MENU

Where the world comes to study the Bible

8. When Less is More (Judges 6:36-7:23)

Related Media

Introduction

36 Gideon said to God, “If you really intend to use me to deliver Israel, as you promised, then give me a sign as proof. 37 Look, I am putting a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece, and the ground around it is dry, then I will be sure that you will use me to deliver Israel, as you promised.” 38 The Lord did as he asked. When he got up the next morning, he squeezed the fleece, and enough dew dripped from it to fill a bowl. 39 Gideon said to God, “Please do not get angry at me, when I ask for just one more sign. Please allow me one more test with the fleece. This time make only the fleece dry, while the ground around it is covered with dew.” 40 That night God did as he asked. Only the fleece was dry and the ground around it was covered with dew.

1 Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) and his men got up the next morning and camped near the spring of Harod. The Midianites were camped north of them near the hill of Moreh in the valley. 2 The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many men for me to hand Midian over to you. Israel might brag, ‘Our own strength has delivered us.’ 3 Now, announce to the men, ‘Whoever is shaking with fear may turn around and leave Mount Gilead.’” Twenty-two thousand men went home; ten thousand remained. 4 The Lord spoke to Gideon again, “There are still too many men. Bring them down to the water and I will thin the ranks some more. When I say, ‘This one should go with you,’ pick him to go; when I say, ‘This one should not go with you,’ do not take him.” 5 So he brought the men down to the water. Then the Lord said to Gideon, “Separate those who lap the water as a dog laps from those who kneel to drink.” 6 Three hundred men lapped; the rest of the men kneeled to drink water. 7 The Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred men who lapped I will deliver the whole army and I will hand Midian over to you. The rest of the men should go home.” 8 The men who were chosen took supplies and their trumpets. Gideon sent all the men of Israel back to their homes; he kept only three hundred men. Now the Midianites were camped down below in the valley.

9 That night the Lord said to Gideon, “Get up! Attack the camp, for I am handing it over to you. 10 But if you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with Purah your servant 11 and listen to what they are saying. Then you will be brave and attack the camp.” So he went down with Purah his servant to where the sentries were guarding the camp. 12 Now the Midianites, Amalekites, and the people from the east covered the valley like a swarm of locusts. Their camels could not be counted; they were as innumerable as the sand on the seashore. 13 When Gideon arrived, he heard a man telling another man about a dream he had. The man said, “Look! I had a dream. I saw a stale cake of barley bread rolling into the Midianite camp. It hit a tent so hard it knocked it over and turned it upside down. The tent just collapsed.” 14 The other man said, “Without a doubt this symbolizes the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God is handing Midian and all the army over to him.”

15 When Gideon heard the report of the dream and its interpretation, he praised God. Then he went back to the Israelite camp and said, “Get up, for the Lord is handing the Midianite army over to you!” 16 He divided the three hundred men into three units. He gave them all trumpets and empty jars with torches inside them. 17 He said to them, “Watch me and do as I do. Watch closely! I am going to the edge of the camp. Do as I do! 18 When I and all who are with me blow our trumpets, you also blow your trumpets all around the camp. Then say, ‘For the Lord and for Gideon!’”

19 Gideon took a hundred men to the edge of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just after they had changed the guards. They blew their trumpets and broke the jars they were carrying. 20 All three units blew their trumpets and broke their jars. They held the torches in their left hand and the trumpets in their right. Then they yelled, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” 21 They stood in order all around the camp. The whole army ran away; they shouted as they scrambled away. 22 When the three hundred men blew their trumpets, the Lord caused the Midianites to attack one another with their swords throughout the camp. The army fled to Beth Shittah on the way to Zererah. They went to the border of Abel Meholah near Tabbath. 23 Israelites from Naphtali, Asher, and Manasseh answered the call and chased the Midianites.2

Introduction

“The more, the better.” Here’s an expression I’ve heard many times in my life, and quite often it is true. If you can get more ears of corn for the same price at a particular grocery store, or double coupons on a particular day, that’s usually a good thing. But there are times when more may not be better. Making more money is not always a good thing, nor is having more people attend church, if these “gains” come at the expense of more important matters. If more people attend your church because the gospel is watered down, sin isn’t mentioned, and neither is hell, then more is less.

We are sometimes inclined to think that “more” is necessary to do the work of God: “If we had more money in the Missions budget, then we could save more souls.” “If we only had more people praying, our sister with cancer would not have died.” Such statements will need to be rethought in the light of our text, for I believe it clearly teaches that in God’s work, less may be more.

