"Biblical Theology Weekly Bible Study" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: AJBT. Judges 6:1-7:21. Fear to Faith
Date: January 27th 2017
Judges 6:1 - 7:21.
Fear to Faith
Dr. John W. (Jack) Carter
Psalm 8:4-5. What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? 5For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.
Have you ever seriously considered with wonder and awe the true infinity of power and majesty of our eternal LORD who created all that exists in this physical universe simply for His own pleasure, and how amazing it is that God would not only consider the circumstances of the people He created, but He is intimately concerned about you and your life? The Psalmist recognizes this miracle as he writes of God’s majesty, and His amazing love for those whom He created.
With this in mind, how can any person not love and worship Him? The biblical scriptures describe God as having a purpose for every person as He has gifted each with a unique set of skills, talents, interests, and resources. Yet, even knowing all of this to be true, it seems axiomatic that we choose to use these resources for our own gain rather than to use them to glorify God and by giving those resources to Him, to be used by Him for His plan and purpose.
To this end the grace of God is truly amazing as He reaches down through time and space to touch our lives, doing so at our point of need rather than His. The following passage of scripture is a narrative that chronicles the deliverance of Israel from its harassing neighbors, using an individual who has many of the shortcomings of most “normal” people and yet by meeting him at his point of need, the humble and insecure Gideon rises to the occasion and is recorded as one of the great leaders during the period of the judges.
We find in Gideon an example of a very common person who is almost overwhelmed by his own fears and doubts, and yet who God uses to work out His plan for Israel. When we think of God calling out people to service we often think of those chosen as being spiritual giants since we have heard and studied so many of the well-known and traditional stories of great accomplishments and victories. However, we almost always find upon closely studying the scriptures that these people were not super-human, and were often quite flawed; poor examples of faithfulness or godliness on many occasions. Some of these who might come to mind could include David, Samson, and many others. Few biblical notables are exempt from the scriptures’ revelation of their more human side.
Gideon is probably an excellent example of a leader, called by God to a specific task, who prior to his call was much like you and me, a “regular” citizen within his peer group. He responded to situations in a fashion similar to what we would expect from most "normal" people, far from the way a supposed "great spiritual giant" might respond. The story of Gideon is an example of how God can use a normal person who is replete with frailties and weaknesses to do His will. Even when we have special needs that must be met in order to deal with those frailties, God meets us at our point of need to provide for those needs so that His work can be accomplished.
Judges 6:1. 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.
Gideon’s experience takes place during the period of the Judges, after the deaths of Moses and Joshua, and prior to the anointing of King Saul by the prophet, Samuel. A basic theme of this time period, recorded twice in this book is, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” It was a very chaotic period where we may observe several cycles of a pattern of disobedience, punishment, repentance, and deliverance by the LORD through the work of a judge for a short period of time. Judges included Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah, Samson, Tola, Shamgar, and several others. After Deborah led the Israelites, there was a period of peace for about 40 years, and following this period the Israelites again turned away from God.
Judges 6:2-6. And the hand of Midian prevailed against Israel: and because of the Midianites the children of Israel made them the dens which are in the mountains, and caves, and strong holds. 3And so it was, when Israel had sown, that the Midianites came up, and the Amalekites, and the children of the east, even they came up against them; 4And they encamped against them, and destroyed the increase of the earth, till thou come unto Gaza, and left no sustenance for Israel, neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass. 5For they came up with their cattle and their tents, and they came as grasshoppers for multitude; for both they and their camels were without number: and they entered into the land to destroy it. 6And Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites; and the children of Israel cried unto the LORD.
God sent the Midianites to get their attention. Those referred to as Midianites were actually a large band of loosely-organized desert “pirates” who came from east of the Jordan River, and the south of Edom. Their numbers would include Amalekites who descended from Amalek, Esau’s grandson, and many others. The Midianites, rather than being farmers like the Israelites who found their sustenance in the soil, were desert raiders who found their sustenance in what they could take from others. Typically dispersed into small and scattered bands, they would ride into a community on their camels, deplete the area of its resources and then take advantage of their camels to move on quickly to another community. This harassment of Israel by the Midianites had been going on for seven years by the time that Gideon’s experiences are chronicled. By this time the Israelites had abandoned their farms and homes, seeking shelter in mountain caves.
