How would you feel leading 300 men against an army?
“The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor! You shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites!”
These words, spoken to Gideon by an angel sent from God, were certainly meant to be encouraging – but Gideon’s first thought seems to have been, “Why me? Isn’t there someone stronger or braver who can do it?”
God’s directions may not always make sense to us. As humans, we are short-sighted and weak. We fall time and time again when we trust in our own strength instead of striving to find and to do God’s will in our lives. Gideon was about to experience this firsthand in his life.
An oppressed nation
Because the people of Israel had turned away from God, He allowed the Midianites to terrorize Israel for seven years, destroying their land and livestock. Judges 7:12 says the Midianites were “as numerous as locusts; and their camels were without number, as the sand by the seashore in multitude.”
In their need, Israel cried out to God. In His mercy, God stepped in and decided that Gideon would lead the poverty-stricken, downtrodden, fearful Israelites to victory.
When he heard this, Gideon must have thought “Don’t you know how weak and afraid I am?” Of course God knew this, but He chose Gideon anyway. God knows our personality and our weaknesses, our tendency towards sin. But it’s not a mistake that He has chosen us. Those who see themselves as the greatest, the strongest, the most wise, will have a hard time hearing God’s voice above their own high thoughts and opinions. However, those who are lowly, with open and receptive hearts, will be able to become God’s men of valor, ready to do His will.
The uncertain leader
Gideon took on the role reluctantly. He asked God for signs time and time again. First, the angel summoned fire to consume the food Gideon had brought. Afterwards, Gideon put out a fleece of wool on two consecutive nights, first asking for the fleece to be wet and the ground to be dry, then for the fleece to be dry and the ground to be wet.
Was God discouraged by these constant requests? Did He begin to reconsider His pick? No! All these signs and wonders occurred, giving Gideon the strength and faith he needed! God refused to give up on Gideon, even when Gideon had given up on himself.
Fast forward to a short time later: Newly armed with the Spirit of the Lord, Gideon stands at the head of an Israelite force of 32,000 warriors. Now this is a mighty army to be reckoned with! Then comes a new order from God: Everyone who is afraid should go home! God knew that Israel would claim the glory of victory, celebrating its own strength instead of rightfully honoring God who was in command.
Don’t you think that Gideon would have loved to leave right then? To count himself as one of those who was afraid so he didn’t have to face the battle and risk of death? Can you imagine how Gideon must have felt, sending out this new order to his 32,000 soldiers? What kind of leader is this, who willingly tells his soldiers to leave just before the battle?
“There are still too many!”
Overnight, 22,000 of Gideon’s soldiers left. This must have been a severe blow to Gideon. As leader of 32,000 men, he would have begun to think it was possible. With only 10,000 men, it was nearly impossible!
Then God spoke again: “There are still too many!”
Still too many? This new command went against all human reasoning! And that is exactly the way God wanted it.
In obedience to God’s leading, Gideon took the army to the river to drink. Only those who lapped up the water with their tongues, drinking like a dog drinks, were allowed to stay, while everyone else was sent home. When the dust had settled, Gideon was left with only 300 men!
300 men against an army
Imagine Gideon’s fear when God said “Go down against the [Midianite] camp, for I have delivered it into your hand.” It’s one thing to hear what God wants us to do … but to actually do it can feel like a whole new battle!
Once again God coaxed Gideon on. He instructed Gideon to spy on the camp, and here Gideon heard that the Midianite soldiers were also afraid. One spoke about a dream where a Midianite tent was knocked down by a loaf of barley bread. “This is nothing else but the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel!” the Midianite soldier cried. “Into his hand God has delivered Midian and the whole camp.”
Hearing this renewed Gideon’s faith. With his 300 men armed with nothing more than trumpets and torches hidden inside clay pitchers, the Israelites crept to the outskirts of the Midian camp. On the signal, the Israelites broke the pitchers, revealing the torches, and blew their trumpets, yelling “The sword of the Lord and of Gideon!”
Surprised and thinking they were being ambushed by a large army, the Midianites panicked, fighting against one another before eventually fleeing into the night. Their mighty strength had been overcome by a mere 300 men led by Gideon, a man of God.
Hear His voice
Listen to God’s leading voice in your life. As we go from day to day, we may feel like we come up against walls and insurmountable obstacles; moments when we see our enemy – the sin that is rooted deeply in us – and we become tempted to feel afraid that we don’t stand a chance to win this battle. But He knows who we are and He has chosen us before the beginning of time to emerge as victors over our indwelling sin! When we put God in charge of leading our decisions, we will become conquerors!
You can read the whole inspiring story of Gideon in Judges 6-8.