The High End of Insecurity
It’s so good to see you all as we continue our journey through the book of Judges. We’ll be in chapter 8 in a few minutes.
I just want to mention two things. One of the ways we can distinguish between true Christianity and fake Christianity, according to James 1:27, is how we treat widows and orphans. And that just highlights the significance of the Living Joyfully Conference for Widows coming up April 2nd. It’s from 8:30 in the morning to 4 pm. And I’m mentioning it again to you to encourage you to help us get the word out. If you know a widow in our church, in your neighborhood, friends or family, enemies, invite them, and you can register. There will be a guest speaker, delicious food, workshops, and pampering stations. I’m not sure what that is. I know I’ve never seen one of those at a men’s retreat, but there will be pampering stations at this Living Joyfully Conference for widows. So, help us get the word out. We want to bless as many widows as possible.
Also, if you’ve trusted Jesus, or even today if you do, we encourage you to take the next step of baptism. And there is a class going on right now [during this service], which we do not encourage you to take … for the adults. But there will be another one April 10th at 6:30. You can sign up online or just go. Also, there’s a kids’ three-week class that starts today. If you miss the first one, you can make it up. But it is a tremendous class to help parents and their children prepare for baptism. And you can register for that on the Need2Know on the website.
So, when God called Gideon to help his people out of oppression, Gideon was a deeply insecure man. He was living in fear, threshing wheat in a wine press because he was so afraid of the Midianites. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in Judges 6:12. So, we’re backing up. This is review.
[Judges] 6:12, “And the angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, ‘The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.’ And Gideon said to him, ‘Please, my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, “Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?” But now the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.’ And the Lord turned to him and said, ‘Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?’ And he said to him, ‘Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.’ And the Lord said, ‘But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.’ And he said to him, ‘If now I have found favor in your eyes, then show me a sign that is you who speak to me.’”
So, this is just the beginning of a back-and-forth between God and Gideon, where Gideon is doubting God, doubting himself, doubting his clan. “God, you’re not enough. I’m not enough. We’re not enough.” Gideon is craving certainty, longing for control, and God is reminding him, “But I’m with you. That’s your certainty. That’s your control. I am with you.”
And throughout chapters 6 and 7, God repeatedly reminds Gideon, assures Gideon, and empowers Gideon to lead Israel to a miraculous military victory, removing the oppression and setting his people free. And the reader then expects — this pattern that we’ve seen in the book of Judges — now we’re going to experience an extended season of rest. And in chapter 8:28, you see it. It says that the land had rest for forty years.
But for the first time in the book of Judges, the rest is not pure rest, real rest. It’s kind of convoluted. It’s a bit confusing, and the complexity flows right from the leader, Gideon. Gideon’s insecurities morph and migrate, but they remain, and they manifest themselves in new ways.
The gift this is to us … and I really believe these chapters are such a kind gift of God, even though they’re not great news … They’re so kind of God to warn us of trusting in anything other than the only One who can give us true security. This is our deepest need, and he is the One that these chapters keep pointing us toward.
When we think of insecurity, most of us think of the “low end” of insecurity. But there is a “low end” and a “high end.” We saw the “low end” in chapter 6, which usually comes, manifests itself in things like self-doubt, anxiety, fear, uncertainty, indecision. That’s the “low end” of insecurity. But there is a “high end” of insecurity. What does high-end insecurity look like?
Years ago in Vogue magazine, Madonna did an interview where she said,
“My drive in life comes from a fear of being mediocre. That is always pushing me. I push past one spell of it and discover myself as a special human being, but then I feel I am still mediocre and uninteresting unless I do something else. Because even though I have become somebody, I still have to prove that I am somebody. My struggle has never ended, and I guess it never will.”
Now, as Tim Keller points out in his book, The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness, Madonna knows herself better than most of us know ourselves. But she is a deeply insecure person. But if you were to watch the way she lives or the way she performs, she does not exhibit her insecurities in low-end insecurities. You’re not going to think, “Wow, she’s full of self-doubt. She’s totally uncertain.” She comes across very confident. And that’s what I mean by the “high end” of insecurity. It comes across very different, but the thing that is in common between low-end and high-end insecurity is the self is at the center. Whether it manifests itself in self loathing or self loving, it’s still “self is on center stage,” and inevitably, when self is at the center, you will be insecure.
And you can push past that. You can put up a facade. You can come across real strong. You can keep convincing yourself you’re not mediocre. You can say, “Forget what other people think. I only care what I think.” And then you end up just lowering your standards so low that you’re happy with yourself no matter what, and then you feel like a fraud. And so you get in this cycle that Madonna was describing. And it’s just various expressions of insecurity, whether it comes in the form of “I’m uninteresting,” or “I am interesting,” “I’m mediocre,” “I’m not mediocre.”