When we come to the story of Gideon and his fleece, we are dealing with one of the most popular stories in the Book of Judges. Parents can relax because there are no gory Ehud/Eglon stories or embarrassing explanations required when reading about Samson and his exploits. Fleeces, jars, torches, and trumpets are a welcome subject in the Book of Judges. But let us keep in mind that our familiarity with this story may also work against us. We may be inclined to hear it as we have heard it before, without looking at the details as carefully as we should. (Remember that the most dangerous stretch of road – so far as traffic accidents are concerned – is that stretch with which we are most familiar.) So let us listen well, looking to God’s Word and to His Spirit to challenge and to change our thinking and our behavior as required.

A Review of Chapter 6

Once again the Israelites have sinned, “doing evil in the sight of the LORD” (6:1). We know from what we read in chapter 6 that they have sunk to the level of worshipping Baal and Asherah, Canaanite deities. I’m not so sure that the Israelites have consciously ceased worshipping God altogether, as much as they have begun to worship the Canaanite gods as their primary focus. As a result, God gave them over to the Midianites and an eastern alliance of nations. These were a nomadic people, so for seven years they came at will (but most often during harvest time), plundering the land and leaving the Israelites in desperate straits.

When the Israelites cried out to God, He sent them a prophet who reminded them of God’s previous mighty acts of deliverance. And He also reminded them of God’s command not to fear or to worship the gods of the land they were to possess, but they had disobeyed by doing so, and this was the explanation for their oppression. Then the Angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, designating him as Israel’s deliverer, and assuring him of His presence and power to achieve this goal. After much protest on Gideon’s part and a spectacular sign on God’s, Gideon is convinced that the One speaking to him is truly the God of Israel. At God’s instruction, Gideon tears down his father’s Baal altar and Asherah pole. Adding insult to injury (to Baal and his consort, Asherah), Gideon offers a sacrifice to God at this place, using a bull (the symbol of Baal) for the sacrifice and the wood of the Asherah pole for the firewood.

Although Gideon’s actions were done in the cover of darkness, the morning light revealed the destruction of their idols and Gideon’s newly-discovered devotion to the God of Israel. The people of his hometown were furious and demanded that his father turn Gideon over to them to be put to death. Joash, Gideon’s father, came to his son’s rescue, but more importantly he joined his son in his rejection of Baal and Asherah. The events of the previous night brought something into very clear focus for him. Baal and Asherah were the “gods” who were supposed to give their worshippers fertility, prosperity, and victory in battle – all of which Israel had forfeited because they did worship them (as the prophet had indicated). If Baal was so all-powerful, then why did the townspeople need to come to his rescue? Wasn’t he the one who was supposed to rescue them? No, let Baal take up his own offense with Gideon. Joash threatened to kill anyone who sought to defend this worthless god. And to underscore his defiance, Joash renamed Gideon “Jerub-Baal,” which means “let Baal contend.”

Joash’s leadership had a profound impact on the people of his clan, the Abiezrites. Not only did they give up their opposition to Gideon, they began to follow him. The eastern coalition converged on the Israelites, staging for battle in the Valley of Jezreel. The Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon, prompting him to sound the alarm, summoning his fellow Israelites to battle. His own clan (the Abiezrites) and his entire tribe (Manasseh), along with Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali assembled to go to battle, following Gideon as their leader.

Gideon’s Fleece

Judges 6:36-40

36 Gideon said to God, “If you really intend to use me to deliver Israel, as you promised, then give me a sign as proof. 37 Look, I am putting a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece, and the ground around it is dry, then I will be sure that you will use me to deliver Israel, as you promised.” 38 The Lord did as he asked. When he got up the next morning, he squeezed the fleece, and enough dew dripped from it to fill a bowl. 39 Gideon said to God, “Please do not get angry at me, when I ask for just one more sign. Please allow me one more test with the fleece. This time make only the fleece dry, while the ground around it is covered with dew.” 40 That night God did as he asked. Only the fleece was dry and the ground around it was covered with dew (Judges 6:36-40).

Here is what I believe happened. The Midianites somehow discerned that a rebellion on the part of the Israelites was imminent. They, along with their eastern allies, crossed the Jordan river and set up camp in the Jezreel Valley, poised to reassert their dominance. The Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon, so that he was virtually compelled to blow the trumpet, summoning his fellow-Israelites to war. They came, some 32,000 strong, and were now awaiting Gideon’s orders to attack. From his elevated position (probably Mount Gilboa), Gideon was able to look out upon the Jezreel Valley and to observe the size of the opposing army. We know what Gideon would have seen from this later description in verse 12 of chapter 7:

Now the Midianites, Amalekites, and the people from the east covered the valley like a swarm of locusts. Their camels could not be counted; they were as innumerable as the sand on the seashore (Judges 7:12).

Aware as we are of Gideon’s lack of courage, it is not difficult to imagine what was going through his mind as he looked out on this innumerable host of warriors: “What in the world was I thinking when I blew that trumpet, summoning this meager band of Israelites (32,000) to take on this overwhelmingly larger army3 spread out before us?” And so it is not difficult for us to understand why Gideon requested a confirming sign from God that going to war with the Midianites was the right choice.

