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Teaching the Book of Judges to Children: Gideon

Gideon is a popular subject for Sunday School stories, but I’ve never seen any curriculum that tells the entire story, warts and all. Gideon was no more perfect than any other man; he was afraid and doubtful and he made some classic mistakes. Here’s my version of Gideon’s story from his own point of view:

My name is Gideon. I was the fifth judge of Israel. Can you name the first four judges? Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, and Deborah. I was born after Deborah died. My people had quickly forgotten the one true God after Deborah was gone. They were worshiping idols again, the god of the Canaanites named Baal. All while I was growing up, even my own family worshiped Baal instead of Yahweh.

So what do you think happened? God let our enemies take over our land. This time it was the Midianites. The Midianites would wait until we had planted our crops, and then they would swoop over the countryside like a swarm of locusts, destroying everything. They killed everything: our wheat and barley, our fruits and vegetables, even our sheep and cattle and donkeys. It was so bad  that many of our people left their homes and farms and fled up into the mountains to live in caves. We were all starving and desperate. This went on for seven long years. Finally, the people remembered their history. They remembered what had happened before when our enemies took our land. They remembered Othniel and Ehud and Shamgar and Deborah. And they remembered the one true God and cried out to Him for help.

But God sent a prophet instead. This man went about the land of Israel preaching about all the things God had done for us. He reminded us that God had rescued us from Egypt and from slavery and had given us all this land. But were we thankful for all God had done? No, we forgot Him and began to worship other gods instead of Him. How does that make sense?

Then one day, as I was threshing wheat, a man walked up to me and said, “Yahweh is with you, mighty warrior.” That was really a weird thing for him to say to me, because I was threshing my wheat in a pit in the ground, hiding from the Midianites like a total wimp! Usually people thresh wheat outside, where the wind can blow the chaff away, the husks that you can’t eat. But I was afraid that the Midianites would see me and would take all the wheat away. Then I would have no food to feed my family. See, I wasn’t really such a sissy, I was just being smart. And at least I hadn’t run away to hide in the caves in the mountains like so many others had!

Anyway, this man walks up and says that Yahweh is with me, and I so I asked him, “If Yahweh is with us, why are we suffering? He did miracles to get us out of Egypt. He did miracles to give us this land. Where’s all the miracles now?” The guy says, “You’re the miracle. I’m sending you.”

“Me?” I said. “You can’t mean it. My family is the least important family in the whole tribe of Manasseh. And I’m the youngest, least important guy in my family. What can I do?”

“Don’t worry, I’ll be with you,” the man said. “You are going to strike down all the Midianites.”

But I needed to be sure. I mean, I didn’t even know this guy. Why should I believe him? “Give me a sign,” I said. “Wait here, I’ll be right back.” And I ran home and fixed the man a meal of meat and bread. It was a real sacrifice, believe me! We had very little food to eat in the house, and I was giving away my family’s dinner. But what if this was really a messenger from God! I ran back, and the man was still there, waiting for me. He told me to put the food on a rock. Yuck! Eating food off the ground? I thought. But I did what he said, and he touched the rock with his staff. Fire burst out of the rock and burned up the meat and bread. Then the man disappeared. That’s when I knew for sure that he had not been a man at all, but an angel of God.

That night, God spoke to me and told me to destroy my family’s idols and build a proper altar to make a sacrifice to Yahweh. I did it, but in the dead of night so that no one would catch me doing it! See, even though the people had cried out to Yahweh for help, they were still superstitiously clinging to Baal, too. Just in case, I guess.

The next day, when the people of the village saw what I had done, they were furious. And then somehow they found out it was me who had destroyed their Baal! A whole mob of them went to my father and demanded he let them kill me! Lucky for me my father had already been learning that Baal is not a true god. He said, “If Baal is so powerful, let him defend himself! Let him take care of his own altar.” Then the people saw that Baal couldn’t be all-powerful! If he were, he would have stopped me himself.

Now the people were willing to follow me, and a good thing, too. The Midianites and their pals the Amalekites had joined their armies and were gathering to destroy us once and for all. There were hundred of thousands of them! I have to admit, I was kind of nervous. I asked God for two more signs. Can you remember what they were? I set out a fleece, a sheepskin, overnight and asked God to let the dew be on the ground all around the fleece but not on it. He did this for me; but then I asked Him to do the opposite and let the fleece be wet with dew and the ground be dry. He did this for me, too.

I know it sounded like wimpy thing to do, asking for signs, but God didn’t seem to mind. He never scolded me or anything. He just gave me the assurance I needed. He’s very loving that way. And He knew I’d need assurance because of what He was about to ask me to do. I had an army of 32,000 men against the Midianites’ hundreds of thousands. But God told me to send the men who were afraid home! Well of course, most of them were afraid! I was left with only 10,000. Then God told me to test the men to see how careful they were. I was to have them drink from the river and watch how they did it. Most of them got down on their knees and put their faces right down to the water. But 300 of the men stayed sensibly on their feet and drank water from their hands, like this. Those were my soldiers. An army of 300!

We were to go into battle that night. And God knew just what I needed. He sent me down to the Midianite camp to listen to a certain conversation. One of the enemy soldiers had had a dream that a loaf of bread had rolled into his tent and made the tent collapse. What a weird dream, huh? But another soldier knew what it meant. “Gideon is the loaf of bread. He’s going to destroy us all!” the man said. Imagine, me, a loaf of bread! But I had to admit, it made me feel better. Especially when God told me that the only weapons we were going to use were empty jars, torches, and shofars. Here’s a shofar, remember this? I had my 300 men hide their torches inside the jars so that the enemy couldn’t see the light. Then we sneaked up and surrounded the enemy camp. When I blew my shofar, everyone else blew their shofars, too, and broke their jars so that suddenly the camp blazed with light. The Midianites were so terrified they didn’t know what was going on! They started swinging their swords at whatever moved and whatever moved was themselves! They were killing each other. We didn’t have to do a thing! The ones who survived ran away, and we chased after them and defeated them.

Well, the people were so grateful to me for leading them to defeat the Midianites that they wanted to make me their king! But I knew that Yahweh was the true king of Israel, so I refused. I did lead the people pretty well as their judge for the next 40 years. But I did make one bad mistake. I made an ephod out of gold to put in my home village as a sort of memorial and for some reason the people started to worship it. I guess I should have realized they would do that, but I mean, how weird is that? After all Yahweh, the one true God, did for them, they want to worship a piece of gold? I’ll bet you kids would never put anything else ahead of God, would you?

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