When God desires to accomplish something great He jealously guards His name. Often, when we're looking at available resources and strength in numbers, the Lord seeks to reduce us and humble us in order to accomplish His purposes in such as way that we are forced to conclude that it was all about Him!
"So Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and his army got up early and went as far as the spring of Harod. The armies of Midian were camped north of them in the valley near the hill of Moreh. The LORD said to Gideon, "You have too many warriors with you. If I let all of you fight the Midianites, the Israelites will boast to me that they saved themselves by their own strength. Therefore, tell the people, 'Whoever is timid or afraid may leave and go home.'" Twenty-two thousand of them went home, leaving only ten thousand who were willing to fight."
But the LORD told Gideon, "There are still too many! Bring them down to the spring, and I will sort out who will go with you and who will not." When Gideon took his warriors down to the water, the LORD told him, "Divide the men into two groups. In one group put all those who cup water in their hands and lap it up with their tongues like dogs. In the other group put all those who kneel down and drink with their mouths in the stream." Only three hundred of the men drank from their hands. All the others got down on their knees and drank with their mouths in the stream. The LORD told Gideon, "With these three hundred men I will rescue you and give you victory over the Midianites. Send all the others home." So Gideon collected the provisions and rams' horns of the other warriors and sent them home. But he kept the three hundred men with him. Now the Midianites camp was in the valley just below Gideon. During the night, the LORD said, "Get up! Go down into the Midianites camp, for I have given you victory over them!" (Judges 7:1-9)
The Midianites, are an “on-again-off-again” pain in Israel’s side. They were a nomadic people living in the northwest part of the Arabian peninsula - descendants of Midian, a son born to Abraham and Keturah (we’re not sure when Abraham married Keturah ,which means incense, but it would seem that it happened while Sarah was still living and after the birth of Isaac.) Anyway, there’re more to be said about this later. Suffice to say that the Arab peoples are the descendants of Midian and here in the Book of Judges they have become Israel’s adversaries – and a tool in the hands of God to bring correction to Israel.
Just like with Israel, sometimes our past can rise up and become an unexpected or difficult issue. We disobey God and get ourselves into these messes. This speaks to us of our constant need for mercy from God. Mercy, by the way, is the same thing as compassion. The concept is sometimes translated "lovingkindness" in the Old Testament. Because of God's compassion, He withholds the just punishment of our sin. The author of Hebrews exhorts us to
“… draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)
We need to be constantly coming before the throne for mercy asking God to withhold the “just punishment” – it’s not about coming once – but “in time of need.” The word mercy “eleos” in the original is “tender compassion” - the word for “help” was used in the time to describe a the throwing of a lifeline to a boat or ship that was floundering in the sea.
We need grace too. Grace is the undeserved favor of God, it can’t be earned because it comes only as a gift from God. It was extended to us at the moment of initial salvation – so as we are joined to Christ we now live in the “sphere” of God’s grace - we don’t lose this, but we can forget that it is available in every situation, we can lose sight of the fact that we can get a hold of the “means of grace” - the study of God's Word, prayer, fasting, and meditation. This is how we can position ourselves to receive His power.
Anyway, back to Gideon and Midian…..here’s this massive army arrayed against Israel and God tells Gideon that he’s got too many soldiers. God tells him that He has to cut down the size of the army for Israel to win! Now let's stop right there for a minute or two and let that digest. From time to time, you might be catching a peek at CNN or FOX or MSNBC. Let me ask you a question, have you ever heard any of the pundits or military second guessers, I mean experts, say that what we need in Iraq right now are fewer soldiers? I didn't think so. Everyone's calling for the new buzz word "increased troop strength" or "we need more 'boots on the ground'"
God tells Gideon he had too many 'boots on the ground'. Then He tells him why – “..you might brag and say, ‘our own strength has delivered us.’” (hummm..makes you wonder how this war on terror might be going if we spent more time on our knees and less time bragging about our technical and economic superiority. God isn't very impressed with superpower status. He keeps repeating this throughout the Old Testament. One of my favorite chapters in the Bible is Isaiah 40. There's a part from verses 15 to 25 where God reminds the exiled nation of Israel that He is more than able to deliver them because He's way bigger than Babylon.
"Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust. Before him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by him as worthless and less than nothing. To whom, then, will you compare God? Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff. "To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?" says the Holy One." (Isa 40:15-25)
God wasn't impressed with Babylon, and He's not impressed with Midian. He then gives Gideon instructions on how to pare down the army down to the famous 300 of Gideon. You know the rest of the story.
Now, why is this story in the Bible? Why is any story in the Bible for that matter? Glad you asked that question! The answer is to be found in Romans 15:4
“Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us. They give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God's promises.” (New Living Translation)
Sometimes in our lives, as we face difficult or seemingly overwhelming situations, we might be tempted to think that winning is all about our resources and our strength. God has this thing about who gets the glory. He doesn’t like sharing it much.
In Isaiah 42:8 He declares:
"I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.” (NIV)
Wouldn’t it make more sense, when coming against a strong enemy, or an overwhelming challenge, for God to first make us strong and confident in our own ourselves? Wouldn’t it be better to have all the money in the bank and all the people in the pews first? (How many times do we say “no” to what God is calling us to do because we feel we’re not “together enough” to get the job done?)
Gideon wanted 32,000 men. God answer is a resounding “No!” In fact, he’ll take our “security blankets”, whatever we have been trusting in at the moment, and pare it down from 32,000 to 300. Now that’s FAITH. 32,000 is SELF CONFIDENCE. 300 IS OVERCOMING FAITH. And we all know that we are “saved by grace through faith” (Ephesians 2: …right?)
The story of Gideon and the 300 gives us “hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God.” What are you facing today? Is it a mess you created in your impatience to make something happen too fast? Did you compromise your testimony? Or maybe it was a rash decision or a sinful one. Ask God for mercy, then ask Him to save you from the enemy. Tell Him you want Him to be glorified in your life.
Then stand back and wait on Him. He will deliver you “and give you victory over the Midianites” of your life.
“…just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” Romans 1:17
Read the whole story of Gideon:
The Story of Gideon at Bible Gateway.com
And may God give you victory over the Midianites today!