Note carefully the opening verse of Judges 6: "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" (Judges 6:1). These words describe an endless cycle that repeated itself in Israel for generations.
Throughout the preceding chapters, we find these words repeated again and again. They read, in essence, "And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served Baalim...and God, in his hot anger, sold them into the hand of their enemies."
The first instance occurs in chapter 3. We're told, "The land had rest forty years...and the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the Lord" (3:11-12). God gave his people over to an enemy, Moab, "because they had done evil in the sight of the Lord" (3:12). And Israel served this heathen enemy for eighteen years, enduring hardship and terror.
Then, in chapter 4, we read, "And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the Lord...and the Lord sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan" (4:1-2). This time God's people were made captive by the Canaanites.
Of course, every time Israel was enslaved, they cried out to God. And each time, the Lord was faithful to send them a deliverer. But as soon as that righteous leader died, the people predictably returned to their sin. And the whole cycle began all over again. It continues with our text verse, in chapter 6: "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" (6:1).
During this period, Israel was continually brought low by their enemy Midian. Like clockwork, the Midianites raided Israel each year, plundering their crops and goods. Midian's caravan leaders would release all their camels and livestock into Israel's fields to graze. And the beasts completely devoured the crops, sweeping through the fields like locusts.
Whenever Israel resisted, the Midianites drove them into the hills and mountains. God's people ended up seeking refuge in caves and dens, and having to scavenge for food. "And Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites" (6:6). Israel lost everything to their enemy: their houses, their food, their goods. They lived like paupers, homeless and bereft.
Once again, Scripture says, "The children of Israel cried unto the Lord" (6:6). Yet this cry wasn't one of repentance. Israel cried because of their oppression by the Midianites. It was a cry of anguish, due to their poverty, their losses, their insecurity.
This time, before God sent a deliverer to Israel, he sent a prophet. This man of God put his finger on the reason the people were being so harassed. He pointed out, "Look at your history. In each case, God delivered you out of the hands of all who oppressed you. He brought you out of bondage in Egypt. And he told you not to fear the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But you haven't obeyed him. You still pay homage to false gods" (see 6:8-10).
The Lord was telling his people, in essence, "I made it clear to you from the very beginning: you are not to fear anyone but your heavenly Father. Let no other fear enter your heart. But you've disobeyed me once again. You've allowed all kinds of fears to enter in. And you've forced me to hand you over to your enemy, to drive you back to myself."
The prophet showed Israel clearly what their sin was: they forgot the Lord's command not to fear the gods of this world. In Judges 10, we see God's people admitting to this sin: "The children of Israel cried unto the Lord, saying, We have sinned against thee, both because we have forsaken our God, and also served Baalim" (Judges 10:10).
What did the Israelites mean here, when they said they served Baalim? The word Baalim is a plural form. It denotes all the false gods in the world. The root of Baalim is Baal, which we recognize from Scripture as a demonic spirit. Baal's mission is to rob God of all worship and trust by his people. It accomplishes this by focusing our attention on our circumstances rather than on the Lord.
That's exactly what happened to Israel. Their sin had brought sorrow, economic disaster, terrorism from their enemies, uncertainty. The fact is, God was no longer protecting them. Of course he still loved Israel, but he had to put them at the mercy of their enemies to awaken them. He was trying to drive them back to his sheltering wings.
But Israel refused to acknowledge that the cause of their crisis was their own sin. Incredibly, these people were sacrificing babies, shedding innocent blood, becoming sensual and addicted to pleasure. As a result, one disaster after another fell upon them. Yet, never once did they associate these disasters with their rebellion. They couldn't bring themselves to believe God was allowing it all to bring them to repentance.
I see America in the same situation right now. The World Trade Centers were destroyed. The Pentagon was set aflame. Yet only a small remnant among Christ's body recognized God's hand in these things. Just as he did with Israel centuries ago, God momentarily handed us over to an enemy. Our sins have alienated us from him, and he's wanting to drive us back to himself.