Just what was it that Gideon was seeking to achieve by requesting this sign? It was not (as many believe) Gideon’s attempt to discern the will of God. God had made His will very clear: He was going to deliver Israel through Gideon. Gideon twice acknowledges this in his own words when he says, “If you really intend to use me to deliver Israel, as you promised. . .” (see 6:36-37). Gideon was certain that this was the God of Israel speaking to him (6:22) and that His purpose was to deliver Israel from the Midianites (6:12-18). There was one thing Gideon found difficult, even impossible, to believe – that God would deliver Israel from the Midianites through him. That was what Gideon wanted God to confirm, not merely with words, but with a sign.

Now let’s be honest with one another. Isn’t Gideon’s unbelief something that is familiar to all of us who have come to trust in Jesus as our Savior? We believe in the Lord Jesus, and we know that we are eternally saved, safe and secure in His keeping. We believe that God’s purpose is to proclaim the good news of the gospel throughout the entire world. We believe that God is going to bring many to faith. We even believe that God may bring revival to our country, to our city, and perhaps even to our neighborhood. But we have our doubts when we consider the possibility that God intends to accomplish these great things through us. God may use a Billy Graham or a John Piper or a Chuck Swindoll, but surely He will not use me in any significant way! That is what this test is all about. Gideon wants God to confirm His promise to achieve Israel’s deliverance through him.

And so Gideon requests God’s confirmation of His promise by means of a sign. He will set out a fleece on the threshing floor (After all, it isn’t being used to thresh the grain; Gideon has been doing that in the wine press – see 6:11). If it is God’s will to deliver Israel through him, then let him find the fleece wet and the ground around it dry. That will convince him that God is really going to use him to deliver the Israelites. And so it came about in the morning that the fleece was wet, and the ground around it was dry, just as Gideon had stipulated.

But Gideon’s doubts linger. And so in truly scientific fashion he reverses the test. Let the LORD now do just the opposite; let Him make the fleece dry and the ground around it wet. Graciously, and without a word of rebuke, God grants his request.4

It seems to me that in this “test,” there is both good news and bad news. The bad news is that Gideon is reluctant to take God at His word. He knew what God had said; he just didn’t quite believe it. The good news is that Gideon is not proud, arrogant, or confident in his own abilities. Gideon is scared to death and clinging desperately to God. That is a far better place to be than confident in one’s own abilities.

Or is it? Our culture says otherwise, and thus many Christians think otherwise. Much like the secular world, we think that those most likely to succeed are the ones who have great intellect, healthy self-esteem, are good looking, and aggressive. In God’s world, it is the weak whom He uses to achieve His purposes.5 Or, putting the matter in the terms of our title: Less is more.

Thinning Out the Ranks

Judges 7:1-8

1 Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) and his men got up the next morning and camped near the spring of Harod. The Midianites were camped north of them near the hill of Moreh in the valley. 2 The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many men for me to hand Midian over to you. Israel might brag, ‘Our own strength has delivered us.’ 3 Now, announce to the men, ‘Whoever is shaking with fear may turn around and leave Mount Gilead.’” Twenty-two thousand men went home; ten thousand remained. 4 The Lord spoke to Gideon again, “There are still too many men. Bring them down to the water and I will thin the ranks some more. When I say, ‘This one should go with you,’ pick him to go; when I say, ‘This one should not go with you,’ do not take him.” 5 So he brought the men down to the water. Then the Lord said to Gideon, “Separate those who lap the water as a dog laps from those who kneel to drink.” 6 Three hundred men lapped; the rest of the men kneeled to drink water. 7 The Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred men who lapped I will deliver the whole army and I will hand Midian over to you. The rest of the men should go home.” 8 The men who were chosen took supplies and their trumpets. Gideon sent all the men of Israel back to their homes; he kept only three hundred men. Now the Midianites were camped down below in the valley (Judges 7:1-8).

Do you not find it noteworthy that our author would refer to Gideon as Jerub-Baal in verse 1? I believe that he is reminding us of the events of chapter 6 and is keeping before us the challenge to Baal and all the Canaanite deities that is being made here. Baal could not give Israel prosperity, nor did he deliver her from Midianite bondage. Baal could not even defend himself from a timid fellow like Gideon. So how will the God of Israel fare in this contest with the Midianites (and thus with the Canaanite deities) in chapter 7? We shall soon see.

