Midian descended from Abraham by Keturah (GN 25:2). These nomads roamed freely from Moab to the Gulf of Aquaba. They con?trolled desert lands south and east of the Dead Sea, and in ear?lier times had even been strong in the Sinai area. As traders, they helped Ishmaelites carry Joseph into Egypt (GN 37:28). They were famous as plunderers. Being desert nomads, they had few crops, and were always tempted by the lush crops of farmers.
Israel and Midian held a deep mutual resentment. Midian joined with Moab in the abortive attempt to have Balaam curse Is?rael (NB 22-24). When the sorcerer failed, Midian helped provide the debauched women who succeeded in seducing and defiling Israel (NB 25). To avenge this fiasco, God commanded Israel to smite Midian (NB 25:17). Moses obeyed and led his people in dealing Midian a severe blow (NB 31:1-18). Midian was almost oblit?e?rat?ed, but had recovered enough by now to be a formidable foe.
This oppression (7 years) was shorter than the previous ones (8, 18, and 20 years respectively). But what it lacked in length it more than made up for in intensity. The people of God became moles of the earth. They had to grovel like worms in order to find hiding places for themselves and their food. The Israelites literally imprisoned themselves to avoid the Midianites.
Can these terror-stricken fugitives be descendants of the men who one time caused Midian to tremble? Are these crouching slaves sons of the men who defeated Sihon and Og? What happened to the energy of a triumphant nation? Sin transforms heroes into cowards. Evil drains the vital internal strength of a society.
This was the worst scourge experienced thus far by Israel. Midian chose to rape the land rather than occupy it. They waited for harvest and then ravaged the land. The lush crops of Canaan were an irresistible temptation to Midian. While they plundered, Israel cringed and hid. These brutal raids were as bad a curse as war itself. “Children of the east” was a general name for the tribes which lived in the desert lands east of Canaan.
The Midianites, a cloud of death and destruction, would des?cend on Israel like a large swarm of locusts, wreaking havoc every?where. The Midianites had discovered something which gave them an awesome military advantage. Camels had already been man’s servant longer than any other animal; but Midian may have been the first to use them as weapons of war. “The ships of the desert” had been converted into a long-range strike force, giving increased military mobility. Able to go long distances quick?ly, they could make surprise raids from deep in the desert.
Midian could stay out in the desert at length and strike when?ever they wanted because their camels loved desert life. The camel’s thick, hairy coat protects it from extreme temperatures and blowing sand. Broad, two-toed feet keep the camel from sink?ing in the sand, knee-pads allow it to kneel without harm or dis?comfort, nostril slits can be closed during sandstorms to keep out sand. The high-set eyes, which enable the camel to see long distances, are protected from blowing sand by over?hanging lids, and protected from the fierce sun by long lashes.
Camels helped Midian once they began a light?ning raid. In a sandstorm, a camel always kneels and remains motionless, thereby protecting itself and its rider. No provisions had to be taken for a camel. It eats nearly anything, including leather, bones, thorny shrubs. A camel has never been known to have indigestion.
Even if a camel found nothing to eat or drink, Midian still had no trouble because camels can go days with?out food or water. A camel’s hump, a reservoir of fat, can be turned into energy for work. As the fat turns to energy, it leaves water be?hind. And since a camel sweats little, it does not have to drink often.
Camels also enabled Midian to escape quickly, and to car?ry away huge amounts of plunder. Each camel could carry a load up to a thousand pounds. The end result was devastation for Israel.
The camel is still used in warfare. The French Foreign Le?gion has its own Camel Corps. The animal is so effective milita?ri?ly that in 1856 sixty camels were brought to the south?western U.S. for our army. The camels performed well, but the government was forced to give up the project when the Civil War began. Some of the camels escaped and turned wild. Settlers feared them and shot them on sight, but a few were still seen as late as 1907.
Midian caused widespread grief in Israel. We often have to be brought down very low before we cry out to God on high.
God sent a spokesman before He sent a deliverer. Israel needed to realize the cause of their calamity. The prophet was anonymous; his identity was not as important as his message.
The people had to be prepared for deliverance. The prophet’s words would be harsh, but necessary; painful, but helpful. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (PR 27:6). “Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil” (PS 141:5).
“Not obeyed”–this explains all. Their fleeing to sin was also a fleeing to misery. They were a broken people because they had broken laws. Breaking the laws of God breaks the strength of any society. Israel had to be pierced with a sense of sin. Re?f?or?mation and repentance would have to precede deliverance.
The exact location of Ophrah is unknown, but it was evi?dent?ly situated somewhere in western Manasseh. To this place a di?vine messenger came. Since this angel is later described as YHWH (v. 14), we can safely assume this was a preincarnate manifesta?tion of the second Person of the trinity.
At Ophrah the angel found the son of Joash preparing food in secret to keep it from being stolen. Gideon could not use a reg?u?lar threshing floor because they were usually located in exposed places near open fields. Threshing in such an open place, with a large animal, would attract the attention of the Midianites.
Gideon chose to thresh his wheat by hand in a private place. Winepresses were large tanks, often carved in rock, where grapes were trodden. A drain allowed juice to run into a vat. Wine?presses were usually found in secluded places such as gardens or caves.
It is no coincidence Gideon was alone when God came to him. The Lord usually deals with us away from the bustle and hurry of the world. Solitude encourages communion with God.
This sounds almost like a taunt. Gideon was show?ing any?thing but valor; he was scared to death. “He felt that he was a prisoner, almost stealing his own bread” (Parker).
However, YHWH saw what Gideon could become. His potential was buried in obscurity, but a great test would soon reveal Gide?on’s greatness. Great trials reveal great believers. Gideon’s sun was shining; it was merely hid behind a cloud. His valor was unknown even to himself, he was unconscious of his own potential.
Gideon, not immediately realizing the exact nature of his un?expected guest, blurted out some hard thoughts he had been har?boring about God. Gideon was wallowing in self-pity and found it easy to blame Israel’s troubles on God’s mismanagement. Gideon had obviously overlooked his people’s sins. This is understanda?ble. In times of trouble, it is easier to blame God than to get His people to repent. However, rest assured, when the Church can ?not find God’s strength, the problem is in her, not in God.
Though his words conveyed frustration, there was also a pos?itive factor in his sentiments. He was burdened for his people. This has always been a prime characteristic of God’s choice ser?vants. Gideon identified himself with his people. They were an extension of his own self. May God grant us all a stronger sense of community.
Gideon had insight enough to know something was dreadfully wrong in Israel. Even as he was grinding wheat, his thoughts were on the grinding of Israel. Something was amiss. There was obviously no evidence anywhere of God’s blessing. If God’s power were on Israel, Gideon would not have been hiding behind a wine?press.
“From threshing corn he is fetched to thresh the Midianites” (Henry). The Lord was not angered by Gideon’s straightforward re??marks. God knew the man’s doubts were more an expression of a broken heart than of a rebellious spirit. God had found someone who cared. This is the type of person the Lord wants to use; He needs someone with a burden.
A brokenhearted man can achieve the heroic. When one hurts bad enough to cry out to the Lord, victory can be won. God uses men who are miserable within due to the plight of His peo?ple.
Where are there men filled with sorrow and shame over the present state of God’s people? No wonder a deliverer has not yet come.
There is both good and bad in Gideon’s hesitation here. At least he was not suffering from overactive pride. This is good, for “God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble” (1 P 5:5). “Before honor is humility” (PR 15:33). “Pride goeth be?fore destruction” (PR 16:18).
The lack of pride was good, but it was bad for Gideon to car??ry his humility to excess. He had a hyper-humility, which saw only himself and did not look unto the Lord for strength. All he could see was his own self. Gideon was walking by sight, not faith.
Would he have felt better if his father’s family had been the greatest in Manasseh? Would this not have been a leaning to the arm of flesh? The very way in which Gideon was speaking showed he was not ready to put his complete trust in YHWH. When this happens, one has become “too” humble.
Gideon had to “get fully to the end of himself. He must be done with his humility as well as his pride. He speaks of the pov?erty of his family, of his own insignificance in his fath?er’s house. But what have these to do with the living God? Little “I” is as great a hindrance as great “I.” It is not self, good or bad, that is to be before us; weak or strong “I” are to be alike refused, that God alone may have the glory” (Ridout).
“I will be with thee”–this would be Gideon’s might. Based on this fact, he would be invincible. Gideon’s natural qualities had to be enhanced by a higher power. “God takes men as they are and makes them what they are not.”
We must have this to overcome Satanic might. The presence of the Lord yields victory. The sinner who wars in his own might will soon discover his own folly. We do not need more positive thinking; we need a more powerful Presence.
Gideon has now received a promise and must move forward on the basis of it. Faith lives and moves upon the promises of God. They are its food and sustenance. The promises are the essence of faith’s might.
This is all too much for Gideon. He needed a sign to con?vince him he was in his right mind. Gideon feared this whole thing might be a dream, a hallucination, a hoax, or even deceit. His response is similar to that displayed by the disciples after the resurrection of Jesus. They “believed not for joy, and won?dered” (LK 24:41). The disciples also needed a sign to remove doubt and bolster faith.
Gideon wanted to buy a little time to sort out things in his mind. He also wanted to show the messenger kindness, which is ever a mark of God’s greatest saints.
In addition to preparing a whole goat, including meat and gra?vy, Gideon used an ephah (approximately equivalent to our bush??el) of flour to make unleavened cakes, which could be made rapidly. This huge amount of food was offered not only to pro?vide one meal for the messenger, but also to give him provision for his journey.
Gideon is told to put the meat and bread, covered with gra?vy, on a rock.
The food which was supposed to be a meal suddenly became a sacrifice. Its consumption by fire pictured Divine acceptance. Also, the messenger did not walk away as a man, but rather van?ished as a spirit.
YHWH had given Gideon a sign to help his faltering faith. God has no delight in seeing His people vanquished by terror and alarm. He will do all He can to minister to us and strengthen our weak faith. One of my favorite Scriptural promises is con?tained in both Testaments: “A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench” (Isaiah 42:3; MT 12:20).
