Jars of Clay (Judges 7:1–8:3)

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Stuart Chase - 22 September 2019

Jars of Clay (Judges 7:1–8:3)

The Bible is filled with underdog stories. One of those is recorded in the text before us. The underdog in this case was Gideon, who was vastly outnumbered and outarsenalised by the enemy, but who nevertheless overcame the vast odds stacked against him. His victory story is recorded in Judges 7:1–8:3. The story is a living illustration of the truth of what Paul recorded: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Scripture References: Judges 7:1-25, Judges 8:1-3

From Series: "Judges Exposition"

An exposition of the book of Judges by Stuart Chase.

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In 2016, American documentary filmmaker Jennifer Nelson released a documentary titled Saving Happy Birthday. The film was the culmination of a four-year battle against giant record label Warner/Chappel Music over dubious copyright claims to the song “Happy Birthday to You.”

Several years earlier, Nelson had been working on the MTV reality show My Sweet 16, which documents the lives of wealthy teenagers whose parents throw them lavish coming of age celebrations. Her exposure to these stories had piqued her interest in birthday celebrations in general and the birthday song in particular. When she decided to make a documentary about the song, she discovered that Warner/Chappel Music claimed and enforced copyright on the song for any commercial purposes. She was forced to fork over $1,500 in royalties to use it in her film. As she delved deeper she discovered that the production company had been earning at least $2 million a year since 2009 in licensing the song for commercial use.

This immediately struck Nelson as odd. In her research, she discovered that the song’s tune dated back to at least the 1890s when kindergarten teachers Patty and Mildred Hill had copyrighted a melody titled “Good Morning to All” through the Clayton F. Summy Company. By 1935, the melody had been popularly co-opted for birthday celebrations. Though the Hill sisters had not penned the birthday lyrics, the Summy Company saw gold and filed a copyright claim on the song, using the melody copyright as a claim of legal ownership.

When Warner/Chappel Music bought out the Summy Company, it took ownership of the shaky copyright and started coining it by charging for commercial use of the song. Warner/Chappel claimed that the copyright persisted until 2030.

As she dug deeper, Nelson discovered a series of facts that made the copyright claim seem very dubious. Armed with her research, she filed a class-action suit against the record label. When executives at Warner/Chappel realised that the company faced the possibility of similar charges for wide-ranging shady dealings, they decided to settle the suit for $14 million and to effectively return the song to the public domain.

The outcome of the case was widely celebrated, in no small measure because it was a clear example of the underdog coming out on top. We love underdog stories, perhaps because we sense some sort of vicarious vindication in them.

The Bible is filled with underdog stories. One of those is recorded in the text before us. The underdog in this case was Gideon, who was vastly outnumbered and outarsenalised by the enemy, but who nevertheless overcame the vast odds stacked against him. His victory story is recorded in Judges 7:1–8:3. The story is a living illustration of the truth of what Paul recorded: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

In comparison to the Midianite-Amalekite enemy, Gideon was weak. But his weakness became the backdrop against which the power of God was clearly displayed. As we consider this text together, we want to learn some crucial lessons about God’s working in the face of weakness.

The Divine Aim in Weakness

First, we want to recognise God’s aim in our weakness.

Then Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the people who were with him rose early and encamped beside the spring of Harod. And the camp of Midian was north of them, by the hill of Moreh, in the valley.

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.’ Now therefore proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home and hurry away from Mount Gilead.’” Then 22,000 of the people returned, and 10,000 remained.

And the LORD said to Gideon, “The people are still too many. Take them down to the water, and I will test them for you there, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ shall go with you, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ shall not go.” So he brought the people down to the water. And 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.” And the number of those who lapped, putting their hands to their mouths, was 300 men, but all the rest of the people knelt down to drink water. And the LORD said to Gideon, “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.” So the people took provisions in their hands, and their trumpets. And he sent all the rest of Israel every man to his tent, but retained the 300 men. And the camp of Midian was below him in the valley.

(Judges 7:1–8)

The well-known account of Gideon’s army being whittled from 32,000 to three hundred has invited all manner of creative interpretation. Sadly, our imagination often embraces more than the text warrants. The story here is not really about selecting the best soldiers but about securing God’s purposes.

