GOD’S LOVING ANGER
There is a strong sense of paradox when we speak of God’s “loving anger.” What does it mean to have “loving anger”? Dying on the cross for us, Jesus reconciled God’s justice upon sinners with God’s love for the world.
Similarly, God’s “loving anger” brings together the two sides of God’s essence: love and justice. God’s “loving anger” should not be confused with God’s wrath, for God’s “loving anger” is better viewed as “loving discipline.”
The book of Judges is filled with stories of God’s “loving discipline” of His beloved people—Israel. These stories help us comprehend what it means to live under both the condition of God’s love and His wrath.
The story of Gideon is a story of one of Israel’s notable judges. And it begins with a curious verse, Judges 6:11:
Now the Angel of the Lord came and sat under the terebinth tree which was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon threshed wheat in the winepress, in order to hide it from the Midianites.
Now to fully understand Judges 6:11’s imagery of threshing wheat in the winepress and Gideon’s story, let us examine Gideon’s situation in life.
Gideon lived in a dark period in Israel’s history, called the period of the Judges (circa 1380-1050 B.C.). The book of Judges says that in “those days there was no king in Israel [but] everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg 21:25).
God was Israel’s rightful king (cf. 1 Sam 8:5-7); yet, God’s people suffered the consequences of God’s loving anger because they would not follow the direction of God. So, the darkness of the period of Judges really found its root in the unfaithfulness of God’s people. But as a loving shepherd shepherds his flock, God lovingly disciplined His people.
God’s discipline of His people’s disobedience during Gideon’s time came in the form of an oppressive tribal group known as the Midianites (Gen 25:1-4), who, along with Amalekites and other “children of the east,” engaged in regular harvest-time raids against Israel (Judg 6:2-3).
What these raiding oppressors did not take as spoil, they destroyed—leaving no source or means for sustaining life (Judg 6:4). Under these dire circumstances, many Israelites sought refuge in mountain dens, caves, and strongholds (Judg 6:1-2). Other Israelites found refuge in Baal, a storm god associated with the stormy rains needed for a prosperous harvest (Judg 6:10, 25, 30).
Gideon, however, found himself in the winepress—threshing out the wheat that would sustain both his life and the life of his family (Judg 6:11). The biblical imagery of Gideon’s threshing wheat in the winepress has many spiritual teachings, so let us look at the imagery in more detail.
The winepress is a biblical symbol with both positive and negative implications. Materially, the winepress was usually just a pit, either hewn out of rock or lined with plaster. In this pit, harvested grapes would be thrown in and trampled upon to squeeze out the grape juice used to make wine (Isa 5:2).
In biblical times, the winepress was supposed to be a place of great joy and singing, but as God silenced this joyful song, the winepress became a poignant reminder of God’s judgment upon His people (Isa 16:10; Jer 48:33).
So although wine is often a symbol of joy and blessings (Ps 4:7; Song 1:2), God’s harsh judgment is metaphorically and dramatically illustrated through the symbol of the winepress (See Lam 1:15; Isa 63:1-3; Rev 14:19-20; 19:15).
This association of the “winepress” with “God’s judgment” probably resulted from the image of grapes being trampled and destroyed as a representation of being “crushed” by divine judgment. The fact that red grapes splattered red juice (visual reminders of blood) as they were trampled upon further tied the winepress with images of violence and judgment.
Yet, Judges 6:11 speaks of Gideon threshing wheat in the winepress.
Threshing is the process by which kernels of grain from harvested cereals are separated to be made into flour.
Like making wine, the activity of “threshing wheat” had strong positive images in the ancient Near East. Grain, being a staple for life in the ancient Near East, naturally represented both provision and blessing (Gen 27:28; Ps 65:13; 78:24; cf. Ex 16:4). So during the harvest time, the open threshing floor—the usual place of threshing—was a site for family and community activity.
But the act of threshing also possessed the negative imagery of God’s judgment in the Bible (Isa 28:23-29; Jer 51:33; Mic 4:11-13).
