Judges 7: Gideon Defeats the Midianites
In the last passage we were introduced to Gideon. You could call Gideon a “reluctant judge,” because he was not eager to fight the Midianites.
In this chapter, he and his men camp at the Spring of Harod (which, I assume, is somewhere fairly close to where the Midianites are encamped). However, the LORD feels that Gideon has too many men. After all, He doesn’t want Israel thinking that they defeated Midian with their own strength, when it was really the LORD who did it for them! So he has Gideon send home anyone who “trembles with fear” (verse 3), and twenty-two thousand men leave. In fact, that only leaves ten thousand, which means that slightly more than two thirds of Gideon’s soldiers were too scared to fight the Midieanites!
But it’s not good enough. Gideon still has too many men. So the LORD has Gideon send everyone to take a drink at the spring, and sort them based on who drinks by bringing the water to their mouth with their hand, and who brings their face down to the water to drink. Three hundred drink by bringing the water to their mouth with their hands, and the rest drink by bringing their face down to the water. God tells Gideon that He will use the three hundred men, and Gideon is to send the rest home. Even though the Midianites are “thick as locusts,” and their camels can “no more be counted than the sand on the seashore” (verse 12), God is going to defeat them with three hundred men.
However, before they begin the attack, God tells Gideon to take his servant Purah, and sneak down to the Midianite camp. If Gideon is still afraid to attack them—and, let’s face it, he’s probably petrified, based on what we know of him—then he will be encouraged after he hears what the Midianites are saying. So Gideon does:
Gideon arrived just as a man was telling a friend his dream. “I had a dream,” he was saying. “A round loaf of barley bread came tumbling into the Midianite camp. It struck the tent with such force that the tent overturned and collapsed.”
His friend responded, “This can be nothing other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands.”
It works. When Gideon hears this, he worships God, and goes back to round up his troops.
He divides his three hundred men into three groups, and gives all of his men trumpets, empty jars, and torches. They light the torches, and put them inside the jars. When they get to the edge of the Midianite camp, they all blow their trumpets, break the jars, exposing the torches, and cry out “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!” (verse 20).
This totally throws the Midianites into a tizzy. They not only start running around and crying out, but in the confusion, they even turn on each other with their swords. They finally end up fleeing, and Gideon calls out his fellow Israelites—the ones that had previously been excluded from the battle—and they chase after the Midianites.
I didn’t mention it above, but verse 1 refers to Gideon as “Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon).” I was amused by that; I think it shows that the writer of Judges had a bit of a dry sense of humour. (If you don’t understand why, you’ll have to read the previous passage, in which Gideon was given that name.)
It’s not a new thing that the LORD doesn’t want anyone else taking credit for His victories. The Israelites are too prone to forgetting Him any chance they get, so it’s no surprise that He engineers this in such a way that it will be no question as to who won this battle: There is no way three hundred men could defeat an army the size of the one they were fighting; it would have to be the LORD helping them.
I find it interesting, after Gideon hears about the Midianite’s dream, that it says that he “worships God” (verse 15). It doesn’t say that he takes heart, or that he is encouraged, or that his fear leaves him, it says that he worships God. Right on, Gideon. Exactly the right response!
I’m sure millions of people have said this, but I think Gideon serves as an example for people who are too timid or scared to do something for God. Sure, Gideon might have been scared—he was no hero—but he didn’t have to be a hero. He just had to trust that God would do what He said He would do.