Think about it: over the past six months, America has seen the worst fires in its history. A full one-third of the nation has been in flames. We've also seen drastic weather changes and devastating floods. And Japanese beetles are devouring vast acres of forest.
Now we're seeing an outbreak of deadly West Nile virus. And in the upper Midwest, a terrible brain disease has overtaken the deer population. Over 50,000 deer had to be shot in an attempt to contain the disease. But some experts say 200,000 more deer may need to be killed before it's eradicated.
Every time we turn around, it seems we face another crisis. I ask you, could God make his message any clearer? He's saying, "I'm tapping your shoulder, trying to wake you. Yet you continue to ignore me. That's only going to make me tap you harder."
Let me ask you: do you believe God could have stopped those Moslem hijackers who flew the planes into the Twin Towers? Of course he could have. He has exposed such plots time after time. But he didn't last year. Why? He's trying to speak to us, to get our attention. He allowed the destruction of our symbols of prosperity, because that's where we've placed all our pride and reliance.
Our President, our Congressional leaders and security officials have been warning us, "The big attack is still to come." Now I hear some Christians saying, "Just wait for the big one. It could be a suitcase bomb. Or, someone might release smallpox or anthrax in a major city. Whatever happens, there will be thousands of casualties. And that will get America's attention. People will know God is calling this nation back to himself. Multitudes will cry out to the Lord."
I disagree. Let me tell you why.
Israel wept loudly, crying out to God in their anguish. So the Lord sent a prophet to show them that sin had brought down judgment on them. Now, to be truly repentant, Israel had to recognize their sin as the cause of their troubles. And they did just that, acknowledging they'd sinned.
But there was yet another step to take. You see, even though we may cry out to God in repentance, he requires something more of us. And if this step isn't taken, God will not show his mighty arm on our behalf. We see exactly what this step is, in God's next command: Tear down Baal.
The Lord spoke this word to Gideon: "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" (Judges 6:25).
Before this, Gideon probably thought he had been sufficiently repentant. After all, he had cried out to the Lord. He had heard the prophetic word God sent to Israel. And he had responded to it fully, acknowledging his sin.
I see the same sort of repentant attitude among many Christians today. In churches from coast to coast, people are on their knees crying out to God. And that's good. But according to the Lord, a problem still remains. It's an idol in our midst: Baal.
Yes, Baal is still very much an idol today. And if our repentance is to be complete, we have to tear this idol down. Otherwise, it won't matter how much we cry out to God, pray or fast. None of our actions will have any impact whatsoever, until we pull down the idol that has taken hold of so many hearts.
You may ask, "So, what is this Baal? Where do I see it at work? How could an ancient false god be present in our modern society?"
In the Old Testament, Baal was represented by a carved idol, made of wood, stone or metal. It was formed into the image of a man, a handsome Adonis type. Even though this idol was only a dead piece of material, there was a powerful spirit behind it.
In our enlightened age, we can't imagine any intelligent person bowing down to a carved idol. Certainly, there are still heathen religions that use such images in worship, including Buddhism, Hare Krishna and Hinduism. But whether the idol is Baal, Buddha or any of the millions of Hindu gods, the same demonic spirit is behind it. And this spirit is sent forth from hell for one purpose: to cause people to doubt the reality of God. It is a spirit of unbelief, plain and simple. And it assaults our minds with doubts about God's faithfulness.
It is absolutely dangerous to entertain this spirit. If it isn't cast out immediately upon the first attack, it will infiltrate the mind. And once doubt and fear are allowed to enter, the Baal spirit takes possession of the soul.
Without question, unbelief is an idol. It bends you down in submission to its power. And it opens up your soul to all kinds of evil. In fact, the verse we see repeated throughout Judges - "The children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord" - refers not to some gross sin, but to the people's unbelief.
This is clearly illustrated in Ezekiel 8. The Holy Ghost took the prophet Ezekiel on a vision-journey into the holy sanctuary. There he revealed to the prophet four deplorable abominations that God's people were committing. Then, he showed Ezekiel an even greater abomination: "He said unto me, Son of man, dig now in the wall: and when I had digged in the wall, behold a door. And he said unto me, Go in, and behold the wicked abominations that they do here. So I went in and saw" (Ezekiel 8:8-10).
