Judges 7:2-4, 13-15; 8:22-25
A full three chapters of the book of Judges is devoted to Gideon’s tenure as judge. God raised up Gideon to deliver Israel from the oppressive hand of the Midianites. During this seven-year period of oppression, a Midianite hoard would sweep into Israel following the harvest and confiscate every bit of food which they could find. God let this happen because Israel sought the blessings of pagan gods. When Israel cried out, God responded.
There is a reason that three full chapters were recorded and preserved as scripture; and that reason is partially revealed in the text before us. In verse 2 of chapter 7, God tells Gideon that he has gathered too many men of Israel to fight against the Midianites. Why are there too many? No general in Gideon’s day, no general of today, and no general in history of warfare has ever complained that he was commanding too many troops. Warfare, then, now, and at all times in between, was, is, and has been an exact science in which a superior force defeats a weaker force. Generals know that a larger force is superior to a smaller force if all else is equal. In the text before us, Gideon is the general who commands the smaller force. Gideon commanded about 32,000 men (see 7:3) and the Midianites numbered 135,000 men (see 8:10). So why does Gideon, outnumbered by more than four to one, have too many men?
God told Gideon that he commanded too many men because Israel would credit itself, not God, when the Midianites were defeated. It would be God, not Israel, who would rout the Midianites. Warfare is an exact science even when God is involved. The stronger force always defeats the weaker force. Gideon was in command of the stronger force because God was on his side. Let there be no misunderstanding. God wants men to know Him. God wants His people to know that He is their protector and that He delivers them from their enemies (In this case, God delivers the enemies of Israel to them).
As both armchair generals and believers, we know that God and 300 men is vastly stronger than 135,000 men without God. God wants us to know that with Him all things are possible. If we know these things, we know what God wants us to know.
Bible commentators tend to be critical of the 22,000 fearful men that Gideon sent home and the 9,700 men who lapped water upon their hands and knees. It can be said in defense of the 22,000 fearful that they were honest. They admitted that they were afraid. And in defense of the 9,700 men, it can be said that they were brave and willing to fight. God had a special role reserved for the 300 who vigilantly lapped water from their hand, but God also had a role for the 31,700 men that He had Gideon send home. The 31,700 were to witness and to proclaim what God did. They were to proclaim that it was God who crushed Israel’s enemies. They would not participate in the decisive battle which would result in victory over the enemy but they would be the benefactors of that battle.
As believers in Christ Jesus, we proclaim a personal salvation earned, not of works but, by grace through faith. Believers in Christ Jesus have no boasting rights. Believers, like the 31,700, are the recipients of God’s grace. And what of the 300? It was by God’s grace and His grace alone that God delivered the Midianites to the 300.
God devised a plan by which Gideon and 300 men would destroy the Midianites. The account before us reveals how that God convinced a hesitant Gideon that His plan would be successful. God sent Gideon and his servant on a mission to personally spy out the Midianite camp. While in their midst, Gideon learned of a dream and of its interpretation that was circulating among the Midianites. The dream and the interpretation of the dream foretold of the victory that God would give Gideon. The Midianite force consisted of 135,000 terrified men waiting for the sword of Gideon to fall upon them. God emboldened Gideon. Gideon and his 300 “surrounded” the Midianites in the dark of night, the confused Midianite force lashed out one against another, and the tribes of Israel then destroyed the remaining Midianites in what military tacticians of today would term a mop up action.
In the closing verses before us, the people called out to Gideon requesting that he and his sons and his son’s sons rule over them. In making this request, the people were attempting to reward Gideon for the victory over the Midianites. Gideon knew that it was God and God alone who had delivered Israel. He knew to refuse the offer to rule as king. He knew that God, and God alone, was Israel’s king. While he would not accept the throne offered to him, Gideon did accept a gift of gold. The gold was willingly given as a reward, a payment for services rendered. Israel had received God’s grace and thought it sufficient to give Gideon gold. God does not want gold. God is a God of grace and He deems it to be a reasonable service that we should present our bodies unto Him as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable (Rom 12:1). Israel did not know God and did not respond to His grace in an acceptable manner.
Born again Christians are without excuse. Let us present our bodies as willing vessels to Him. Let His rule be established in us.