We all know the story of Gideon. Humanly speaking, it’s an account of one of the most impossible military victories in history. God used Gideon and 300 men to save the nation of Israel from the Midianites and the Amalekites. But, bear this in mind, scripture tells us “there is no restraint to the LORD to save by many or by few.”
1 Samuel 14:6b.
Judges 6:1-2. “And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD: and the LORD delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years. 2: And the hand of Midian prevailed against Israel: and because of the Midianites the children of Israel made themselves the dens which are in the mountains, and caves, and strong holds.”
Gideon came on the scene in Israel around the year 1150 B.C. The Israelites had gotten themselves into terrible circumstances. They no longer had a military power that could defend themselves and to make matters worse, their enemies, the Midianites and the Amalekites, had stolen most of their crops and livestock every year for 7 years.
Israel's backsliding, rejecting God and worshipping Baal, had resulted in poverty, slavery, and fear. Israel was under the mastery of powers she had once conquered. When we, as Christians, turn from the Lord, old habits that we once conquered will take over our lives.
God was using the Midianites to get Israel's attention and in desperation they looked to God once again. This was the pattern of their existence during the 400 years they were ruled by Judges. As He had done so many times before, God sent a leader, Gideon, to lead His people back to Him.
The Angel of the Lord, the preincarnate Christ, appeared to Gideon while he was secretly threshing wheat in a winepress ... to hide it from the Midianites. The Angel told Gideon that he had been chosen to save Israel and lead that nation back to God.
Verse 15. "And he said unto him, Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house." He gave God lame excuses just as Moses had when God chose him to lead His people out of Egypt.
Verse 16: “And the LORD said unto him, Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man.” God promised Gideon he would overcome Midian as if they were only one man. God promises the believer the same thing today, we can overcome the hosts of Satan and the world when we keep our faith in the Lord and His power to use us.
Verses 17-18, “And he said unto him, If now I have found grace in thy sight, then shew me a sign that thou talkest with me. 18: Depart not hence, I pray thee, until I come unto thee, and bring forth my present, and set it before thee. And he said, I will tarry until thou come again.”
Gideon told the angel, don’t go away, I’ll be right back. He prepared an offering of a young goat, unleavened bread, and broth and brought it to the angel. The angel told him to put the food on the rocks and pour the broth over it, When the Angel touched the offering with His staff, fire came out of the rock and consumed the offering and Gideon was afraid he would die because he knew he was in the Lord’s presence and had seen the Lord’s face.
Verse 23: “And the Lord said unto him, Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die. 24: Then Gideon built an altar there unto the LORD, and called it Jehovah-shalom: 25: And it came to pass the same night, that the LORD said unto him, Take thy father's young bullock, even the second bullock of seven years old, and throw down the altar of Baal that thy father hath, and cut down the grove that is by it: 26: And build an altar unto the LORD thy God upon the top of this rock, in the ordered place, and take the second bullock, and offer a burnt sacrifice with the wood of the grove which thou shalt cut down. 27: Then Gideon took ten men of his servants, and did as the LORD had said unto him: and so it was, because he feared his father's household, and the men of the city, that he could not do it by day, that he did it by night."
Gideon destroyed the altar that his father, Joash, had erected to Baal and the wooden image that stood beside it. Then he built an altar where they had stood and made a sacrificed to God. Next morning, the men of the city wanted to kill him for doing this but his father, Joash, intervened. He said that if Baal were truly a God, he should be able to defend himself. Then Joash decreed that anyone who pursued Baal's cause would be executed. Then Gideon was nicknamed “Jerubbaal,” which means “Let Baal plead (for himself).”
We can’t find fault with Gideon for tearing down the altar at night. It wasn’t because of fear alone, he was obeying the Lord. If he had tried to tear it down in the daytime, those men would have stopped him forcefully. Fear itself isn’t necessarily wrong. We’ve all known fear, but if it keeps us from obeying the Lord, it becomes an obstacle to faith and is sin.
God then gave Gideon proof He was with him, using a woolen fleece and the dew.
Verses 36-40. “And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said, 37: Behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said. 38: And it was so: for he rose up early on the morrow, and thrust the fleece together, and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water. 39: And Gideon said unto God, Let not thine anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once: let me prove, I pray thee, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew. 40: And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground.”
