A Sacrifice to God
“Then the Angel of Yahweh reached out the tip of his walking staff which was in his hand and he struck the flesh and the cakes. And fire went up from the rock and consumed the flesh and the cakes. And the Angel of Yahweh went from his sight.”
The first thing that we must understand is just how much food was involved in this sacrifice. Here was the flesh from a whole goat. Even if it is just the meat portions as some of our translations suggest, we are still looking at about 20 pounds of dressed meat from a young kid-goat (according to farming websites). Further, an ephah is the equivalent of about 3/5 of a bushel, thus you are talking just over 23 pounds of flour being mixed up with oil to make cakes.
These measures are important for several reasons. First, for those who would still suggest that Gideon is preparing a meal to share with his guest, these quantities would be overkill. Second, much like Elijah would have done many years later by soaking his bull sacrifice with water (1 Kings 18:31-35), these items are soaked in broth, requiring a miracle of God to consume them utterly with fire. Third, even if these items would not have been drenched in broth, a simple fire would not have consumed them all at once. Fourth, in a time of famine, this is a huge sacrifice to make. It demonstrates the faith of Gideon that God will be providing for him and for his family as he makes this sacrifice. Like, Abel before him, Gideon gives his best and he gives generously to God, trusting God for the rest. He is far from perfect as a model of faith, but Gideon indeed makes us see where his priorities are.
The ramifications of Gideon’s action are wider reaching for us than just whether we tithe or not as Christians. Many people get hung up about calculating 10% and whether it comes from one’s net or from one’s gross income or whether one tithes on the value of gifts they receive. And at the end of the day, after the calculating is all done, they begrudgingly offer their “tithe” when the plate comes around. Yet, God says that we are to give cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:7) and Jesus says that it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35)! So, giving should be a blessed act that flows from our faith with a cheerful heart. Just as Moses states to the people when caring for the poor in their midst, they should give freely and not begrudgingly because when you do, God will bless you in the other work you engage in and will provide for your needs (Deuteronomy 15:10). So, give, give generously and give cheerfully. Do not get hung up on percentages but give as you have determined in your heart and trust God for your provision. How much healthier all of our churches would be were we to take this approach.
People still like percentages and goals, so as a pastor, I often get asked the question, “how much of my income should I strive to be able to give? My answer is that is the wrong question to ask, for all good things (including our incomes) come from God. So the question one must really ask is, “how much of God’s provision am I keeping for myself?” Clearly, like the widow in the temple (Luke 21:2-3), Gideon is giving his all as a sacrifice to God. What he offers would likely have fed his family for a week or more if properly prepared…and folks in times of famine know how to make food stretch. Yet he offers it in sacrifice to God and God honors the sacrifice.
One more thing to note. Many read this language and suggest that the Angel of Yahweh either disappeared or went up to heaven in the flames. That stretches the text somewhat. The text simply says that the Angel of Yahweh went away from Gideon’s sight. He certainly could have turned around and walked off while Gideon remained there to worship. We are simply told he leaves, we are not told how. And remember, too, the Angel of Yahweh is always described as a man or as a young man when he is seen. Here he even has a walking stick. No wings, no halo, and no other “typical angelic” accouterments (at least in terms of how he is depicted in modern artwork). Gideon knows who he is, clearly, but our imaginations run away with us sometimes I fear. Remember the second commandment.