Last time we completed the first phase of Gideon’s story where Gideon moved from having no faith in the Lord to crushing his father’s idols. Though Gideon showed great faith in this act of boldness, Gideon will show us today the great difficulty of maintaining a faith this strong. Gideon’s faith will fluctuate as the battle draws nearer. Though his weakness is emphasized, the strength of the Lord will be even further magnified.
Fleece: God’s Victory In Spite of Fear (6:36-40)
Though Gideon destroyed his father’s idols, the battle that faces Gideon will be an even greater test of faith. Gideon is an absolute nobody. A few days ago Gideon had no standing in Israel, but now he has been made a commander over thousands of men. The Midianite army was no joke. The Midianites had successfully oppressed Israel for 7 years (6:1). We are told the Midianite army was as numerous as the sands on the seashore (7:12). The Lord brought many men to Gideon to prepare for battle, but fear set in Gideon’s heart as the men began pouring into camp and his faith grew faint. Though God had proved he would deliver Gideon, fear was aroused in Gideon’s heart and he asked for another sign. He wanted more proof that the Lord would truly save Israel.
Consider what is happening: Gideon is speaking to the Lord God Almighty who created the entire universe. Gideon is speaking to the God who parted the Red Sea for Moses and made the sun stand still for Joshua. Gideon is speaking to the Lord who is capable of magnificent displays of his power. Yet, Gideon set wool fleece on the ground and asked God to cause dew to fall upon the fleece, but not the ground around it. “Lord, if you will destroy the 135,000 Midianites by my hand, make this wool fleece wet.” Gideon woke up the next day and tested the wetness of the fleece by wringing it out into a bowl of water. Though God completed this sign, Gideon came back and asked for a second sign. “Lord, please don’t be mad. Just let me see one more sign. I’m going to lay the fleece out again, but could you please cause the dew to land on the ground but not the fleece?” When Gideon awoke the next morning, God did as Gideon had requested and made the ground wet, but the fleece dry.
We need to fully realize what Gideon is doing. An army of 135,000 Midianites is nearby and God has brought 32,000 men of Israel to fight against them. But Gideon is afraid. He knows what he is supposed to do and has seen signs that the Lord will be with him, yet he is testing to see if the Lord will truly come through on his promise. Gideon does not understand who the Lord is. The Lord is not like one of his powerless idols. The Lord keeps his promises.
God had every right to look at Gideon’s hesitancy to go to battle as disobedience. God had every right to pick someone else to conquer Midian. Instead of forsaking Gideon in his fear and faithlessness, God shows the compassion of a father who desires to overcome Gideon’s fear. Gideon is disabled by his fear, but God shows patience. We too can be filled with this doubt that Gideon experiences. We can walk through life with little trust in the Lord’s deliverance. We can be uncertain of God’s promises toward us. Our prayers often carry no certainty. We may struggle trusting that the Lord truly answers prayer. This is exactly where Gideon is. God has promised victory but Gideon doesn’t believe it. How great is God to continue to work with Gideon and answer his signs! He desires to overcome our fear. He is begging for us to trust him. The Lord refuses for his purposes to be held back by our fear. The Lord is willing to work with us even when we come to him struggling to trust him. The Lord will be victorious in spite of our fear and faithlessness.
300 Water Lappers: God’s Victory In Spite of Size (7:1-8)
The sign in the fleece renewed Gideon’s faith. I cannot imagine the fear in Gideon’s men as only 32,000 of them gathered for war against 135,000 Midianites. Israel had been unable to overcome Midianite oppression for 7 years. What made now any different? Gideon’s army was massively outnumbered, but God saw the numbers from a different perspective. Notice 7:2, “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.'” Gideon’s army was already outnumbered four to one; imagine the look on Gideon’s face when God told him to send men home. Gideon was already full of fear and faithlessness, now the Lord wanted to reduce their numbers? God told Gideon to send home everyone who was fearful. The amount of fear in the camp is evident as 22,000 men go home, leaving Israel with only 10,000 to fight Midian’s 135,000. I wonder what Gideon’s morale was like as he watched over two-thirds of his army leave. But God declares that the army is still too large. God told Gideon to have the people drink from the nearby spring and separate the men who lapped water like dogs from the men who knelt down to drink. I wonder if the men thought Gideon was out of his mind at this point. God sent 9700 men home saying, “With the 300 men who lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hand, and let all the others go every man to his home.” God lowered the numbers down to 300 men so that only he would be glorified in Israel’s victory.