Gideon now fully realized the nature of his Guest. The Divine suddenly dawned upon his mind. God had been there, and Gideon was afraid. Having been in the presence of YHWH, Gideon feared death. God had told Moses, “There shall no man see Me, and live” (EX 33:20).
Until Jesus came, men did not understand there was a way whereby God could reveal and veil Himself at the same time. YHWH can manifest Himself to man without harm through His only begot?ten Son. Jesus veils God’s effluence and brilliance enough for men to look upon Him and yet live. Jesus is “the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person” (HB 1:3), but His flesh serves as a veil (HB 10:20). Not only can we look upon Him and not die; we must look upon Him in order to live.
YHWH reassures Gideon and blesses him with the promise of peace. “The peace of God is the best preparation for strife. It gives courage, it leaves the heart at leisure to fling all its power into the conflict” (Maclaren).
The peace of God saves one from having to fight on an added front, against his own con?science. When the battle is raging on the outside, we had best have an inner chamber where all is at peace.
Grateful for the peace received from God, Gideon erected a monument and called it Jehovah-Shalom (YHWH is peace). It com?mem?orated the fact God was well-disposed toward Gideon. The mar?k?er would also be a reminder to Gideon of the day he heard and saw things he had never experienced before.
God gives Gideon a difficult assignment: to exalt YHWH in his own pagan home. Gideon’s rule had to begin by setting things right in his own house.
God’s work must always expand from the center. It begins at home and then spreads therefrom.
Before Moses could lead Israel, he had to circumcise his own sons (EX 4:24-26). Othniel judged Israel first (JG 3:10), and then went to war against the king of Mesopotamia.
Gideon is to offer a seven-year-old bullock to YHWH. This was probably intended to picture the fact Midian’s seven-year oppression was about to “go up in smoke.”
Before the Israelites could be delivered from Midian, they had to be delivered from their own sins. The first commandment had to be reinstated. Israel must have no other gods before YHWH. Baal’s altar had to be destroyed, and YHWH’s erected. The grove, wooden pillars built in honor of the fertility goddess, would serve as kindling for the burnt offering to YHWH.
Though frightened, Gideon obeyed immediately. His quick re?sponse helped insure success. Procrastination devastates reli?gious zeal.
Like Nicodemus, Gideon chose the cover of night. He wanted to avoid any resistance from the local citizenry. Though Gideon did not display overwhelming courage, the task was done and this is all that mattered.
Gideon was scared, but nevertheless obeyed God. Faith is not always fearless, but is always obedient. However scared you are, do your duty and leave your safety in God’s hands.
The local people, shocked to find their shrine torn down, de?manded the death of Gideon. What a perversion! God’s original intention had been for all idolaters to be executed. However, popular sentiment had changed so drastically that these Israel?ites were demanding the death of a true worshipper of YHWH.
Since the local shrine had been situated on Joash’s proper?ty, everyone assumed he would show intense loyalty to Baal. How?ever, the actions of his own son shamed Joash into his right mind. He knew Gideon was right and now realized the wickedness of his own idolatry. Joash unexpectedly displayed contempt for a god who could not maintain his own sacred altars.
Joash challenges the people to let Baal fight his own bat?tles. Gideon is nicknamed “Jerubbaal,” which means “Let Baal con?tend.” In other words, let Baal fight and take up his own cause.
Every time men looked at Gideon, they would know he was a walking challenge for Baal to prove himself. Gideon’s new name would serve as a constant reminder of Baal’s impotence. Every victory by Gideon was a blatant mockery of Baal’s utter weakness.
A similar situation occurred in 1548 in the life of Scot?land’s great Protestant Reformer, John Knox. Due to his preach?ing, he was imprisoned on a French slave ship. One day Knox re?fused to kiss a wooden image of the virgin Mary. When it was pushed violently against his face, he jerked it away, threw it overboard and shouted, “Let our Lady now save herself: she is light enough; let her learn to swim.” Since Knox suffered no visible judgments from Heaven, his persecutors began leaving him alone, and his fellow sufferers began looking upon him as their leader.
The mission field of Tahiti yields another comparable inci?dent. When King Pomare gave up heathenism, he ordered a chief to chop his gods in pieces. While heathen priests stood nearby, threatening divine wrath, the chief began his work with trembling hand. However, as he proceeded, no wrath fell from heaven, and he gained new confidence with every blow of the ax.
Pomare also commanded that Cero, the god of war, be commit?ted to flames. The king’s troops surrounded the pagan temple and began taunting the gods, saying, “Now, ye gods, if ye be gods, and have any power, come forth, and avenge these insults!” The people of Tahiti were amazed at the impotence of their gods. At last the temple was pulled down. Troops poured shots into the idols before the graven images were burned to ashes.
The valley of Jezreel was sometimes called “the meadows of God.” How grievous it must have been for the Israelites to see these fertile fields trodden down by the feet of invaders. The Midianites descended from a son of Abraham and Keturah. The Ama?lekites were descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Esau.
The spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon; or more literally, the spirit of YHWH clothed Himself with Gideon. The word is used in Genesis 28:20 to describe a man putting on his clothes. The Holy Spirit became man-clad; Gideon became the garment of God. The metaphor denotes the fact the Spirit took full possession of Gideon.
The same description is used of only two other men in Scrip?ture. By this special anointing, Amasai was able to declare his loyalty to David (1 Chron. 12:18). This special indwelling of the Spirit allowed Zechariah the priest to speak boldly against Israel’s sins and to suffer martyrdom (2 Chron. 24:20-21).
Every morning, Howard Hendricks would pray, “Lord, here I am. I want to be your suit of clothes today. I want you to take me and use me. Lord, walk around in me today.”
Men rallied to Gideon from every corner of Israel. The men of Abiezer, who had recently threatened Gideon’s death, became the first to support him. By setting an example at home, Gideon received respect at home.
Gideon now had an army to lead, but suddenly slipped into a panic again. Satan has a way of making fear pop up in our lives at the worst possible moments. Gideon’s courage was melting; his flesh was taking over and crippling his faith. Our most diffi?cult struggles are often fought against our own selves. Gideon had enough might to overwhelm a throng of Midianites, but almost failed to overcome his own doubts.
Some of Gideon’s hesitation can be blamed on natural causes. Many a soldier who proves himself valiant in battle has nearly suffered “heart failure” the evening before. Gideon wielded the sword well, but in reaching for it his hand trembled a bit.
Before proceeding with the actual attack itself, Gideon de?sired direct and tangible proof God was with him. Gideon doubted his own ability, not God’s. It was not a matter of whether or not God had spoken truth, but a matter of Gideon being sure he had heard God accurately.
Gideon asks for a sign from YHWH. If He has truly chosen Gideon, He will leave the threshing floor dry, but place dew on a fleece (a mat of wool shorn off a sheep). This was not haughti?ness or presumption, but faith struggling to find a firm footing.
God knelt down to accommodate human frailty. When “an evil and adulterous generation” sought after a sign, they received none (MT 12:39), but when a genuine, yet trembling, faith cried out for help, the appeal was not in vain. “A bruised reed shall He not break, and smoking flax shall He not quench” (MT 12:20).
We should not speak of Gideon in adverse terms. In pagan times, he accomplished more than many of us will ever achieve. We are wise to refrain from speaking harshly about him. He did what he could, and God smiled on his efforts.
Granted, God’s word should have been sufficient in and of it?self. Ideally speak?ing, Gideon should not have needed this ex?tra prodding, but we serve a gracious and longsuffering God. “He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust” (PS 103:14). Our Master is kind; we His servants should act likewise.
Gideon desires yet another sign from YHWH. Since wool gen?erally attracts dew even when other objects tend to remain dry, it was only natural the threshing floor would have dried faster than the fleece. Hence, Gideon was only half convinced; he need?ed one more nudge. He asks that the very opposite be allowed to happen; this would be a truly remarkable thing.
Lest we be too quick to follow Gideon’s practice of “putting out a fleece,” let me call to your attention the fact Gideon him?self realized he was walking on thin ice. The tone in his voice is quite apologetic. God had already met his requested test. Nothing more was needed.
We who are indwelt with the Spirit of God should seek spi?rit?u?al guidance through His word, His people, and His availing us of proper opportunities. It behooves us to be very skeptical of “putting out fleeces” to determine the will of God. Even with regard to particular details in our everyday lives, we walk by faith, not by sight.
Once again, YHWH condescended to aid Gideon’s infirmity. To many, the use of physical signs is still a popular way of trying to discern God’s will. I have found such efforts disillusioning. Some of my acquaintances have “put out fleeces,” and then not fol?lowed through with their pre?de?termined plan of activity. Oth?ers have asked God to perform a “magical trick” or some outland?ish thing. I have known some who resorted to “fleeces” because they did not want to spend hours in prayer seeking God.
My personal belief is, a “fleece” should be used only as the last of the last resorts, and only after long amounts of praying. I would almost advocate ruling them out all together, but I am not quite able to make such a rash, absolute statement.
When trying to determine the will of God, I recommend pray?er, caution, and much humility. God leads us along through many events in life. We must respond to each situation as we sense God would have us respond. The most important thing is not that we make exactly the right decision in every detail or matter we face, but that our hearts are clean before God. If we desire to please Him in all things, He will see to it that the “major” de?cisions in our lives are correctly made.
Even the giants of our faith have had troubles in determin?ing the will of God with regard to their lives. A well-known user of “fleeces” was John Wesley, who experienced some “misread?ings” in his dealings. When Wesley learned George Whitefield was preparing to leave for America, he drew lots and determined that Whitefield should remain in London. Fortunately, Whitefield ig?nored this advice. The result was our Great Awakening.
Wesley’s most fateful experience with “fleeces” dealt with his romantic life. At age thirty-two, John wesley was pastor of a church in Savannah, Georgia. Deeply in love with a young lady, he decided he would draw lots to determine whether or not he should marry her. On three pieces of paper he wrote separate mes?sages: 1) marry, 2) think not of it this year, 3) think of it no more. The paper bearing the last massage was drawn. Wesley was crushed, but ended the courtship. Later evidence seems to in?dicate he drew an “incorrect” lot.