Judges 6:7-10. And it came to pass, when the children of Israel cried unto the LORD because of the Midianites, 8That the LORD sent a prophet unto the children of Israel, which said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I brought you up from Egypt, and brought you forth out of the house of bondage; 9And I delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of all that oppressed you, and drave them out from before you, and gave you their land; 10And I said unto you, I am the LORD your God; fear not the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but ye have not obeyed my voice.
It was not until the Israelites could find no other solution did they finally cry out for help to the LORD. We might pause for a moment and consider where we turn when we find ourselves in need. Those who do not know the LORD have no access to the mighty power to save that is in the nature and purpose of the One True God. Those who do have faith in the LORD may often rely on themselves or on others and fail to seek God until all other options have failed. God is trying to teach the Israelites to come to Him first, to recognize who He is, and like the Psalmist of Psalm 8, submit to Him and worship Him, establishing a relationship with Him that opens opportunities for God to minister. God will work to meet the true needs of those who turn to Him, both small needs and great needs. Why do we so frequently turn to Him last instead of first?
God responded to their cry, not by destroying the Midianites as the Israelites surely desired, but by sending an unnamed prophet who reminded them that they were suffering because the abandoned the LORD and worshiped foreign gods. True change in the lives of people does not come by the defeat of their enemies, but rather by the change of their heart when they turn to the LORD in faith. It is encouraging to know that as deep as we might fall as a culture into sin, there is a remnant of faithful who always remain. Out of this remnant was at least one individual who remembered who the LORD is and what He had done for Israel in the past. God used this as a teaching moment as He proclaimed His purpose for Israel through the words of this Israelite who loved the LORD and was willing to speak the truth to an apostate nation.
This announcement was a reminder to the Israelites of their true allegiance to the LORD, and set in motion a sequence of events that God would use to deliver Israel from the Midianites.
Judges 6:11. And there came an angel of the LORD, and sat under an oak which was in Ophrah, that pertained unto Joash the Abiezrite: and his son Gideon threshed wheat by the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites.
Through the words of the prophet, the way has been prepared for the coming of another. Having been reminded of their guilt, the nation was ready to turn back to God. The way was prepared for this “angel of the LORD,” who is more completely revealed in the following scriptures as the incarnation of the LORD, Himself.
Since the location of this event is described around a tree in Ophrah (AH’-fra) with no other explanation given, we can understand that this is a known location, and most likely is a sacred place. However, sacred trees were home to the worship of pagan gods, not the LORD. Consequently, we might reasonably speculate that this tree was a well-known gathering place for pagan worship. Located near this tree was a winepress, identifying that it is probably located in a valley since vintners would gather grapes and carry them downhill rather than uphill.
It is here, in this unlikely location, that we meet Gideon, who is using the floor of the winepress to thresh wheat. A winepress would not be particularly large, probably no larger than a few feet across. This would not be a particularly efficient method to be use in separating wheat grain from chaff. He would have to beat the bundles of stalk until they released the grain rather than simply throw them up into the wind and let the air blow the chaff away. However, it was important that he remain hidden from the Midianites, necessitating some innovation.
We might tend to be critical of Gideon. However, fear and cowardice are not the same thing. Often true fear inspires wisdom. Gideon’s action does not reveal cowardice as much as it reflects the reality of a desperate situation. He is using a tactical approach to saving his crops. Threshing wheat in the winepress would require a lot of extra work. Do we sometimes take a much more difficult path in our choices when those choices are inspired by fear?
Judges 6:12. And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him, and said unto him, The LORD is with thee, thou mighty man of valour.
As the messenger spoke to Gideon, He first referred to Gideon as a “mighty warrior.” Certainly, this farmer did not think of himself as any kind of warrior, and would find this address difficult to understand. However, the LORD knows the true heart of every person. God knows the true potential of every individual that would be realized when that person will give themselves fully to Him. Though Gideon is not yet aware of his true potential, God is about to reach down to Gideon to help him shed his fears and confusion so that he can be used by the LORD in what would become the most notable event in his life.
