The Lord has chosen Gideon to deliver the people of Israel from the oppression of Midian. Before Gideon could do this, idolatry needed to be dealt with. His father possessed large idols to Baal and Asherah. At the Lord’s command Gideon torn down those altars and idols and erects an altar to the Lord on the stronghold of the city. With the cleansing complete, the Lord will rescue his people.
Preparing For Faith (6:33-40)
The Midianites, Amalekies, and the people of the East came together, crossed the Jordan River, and encamped in the Valley of Jezreel (see map for depth of incursion). Please consider what a formidable opponent this is with this kind of military alliance. But the Spirit of the Lord clothed Gideon and he gathered men from Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali (see map for why these tribes are called).
Yet even with all that has happened up to this point, the faith of Gideon is weak. Gideon desires a sign to know that God will save Israel through his hand. Gideon lays a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece of wool alone but the ground is dry, then Gideon will know that God will save Israel through his hand. Now what I want us to consider is the graciousness of God to answer this request. God does just as Gideon asks and there was dew on the fleece of wool but the ground was dry. But the weakness of Gideon’s faith continues. Gideon asks for another sign with the same elements. But this time Gideon asks that the fleece be dry but there be dew on all the ground around it. Consider this: God answers Gideon’s request again. God will work with weak faith.
In the days of Jesus there was a father who had a son with an unclean spirit. In the discussion with Jesus, the father says, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24 ESV). Gideon believes. He is there, ready for battle. He has sent messengers through the tribes and has gathered his army. Gideon is not rejecting God. Gideon is not a rebel or unbeliever. He believes. But he needs help with his unbelief. God answers that prayer. Jesus responded to the father. The Lord responds to Gideon twice by giving him the signs he needs for faith. When we take our weak faith and submit it to God through pray, God will take that faith and give it strength. We do not quit when our faith is weak but recognize that we need the Lord to give us the strength we need so that our faith will grow.
But Do You Really Trust Me? (7:1-18)
But the Lord sees a problem. Notice this in chapter 7, verse 2. “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.'” (Judges 7:2 ESV) Think about what God is saying. “I’m going to do this and I don’t need all these people.” God’s reason is very important for us to consider. God does not want anyone thinking that the victory that is about to be achieved against this alliance of Midianites, Amalekites, and the people of the east has come from their own strength.
This is so important to God. God does his work so that no one has any ability to boast. All boasting is against God. This is probably one of our biggest problems. We think we are strong and have no need for the Lord. We think we can save ourselves from our sins, from our difficulties, and from our problems. But saving is the work of God. It is not our work. Listen to what God wants concerning our boasting.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8–9 ESV)
After describing our sinfulness and the sacrifice of atonement that is made through Jesus, the apostle Paul asks: Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. (Romans 3:27 ESV) God wants humans to know where the glory belongs and it is not with ourselves. So God moves to show us our weakness. This is what God is doing with Israel now. At this moment, Israel has only mustered 32,000 men for war. We do not know this till later but this alliance has at least 135,000 military men ready for battle (8:10). The odds are already strongly in favor of Midian. But God wants the glory. So God declares that anyone who is afraid should go home. Since they are significantly outnumbered, many are afraid. 22,000 people returned to their homes and only 10,000 remain. Now Israel’s opponents a 13:1 advantage. But listen to God in verse 4.
“The people are still too many” (7:4). If I am Gideon, I have to think that God cannot be serious. This is already an extremely lopsided situation. But God says that there are still too many. God tells Gideon to take the men to the water to drink. 300 men put their hands to their mouths to drink the water while the other 9700 men knelt down to drink the water. God takes the smaller number and tells Gideon that it is with these 300 men that “I will save you and give the Midianites into your hand, and let all the others go every man to his home” (7:7). The 32,000 soldiers have now been reduced to only 300 men. I want to make a point at this moment. The reduction was not about who was the best warrior. God just wanted less soldiers, not the best soldiers. God’s concern is reducing numbers so that God’s glory will not be taken away from him. I believe if the numbers were reversed and those who knelt down to drink was 300 that God would have taken them as the 300. The point was not choosing the best men. The point was God wanted less men so that all glory would go to God and none other.