Gideon needed to learn that that the Lord was able to deliver regardless of the size of the army at his disposal (see 1 Samuel 14:6). In fact, the smaller the force the greater it would highlight the Lord’s power. Centuries later, through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord would say, “I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols” (Isaiah 42:8). The text before us is an illustration of this divine jealousy.

There are several clues in the beginning of this chapter that suggest that formerly fearful Gideon was now brimming with confidence.

First, he is called “Jerubaal” rather than Gideon. You may remember from our previous study that Jerubbaal was the nickname given to him after he obeyed the Lord and tore down his father’s altar to Baal. The name was intended as something of an insult to Baal: “Let Baal contend against Gideon—if he dares!” It was a name that therefore identified Gideon as the appointed servant of the Lord and therefore leader of his people.

Second, Gideon rose early in the morning. People who are paralysed with fear don’t rise early; they stay in bed as long as possible, hiding from what they must face in the world.

Third, the 32,000 men at his disposal rose early with him. Where he had previously wondered what the people would do to him if he tore down his father’s altar, now 32,000 soldiers showed their solidarity by rising early with him. Not only was the Lord on his side, but so were the people.

Yahweh’s assurance to him by means of the fleece seems to have given him the confidence he required. At this point, he seems to have believed that he could actually accomplish what the Lord had called him to.

Throughout the Bible, however, confidence in the flesh is kryptonite to God’s people. The worst thing that could possibly happen would be for the people to cockily claim credit for what the Lord had accomplished. God wanted to protect them from this temptation, and to do so he needed to make it clear that he was giving the victory. Gideon’s confidence was about to take a serious knock.

God wanted to dent Gideon’s cocky confidence so that he would learn to place his confidence fully in the Lord. To do this, he made a startling claim: “The people with you are too many.” Too many? Really? The Midianites and their allies “lay along the valley like locusts in abundance, and their camels were without number, as the sand that is on the seashore in abundance” (7:12). This is admittedly a bit of hyperbole but from 8:10 we learn that the enemy numbered at least 135,000. Far from “too many,” 32,000 seemed the bare minimum to pull of an unlikely victory.

But that is exactly the point: 32,000 could still pull off an unlikely victory, and any credit going to the Israelite army rather than to Yahweh alone was misplaced. Yahweh alone must receive the credit for the victory. To make it clear that the victory was his, the odds needed to be impossible.

The first step in reducing numbers would be to allow those who were fearful to go home. This was not without precedent. The Mosaic law concerning warfare included this provision: “And the officers shall speak further to the people, and say, ‘Is there any man who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go back to his house, lest he make the heart of his fellows melt like his own’” (Deuteronomy 20:8).

It has been said that the only thing necessary to be a leader is to have someone following. If that is the case, Gideon fit the bill, for he had 32,000 followers—and it felt good. One wonders how he felt as he announced that those who were fearful were free to go home. How many would he lose? A few hundred, perhaps? How it must have dented his confidence when 22,000 men turned around and went home! Perhaps he didn’t have the following he thought!

Still, ten thousand brave soldiers were nothing to scoff at. It would require a change in tactics, to be sure, but it might still be possible, with the Lord’s help.

The Lord, however, had other plans: “The people are still too many.” Seriously? He had just lost seventy percent of his men, and still the Lord wanted fewer?

It is a strange scene that follows—so strange that it has led to all manner of speculative interpretation. Gideon took his men to a stream and told them to drink. Those who knelt with their face to the water were separated from those who sat on their haunches and scooped water into their hands. Some interpreters have imagined that the scoopers showed greater vigilance than the kneelers and were therefore the better suited for the battle. There is no hint of that in the text. The drinking episode was merely the instrument by which the Lord whittled down the army further. The scoopers numbered a mere three hundred, and perhaps Gideon hoped that they would be sent away. But he probably had a sneaky suspicion about what the Lord was about to say—and he was correct: Send away the kneelers; Yahweh would work with the three hundred scoopers.

