Sermon Text: Judges 7:1-8
Pastor Steven Hillmer
In the name of Jesus, our Lord and Savior, our Rock and Refuges, Amen.
There’s a little phrase we all like to use from time to time, especially when something very out of the ordinary happens: “What are the odds?” “What are the odds… of a church extending calls for 2 pastors and the both calls get filled at the same time? What are the odds… that it won’t rain so much this week?” Odds makers make a living off of people’s fascination with chance and rolling the dice, trying to beat the odds. What are the odds… that the Packers will beat the Vikings? The greater the odds – the higher the risk – the more potential for reward or failure.
I’ve always thought that odds-makers would have had a field day with the text before us from Judges 7. Following an incredible victory with Deborah in chapters 4-5; the Israelites once again did evil in the eyes of the Lord. For the following 7 years, the Lord allowed 3 nations to invade and pillage. The MAP shows how the Midianitescame from the South – the Araba; and the Amalekitescame from the Sinai Peninsula; and the Eastern peoplesinvaded from Damascus and the desert regions. 3 to 1 odds may not seem too insurmountable, remember that these enemy nations set up camp in the heartland of Israel; right during planting and stayed through the growing season. They came with all their peoples, all their cattle and camels and flocks… even their armies too! The Israelites were forced to flee into hiding, dwelling in hillside caves. They cried out to the Lord – but not really in sorrow and repentance. They were cried out because life was hard, and they were desperate.
We can conclude this because even in the midst of this invasion, they continued in their brazen sin of idolatry. When God called Gideon to be Israel’s next deliverer, Gideon’s own father, Joash, had an altar to Baal in his backyard! The Lord put Gideon through a number of tests of faith: 1) Tear down your father’s altar. 2) Replace it with an altar to the Lord. 3) Sacrifice a bull on it! What would be the odds he would do all that? Well, he did it – and paid for it nearly with his life. His fellow Israelites wanted to kill him for destroying Baal’s altar and “wasting” a very costly bull.
The tests continue… “Rally the troops! It’s time for battle!” But what are the odds anyone would come? As it turns out, 32,000 come! Yet what could they do against an army of 135,000! Even at 4 to 1 odds, you wonder just how committed were these men, or how confident was Gideon? It turns out that our Hero is quite hesitant. Gideon asked the Lord for a sign that when he put a wool fleece on the ground, in the morning, Lord, make it so that the fleece is full of dew while the rest of the ground is dry. (What are the odds of that happening? – AND IT DID!) As if that wasn’t enough, he asked again, except for the Lord to do the opposite… AND IT HAPPENED! Gideon was ready for battle – so he thought. The odds were about to get far worse!
God was going to blow the Vegas odds makers out of the water! Gideon’s army is appropriately encamped at the Spring of Harod – a name which mimics the word for “fear.” Fear among the troops is poison. They could do the math; they knew they were outnumbered… so, before he battle begins, God simply asks the fearful to leave! 22,000 men leave! Only 10,000 men are left – 13 to 1! But still that’s not enough for the Lord. By way observing how they drink water… 9700 are asked to leave! 450 to 1 – impossible odds! Read on about the battle and note how they went to battle with torches covered by clay jars and trumpets – not howitzers, M1A1 Abrams tanks or F13’s screaming overhead. I can’t imagine the stress Gideon felt at that point. How?
Perhaps you’ve felt this too – the STRESS and pressure of impossible odds. It’s you against all the laundry, getting grocery in the pantry, talking the kids to practice and doctor’s appointments. The minivan isn’t the only thing running on E. You’re just flat exhausted… and the bills still need to get paid. Humanly speaking, the odds are neverin your favor. Not to add to that list, but the Scriptures make it quite clear that groceries and credit card bills are notour worst enemies. We’re not up against 135,000 Midianites, for Paul says, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”(Eph. 6:12)
The devil is stronger than we often realize. His lies are very deceitful. No doubt, like Peter, each of us has thought ourselves stronger than we actually are – and have failed miserably – only to be left in guilt and shame, because we’ve committed that same sin again and again and again… Humanly Speaking – it’s impossible to beat these odds; and this will always the case.
It’s impossible for us to go one day without sinning. It’s impossible to rid ourselves of the guilt and shame we feel over our sin. It’s impossible that we could ever enter heaven based upon our own merits. Narrow is the door??? – No, it’s impossible for us to get there on our own – and that’s just the way God wants us to see it – because now we see the truth – about ourselves and about His perfectly impossible plan!
You might say that God really likes Impossible Odds – Consider these: 1) a virgin becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son; 2) her child is the Son of God Most High; 3) this Son lives under God’s Holy Law – and never once commits a sin; 4) this Son’s horrible death on the cross is the full atonement payment for all sin of all time; 5) while his lifeless corpse is placed into the grave, He would come back to life in three days. Impossible Odds – humanly speaking – yes, but heavenly speaking – it’s exactly the way God planned it!
Jesus’ perfect life and innocent death, his triumph over the grave on Easter morning – all impossible – yet all truly happened because this is how God set out to destroy our greatest enemies: sin, death and Satan. God didn’t take 300 of his finest fighting angels for this battle, he sent 1 – Jesus. Jesus didn’t go with swords and spears, or even torches and trumpets, he won our salvation through the shedding of his own blood.
For as awesome as this good news is to our years, why does that little nagging voice keep coming back, asking, “what are the odds that His victory is truly mine? What are the odds that through water being poured upon my head in the name of the Triune God that my sins have been washed away and now I’m clothed Christ’s holiness, purity, perfection and righteousness? What are the chances that when I die, I will be in heaven with Jesus and not in the unquenchable fires of hell?”
To these questions you’ll always find people playing the odds… rolling the dice, thinking they have a 50-50 chance. Others walk around like the Midianite, Amalekite and Eastern armies – proud of their strength and abilities, confident in their own righteous deeds and works – fully expecting God to give them the best seat in heaven. There’s no point in trying play the odds – because this isn’t a game. We’re talking about where you and I, friends and family members will spend eternity. For that answer we’re not going to play the odds or roll dice, we don’t go to our own feelings or pious hopes… We go to the One and Only who beaten all the odds… to the one who has recorded His victory on the pages of Scripture and sealed it to us in His Word and through these life-giving Sacraments. It’s not a matter of the odds – it’s all a matter of God who has promised it and God who always delivers on his promises.
God made good on his promise to Gideon. “With the three hundred men that lapped I WILL SAVE YOU and give the Midianites into your hands.”(vs. 7) You can read the rest of the battle in Judges 7 and 8; it’s pretty amazing to see just how God did the impossible for Gideon and for Israel. In the same way you can read from cover to cover how God has made the same promise to you – I Will Save You! – and how through faith in Jesus he has done just that, rescuing us from sin, death and the power of the devil.
Impossible odds? Nothing is impossible with God. Nothing is impossible for him who loves us and gave his Son to die for us. That he has saved us… that he has redeemed us… that he has washed away our sins and clothed us Christ’ robe of righteousness… that he has adopted us into his family and keeps us close to himself through the power of his Word… these aren’t matters of rolling the dice – these are God’s gifts of love to you – and they most certainly are yours through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.