Sometimes we need to be reminded that we aren’t in control. The Lord gave Gideon and Israel victory, but it was not an impressive victory against great odds; it was an amazing victory against impossible odds. It was a victory that could be attributed to God alone.
God’s work never depends on impressive people. He doesn’t depend on celebrities. And as we arrive at Judges chapter 7, it appears Gideon is surrounded by too many celebrities and not enough servants in his army.
Now from their encampment, they can see the Midianite army in the valley. The Midianites are described here in verse 12 as being “like locusts in abundance, and their camels were without number.” Over in chapter 8 and verse 10, we’re told the Midianite army has 135,000 soldiers, while Gideon leads 32,000.
This is why the Lord’s announcement in verse 2 of chapter 7 is so shocking:
The LORD said to Gideon, “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.’”
The problem isn’t the size of the Midianite army—the problem is the size of the Israelite ego! Even though the Israelites are greatly outnumbered, God knows they will pat themselves on the back after winning the battle.
By the way, if our victories in life make us swell up with pride, then being victorious is more dangerous than being defeated. Jesus didn’t say to us, “Apart from me you can do something.” No, He said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
So, God tells Gideon to release any soldiers who are frightened, and 22,000 of them go home, leaving 10,000 soldiers to fight the Midianites.
But then the Lord says to Gideon, “Your army is still too big, so take them down to the water and give them a test.” Verse 5 tells us:
The LORD said to Gideon, “Every one who laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set by himself. Likewise, every one who kneels down to drink.”
Well, more than 9,000 soldiers kneel down, which implies they’re taking their eyes off the enemy. But 300 soldiers crouch down to scoop water into their hands, keeping their eyes alert and ready.
And the Lord says here in verse 7 that Gideon’s army is going to be made up of these 300 men—300 Israelite soldiers against an army of 135,000!
And here’s a rather interesting battle plan as Gideon rallies his troops:
He divided the 300 men into three companies and put trumpets into the hands of all of them and empty jars, with torches inside the jars. And he said to them . . . “When I come to the outskirts of the camp, do as I do. When I blow the trumpet, I and all who are with me, then blow the trumpets also on every side of all the camp and shout, ‘For the LORD and for Gideon.’” (verses 16-18)
In verse 19, the Bible says they’re going to do all this at the beginning of the middle watch—that’s between 10:00 p.m. and midnight—and that’s the perfect time to create confusion.
So, on Gideon’s signal, the men blow their trumpets of rams’ horns, and they smash the clay jars in their hands. This does two things. First, it exposes the light of their torches, making it appear the Midianite camp is surrounded by a vast army. Second, it makes a loud crashing noise, which sounds like soldiers fighting; this sound probably stampedes the livestock, creating even more chaos. The pandemonium of shattering jars and yelling and torches all around the camp terrifies the Midianite soldiers, who turn on one another in their confusion.
Gideon’s men just stand in place! Don’t miss this—there’s not one Israelite soldier carrying a sword. What an unforgettable lesson: you can’t be too small for God to use, but you can be too big.
In verse 24, Gideon asks the tribe of Ephraim to cut off the remaining Midianites’ escape at the Jordan River. They respond and end up catching and executing some Midianite leaders in the final verses of chapter 7.
Now most Christians know all about Gideon’s 300, but few know about the serious threat to Israel’s unity that takes place next. Following their victory, you would expect Israel to celebrate. But chapter 8 and verse 1 tells us the tribe of Ephraim is offended that they were left out of the military campaign, and they want to know why.
We must understand that this disunity has been developing over many years. Ephraim was the most prominent tribe in Israel; this was Joshua’s tribe, and the tabernacle is currently at Shiloh, within their borders. Ephraim had assisted Judge Ehud in chapter 3 and Judge Barak in chapter 5. They’re the most famous tribe around—they’re the celebrity tribe. But now they have missed the spotlight here with Gideon, and their damaged pride threatens to divide Israel.
Gideon could have told them to go jump in the lake. But instead, he answers them with graciousness and tact, which is what is needed in times of hurt feelings and divisiveness.
He answers them in verse 2, “What have I done now in comparison with you?” He’s not just flattering them; he’s telling the truth. He didn’t really do anything more than blow a trumpet and hold up a torch.
He says further in verse 3: “God has given into your hands the princes of Midian . . . What have I been able to do in comparison with you?” Gideon is reminding them that he had not fought in hand-to-hand combat like they had. But Gideon also puts the focus where it belongs. Notice he says here, “God has given [them] into your hands.” Listen, God is the only one who deserves the spotlight. God should be the only celebrity in your life.
Now with that settled, a second problem arises as Gideon and his men pursue the remainder of the Midianite army across the Jordan River and through the territory belonging to the Israelite tribe of Gad. Verse 4 says, “The 300 men who were with him were exhausted, yet pursuing.”
So, when they arrive at Succoth, Gideon asks these leaders of the tribe of Gad for some much-needed food. And if you can believe it, the leaders refuse. They are actually afraid to take a stand with Gideon.
Gideon moves on to the next town, and they do the same thing. So, Gideon tells them, “When I come again in peace, I will break down this tower” (verse 9). In other words, he’s going to punish them for refusing to help. And the verses following in Judges chapter 8 tell us that’s exactly what he did.
To this day, beloved, disunity and disloyalty are dangerous enemies of God’s people. Ego and pride have ruined many congregations in our world today. Frankly, Christians today can act like the tribes of Ephraim and Gad and show little interest in the welfare of their brethren. Too often they refuse to stand for truth and righteousness.
What do you do when that philosophy professor asks your college class, “Is anybody in here foolish enough to believe the Bible?” Do you remain quiet? Or when your business associates invite you to golf on Sunday morning, do you tell them you’re going to sleep in, or do you tell them that you’re going to church? When other believers experience difficulties, do you lend a hand or ignore them?
Let’s remember what it means to stand together as brothers and sisters in Christ, protecting the unity of the church family, and helping and encouraging one another along the way.