Consider this text through the eyes of a man who lacks courage. He first requested that God prove His identity. That’s not an entirely bad thing, although that should have been a “no-brainer” for an Israelite, who knew the God of Israel declared that He was God alone. Gideon next requested that God verify His promise to deliver Israel through him. Here stands a man who has just sounded the trumpet for his fellow-Israelites to assemble for warfare, and 32,000 have shown up. But these are far too few to match the combined forces of the eastern alliance. And yet now, in our text, God is going to reduce this fighting force of 32,000 warriors to a mere 300 in number. That should quicken Gideon’s pulse.

The Midianites and their allies have come from east of the Jordan and have crossed over into Israel, setting up camp in the Jezreel valley, on the southern side of the Hill of Moreh, and to the north of the Israelites, who are camped by the spring of Harod. Gideon has just tested God twice, and now God will test him by a two-fold reduction of his forces.

The key to understanding our text is found in verse 2: “You have too many men for me to hand Midian over to you. Israel might brag, ‘Our own strength has delivered us.’” We are amazing in our ability to take credit for something we have not done. In Deuteronomy 7, God instructs the Israelites not to fear their enemies because they are greater in number and strength, for it is He who will defeat them.6 And yet in the very next chapter, God also finds it necessary to warn His people against taking credit for the victories He will have won on their behalf:

11 Be sure you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments, ordinances, and statutes that I am giving you today. 12 When you eat your fill, when you build and occupy good houses, 13 when your cattle and flocks increase, when you have plenty of silver and gold, and when you have abundance of everything, 14 be sure you do not feel self-important and forget the Lord your God who brought you from the land of Egypt, the place of slavery, 15 and who brought you through the great, fearful desert of venomous serpents and scorpions, an arid place with no water. He made water flow from a flint rock and 16 fed you in the desert with manna (which your ancestors had never before known) so that he might by humbling you test you and eventually bring good to you. 17 Be careful not to say, “My own ability and skill have gotten me this wealth.” 18 You must remember the Lord your God, for he is the one who gives ability to get wealth; if you do this he will confirm his covenant that he made by oath to your ancestors, even as he has to this day (Deuteronomy 8:11-18, emphasis mine).

The greatness of God is the cure to our fears regarding our inadequacies and weaknesses. It is also the greatness of God that should be the preventative for any pride or arrogance on our part, for when victories are won, it is He who has done it, not us. Thus, the greatness of our God should keep us from fear and from pride.

Surely Gideon felt that a mere 32,000 men would not be sufficient to defeat the horde of Midianites who were spread out before him in the Valley of Jezreel, but God will now reduce his resources by means of a two-step process, which will leave him with a mere 300 men. No one would dare to take the credit for the victory God will bring about through this small, unarmed force. The reason for this reduction is: (a) man’s pride, and (b) God’s glory. When God graciously granted Gideon the signs he requested, it had to be with this in view. Given what is about to happen, Gideon would need them!

The first phase of the reduction took place in accordance with God’s instructions that are recorded in Deuteronomy 20, verse 8:

In addition, the officers are to say to the troops, “Who among you is afraid and fainthearted? He may go home so that he will not make his fellow soldier’s heart as fearful as his own” (Deuteronomy 20:8).

Given the size of the Israelites’ army compared to that of the eastern coalition, you’d better believe that two out of three soldiers confessed to being fainthearted. And so it was that 22,000 men seized the opportunity to be excused from battle. Gideon is now left with a mere 10,000 men, but this was still too many.

That brings us to phase 2 of God’s reduction of Israel’s resources. God instructed Gideon to take his men down to the water, which I am assuming to be the spring of Harod (or the stream which proceeded from that spring). In verse 4, God speaks emphatically of His sovereign choice in who stays and who remains. We can see why this would be so, knowing that only 300 men will remain when God is finished thinning out the troops.

We now come to the author’s account of the “lappers” and the “kneelers.” Most of those who drank knelt by the water to do so, while a few scooped up the water in their hands and then lapped it up. God chose the “lappers” to remain, while the “kneelers” were sent on their way.7 As much as I appreciate Dale Ralph Davis’ commentary on Judges, I am not inclined to completely accept his handling of this portion of the text. He is critical of those who try to explain the difference between the “lappers” and the “kneelers” in terms of their suitability for war.8 He believes that there is no great distinction between these two groups and that the real issue is simply a reduction in the number of men who will go to battle.

I reluctantly disagree with Davis for a couple of reasons. First, a great deal of faith will be required of these remaining men. They must go into battle against a host of enemy soldiers whose camels seem to replace the iron chariots of earlier occupying armies. These men must go into battle without any weapons, other than a jar, a torch, and a trumpet, and they must stand fast in the face of the enemy, without giving ground. It seems to me that this is a time for “a few good men,” men of courage and faith. Second, the 22,000 men who were initially dismissed were dismissed on the grounds that they were afraid. Why would a higher standard not also apply to the dismissal of the 9700 men?

I would agree with Davis that God is reducing the number of Israelite warriors so that no one will boast in men and so that God will get the glory. I would also agree with Davis that some have tended to overdo the distinction between the “lappers” and the “kneelers,” spiritualizing a bit too much. But I would disagree with him in playing down the need for 300 men of faith and character. I believe God thinned out the 32,000 so that He ended up with a handful of valiant warriors. And, by the way, that is what the Angel of the LORD assured Gideon he would become (6:12).

I have one last observation (or speculation, if you choose to see it that way) regarding the “provisions” that the 300 soldiers will take with them. Contrary to the translation cited above,9 I am inclined to agree with the rendering of verse 8 by several other translations:

So Gideon sent the rest of the Israelites to their tents but kept the three hundred, who took over the provisions and trumpets of the others (Judges 7:8a, NIV).

So the 300 men took the people's provisions and their trumpets into their hands. Gideon sent all the other men of Israel, each to his tent, but retained the 300 men; and the camp of Midian was below him in the valley (NASB 95).

So Gideon sent all the Israelites to their tents, but kept the 300 who took the people's provisions and their trumpets. The camp of Midian was below him in the valley (CSB).

So Gideon collected the provisions and rams’ horns of the other warriors and sent them home. But he kept the 300 men with him. The Midianite camp was in the valley just below Gideon (NLT).

I believe that the author is informing the reader that the 300 men who went to war were given the jars, torches, and trumpets of those who were sent to their tents. When we come to the account of the actual events of the battle, I believe that we will see: (1) That no more than 300 men were needed for the task they were to perform; (2) That any more than 300 men would have been a detriment to Israel’s strategy; and (3) That the provisions given the 300 by those who were sent back were exactly what the 300 needed to perform their task. In other words, I’m suggesting that the “provisions” supplied by the 9700 who departed consisted of 300 jars, torches, and trumpets – exactly what the 300 fighting men (the “lappers”) required. God’s provisions (soldiers and supplies) were no more and no less than what was needed.

Blessed Assurance

Judges 7:9-14

9 That night the Lord said to Gideon, “Get up! Attack the camp, for I am handing it over to you. 10 But if you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with Purah your servant 11 and listen to what they are saying. Then you will be brave and attack the camp.” So he went down with Purah his servant to where the sentries were guarding the camp. 12 Now the Midianites, Amalekites, and the people from the east covered the valley like a swarm of locusts. Their camels could not be counted; they were as innumerable as the sand on the seashore. 13 When Gideon arrived, he heard a man telling another man about a dream he had. The man said, “Look! I had a dream. I saw a stale cake of barley bread rolling into the Midianite camp. It hit a tent so hard it knocked it over and turned it upside down. The tent just collapsed.” 14 The other man said, “Without a doubt this symbolizes the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God is handing Midian and all the army over to him.”

God has given Gideon the command to attack the Midianites, along with the promise of victory. But God knows Gideon intimately. Now is the time when further assurance is needed. If you and I were honest, I suspect that none of us would have passed up this opportunity for divine confirmation. If Gideon is fearful, he should take his servant, Purah,10 and go down to the Midianite camp.

Gideon will be reassured as to the final outcome of this battle, but in no way does God minimize the danger, or the strength, of the opposition they will face. The command to “go down” to the Midianite camp underscores the fact that Gideon and his men were camped above the floor or the Jezreel Valley, which gave them a vantage point from which they could look out over the vast assembly of men and camels poised for battle. The sight of what is described in verse 12 must have sent a chill down Gideon’s spine. What Gideon will hear will strengthen his faith, but what he has seen has enhanced his need for faith.

Being curious by nature, I have to wonder what the weather was like on that fateful night. I doubt that there was a clear, star-filled sky with a full moon. I would imagine that it was one of those pitch black nights when there was little or no illumination from the heavens. This would have enabled Gideon and Purah to make their way into the camp of the Midianites, until they came upon two soldiers in conversation. The first tells the other of his troubling dream, a vivid dream of a barley loaf tumbling down into their camp, overturning and crushing a Midianite tent. The second was granted the ability to interpret the dream. He was certain that this could mean nothing other than a smashing Israelite victory over them (the Midianites). They were going to be defeated. Did memories of earlier miraculous Israelite victories strengthen the sense of their impending doom? I suspect so.11

The Impact of this Dream

Judges 7:14-15

14 The other man said, “Without a doubt this symbolizes the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God is handing Midian and all the army over to him.” 15 When Gideon heard the report of the dream and its interpretation, he praised God.12 Then he went back to the Israelite camp and said, “Get up, for the Lord is handing the Midianite army over to you!” (Judges 7:14-15)

We know what impact overhearing this dream had on Gideon. He immediately fell on his face and worshipped God. What an amazing God to confirm the victory He was about to achieve through weak instruments like Gideon and his men! Gideon’s testimony, confirmed by Purah, no doubt was a source of great strength for those 300 men who were soon to risk their lives as they went forth to wage warfare against the Midianites.