What Ezekiel saw horrified him. The walls of the room were filled with paintings of "every form of creeping things, and abominable beasts, and all the idols in the house of Israel" (8:10). Facing these walls were seventy elders of Israel, swinging censers of incense. They were worshipping the spirit behind the paintings.
The Holy Spirit told Ezekiel that this scene revealed what was filling the minds of Israel's elders. And here is what those men were thinking: "The Lord seeth us not; the Lord hath forsaken the earth" (8:12).
Beloved, here was the Baal spirit fully exposed. Through a vision given by the Holy Ghost, Ezekiel saw firsthand how this spirit sets up an altar in a person's mind and takes control. As a result, Israel's leaders dismissed God's care for them. As they compared their poverty to the apparent prosperity of the Midianites, they thought, "Where is our God? Our prayers aren't being answered. We don't see any evidence he's at work for us. The Lord has forsaken us."
Satan had accomplished his single, overriding mission: to implant in the minds of believers that God isn't who the Bible says he is. The devil wants to convince you God isn't all-knowing, all-powerful and all-caring. He's constantly at work planting seeds of doubt in you. He causes you to think God doesn't hear your prayers, that he doesn't keep his promises to you. And he sends forth the Baal spirit to complete this work in you.
The Baal spirit is always present at the bedside of a dying child or a stricken family member. As we watch our loved one suffering, we wonder about God's purposes. And suddenly, a fear is injected in our mind. Later, when death strikes, that seed of doubt is watered. Soon we find ourselves asking, "How could a loving God allow this to happen?"
Last month, I was listening to radio reports on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Hundreds of people were being interviewed. The vast majority said that after the attacks, they lost all confidence in God. The typical response was, "How could a just, loving God stand by and let this happen? I can no longer believe in a God who allows so many people to die." Several people declared, "My God died on September 11."
It doesn't matter if you're a devoted lover of Jesus or a non-believer. After every disaster, calamity or fatal accident, Satan dispatches hordes of demonic spirits to do the work of Baal. They move in immediately, whispering, "Where was God? How could he allow such a thing to happen?"
Right now, there is widespread uncertainty in our society. Bankruptcies are at an all-time high. Workers are afraid of losing their jobs. As people look at the future, they're overwhelmed by fear. I tell you, in just such a time, Satan launches an all-out attack. He wants to get into your mind, to plant seeds and build a Baal altar. He wants you to doubt everything you've ever known about God's Word
You may think, "I don't have any idolatry in my life. How can I tear down an altar to Baal?" Let me re-emphasize, Baal is a spirit of unbelief. You may have repented of sin, cried out to God for mercy, heeded all prophetic warnings. But if you have doubts in your heart about God's faithfulness to you, you're subject to the Baal spirit. And God is telling you, "You must tear out that spirit of unbelief from your soul."
I believe we simply don't understand how much God hates unbelief in his people. We don't see it as the dreadful curse that Scripture calls it. We don't realize that every doubt, every thought of unbelief, is of the satanic spirit of Baal.
The prophet Jeremiah describes unbelief as a sin "written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond: it is graven upon the table of their heart" (Jeremiah 17:1). According to him, God told Israel, "Ye have kindled a fire in mine anger, which shall burn forever" (17:4). What was their sin? "Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord...Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is" (17:5, 7).
Keep these strong words in mind as we turn our attention back to Gideon. Here was a man who cried out to God, who was visited with a strong prophetic word, and who heeded that word. Yet Gideon still harbored doubts and fears. Why?
Gideon's father had erected an altar to Baal on their property. It was only a statue made of wood. But the spirit behind it had built a stronghold in Gideon's heart. Each time Gideon walked by, the voice of that idol spoke to his soul: "Look at your poverty, your hardships, your unmet needs. Where is God?" Indeed, the idol stood as a testimony to every Israelite who saw it: "God isn't with you. He doesn't care. He's too busy with world affairs to be concerned about feeding and protecting you little people. The Lord has abandoned you."