How would our lives be changed if we were able to shed those things that keep us from giving ourselves entirely to the LORD so that He can bring out our true, full, potential?
Judges 6:13. And Gideon said unto him, Oh my Lord, if the LORD be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt? but now the LORD hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.
We are now receiving our first glimpse into the heart of Gideon. Though he refers to the Angel as “my Lord,” this is a different word than LORD. It is the second reference that describes YAHWEH. Gideon does not yet recognize that One to whom he is currently speaking is the LORD, the pre-incarnate, eternal Christ. Consequently, rather than fall down and worship the LORD, Gideon initiates a debate about how the LORD has forsaken Israel as evident by their suffering.
At this point Gideon has absolutely no idea to whom he is speaking. Rather than see God, Gideon sees only his circumstances. Often when we are in need we fail to see God working in and around us simply because we are so focused on our circumstances. It is then that we have given circumstances a form of power over us: power to turn us from the LORD, and power to cause us to miss the blessing that God would have for us if we would simply see Him and turn to Him.
Judges 6:14. And the LORD looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?
Gideon would have no reason to think that God can use him to deliver Israel any more than we would quickly think that God is going to use us to do some incredible God-sized task. We might think that we would have to be some mighty person, someone else, some super-hero, to be used of the LORD in this way. However, the Angel, now clearly identified as YAHWEH, instructs Gideon to “go in the strength that you already have.” God does not accomplish His purpose though us by giving us super-human powers, but rather uses us by empowering the gifts, talents, resources, and interests that He has already given to us. God knows the heart of Gideon, and though Gideon is currently short on confidence and understanding, the relationship that Gideon has with the LORD will open the door for Gideon’s true potential to be realized.
Judges 6:15. 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. 16And the LORD said unto him, Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man.
Gideon’s response is consistent with that which most of us would share as he first points to his own perceived shortcomings. When Gideon looks at his own state, he does not see a national leader. The words translated, “poor in Manasseh,” might be more accurately understood as “without influence in Manasseh.” Verse 27 refers to his ten male servants, revealing that Gideon is not financially destitute. The issue here is Gideon’s status as one who is far from the leaders of Israel. Not only does his family have little influence in Israel, as the least of his father’s children, Gideon has little influence even in his own family.
When we look at our circumstances, and the inability that we have to take on a God-sized task, our response would often be similar to that of Gideon, and just as sincere. However, from our knowledge of scripture we also know that when we give ourselves to the LORD, it is He who does the work, and when the work is accomplished we can point to Him, and give Him the praise, keeping none for ourselves.
Judges 6:17. And he said unto him, If now I have found grace in thy sight, then show me a sign that thou talkest with me.
Why would Gideon make a request for a sign from the LORD? Again, we should be careful about being too critical when we would likely respond the same way. We seek to understand God’s will for our lives, and when He communicates that will either directly, through His word, or through others, our natural response is often to doubt the voracity of the message. We might think, “Is this really you, LORD, talking to me”?
The requiring of a “sign” illustrates Gideon’s struggle with doubt, and his lack of belief that what he is hearing is the voice of God. Gideon’s doubts are real. His need to believe the unbelievable is real. However, the seeking of signs is not an appropriate way to find God’s will, as the interpretation of any sign is left to the observer. Looking for a “sign,” one can interpret any circumstance around them as some occult message from God, and arrive at any variation of messages, none of which is speaking out of the Word of God. Consequently, the scriptures often record rebuke towards those who seek signs.
Since Gideon’s need is real, God has a plan to meet that need in a way that will convince Gideon of His identity as the One True and Living LORD.