We should note at this point that there is actually little reason to assume that the three hundred with which he was left were any braver—at least at this point—than the 22,000 who had initially left. The text tells us that he “retained the 300 men.” The word translated “retained” carries the idea of an almost forceful restraint. The word is used in Judges 19:4 of a man whose father-in-law “made him stay” when he wanted to leave. Exodus 9:2 uses the word of Pharaoh forcing the Israelites to stay in Egypt (“still hold them”) against the Lord’s command to release them. Job’s wife used the word in her amazement that he would still “hold fast” his integrity in the face of all he had lost (Job 2:9). It seems to have taken some convincing on Gideon’s part for the three hundred to stay.

The section opened with Gideon rising early—and all the people with him. The close of this particular section paints a very different picture: “And the camp of Midian was below him in the valley” (7:8). Notice that: below “him,” not below “them.” Gideon was very much alone now—or at least he felt like it.

We must not miss the fact that this was precisely the Lord’s design. The Lord would not allow any possibility of Gideon or any of the Israelites claiming credit for the victory. In New Testament terms, Gideon needed to learn that “the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). His plans needed to be laid to waste so that the Lord’s power could be magnified.

Sometimes the Lord works this way: He demolishes our best laid plans so that we have to rely completely on him. It frustrates and sometimes demoralises us when our plans are laid to waste—and it may leave us feeling entirely alone—but sometimes we need that to happen so that the Lord’s wisdom can shine through.

Perhaps you have carefully laid plans for your career, or your retirement, or your family, or your ministry, and you find your plans falling apart. It can be frustrating. It can drive you to fear. But remember that the Lord knows what he is doing, and perhaps his design is to remove your sense of confidence so that his power shines through your weakness.

The Divine Assurance in Weakness

Second, we want to be encouraged that the Lord frequently offers divine assurance in our weakness.

That same night the LORD said to him, “Arise, go down against the camp, for I have given it into your hand. 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.” Then he went down with Purah his servant to the outposts of the armed men who were in the camp. And the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the people of the East lay along the valley like locusts in abundance, and their camels were without number, as the sand that is on the seashore in abundance. When Gideon came, behold, a man was telling a dream to his comrade. And he said, “Behold, I dreamed a dream, and behold, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian and came to the tent and struck it so that it fell and turned it upside down, so that the tent lay flat.” And his comrade answered, “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.”

As soon as Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, he worshiped. And he returned to the camp of Israel and said, “Arise, for the LORD has given the host of Midian into your hand.” And 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, “Look at me, and do likewise. 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.’”

(Judges 7:9–18)

With his army whittled down to three hundred, Gideon was in greater need than ever of divine encouragement, and the Lord knew it: “That same night the LORD said to him, ‘Arise, go down against the camp, for I have given it into your hand’” (7:9). The Lord reiterated his earlier promise to his servant (see 6:14–16). But the Lord also understood his shaky faith, particularly in light of the drastic reduction in his army: “But if you are afraid” (7:10).

The chapter opened with Gideon brimming with nigh cocky confidence. Now, once again, we find him afraid. A whopping 31,700 of the men he had gathered were no longer with him, and he faced the prospect of war against a vast host with a mere three hundred men. Who wouldn’t be afraid?

It is easy to be critical of Gideon as we view events from a distance. We know the rest of the story. We know how the power of God was about to be displayed in Gideon’s weakness. Gideon didn’t have the benefit of hindsight. Thrust into the middle of an intimidating mission was frightening. As before, the Lord did not rebuke him but accommodated him.

This time, Gideon—terrified as he was—didn’t dare to ask for a sign. But the Lord kindly offered him one anyway. If he was too afraid, he should go down—with his faithful servant—to the Midianite camp to hear the chatter on the ground.

It’s worth noting that this was hardly an insignificant thing to do: for two men to sneak behind enemy lines at night, close enough to the enemy to hear them talking. Nevertheless, Gideon and Purah did as the Lord instructed and the hearts were lifted as they did so.