The miracle of the dew and the fleece were God’s pledge of victory, given to Gideon before he went into the humanly impossible battle against overwhelming odds.
The significance of Gideon's fleece is sometimes misunderstood by Christians. There are two things here to keep in mind: 1.Gideon went to God for assurance that He would give Israel the victory, 2. he didn’t go to the fleece for guidance. “Putting out a fleece,” as they say, to find the will of the Lord in a matter, is a misapplication of this passage.
Gideon asked for a supernatural sign, a sign from God, not a natural one. The sign Gideon asked for and received would never happen naturally.
This was a loving God, answering the prayer of a man of weak faith, and reassuring him of the victory. God can, and does, give such assurances today in answer to our prayers.
Judges 7:1. “Then Jerubbaal, who is Gideon, and all the people that were with him, rose up early, and pitched beside the well of Harod: so that the host of the Midianites were on the north side of them, by the hill of Moreh, in the valley.”
Gideon’s call to arms brought men from his tribe, Manasseh, and from three other northern tribes, all ready to fight. The timing was right because God was in control and was ready to deliver His people. The northern tribes had responded in large numbers when Gideon called and his army had 32,000 men. However, the Midianites had an army of 135,000 men. (Judges 8:10)
God had allowed the Midianites, for the eighth year in a row, to cross the Jordan River and occupy the valley of Jezreel, north of Mount Gilboa. Gideon moved to the south side of Mount Gilboa, keeping the mountain between his troops and the enemy. His plan was to attack from there, but God had other plans.
Judges 7:2-3. “And the LORD said unto Gideon, The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me. 3: Now therefore go to, proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, Whosoever is fearful and afraid, let him return and depart early from mount Gilead. And there returned of the people twenty and two thousand; and there remained ten thousand."
God told him to downsize his army. He wanted to make it plain to the Israelite people that He would be responsible for their victory, not the number of soldiers they had.
Sometimes, after accomplishing something for the Lord, we may think that it was all of our own doing, but we fail to recognize that it is God Who made it possible, we are the tools He used. We can do nothing good in our own power.
The Israelites wouldn’t be in any position to brag that they had won the victory themselves. The victory would be by the hand of God alone.
There would be three conditions where a Israeli soldier wouldn’t have to go to battle: their marital status, their occupation, and fear.
Midian had 135,000 troops so the original odds were about 4 to 1 against Gideon. Then 22,000 of his soldiers started home and more than two thirds of his army was gone. His army was now outnumbered 13 to 1 and it was inexperienced, untrained and untested.
The Midianites soldiers had more than 7 years of experience and they had fast camels that could run 10 miles an hour for 10 hours. Gideon’s men would have to stand and fight, they couldn’t outrun them. Then God spoke again.
Verse 4: “And the LORD said unto Gideon, The people are yet too many; bring them down unto the water, and I will try them for thee there: and it shall be, that of whom I say unto thee, This shall go with thee, the same shall go with thee; and of whomsoever I say unto thee, This shall not go with thee, the same shall not go.”
I wonder if Gideon didn’t say, at least to himself, "Come on now, Lord, let’s get real!" But, Gideon obeyed the Lord.
5: So he brought down the people unto the water: and the LORD said unto Gideon, Every one that lappeth of the water with his tongue, as a dog lappeth, him shalt thou set by himself; likewise every one that boweth down upon his knees to drink. 6: And the number of them that lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, were 300 men: but all the rest of the people bowed down upon their knees to drink water. 7: And the LORD said unto Gideon, By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you, and deliver the Midianites into thine hand: and let all the other people go every man unto his place.”
Those who took time to get down on their knees for a drink were eliminated. God reduced the numbers so that the people could never say that their superior army had won the battle. Only God could provide the victory. With the kneelers gone, Gideon's army, which was once 32,000, was now God’s army of 300. These 300 remind me of David’s mighty men of a later day in Israel’s history and of all the battles they won through God’s help.
