So God encouraged Gideon to keep going and doing his will. So in verse 1 of chapter 7 we see Gideon and his army camping near a spring. It’s called the well of Harod. It’s actually a place in the modern day where Israeli youth go to remember the military accomplishments of Gideon as they’re preparing to enter into the armed services there. And it’s elevated above the valley on the north where the Midianites are.
Now, God comes to Gideon again and tells Gideon – verse 2 – that “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.” So it’s clear that God wants everyone to know – Gideon and all Israel – that when Israel wins, it’s not because of the natural strength of any man or group of men. The Lord wants everyone to know that he brought about the victory against Midian. So God proceeds to whittle down the number of folks on Israel’s side. They start off with about 33,000 men. Then God says in verse 3 that Gideon should dismiss anyone who is afraid. And about 2/3 of the men gathered return. It’s a good sign that Gideon didn’t leave when that option was offered. So there are about 10,000 men left to fight. Is that a small enough number to fight the numberless hoards of Midianites? God didn’t think so. So, he develops a seemingly arbitrary standard to weed out more men. It’s all based on how a man drinks water at the spring of Harod. One group drank one way. The other group drank another way. And the smaller group – consisting of 300 men – was chosen. The other 9,700 men left. Can you imagine how they would have reacted? What if Gideon let them know why they were being let go? Sorry – you drink funny. Or you didn’t drink funny enough! What does that have to do with war? Nothing. That’s the point. This war wasn’t about human might. God was going to show his strength and his salvation through some really weak means.
Do you think God does this kind of thing today still? I’m no prophet. I have no direct communication from God on the matter. But do you suppose that God was caught off-guard by the small attendance this morning with folks working at camp and summer camp staff being gone? Are you discouraged? Please don’t be. God’s still in control. We can trust him to help us worship him and build each other up no matter how many we have.
Now, verse 9 starts telling us about some other event that happened the night of the choosing of the army. End of verse 9 – God says to Gideon “Arise, get thee down unto the host; for I have delivered it into thine hand.” Oh boy. I can guess how Gideon is going to react. Will he bring out that old fleece again? Will he get another offering for the Lord to set on fire and prove himself again? What other test can he muster in order to verify that God is faithful? Well, it’s funny. The Lord anticipates this kind of thing from Gideon. So this time the Lord preemptively offers verification to poor fearful Gideon. Look at verse 10 – “But if thou fear to go down, go thou with Phurah thy servant down to the host: 11 And thou shalt hear what they say; and afterward shall thine hands be strengthened to go down unto the host.”
So God condescends to Gideon. How does Gideon respond? I could imagine someone hearing that from the Lord and saying “Oh no, I’ll take you at your word. Let’s do this!” But Gideon goes right down to the camp of the Midianites to take God up on his offer. When Gideon and his servant come down to the camp of the enemy under the cover of night they see Midianites, Amalekites, and all sorts of groups from the east like a huge swarm of grasshoppers. They have numberless camels. And I’ll summarize what happens in verses 13 and 14. Gideon comes and just happens to hear a Midianite telling his fellow Midianite about a dream that he had. Here’s the dream. A loaf of bread rolled down the hill into a Midianite tent. The tent completely flips over and lays flat. Now, the other guy hears the dream and says basically “that means that Gideon is coming and will completely destroy us Midianites! And God’s on Gideon’s side.” And this “chance” happening is what it took for Gideon to stop fearing! No, God’s promises weren’t enough. He had to hear the interpretation of the dream of a pagan enemy of Israel in order to be encouraged to trust God’s promise.
But that’s just what it took and the Lord graciously allowed that to happen. So, Gideon returns to camp pumped up! Starting in verse 15 he starts dividing the company of 300 men into 3 units. Each man gets a trumpet, a pitcher, and a torch. He instructs them to do as he does.
In verse 19 we have the men surrounding the camp of Midian in the middle of the night. They smash the pitchers, hold the torches, and blow the trumpets.
Now, come on. 300 men blowing trumpets is going to do anything against the host of Midian? Well, with God all things are possible. The Midianites awake to blowing trumpets, torches and light dancing off the broken shards of the pitchers. And they run. And then the Lord steps in and sets the Midianites against each other in their confusion. We’ll find out later that 120,000 Midianites die in this battle. Can you imagine – 300 vs. over 120,000… and the 300 win! Only with the Lord. That’s something like 400 Midianites for every one Israelite. Incredible.
Well, as Midian is fleeing, some men from Naphtali, Asher, and Manasseh come out and pursue them. I wonder if any of these guys were the ones who went back at the spring of Harod. Then Gideon sends for Ephraim to come and cut off the fleeing Midianites by the Jordan River. The Ephraimites capture two leaders of Midian – Oreb and Zeeb – and slay them. Then they bring their heads to Gideon.
By the way, it’s interesting that Gideon calls Ephraim. It seemed like the Lord really wanted the victory to go to those 300 men. That’s strange. But God doesn’t say anything about it, so maybe it’s OK. You just hate to have to wonder, though. Did Gideon do this out of fear? Was he again not trusting God’s promise? We can’t say for sure. But what we do know is that the Ephraimites end up causing Gideon some problems in the very next section in chapter 8.
But, we’re going to stop here for now. Next time, Lord-willing we’ll finish the story of Gideon and also cover the story of his wicked son Abimelech.