; and the children of Israel cried unto the LORD.

1. Notice The Distressing Circumstances

impoverished – Hebrew 1809. dalal; means to slacken or be feeble; to be oppressed. It is also translated as “bring low, dry up, be emptied, be not equal, fail, be made thin.”

The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says that “the verb describes a state of deprivation which in its extremity issues in a cry to God. It sometimes refers to physical distress (Judges 6:6).”

2. Notice Their Desperate Crying

cried – Hebrew 2199. za'aq; a primary root word meaning to shriek (from anguish or danger).

The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says of this word “cried” (OT:2199) that…

The basic meaning of this root is “to cry for help in time of distress.” … The word is used almost exclusively in reference to a cry from a disturbed heart, in need of some kind of help. The cry is not in summons of another, but an expression of the need felt. Most frequently, the cry is directed to God. When the Israelites were being invaded annually by the Midianites, they expressed this cry (Judges 6:6-7).

C. There Was A Prophet In Israel

1. He Reminded Them Of Their Deliverance

(Judges 6:8-9) That the LORD sent a prophet unto the children of Israel, which said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I brought you up from Egypt, and brought you forth out of the house of bondage; {9} And I delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of all that oppressed you, and drave them out from before you, and gave you their land;

Joseph Parker said…

God reads the book of history, and says, “See what I did for you, where I found you, how I delivered you, how I interposed for you in the hour of extremity; see how, by a mighty hand and outstretched arm, I wrought out this whole salvation for you, and no sooner did I recover you to life and to hope, than you turned your backs upon Me and stopped your ears with your fingers, and your hearts went astray from My throne.” (From The Biblical Illustrator)

2. He Rebuked Them For Their Disobedience

(Judges 6:10) And I said unto you, I am the LORD your God; fear (revere) not the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but ye have not obeyed my voice.

Again, John Gill said, “They had been guilty of idolatry, and this is the sin the prophet was sent to reprove them for, and bring them to a sense of.”

II. Let’s Consider The Timid Spirit In Gideon’s Life

J. Sidlow Baxter said…

“Gideon, the fifth judge of Israel, is rightly counted as one of the outstanding heroes in Israel's early history. Yet we need to realize at the outset that his heroism was not a product of his natural make-up, but the outcome of a transforming spiritual experience. It is this which gives him a living significance to ourselves today. When first we see Gideon he cuts a pathetic figure of unbelief (6:11-23). He is a furtive, nervous young man secretly threshing wheat in the winepress, to hide it from the marauding Midianites. What pathetic exclamations of unbelief escape his lips when the Lord suddenly appears.”

A. Notice How Gideon’s Fear Was Manifested

Look at him as he fearfully threshes wheat by the winepress. Because of the enclosed area of the winepress, no doubt he had chaff all over him as he nervously looked around.

(Judges 6:11) And there came an angel of the LORD, and sat under an oak which was in Ophrah, that pertained unto Joash the Abiezrite: and his son Gideon threshed wheat by the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites.

1. He Is Distressed By The Supposed Absence Of God – He Is Scared

(Judges 6:13) And Gideon said unto him, Oh my Lord, if the LORD be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt? but now the LORD hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.

2. He Is Doubtful About The Sufficient Ability Of Gideon – He Is Skeptical

(Judges 6:15) And he said unto him, Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house.

poor – Hebrew 1800. dal; from H1809 (to be feeble or oppressed or emptied); weak or thin: -- lean, needy, weaker.

Manasseh – a half tribe whose name means, “causing to forget”

least – Hebrew 6810. tsa'iyr; from H6819 (to be small or lowly); little; (in number) few; (in age) young, (in value) ignoble: --least, little (one), small (one), + young (-er, -est).

I’m surprised Gideon didn’t raise his own hand when God said to dismiss all who were afraid from his army.

Cf. (Judges 7:3) Now therefore go to, proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, Whosoever is fearful and afraid, let him return and depart early from mount Gilead. And there returned of the people twenty and two thousand; and there remained ten thousand.