I’m also inclined (albeit through a little speculation) to believe that this Midianite’s dream not only encouraged Gideon and his men, but that it demoralized and struck fear into the hearts of the Midianite host. My thoughts are not as speculative as you might suppose, because God gave this assurance to the Israelites as they were heading toward the Promised Land:

14 The nations will hear and tremble;

anguish will seize the inhabitants of Philistia.

15 Then the chiefs of Edom will be terrified,

trembling will seize the leaders of Moab,

and the inhabitants of Canaan will shake.

16 Fear and dread will fall on them;

by the greatness of your arm they will be as still as stone

until your people pass by, O Lord,

until the people whom you have bought pass by (Exodus 15:14-16).

“I will send my terror before you, and I will destroy all the people whom you encounter; I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you” (Exodus 23:27).

22 He, the God who leads you, will expel the nations little by little. You will not be allowed to destroy them all at once lest the wild animals overrun you. 23 The Lord your God will give them over to you; he will throw them into a great panic until they are destroyed. 24 He will hand over their kings to you and you will erase their very names from memory. Nobody will be able to resist you until you destroy them (Deuteronomy 7:22-24, emphasis mine).

I believe that God has already begun to produce the “panic” He promised with the dream of the Midianite, which he then shared with his fellow warrior. As much time as it took Gideon to return to his camp and ready his men for an attack, there was also time for the story of this one soldier’s dream and its interpretation to travel throughout the Midianite camp, at least those on duty at the time (and those who were soon to go on duty). This would have added to the panic and chaos that occurred when Gideon and his men broke their jars, exposing their torches as they blew their trumpets.

Battle Plans

Judges 7:16-18

16 He divided the three hundred men into three units. He gave them all trumpets and empty jars with torches inside them. 17 He said to them, “Watch me and do as I do. Watch closely! I am going to the edge of the camp. Do as I do! 18 When I and all who are with me blow our trumpets, you also blow your trumpets all around the camp. Then say, ‘For the Lord and for Gideon!’”

It’s a simple plan. The 300 men are to be divided into 3 groups of 100 men. Each man will be “armed” (if one dares to use this term) with a clay vessel (which was used to conceal the light of the torch until the proper time), a torch, and a trumpet (actually a shophar, a ram’s horn). Everyone is instructed to do as Gideon does. Following Gideon, they will blow their horns and shout, “For the Lord and for Gideon!”

I know this sounds strange, but as I was thinking about Israel’s strategy here it all seemed so bizarre. What in the world could Israel hope to accomplish against such a great host of warriors with such seemingly futile “weapons”: clay pots, torches, and trumpets? My mind turned to a Walt Disney cartoon (as I recall) which my children used to watch entitled, “A Toot, A Whistle, A Plunk, and a Boom.” That’s what the Israelites took into the battle.

The Battle

Judges 7:19-23

19 Gideon took a hundred men to the edge of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just after they had changed the guards. They blew their trumpets and broke the jars they were carrying. 20 All three units blew their trumpets and broke their jars. They held the torches in their left hand and the trumpets in their right. Then they yelled, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” 21 They stood in order all around the camp. The whole army ran away; they shouted as they scrambled away. 22 When the three hundred men blew their trumpets, the Lord caused the Midianites to attack one another with their swords throughout the camp. The army fled to Beth Shittah on the way to Zererah. They went to the border of Abel Meholah near Tabbath. 23 Israelites from Naphtali, Asher, and Manasseh answered the call and chased the Midianites (Judges 7:19-23).

The author takes care to inform us of the exact timing of Gideon’s attack – “the beginning of the middle watch” (19:1). Why is it so important to know when the attack commenced – “at the beginning of the middle watch”? While the exact hour might be a matter of dispute,13 the author’s main interest seems to be that it is the beginning of the watch. That must have been an important detail. My friend and fellow-elder, Stan Schultz, informs me that the change of watch is the time when there is the greatest confusion. If an emergency occurs, who is now in charge? Is it the one going off his watch or the one coming on? What is clear in all this is that the “attack” (if you dare call a 300-man light and sound show an attack) took place at just the perfect time, God’s time. Gideon’s descent to the Midianite camp perfectly synchronized with God’s schedule.

The attack commenced with the blowing of the trumpets – all 300 of them. Now that would have been some wakeup call! Looking out beyond their campfires into the darkness, the sentries would have seen nothing. Then, suddenly, 300 torches would have appeared all around the camp. There was only one conclusion the Midianites could reach: “We’re surrounded!” And indeed, they were surrounded. But what they could not see is that there was no great army standing behind the torch-bearers, ready to attack. In a combination of divinely-enhanced fear and human panic, the Midianites concluded that the enemy (whom they could not see) was among them, and so they began wildly thrusting their swords.

