08/12/96 and 11/16/08
1 Then Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the troops that were with him rose early and encamped beside the spring of Harod; and the camp of Midian was north of them, below* the hill of Moreh, in the valley.
2 The Lord said to Gideon, ‘The troops with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand. Israel would only take the credit away from me, saying, “My own hand has delivered me.” 3Now therefore proclaim this in the hearing of the troops, “Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home.” ’ Thus Gideon sifted them out; twenty-two thousand returned, and ten thousand remained.
4 Then the Lord said to Gideon, ‘The troops are still too many; take them down to the water and I will sift them out for you there. When I say, “This one shall go with you”, he shall go with you; and when I say, “This one shall not go with you”, he shall not go.’ 5So he brought the troops down to the water; and the Lord said to Gideon, ‘All those who lap the water with their tongues, as a dog laps, you shall put to one side; all those who kneel down to drink, putting their hands to their mouths, you shall put to the other side.’ 6The number of those that lapped was three hundred; but all the rest of the troops knelt down to drink water. 7Then the Lord said to Gideon, ‘With the three hundred that lapped I will deliver you, and give the Midianites into your hand. Let all the others go to their homes.’ 8So he took the jars of the troops from their hands, and their trumpets; and he sent all the rest of Israel back to their own tents, but retained the three hundred. The camp of Midian was below him in the valley.
A new threat confronted the Israelites. A horde of desert Bedouins, called the Midianites, swarmed in at harvest time and carried off the crops. In one fell swoop, they destroyed a year’s work. This had been going on for several years, and it was disastrous for the Israelites. Judges 6:6 reads, “Israel was brought very low because of Midian, and the people of Israel cried for help to the Lord.”
When all else failed, as a last and final resort, they decided to try God. We have not changed much, have we? Today, we try to depend only on our own strength. We think that nothing else works. That is what most people have always believed, and believing that they omit from their lives the greatest power in the universe. Here is a spiritual principle: We need God. We need God as a part of our everyday lives. We only hurt ourselves when we exclude God from our lives.
Now, as I have indicated, the ancient Israelites were much like us. They scoffed at God. They worshipped other gods. It would have been justice then when they called upon God to rescue them from the Midiantites, if God had said, “Too bad. You worshipped other gods. Let other gods deliver you. You treated me with contempt. I will treat you the same way.” Fortunately, for ancient Israel, and for us, God does not act like that. God loves us. As the prophet Joel says, “He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love” [2:13]. God heard the anguished prayer of his people, and God delivered them from the hand of the Midianites, and not only that, he delivered them in such a way that they would realize that God had done it, and thus they would learn to worship and the glorify the Lord.
Verse 1 of Judges 7 shows us that Gideon was a good general. V1 says that he “rose early.’ He had work to do for God, and he wanted to get at it. Thus, it should be when we have work to do for God. Gideon “encamped beside the spring of Harod,” for the simple reason that his army needed water. He also chose the strategic high ground. V8 says, “the camp of Midian was below him in the valley.”
There is an excellent principle here that we need to remember. Faith in God’s promises does not cause us to do less. Faith in God’s promises causes us to do more. We do not say, “God is going to do it. I do not need to do anything.” We say, “God is going to do it; therefore, I need to do all I can.” The same principle is established in II Samuel 5:24. David was preparing for war against the Philistines, and God spoke to him saying, “When you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, then bestir yourself; for then the Lord has gone out before you to smite the army of the Philistines.” God is going to smite the Philistines. Does that mean that David can stay home, sit in the shade, and drink ice tea? No, David must “bestir” himself and do all that he can do. So it is in all things. When we pray to God, and God is with us, we must do all we can for God.
Returning to Judges 7, Gideon raised an army of 32,000 men, and they all came to the well of Harod. The Midianites still outnumbered them, but Gideon must have thought, “With this many men, we have a chance. We can take those accursed Midianites.”
Imagine his surprise then when God said in V2, “You have too many men.” In the Bible, we often find God bringing great things to pass with a few people, but this is the only time in scripture where God deliberately reduced the number of people he was going to work with, but God knows what he is doing. God employed two methods to reduce the size of Gideon’s army.
In V3, he orders Gideon to send home all that would admit to being afraid. Gideon must have thought, “Lord, we are already outnumbered. I mean, have you counted those Midianites over there? We need every person.” Had the Israelites had an ordinary general, he would have refused the command of God, fought with his 32,000, and lost. However, Gideon was not first a general. He was first a servant of God.
