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The Heart of Darkness

Sermon passage: (Judges 7:19-8:21) Spoken on: March 16, 2009
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Judges

Tags: Judges

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About Rev. Wong Siow Hwee: Rev. Wong is currently serving as a pastor in the children and young family ministries, as well as the LED and worship ministries.

Sermon on Judges 7:19-8:21

This is the third sermon on Gideon. So far we have been focusing on the relationship between God and Man. In the first, I spoke about the struggling and conflicting natures within Man, but how God is consistently faithful. Last week, Pastor Wilson spoke on the lack of faith in Man, but yet God always accommodates to us with signs. This week I am going to look at humanity itself, and the dark side of it.

How do you defeat a 135 thousand army with 300 men? Most would answer that it is God, and no doubt that is true. But the details of the story has given us more than just that answer. Let us now understand how the battle is won. These 300 men armed themselves not with weapons, but a trumpet and a torch hidden in a jar. They then surround the enemy in the middle of the night. Then suddenly, they smashed the jars, light up their hidden torches, and blew their trumpets and cried “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” That’s all they did. Surround them, light up, blew trumpets and cried “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” Scripture says “21While each man held his position around the camp, all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled. 22 When the three hundred trumpets sounded, the LORD caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords.” Just like that, with the torches lighted up, forming an outside ring of light, all the 300 men have to do is repeatedly blow their trumpets and shout “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!”, and the 135 thousand men were defeated because they just killed each other.

On the surface this sounds like a miracle. But in actuality, this is simply the art of war. I ask the question again: How do you defeat a 135 thousand army with 300 men? The answer is one word: Fear. This is the first topic I wish to talk about today. The winning factor of Gideon’s army over the Midianites is fear. Gideon is able to successfully strike fear into the Midianites and a crowd of 135 thousand self-destructs. Last week, Pastor Wilson talked about how these 300 men were chosen because they pass the tests of courage and readiness. There were some skeptics among us who doubted, and think that these 300 were merely randomly chosen. Well, these folks obviously lack knowledge in warfare. In the Art of War, it says, “Let your rapidity be that of the wind, your compactness that of the forest. In raiding and plundering be like fire, in immovability like a mountain. Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.” 孙子曰:故其疾如风,其徐如林,侵掠如火,不动如山,难知如阴,动如雷震。To win this battle, you need to move fast like wind, act silently like night, strike like thunder and stand your positions like a mountain. You need balls of bronze and nerves of steel. These are the 300 men.

The Art of War also say, “A whole army may be robbed of its spirit; a commander-in-chief may be robbed of his presence of mind. Now a soldier's spirit is keenest in the morning; by noonday it has begun to flag; and in the evening, his mind is bent only on returning to camp. A clever general, therefore, avoids an army when its spirit is keen, but attacks it when it is sluggish and inclined to return. This is the art of studying moods. Disciplined and calm, to await the appearance of disorder and hubbub amongst the enemy:--this is the art of retaining self-possession. 孙子曰:三军可夺气,将军可夺心。是故朝气锐,昼气惰,暮气归。善用兵者,避其锐气,击其惰归,此治气者也。以治待乱,以静待哗,此治心者也。

So it is not just that the chosen 300 were brave, but the morale and state of the enemy was also crucial. This is why at the final sign from God, Gideon was moved to attack. The sign was the dream of a loaf of bread collapsing a tent. The Midianite interpretation is that “This is the sword of Gideon.” We can imagine the rumor spreading throughout the entire camp. “The bread is the sword of Gideon! Don’t tell anyone.” So when in the middle of the night, they hear the thunderous roar, “A sword of the Lord and Gideon!”, what would they do? That is their nightmare coming true! Their first instinct is grab their own swords and then to run away from the light of the torches and the sound of the trumpets, because that’s where the enemy is. In doing so, they run into the center of darkness. There they see swords drawn, and they hear “A sword of the Lord and Gideon!” In darkness, every glimmer of blade is the sword of Gideon, and in fear, everyone is the enemy to be destroyed. At the heart of darkness, fear is the only motivating factor, and self-preservation is the only consideration. In that, we witness the darkness of humanity. This is how fear dissolved the seeming strength of 135 thousand men.

As humans, we like to believe in humanity. We of higher intelligence are rational and moral beings. We behave with reason and we make our decisions based on common good. And with science and technology, we travel beyond our physical abilities, and communicate with one another beyond the constraints of mental space. As I like to tell people these days, all knowledge is online, there are no longer stupid people, only lazy ones. You can be anything you want to be. But I believe this ultimately to be human hubris. In outward progress, we may have moved leaps and bounds, but in the inward journey of the human soul, not so. This becomes fully apparent in this battle. At the strike of fear, all reason is cast aside and it is every man for himself. When fear grips our senses, a human acts like a caged animal. Every perceived threat must now be destroyed. It doesn't matter than I betray the world as long as nobody betrays me.