But God also knows who he is working with. He knows our differences. He knows where we are in our faith. After whittling down his army to only 300, God tells Gideon to go against the camp for God has given them into his hand. But look at verse 10. “But if you are afraid to go down….” God knows the fear Gideon has right now. If you are afraid, go down to the camp with your servant and listen to what they are saying the camp. So Gideon goes down and listens to the talk in the camp. A man in the camp was telling a dream about a cake of barley bread tumbling into the camp and destroying the tent. The interpretation of the camp is that God has given Midian into the hand of Gideon. When Gideon heard this, he worshipped the Lord (7:15). Gideon returns to his 300 with the strength of the Lord and tells them to arise for the Lord has given Midian into their hands. Gideon is weak but God gives him the strength he needs to obey the will of the Lord.
Midian’s Defeat (7:19-25)
Notice the unusual means of this victory. The 300 men have a trumpet in one hand and an empty jar in the other hand. These are not the two things you think about carrying into battle. Gideon and the 300 came to the outskirts of the camp in the middle of the night. They blew the trumpets and smashed the jars. With torches in their left hand and trumpets in their right hand they cry out, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” Israel’s armies just stood there and the Lord set the Midianites’ swords against themselves. Others in the Midianite army fled. In this way God gave victory to Israel and saved them from Midianite oppression.
Trust and Obey
I want us to consider what was Gideon’s part in this whole affair. Gideon’s part was to simply trust God and obey what God told him to do. God does not save by our strength. All that has been achieved has been achieved by the Lord, not by Gideon. Gideon simply had to listen to the word of the Lord and do as he had been told. Here is the point: God’s power is shown perfectly through our weaknesses. God looks strong working through weak you and me. Judges 6-7 has gone out of its way to emphasize the weaknesses of Israel and Gideon. Remember that Israel is helpless from the attacks of the Midianites (6:2-6). Gideon is weak and obscure (6:15). Gideon is a nobody. He is not significant or important. Chapter 7 continued to show Gideon’s weakness by needing two signs with the fleece to know that God is with him and by sending him to the camp to hear the dream that the Midianite had.
God works through our weaknesses. His saving power works when we are weak, not when we are strong and proud. When we are strong and proud then we resist the will of the Lord. When we are strong and proud we do not depend on our Lord with our whole lives. It is in weakness and helplessness that we finally give our lives into the hand of God. We are to be broken by our sins, not strong in our sins. We are to be broken by our emptiness in life, not strengthened by it. Listen to how Paul described this concept to the Corinthians.
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7–10 ESV)
Our weakness is to display the greatness of God. I will be content with loss, suffering, problems, and pain because it continues to move me to depend on the Lord. Without these things I would depend on myself, stealing glory away from the Lord to myself that God alone deserves. God gives us the strength we need for life when we depend completely upon him. When we are weak, then we are strong. We must accept our weakness. We must appreciate our helplessness. We must find our joy in our weaknesses because only then are we depending on the power of our Lord. Let God be the one who strengthens your faith. This is why Jesus said that those who are blessed and belong to the kingdom of our Lord are those who are “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3). Romans 5 powerfully drives the same thought. Don’t forget who you were.
For while we were still helpless, at the appointed moment, Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6 HCSB)
But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us! (Romans 5:8 HCSB)
For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life! (Romans 5:10 HCSB)
This weakness must lead us to two actions, the same actions that we see in Gideon. First, we are moved to worship (7:15). Second, we are moved to obedience (7:16). God receives the glory he deserves because of our helplessness and God receives the glory because we become loving, seeking servants of our Savior. Trust and obey the voice of the Lord.