A Lesson From Gideon
How could a small band of only three hundred completely rout an army of many thousands? It seems impossible, but it did happen. The battle was recorded in the pages of the Bible as a lesson for us today. What is this lesson and how does it apply to us?
In Old Testament times God promised Israel that He would save them from their enemies, He said “And if ye go to war in your land against the enemy that oppresseth you, then ye shall blow an alarm with trumpets; and ye shall be remembered before the LORD your God, and ye shall be saved from your enemies” (Numbers 10:9). A similar promise is available to us today. No matter how overwhelming our problems may seem - if we go to God in heart-felt prayer, He will help us in times of need, “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16).
As a nation the Israelites had a special relationship with God, yet they still had problems with sin. One time when Israel had been chasing after other gods they were invaded and impoverished by their enemy, the Midianites. The country was invaded for seven consecutive years and the land was literally stripped bare of crops and animals (Judges 6:1-6). Israel’s enemies “came up with their cattle and their tents, and they came as grasshoppers for multitude [swarming like locusts - according to the Moffatt translation]; for they and their camels were without number: and they entered the land to destroy it.” (Judges 6:5, see also 7:12). The Israelites were overwhelmed by an enemy too great for them to defeat. Yet this powerful enemy was soon to be conquered!
The Israelites were saved from their oppression when they cried out to the one true God for help. When God responded, He instructed Gideon to gather together an army. To ensure that the Israelites understood exactly who was saving them, God reduced the army to a mere handful. From an original 32,000 the number was reduced to three hundred chosen men (Judges 7:2-7). Those chosen men were given specific instructions, they were given a trumpet to blow, a lamp to wave, and words to shout while they stood before their enemy and that vast horde of many thousands fled from this small band of three hundred chosen men (Judges 7:19-22).
What God did for Israel is an example of what He will do for us. Our position is similar to that of Gideon’s men, we have an enemy far too strong for us to overcome “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6:11-12). Yet God chose us, knowing our weaknesses, in order to confound the strong, “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;” (I Corinthians 1:27).
The instructions given to Gideon’s men symbolise what is required of us when we are facing our spiritual problems.
A Trumpet to Blow
The trumpet was normally used to herald important events, a call to arms or to warn of impending danger. In order to get back to a right relationship with God, the Israelites had to confront their enemy and declare war. They had to show God that they were willing to face up to their problems even though they could see that the enemy was too strong for them. Sounding the trumpet was not left to one or two of their number. Each and everyone of the three hundred was required to blow a trumpet, “And he divided the three hundred men into three companies, and he put a trumpet in every man’s hand, with empty pitchers, and lamps within the pitchers.” (Judges 7:16). It was as if each man was required to declare his own personal war. By blowing the trumpets they were showing their willingness to commit themselves to battle. It took an act of faith to trust God for the outcome.
In order to get back to a right relationship with God, we need to show Him our willingness to commit ourselves to the task of overcoming our sins, regardless of how impossible the task seems. Our decision to confront our problems equates to blowing the trumpet and declaring war.
A Lamp to Wave
While blowing the trumpet held in one hand, Gideon’s men waved a lamp in the other “And the three companies blew the trumpets, and brake the pitchers, and held the lamps in their left hands, and the trumpets in their right hands to blow withal: and they cried, The sword of the LORD, and of Gideon.” (Judges 7:20).
In the Bible God is often personified by light, and Satan, the originator of all sin, is personified by darkness, “This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5). And “To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.” (Acts 26:18, see also Ephesians 5:8). When we are called, we begin a process of moving out from under the influence of Satan, into a special relationship with God, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:” (1 Peter 2:9, see also I Thessalonians 5:4-5, I John 3:8). We move from darkness into light.
When God calls us, He forgives all our past sin and baptises us into a special relationship with Himself and His son Jesus Christ. There will be times when we encounter problems with sin that have to be dealt with. When we discover sin in our lives we are instructed to go boldly before God to confess our sin and seek His promise of help, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16). When we confess our sins, we are literally dragging them into the light before God. They are no longer hidden. They are laid out before Him so we can repent of them. We are forgiven and then we go forward from that time trusting in God’s help to completely overcome our weaknesses, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9). Where the trumpet blowing represents our decision to deal with our problems, the lamp represents the involvement of God in our lives fulfilling His promise to help cleanse us from sin. Light chases away the darkness.
The Sword of God
Gideon’s men were also told to shout “The Sword of God, and of Gideon” - the Sword of God is symbolic for the Word of God, “And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:” (Ephesians 6:17, see also Hebrews 4:12) God’s word includes His promise to save Israel from her enemies “And if ye go to war in your land against the enemy that oppresseth you, then ye shall blow an alarm with the trumpets; and ye shall be remembered before the LORD your God, and ye shall be saved from your enemies.” (Numbers 10:9). Gideon’s men had to trust His word. God would not make this promise unless He intended to keep it, “God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it?” (Numbers 23:19). Just as Gideon’s men had to step out in faith and trust God, so are we to step out in faith trusting in His promise. Having repented our sins we are to continue to strive to live by His every word knowing we have His help to do it.
Stand in Your Place
When the battle commenced Gideon’s men stood “every man in his place”, to witness what God was doing for them (Judges 7:21): they had to maintain their position in the face of the enemy. To stand means to stay put and continue on, to endure without succumbing, to resist. When we ask for God’s help we are to maintain our position by continuing to resist temptation. Look at what James advised “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7 ). We have to make that decision to confront our problems, involve God and trust in His promise while continuing to live by His word.
Gideon’s men stood blowing their trumpets, waving their lamps and shouting until the enemy fled. As we move toward a closer partnership with God we are to continue to resist temptation and to trust in Him. Each time we fall, we are to get back up and continue in our role, resisting until Satan flees from us.
It was obvious that Gideon’s army of three hundred could not defeat such a numerous and powerful enemy without help, and it should be just as obvious to us that we cannot defeat our enemy without help either.
The reduction of Gideon’s army to a mere handful was not to show what great things such a small band men could achieve, as many seem to think. Their numbers were reduced to emphasise their weakness in order to impress upon them that they needed God to fight their battle. He was making it abundantly clear that they could not possibly save Israel through their own efforts, “And the LORD said unto Gideon, The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me.” (Judges 7:2). They were up against an army of over 135,000 trained soldiers (Judges 8:10). Gideon’s men didn’t win the battle. In the initial and crucial stages they just stood as instructed, blowing, waving and shouting. They didn’t even get to draw their swords until the enemy were already fleeing. They had to do their part and when they followed the instructions, God fought their battle.
The message God is teaching us through this story is that we are to turn to Him for help, to have confidence in His promise to help us in times of need and continue living by His every word.
It doesn’t mean we just ask God for help and then do nothing. No - we’ve got to do our part by continually striving to overcome. Even though we may feel weak and overwhelmed by our problems, we are to continue until the battle is won, knowing that it is not by our strength but by God’s. Christ did nothing without the Father’s help, “Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.” (John 8:28). And nor can we do anything without Christ’s help, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” (John 15:5).
If you do feel like you are overwhelmed by your problems, then stop trying to deal with them on your own strength and turn to God. Go to Him and ask for His help. Paul knew the value of God’s help when he said “I can do all things through Christ which strengthen me” (Philippians 4:13).
Remember, what God did for Israel in Gideon’s time He will also do for you. If He defeated an army of many thousands for them, what will He do for you?