B. Notice How Gideon’s Fear Was Mentioned

1. Fear Is Mentioned In His Removal Of The Evil Altar

(Judges 6:25-27) And it came to pass the same night, that the LORD said unto him, Take thy father's young bullock, even the second bullock of seven years old, and throw down the altar of Baal that thy father hath, and cut down the grove that is by it: {26} And build an altar unto the LORD thy God upon the top of this rock, in the ordered place, and take the second bullock, and offer a burnt sacrifice with the wood of the grove which thou shalt cut down. {27} Then Gideon took ten men of his servants, and did as the LORD had said unto him: and so it was, because he feared his father's household, and the men of the city, that he could not do it by day, that he did it by night.

feared – Hebrew OT:3372. yare; “to be afraid, stand in awe, fear.” Basically, this verb signifies the psychological reaction of “fear.” It may indicate being afraid of something or someone. It is also used of a person in an exalted position, where the word connotes “standing in awe.” This is not simple fear, but reverence, whereby an individual recognizes the power and position of the individual revered and renders him proper respect. In this sense, the word may imply submission to a proper ethical relationship to God. (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words)

2. Fear Is Mentioned In His Reconnaissance Of The Enemies’ Army

(Judges 7:9-11) And it came to pass the same night, that the LORD said unto him, Arise, get thee down unto the host; for I have delivered it into thine hand. {10} But if thou fear to go down, go thou with Phurah thy servant down to the host: {11} And thou shalt hear what they say; and afterward shall thine hands be strengthened to go down unto the host. Then went he down with Phurah his servant unto the outside of the armed men that were in the host.

fear – Hebrew 3373. yare’; from H3372 (3372 is the verb form – fear, while 3373 is the adjective form – afraid); fearing; reverent: -- afraid, fear (-ful).

C. Notice How Gideon’s Fear Was Mastered

1. The Expressions Of God’s Word In His Life Helped Him Overcome His Fear

a. The Expression Of God’s Assessment

(Judges 6:12) And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him, and said unto him, The LORD is with thee, thou mighty man of valour.

mighty – OT:1368. gibbor; powerful; by implication Warrior, tyrant – “hero.” In the context of battle, the word is better understood to refer to the category of warriors. The gibbor is the proven warrior; especially is this true when gibbor is used in combination with chayil (valour – “strength”). … The phrase gibbor chayil (mighty man of valor) may also refer to a man of a high social class, the man who had military responsibilities. (Vine’s Expository Dictionary)

b. The Expression Of God’s Appointment

(Judges 6:14) And the LORD looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?

sent – Hebrew 7971. shalach; a primary root word meaning to send away, send for, or send out. It is also translated as “appoint.”

c. The Expression Of God’s Assurance

(Judges 6:22-24) And when Gideon perceived that he was an angel of the LORD, Gideon said, Alas, O Lord GOD! for because I have seen an angel of the LORD face to face. {23} And the LORD said unto him, Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die. {24} Then Gideon built an altar there unto the LORD, and called it Jehovah-shalom (Jehovah is my peace): unto this day it is yet in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

peace – Hebrew 7965. shalom; safe, well, happy, friendly; also welfare, prosperity. Also translated as “favour” and “rest.”

2. The Evidence Of God’s Work In His Life Helped Him Overcome His Fear

a. The Evidence Of The Fleece And The Dew (Judges 6:36-40)

b. The Evidence Of The Fellow And His Dream

(Judges 7:11) And thou shalt hear what they say; and afterward shall thine hands be strengthened to go down unto the host. Then went he down with Phurah his servant unto the outside of the armed men that were in the host.

His fear is proven as he does indeed take Phurah with him, but then notice Judges 7:13-15.

Fear was transformed into faith! As J. Sidlow Baxter wrote…

Doubt sees the obstacles, Faith sees the way. Doubt sees the darksome night, Faith sees the day.

Doubt dreads to take the step, Faith soars on high. Doubt whispers, “Who believes?” Faith answers - “I.”

III. Let’s Consider The Triumphant Story Of Gideon’s Leadership

A. Consider The Odds Of His Triumph

1. Look At The Numbers Of Gideon’s Men (Judges 7:1-7)

(Judges 7:3) Now therefore go to, proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, Whosoever is fearful and afraid, let him return and depart early from mount Gilead. And there returned of the people twenty and two thousand; and there remained ten thousand.

