Before Israel had kings, she had judges - men and women who were raised up at just the right time to deliver Israel from herself once more and turn her back to the Lord who loves her. One of these judges was Gideon, and the story is a good one, although it's a bit of a mess from beginning to end.
One of the things that's interesting about Gideon's story is the scene where he is amassing his army to go and fight against Midian, who have been oppressing Israel for quite awhile as a result of her disobedience. Gideon, in the way that men always tend to do things, brings together as many soldiers as he possibly can, wanting to amass the biggest army he can. Then God tells him he's got too many soldiers, and he needs to send some of the home.
The first way that God pares down the army seems fairly simple: anyone who is afraid can go home.
It's that simple. Scared? You're free to leave. Unsure about this whole thing? Here's your ticket out. If you are afraid to fight Midian, you're dismissed.
And at that, the story goes (Judges 7), 22,000 men went home.
Twenty-two thousand men were afraid. Twenty-two thousand men admitted to being scared to be a part of this army, at this particular time, at this particular place. When they've all turned and gone home, Gideon is left with just 10,000 men. Ten thousand. That's a fraction of what he started with, and not even a big fraction. Want to put some numbers on this?
Given the opportunity, 11 out of 16 men admitted to being scared. 11 out of 16 men went home. That's roughly 69% gone, just like that. That leaves 31% of the army Gideon thought he had amassed for himself. That's less than a third.
Of course, if you know the story, you know that Gideon's army gets even smaller by the time he actually engages Midian in battle, down all the way from 32,000 to just 300 men as God pares down the numbers yet again at the river. But we're not going that far. Let's just stay with where we are right now - 22,000 out of 32,000 men are afraid. 11 out of 16. 69%.
Those are big numbers, but here's another number that we should also look at: 32,000 out of 32,000 men showed up. 16 out of 16. 100%. Every single man that Gideon summonsed to be in his army, every single one that was of fighting age and was therefore expected to show up...showed up. Those who were not afraid and those who were scared. 22,000 men showed up to fight even though they were afraid to do so.
That says something about those men. It says something about Gideon, perhaps, as a leader. It says something about the Lord. It says a lot of things, but I think it also says something about fear.
We live in a world that tells us we don't have to do things if we're scared. We don't even have to try. Responsibility? What's that? Forget about it. Community? Ha! We don't owe anything to anyone else. Calling? God would never call us to do something we're afraid to do. He just doesn't work like that.
We have all of these narratives that we tell ourselves in order to justify our not even showing up. We have all of these excuses we give because we're scared - and that doesn't even mean we're scared persons in general. Maybe it's just this. Maybe it's just this one time and this one place, maybe it's just this one thing. But by and large, most of us (11 out of 16? 69%? 22,000 out of 32,000 of us?) get scared and simply don't show up.
That's what I love about this story from the judgeship of Gideon. These men showed up. They showed up even though.... And God, our amazing God who says countless times through His Word, "Do not be afraid," acknowledges their fear. He knows it. He could have sent them home without a word, picking and choosing the men to stay and the men to go the way we sort through t-shirts at Wal-Mart, trying to find our size. He could have sent them home, knowing they were afraid but never acknowledging it.
Instead, He's that God - that God who spends His entire Word trying to convince His people not to be afraid - who says, "But I know you are. I know you're afraid. I know some of you are still scared." And that doesn't mean He's always going to let the scared go home. That doesn't mean He accepts fear as an excuse.
It just means He knows we're a people sometimes afraid. And given the chance, He'll speak to it.
But we have to show up first.