And this is the key to understanding some of what happens here as we move from the miraculous victory in Judges 7 to the more mundane events in chapter 8. Gideon is commended for his faith in Hebrews 11, but his insecurities that we first began to see low-end versions of in chapter 6 will come out even more strongly in chapter 8. They just look different. So, what do we mean? What are some examples of high-end insecurity in Judges 8?
Number 1, (We’ll look at three.) Gideon is unstable. High-end insecurity is often erratic, sometimes volatile, very often arbitrary, and Gideon’s insecurities reflect this. The narrator wants us to see the contrast between Gideon’s response to the men of Ephraim and his response to the men of Succoth and Penuel. So, let’s look at these two responses.
First of all, the men of Ephraim in verses 1-3. The men of Ephraim are ticked that Gideon did not call on them to join him in the battle. We don’t know why they’re ticked. Perhaps they wanted the glory of victory or the plunder. But for some reason, they’re upset at Gideon for being called so late to the battle. Verse 1, they “accused him fiercely.” But rather than defending himself or putting them in their place as the victorious general would normally do, Gideon puts himself down and his clan down, and flatters Ephraim. He essentially says, verse 2, “We haven’t done anything compared to you. I mean, you’re the real heroes. You captured the Midian princes, Oreb and Zeeb.” And this soft answer turns away the wrath of the Ephraimites. It’s quite stunning. It’s an act of beautiful diplomacy, but what is even more shocking is that this same diplomat, Gideon, reveals another side of his personality in the very next scene, and the two are right next to each other as a contrast. Look what he does to the men of Succoth and Penuel. Verse 4,
“And Gideon came to the Jordan and crossed over, he and the 300 men who were with him, exhausted yet pursuing. So he said to the men of Succoth, ‘Please give loaves of bread to the people who follow me, for they are exhausted, and I am pursuing after Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian.’ And the officials of Succoth said, ‘Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna already in your hand, that we should give bread to your army?’ So Gideon said, ‘Well then, when the Lord has given Zebah Zalmunna into my hand, I will flail your flesh with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers.’”
Same thing happened at Penuel, and Gideon responded the same way. So, what happened? Gideon tracked down the army of Zebah and Zalmunna. He caught them by surprise. He defeated them. He captured these two kings. But what was the very first thing he did once he caught them? He went back to Succoth. He interrogated a young man, forced him to give up all the names of the officials of the city, gathered the officials, tortured and killed them, gathered all the men of the city, tortured and killed them, then immediately went on to Penuel, did the same thing there.
Now some of you are saying, “Hey, they should have given his men bread, their fellow Israelites. Why would they not help an army of Israelites trying to set them free from oppression?” It’s a great question, and the answer is obvious — yes, they should have helped Gideon.
But Gideon’s erratic response exemplifies high insecurity in two ways. See if you see this. Number 1, he responds so diplomatically to the strong and so cruelly to the weak. Ephraim is the strongest tribe in Israel. Gideon knew that, humanly speaking, when they came to confront him, they could take him out, humanly speaking, if they wanted to. The cities of Succoth and Penuel were little cities on the far side of the Jordan. So, if you picture Israel and you cross the Jordan toward the land where the Midiantes are from, these little cities are out there in the armpit of Midian. They have been living for years under the hot breath and oppression of Midian. They probably tried to do whatever they could do to stay alive. They’ve been living in fear.
And so, what does Gideon do? Well, this is what high insecurity often reveals itself as. Gideon flatters the strong and flattens the weak. He flatters the strong, the Ephraimites: “You guys are the real heroes.” And then he tortures and massacres fellow Israelites, the weak cities of Succoth and Penuel. He charms the strong and harms the weak. He’s like an abusive man who goes to church and is known as a godly, godly man, so winsome, so kind, such a fine Christian. But then that same man treats his workers like crud or his wife and children in a demeaning way. That’s that high insecurity. To people that I think I can gain something from, I’m going to flatter. To people who can’t offer me anything, I’m going to flatten. And Gideon illustrates this kind of high insecurity.