In verses 9-15, the Lord sent Gideon and his servant Purah, to the outskirts of the camp of the Midianites by night where they heard a Midianite soldier tell of a dream he had. He dreamed that a loaf of barley bread rolled over a Midianite tent, crushing it. Another soldier interpreted the dream to mean that the Israelites would crush Midian. Barley bread was the food of the common farming people and represented Israel. The tent portrayed the armies of the Midianites. Gideon took this as assurance of victory (verse 15; ..."and said, Arise; for the LORD hath delivered into your hand the host of Midian") and returned to camp to prepare his men for war. But first he took time to worship (verse 15; ..."he worshipped, and returned into the host of Israel,) 16: “And he divided the three hundred men into three companies, and he put a trumpet in every man's hand, with empty pitchers, and lamps within the pitchers. 17: And he said unto them, Look on me, and do likewise: and, behold, when I come to the outside of the camp, it shall be that, as I do, so shall ye do. 18: When I blow with a trumpet, I and all that are with me, then blow ye the trumpets also on every side of all the camp, and say, The sword of the LORD, and of Gideon.”
He divided the men into three companies of 100 each, and armed each man with a trumpet and an earthenware pitcher with a lamp inside, none of which could be called lethal weapons. They slipped down to the fringe of the Midianite camp at night, where, at Gideon’s signal, they were to blow their trumpets, break the pitchers and let the light become visible, and cry, "The sword of the LORD and of Gideon!"
Paul wrote, in 2 Corinthians 4:7. “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” Our bodies are earthen vessels and the treasure is the message of the gospel. God has ordained that this treasure should be in earthen vessels to show “that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.”
Gideon’s light only shone forth when the pitchers were broken, and the light of the gospel can only shine forth from us when we are broken and yielded instruments of God.
There is a lessons for us in Gideon's actions. To be a leader for God’s cause, a person must be a worshiper first of all, giving God His rightful place in our life (v.15). We have to be sure we’re following God’s leading before we can lead others (v.15). And then, we have to lead by example (v.17). We also have to be careful that the credit goes where it belongs, to God first, then to the instruments of His choosing (v.18).
19: “So Gideon, and the hundred men that were with him, came unto the outside of the camp in the beginning of the middle watch; and they had but newly set the watch: and they blew the trumpets, and brake the pitchers that were in their hands. 20: And the three companies blew the trumpets, and brake the pitchers, and held the lamps in their left hands, and the trumpets in their right hands to blow withal: and they cried, The sword of the LORD, and of Gideon. 21: And they stood every man in his place round about the camp: and all the host ran, and cried, and fled.”
I love it! God’s people standing victorious in the face of all odds and the enemies of God’s people running and crying in terror. The Midianites didn’t know that 31,700 Israelite soldiers had gone home. Gideon and 300 men, had slipped into position under cover of darkness without being detected.
Imagine this scenario: You’re a soldier in a large army on a raid in hostile territory. You’re sleeping in a tent near the enemy and you have fresh, alert guards on duty. At 2 AM the camp is sleeping peacefully. All at once trumpets begin to blast and the sounds of things crashing and breaking and lights flaring up are all around. The rudely awakened Midianites probably thought a million man army had them surrounded. In the darkness, they imagined there were soldiers coming to kill them behind every torch. They couldn’t identify who was friend and who was enemy and they started killing each other.
The Israelite soldiers kept blowing their trumpets and sounding the battle cry “The sword of the Lord and of Gideon.” Then the Midianites knew it was the sword of God's wrath falling on them in judgment. Gideon’s 300 men became exhausted chasing the Midianites and then the men of Ephraim ambushed the Midianites at the Jordan River crossing. The Ephraimites killed two of the leading princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb.
Two Midianite kings were also captured and these kings were executed later because they had murdered Gideon’s brothers at Tabor. Judges 8:18-19. “Then said he unto Zebah and Zalmunna, What manner of men were they whom ye slew at Tabor? And they answered, As thou art, so were they; each one resembled the children of a king. 19: And he said, They were my brethren, even the sons of my mother: as the LORD liveth, if ye had saved them alive, I would not slay you.”
Gideon had trained and instructed his men well. The soldiers had done exactly as Gideon had commanded and without question. They put their own lives on the line for others, just as Christ, in obedience to His Father, did for us.
The moral of this story?
Never doubt God when He chooses you to do something. He’ll equip you and enable you
with the ability to get the job done.