Judges 7


“Early in the morning, Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) and all his men camped at the spring of Harod. The camp of Midian was north of them in the valley near the hill of Moreh. The LORD said to Gideon, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me.’ Now announce to the army, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’” So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained. But the LORD said to Gideon, “There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will thin them out for you there. If I say, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go; but if I say, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.” “So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the LORD told him, “Separate those who lap the water with their tongues as a dog laps from those who kneel down to drink.” Three hundred of them drank from cupped hands, lapping like dogs. All the rest got down on their knees to drink. The LORD said to Gideon, “With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the others go home.” So Gideon sent the rest of the Israelites home but kept the three hundred, who took over the provisions and trumpets of the others.” Judges 7:1-8

Gideon Defeats The Midianites

Many of us are familiar with the management concept of downsizing where we’re told to ‘do more with less’. But when it comes to war, nations don’t usually downsize, they usually mobilise their reserves and cancel all leave and requests for discharge and retirement.

And sometimes God trims our resources down to get us to depend entirely more on Him. Sickness, financial reversal, family conflict, and other difficulties cause us to turn our lives over to God. But we need to remember that when the odds seem overwhelming, God overwhelms the odds.

As we continue to look at Gideon, we see here in this chapter that God is going to ask him to do something which to many nations, would be crazy. He’s going to ask him to downsize his army. Remember that Gideon’s army was already hugely outnumbered.

The Midianite army was 135,000 strong, Judges 8:10, while Gideon’s force numbered a mere 32,000. I don’t know about you but Gideon must’ve been thinking, we’ve got no chance against an army that size.

But, if anything, Gideon at least understood the might of his enemy. And so to guarantee that history would record this battle as a divine victory, God issued an order for a massive reduction in force.

Can you imagine what’s going through Gideon’s mind now? He’s probably thinking, ‘God, we had a very slim chance of winning with 32,000 men, but now You want us to fight with 300 men, against 135,000 Midianites?’ After returning most of his army to civilian status, Gideon’s only hope was in the Lord of hosts.

The downsizing resulted in a vulnerable 22,000 man reduction in force. Gideon was left with a meagre 300 troops and his only option was to trust God or perish and so, he was left virtually without an army.

But, when we’re serving in God’s army we become part of the overwhelming minority. And just because we’re in the minority, that doesn’t mean it’s all bad, because with God, it’s never about numbers, it’s about faith.

Some people like to suggest that God kept only Gideon’s best soldiers, those who were wary and watchful as they drank, distinguished from those who ‘carelessly’ lapped the water like dogs. But the problem with that interpretation is that there is no hint at all that the ones chosen were superior.

And if we remember all the people we’ve looked at so far in the book, we can quickly see that God chooses the very opposite people which man would choose. We could just as easily say these were the most fearful of Gideon’s troops. Because remember the whole idea behind God’s choosing of these men was to engage the enemy with a handful of soldiers to showcase God’s power.

I mentioned earlier that we can only imagine Gideon’s state of mind. The odds weren’t very good, to begin with, and now they’ve gotten even worse.

‘During that night the LORD said to Gideon, “Get up, go down against the camp, because I am going to give it into your hands. If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah and listen to what they are saying. Afterward, you will be encouraged to attack the camp.” So he and Purah his servant went down to the outposts of the camp. The Midianites, the Amalekites and all the other eastern peoples had settled in the valley, thick as locusts. Their camels could no more be counted than the sand on the seashore. Gideon arrived just as a man was telling a friend his dream. “I had a dream,” he was saying. “A round loaf of barley bread came tumbling into the Midianite camp. It struck the tent with such force that the tent overturned and collapsed.’ Judges 7:9-13

Gideon spent that night gathering information on the enemy situation. And so aware of Gideon’s weak faith, God reassures him by arranging for Gideon to overhear a conversation between two enemy soldiers. As Gideon conducted a covert investigation of the enemy, he and his servant Purah gather some encouraging intelligence.

In concealment, Gideon listens in, as two Midianite soldiers discuss a strange dream. In ancient times, dreams were highly regarded as means of predicting future events. And so in the dream, a hard loaf of barley bread rolls into the Midianite camp and flattens one of the tents.

They conclude that the loaf represents Israel because remember from our last sermon that the Midianites had plundered Israel and stolen their wheat harvest. And so the impoverished Jews had to resort to barley bread.

The tent could only represent the nomadic Midianites and one of the soldiers cries out with the awful realization that God was working through Gideon.

“This can be nothing other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands. When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he bowed down and worshiped. He returned to the camp of Israel and called out, “Get up! The LORD has given the Midianite camp into your hands.” Judges 7:14-15

Remember that Gideon was a farmer and like we saw last time he asked for a lot of signs from God because he needed a lot of reassuring from God. And so this isn’t good luck for Gideon, this was not chance, this was his sovereign God giving him another sign of his own.