Second, he is patient with his own insecurities, but he has no patience with the insecurities of others. God has been so patient with Gideon’s fears of standing up to Midian. Remember God came to Gideon, and what was he doing? Threshing wheat in a wine press. You’re supposed to do that in public where you have lots of wind on a hill, but he’s terrified of the Midianites. So, he’s working in secret because he was so afraid, and God had to convince him, “I am with you. I will give you victory.” So, here he receives all of this encouragement and power from God, and then he turns to the people of the city of Succoth and Penuel, and they’re afraid of the Midianites, and what does he do to them? Yeah, he doesn’t say to them, “Hey, guys. I get it. I was terrified too. Let me tell you what God did. Let me tell you how he takes weak people and does big things. Let me tell you how his strength is made perfect in our weakness. I understand your fears. You’re on the far side of the Jordan. If I don’t win this battle, the Midianites will make you pay. I get it. You need to support your fellow Israelites. But I understand your fears.” None of that. Isn’t that so much like us? God shows so much patience, forgiveness to us, and then we turn around and treat other people as if God didn’t do anything for us. It’s crazy.
When self is in the center, we interpret disappointment or failure of others or even any kind of confrontation as disrespect, disloyalty, “you have failed me.” And we’re very quick to write people off and make them pay. And this is what I mean by “Gideon is unstable.” He’s erratic, he’s capricious, that is given to sudden changes of mood, flattering the strong, flattening the weak. And often with this kind of person, you don’t know what kind of person you’re going to get. Depending on how her day went, she might be a diplomat or she might be a dictator. She might flatter you; she might flatten you. You don’t know. And that’s what I mean. Insecure people tend to be erratic, unstable, because the ballast is not there. We’ll talk about that more later.
Number 2, Gideon is not only unstable, he is spiteful. Look at verse 18. After wiping out the men of Succoth and Penuel, Gideon asked the Midian kings whom he has captured, Zebah and Zalmunna, “Where are the men you killed at Tabor?” Now, this is a new event for us. We don’t know about this event as readers; we don’t. Apparently on one of the raiding trips, the Midian kings slaughtered Gideon’s brothers. So, Gideon is called to lead Israel out of oppression.
But you see this, at this point, subtle shift away from the call of God, which was very clear (chapter 6:14) what he was to do, and now it seems like he’s being motivated more by revenge. He tells his son Jether to kill the kings. So, this would have been a big honor for the young man, to kill a captive king. It would have been humiliation for the king. The young man is afraid. So, Gideon kills them himself.
And in one sense, to be fair, Gideon is simply doing what any victorious general in that day would have done. But the reader is left wondering, “Have we gone off track here? I thought Gideon was called to save Israel, not revenge his brothers.” And again, even though it’s very subtle at this point, we’re beginning to see signs that the mission of God is becoming a mission of Gideon.
Leaders, this is extremely dangerous. Jim Collins, who is very famous for his business research and is well known for describing levels of leaders, and the top levels, Level 4, are leaders who are extremely gifted at leading their organizations to execute at a high level. But he distinguishes, in Good to Great, he distinguishes between Level 4 leaders and Level 5 leaders that move their companies from being good companies to the greatest, the great companies. And the primary characteristic that distinguishes Level 4 from Level 5 is the top leaders, Level 5, have humility. Isn’t that amazing? It’s like the business research is catching up with the Bible. Humility. In Collins’ words, he calls it this: they blend “extreme personal humility with intense professional skill” [will].
Now, what do we mean “humility”? Well, they’re making decisions for their organization that might not benefit themselves. They actually may make less money or have a shorter future with the company, but the decisions they’re making are for the mission and the betterment of the organization, not for themselves. They’re not at the center. There’s something much bigger. And what seems to be happening here … We’re going to see more in a moment … The focus is shifting, and Gideon, who, yes, needed to defeat the kings, turns it into expressing revenge for a personal hurt.
Number 3, Gideon is not only spiteful, but more significantly egotistical, egotistical. Where do we see that? Look at verse 22,
“Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, ‘Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also, for you have saved us from the hand of Midian.’ Gideon said to them, ‘I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you.’”
Can you imagine a better response? I mean, Gideon just got an A on the test, with a star. And if we only go by his words, we would not conclude that Gideon was arrogant. We would actually conclude the opposite. The people were asking him to set up a dynasty through him and his sons, but he refuses. And at this moment, you would think, “Whoa, this is like the Israeli version of George Washington, refusing to be king.”
But his actions speak louder than his words, and I want to give you four examples. The narrator is quick to include four examples of what Gideon does that seem to contradict what Gideon just said. Number 1, he asks for the spoil, not just the spoil that he would get naturally as one of the soldiers, but verse 24,
“Gideon said to them, ‘Let me make a request of you: every one of you give me the earrings from his spoil.’ (For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.)”
