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“Midian and the Manger”

Jan.3, 2016 Isaiah 9:2-7

      About 700 years before Jesus was born, the prophet Isaiah gave a wonderful prediction of Christ’s coming. He even mentioned the area where Jesus would perform most of his miracles, Galilee (9:1). But in 9:6 he predicted the birth of a child who would be mighty, with eternal importance: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” And this is whose birth we celebrate at Christmastide: Jesus, “Mighty God...Prince of Peace”, who lived and died and rose again to make peace with God possible for all who receive Him.

      But just two verses earlier, the prophet Isaiah does an unexpected thing: while looking ahead 7 centuries to Jesus’ time, he also reaches back 400 years before his OWN time for a comparison to highlight how wonderful this baby’s significance is. Is 9:3-4 “You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder.For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.” What’s this “as in the day of Midian’s defeat”? And what’s it got to do with Christmas?

      He’s talking about the trouble Israel was in back in Judges 6, around 1200 BC. Judges 6:2-6 “Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds.Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country.They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys.They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count the men and their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it. Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the LORD for help.”

      In short, the Midianites took EVERYTHING the Israelites had and brought them very low. It was so bad the people had to hide in caves! Such loss – such grief. As we come to Christmas this year, what’s causing you grief? What losses have you had to endure? Have you been saddened, made afraid, brought low by what’s happened or by other people’s meanness? Who is “Midian” to you, what’s oppressing?

      God provided the people a deliverer or “judge” named Gideon, who saved them from the Midianites. As we look back to Gideon, to this parallel the prophet Isaiah’s pointing to, we can see some similarities to how Jesus works in our own lives.


Do you sometimes feel like a ‘nobody’? Here’s good news – God can use YOU! Where was Gideon when the angel appeared to him? Threshing wheat in a winepress to hide it from the dreaded Midianites! (Judges 6:12) And how did Gideon respond when the angel told him God was sending HIM to save Israel from Midian? 6:15 “But Lord, how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” Gideon protested that he was a nobody, the youngest person in the weakest clan. No matter! Before God was done with Gideon, He’d show him he could win a battle over thousands of invaders with just 300 men and some trumpets, torches, and clay jars (7:20).

      Like Gideon, Jesus’ credentials were not that impressive, to start with. His father was a carpenter, “blue collar” we’d say today, a sort of general handyman. His parents were “engaged” but not actually married (Lk 2:5). At Bethlehem to register for Caesar’s new tax scheme, they were basically homeless – couldn’t even land a place in an inn. Their offering at Jesus’ presentation at the temple shows they were poor – couldn’t even afford a lamb and a pigeon, had to use just 2 pigeons (Lk 2:24).

      And who does God choose to be witnesses to this miraculous event of God-become-flesh? Shepherds out in the field – at that time, shepherds weren’t even allowed to testify in court. And the magi – 3 strange foreigners from somewhere in the east who couldn’t even vote! God delights in using nobodies, the unlikeliest of people. And God can use you! He wants you to be His child. When God uses nobodies, this emphasizes the great things accomplished are a direct result of GOD’s involvement – He gets the credit.


God would save Israel from Midian through Gideon. But the Lord had a job for him to do first that would test his priorities. God told Gideon to tear down his father’s altar to Baal, cut down the Asherah pole beside it, and build a proper kind of altar to the Lord there instead. Gideon obeyed – but he did it at night “because he was afraid of his family and the men of the town.” (Judges 6:25ff)

      Baal and Asherah were idols, pagan gods based on fertility worship. Do you have any idols calling the shots in your life? Have you really put God first? Or is money your ‘god’? What about pleasure, or sex, or food, or trying to have the perfect body, or being smart, or climbing the ladder at work? When we kneel at the manger before “Mighty God”, we acknowledge that we owe Him all we have and are – nothing held back, nothing trumping His instruction. Ask God if there are any idols you’ve been treasuring more than Him.

      The Bible teaches us to honour our father and mother; but sometimes even family members put expectations on us that may conflict with God’s call. Gideon had to summon up enough courage to counter his father’s false patterns of worship. What parental hang-ups are you unconsciously carrying on? Is it true of you (male or female) what was said of one woman, “She opens her mouth and her mother comes out”? When you blow your stack, are you being ‘just like dad’? Let’s repent and turn from these generational failings.