More than a decade later, Wesley fell in love with another lady. This time he chose a different means for finding God’s will. He wrote down all the things he wanted in a wife; his lady friend met all the requirements. He decided to marry. However, his brother Charles felt marriage would harm John’s ministry. Charles immediately went to see the lady, rushed in, and said, “You have broken my heart!” and fainted at her feet. Charles was so successful in his pleading that the lady quickly ended her relationship with John and married another man.
Finally, at age forty-seven, John Wesley married. We do not know how Wesley determined the will of God in this matter, but the marriage proved a disaster. He and his wife were very unhap?py with one another. After twenty years, she left him. Wes?ley wrote in his journal, “I have not left her; I would not send her away; I will not recall her.”
Lest any be tempted to think of themselves as “overly much righteous,” it would be good to remember “mistaken readings” have also been made by those who rely only on “inner impressions” for guidance. At age twenty-nine George Whitefield was already the best known preacher in the world. His wife gave birth to a son whom the great preacher believed was destined by God to be “a preacher of the everlasting Gospel.” He strongly believed this was the will of God and announced it as such to the members of his large congregation. In light of his personal conviction re?garding this matter, Whitefield named the boy “John,” for John the Baptist. However, within a few weeks the child died. White?field was never the same again. His speech lost some of its “pi?ous verbiage”; he dropped much of youthful pride from his vocabu?la?ry. The rest of his life, he was much slower to declare in ab?solute terms what he believed to be the will of God with regard to particular details.
As we live our everyday lives, God grant us a spirit of con?stant prayer. Keep your heart meditating upon the Lord. Then, when a decision must be made, make it and proceed with your life. God will intervene if necessary to prevent a horrendous mistake. Do not get so bogged down in the particulars of life that you forget the over-riding general principles of importance. Remem?ber, “What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8).
The geographical situation outlined here cannot be deter?mined with certainty. The Israelites were in the hills overlook?ing Midianites camped somewhere in the valley of Jezreel. Israel was out?numbered four-to-one. Gideon had 32,000 men (v. 3); Midi?an had 135,000 (8:10).
The Israelites were vastly outnumbered, but in God’s opinion had too many soldiers. YHWH knew if His people won the battle with a large army, they would “vaunt themselves” in pride.
Pure and holy angels, conscious of their own unworthiness, bow humbly before God. Fallen men, however, are always tempted to be boast?ful. The believer must overcome this temptation.
We never do God a favor by serving Him; rather, our honor is solely in the fact we were selected as vessels through which He works. “My own hand hath saved me” should never be spoken by any Christian. Ascribe all glory unto the Lord.
God jealously guards His own honor and will not give His glo?ry to another. This is the case, not because of selfishness, but due to His great love for us. God longs for us to recognize Him as our only genuine source of strength. He wants us to enjoy victory after victory, but this can happen only as long as we seek our strength in Him. Hence, God not only wants to give us victory, but also desires to teach us “trust in Him.” If our vic?tories are ascribed to our own strength, they will eventually prove detrimental for us.
The reduction is begun by applying the test prescribed in Deuteronomy 20:8, “What man is there that is fearful and faint?hearted? Let him go and return unto his house, lest his breth?ren’s heart faint as well as his heart.” Before a battle the fearful were encouraged to depart. Fear is contagious. Pan?ic, once started, spreads swiftly, and causes frenzied confu?sion.
Morale was evidently quite low; better than two-thirds of the army took advantage of this opportunity to leave. “Twenty-two thousand showed the breadth of their backs, executing strate?gical movements upon home!” (McNeill, in B.I.). Once the fear?ful departed, there were “fewer persons, but not fewer men” (Fuller). A large number of men had thought it a good idea to cast off Midian, but very few were brave enough to try and do it. Many came, but the sight of 135,000 Midianites had caused courage to wane. “Two out of three were panic struck. I wonder if the pro?portion would be less in Christ’s army today, if professing Chris?tians were as frank as Gideon’s men?” (Maclaren). Whenever a noble and difficult task needs to be done, many will say “Good idea! Do it!” to each one who says “I will help accomplish it!”
The odds against Israel have increased from four-to-one to more than thirteen-to-one. Nevertheless, God is not yet satis?fied. He will reduce the army even farther by a simple test to be administered at the water.
Do not overlook the spiritual resolve displayed by Gideon. He was already heavily outnumbered, but obeyed nevertheless.
The army will now be divided into two groups based upon the manner in which they drink. One group would consist of those who lifted the water in the hollow of their hand, and then lapped it into the mouth with their tongue, as a dog does. The other group would consist of those who fell down beside the water to drink. Only three hundred men used the first procedure; 9,700 used the latter. Which group would you have chosen, the three hundred or the 9,700?
The three hundred had given evidence of being good soldiers. They had displayed more caution and alertness than the 9,700 who dropped down headlong. The three hundred were obviously more con??cerned with combat than with drinking water on a hot day. By lapping the water up to the mouth, they were able “to keep an eye out” for approaching enemy soldiers. The three hundred would have been ready for combat instantaneously.