Judges 6:18-21. 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. 19And Gideon went in, and made ready a kid, and unleavened cakes of an ephah of flour: the flesh he put in a basket, and he put the broth in a pot, and brought it out unto him under the oak, and presented it. 20And the angel of God said unto him, Take the flesh and the unleavened cakes, and lay them upon this rock, and pour out the broth. And he did so. 21Then the angel of the LORD put forth the end of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the flesh and the unleavened cakes; and there rose up fire out of the rock, and consumed the flesh and the unleavened cakes. Then the angel of the LORD departed out of his sight.
We often forget the close relationship between worship and the eating of a meal in ancient near-eastern thought. The Jewish meal was organized as a vehicle for worship, with each part serving as a reminder of God’s provision for them. So, it is reasonable that Gideon would invite his visitor to remain for a meal. The scriptures do not record that Gideon brought anything with which to cook the meat, but absence of text is not evidence of absence of Gideon’s plan to cook the meal for his visitor. However, as Gideon brought the meal to the Angel of the LORD, he was instructed to simply place everything he brought upon a rock. When the Angel of the LORD touched the offering with His staff, fire arose from the rock, consumed what was now a sacrifice, and the LORD vanished. This convinced Gideon that he had just met the LORD.
Judges 6:12-24. And when Gideon perceived that he was an angel of the LORD, Gideon said, Alas, O Lord GOD! for because I have seen an angel of the LORD face to face. 23And the LORD said unto him, Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die. 24Then Gideon built an altar there unto the LORD, and called it Jehovahshalom: unto this day it is yet in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.
Gideon’s fear of the Midianites was now replaced with a fear of his own demise as now realized that this angelic visitor was the LORD. Israelite thought was that no person can see the face of God and live. The identity of the visitor of the LORD is again verified in that, though the Angel of the LORD had vanished, the LORD still spoke to Gideon as He assured Gideon that he would not die.
It was common practice in the ancient near-east to build a stack of stones at locations where a significant event took place so that people would remember the event. Gideon referred to the altar as Jehovah Shalom, meaning “the peace of the LORD,” or “The LORD is peace.”
Two events had now taken place to prepare Israel for deliverance: the pronouncement of a prophet, and the visitation of the Angel of the LORD to Gideon. There is still another step of preparation that needed to take place before the LORD would deliver Israel.
Judges 6:25-32. 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: 26And 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. 27Then 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. 28And when the men of the city arose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was cast down, and the grove was cut down that was by it, and the second bullock was offered upon the altar that was built. 29And they said one to another, Who hath done this thing? And when they inquired and asked, they said, Gideon the son of Joash hath done this thing. 30Then the men of the city said unto Joash, Bring out thy son, that he may die: because he hath cast down the altar of Baal, and because he hath cut down the grove that was by it. 31And Joash said unto all that stood against him, Will ye plead for Baal? will ye save him? he that will plead for him, let him be put to death whilst it is yet morning: if he be a god, let him plead for himself, because one hath cast down his altar. 32Therefore on that day he called him Jerubbaal, saying, Let Baal plead against him, because he hath thrown down his altar.
As the LORD is preparing Israel for deliverance, He points out that there is still a symbol of sin in Gideon’s own family that must be dealt with before God can use him as a leader of the nation. Just as Gideon showed tactical wisdom in his methodology for the threshing of wheat, he also shows tactical wisdom in carrying out the destruction of his family’s altar to Baal: he did so under the cover of darkness.
Also, Gideon expressed concern that he had no influence in Israel. Nobody knew who he was. After destroying the altar to Baal, everyone now knew of Gideon, the son of Joash. Furthermore, they knew that Gideon stood for the LORD and was willing to put his life on the line to take a stand for the LORD against the Canaanite gods. This is the sort of man that the Israelites could follow in their resistance to the Midianites.
Gideon’s act also united his family. Joash not only defended his son Gideon’s action, but gave him the name Jerub (Jacob) Baal, meaning one who strives against Baal.
Often we observe Old Testament custom, we often find the change in one’s name when there is a change in their character. Note that Gideon’s character has not changed. Gideon has simply had his true belief and faith in God exposed by God’s grace, a faith that was there all along, but was hidden under a cover of fear, a lack of confidence, and a lack of meaningful expression.
Joshua 6:33. Then all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the children of the east were gathered together, and went over, and pitched in the valley of Jezreel.