Threshing was naturally associated with God’s judgment since the act of threshing involved various ways of vigorously beating stalks of grain (Ruth 2:17), so as to eventually separate out the kernels of grain from the chaff. The act of threshing, as a way of separating the kernel from the grain, further illustrated the process by which God’s judgment distinguished the good from the evil (Mt 3:12; cf. Mt 25:31-46).
Understanding the imagery of “threshing” helps us appreciate the context of Judges 6:11, for Gideon’s threshing of wheat symbolizes God’s threshing of His people.
It is in those periods of God’s “threshing” that we must even more hold fast the faith that God “threshes” His people wisely—to instruct them in the way of righteousness and not merely to mete out punishment (Isa 28:23-29).
Respond with Repentance
As much as we’d like to stake a claim to our own righteousness, the Bible says, “There is none righteous, no, not one…” (Rom 3:10; cf. Ps 14:1-3). As sinners, we are all familiar with the reason for Israel’s suffering: sin (Judg 6:1).
We have, no doubt, all suffered because of our own misdeeds at some point in our life. But of the many reasons God’s children suffer God’s discipline, one of the most important is to bring us to repentance.
Even in the midst of the Midianites’ oppression of Israel, God was calling for His people’s repentance. God appointed a prophet to deliver a message of repentance to His people and remind them of the great salvation He had effected for them in their past—delivering them from slavery in Egypt and blessing them with a land flowing with milk and honey. Yet, Israel forgot the Lord’s grace. God’s judgment ensued and His people suffered the consequences of their actions.
For some, it may seem odd that a person needs to suffer God’s anger to return to His path, but, sadly, that is often the case. When we suffer God’s discipline, we often cannot figure out why we need to suffer. While there are endless possibilities for our suffering, suffering often paves that difficult road from pride to humility, from self-reliant to God-reliant, from self-satisfied to self-examined.
We must remember that God’s loving anger is actually speaking to us as God’s children, for it is through loving anger that God brings us back to His path (Heb 12:5-11). Our pride and unwillingness to accept God’s trials as a way of return are like spiritual roadblocks, cutting off our access to His mercy.
But like the prodigal son, who left the grace and care of his loving father to pursue his own path, God is often simply waiting for His prodigal children to return to Him so He can renew and restore the lost (Lk 15:11-24).
Seek Refuge in the Lord
When we receive God’s trials, we often seek refuge in our own abilities and wisdom when we should be seeking refuge in the Lord (Deut 33:27; Isa 30:15-16). Many Israelites sought refuge in mountain strongholds and false gods, like Baal, in their time of trial (Judg 6:2; Rev 6:15-17; Judg 6:10, 30).
Human wisdom will never be the answer to divine discipline, for it directly contradicts what God intends to teach to those He disciplines. God disciplines us to learn lessons of faith—not self-reliance.
During our times of trial, we, like Gideon, must find our refuge in the Lord—not ourselves. By threshing wheat in the winepress, Gideon was accepting God’s discipline rather than excusing himself from it.
Most likely, it was for this very reason that God chose Gideon as the vessel through which to reveal His glory. Nobody ever really enjoys being in God’s winepress, and it requires a rare wisdom to stay and learn the lessons it has to offer, when it is so much easier to hide from it.
Don’t Give Up Hope
Like most people faced with oppressive circumstances, Gideon must have often felt like giving up hope. It is all too easy to be discouraged in the face of intolerable situations.
But Gideon was undeterred by the Midianites’ continued raiding, and he continued to push forward—threshing wheat, sustaining life—until God’s reprieve arrived.
When we find it hard to see God’s love or hear His voice, we, too, must continue to thresh wheat, which simply means we must not give up hope when we are under God’s discipline.
Like a woman who is in labor, we cannot rest halfway in the trials of labor—for to do so would be to forfeit the joy of holding a newborn baby in our arms (Jn 16:21).