People often try to find virtue in these particular 300 men. But the text doesn’t tell us there is anything special about these men. In verse 2 God told Gideon he wanted to win with few men so Israel would recognize that God gave them the victory. If God picked the mightiest men, Israel would find reason to believe they won by their own strength. God is removing every crutch Israel has so they will lean on him alone for the victory. How many men did God need to conquer Midian? Did he need 300? 200? In 2 Kings 18:35 we are told that God conquered 185,000 Assyrians through only one angel of the Lord. The Lord will be victorious in spite of our size.
We love to crunch the numbers. When I prepare for fantasy baseball season I want to know the chances a player will break out or fall short. When the President considers an attack he wants to know how the U.S.’s men stack up against the enemy’s men. When we think about the effect we can have through the gospel in the world, it is terribly easy to think we need a hoard of people. God needs us to understand that he does not need strong numbers to accomplish his purposes. Imagine the gospel’s limitless potential here if we will fearlessly open our mouths even in our small numbers. We don’t need a mega church to accomplish great change. The Lord only needs a tiny group of people. If the Lord wills, we could teach 10,000 people in the next year. Consider what the Lord accomplished through the witness of Jesus’ 12 apostles. We must stop doubting and start praying it will happen. The Lord does not need massive numbers to massively fulfill his purposes!
A Barley Cake: God’s Victory In Spite of Strength (7:9-15)
Gideon did not have this triumphant scene in mind. Israel’s men for war were now at an all time low and consequently their fear was at an all time high. Over 31,000 comrades surrounded them a moment ago. Now they stood in a camp that felt incredible empty. One hundred thirty five thousand Midianites were a short hike away. Here we see the Lord’s great mercy toward Gideon. The Lord had already proved he would be with Israel, but he offered Gideon yet another sign of Israel’s future victory. Notice 7:10, “But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant. And you shall hear what they say, and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.”Gideon is still fearful and God is still willing to work with Gideon’s fear. God is not interested in choosing another vehicle to conquer Midian. God is interested in proving his power to Gideon for his glory.
Gideon certainly was not going to miss an opportunity to quadruple check the Lord’s word. He sneaked into Midian’s camp with his servant and listened to a conversation between two enemy soldiers. Notice what they say in 7:13, “Behold, I dreamed a dream, and behold, a cake of barley bread tumbled in to the camp of Midian and came to the tent and struck it so that it fell and turned upside down, so that the tent lay flat.”This is initially very confusing, but the Midianite’s comrade responded with the interpretation in verse 14, “This is no other than the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel; God has given into his hand Midian and all the camp.” There was the plain interpretation for Gideon. The Lord used the enemy to tell Gideon of his future victory through the Lord’s strength. Gideon returned to Israel’s camp with confidence. His words to his soldiers in verse 15 showed only faith, “Arise, for the Lord has given the host of Midian into your hand.”Gideon was ready. The men were ready. The Lord will conquer!
The interpretation of the dream encouraged Gideon, but what made this sign greater than Gideon’s wet fleece miracle? Not only does God show power in predicting Gideon would hear the dream, but the picture the dream paints is full of meaning. I used to picture this dream with a giant barley cake rolling down a hill at massive speeds and obliterating the tiny tents in its path. That’s not the picture painted here. This dream isn’t supposed to be realistic. A simple barley cake, not a giant barley cake, knocked a tent over! This does more than tell Gideon of his future victory. This dream relates to Gideon’s feeling of smallness. Gideon’s army is a tiny barley cake, but will topple over something massively disproportionate to its size through the Lord’s power. How strong did Gideon’s 300 men need to be to conquer Midian? How much strength did Israel need when they conquered Jericho? They are simple tools in the hand of a great God. The tool does not need to be great, only the God. The Lord will be victorious in spite of our strength.
