Understanding the day of Midian

Updated: Jan 31

In chapter 3 of Matthew, we read of John the Baptist baptizing Jesus. The heavens opened, a dove lit on Jesus, and the voice of God was heard.  That was in the Jordan River, which created the border between the Roman territories of Judea and Perea.


In chapter 4 of Matthew we read of Jesus spending 40 days in the wilderness.  During that time he was tested by the devil and attended by angels.  After those 40 days, Matthew immediately tells of Jesus hearing the news of John the Baptist being arrested.


John the Baptist lived in the Judaean Wilderness and that wilderness extended (and still does) from eastern Jerusalem to Jericho, which is by the Jordan River.  So, after being baptized Jesus was already on the eastern edge of that wilderness.


Judean Wilderness plus

So, making sure we are following the logistics properly, Jesus began his Lenten period as part of his return from his baptism experience.  Jesus then heard the news of John’s arrest, at which time Matthew said Jesus “withdrew to Galilee.” The question is, “Withdrew from where?”


After we read John’s account of Jesus’ baptism, he then wrote of Jesus’ first encounter with Peter and Andrew.  They are identified as disciples of John the Baptist.  On the next day after his baptism, Jesus was seen leaving the Jordan River area by those two disciples.  One of the two called to Jesus, saying, “Look, the Lamb of God!”


John goes on to tell how the two disciples asked Jesus, “Where do you stay?”  Jesus replied, “Come and see.”


Jesus went to Galilee the next day, possibly after staying with friends near Jerusalem that night.  Galilee was the territory governed by Herod Antipas. It was Antipas who arrested John the Baptist, with that arrest taking place two days after Jesus’ baptism.  So, one can assume Peter and Andrew went with Jesus to Galilee; and it was in a Galilean wilderness that Jesus was tested by Satan.


It can be assumed that Peter and Andrew, and James and John, sons of Zebedee, were also Galileans, who accompanied Jesus there as a statement of faith, but also as it was not out of the way for them.  We don’t read of them spending forty days with Jesus in the wilderness, watching him fast, pray, reflect, and tell the devil to get out of his way.  That would require the dedication of disciples; but they were not quite there yet.


Thus, when Matthew wrote of John the Baptist’s arrest, he said “Jesus withdrew to Galilee.”  That was most probably the where his 40-days of sacrifice had taken place.


That news caused Jesus to seek his homeland as a place of solitude before beginning his ministry full bore.  He had to be tested first.


Nazareth is in the region known as Galilee, to the west of the Sea of Galilee.  The land surrounding Nazareth is that which was first given to the tribes of Jacob’s sons, Zebulun and Naphtali.   That was where Isaiah prophesied the light for those who walked in darkness would come, as a glorious and joyful light shining.


Now, because John wrote in his gospel how Jesus told two disciples of John the Baptist to come and see where he stayed, before beginning his Lenten period, we know they had already met when he saw them fishing on the Sea of Galilee.  A relationship had begun, and the two who would become Jesus’ first disciples still did not know that would be their call.  They came to Galilee with Jesus, they saw he stayed in Nazareth, then when they – as disciples of John the Baptist – went to their own homes in that territory.  When they also heard of their leader’s imprisonment, they left Jesus alone, so they could regroup also.


Matthew says Simon-Peter and Andrew were fishers.  That is a statement of their “day jobs,” when not being called by John, with instructions to help him do some more baptisms next month.  The Sea of Galilee would attract people whose profession was fishing.  That is the biggest place nearby, so with no John to follow, and with Jesus on a camping trip, they went back to work.


net fishing

When Matthew wrote that Jesus saw Peter, Andrew (two brothers) casting nets as fishers, Jesus was back from his 40 days in the wilderness. He had moved from Nazareth to Capernaum, on the northern shore of the sea. While walking about, Jesus saw two men he recognized.


He knew they were disciples of John the Baptist.  He knew John the Baptist was in prison, so they were back to their old job.  That means when Jesus called to them this time, saying, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men,” he did it to people who knew him … in some way.  Jesus was saying, “Hey, you disciples of John, I will make you disciples of God.”


That explains why they “immediately left their nets and followed him.”  Still, when Jesus came upon James and John, with their father Zebedee, they too immediately left their father and followed Jesus.  I imagine the fishers got together after a day on the water and told tales to get to know one another.  Peter and Andrew might have told stories of this guy Jesus, the Lamb of God.


From then Jesus began working miracles and his disciples came and saw it all.  As they say, “The rest is history.”


I believe during this Epiphany season, it is important to find new ways to see aspects of old lessons that take us that extra inch forward, towards a level of unconditional faith, with understanding being a solid foundation for that faith to rest upon.  We come to hear a sermon and we see something we questioned before in a new light of understanding.  Each time we read the same verses, we need to see them in a way that we had not seen prior.


Sometimes we read things and get confused.  We mean to look something up or ask someone what they think; but sometimes we think not knowing is a sign of a lack of faith.  Often we forget to find the answers that clear things up.  We don’t ask question from embarrassment.  However, we need to have a firm grasp on those answers.


We must ask the questions, no matter how dumb they may seem.  Even if it is like asking Jesus, “Your father’s house?  Did you ever tell us where that was?  Is it in Nazareth?”


One tiny part of today’s reading from Isaiah can be one of those confusing bits. We hear it; but because we are not Jewish and do not spend Sabbaths deeply going over the written word, we are not “versed” in all the meanings of names and the history of places.  The Jews of Isaiah’s Judah would have, but we are much farther removed, so we miss small things

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I am referring to where Isaiah told how the coming light would remove the yoke of burden from across their shoulders of those in darkness.  It would be broken as “on the day of Midian.”


Raise your hand if you understand “on the day of Midian.”


Okay, for those of you who are not recalling what “on the day of Midian” means, let me tell that story.  It comes from chapter 7 (mostly), in the Book of Judges.


It begins with the man named Jerubaal, which means, “Let Baal contend against him.”  We know Jerubaal better as Gideon; and Gideon was God’s help sent to His struggling people, who were under the thumb of the Midianites.


The Midianites had built shrines to Baal and Asherah (the wife of Baal) in the Promised Land, which Gideon tore down.  He contended with Baal, which caused the Midianites to come after Gideon and those who he led.


Gideon asked God to help, and God said, “You have too many soldiers.  Tell those who want to go home to go home.”  Gideon did and his troops dropped from 32,000 to 10,000.


God said, “That is still too many.  Send the troops still left under your command to the river and see how many lap the water like dogs or bow down to drink from the river.”


A well-trained soldier knows to always be on guard for attack.  One is not on guard when one becomes more concerned with drinking water than guarding one’s safety.  A good warrior looks around, while placing his hand in the water and bringing a sip to his tongue.  A fool gets down like a dog to drink.


bad soldiers

Gideon counted 300 men who did not know basic military safety procedures, like how to drink water from a stream.


God said, “With 300 men I will save you.”  God would save them because Gideon had only 300 fools to face a mighty foe with.  Any victory could only be attributed to the power of God, which would be pitted against the power of Baal.


The Midianites were camped, with the “Amalekites and all the children of the east,” in the valley below Gideon’s troops.  Their numbers were so great it was “like grasshoppers for multitude; and their camels were without number, as the sand by the sea side for multitude.”


So, the odds were 300 fools to many thousands in the Midianite army.


The 300 were divided by Gideon into companies of 100 each.  Each man was given a lamp to place inside a jar and a trumpet.  Then they “contended against” the army of Midian at night.


The spread out and moved into positions just outside the three watch posts for the Midian camp.  Then the 300 each broke the jars and held high the lamps.  With their lights now visible in the darkness, each man then blew his trumpet.  It appeared a superior force was making a surprise attack.


The result was fear striking the Midianites, so that they ran, leaving everything behind.  Gideon then called for the other armies of Israel to give chase, and all the Midianites were overrun and their leaders killed.  So, “on the day of Midian” means when a great victory was brought about by God.


Knowing that, we see Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming of Jesus, as the light for those who walked in darkness.  Jesus would break the jar hiding the light, which was the control the Temple had over the people.  God exposed the fears of those who keep that imbalance in place, through the light of Jesus.  Jesus would begin to trumpet, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”


The yoke of oppression would be broken, just “as on the day of Midian,” through the advent of Christianity.  Only 12 disciples, and their families, would bring fright to the Roman Empire, winning the hearts of a greater world.  From the beginning of just a few, thousands would then respond to the call to drive the darkness away.


Just like the victory over the Midianites, the victory of Christ is due to God.  Jesus is like Gideon, a.k.a. Jerubaal, as another one who contended against Baal.


The disciples, throughout the Gospels we read how the Resurrected Jesus had whipped his ragtag army of fools into shape, before his Ascension.  Those who had been unskilled priests for God were immediately elevated into miracle workers on the Day of Pentecost.  They had been volunteers for the cause, as followers and attendants to the needs of Jesus, but they never dreamed they would do anything more than watch Jesus go against evil.


Other than their temporary powers when the Commission of Seventy, the disciples lapped water like dogs, bowing down to drink-in all that Jesus said.  It seemed to just go in one ear and out the other.


Are we no different today?


We follow.  We do what we are told.  We watch Jesus sacrifice for us.  We watch Jesus perform miracles.  We have difficulty remembering all the details we hear.  We think we have no special talents to contend against the Baal’s of sin, disease, or death.


But, we are taking the first steps.  We are following as fishers of souls.  We are asked to accept the invitation and let God be our eyes, so we can perceive in new ways.


In time, our day will come.  Be patient, our jar will be broken and the light will shine through us.  Expect a miracle and it will happen, through faith.


Amen

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