Another consequence of Gideon’s destruction of the temple to Baal was the impact it had on the Midianites. Though Gideon feared his father’s family and the people of the city, he probably never imagined that the event would also cause the bands of desert pirates to converge in a great gathering that would threaten to put to a quick end this minor rebellion by an even more minor Israelite. Thugs maintain their power through overwhelming violence, and so to keep their power in the region, this minor uprising must be immediately put down.
Judges 6:34-35. But the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet; and Abiezer was gathered after him. 35And he sent messengers throughout all Manasseh; who also was gathered after him: and he sent messengers unto Asher, and unto Zebulun, and unto Naphtali; and they came up to meet them.
Gideon was now prepared to take this conflict to the next level. When Gideon witnessed the gathering of the Midianites in a group that would number about 135,000 he, understanding God’s plan, put out a call to the entire region for all of the men to come. It had been two generations since the Israelites had faced an enemy, led by a leader who was submitted to the LORD, and the people came, forming an Israelite “army” of about 35,000.
Still, Israel was outnumbered about four to one, and their opponents were seasoned and brutal pagans. The Israelites were farmers; untrained and not experienced in the arts of violence. Gideon’s fears and doubts began to resurface. It would take a miracle for his few farmers to defeat such a vast array of hateful and vicious enemies. With the armies assembled and the battle lines drawn…Gideon… hesitates.
Judges 6:36-38. And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said, 37Behold, 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. 38And 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.
Gideon wanted another sign from God in order that he would be certain that it is God who is in charge here. He asked for God to perform a simple, very personal, miracle for him, one of his own choosing: cause the morning dew to saturate a piece of wool that he would place on the ground, leaving the ground around it dry. God did as he asked.
This was still not enough for Gideon.
Judges 6:39-40. 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. 40And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground.
Gideon approached God a second time for a repeat of the sign, this time asking that the dew would saturate the ground and leave the wool dry. Again, God submitted to Gideon’s demand for a test. The problem that Gideon is exposing is not his lack of faith as much as it is a lack of belief. How long will God demonstrate His patience in the face of such unbelief? “Despite being clear about the will of God, and being confirmed as a divinely chosen leader by the overwhelming response of his countrymen to his own summons to battle, he uses every means available to get out of this mission to which he has been called.” Gideon’s demands reveal that he simply cannot believe in the power of God to fulfill His promises.
We should not be too hard on Gideon. We too will often doubt the power of God to do anything significant in our own lives, and we have the blessing of living out our lives in a culture where we usually have free and open access to learn about God, and to establish a relationship with Him. Gideon was an Israelite who lived in a culture that had turned away from God to follow the mythical gods of their pagan neighbors. Since Gideon knew that the pagan gods were fictitious, he knew they did not have the power to do what he was asking from the LORD. Even though he risked much by asking a second time, Gideon had a genuine need to learn about the character of God. Before Gideon would lead the nation against such an overwhelming military opponent, he had a true and genuine need to know God, and to have confidence in Him.
How do we find enough confidence in the LORD to step out of our comfort zone and join Him in a work that is beyond ourselves? The truth is that many Christians live well within their comfort zone and when asked to move out of their circle of personal comfort will refuse. As God has gifted each person to serve Him in a unique and dynamic way, many will remain on the side-lines of God’s work in the community around them. Before we criticize Gideon for seeking to know God better by putting Him to a test, let us look at our own lives and determine if we are seeking to know God better at all.
God certainly showed patience and grace towards this fearful warrior. Though Gideon was still not yet ready to lead Israel, God knew Gideon’s potential as He continued to develop Gideon’s understanding and Gideon’s heart. However, there are always consequences when we refuse God. Because of Gideon’s hesitancy at least three days were lost, time that allowed even more of Israel’s enemies to arrive to the battlefield, two more days for the enemy to organize and to gain knowledge of the size and location of the Israelite forces.