We can become discouraged as we consider the power of our enemy. How can we successfully overcome the forces of evil and save the masses from sin when we are so weak in power? The sign is clear from this text. We are simple barley cakes. We are mere instruments. If the Lord’s power is using the instrument, success is certain. This dream reminds me of what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:7, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”We should never mourn that we are barley cakes and jars of clay. There isn’t supposed to be anything impressive about our abilities. Some say God can conquer through mere barley cakes and clay jars, but it doesn’t hurt to be more than that. This is wrong. If we try to be more than instruments we become glory thieves! Remember, “The surpassing power belongs to God and not us.” We aren’t accomplishing our own purposes by our own power. We are instruments accomplishing the Lord’s purposes through his power. God’s power is at work within us (Ephesians 3:20). The Lord’s purposes do not fail (cf. Isaiah 55:11).
If this is true, then we do not have to have flowery presentation or extreme outreach programs. We do not need great skill, great popularity, or impressive tactics. In seeking to reach the world we should certainly prepare, but all we need are open mouths proclaiming the gospel. I love the way Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 2:1–5,“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” The power is in the message of Christ crucified. This is all we need. We don’t need to make the message look cool. The message of God’s great grace is already self-sufficient. People simply need to hear it from our lips. We are mere transportation devices delivering that message. Let us conquer through the power of the Lord. Seek and pray for his victory through us. We do not need great ability. We simply need his power.
God’s patience and display of power through Gideon should encourage us to see that though we may be fearful, few in number, and low in strength – God will still have his victory through us. This cannot happen unless we place all of our faith in the Lord as Gideon eventually did. How can we overcome this fear and faithlessness and build faith in God in our own lives?
First, we must relearn the stories of God’s great power and deliverance. Gideon knew the stories of God’s deliverance, but the stories had become legends from a bygone era in his heart (6:13). We may know God’s great acts from the Bible, but they will lose their power in our hearts unless we are always learning the stories anew. We will see God’s power at work the more we read and tell the stories of God’s victory through people who trust him. We build our faith stronger the more we look at the faithfulness of God to his people.
Second, we must translate what we learn about God’s power and deliverance into our prayer lives. When we talk to the Lord about our concerns, our time in the Word will help us pray with greater faith. If we have recently studied Gideon, we can pray with great faith about the Lord’s deliverance in our weakness. If we have recently studied David’s sinning and repentance, we can pray with a deeper understanding of our sin, but a great confidence in our forgiveness. We will ask in full faith for wisdom in our trials (James 1). We will pray for strength to overcome temptations. When we truly put our trust in the Lord, our prayer life will increase in both frequency and intensity. We will not fear when we place everything in his hands. Seeing God’s power and faithfulness will cause us to rely more heavily on God to act in our lives.
Third, if we are going to have faith in God’s power for the big Gideon-like battles, we must see God’s power in our smaller battles. We must daily count our blessings and attribute the provision to God’s power. My fridge is full because he made it so. I am alive, blessed with family, and forgiven because he made it so. Look at how God has helped us in the past through smaller difficulties and challenges in life. When we worship God’s consistent provision and deliverance in the smaller battles, we will learn to give our entire hearts and trust into his hands for the gigantic battles. God’s past provision and deliverance is the only sign we need to continue to trust God. Further, the cross is a reminder of God’s love and victory over the strongest powers of evil on our behalf. We will have full confidence in the Lord’s power. May we never have a lack-luster perception of the Lord’s power!
We may look at ourselves who are small in size, lacking in strength, and plagued with doubt and fear and believe we are at a great disadvantage to spread the gospel throughout Palm Beach County. The Lord uses Gideon’s testimony to tell us we are in prime position to convert hundreds and thousands of souls through the power of the Lord. God did not need great numbers with Gideon and he does not need them with us. Though we may be weak and feeble, God will use his spiritual army to save the world from sin and proclaim his glory. The gospel of Christ and his infinite mercy will do the work. We don’t need a miraculous sign from the Lord that this is our calling. The Lord has provided for us our entire lives as a sign that he will always be with us no matter the battle.