      The manger scene we just witnessed may seem pretty idyllic – Joseph, Mary, and Jesus – but it wouldn’t last. As Simeon soon told Mary: Lk 2:34f “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Throughout much of His ministry, Jesus would be spoken against, criticized; his own family didn’t seem to understand what He was about. At the cross, Jesus’ premature death for our sins – for our “rising” – would cause a sword to pierce Mary’s soul.

      By taking on our sin to pay our penalty, in the hour of His death, Jesus seemed to become offensive even to His Heavenly Father – though Jesus was actually still obeying the Father’s will. On the cross He cried out in a loud voice, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mk 15:34) 2Cor 5:21 “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

      Jesus gave God top priority. God delights in His children who let no other idols call the shots.





Your Heavenly Father “has your back”, in other words!

      Remember how others reacted back in Judges 6 when Gideon tore down the idols of Asherah and the Baal-altar? V30 The men of the town demanded of Joash, “Bring out your son.He must die...” Now, you might think Joash’s father would be pretty upset because of Gideon’s night-time vandalism. But there’s a hint here that maybe Joash too is fed up with idol-worship. V31 “But Joash replied to the hostile crowd around him, "Are you going to plead Baal’s cause? Are you trying to save him? Whoever fights for him shall be put to death by morning! If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar."” Far from condemning his son to death, Joash stood up for Gideon, casting doubt on Baal’s reality, hinting YHWH is actually the one true God.

      God our Heavenly Father saved Jesus when He risked His whole life to help us sinners. According to Scripture, anyone hanged on a tree is cursed (Deut 21:23; Gal 3:13). It seemed by the manner of His death, Jesus had cut Himself off permanently from the Holy One. But God vindicated His son’s action, just as Joash stood by Gideon. Acts 3:26 Peter said, “When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.”

      Peter had run to the tomb early Easter morning where the dead body of Jesus had been laid on Good Friday. Luke records (24:12), “Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.” Nothing there but strips of cloth that had wrapped the body.

      Something about that echoed the sign the angels gave the shepherds the night Jesus was born: Lk 2:12 “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Swaddling cloths. The shepherds saw Jesus as a helpless baby wrapped in strips. At His death, God the Father freed the Son from strips of cloth so WE might be blessed! And turn from our wicked ways. Our Heavenly Father saves those who risk their all for Him, giving up our lives to follow Him who declared, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” (Lk 9:24)

      The wise men or “magi” risked a LOT to come worship the newborn King of the Jews. We don’t know exactly where they came from other than, as Matthew says, “from the east” (Mt 2:1). But their gifts of gold, incense, and myrrh echo another prophecy of Isaiah’s from 60:6: “Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah.And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the LORD.” How fitting if one of the wise men actually came from Midian!

      Wherever we may hail from – wherever we are headed – God calls us to the manger; to be wise men, wise people, who seek the Saviour. The Heavenly Father delights in using even nobodies when we give Him top priority and risk all for Him!

      As we come to our closing prayer, there may be some here who have never given their life to Christ, never received Jesus as your Saviour. If so, I invite you to pray the words “for real” in your heart after me. Or you may have wandered away from God, let other idols distract you and dampen your zeal. I invite you to re-dedicate your life afresh to Christ; to allow Him to bless you by turning you away from wickedness. The prayer goes like this: first time through you’ll see where it’s going; second time through, I’ll say it with pauses in between, so you can pray it to the Lord in the silence of your heart.

Dear God,

Thank You for sending Your Son Jesus to save us from our sins.

Thank You for loving a “nobody” like me!

I confess to you my wicked ways; how I’ve hardened my heart against You; how I’ve hurt other people; how I’ve fallen short of Your glory in my life.

Like Gideon, I believe You are calling me to Your great and good purposes; to love You with all I am and have.

I receive You, Jesus; I trust You to be Lord of my life; I commit to risking my all for You, to lose myself for You.

Thank you, Heavenly Father! May You be honoured in my life from now on.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.