For Gideon, the test was over. From this point on it is evident that Gideon had learned to trust God. Now Gideon must learn not only to trust Him, but to come to understand His nature and purpose. Though Gideon now believes that the LORD will be with him in battle, he still thinks that he will be battling “for the LORD,” rather than the LORD battling for Him. This is a common error that we repeat today as we are often willing to take on great sacrifices and wage great battles in the name of the LORD, not realizing that God is not asking for us to fight for Him. God is allowing us to join Him in the battle that He has already won. What takes place next will teach Gideon another important lesson.
Judges 7:1-3. 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. 2And 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. 3Now 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.
Up to this point, the Israelite army had been outnumbered by about 4 to 1. This represents four violent and armed opponents for each Israelite farmer. Now they were outnumbered better than 13 to 1. Gideon’s army was just reduced from a division to a battalion. The chances of Israel defeating the Midianites in battle just went from extremely difficult to impossible. It is evident that Gideon still does not understand God’s nature and purpose as he finds himself even more overwhelmed by what he understands is an impossible task that God is requiring of him.
Judges 7:4-6. 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. 5So 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. 6And the number of them that lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, were three hundred men: but all the rest of the people bowed down upon their knees to drink water.
We may note that Gideon put the LORD to the test twice. Now, the LORD is about to put Gideon to the test twice also.
If Gideon was still thinking that he might be able to defeat 130,000 Midianites with 10,000 farmers, the LORD is about to correct that thinking. God used a curious method to reduce Gideon’s band to include both a sufficient number of men and a group of men with the character that He required.
The use of the word, "Knees" here is often a bit vague. The basic situation is this: all of Gideon’s courageous volunteers were thirsty. Those who, when brought to the water, turned their backs on danger and for selfish motives addressed their own needs first by drinking with their faces in the water were weeded out. Those remaining were those who maintained vigilance, using slower and more difficult manner to get water, but by doing so they were able to continue to look around. Furthermore, by limiting the amount of water they drank they were more prepared for battle.
This method that the LORD used to select those who would join Him in His work illustrates much about the kinds of people that God will use. When God calls upon people in the church to do take on a task, often one of a select core group who always seems busy about the work of the church will step forward and volunteer. This core group is usually aware and sensitive to the needs in the church and community, where the others are much more concerned with their own needs. The core person has to find ways to justify spending more time on church matters to the sacrifice of his own desires. The others have to find ways to justify spending more time on their own desires, using rationalizations to defend their unwillingness to do anything of significance for the Lord. With a small core group responsible for all of the needs for work in the church they find themselves working outside their skill-set, and will often become overworked, tired, and sometimes disillusioned as they are doing extra work that others should be doing.
In the preparation for the deliverance of Israel, God looks to select from the group those who are vigilant, who's focus remains on the task to which they are called. If you feel that you are not in this select group, it may be time to do a little self-examination to see what is standing between your willingness to serve the Lord and your need to serve yourself.
Judges 7:7-8. 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. 8So the people took victuals in their hand, and their trumpets: and he sent all the rest of Israel every man unto his tent, and retained those three hundred men: and the host of Midian was beneath him in the valley.
With his army now reduced from a battalion to three companies of men, there is simply no possibility that Gideon will be meeting the Midianites in direct battle. At this point, Gideon is beginning to understand the nature of God. God’s words “I will save you” now ring with relevance. Gideon is now confident that God is true to His promise, and that God will save Israel, using Gideon and his men in the process. However, there is still this nagging fear that Gideon cannot shake. Along each step of Gideon’s preparation, the LORD has actively addressed Gideon’s need, and now, immediately before the conflict would begin, the LORD puts in motion a sequence of events that would serve to minimize Gideon’s fear.
Judges 7:9-11. And it came to pass the same night, that the LORD said unto him, Arise, get thee down unto the host; for I have delivered it into thine hand. 10But if thou fear to go down, go thou with Phurah thy servant down to the host: 11And thou shalt hear what they say; and afterward shall thine hands be strengthened to go down unto the host. Then went he down with Phurah his servant unto the outside of the armed men that were in the host.