The 9,700 were more concerned for a moment with satisfying thirst than with fighting. Thinking solely of the water would make them susceptible to the charge of momentary, military care?lessness. Nevertheless, 9,700 men far outnumbered three hundred. Odds of fourteen-to-one sound much better than 450-to-one, but God never worries about the odds.
God evidently likes the sound of “450-to-one.” At Carmel He later vanquished 450 false prophets of Baal through the prophet Elijah (1 Kings 18:22).
YHWH is not impressed by large armies. He alone reigns su?preme in the affairs of men. The Duke of Wellington led his troops to victory at Waterloo, but Victor Hugo correctly said, “Napoleon had been impeached before the Infinite.”
God rules, and achieves marvelous things through a few. Ten men could have saved Sodom. Potiphar’s house??hold and then all of Egypt were blessed by the presence of one, Joseph. A few Galile?an fishermen could not be vanquished by all the legions of Rome. The ship tossed and torn at sea was spared because an Apostle of God was on board.
God never requires a majority. In fact, He delights to work through a minority. Man’s extremity is often God’s opportu?ni?ty.
It can be depressing to think of the few who are true to the Gospel, compared to the many who are apathetic. However, do not get caught in the “numbers trap.” The Captain of our salvation is for us; who then can be against us? (Romans 8:31).
Success in God’s cause never depends upon numbers. The great need of the Church is not more members, but members who are yielded to Christ. We are hindered by members who do not live their faith in earnest.
“God wants His army to be not like a great, big, overgrown cabbage that has run to blades and has no heart in it, but He wants His army to be dense–not extensive, but intensive–sound at the heart, solid as a cannon ball” (Mc?Neill).
The cause of Christ is advanced more by the earnest few than by the careless and undisciplined many. When you are sure of your task, and know God is for you, neither try to count heads nor fear being in a minority.
“The history of every good cause is the same. First, it kin??dles a fire in the hearts of two or three nobodies, who are burned in earlier times, and laughed at as fools, fanatics, im?practicable dreamers, in later ages, but whose convictions grow till, one day, the world wakes up to find that everybody believes them, and then it “builds the tombs of the prophets”” (Maclaren).
Israel is in the hills, Midian in the valley. This geo?graphical setting will have much to do with the ultimate result of the con?flict.
Though the command was difficult, Gideon obeyed YHWH and sent the 9,700 home. At sunrise Gideon had been commander of 32,000 troops; at sunset he had an army of three hundred. Less than one percent of his original army remained.
Three hundred did not seem like many, but would be suffi?cient. After their victory, the number “300” would be “immor?tal.”
Something about the few versus the many stirs excitement with?in us. We often repeat the story of King Leonidas and his 6,000 Spartan heroes. We never cease to be amazed that they held 500,000 Persians at bay two days in the pass of Thermopylae (480 BC). Every year thousands of Americans make their way to the Alamo, where occurred what is sometimes called “the Thermopy?lae of America.” In 1836 Santa Anna’s army of 5,000 was held at bay two weeks by 182 men stationed in the Alamo.
The few against the many–there is a nobility about it. God grant us courage to be faithful in the most noble cause of all: the redeemed minority against the unredeemed majority. May Gide?on’s “300” inspire us all.
God gave Gideon little time in which to get depressed. YHWH gave His command to attack the very night Gideon’s army had been reduced to a terribly small amount, three hundred. God did not prepare Gideon for battle by sending him extra troops; rather, He prepared the soldier by sending reinforcements to his faith.
Believers need a firm foundation for their faith. This re?quires a word from God. Faith lives on His promises.
When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
By the living word of God I shall prevail,
Standing on the promises of God. (R. K. Carter)
When your spirit begins to falter, find an applicable prom?ise of God in the Scriptures. Then ask the Lord to cause that promise to take on life within you.
YHWH had given the command to attack, but knew Gideon’s dis?position. Since Gideon was the kind of man who needed constant encouragement, YHWH offered another sign to bolster faith. God’s spoken word should have been sufficient, but the Lord graciously condescended to meet Gideon’s need.
Gideon will be his own spy. The intelligence informa?tion he gleans will provide him a good omen. What he secretly overhears down in Midian’s camp will be the prop his faith needs. How lov?ing it was of God to continue leading Gideon along step by step.
Be thankful for a God who accommodates Himself to our parti?cu?lar need. In an Austrian city, there is a bridge in the walls of which stand twelve statues of the Savior, picturing Him in var?ious capacities, including Prophet, King, Priest, Pilot, Phy?si?cian, Shepherd, Sower and Carpenter. When country people come to market, they pause to worship before the Sower Savior. Arti?sans pray before the Carpenter, sailors worship before the Pilot, the sick seek healing before the Great Physician. We reject any vestige of idolatry, but see beauty in the intended thought. Je?sus reveals Himself in varying ways to help us in all our needs.
Gideon and Phurah made their way to the outskirts of the Midianite camp. YHWH was kind to allow a companion to accompany Gideon for moral support. Phurah is one of the many unsung he?roes who have excelled in being an encourager to a more famous friend. Greatness ascends with the aid of friendships.