Now while this was happening, the 300 Israelite horn blowers remained stationary, fixed in their surrounding circle. They did not advance or retreat, but stood back and allowed God to decimate the enemy. At some point in time, the terrified Midianites fled, leaving all their supplies, many of their weapons, and their wits behind. Taking up the abandoned weapons of the Midianites, the 300 Israelites now attacked from the rear, gradually picking off the stragglers as they fled for their lives. The Midianites fled to Beth Shittah as they made their way toward Zererah. They were more than eager to retreat to their own land, if possible. Eventually, those Israelite soldiers left behind now enter into the battle – Israelites from the tribes of Naphtali, Asher, and Manasseh joined in the battle, seeking to block the Midianites’ escape by crossing the Jordan.

Conclusion

There are so many lessons to be learned from our text. Let me conclude by calling attention to a few of them.

First, we are meant to conclude from our text that God is the hero of this story, not Gideon. God gave the Israelites the victory over the Midianites. God chose a “doubting Thomas” as Israel’s deliverer, a small fighting force, and the most unusual “weapons” one could imagine to defeat the Midianites and to deliver the Israelites. One cannot possibly come away from this story giving credit to Gideon or his troops for this victory. The victory is the Lord’s. The hero is not Gideon; it is God. So what does this mean? It means that God should get the glory. Let us, even now, give glory to God for what He did so long ago.

Second, God’s salvation does not come to those who are strong, but to those who are weak. God’s salvation (deliverance) comes to men because they are sinners and desperately helpless to save themselves. That was true of the Israelites of old, when God brought salvation (deliverance) from their bondage. It was not because those who were needy did something great, thereby winning God’s favor; it was because God is gracious to those who cry out for His help.

This is still true today. Every man, woman, and child is a sinner, in bondage to sin and unable to save themselves. In His great mercy, God sent the Perfect Deliverer, Jesus Christ. He came to save those who were helpless and hopeless. Jesus bore the penalty we deserve, suffering in the sinner’s place on the cross of Calvary. And then by God’s power, He rose from the dead, offering salvation to all who acknowledge their sin and helplessness, and who trust in Christ alone. Jesus is a Deliverer vastly greater than Gideon. He trusted fully in His Father’s will and suffered the penalty of death for us. And in so doing, He glorified the Father. Just as Gideon was not intended to get the glory for the deliverance of his fellow-Israelites, but only God, so it is only God who should get the glory for our salvation, not us. Have you acknowledged your bondage to sin and your helpless state? Have you cried out to Jesus for the salvation He alone can give? If you have, give Him the glory He alone deserves.

Third, God is God alone, and there is no other god. This divine deliverance which we have considered in this lesson is a great victory which proclaimed the God of Israel to be the only true God – God alone. Baal was a powerless no-god, who could not even contend with a wimp like Gideon. He could not give prosperity or peace. While Baal was good only for the dumpster, and the Asherah pole was good only for firewood, the God of Israel is to be praised as the all-powerful Deliverer of His people from the mighty Midianites. What a lesson this was meant to be for the Israelites of old, who were tempted to turn to other gods for prosperity and peace. God alone is the God of peace.

Fourth, this battle enabled the Israelites (particularly Gideon) to “experience God.” God left the Canaanites in the land so that the Israelites would have to go to war with them, and in so doing, they would experience His presence and power.14 I have to smile to myself as I think of Gideon’s protest earlier in chapter 6:

Gideon said to him, “Pardon me, but if the Lord is with us, why has such disaster overtaken us? Where are all his miraculous deeds our ancestors told us about? They said, ‘Did the Lord not bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and handed us over to Midian” (Judges 6:13).

Did Gideon wish to see God at work in a miraculous way, delivering His people as He had done earlier when He delivered Israel from their bondage in Egypt? That could be arranged; indeed, it was arranged. God raised up none other than Gideon, a reluctant leader, just as Moses had been reluctant.15 He would orchestrate a battle that would shame the heathen gods and show His sovereignty over all. He would pit a helpless, weaponless nation against the largest, most powerful army of that day, and He would win the victory! Gideon got what he wanted; he experienced God, not from the 50 yard line seats, but on the field (as the quarterback!). Gideon came to know God by experiencing His salvation. That is the way we all must come to know Him, by experiencing His deliverance.

Fifth, God’s thoughts are not our thoughts; they are vastly higher and greater.

