I was going to tell the story of Moses and the Burning Bush at this assembly, but the headteacher told me she'd just done it, so this seemed a reasonable alternative to fit with the theme. I have left out the episode where Gideon hewed down his father's statue of Baal, partly because it made the story rather longer and more complicated than I would have time for (or the children patience for) but also because it is a bit hard to justify hewing down other people's Gods in a school committed (rightly IMHO) to respecting all faiths!
The story lends itself to hamming up, and the script below is only really an outline.
Gideon - Judges 6.11ff
The people of Israel were in trouble. They were being attacked by another tribe of people, the Midianites. The Midianites kept on coming down from the hills, stealing their crops and killing their animals. The people had nothing to eat. They were getting really hungry, and they thought it was the end for them. Who would help them?
One man in Israel at least had managed to gather a harvest. His name was Gideon. He wasn’t very big. He wasn’t very strong. He wasn’t very brave. In fact he was trying as hard as he could to make sure he stayed hidden, so the Midianites wouldn’t find him and the small amount of food he had. He was working away quietly at storing the food away in an outbuilding on his farm, when all of a sudden he noticed that someone was watching him. He was really scared. Was it a Midianite?
But then the stranger spoke up. He wasn’t a Midianite, he was an angel from God. “Hail, Gideon! Mighty Warrior! God is with you”
Mighty warrior? Thought Gideon, looking behind him to see if there was someone else the angel was talking to. He wasn’t a mighty warrior, and he didn’t want to be one either.
“There must be some mistake. I’m not a mighty warrior. God must have meant you to go to someone else…”
“No – it was definitely you. You are going to lead your people in battle against the Midianites.!”
“Um – would it be all right if I asked you to prove that you are from God?”
The angel told Gideon to fetch some food and put it on a stone. Then he just touched it with the stick he was carrying and it burst into flames…”
“Wow!” Said Gideon. “Now I believe you, even if I still don’t think I’m a mighty warrior.”
The next day Gideon started to feel a bit braver, but he still didn’t feel brave enough to fight the Midianites.
A little time later, things had got even worse with the Midianites. They had joined forces with another nation and they all gathered together in the valley not far from where Gideon lived. Now there were twice as many of them, and they were twice as frightening. Gideon hadn’t forgotten what the angel had told him. Could he do something against these armies? He didn’t think so, but he started just talking to a few people about it – “we’ve got to do something,” he said - and before he knew quite how it had happened, everyone was looking to him to give them a lead.
Gideon tried to look as if he knew what he was doing. But really he didn’t at all. He wasn’t a leader. He wasn’t a soldier. He’d never done this before.
So Gideon prayed. “Lord, I don’t really think I’m the person to lead our armies. I’ll do it, but only if you are really sure you want me to. Could you give me a sign to tell me it really is me you want.” Gideon got a sheepskin and he laid it on the ground.
“If I really am the one you want, in the morning, could you make the sheepskin all wet in the morning, but the ground around it all dry?”
He went to sleep, and in the morning, guess what? The sheepskin was wet and the ground around it was dry.
Gideon was amazed. But… He was still frightened.
So that night he prayed again.
“God, thank you for that miracle last night, but I just wanted to check it wasn’t just a coincidence, or a little cloud that just rained there or something, so if you really, really mean it could you tonight make the sheepkin dry and the goround around it wet instead…? “
He went to sleep, and in the morning, the sheepskin was dry and the ground was wet.
Ok, God, I give in. At least I’ll have lots of soldiers fighting with me. Have you seen how many people have come to join my army? There must be twenty thousand!
“Ah yes, said God to Gideon. There are a lot of them. In fact, it seems to me there are far too many. I am with you, and you are a mighty warrior – we don’t need all those soldiers. Go out and tell them that any of them who don’t really want to fight can go home…”
“Is he crazy?” thought Gideon, but he did it, and lots of the men went home. Now there were only ten thousand.
“There” he said to God. “Is that better.”
“No” there are still too many, said God – send some more away.” So Gideon sent away a whole lot more. There were only three hundred left, and that didn’t look nearly enough to Gideon. How were they going to defeat the Midianites with that lot?
God told Gideon to go down to the enemy camp that night and listen. So he crept down when it got dark, and hid outside one of the tent. As he crouched there he heard one of the soldiers say to the other, “I’ve just had the strangest dream – I dreamt a great round barley cake came rolling into the camp and flattened all the tents. What do you think that meant?”
“That’s easy,” said the other soldier. It was about Gideon – the great warrior – coming down to attack us!”
Gideon realised that not only did God think he was the right person to lead the attack, and his own soldiers, but even the enemy thought he was a mighty warrior! So he decided he would do what God asked him.
He went back up the hill to his soldiers and he gave each of them a pottery jar and a trumpet. He sent them out to surround the enemy camp. When he gave the signal each soldier broke his jar and blew his trumpet. Can you imagine the noise of three hundred jars breaking and three hundred trumpets blasting away? It was a terrible noise!
The enemy soldiers all woke up. “Gideon is attacking!” they shouted, and ran out of their tents. But in the darkness they couldn’t see who was who and they began attacking each other. Those who could just ran away. When morning came, the Midianite army was defeated.
And Gideon had learned that he really was the leader God had wanted.
Sometimes we all feel like Gideon. We think we can’t do what we’ve been asked to. Sometimes other people believe in us more than we believe in ourselves. When we feel like that we can remember Gideon who could do far more than he thought!