The account that follows may seem a little strange to us, but we should recognise that, in many Middle Eastern cultures and religions, dreams are very significant. It is possible to spend our time examining the various elements of the dream as we wonder how the Midianite soldier reached his conclusion that the barley cake represented Gideon, but that would be unnecessary. The point is simple: God gave the dream and orchestrated events so that the dream and its interpretation were related at the precise time that Gideon and Purah huddled behind the tent to eavesdrop. The whispered interaction between these two soldiers betrayed the general feeling in the Midianite camp: They were genuinely afraid of Gideon. We don’t know what they knew of Gideon’s army, but it is clear that they had heard of him and believed that his God had given him victory. Perhaps they had heard rumours of him destroying an altar to Baal and surviving unscathed. We don’t know for sure, but it is clear that the fear of God had been put into their hearts and minds.

The high point in Gideon’s story comes at this point: “As soon as Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, he worshipped” (7:15). He was now done with challenging God (6:13), done with his excuses (6:15), and done with testing God (6:17–18, 36–40). He had wavered before but his wavering had finally given way to worship.

God is frequently kind to assure us in our moments of doubt and fear. But, as Gideon needed to be in the right place to receive God’s assurance, so we need to be in the right place to receive encouragement. And where is the right place? Primarily, it’s in the context of the local church. “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24–25). Gideon was stirred to action when he went to the Midianite camp as the Lord instructed. We are stirred to love and good works when we gather with God’s people. Isolating ourselves from the gathering of God’s people is no way to find assurance.

Spending time alone with God plays a vital role in experiencing assurance. I don’t wish to minimise the benefit of personal Scripture reading and prayer. But clearly neglecting the gathering of the saints is equally, if not more, detrimental to a robust faith. In corporate worship, we receive assurance from God and encouragement from his people.

Gideon’s worship experience—Barry Webb calls it “his Gethsemane moment”—resulted in a changed man. Worship transformed him in three ways.

First, Gideon became a man of doxology: “And he returned to the camp of Israel and said, ‘Arise, for the LORD has given the host of Midian into your hand’” (7:15). Worship put him in a right frame of mind to believe God’s promises and direct praise to God for what he had done and would do.

Second, Gideon became a man of responsibility: “And 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, ‘Look at me, and do likewise’” (7:16–17). The Lord had called him to lead Israel’s army into battle and he finally embraced this responsibility fully. Worship had given him the perspective to do what God had called him to do.

Third, Gideon became a man of resourcefulness: “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 on all the camp and shout, ‘For the LORD and for Gideon’” (7:17–18). There is no indication anywhere in the text that the Lord had given this instruction. It seems that the plan was Gideon’s. He only had three hundred men but, rather than sitting back and doing nothing, he would do his best with what he had and trust the Lord for the outcome.

We should pause to observe that there was some thoughtful military strategy to his plan here.

First, he chose to attack at night, when the enemy would be least prepared. Second, he attacked “at the beginning of the middle watch,” right when the guard changed shift. The new guards had just woken up and were probably not at their most alert.

Third, he had collected all the trumpets from the departing soldiers so that each soldier had a trumpet. The trumpets used here were shofar, which were noise-making rather than music-making devices—like vuvuzelas. Ordinarily, only a few trumpets would be carried into battle. For example, when the Israelites marched around Jericho, only seven priests carried trumpets. It was understood that there were vastly more soldiers than trumpets. When the enemy heard hundreds of trumpets sounding, they would have assumed that there were hundreds of thousands of soldiers following.

Fourth, each soldier carried a torch. As with the trumpets, there were ordinarily far more soldiers than torches. In night battle, columns of soldiers would typically line up behind a torch-bearing soldier. Not only did three hundred trumpets suggest hundreds of thousands of soldiers, but so did three hundred torches.

Finally, the element of surprise must not be underestimated. The Midianites were asleep, and for groggy soldiers to be awakened by three hundred trumpets, smashing jars, and blazing torches would understandably throw the army into disarray.

The point is simply that Gideon had clearly put some thought into his battle plan.

It is crucial to recognise, however, that while he was committed to doing what he needed to do, Gideon had come to realise that he would not be the cause of Israel’s deliverance. He was an instrument in the Lord’s hands, but it was the Lord who would do the work. To return to New Testament principle, Gideon had come to realise that he and his army were but jars of clay but that the surpassing power lay with the Lord (2 Corinthians 4:7).

