Lessons from Gideon Week 3: Prepare for Battle

If you remember from last week, we have been looking at the story of Gideon, found in Judges 6-8. Last week, we saw Gideon answer the call from God to raise up as a hero of Israel and deliver them from the Midianites. He took his father’s bull and a sacrificial bull and pulled down the altars of Baal and Asherah, inciting the wrath of the people and revealing Baal and Asherah as the false gods that they were. If you remember, at the very end of the scene, we saw God clothe Gideon in the Holy Spirit in 6:34, and gave Gideon the courage to call all the peoples of Israel to his side to prepare for battle. So, now, we have the men of Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, as well as the Abiezrites looking to Gideon for leadership as the Midianites and Amalekites and people of the East came together and camped in the Valley of Jezreel, waiting to fall upon the Israelites and plunder them as they have for the last 7 years. Let’s dive right in and finish out 6:36-40:

36 Then Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said, 37 behold, I am laying a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said.” 38 And it was so. When he rose early next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water. 39 Then Gideon said to God, “Let not your anger burn against me; let me speak just once more. Please let me test just once more with the fleece. Please let it be dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground let there be dew.” 40 And God did so that night; and it was dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground there was dew.

 

So like I reminded you earlier, God has given Gideon an unparalleled gift of leadership through the Holy Spirit, and has gathered all the peoples to him who are clothed and ready for battle. The scene has been set. They are across the valley, just waiting for Gideon to say the word and descend upon their enemies; yet, here we have this interlude where, for the second time, Gideon is testing God. He’s hedging. He’s trying everything he can to get out of this battle. So, we have this scene of the fleece.

 

Gideon’s problem is that with his limited experience with God, he cannot believe that God always fulfills his word. The New American Commentary (NAC) puts it this way, “Despite being clear about the will of God, being empowered by the Spirit of God, and being confirmed as a divinely chosen leader by the overwhelming response of his countrymen to his own summons to battle, he uses every available means to get out of the mission to which he has been called (Daniel I. Block, NAC, 272-273).”

 

Something I found incredibly interesting is, by my count, the author of Judges refers to God as YHWH over 20 times from Judges 6:11-35; He is almost exclusively referred to as the Covenant, faithful God of Israel. But all the sudden, in the scene of the fleece, Gideon simply refers to Him as Elohiym, which is simply “god.” Elohiym is used many times in the Bible as reference to God, but it does not have nearly the powerful, intimate connotation for the Israelites as the name “YHWH.” Gideon’s reversal from calling God YHWH back to the generic Elohiym indicates that he is having trouble differentiating between the false gods that he has grown up worshiping and the one and true YHWH that he has just met and under whose authority he is leading Israel into battle. Gideon has a lifetime of worshiping and praying and serving false gods who don’t live up to their supposed promises. Now he has very little faith that this God, YHWH, the God of Abraham and his fathers, would live up to His promises either. So not only does Gideon begin to doubt his calling, but he begins to doubt his promised victory in the battle against the Midianites. Remember, this guy is not a warrior; he is a farmer. He is not a leader – at least, that is what he believes; he believes he is the least of the least. So this second testing of God is not only borne of Gideon’s lack of faith, but also because he doubts himself.

When we begin to doubt that we are who God made us to be and the promises He has made to us, we begin to doubt that we could ever succeed in what He has called us to do.  We begin to do as Gideon did; we halt everything and question and question and lose all confidence. We forget that His very name, His very identity is called Faithful and True. We realize our own limitations and try to shackle them to our limitless God! There is a reason Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” in Philippians 4:13. As we discussed in the first week of Gideon, each trial in our lives are opportunities for God to show you that with Him, you truly can do anything and everything He asks of you. But Gideon hasn’t been with God long enough to figure this out, so God allows Gideon to test Him so he can “fast track” Gideon’s believe and trust in God. So, although the Bible tells us multiple times not to test Him, He allows Gideon to do so because He needed Gideon to get going and He needed him to do so quickly. So we see Gideon lay out the fleece the first night and tells God that if the fleece is wet in the morning but nothing else is, Gideon will believe all that God has promised to be true. Not only does God do as Gideon has asked, but He soaks the fleece with so much dew that it filled an entire bowl full of it. However, unlike God, Gideon does not keep his word. After the first night, Gideon tests God yet again the second night. Again, God inexplicably allows it and does what Gideon has asked – which tells us that God was infinitely more interested in preserving His people than the leader which He had chosen.

 

I believe God knew that Gideon still had a lack of faith because of his past experiences with false gods and He knew that this is what it would take for Gideon to finally stop doubting and start believing what God says as truth. He allowed the tests because he didn’t want to wait for Gideon to build faith through life circumstances as God allows in the lives of most; God allowed himself to be tested because His agenda was more important than His offense at being tested. He just needed Gideon to get on board so they could finally get on with His plan.

 

Sometimes God asks us to do something, and we hedge just like Gideon. We are scared and we question. The stage is set and God is ready to move, but we simply are not. Something we can learn about God through this passage is that he is patient and he is long-suffering. In Exodus 34:6-7, God passes in front of Moses and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…” Isaiah 30:18 says, “Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.” He waits. He is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. Sometimes God allows us to grow in our faith naturally through life circumstances; sometimes, however, God has a plan and you can either jump on board or He will throw you on board. God didn’t have time to wait on Gideon, so He allowed Gideon to test Him outright. The point is this: God is sovereign. He can do whatever He wants and He can reveal Himself to you in whatever way He want to. Ask God to reveal Himself to you however He deems necessary and watch for Him. He wants you to know Him – Jesus told us to seek Him and we would find Him. So seek Him and wait to see how He chooses to show His Wondrous self to you.