Midian proved as weak as, in addition to being as nu?merous as, grasshoppers. Also, their camels, which were as numerous as the sand by the seaside, proved to be unstable as shifting sand.
Gideon and Phurah heard two Midianites talking, presuma?bly in a tent. This would allow the spies to ?hear, but not be seen. The talking Midianite dreamed a loaf of barley bread had tumbled down toward the Midianite camp, struck a tent and completely over?turned it, stakes, ropes, canvas, and all. The Midianite was evidently amazed a little barley loaf achieved things far beyond its size. One might expect a boulder or sword to wreak such hav?oc, but who would suspect it could be done by a loaf of bread.
The listener immediately interpreted the overturned tent as a picture of Midian’s defeat. Their tent encampment was about to be destroyed, and the destruction would be wrought by none other than Gideon, the “barley loaf.”
Barley, the most common cereal in Palestine, usually sold at half the price of wheat (1 K 7:1). Barley bread is very coarse, has a bad taste, and is generally eaten by people only when they find it impossible to secure wheat. Barley bread was usually the fare of livestock and the poor, including lepers and beggars, and thus came to picture a thing despised.
For ages, haughty Middle East Bedouins have called their en?e?mies “eaters of barley bread,” a description of disdain and der?ision. Arabs still refer to Jews as “cakes of bar?ley,” deeming followers of Islam “wheat” and followers of Judaism “barley.”
Midian may have reduced Israel to eating barley. If this were the case, the Israelites would have looked especially con?temptuous in the eyes of their oppressors.
Midianites may have even been talking about Gideon in “bar?ley” terms. One thing is sure, the dreamer’s friend immedi?ate?ly associated the barley loaf with Gideon. The invaders de?spised the Israelites and counted them as insignificant. Gideon and his 300 appeared to be a thin, weak, limp loaf of barley bread. In fact, against an army of 135,000 they seemed less likely of suc?cess than a loaf of bread against a sturdy Bedouin tent.
Only God would ever consider using a “barley loaf” in His can?nons. There seemed to be a ludicrous shortage in what Gideon had at his disposal, but his men were protected by the Holy Spi?rit. This made them invincible. A tallow candle fired from a rifle can penetrate a door, and a straw blown by a tornado can penetrate a tree. The power is not in the object itself, but in the force impelling it. The same is true of believers.
God had been at work behind enemy lines. YHWH had even in?vaded the chaotic world of dreams and had brought order there. God is not asleep when we sleep. He always works in our behalf.
YHWH had worked a miracle and Gideon knew it. The “remarka?ble providences” were too numerous to be coincidental. YHWH had smuggled Gideon and Phurah safely behind enemy lines, led the two to exactly the right tent, put the appropriate dream in the Midi?anite’s mind at the right minute, allowed the dreamer to wake up the moment Gideon and Phurah arrived, had the dreamer tell his dream to a friend, made sure the hearer interpreted it correctly. Gideon, awed by it all, knew exactly to Whom honor was due.
Gideon’s secret foray gave him a crucial piece of military in?formation: panic had begun to stalk Midian’s camp. They were sleeping restlessly. Gideon knew the Midianites were afraid. “A nameless awe, which goes far to produce the defeat it dreads, was beginning to creep over them” (Maclaren). Fear was Gideon’s “fifth column.” His name had made a big hit on the Midianite grapevine. The obscure farmer had become famous. His reputation would be an added weapon in the battle against the Midianites.
Gideon returned to share with his 300 men the encouragement he had received. Notice, he essentially told the men what God had told him (v. 9). This is always the best way for a leader to encourage God’s people. Tell them what the Lord has said, speak to them from His Word. Gideon altered a phrase used by the Mid?i?anite (v. 14). The latter had referred to the Almighty with a general term, “God,” but Gideon, being a man of faith, spoke of his God personally, calling Him by His name, “YHWH.”
In human eyes, 300 versus 135,000 seemed rash, but Gideon was now ready to take the challenge. Nothing could sway him from his responsibility. When Pericles was in the service of his country, he devoted himself wholly to that task. Of him it was written, “There was in the whole city but one street in which Pericles was ever seen, the street which led to the market-place and the council-house. During the whole period of his admini?stra?tion he never dined at the table of a friend.” With similar resolve, Gideon went forward, obsessed with his responsibility.
However hopeless a situation looks, there comes a time to do your duty. Remember the noble example of soldiers at Balaklava:
Forward, the Light Brigade! Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew someone had blundered:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the Valley of Death
Rode the six hundred. (Tennyson)
By human standards, Gideon’s mission seemed no less suicidal, but braced by the promise of God, the poor and unknown Manassite (5:15) marched forward into immortal fame.
“Despise not the day of small things” (ZC 4:10). Given time the acorn will become not only an oak, but also a whole forest. Given plenty of room, the rill will eventually become a river. Given a chance, an unsung Gideon may become an instrument of God to achieve mighty victories.
