March 3, 2009

Lessons From The First "300"-Facing Opposition

In the wake of Gideon's miraculous victory over the armies of Midian, he encounters something he has never had to personally face: opposition. Earlier in the story, stiff opposition reared its head, but it was Gideon's father who came to face them. Now Gideon is faced with opposition & conflict as he & his army are in hot pursuit of the remnant of Midian's army, including the kings of Midian.

Gideon recruits the people of Ephraim to help him track down the soldiers who managed to escape in the self-inflicted massacre at Jezreel. The leaders of Ephraim are pretty upset with Gideon that they were not a part of the initial army that faced off against Midian. The Bible says they "contended" with Gideon. So apparently this was a pretty heated incident. Gideon's handling of this is brilliant. We know that he could have easily pulled rank as the man God called out to lead, but instead he talks up the tribe of Ephraim. He talks about how great they are. He even says that the mission could not have been accomplished without their involvement. He simply helps the leaders of Ephraim see how they played a vital role in God's plan. Their part was just different from his. The Bible says that this approach calmed everyone down, & the contention simply melted away.

After this Gideon sets out with his men to capture the kings of Midian. They arrive in the towns of Succoth & Penuel, & Gideon's army is tired, hungry, & thirsty. In each town Gideon asks for some help from his countrymen. The response is pretty harsh. In each place, they are told to get out of town. Apparently the leaders of these cities did not want to help Gideon because he had not yet captured the kings of Midian. They were covering their backside in the event that the kings escaped. Needless to say, Gideon was ticked. He vowed to capture the kings & return to both of these towns & discipline them accordingly.

Gideon does capture the kings & makes his way back home, & of course, he goes back through Succoth & Penuel. Now it's time for Gideon to go Old Testament on these guys. The Bible says that in Penuel he tore down the great tower they had & killed the leaders. Then in Succoth he took the leaders of the city outside the city & "disciplined" them with thorns & briars. Ouch!

So what's the lesson behind this? The lesson is that leading in the face of opposition requires both wisdom & strength. In the moment, all opposition feels the same. It feels like someone or some group is standing in the way of God's vision, & without wisdom, a leader will always overcompensate. Ephraim's opposition to Gideon was rooted in a misunderstanding. They misunderstood their role in what God was doing. It took wisdom for Gideon to see that & deal with it properly. However, the opposition he faced in Succoth & Penuel was rooted in a total disregard for God's mission. These towns were concerned about themselves & their comfort. And while the discipline may seem harsh to us, there is no way that Gideon could deal with that situation the same way he handled his conflict with Ephraim.

Leading in the face of opposition requires both wisdom & strength. Where do you struggle? Do you need discernment to know how to balance the two? How have you messed this up in the past?

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