8 “Indeed, my plans are not like your plans,

and my deeds are not like your deeds,

9 for just as the sky is higher than the earth,

so my deeds are superior to your deeds

and my plans superior to your plans” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

We should observe in our text how God’s thinking differs so greatly from Gideon’s (and ours). Gideon’s thinking is, “The more (troops to fight against the Midianites), the better.” God’s thinking is exactly the opposite: the fewer the better. Gideon was fearful because his eyes were upon himself, and he was thinking in terms of his abilities (or the lack of them). God is fearless, because He is all-powerful. Gideon was worried about winning; God was concerned for His glory. And so Gideon would have wanted more warriors, while God wanted less.

I would suggest to you that we would do well to begin to think more like God and less like mere men. We would do well to place our entire trust in the One who is totally sovereign and sufficient. We would do well to be more concerned with His glory than what would appear to be our self-centered good.16 We would do well not to dwell on our weakness (though we need to recognize it for what it is) but to dwell more on His sufficiency. And as we come to know Him better and to think more like He does, we will be more courageous to pursue those things which bring Him glory (and our good as well).

Sixth, more is less, and less is more. We need to see that God is totally sufficient and is not dependent upon us. We need to realize that he does not need more effort (at doing good) on our part, but a realization that we have nothing good to bring to Him. He does not need more of our money, or even more of our prayers, to accomplish His purposes, determined in eternity past. We desperately need God. We need more of His grace, more of His power. We need Him, but He does not need us. We are dependent upon Him; He is not dependent upon us. Our involvement in His work is a privilege, not a necessity.

We are in the midst of a great recession, and things seem to be getting worse, not better. Our personal incomes may be decreasing, as well as our church budgets. How tempting it is to think that we can only do less because we have fewer human resources. And how wrong we would be to think this! With God, less is more. It was those who had much who were told to give it away.17 It was those who were poor whom Jesus called “blessed.”18

Do you think you have little to offer God? Good, because with God, less is more. The widow’s last drops of oil and grains of wheat were what God used to sustain Elijah, and her, and her son.19 The widow’s mite was viewed as being more than the surpluses of the rich.20 The young lad’s five loaves and two fish were so little in the light of such a great need, but our Lord made it into a meal for thousands.21 With God, little is much, and less is more.

If you are one of those who feels that you have little to offer God – whether that be time, or spiritual gifting, or money – this message is not meant in any way to excuse you from giving to God from what you have, little as that may seem to you. Indeed, this message should be a great encouragement to you to give what little you have to God, knowing that with Him, less is more, and that God is glorified by making much of little. He does this to demonstrate His power and to promote His glory.

I would imagine that there are those listening to (or reading) this message who are giving nothing at all to our Lord. My encouragement to you would be for you to begin to give something, regardless of how small that might seem to be (whether that be money, time, or service). And there may be some who are giving less than they can because they assume that what little more they could give would not make any difference in the long run. God delights to make much of little. Do not deprive yourself of the joy of watching God use the “little” you give to accomplish much.

We are in difficult times economically (and in many other ways) in our country. A number of people in our church have lost their jobs, and others have businesses that are hurting as well. Our church budget is currently lower than we have seen for a long time. I wonder if God isn’t reducing our resources, just as He reduced the number of warriors to send into battle with Gideon, so that He might accomplish far more than we would ever ask or think,22 and so that He would be glorified as the God who makes much of little. With God, less is more, and for this we should be encouraged.


1 Copyright © 2009 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 8 in the series, The Dark Days of Israel’s Judges, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on October 4, 2009. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.

2 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.

3 We know from Judges 8:10 that 120,000 eastern alliance soldiers were killed in battle and that 15,000 soldiers remained.

4 I am reminded here of the promise of James 1:5.

5 1 Corinthians 1:26—2:5; 2 Corinthians 12:1-10.

6 Deuteronomy 7:17-24.

7 Those sent on their way – to their own place (literally) – were either sent home, or they were instructed to return to their tents, waiting for the time when they would once again be summoned for battle (7:23-24).

8 Dale Ralph Davis, Such a Great Salvation: Expositions of the Book of Judges (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1990), pp. 103-105.

9 Also the KJV, NKJV, ESV.

10 It would be interesting to know why God specified Purah as the one to accompany Gideon. God may have known that he alone had the faith to accompany Gideon into the jaws of the lion.

11 See Joshua 2:10-11.

12 A simple “Praise the Lord!” is not sufficient here. Gideon prostrated himself in worship.

13 While the timing is clear to the author, and no doubt to the early readers, the scholars alternate between 10:00 P.M. and midnight.

14 See Judges 2:20—3:4.

15 See Exodus 3 and 4.

16 See 1 Corinthians 10:31.

17 See Luke 18:18-24.

18 See Luke 6:20, also Matthew 5:3ff.

19 1 Kings 17:8-16.

20 Mark 12:41-44.

21 Matthew 14:15-21.

22 See Ephesians 3:20-21; 1 Corinthians 2:9.

Related Topics: Faith