Dividing the forces would give the enemy a sense of being surrounded on three sides by Israelites in the hills. Each sol?dier was issued three weapons: a trumpet, an empty pitcher, and a lamp. The trumpet, a curved horn from a cow or ram, was com?mon?ly used to give signals in battle. The lamps were probably smol?dering torches. The pitchers, made of earthenware, could easi?ly be broken.
Gideon’s master-plan is very simple: deceive the Midianites into a panic. Make them think countless thousands of Israelites are in the hills.
The Midianites had wielded a reign of terror seven years. Now Gideon will destroy them with their own weapon.
In Old Testament times, night was evidently divided into three watches of four hours each. The division of night into four watches with three hours each was later adopted by the Jews from the Romans.
Gideon “attacked” in the midnight hours, immediately after the changing of the guard. The darkness would make it impossible for the Midianites to know how small Gideon’s army really was.
Do not overlook the faith of the three hundred. They had lamps in their left hand and trumpets in their right. They were marching into battle with their hands full, and thus could not strike a blow.
The weapons succeeded. The blast of three hundred trumpets made the Midianites think they were being attacked by three hun?dred armies. The shattered pitchers sounded like thousands of well-armored troops clashing together. The smoldering torches, suddenly bursting into flames, flashed light upon the Midianites like three hundred simultaneous bolts of lightning. The moun?tains appeared to be on fire.
The slogan first of all revealed in Whom they were trusting for victory; it secondly identified them as the army of Gideon. Battle cries have been commonly used to inspire confidence in friends, and to incite fear in foes. Richard the Lionhearted rallied his Crusaders with, “Remember the Holy City!” Sam Hous?ton’s men cried, “Remember the Alamo!” The Black Prince at Cressy stirred enthusiasm by yelling, “God defend the right!”
By standing still, Gideon’s men gave the impression they were lighting the way for a numerous army advancing behind them.
Gideon now had his longing fulfilled. He had despaired due to not seeing the miracles of which his fathers had spoken (JG 6:13). However, he was now able to see a nation destroyed by shouts and trumpet blasts, which was exactly what his forefathers had seen at Jericho (JS 6:20).
Instead of advancing, Gideon’s men stood still and kept mak?ing noise. The Midianites evidently assumed some Israelites had already entered the camp. Suddenly, everything which moved was deemed an enemy. They fought at random, unable to distinguish friend from foe.
The places mentioned here cannot be located exactly, but it is obvious the Midianites were fleeing toward the Jordan. They would have been slowed down by their baggage, which included flocks and herds. Gideon, taking advantage of their slow pace, rallied soldiers from the surrounding area.
These were evidently the soldiers which had recently been dis?missed by Gideon. They had not had enough time to travel far, and were possibly camped together nearby. They now eagerly joined in the slaughter.
Ephraimites were able to cut off the Jordan passes. This procedure essentially entrapped much of the Midianite army.
The Ephraimites captured two Midianite princes, Oreb (Raven) and Zeeb (Wolf). Even as late as the early part of the twentieth century, a Bedouin tribe which lived southeast of the Jordan con?veyed upon its leader the hereditary title of Zeeb.
Oreb and Zeeb had the dubious honor of having the places of their slaughter named after them. These exact sites are unknown. The Ephraimites took Oreb and Zeeb’s heads to Gideon, who had crossed the Jordan and was chasing the kings of Midian (8:4-5).
Gideon overwhelmed his enemies. The Lord wants believers, in a similar way, to vanquish their foes. Christians are also engaged in a warfare, and their weapons are the same as those used by Gideon:
A trumpet to heed,
A light to blaze;
A vessel to break,
A voice to raise.
The trumpet used by Gideon’s men was the one commonly used as a call to arms. It was employed as the signal to commence fighting. As Christians we must see ourselves as engaged in a never-ending war. The evil one never ceases his assaults against us. We are to abound in the work of the Lord “always” (1 Cor. 15:58).
Christians also have a lamp which must be kept trimmed and bright through all of life. “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts” (2 Cor. 4:6).
Believers should live in such a way that Christ is obviously manifested through them. Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (MT 5:16).
How do we allow our light to shine? By breaking the vessel in which it is contained. This light which has shined in our hearts is a treasure we have “in earthen vessels” (2 Cor. 4:7). The Spirit of God indwells our bodies of clay. The light often shines best when our pitcher is cracking beneath a load of trou?bles, perplexities, persecutions, setbacks, and dying.
We must view our bodies as vessels which need to be broken. Our bodies are but earthen vessels in which the true treasure is housed. The will of the flesh must be broken in order to let the treasure be displayed.
“I” tends to cloud the Lord’s glory. Self must be gotten out of the way, that Christ may shine through us. We should be “bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body” (2 Cor. 4:10).
The fourth weapon of our warfare is our voice. Speech is the vehicle by which the gospel of Christ is carried into the world. Our message is transmitted by the sound of human voices.
Above all else, we are called to be witnesses, which re?quires the voice of testimony. You are a messenger with tidings to tell.
Christian soldier, remember the weapons of your warfare:
A trumpet to heed,
A light to blaze;
A vessel to break,
A voice to raise.