Broken to be Used Again
Often our heart and sense of self-worth are “broken” in times of distress. Though Gideon did not give up hope in his trial, his self-confidence and pride must have reached a breaking point as he threshed wheat in the winepress.
Yet, that is exactly the day God called Gideon to his most important work. God often uses those who are weak and broken to accomplish great things; God does this so that the glory may be His own and not that of man (Judg 7:2).
Humility often comes through the rigors of trials. God uses trials to humble us to face our limitations so that He can effectively use us. When the Angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, He said, “The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor!” (Judg 6:12)
Gideon’s “brokenness” is evident in Gideon’s reply to the Lord’s remark, which essentially confirmed Gideon’s belief that he was thoroughly unqualified. An objective observer who heard Gideon’s self-deprecating response would never envision Gideon to be one of Israel’s great future military leaders. So what did God see in Gideon that others could not?
God saw a person that was broken and ready to be used, which is all that the Lord really ever requires. Not everyone can be broken by God and still be useful for the work of His kingdom. How many Israelites, broken by God’s discipline, were perhaps still hiding in their caves when the Almighty God called Gideon? And why would they hide?
Gideon’s faith was strong enough to continue to thresh wheat when others had resigned themselves to a life in deserted caves, but he was broken enough to surrender his self-confidence and pride to be used by God.
God can use this type of person because this type of person has learned the lessons of faith that can only be taught in God’s winepress. Those who have surrendered their self-will in God’s winepress, like Gideon, will be prepared for God’s abundant use, for God’s power is perfectly revealed in weakness (2 Cor 12:7-10).
As we continue to strive forward under God’s trials, we must accept the Lord’s lessons with humility and faith. After we are broken, God can use us for great things. We need only to wait upon the Lord—for our strength and grace are found in Him.
REMEMBER GOD’S LOVE IN HIS ANGER
When God disciplines us, we must realize that His anger is temporary (Isa 57:16; Jer 3:5, 12). And when we are under God’s disciplining hand, we are also under His love.
Though it is hard to perceive God’s love in His “loving anger,” we need to remember that His “wrath” often covers the depths of His love (cf. Jon 1:4, 17; 2:6). Just as the act of Gideon’s threshing of wheat in the winepress hid God’s great love for Israel, God’s loving-kindness is often hidden—like the abundance of life hidden in a small grain of wheat.
Israel’s situation was very bleak when God called Gideon to save His people. This illustrates just how hard it is to see God’s “love” when all we feel is God’s “anger.”
There in the winepress, Gideon was faced with a test of faith as God told him, “The Lord is with you…” (Judg 6:12)
Gideon questioned this, saying, “God, are you really with me? Are you really with your people? Why have you forsaken us to our enemies?” But then Gideon recalled God’s love for His people. “Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?” (Judg 6:13)
Maybe Gideon could not see God’s love all that clearly, but Gideon still remembered that part of God that many people may have long forgotten by then—that God loved His people. However distant that message was, Gideon remembered stories, however long ago it may have seemed, of a God who saved His people from a life of slavery. And soon God would again save His people—using a man He found threshing wheat in a winepress.
For those unfamiliar with Gideon’s story, God delivered His people after calling Gideon, who led a small army of three hundred men and defeated Israel’s oppressors (Judg 7:1-25).
So look for God’s love when you are threshing wheat in the winepress, for it is often there—in the winepress—that the Lord will appear, just as He did to Gideon, to confirm that He will restore His people and answer their cries. Amen.
For thus says the High and Lofty One
Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
"I dwell in the high and holy place,
With him who has a contrite and humble spirit,
To revive the spirit of the humble,
And to revive the heart of the contrite ones.
For I will not contend forever,
Nor will I always be angry;
For the spirit would fail before Me,
And the souls which I have made.
For the iniquity of his covetousness
I was angry and struck him;
I hid and was angry,
And he went on backsliding in the way of his heart.
I have seen his ways, and will heal him;
I will also lead him,
And restore comforts to him and to his mourners.