This doesn't just happen in war. The effects of fear can be seen in the financial meltdown in the stock markets. Sell fast! Save yourself! We see governments use fear of terrorism as a leverage for people to give up their personal liberty. Check on everybody! We rather imprison a mistake than to miss out on a true terrorist. We see fear of the others manifested in protectionism and racism. Kick out the foreign workers! We see what politicians do when they feel they might lose an election. No matter how much we have gained in wealth and possessions, when fear consumes us, the dark side of humanity is always there. Self interest now comes first. I must kill off every sword of Gideon untill I am the last man standing. Kill! Don't blame me. I need to feel safe. Kill! We are not fighting enemies, we are fighting our own fear. Kill!

In the second half of the story, we see another dark side of humanity. The Art of War says “When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard. Such is the art of warfare.” 围师遗阙,穷寇勿迫,此用兵之法也。If Gideon is one that is steep in the Art of War, why did he continue to pursue the remaining 15 thousand after 120 thousand were already killed? The battle is won. There is little to gain, and an enemy cornered may just fight back ferociously. Why did Gideon push his exhausted and hungry men across the River Jordon to hunt down the remaining fleeing Midianites? Gideon even had to sacrifice the people of Succoth and Peniel when they refuse to help him in feeding his pursuing men. We know Gideon to be a diplomatic man in his response to the confronting Ephraimites. So why did Gideon had to be so adamant about capturing the kings Zebah and Zalmunna even at the expense of committing evil in killing his own fellow Israelites? The shocking reason is revealed at the very end: Zebah and Zalmunna had killed his brothers. The entire madness of the pursuit is for one reason: revenge.

In the first half we see the dark side that is fear, in the second half we see the scary force that is vengeance. Vengeance transform a timid man to one that is now thirsty for blood. In the first battle, the enemies killed one another. But now the blood is on Gideon because he has to personally kill them. We see the trepidation of his oldest son Jether a reflection of the old Gideon. But after tasting success, Gideon has lost his inhibitions, he is now consumed by revenge. It is insanity to pursue another 15 thousand using 300 men. But vengeance is a single minded monster until the deal is done. Exhaustion cannot stop it, hunger cannot hinder it. If you are not a helper to the mission, then you are a foe. You can mock at me now, but after I take my revenge on my main target, I will take my revenge on you. We see a Gideon we can barely recognize, a man transformed by the sinister power of revenge.

This is a common dark side of man. We see this between fighting couples in divorce. Sometimes it is no longer about gaining more things, but making sure that you feel the pain because I feel the hurt. In other situations, we see revenge happening in our workplace. A boss may use underhanded methods to punish a sub-ordinate if he feels slighted or mocked. When I was in secondary school, a school bully tripped me when I was on my way back to my seat. It is not the first time I was bullied by this boy. At that moment, I could feel the anger burn up inside me, and I wanted to fling my entire desk at him. I feel I wanted to kill him. The boy must have been shocked by my look because he apologized immediately. Even today, when a car cut in front of me when driving, I feel a rage to take revenge and bump him off the road. I am often shocked that I have this dark side in me. For some others, revenge comes in the form of having to prove themselves. You think I'm not good enough? I'll show you what I can become. You will regret not believing in me. Their life becomes a revenge on people who look down on them.

Today's passage is an honest portrayal of the dark side of man. I do not deny that humans can be good, even angelic. We have virtues and in science we explore the world in great confidence. In the midst of our hand-made grandeur and accomplishments, we can be tricked into thinking that humanity can replace God. Viva Humanity! But let today's lesson be an awakening call to us. Whether it is fear or revenge, there is a dark side to man. With all our reason and intellect, we can also easily become a slave to our impulses and will. Humanity can never be its own savior. Humanity needs God.

Let me conclude by reflecting on a poem: OZYMANDIAS
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

The speaker recalls having met a traveler "from an antique land," who told him a story about the ruins of a statue in the desert of his native country. Two vast legs of stone stand without a body, and near them a massive, crumbling stone head lies "half sunk" in the sand. The traveler told the speaker that the frown and "sneer of cold command" on the statue's face indicate that the sculptor understood well the passions of the statue's subject, a man who sneered with contempt for those weaker than himself, yet fed his people because of something in his heart. On the pedestal of the statue appear the words: "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!" But around the decaying ruin of the statue, nothing remains, only the "lone and level sands," which stretch out around it, far away.

This sonnet from 1817 is probably Shelley's most famous poem. Essentially it is devoted to a single metaphor: the shattered, ruined statue in the desert wasteland, with its arrogant, passionate face and monomaniacal inscription ("Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"). The once-great king's proud boast has been ironically disproved; Ozymandias's works have crumbled and disappeared, his civilization is gone, all has been turned to dust by the impersonal, indiscriminate, destructive power of history. The ruined statue is now merely a monument to one man's hubris, and a powerful statement about the insignificance of human beings to the passage of time. Ozymandias is first and foremost a metaphor for the ephemeral nature of political power. But Ozymandias symbolizes not only political power--the statue can be a metaphor for the pride and hubris of all of humanity, in any of its manifestations.

Just like this poem, today's passage is a sobering picture of humanity. Can we be proud of what humanity has become? Are we now independent of God? Yet we see today that fear and vengeance easily brings out the worst in us. Today's message may be a bleak one. But it is important that we can come to this confession about the dark side of humanity. Because when we finally acknowledge who we really are, that is when we worship God for who he is. In humility we turn back to God. He is the true savior of humanity and the eternal hope for all mankind.