Think about it, God protected Gideon during his incursion into enemy territory. God led Gideon to one specific tent, and then God timed Gideon’s arrival to hear about a dream and its interpretation.

And look at what happened to Gideon’s faith after he heard those men say those things. Gideon’s fears and doubts were overcome and he’s now mentally prepared for combat.

We see that growth in Gideon, he went from being a man trembling in a winepress, to a confident general ready to lead his outnumbered troops into battle. And make no mistake about it, Gideon wasn’t Winston Churchill, he was a farmer.

He was an unconventional leader by secular standards but once again we see God’s strength is revealed by enabling what most would call a weak man to triumph. Gideon was being modest because he knew he lacked the resources to overcome and had to rely on God, Philippians 4:13.

He wasn’t just going into battle, he was boldly going into battle. He wasn’t confident in his own abilities, he wasn’t confident in the 300 soldiers he had with him, but he went with the confidence knowing that his God was right there with him.

Look at what kind of ammunition Gideon was about to use in battle.

“Dividing the three hundred men into three companies, he placed trumpets and empty jars in the hands of all of them, with torches inside. “Watch me,” “Follow my lead. When I get to the edge of the camp, do exactly as I do. When I and all who are with me blow our trumpets, then from all around the camp blow yours and shout, ‘For the LORD and for Gideon.’ Judges 7:16-18

We would expect to read that the 300 men would have been armed with swords or bows and arrows. But the text says that he assembled his army of 300, he then divides them into three companies, arming them with trumpets, empty clay jars, and torches.

I don’t know about you but this sounds more like Gideon was setting up a military instrumental band or sending some personal supplies into battle. Remember what the Lord told Gideon, ‘the LORD is with you, mighty warrior’, Judges 6:12.

This lowly farmer is about to become that mighty warrior and Gideon at this point, has one thing in his favour, the element of surprise. And so he takes the lead and says to the 300 troops ‘follow my lead’. We need leaders today who can take the lead and ask others to follow.

The apostle Paul did this on many occasions, 1 Corinthians 4:16 / Philippians 4:9 / Philippians 3:17 / 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9. Some people might come to the conclusion that Paul was being arrogant but he wasn’t. He was setting the example but never lost sight of who he really was, 1 Corinthians 15:9 / Ephesians 3:8 / 1 Timothy 1:15.

Paul wasn’t being arrogant, he wasn’t full of himself, he simply knew that his converts needed an example to follow, as well as things to learn. He knew like we all do today, that his Lord Jesus Christ, is our real example, 1 Corinthians 11:1.

I hear over and over again both in church and in the secular world, ‘oh they’re a natural-born leader’, that’s wrong because nobody is born a natural leader, they’re raised, and in the church, they’re raised by God. Gideon was a farmer, not a leader, but he became a leader because he trusted God to help him become one. None of us are naturally born leaders but like Gideon, if you allow God to work in you and through you, He will raise you up to be a great leader.

And so, at Gideon’s command, they took positions outside the perimeter of the enemy camp.

“They blew their trumpets and broke the jars that were in their hands. The three companies blew the trumpets and smashed the jars. Grasping the torches in their left hands and holding in their right hands the trumpets they were to blow, they shouted, “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!” Judges 7:19-20

The text tells us that during the night there was the sound of 300 jars being smashed on the ground. There was the blinding light of 300 torches piercing the darkness, and the thundering sound of 300 ram’s horns signalling an attack. And with one voice the Israelite army shouted a blood-curdling battle cry, ‘a sword for the Lord and for Gideon!’

And what happened next? Panic stations for the Midianites.

‘While each man held his position around the camp, all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled. When the three hundred trumpets sounded, the LORD caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords. The army fled to Beth Shittah toward Zererah as far as the border of Abel Meholah near Tabbath. Israelites from Naphtali, Asher and all Manasseh were called out, and they pursued the Midianites. Gideon sent messengers throughout the hill country of Ephraim, saying, “Come down against the Midianites and seize the waters of the Jordan ahead of them as far as Beth Barah.” So all the men of Ephraim were called out and they seized the waters of the Jordan as far as Beth Barah. They also captured two of the Midianite leaders, Oreb and Zeeb. They killed Oreb at the rock of Oreb, and Zeeb at the winepress of Zeeb. They pursued the Midianites and brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon, who was by the Jordan.’ Judges 7:21-25

The Midianite army imagined they were being attacked from all sides and because they were totally unprepared, this caused confusion and they quickly began attacking each other in the dark, not knowing who was a friend or foe.

The Jewish soldiers held their positions, staying a safe distance from the deadly chaos before them, Proverbs 28:1.

Go To Judges 8


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