He obeyed God. He said to his army, “Anyone who is afraid can leave.” Well, who would not be afraid before battle? What happened next is exactly what we expect. The Israelites looked down in the valley, saw the vast numbers of Midianites, and most of the Israelite army, 22,000 of them, went home. In addition, the other 10,000 lied. No, that is a bad way to put it. They were afraid too, but their sense of duty was stronger than their fear.
Now think about this command from God. God knows what he is doing. Gideon has been too hasty in his recruiting. Many of his warriors do not really believe that God can deliver them, and when they see the vast host of Midian, they are terrified. At the first sound of battle, they will run, and the whole army will run with them. So, this cowardly 22,000 will not only be of no help to Gideon, they are a liability. The moral is that God does not want just anyone in his army. God wants dedicated and disciplined soldiers.
Then God gave Gideon another strange order. In V4, God said, “The people are still too many; take them down to the water, and I will test them for you there; and some I will let go with you.” In response to this, I can imagine Gideon thinking, “What are you trying to do to us, Lord? We did not have much chance when we had 32,000. We have got practically no chance at all with 10,000, and now you are going to send more home. Whose side are you on, Lord?” But no, Gideon did not think that way. He obeyed God all the way.
He sent his army down to the stream that ran from the well of Harod. It had been a hot day, and the soldiers were parched. Most of them threw down their arms and cast themselves face down in the water. God said, “Send them home, all of them.” A few, three hundred, scooped up water in their hand and lapped it with their tongue. God said, “I want them. Keep them.”
Now again, there is reason to God’s decision. What kind of soldiers would throw away their arms and bury their faces in the water? The enemy might come upon them and kill them all while they were drinking. But the three hundred kept their arms, and were alert as they drank from their hands.
The ten thousand who were sent away were not cowards, but they were self-indulgent. Most people are. They are so besotted with themselves that they always yield to every demand of self, no matter who or what suffers from it. These people miss a chance to serve God because they just cannot miss dinner. They want to be faithful servants but not before coffee and cake.
But let us return to Gideon and consider the three hundred whom God chose. They were people of zeal who believed that God could really do something through them. They did not believe that they were going to deliver Israel. They believed that God was going to deliver Israel through them.
In V8, we learn how they were equipped. The verse says that before Gideon sent the ten thousand home, he had them leave their trumpets. So every one of the three hundred had a trumpet, and Gideon had not an army but a band.
Now let us see what happened. Gideon took his 300 trumpeters and gave them torches and empty jars, and they went forth that night and surrounded the Midianite camp. At a signal, they all began to blow their trumpets, to break their jars, and to wave their torches, and they shouted “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon.”
The Midianites roused out of their sleep in a panic. None of them knew what to do. They ran into each other in the dark. They struck at shadows and killed their fellow soldiers. The panic turned into a rout. The rout became a disaster. The enemy army was scattered in every direction. Word spread like wildfire through the Israelite towns and villages that the Midianites were scattered, and the Israelites fell upon them and killed them by the thousands.
Now we need to say something here about all those Israelites who did not show up at all to volunteer of Gideon’s army--and that was most of the people. They did not show up until after the Midianites were routed, and thus were easy prey. Surely, God taught them something that day. They had tamely submitted to the Midianites because there were a lot of them. God taught his people that if he was with them, then one might chase a thousand. That is also a lesson for us.
As we read the chapter, we realize that God knew what he was doing all along. Gideon’s half-resolved, half-determined army of 32,000 could never have carried out the plan that God had in mind. They would have made too much noise trying to surround the Midianites. In the darkness, they would have run into each other and panicked and thus they would have been routed instead of the Midianites. In order to make the plan work, God needed a small group of determined warriors who could be counted on to carry out precise orders, and that is what he had in Gideon’s 300.
God delivered his people in Judges 7, and so the promise to us is that God will be with us to deliver us. This is one of the great positive promises of the Bible that we should always cherish. When the odds are stacked against us, when all human calculations see only defeat and disgrace, God is able to deliver.
But let us face it, belief in that promise requires a triumphant faith which most people do not have. Sometimes even the church is much like Gideon’s army of 32,000. The church has many people who are sort of half-hearted and half-determined. They make some sort of profession of belief in Jesus, but they are not of much use to Jesus, or to themselves, because of their half-heartedness.
And when that day comes, when we pass through the portals of death and stand before the judgment seat of Jesus Christ, then he will say to all those half-believers, “Depart from me, for I never knew you. You were never my people because you never really believed at all.”
But to the 300, to that small remnant who walk the strait and narrow path of dedication, the Lord will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into your reward.”
So the question for us is: Where will we stand on Judgment Day? Will you be with 32,000, or the 300? Where do you stand in your dedication to God?
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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