And all the men gave willingly, and the amount was so significant Gideon would have instantly been a multi-millionaire.
Number 2, he makes an ephod. He makes an ephod. Now, the ephod was a vest the high priest would wear made with gold, blue, purple, and scarlet threads with rows of precious stones, and in the breastplate would be the Urim and the Thummin, which were means of God’s guiding his people. Verse 27, “And Gideon made an ephod of it and put it in his city, in Ophrah. And all Israel whored after it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family.”
Now, the ephod was for the priest usually at this time kept in Shiloh. This is simply another sign that Gideon is making this about himself. He wanted to make an ephod. He wanted it to be in his town. And the result, verse 27, “it became a snare to Gideon and to his family.”
Number 3, he takes on a harem. Verse 29,
“Jerubbaal (that’s another name for Gideon) the son of Joash went and lived in his own house. Now Gideon had seventy sons, his own offspring, for he had many wives.”
Now, who does that? Even in that day, that was not normal. To accumulate wives, (a) it was expensive, (b) it was unwise, and Gideon, while saying, “No, I won’t be king” acts like a king. Who else but kings build harems?
And then the final one, he names his son Abimelech. Abimelech, in verse 31, means “my father is king.” My father is king. Now, scholars debate all over, like whole books are given, did Gideon actually say “no” to being king? Or did he just verbalize “no” and then become king? And the debate goes on. The point that is clear is whatever he said in the refusal, which seems to be a real refusal, he did not act as one who refused to be king. And in the end, his egotism set up Israel to fall. Look at verse 33,
“As soon as Gideon died, the people of Israel turned again and whored after the Baals and made Baal-berith their god. And the people of Israel did not remember the Lord their God, who had delivered them from the hand of all their enemies on every side, and they did not show steadfast love to the family of Jerubbaal (that is Gideon) in return for all the good he had done for Israel.”
So, in the end, it did not turn out well for Israel, and it certainly didn’t turn out well, as we’re going to see next week, for Gideon’s family. So, what a tragic end to a stunning story! There are so many lessons here. We could talk about how much easier it is to win big battles by the grace of God than it is to stay humble and faithful in the mundane days of life. Gideon illustrates that. But the question I want us to land on is, what is the cure for insecurity? Whether we’re talking about the low-end version or the high-end, I mean, it’s all insecurity. How do we become less insecure because insecurity is like quicksand, right? If you try to directly attack it … “I’m not mediocre! I am somebody!” And look in the mirror and tell yourself that continually, and you’ll find yourself more insecure, or at least having to gather around people who will keep convincing you of that. There is a better way.
So, my life verse for the month is … Are you like that? I have a life verse, but there are months where I’m like, “Oh God, this IS my life verse.” Proverbs 14:26,
“In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge.”
Now we’re going to get to unpack that second part next week, but we are seeing that first part on full display this week.
“In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence.”
Do you see the irony there? Fear. I’m fighting fear with fear? Many of us think the fear the Lord is some kind of dread of God. That’s not it at all, but what he’s saying is as awe of God increases, insecurity fades. As awe of God rises, your insecurity shrinks. “In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence.” Can we memorize that right now? Let’s do it together. Say it with me: “In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge.” Again … “In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge.” Try to say it without looking now. “In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge.” Very impressive.
So, what is the fear of the Lord? There’s a lot we could talk about here, but at the core, the fear of the Lord is when self is no longer at the center. When God manifests himself in such a way that you realize, well, and the way you live, is not that God is just an idea. Many of us worship God as an idea, and we know we need it for our life plan to work out. God is an addendum, an attachment, an addition, a part of our lives. And when he cooperates, we love him! When he makes our plan work!
But God has this tendency of blowing up our plans. And he brings people, like the Ephraimites, into our lives. We’re like, “Hey, why didn’t you include us?” Or the people of Succoth and Penuel. “Hey, why didn’t you help? I needed you then. At the very time I needed you, you stabbed me in the back.” And this is how Gideon felt. And God allows us to experience trials and difficult relationships, plans that blow up, sickness, disappointment, failure. Why? Because he hates us. No. Because he is God. He is God. He is sovereign. He knows what we need better than we know what we need. He is removing the self from the center so that the fear of the Lord will bring strong confidence, not weak confidence. Not “I’ve got to look at myself in the mirror and try to convince myself I am somebody,” which never lasts. “In the fear of the Lord,” in awe of God.
