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To go along with my summer sermon series on minor characters from the Bible, I have decided to use this space each Thursday to explore the stories of other characters I will not be covering on Sundays. This is the second reflection in the series.

Read Judges 6:11 – 8:28

Back when I was serving as a campus minister at West Virginia University, I chose as a Bible study theme one year “God Believes in You.” I got the idea from a song of the same name by Pierce Pettis, and the gist of the various studies was that God’s choices for whom to work with and through cannot always be predicted. God has a habit of selecting the least likely persons (from a human perspective) to accomplish God’s purposes. Throughout the Bible God consistently chooses the youngest, scruffiest, or least promising specimens to do God’s work. Jacob was a swindler and liar; Moses killed a guy; David was the youngest of seven brothers and widely considered an afterthought when God came to choose a new king; and Jesus was kind of a nobody from a backwater town in Galilee, born to parents so poor they had to take shelter in a barn when it came time for Mary to deliver her baby.

But despite the unlikelihood of these derelicts and oddballs, God proves that God believes in their ability to rise above their circumstances to accomplish great things. My Bible studies focused on what it means to say that God “believes in” Hosea, Zacchaeus, and the like.

One of the minor characters of the Bible who always comes to mind when I think about “God believes in you” is Gideon. You can find his story in chapters 6 to 8 of the book of Judges, and I encourage you to read it in its entirety. Gideon has a character flaw that would seem to disqualify him as an agent of God’s work: he is something of a coward. When we first meet him he is threshing wheat in a winepress because he is afraid of the Midianites, Israel’s oppressor of the month. God’s angel calls him a “mighty warrior” (ironically, no doubt), and instructs him to tear down the shrine to Baal in his hometown, and then to lead the Israelites to defeat the Midianites. Before he will follow these instructions he asks for a sign, and even after God obliges him, he waits until nightfall to do the deed, “because he was too afraid of his family and the townspeople to do it by day” (6:27).

Then, before he agrees to go into battle, Gideon asks for another sign: he sets out a fleece overnight and asks God to make it wet with dew but to leave the ground around it dry. God does so, but Gideon is still quaking in his boots, so he asks for a second sign. This time, he says, make the ground wet but leave the fleece dry. With divine patience God complies with this request as well, and only then does Gideon feel confident enough to go after the Midianites.

But now, possibly to teach this reluctant savior a valuable lesson, God tells Gideon he has assembled too many warriors to do the job. Through a gradual whittling-down process God takes Gideon’s army from thirty-two thousand men down to 300. With this diminished force God delivers the entire Midianite army into Gideon’s hands, but not before offering a final reassurance through an overheard description of a dream of one of the enemy soldiers. The writer tells us, “When Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, he worshiped; and he returned to the camp of Israel, and said, “Get up; for the Lord has given the army of Midian into your hand” (7:15).

It has taken a while, but Gideon is finally able to trust in God’s confidence enough to believe in himself, and then he is able to get the job done. From that moment he becomes a strong and decisive leader and the deliverer of the Israelites from their bondage.

If knowing that God believes in him is finally enough to turn Gideon from a coward into a leader, what can that same knowledge do for us? It’s a salient question, because we are assailed on every side by challenges and crises, and for many of us the default response is, “I can’t do anything about that.” But what if God is calling you to take action, to provide leadership to meet some need or confront some injustice in the community? How would it help to hear God meet your objections and misgivings with the rejoinder, “You can do this. I believe in you”?

Because that is precisely what God is saying to each of us this moment: “I believe in you.”

Grace and peace,