Quick recap: we just finished Chapter 6 where God has appointed Gideon (Jerubbaal) to lead Israel to destroy the Amalekites and the Midianites. Gideon starts out as a dweeb and is still a dweeb, but he’s getting there. It’s in this chapter of Judges that we meet the Gideon everyone is most familiar with: the warlord. They’re about to start their campaign against the Amalekites and Midianites starting with selecting the best men fit for the job. Let’s first examine the passage for this week and then dive into the deeper themes within the text:
“Then Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the people who were with him, rose early and camped beside the spring of Harod; and the camp of Midian was on the north side of them by the hill of Moreh in the valley. The LORD said to Gideon, “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands, for Israel would become boastful, saying, ‘My own power has delivered me.’ “Now therefore come, proclaim in the hearing of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is afraid and trembling, let him return and depart from Mount Gilead.’” So 22,000 people returned, but 10,000 remained. Then the LORD said to Gideon, “The people are still too many; bring them down to the water and I will test them for you there. Therefore it shall be that he of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go with you; but everyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.” So he brought the people down to the water. And the LORD said to Gideon, “You shall separate everyone who laps the water with his tongue as a dog laps, as well as everyone who kneels to drink.” Now the number of those who lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, was 300 men; but all the rest of the people kneeled to drink water. The LORD said to Gideon, “I will deliver you with the 300 men who lapped and will give the Midianites into your hands; so let all the other people go, each man to his home.” So the 300 men took the people’s provisions and their trumpets into their hands. And Gideon sent all the other men of Israel, each to his tent, but retained the 300 men; and the camp of Midian was below him in the valley.” (NASB Judges 7:1-8)
So Gideon and his mighty men are gathered together beside the spring of Harod near the camp of the Midianites who are by the hill of Moreh in the valley. They’re about to vanquish their enemies, but then God gives one final command to Gideon: you have too many men and need to send some home. What the what?! Why would God demand such a strange act of obedience from Gideon before going to battle? Doesn’t that seem counter-productive?
Pride. That’s the reason for God’s command. Pride is one of the deadliest sins one could ever commit. A spiritual blindside to all who allow it to take root in their life. God wants the Israelites to understand who is delivering their enemies into their hands. Not the number of men, but the God who created mankind. What’s so wrong with pride? Let’s take a look at a couple passages from the Bible:
“Why do You stand afar off, O LORD?
Why do You hide Yourself in times of trouble?
In pride the wicked hotly pursue the afflicted;
Let them be caught in the plots which they have devised.
For the wicked boasts of his heart’s desire,
And the greedy man curses and spurns the LORD.
The wicked, in the haughtiness of his countenance, does not seek Him.
All his thoughts are, “There is no God.” (NASB Psalm 10:1-4)
“Pride goes before destruction,
And a haughty spirit before stumbling.” (NASB Proverbs 16:18)
“For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.” (NASB 1 John 2:16)
Instead, I believe God was desiring this response from Gideon and a heart like that of David who once sang in Psalm 20:7 about the subject of boasting:
“Some boast in chariots and some in horses,
But we will boast in the name of the LORD, our God.”
Notice the difference? Rather than boast in themselves, God desired that they boast in Him. Paul the Apostle has a response very similar to David’s as well:
“But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD.”” (NASB 1 Corinthians 1:30-31)
What’s even more interesting is what Paul quotes because it’s a paraphrase of Jeremiah 9:23-24. That’s really all that God wants from the Israelites: properly fixed worship. Instead of worshiping themselves, they were meant to worship God.
So first, Gideon is accompanied by 32,000 soldiers, but the fearful are sent home which results in 10,000 being left to go to war against the Midianites (v3). Not bad, but not ideal either. I mean, it’s a third of the army, so they could win. Yet that’s not the last cut of the Israelite army either. No, God makes another crucial cut to their forces by dividing them into two camps of ways to drink from a body of water, most likely the spring of Harod. I know it sounds silly, but God does what He wants even if we don’t quite understand why. The passage sounds a little confusing in this translation, so let’s look at it in the NLT:
“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 300 of the men drank from their hands. All the others got down on their knees and drank with their mouths in the stream.” (NLT Judges 7:5-6)
There are those who lapped (made their hand a cup) to drink the water with their tongues, like a dog might (300 men) and then those who knelt down to drink the water with their mouths (9,700 men). So the 9,700 were sent away and Gideon was left with 300 men. Well, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that there were probably some within those 300 that were having some serious doubts about their victory against the Midianites. I mean, they went from 32,000 to 300. Not exactly great odds, yet that is the point. God wants Israel to know who is delivering them: God, not men. He wants moldable vessels of honor, not dried-up vessels of dishonor.
Now God, after narrowing down the army to 300 men, gives Gideon an affirmative and comforting promise (v7). He tells Gideon that two things will happen: 1) He will deliver them and 2) He will give them victory over the Midianites. It’s incredible how actively involved God is in the proceedings of bringing redemption to Israel through the use of a judge like Gideon. It reminds me of Proverbs 16:9 where it says,
“A man’s mind plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.” (RSV)
Gideon may be doing all of the planning, but God is doing all of the directing of those plans. Like in film, an actor may have an idea on how to portray a character in a script, but the director will guide and direct them to ensure that their portrayal is what the director has in mind. According to the director’s will, the actor will behave and inhabit their specific character in alignment with that vision. In the same manner, God will guide us as our plans align with His will for what to aspire or do for in our lives. In John 15:1-11, Jesus speaks on this idea and explains how the Father finds joy in those who bear much fruit according to living lives aligned with His will for them.
“Getting up and living in God’s great story.” Trip Lee, a pastor in Atlanta, wrote those words in his book Rise and I think it sums up this passage quite well. Although God could do everything He wills without us, He desires us to participate because it gives Him great joy to see us rise up to the occasion and bear much fruit for His name’s sake. It’s similar to how a parent knows they can carry their toddler across the room, but instead waits for the toddler to eventually walk towards them. Desiring that they learn and grow, which always brings joy to a loving parent’s heart. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless!