Gideon was now about to marshal the assembled tribes for a decisive struggle with the enemy; but he received new directions, which were designed to teach the people and their leader where their real strength and weakness lay. God set matters up in such a way that the praise of the victory would be entirely to Himself! Gideon’s army was far outnumbered by the enemy forces; not unreasonably, he might have deemed that his numbers were too few. But the Lord told him that the men who were with him were actually too many! And so, according to Mosaic law, proclamation was to be made before the war: “Whosoever is fearful and afraid, let him return and depart early.” The startling effect of this permission was that a full two-thirds of Gideon’s 32,000 followers – being awed by the sight of their formidable foes – retired from the contest! These men were unworthy of the honors of a victory which was to be achieved through faith. They were cowards at heart, and their presence was a source of weakness rather than strength; and yet these very men would be the most likely – after the victory – to return home glorifying their own prowess, and forgetting the Lord Who had interposed for them. But Gideon’s faith was still yet to be tried! The Lord told him that his forces – now only 10,000 –were still too numerous! It was now necessary to eliminate the heedless and impetuous ones from Gideon’s army; therefore, the men were ordered to descend the hill to the spring, as if to refresh themselves by drinking of its waters before the battle. The majority of the men eagerly knelt down, put their faces to the water, and drank; but 300 of them remained upon their feet, taking up the water by handfuls and lapping it out of their hands. It was this small group of selected warriors – cautious, courageous, and disciplined – who were chosen to deliver their countrymen!
The sun was now sinking in the west. But for the confirmation of Gideon’s faith, God directed him to go down across the valley after nightfall with his servant, and reconnoiter the encampment of the Midianites. Accordingly, the two men commenced their perilous descent without delay. In the events that happened next, some people would refuse to see anything other than a strange coincidence; but those who know better will recognize an instance of the ever-watchful care and Providential workings of our omnipresent Father! The Midianites were sound asleep; and the danger of Gideon’s enterprise consisted in the difficulty of eluding the vigilance of the armed watchers, whom the two men were stealthily approaching. At length, creeping cautiously nearer and nearer, they were able to hear two sentries engaged in conversation. One of them was relating a dream to his comrade. He had dreamed that he saw a cake of barley-bread rolling from the opposite hill into the Midianite camp, and overturning one of its tents. The other sentry was instantly ready with his interpretation. He told his friend that the cake of barley-bread (a humble kind of food, considered to be chiefly fit for horses and dromedaries) could only signify Gideon – the man of humble origin, at whose trumpet-call, the Israelites were assembling. Needless to say, Gideon’s confidence was heightened when he overheard this! He silently worshiped the Lord, and then he returned at once to his 300 men! He divided them up into three detachments of 100 men each; and he directed them to take up their positions on the hill-side, above the enemy’s camp. He provided each of the men with a trumpet, which they were to blow at the appointed signal; and each soldier was also equipped with a lighted torch, which was concealed from sight inside a clay water-pitcher. How graciously the Lord thus furnished means for the strengthening of Gideon’s faith! Although the Lord Jesus is both the Author and Finisher of our faith, and all the faith His people have is of His own gracious giving; yet He mercifully arranges and orders things for the strengthening and confirming of that faith, which He Himself has planted in their hearts. Everything in this nighttime visit to the Midianite camp reminded Gideon of the certainty of the Lord’s victory. How precious it is to know that even the final outcome of the great battle with our spiritual foes – although they are as numerous as grasshoppers – is not doubtful, if we fight in Jesus’ name and strength!
In silence, Gideon’s little troop of assailants took up their positions above the enemy lines; and they waited – silent and motionless – in the midnight darkness. Then, suddenly, at a signal from their leader, the 300 clay pitchers were simultaneously dashed to pieces with a terrific crash! The 300 lighted torches suddenly gleamed upon the bewildered eyes of the startled Midianites! And 300 trumpets – blown by stalwart lungs – preluded the triumphant shout, “The sword of the Lord and of Gideon!” The Midianites awoke in terror and confusion! The stillness of the night had been broken by the blast of innumerable trumpets, and the two names which they most dreaded – Jehovah and Gideon – were being shouted upon the heights above them! In their sudden panic, their imaginations would magnify these 300 lighted torches into an army consisting of hundreds of thousands – of which, these would merely be the torchbearers and trumpeters leading the way! In the awful confusion which followed, the enemy soldiers all smote wildly at each other; and the valley quickly became a scene of dreadful slaughter! The rising sun beheld the remnant of that massive enemy army fleeing in the wildest terror; but all their escape-routes were blocked by the Israelites, who – by this time – had been roused to action.
Lord, as we see how You used trumpets and pitchers to secure Israel’s victory, we thank You for effecting Your people’s deliverance – not by might, nor by power; but by Your Spirit! All praises be to Your name! Amen.
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