And God is doing that in our lives. If we could take time and interview each one of you right now, you’re experiencing difficulty, uncertainty, which can lead towards fear and insecurity, or you can say, “OK, God, thank you, thank you for that difficult relationship. Thank you for that loss. Thank you for that trial. Not that I enjoy it at all, but it reveals you as God and me … I am not at the center of this, but I trust in you.” And in the fear of the Lord one has what? [That was lame.] Let’s try that again:
“In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence.”
That’s where confidence comes, not trying to dredge it up from within. When our confidence is resting in our performance or our appearance or our achievements, our reputation, we will live in insecurity because those things will inevitably fade.
“In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence.”
So, how do we know … again, God is using trials, difficult relationships to relocate our confidence from ourselves to him. He is revealing himself as God, much bigger than the idea of God, or someone we fit into our calendar. I know this passage is a little long, but if you’ll hang in with me here, you’ll see a beautiful case study of this, how Paul, in the midst of a difficult relationship with the Corinthians, could have very easily flown off into bitterness, insecurity, resentment. But instead, he gives us a case study and what it looks like to have the fear of the Lord, your relationship with God through Christ, be the center and stabilizing influence in your life.
First Corinthians 3:18, “Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.”
That’s Judges 7 — become weak to become strong.
“For the wisdom of the world is folly with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness,’ and again, ‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.’”
Now think about that. That’s the fear of the Lord — when you realize God knows your thoughts better than you know your thoughts. That’s humbling. That will increase awe.
“So let no one boast in men.”
They were caught up in a personality cult of “I got discipled by Paul; I got discipled by Apollos; I got my Bible signed by Peter.” Paul’s like, “Who cares? You’re not finding your identity by your connection to someone important or you’re doing something like that.” Don’t boast in men. Why? Because you’re losers? No, look what he goes on to say.
“For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas [that’s Peter] or the world or life or death or the present or the future — all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.”
“In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence.”
You’re going to get it all in God. So,
“this is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that that they be found faithful.”
Now, stop there because I think this is a trigger for some of us. “When do I know if I’m faithful enough, if I’ve done enough?” And Paul says, well, “with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court.” I don’t look around to get my confidence from what other people think of me. I’m not socially identifying who I am based on what the culture says, what my friends say, social media. That is guaranteeing insecurity. Well, today most people would agree with that, and even lost people would say, “Yeah, you don’t want to go by what other people think of you. You got to go by what? By what you think of you.” Hello, every Disney film ever written.
But notice Paul doesn’t do that. He says,
“With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court.”
I don’t look for social affirmation, but in fact I do not even judge myself. I don’t even look for personal affirmation. He was not saying that “It doesn’t matter what I do, you know, I’m sleeping around; don’t judge me.” That’s not the point. He’s going to, in a couple of chapters, get to that. The point he’s talking about are these thoughts of inferiority or superiority, these questions of motives, the hidden things of the heart, and he’s saying, I can’t look to other people. “I can’t even look to myself.
“For I’m not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.”
“In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence.”
“I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, [Paul writes] brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? And if then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?”
See what he’s doing? He’s boiling it right down to the fear of the Lord. That’s where strong confidence comes. God is your source, your means, and your destiny. He is the one who gives strong confidence through the sacrifice of his Son, who washes away all our sin, pours in our hearts the love of the Spirit, who bears fruit out in our lives. He knows when he calls us that he’s getting Gideons, people who are insecure, fearful, unsure of ourselves, and he’s saying, “Yes. Embrace your weakness that you might be strong.” Because in the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence, and that confidence is multi-generational. We’ll come back to that next week. Let’s pray.
Father, each of us can think of things right now that we are encountering, whether health trials, relational difficulties, temptations. All these things can stir in our hearts a craving to find security in things that will never satisfy or stabilize. So, we want to thank you for including the story of Gideon. Even in his failure, we love him. We thank you for recording his struggles. We don’t look down on him; we see ourselves. We thank you that you’ve given him his story to us as a warning to run to you, that whether we are in a time of defeat and we tend towards self-loathing and discouragement, despair, or whether, like chapter 6, or whether we are in a time of great victory and can tend to be delusionally confident, like chapter 8, where we turn on others and we utilize the power you’ve given us to harm others. God, wherever we are, we want to run to you because in fear of you, in awe of you, there is strong confidence that remains throughout every season of our lives — the good times, the bad times, the easy and the hard, and even after we’re gone because you’re not going anywhere. So, God, please, I pray for some in here who view you just as an idea, a theory, a nice tack on to make life a little better. God, manifest yourself to us in ways where we stand in awe of you. And the result of that is, ironically, strong confidence. We think we’re losing something, and you give us everything. God, we thank you. In Jesus’ name, amen.