“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”Matthew 5:3
In perusing through Bible stories, I find more characters with prideful hearts than hearts that are Poor in Spirit. David, because of his Psalms, comes quickly to mind as recognizing his utter dependence on God. He continually cries out to God asking for help, which implies he knows he needs God’s help.
“I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.””Psalm 16:2
Paul also wrote a lot about humility, and we know he did not burden himself with earthly possessions but relied on God to provide. He continually reminded the early church that they needed to forego fleshly impulses and rely instead on the Holy Spirit for guidance.
“If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves.”Galatians 6:3
However, let’s take a look at Gideon. Gideon was born during a time of fear. The Israelites were living under the oppression of the Midianites and “Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help”. (Judges 6:6)
When the Angel of The Lord came to Gideon, Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress because he was afraid the Midianites would come steal it! The Angel of The Lord gave Gideon the assignment to save Israel from Midian, but Gideon questioned this by telling the Angel: “My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”
Gideon is fully owning his poverty, his weakness, and his status. Without the benevolence of God, Gideon was literally a cowardly nobody. He was Poor in Spirit, although he had not yet learned to depend on God to balance out this poverty. So, because he was also poor in faith, he did not immediately act on God’s calling.
God is gracious and so He helped strengthen Gideon’s faith through a series of signs—each one requiring more faith from Gideon to accomplish. Like exercising spiritual muscles, God called Gideon to incrementally do more difficult tasks. We read that Gideon was afraid, but obedient. It was his obedience that began this cycle: obedience leading to deeper faith, leading to more difficult tasks of obedience leading to deeper faith, etc.
We don’t read very much about Gideon’s attitude during the process that eventually defeats the Midianites. However, because we know Gideon’s history, and the illogicalness of what God calls him to do, we also know that Gideon cannot take any personal credit for the victory. He was utterly dependent on God, and everyone knew it. Also, because of his poverty of spirit, he does not argue with God. Once his faith is strengthened, Gideon completes the tasks without question.
God could have only used someone who was Poor in Spirit for this story of victory. Had He used someone who already had earthly influence, then that person may have gotten credit for rallying the men. Had He used someone with military experience, then that person may have argued against the strange plan God had. Had He used someone with a lot of self-confidence, then that person may have tried to fight in their own strength. But each step of God’s plan required complete dependence upon Himself. Gideon deeply needed God and he deeply knew it!
Now, just as we all have seasons of life where we are spiritually strong and seasons where we are spiritually weak, Gideon did not remain Poor in Spirit. In the middle of Chapter 8 things shift for Gideon. The victory has been won and the Israelites approach Gideon to be their king. He refuses the position, but he does ask for a share of the plunder from each man. From there, “Gideon made the gold into an ephod, which he placed in Ophrah, his town. All Israel prostituted themselves by worshipping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family.” (Judges 8:27)
What went wrong? He was a great man of faith, humbly Poor in Spirit, and then he wasn’t… I actually don’t think that taking the plunder was the stumbling block for Gideon—it’s what he did with it. Had he bought some land for his family to live on, perhaps donated it to the poor, or maybe sent his sons to be educated, I think the outcome would have been different. The problem was that he created a literal idol from the gold. And not only did he create an idol, he gave himself and his town a reputation of importance by allowing it to be publicly worshiped. Gideon did not feel the strong dependence on God anymore—he was admired and important, he was financially secure, and his enemies had been defeated. Instead of worshipping the God who provided all of this, he and Israel worshipped the provision itself.
The ephod was the symbol of the miraculous deliverance and provision God had orchestrated. It became a snare because Gideon no longer had the deep knowledge that he was dependent upon God. He was no longer Poor in Spirit, but rather Rich in Flesh. Gideon was very blessed. He went on to have 70 sons and was able to provide for them. He lived to a good age and there was peace in the land for the rest of his life. He had the Lord’s favor, which is great. But the future of his legacy and family was marred because they no longer sought the Lord.
To be Poor in Spirit is to depend on God more than we depend on anything else. It is to acknowledge deep within our hearts that anything we have is from Him, and He must therefore be the object of our worship. The literal poor have an advantage in this because they do not have much that could become a snare. Those of us who have been blessed with much need to learn how to keep all that we have held out to God, fully dependent on Him to give and take away. Even our own talents and gifts can become snares if we begin to rely on them instead of the God who gave them to us!
To think and pray about this week:
- Read Judges 6-8. Does anything else about this story stand out to you?
- Do you find it easier to be obedient when you have nothing and are desperate, like Gideon? Or are you more willing to obey when you have a safety net of sorts?
- Can you think of any other Bible stories or verses about being Poor in Spirit? What lessons can we learn from them?
Dear Lord, thank you for this day which you have given us. Thank you for being our provider, our Savior, and our healer. Please help us remember to hold everything we have back out to you, so that it does not become a snare in our lives. Help us to keep our eyes fixed on you so that we have the courage to ignore everything else around us and be obedient. Thank you for your patience and mercy as we seek to learn these lessons at a deeper level. In Jesus’ Name, Amen!