Today we are continuing our journey through the book of Judges, looking at Judges 7 Gideon—the Three Hundred. Gideon has received the reassurance from the Lord that He truly is God and now prepares to enter into battle against the Midianites. In an echo back to Jericho, God does battle differently than anyone else; first whittling away Gideon’s men until there are only 300 left; the Lord then has them go into battle with only trumpets, empty jars, and torches. The Lord is making sure that everyone knows that the glory for this triumph is completely the Lord’s!
Judges 7 Gideon—The 300
Theme: God delivers his people through Gideon as he delivers us through Jesus
This week we’re in part 2 of Gideon’s story as a judge in Israel. Last week, in the first part, Gideon needed to learn to see himself through God’s eyes, to place his identity in the Lord instead of how he and others saw him. Gideon needed to root his identity, just as we need to do, in God rather than the identities we choose for ourselves. Now Gideon is going to learn to trust deeply in the Lord so that the Lord gets the glory instead of trying to grab it for himself, again, a lesson we need to embrace too.
Gideon calls Israel to battle against Midian. Jerub Baal, the name Gideon has been given meaning enemy of Baal, is now the mighty warrior the Lord has called to battle Baal’s warriors. 32,000 men respond to Gideon’s call, but now the Lord tells Gideon that there are way too many fighters and to tell those men who are afraid of the upcoming battle that they can leave Mount Gilead. 22,000 of the men decide to leave. One commentator writes that God places the fear of the battle in their hearts since they had already responded to Gideon’s call to battle Midian. Keep this in mind for a little later on.
Gideon now has 10,000 men to go up against Midian’s army of 135,000 men, as we learn in the next chapter, and still the Lord tells Gideon that he has way too many men. The Lord whittles Gideon’s army down to 300 men by having them drink from a stream and those who lap the water like dogs get to stay while the others can leave. 300 against 135,000, that’s crazy odds, that’s looking for a heroic death, not a victory. This is not the movie The 300 based on a fictional retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae during the Greco-Persian War, which the Greeks lost anyway.
The Lord tells 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.” This takes a deep faith and trust in the Lord. Now we understand why the Lord focused so hard on getting Gideon to understand who he is through God’s eyes, that he can trust in his identity as mighty warrior because his identity is rooted in the Lord, and that the Lord can use him to defeat Midian, even with these crazy odds. Gideon allows everyone but the 300 to leave, and for this act of faith, Gideon is given a place among the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11, “And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.”
Now Gideon is with his men on Mount Gilead, overlooking the Midian encampment lies like a swarm of hungry locusts ravaging the land. Now instead of Gideon asking the Lord for a sign, the Lord comes and offers Gideon a sign to strengthen Gideon’s faith and calm his fear, “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.” Gideon and Purah his servant go down to the outposts of the camp.
The Lord often gives us a sense of peace before he calls us to stand up for him, giving us the strength and courage to be a witness for him when we know that it might things a lot harder for us. Jesus reassures us through the Holy Spirit that he never abandons us, that he’s with us as we walk his path of faithfulness to the Father. The Holy Spirit keeps pointing us to Jesus, to reinforcing in us our identity in Jesus as the foundation of hope and strength we need as we journey through life.
As Gideon heads down with his servant Purah, they quietly come across 2 men talking about a dream one of them had. “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.” His friend responded, “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.” Gideon hears this and his first reaction is to bow down and worship the Lord even before he actually goes into battle, showing faith and gratitude in the Lord and his faithfulness to his so often unfaithful people. A question that struck me as I reflected on Gideon’s reaction to hearing the Midian soldier’s interpretation of his dream was, ‘how often do we praise Jesus before he does something for us, before we receive the things we are asking for,’ whether it’s healing, guidance, or whatever? It can be really hard to praise God for healing when healing never comes; does our praise depend then on what God does rather then on who he is?
The dream of a barley loaf, more biscuit than loaf, a very ordinary kind of loaf overturns and collapses a tent. Israel, small and insignificant against such a powerful enemy; Israel living in caves and hiding and scavenging simply to survive, is seen by this anonymous Midian soldier in his dream from the Lord to have the ability to overturn and collapse the power of Midian and Midian’s god Baal because God has given them into Israel’s hands! Gideon knows without a doubt that the Lord is with his people, as he always has.
Charles Spurgeon sees Gideon’s story as a story of God’s providence being worked out. An un-named Midianite soldier has a specific dream at a specific time and tells it to his fellow solder just as Gideon is creeping up and can over hear him, even naming Gideon by name, and declaring Gideon’s victory over his own army, even though it’s only a dream! The writers of the Bible don’t know anything about circumstance as they see the world and history through the lenses of faith and trust. Often, we only recognize how Jesus and the Holy Spirit have been working in and through our lives when we stop and reflect back on our lives. The challenge is to get close enough to God that we recognize the hand of the Spirit in our lives as the Spirit is working right now. This is why the church has developed things like spiritual disciplines to help us grow deeper in our faith, closer to Jesus. this is why you were given a personal faith plan earlier this fall; it’s meant to help you identify areas and ways to grow in your faith, to help you explore where the Spirit is at work right now in your lives.
Now in an echo of the battle of Jericho, Gideon calls his 300 men together, develops a battle plan to surround the Midianite camp, giving the men empty jars with torches inside, along with a trumpet. He tells them, “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.’” Everything goes according to plan, and even better than Gideon and his 300 men could ever imagine. At Gideon’s signal, they all break their jars, creating patches of flickering light in the darkness, blowing their trumpets, giving the impression that companies of warriors are attacking in the darkness, sowing chaos and confusion among the Midianite soldiers. The Lord sows panic in the hearts and minds of the Midianites so that they pick up their swords and weapons and begin battling each other. In their fear and panic, the men of Baal begin to run and Gideon and his men watch as the Midianite army destroys itself; a God battle at its best as the Lord shows his power over Baal.
The men previously dismissed by Gideon now re-enter the story as they respond to Gideon’s call to come and rout Midian, to drive them out of Israel. They capture two of the Midian leaders; killing them and taking their heads, demoralizing the Midian army even more. The Lord has stepped in and delivered his people again, remaining faithful to his covenant with them, but doing it in such a way that there can be no mistaking that it was all the Lord who saved them and nothing that Gideon was able to do as deliverer of Israel. This points straight to Jesus and his saving us, being our deliverer, not from a foreign king or general. Just like there is nothing we can do to save ourselves from our sins, in the same way, God shows Israel that it’s not at all through their own might, power, or abilities that they’re saved, it’s all God, all his grace and faithfulness to us.