Yahweh Shalom - God, My Peace

What’s the biggest problem in your life right now? Sometimes, what we perceive to be our main problem is not our biggest problem. Ultimately, the biggest dilemma facing every human is the prospect of coming face to face with God.

This idea of a dangerous encounter with God became more than a prospect for a man named Gideon whose biography we find in Judges 6-9. But encountering God was not what at the top of his problem list.

Gideon's perception of his big problem is that his nation, Israel, was at this time dominated by a foreign nation called the Midianites. God, who had led his people out of Egypt and into the promised land seemed to have forsaken his people. But this was not his real problem.

One day, when Gideon was hiding from the Midianites beating out wheat from a wine press, he had an encounter with the angel of the Lord This was a theophany — a visible manifestation of God (Judges 6.11). In this encounter, God calls Gideon to bring deliverance to his people. Through this encounter we learn something about God.

God’s greeting to Gideon was disturbing: ‘The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valour’ (Judges 6, v. 12). This is a point worth reflecting on: even though Gideon was cowering in fear and had done nothing up to this point in his life to confirm a) that God was with him or b) he was a mighty man of valour, God indicated both. Here’s the lesson: God speaks to us on the basis of his faith, not circumstances; God deals with us according to his destiny, not our accomplishments. God’s working in our lives is always on the basis of his plans for us.

Even though God spoke these words of faith over Gideon, he wasn’t convinced. Gideon had two very good questions: first, if God was with his people, then what were all these Midianites doing – invading, taking crops, dominating the Israelites, keeping the people oppressed? And second, where were all the miracles from the days when God had led his people out of Egypt? (v. 13).

Gideon’s interpretation of the events was distorted: God has forsaken us. But this was not really true; rather, it was Israel who had forsaken God. The book of Judges describes the ‘Canaanization’ of Israel: rather than shining brightly as God’s chosen, covenant people, they adopted the life patterns and religious sensibilities of the people around them. God’s people were worshipping other gods.

When Israel abandoned God, God would give them over to their enemies. After a period of being dominated by others, Israel would repent and cry out to God for help. The Lord would raise up a deliver, Israel would be set free, they would serve and worship God for time, and then they would again slip into their habit of worshipping the local Canaanite gods. This four-fold cyle of apostasy – Sin, Slavery, Supplication, and Salvation – is repeated six times in Judges. Even Gideon’s own father was an idolater – he had both a Baal and an Ashteroth pole,

But Gideon was blind to the fault of his own people; rather, he blamed God for the condition of his nation. And this is the point: God was working in Israel – and in Gideon’s life – on the basis of his love, not their covenantal faithfulness. The Lord says ‘Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” (Judges 6.14). This is a beautiful promise of God’s presence.

Clearly, Gideon is being shown favour from God even though he didn’t ask for it, doesn’t recognize it, and doesn’t deserve it. Like verse 12, God sees a might in Gideon that Gideon doesn’t see in himself. But notice that the might is rooted in God’s sending.

Upon hearing this commission, Gideon continues the conversation: “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family”.  He still doesn’t get it: regardless of how insignificant Gideon’s family actually was, he perceives himself as inadequate to do the thing God has called him to do.

In verse 16, God again points to the source of the strength Gideon will walk in:  ‘I will be with you’. But this promise of God is not enough; Gideon needs empirical verification. And so he runs and gets meat and unleavened bread and broth, and the angel tells him (v. 20): “Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth.”

Gideon follows these instructions, and then something remarkable happens (v. 21): "The angel of the Lord touched the meat and the unleavened bread with the tip of the staff that was in his hand. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread".

At this moment, Gideon became aware of his real problem. The Midianites were no longer an immediate point of concern; his own inadequacies weren’t worth talking about. Rather, Gideon had bumped into the very presence of God.

This is what Gideon said (v. 22): "Alas, O Lord God! For now I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face.” He realised that he hadn’t merely been speaking with an angel, but the angel of the Lord, God himself manifested physically for a personal encounter with one of his people.

But God in his grace and mercy spoke peace to Gideon in verse 23: "Peace be to you. Do not fear; you shall not die". This is only understandable if we realise that sinful humans simply cannot dwell in the presence of the Holy God. This is the point: in addition to God’s presence, we also need God’s peace. Like he had done with Israel, God rightly judges our sin. But in his goodness, he offers us reconciliation through Christ.

Gideon, although he is an incredibly flawed character, is deeply touched by God’s offer of peace, so touched that he is moved to worship. We read this in verse 24: “Then Gideon built an altar there to the Lord and called it, The Lord Is Peace.” In the midst of Midianite domination on the outside, and the fear of having encountered God on the inside, Gideon responds to God’s offer of peace.

New Testament scholar Barry G. Webb explains it like this: “It seems that the call to be a deliverer that had been the primary anxiety-inducing thing in verses 11–16 has been eclipsed by a greater reality. It will come into play again in what follows, but for the present all that fills Gideon’s consciousness is the fact that he has met God, and been given his peace. There is no greater good. All he wants to do at this moment is worship.” (The Book of Judges, New International Commentary on the Old Testament).

This is profound: God offered Gideon his peace. The Hebrew word for peace in the Old Testament is shalom. It means God’s peace, wholeness, favour, and friendship. God’s peace is never rooted in our performance, but always rooted in God’s grace and God’s initiative.

Here’s the point: God is Yahweh Shalom, The Lord our peace. Even in the midst of being surrounded by enemies like Gideon was with the Midianites, the peace of God in our lives calms our inner turmoil and enables us to obey him with courage even in fearful, uncertain, and dangerous times.

In the words of Jesus: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid" (John 14.27).

But the good news for us is that, more than the offer of peace, Jesus is our peace. We can experience God's peace because of what Jesus has done:  'For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross' (Colossians 1.19-20).  Jesus bore our sins on the cross, and by his blood we are reconciled to God. Because Jesus stepped in and took our place, God extends to us the offer of peace.  

He is Yahweh Shalom, God our peace.