Now, in Judges 6, an angel brings this word to Gideon: "The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour" (Judges 6:12). God speaks just eight words here. And the first five are directed not just to Gideon, but to all of his people, including the church today: "The Lord is with you." The Lord is saying, in essence, "This promise is all you need: I am with you."
Beloved, this truth has to become the very foundation of our faith. No matter what we face - hardship, tragedy, sickness, poverty, temptation - our Father's promise holds true: "I am with you." In all of our trials, especially as we're being flooded and overwhelmed, we must cling to this word. We're to cry out in faith, "I know you're with me, Lord. And if you are with me, who can be against me?"
Yet when Gideon encountered the angel of the Lord, he had a spirit of unbelief in his heart. He answered the angel, "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" (6:13).
Do Gideon's words have a familiar ring? He was saying the same things that filled the minds of those seventy elders in Ezekiel's vision: "The Lord seeth us not; the Lord hath forsaken the earth" (Ezekiel 8:12). They said to themselves, "Yes, there is a God. He exists, and he is Creator of all. But he takes no notice of us. He doesn't see our situation. He has abandoned us."
The Lord told Gideon, "You still have doubts that I'm with you. That's idolatry, Gideon. It's the spirit of Baal. Now go, get your father's bull, and pull down that idol. Then cut down all the trees in the grove, and use them to build a new altar. You're going to consume your father's idol on that altar. I want you to bring down that symbol of unbelief and destroy it completely."
Why did the Lord choose this unbelieving man to tear down Baal? It was clearly an act of God's tender mercy. Here was a man with strong doubts, struggling to believe that God even cared about him. He was so filled with unbelief, he could tell an angel, "God has abandoned us." And he tested God, time after time. But on every occasion, the Lord answered Gideon's doubt.
Let me give an example. Later, when Gideon was about to go into battle, he tested God. Israel's situation looked impossible. So Gideon prayed, "Lord, if you're really with us in this battle, show me. I'm going to lay some shorn wool on the grass tonight. Tomorrow I'll know you're with us, if the wool is wet but the grass around it is dry."
You may be flabbergasted by Gideon's audacity. Yet, the next morning, Gideon saw that the ground was dry. And when he picked up the wool, it was dripping wet with water, just as he'd asked.
Most of us are like Gideon. God faithfully meets us in trial after trial, delivering us and providing for our needs. But then we face yet another situation, causing us to say, "Lord, this is my biggest crisis yet. I've never faced one like this. I've got doubts."
Is there a measure of unbelief in you? Are you struggling, asking questions, such as, "Where are you, Lord? Haven't you seen my tears? Where is there any evidence you're with me in my trial? Have you abandoned me? Doesn't my faith move your heart? Why won't you remove these burdens from me?"
The Lord doesn't condemn or belittle anyone for their times of doubt and fear. The truth is, God knew Gideon's doubts weren't accusations. They were questions. Gideon was simply looking for answers.
I tell you, the God of mercy who met an unbelieving Gideon and called him to action wants to do the same for you. He has great victories planned for you. And he desires to defeat every enemy in your life. Therefore, he wants to give you his power and authority to pull down every stronghold: every doubt, every fear, every thought of unbelief.
The Lord has impressed on me that he's about to do a particular work in many Christians' lives. In fact, he's about to bring them into their most important victory ever. He's already leading them into new places of peace and rest in Christ. And he's about to reveal his strong arm on their behalf.
I believe this is God's purpose for many readers of this message. He's about to do a new thing in you. But first, you must pull down every thought of doubt, and lay down every fear. God wants you to tear down the spirit of Baal completely in your heart, and begin to live and speak in faith.
The Lord will provide the mighty bull necessary to pull down that idol. He'll give you his Holy Ghost power and strength. So, put the enemy on notice: "God is with me, devil. You can't hurt me. And you can't stop his plans for my life. The Lord has victories ahead for me."