Judges 7:12-15. And the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the children of the east lay along in the valley like grasshoppers for multitude; and their camels were without number, as the sand by the sea side for multitude. 13And when Gideon was come, behold, there was a man that told a dream unto his fellow, and said, Behold, I dreamed a dream, and, lo, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the host of Midian, and came unto a tent, and smote it that it fell, and overturned it, that the tent lay along. 14And his fellow answered and said, This is nothing else save the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel: for into his hand hath God delivered Midian, and all the host. 15And it was so, when Gideon heard the telling of the dream, and the interpretation thereof, that he worshipped, and returned into the host of Israel, and said, Arise; for the LORD hath delivered into your hand the host of Midian.
It must have really impressed Gideon to hear his own name spoken of in this way. Gideon’s lack of self-confidence is quite evident. He has heard from the LORD that He would deliver the Midianites into Gideon’s hands. Now he has heard that even the Midianites know that they are doomed. Gideon will be returning to his small band of soldiers with a testimony similar to that of the spies who entered Jericho only to learn that the Canaanites were also fearing their own doom at the hands of Israel. Gideon knows what happened in Jericho. Now he fully understands that a similar event is about to take place under his “command.”
Judges 7:16-25. 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. 17And 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. 18When 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. 19So 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. 20And 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. 21And they stood every man in his place round about the camp: and all the host ran, and cried, and fled. 22And the three hundred blew the trumpets, and the LORD set every man’s sword against his fellow, even throughout all the host: and the host fled to Bethshittah in Zererath, and to the border of Abelmeholah, unto Tabbath. 23And the men of Israel gathered themselves together out of Naphtali, and out of Asher, and out of all Manasseh, and pursued after the Midianites. 24And Gideon sent messengers throughout all mount Ephraim, saying, Come down against the Midianites, and take before them the waters unto Bethbarah and Jordan. Then all the men of Ephraim gathered themselves together, and took the waters unto Bethbarah and Jordan. 25And they took two princes of the Midianites, Oreb and Zeeb; and they slew Oreb upon the rock Oreb, and Zeeb they slew at the winepress of Zeeb, and pursued Midian, and brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon on the other side Jordan.
The battle become a rout. It was not considered a correct tactical strategy for every soldier to carry a torch. Soldiers needed to carry weapons, and each torch was a sure sign of the presence of a large number of soldiers, and consequently, the torchbearer was usually the first one killed or captured in battle. Consequently, a torch was used only to lead a division of soldiers. The Midianites did not see three hundred soldiers surrounding them. They saw three hundred divisions of soldiers descending upon them, and descending upon them silently and slowly instead of the typical charge they would be expecting. This provided time for the disorganized army of desert pirates to panic. It appears that Gideon's men descended upon the city on three sides, West, North and East, leaving an escape route to the South. The sounding of the trumpets sounded as the already well known death knell of the Shofar. It was accompanied by the sound of the breaking pottery, sounding like the motion of many rocks under the feet of thousands of soldiers. This sudden transition from silence to the sounds of battle caused sufficient confusion in the camp that each soldier defended himself by turning on anyone nearby. As the torches would descend, they would interpret everyone around the torchbearer to be an armed enemy. Gideon's army of 300 just became an army of 135,300. All Gideon had to do was watch the dissolution of the Midianite army.
There are some lessons we can learn from this passage of scripture.
Gideon overcame his fear of the Midianites by trusting in God. God equipped him to deliver the Israelites from their enemies. Gideon’s faithful response to his fear gives us a pattern for faithful living.
Fear prompts different responses. Some people flee whatever frightens them. Others react by rashly trying to confront the object of their fear, often without being prepared adequately to confront that they fear. Some people are paralyzed by fear and do nothing. Christians can respond in faith to their fears, knowing that God is with them throughout life’s struggles.
We all need heroes and heroines to be role models for us. One advantage of studying Gideon’s life is to see how a frightened young man grew into a mature, courageous, and faithful leader as the LORD worked with him, meeting him at his point of need at each step of his development. Like him, our faith in God can grow when we focus on Him. As our faith grows, we will see our fears diminish as we realize that faith is the shield that quenches the fiery darts that we are afraid of.
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