He started out with 32,000, but then he said for all that were scared to go home and that number went down to 10,000. But God said he had too many. So by taking only those who drank water by lapping it out of their hand like a dog, he ultimately ended up with 300. There were 9,700 of them that drank by getting down on their hands and knees at the water’s edge. He ended up with 300 that were both courageous and cautious.

2. Look At The Numbers Of The Great Midianites

We are twice told that they were as grasshoppers for multitude…

(Judges 6:5) For they came up with their cattle and their tents, and they came as grasshoppers for multitude; for both they and their camels were without number: and they entered into the land to destroy it.

(Judges 7:12) And the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the children of the east lay along in the valley like grasshoppers for multitude; and their camels were without number, as the sand by the sea side for multitude.

But how does that translate into their literal numbers?

(Judges 8:10) Now Zebah and Zalmunna (kings of Midian according to verse 5) were in Karkor, and their hosts with them, about fifteen thousand men, all that were left of all the hosts of the children of the east: for there fell an hundred and twenty thousand men that drew sword.

The Midianites had started out with about 135,000 men. The odds were 450 to 1 against Gideon!

But there is a little children’s song that says…

“Brave Gideon had 300 men, the Midianites had a host; But Gideon had the Lord with him, and so he had the most.”

They’ve come out with this movie recently called “300.” The film is a fictionalized retelling of the ancient Battle of Thermopylae when the Spartan King Leonidas and 300 Spartans fight to the last man against the Persian King Xerxes and his army of over one million soldiers. I think they need to make another movie called “300” in which Gideon and his 300 defeat an army of 135,000.

B. Consider The Oddity Of His Triumph

1. Notice Their Strange Artillery (Judges 7:16-21)

2. Notice Their Strange Allies

(Judges 7:22) And the three hundred blew the trumpets, and the LORD set every man's sword against his fellow, even throughout all the host: and the host fled to Bethshittah in Zererath, and to the border of Abelmeholah, unto Tabbath.

The IVP Bible Background Commentary says…

“It is a common motif that one of the ways a deity achieves victory is by throwing the enemy into confusion … so that they begin to fight one another until none remain.”

C. Consider Some Observations In His Triumph

1. To Keep Diligently Pursuing Even When You Are Feeble

(Judges 8:4) And Gideon came to Jordan, and passed over, he, and the three hundred men that were with him, faint, yet pursuing them.

faint – Hebrew 5889. 'ayeph, aw-yafe'; from H5888 (to languish or be wearied); languid, weak :--faint, thirsty, weary.

pursuing – Hebrew 7291. radaph; a primary root word that means to run after (usually with hostile intent). It is also translated as “chase, put to flight, follow (after, on), hunt.”

Keep running even when you don’t feel like it.

2. To Keep A Divine Perspective Even When You Are Favored

(Judges 8:22-23) Then the men of Israel said unto Gideon, Rule thou over us, both thou, and thy son, and thy son's son also: for thou hast delivered us from the hand of Midian. {23} And Gideon said unto them, I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: the LORD shall rule over you.

rule – Hebrew 4910. mashal; a primary root word that means to rule. It is also translated as “have dominion, governor, reign, have power.”

He said, “We don’t need a Gideon government. We need a God government.”


The first time I ever remember hearing a sermon about Gideon was about thirty years ago. And one of the reasons I remember it was because it was one of the first times I had heard my friend Tom Hayes preach. And he was preaching a whole revival meeting using Gideon as the focal point. He called the series on Gideon, “Little Is Much When God Is In It.” And throughout the week, he kept reminding us of the song “Little Is Much” which says…

In the harvest field now ripened

There’s a work for all to do;

Hark! The voice of God is calling

To the harvest calling you.

And the chorus says…

Little is much when God is in it!

Labor not for wealth or fame.

There’s a crown—and you can win it,

If you go in Jesus’ Name.

The preacher kept reminding us of how that idea fit Gideon’s life so well. And he was right. In fact, Gideon himself would have agreed with how appropriate the term “little” was in describing his life. He said himself in Judges 6:15, “My family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house.”

Sometimes, because we are so conscious of our own shortcomings and inabilities, we begin to ask ourselves the question, “Can God really use me?” The answer is a resounding “Yes,” because “Little is much when God is in it!” Even for a fearful man like Gideon.

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