God’s character is multifaceted, and his attributes are not an either-or scenario. He’s every bit of who he is at all times. God is full of mercy and justice, fully loving toward his people and wrathful toward their enemies, simultaneously sovereign and meek. But sometimes Scripture gives us a glimpse into certain aspects of his character above the rest.
The story of Gideon, in the book of Judges, is about God, and how he operates in the lives of his children. God’s interactions with Gideon are gentle, loving, forbearing, and intimately personal.
When God calls Gideon to be Israel’s next judge and deliverer, God greets Gideon as a “mighty man of valor” (Judges 6:12). But what we continually see with Gideon is the complete opposite of what God has named him. Gideon’s first words after this greeting question God’s active presence among Israel — he doubts God’s plans and believes God has forsaken them. Yet God continues to speak of Gideon’s might when he responds, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” (Judges 6:14).
Gideon then lists some excuses for why he can’t save Israel (Judges 6:15), and even though God answers, “I’ll be with you,” Gideon then asks for a sign (Judges 6:17). Once the sign confirms who this strange visitor is, Gideon finally believes, but then responds in fear.
Fear and unbelief are the fruit that show strongest from Gideon before he delivers Israel. He is not a mighty man of valor. After this first encounter, God then asks Gideon to destroy his family’s altars and idols (Judges 6:25–26). Gideon is obedient, but he’s afraid, so he does it at night so no one sees him (Judges 6:27). Gideon never boldly admits to what he did, but he is still found out nonetheless, and his father comes to his rescue.
The most remembered part of Gideon’s story is when he asks for the two signs from God with the fleece of wool (Judges 6:36–40). Gideon is still not confident that God will use him to save Israel from the Midianites, so he needs tangible signs to prove God will do what he says.
Gideon is proving to be a man of weak faith who doesn’t believe in God’s power to save. So how does God deal with his unbelief?
Many times in Scripture we see God rebuke his children for the fear that comes through lack of faith (as in Matthew 8:26). But in Gideon’s story we never see this. God never calls out Gideon and says, “You need another sign? What’s wrong with you? Haven’t you learned yet? Don’t you know who I am?” God never directly speaks to Gideon about his failures. Instead, he walks beside Gideon and shapes him into the mighty man of valor that he has declared him to be.
God didn’t call Gideon a mighty man of valor because he saw that character trait in him from the beginning. Gideon was called a mighty man of valor because of who God is. God had plans to make Gideon a mighty man of valor because God is the mighty man of valor. Gideon wouldn’t have known this at the time, but we now know that Jesus is the ultimate mighty man of valor who comes to save us from the hands of our enemies. God called Gideon to deliver his people, but more importantly, he called Gideon to be different from what he was at the moment of his calling. In the mighty hands of God, Gideon would become a mighty man of valor.
God was in it with Gideon for the long haul, working on him as he worked for Israel. We see God do this in Judges 7:1–8 when he intentionally whittles down Gideon’s army from thirty-two thousand to just three hundred, all so that Israel would not be able to take the credit for the victory. But we can assume, based on Gideon’s track record, that God also was dealing personally with Gideon’s own weakness. Especially when we see what happens next.
God deals gently with Gideon and basically says, “If you’re still afraid that I won’t give the Midianites into your hand, go down to their camp and I’ll give you my own sign” (see Judges 7:9–11). After he hears the sign, Gideon is strengthened, and he finally becomes the mighty man of valor God called him to be.
God does not always rebuke his children. He knows we are only made from dust (Psalm 103:14). He knows we’re human, created matter, weak, and full of sin. He’s intimately acquainted with our personal flaws and weaknesses and meets us there. We see this clearly in how God interacts with Gideon. God is patient with him, because he knows what he is.
Ideally, Gideon should have had the faith not to need signs. But still, God eventually uses his own sign to strengthen and uplift this weak man. God didn’t have to give Gideon a sign to comfort him. He could have just required Gideon’s obedience, and given him this rebuke: “You need to trust me more, Gideon. Now go!”
But God doesn’t do that here. God is patient with Gideon’s failures and weaknesses, he gives him the signs he asks for, and even one he doesn’t ask for. God shows himself here as the comforter of the fearful, the uplifter of the weak, and the encourager of the failed sinner.
We all are like Gideon in our weak faith, but thankfully God doesn’t depend on our level of faith to act on our behalf. God depends on himself and his own strength of character. And from himself as the source, he strengthens our weak faith.
Knowing we’re all Gideons will help us as we interact with the failures and weaknesses of others. God’s strong character in his interactions with Gideon has shown me how weak my own character is when I’m faced with the failures and weaknesses of others.
It’s much easier for me to only rebuke, tell others how they can do better, and then move on. There is certainly a time and a place for a gentle rebuke, but how often do we rebuke when the situation calls for patient forbearance (Colossians 3:13), comfort, and encouragement (1 Thessalonians 4:18)? Sinners need rebuke in certain situations, but we also need comfort and encouragement in the midst of repeated failures and besetting weaknesses. If a perfect, holy God does this, how much more should one sinner do this with another?
There is only one mighty man of valor. He became dust like us, but he never failed. Instead, he perfectly accomplished all that the Father asked him to do on our behalf. Because of him, we’re saved from our enemies. And because of him, we’re being transformed into mighty men and women of valor. Take comfort that God is at work, no matter your level of faith.