Worship—if it is true worship—transforms us. Worship is not something that happens on Sunday when we sing songs and then we forget about until the next Sunday. If we have truly worshipped God, it will make us a people of doxology, who give glory to God. True worship will make us a people of responsibility, eager to embrace the calling to which God has called us. And it will make us a people of resourcefulness—in the sense that we will labour faithfully and intelligently for the Lord but trust him for the results.

The Divine Ability in Weakness

The third lesson we must learn here is that God gives divine ability in human weakness:

So Gideon and the hundred men who were with him came to the outskirts of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, when they had just set the watch. And they blew the trumpets and smashed the jars that were in their hands. Then the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the jars. They held in their left hands the torches, and in their right hands the trumpets to blow. And they cried out, “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!” Every man stood in his place around the camp, and all the army ran. They cried out and fled. When they blew the 300 trumpets, the LORD set every man’s sword against his comrade and against all the army. And the army fled as far as Beth-shittah toward Zererah, as far as the border of Abel-meholah, by Tabbath. And the men of Israel were called out from Naphtali and from Asher and from all Manasseh, and they pursued after Midian.

Gideon sent messengers throughout all the hill country of Ephraim, saying, “Come down against the Midianites and capture the waters against them, as far as Beth-barah, and also the Jordan.” So all the men of Ephraim were called out, and they captured the waters as far as Beth-barah, and also the Jordan. And they captured the two princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. They killed Oreb at the rock of Oreb, and Zeeb they killed at the winepress of Zeeb. Then they pursued Midian, and they brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon across the Jordan.

Then the men of Ephraim said to him, “What is this that you have done to us, not to call us when you went to fight against Midian?” And they accused him fiercely. And he said to them, “What have I done now in comparison with you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the grape harvest of Abiezer? God has given into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. What have I been able to do in comparison with you?” Then their anger against him subsided when he said this.

(Judges 7:19–8:3)

From the outset of this account, the Lord’s concern was to preserve his own glory. He would not allow the Israelites to take for themselves glory that belonged to him. And that is precisely what follows in the text.

As we saw previously, Gideon was a man who had keenly felt his inability to both lead God’s people and to defeat God’s enemies. In 7:19–8:3 we see the Lord giving him ability to do both those things.

Divine Ability to Defeat

First, we read of Gideon’s God-given ability to defeat God’s enemies. “How can I save Israel?” he had asked (6:15). The answer was, by the Lord’s power.

So Gideon and the hundred men who were with him came to the outskirts of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, when they had just set the watch. And they blew the trumpets and smashed the jars that were in their hands. Then the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the jars. They held in their left hands the torches, and in their right hands the trumpets to blow. And they cried out, “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!” Every man stood in his place around the camp, and all the army ran. They cried out and fled. When they blew the 300 trumpets, the LORD set every man’s sword against his comrade and against all the army. And the army fled as far as Beth-shittah toward Zererah, as far as the border of Abel-meholah, by Tabbath. And the men of Israel were called out from Naphtali and from Asher and from all Manasseh, and they pursued after Midian.

(Judges 7:19–23)

As we have seen, his plan did show some ingenuity. Still, how long could the element of surprise possibly last before trained soldiers regathered their wits to fight back?

This is precisely where Israel had the advantage: Yahweh was fighting for them. If the Lord was with them, who could possibly stand against them? All the strength and training of the enemy became irrelevant in light of 7:22: “When they blew the 300 trumpets, the LORD set every man’s sword against his comrade and against all the enemy.” The Lord fought for Israel just as he had promised he would (6:16). “In the end it wasn’t Gideon’s cleverness or even his faith that saved Israel, but God’s commitment to his promise to be with him and give him victory” (Webb).

When God fights for his people, no enemy can possibly withstand them. Conversely, without the Lord’s power, we are hopeless (see 16:20). This is precisely why God’s people need to plead with him for his presence and favour with them. As the church of God, we have an insurmountable task before us: to make disciples of Jesus Christ in all nations. The task is as insurmountable with your ethically upstanding yet unbelieving friends as it is for people in countries that are completely closed to the gospel and where Christians are persecuted. Only the power of the Lord is able to overthrow the enemy.

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

(2 Corinthians 4:1–7)

Christian—church—if you will be effective in the ministry of reconciliation that God has given to you, it will only be by the power of God. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).

This is precisely why we need to be a praying people. “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (Psalm 50:14–15). If we will not pray, recognising our utter dependence on God, what hope do we have of seeing our children and our family and our friends and our neighbours and the world come to faith in Christ through our ministry?

Divine Ability to Direct

But there is a second ability that Gideon displayed here in his weakness: the ability to direct God’s people:

Gideon sent messengers throughout all the hill country of Ephraim, saying, “Come down against the Midianites and capture the waters against them, as far as Beth-barah, and also the Jordan.” So all the men of Ephraim were called out, and they captured the waters as far as Beth-barah, and also the Jordan. And they captured the two princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. They killed Oreb at the rock of Oreb, and Zeeb they killed at the winepress of Zeeb. Then they pursued Midian, and they brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon across the Jordan.

Then the men of Ephraim said to him, “What is this that you have done to us, not to call us when you went to fight against Midian?” And they accused him fiercely. And he said to them, “What have I done now in comparison with you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the grape harvest of Abiezer? God has given into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. What have I been able to do in comparison with you?” Then their anger against him subsided when he said this.

(Judges 7:24–8:3)

At the beginning of Gideon’s story, he had been anything but confident in his ability to lead God’s people. “Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house” (6:15). But now this formerly incapable man experienced a newfound ability to direct God’s people—even from the tribe of Ephraim with whom his own tribe (Manasseh) had long experienced significant tension, and which tribe was always on knife’s edge, just looking for a fight (see 12:1–7).

One not insignificant part of his newfound ability to direct God’s people was the wisdom to defuse conflict. Gideon knew when to fight, but he also knew when things were just not worth fighting over. And so, when the Ephraimites brought their (apparently justified, see 6:34–35) complaint to him, he displayed the wisdom necessary to reconcile rather than create further tension.

As an aside, it may be worthwhile to pause here for a moment and think about this conflict. Gideon had already experience conflict with Baal and with Midian, but perhaps his greatest test was when he experienced conflict with God’s own people. He had been called to lead God’s people; surely they should not stand against him?

There is a lesson here for us: Sometimes, your greatest test will come from God’s own people. Christians—even Christians in your own church—can sometimes be fickle and disappoint you. If you will survive the church, be prepared for church members to disappoint you.

At the same time, recognise your own propensity to disappoint others. Our personal quest for status and security can often threaten the harmony of the church. We need to be careful that we are not the source of disharmony but are working hard, as Gideon did, to preserve peace within the church.

But our primary focus here should be to recognise God’s ability highlighted in this story. Gideon was not a self-made man. Were it not for God’s patience with him in his fears and doubts, he would never have come to this point. But God was longsuffering and eventually transformed Gideon into a man who, recognising the greatness and goodness of his God, accomplished great things against God’s enemies and for God’s people. By the gracious patience of God, Gideon was brought to the point where he was willing to attempt the impossible because he believed God’s promises.

Conclusion

What is the one lesson that we can draw from this story? Surely it is the 2 Corinthians 4 principle to which we have alluded time and again: The surpassing power we require for Christian ministry lies not with us but with our God. To march forward in that power, as Gideon did, we need to cast off our own sufficiency and cling to the all-sufficient promises of God, which find their ultimate fulfilment in Jesus Christ.

To embrace the promises of God requires of us to cast of all other allegiances and bow to God at the foot of the cross, calling upon the name of the Lord Jesus, who died and rose again, for the forgiveness of your sins. And then it requires consistent worship with God’s people to be reminded of those promises and to be strengthened in our faith to go into a hostile world with the message of the gospel, relying not on our own wisdom, but on the surpassing power of God in Jesus Christ.

To this I hold: My Shepherd will defend me,
through the deepest valley he will lead;
oh the night has been won, and I shall overcome!
Yet not I, but through Christ in me.

AMEN