 

After the second night, God again did as Gideon asked and Gideon finally believed God’s words to be true; he took the dry fleece and went to be the confident leader that God called him to be. So let’s read 7:1-2:

 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.’

 

So many times in the Bible, we see God let a situation go so far until the people involved knew that only God alone could redeem it. God made Abraham and Sarah wait until Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90 before He allowed them to have Isaac. He allowed Joseph to be sold by his brothers into slavery and imprisoned for 3 years under false accusations, so that God could raise him up as a ruler over Egypt and save his people from famine; He allowed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to be thrown into a furnace so hot that it killed the med who threw them in it before He walked in the furnace with them and saved them from death; He allowed Daniel to be thrown into the lion’s den before he shut the mouths of the lions and saved Daniel; I could go on and on and on. God also lets us wait and wait and wait until we recognize that He alone can redeem our situation. What point is there to save us, if we don’t realize by whose hand we are saved? God’s every action leads to further our relationship with Him. He desires a deep and abiding relationship with you. And He strives at every turn to show you that He keeps His promises; that He is Faithful and He is true. He is worthy of our love, He is worthy of our praise, and He is worthy of our trust because He NEVER FAILS. He never fails to forgive you, He never fails to redeem you. I want to read you Revelation 4 so you can have a picture of who this God is, He who loves you so much that He desires your love more than the life of his own son.

 After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.

And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
    who was and is and is to come!”

And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,

11 “Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
    to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
    and by your will they existed and were created.”

 

THIS is the God who loves you more than His own life; THIS is the God who has redeemed your life from the grave; THIS is the God who works everything in your life so that you know Him and have a relationship with Him.

“Holy holy holy is the LORD God Almighty; who was and is and is to come!”

 

And He loves you. He knows you by name, says Isaiah 49:16, and He desperately wants you to know and love Him. So like the Israelites, He waits until you know that it is Him and Him alone that shows up and carries us into victory. So let’s continue reading God’s command to Gideon and see how God pares down the numbers and what happens next in vv3-8:

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.

 

So in this passage, we see two phases of God culling the Israelite army: first we see that those who are afraid can go home, which is essentially a test of courage. Secondly, we have this weird scene where people are lapping water like dogs. Essentially, those who kneeled down to drink water, whether by sticking their faces in the water like an animal, or by bringing water to their faces – they got to go home. Some commentators think that this is a test of alertness or preparedness. If you are kneeling down or have your face in the water, you can’t be alert and watchful for the attack of the enemy. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it makes sense to me. Either way, those were the tests, and God pared the Israelite army from 32,000 men to 300.

 

Knowing Gideon’s track record, can you imagine the amount of fear and anxiety this guy was dealing with after seeing 31,700 men leave, knowing he had only 300 men with which to fight an army; and not just any army but one described as being numbered like locusts – innumerable! But, v8 says that Gideon did what God said and sent them all home; but if you notice, he did keep the provisions and trumpets that the men brought before sending them back home. So let’s keep reading the last section for today, vv9-15:

That same night the Lord said to him, “Arise, go down against the camp, for I have given it into your hand. 10 But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant. 11 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. 12 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. 13 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.” 14 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.”

15 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.”

 

God is ready to get on with the battle, but He knows – because He is God – that Gideon is yet again filled with doubt and fear. So this time, He offers a sign instead of waiting for Gideon to ask. He continues to be patient and sends Gideon into the enemy camp to overhear a conversation. V13 tells us that the aforementioned conversation is a dream – which is the most common way God spoke to His people in those days; obviously God is acting in His sovereignty and has given this man a dream and then given his comrade the exact words Gideon needed to hear. If you noticed, the interpretation of the dream was completely out of left field – it made absolutely no sense in the context of the dream. The absurdity was simply one more way that Gideon knew that it was all God’s doing and that God was yet again affirming Gideon’s purpose and his success in victory over the Midianites.

 

Finally, we see Gideon getting it. He breaks out into praise and worship – he understands and never again doubts God’s promise of victory. He simply praises God and then returns to camp and prepares for battle.

 

There comes a time in your life when God has proven Himself to you so many times that you can no longer doubt His faithfulness or His truth. If you are wise, you can learn from the trials and testimonies of others. Gideon begins his conversation with the angel in chapter 6 by saying that he had heard of all the incredible things God did for his forefathers; but he still had to test God multiple times before he believed that God was indeed trustworthy.

 

Like Gideon, when we doubt God’s faithfulness, we seek out another thing or person in which to put our trust. We fill our lives with empty relationships, with empty conquests, with empty idols, empty activities; these things and people may bring temporary fulfilment, but ultimately they will always let you down and they will never fulfill you. They will never bring you peace and they will never bring you abiding joy – the kind that remains no matter how ugly life gets. Like Gideon, we are let down repeatedly by other people, other gods that we have put in place of YHWH, and we simply cannot trust or believe His promises until He has proven repeatedly that He can be trusted. I put God to the test, and if you ask any of the other adults in here, they will tell you the same; put God to the test. He WILL NOT FAIL YOU. And finally, when you get it, worship His holy name and prepare yourself for victory, for the LORD your God has already given it over into your hands.

 

Next week we finish our series on Gideon; we get to hear how God fulfills His promises and see how Gideon finishes his fight. I pray that God reveals Himself to you this week and that you are humbled by the one who sits on His throne, He who is called “Holy, Worthy, Faithful and True.” I pray that He reveals His love for you and that you would believe Him to the depths of your Spirit. Let’s pray.

 

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