I’m sure you’ve heard Gideon’s story over and over again. And maybe learnt lessons from it. On how God took the least man of the least family in the Manasseh clan and used him to bring victory to Israelites. Now maybe you’ve pictured yourself as Gideon at times, someone who has trust and self-esteem issues but who God has called nevertheless for His purposes.
But today I want us to picture ourselves, not as Gideon, but as one of the 300 men that God used under Gideon’s leadership.
From Judges 6;13, we see Gideon asking the angel of God, that if surely God was with them, then why were they going through hell literally? The hell I’m talking about here is explained at the start of chapter 6. The midianites used to wait for Israelites to plant, then come with their cattle and destroy everything. The Israelites by the time God was choosing Gideon, were living in dens made in mountains and caves. They were internally displaced people in their own land. The angel of the Lord even found Gideon beating wheat in a winepress, now that’s not normal. Wheat is supposed to be beaten in the field or at home, but it shows us the kind of fear all Israelites were living in. They were afraid. They were angry. They were bitter at the Lord. They were on the verge of dying off.
Then in the middle of them hiding out in caves and dens, this guy nowadays called Jerubbaal comes telling them to stand up and fight. First of all, why has Gideon’s name changed to Jerubbaal? And as an Israelite man, what would convince you to follow this guy?
To answer the first question, the first impression Gideon gave Israelites was a bad one. It changed his name and earned him a reputation, albeit not a good one. So after God’s Angel appears ,God tells Gideon to take down Baal’s altar in his father’s place and instead replace it with His and make Him a sacrifice of his father’s bull. Gideon is a man afraid of repercussions. He knows taking down that altar will bring issues. But what does he do? He obeys God while still afraid. He does what God wants but at night. But that doesn’t save him from the repercussions he was afraid of. The next morning the people of the town come looking for him. How dare the least man of the least family bring down their altar? But his father( owner of the baal altar and of the bull sacrificed to now God), who we expect to be angry at Gideon, tells the townspeople to let their god (Baal) contend for himself. That’s how he gets the name, Jerubbaal meaning let Baal contend for himself.
To digress a bit..Doesn’t this sound fishy? As much as blood is thicker than water, why would your father leave you to be killed a god instead of people? Unless even his father knew the powerlessness of Baal. As much as he had Baal’s altar and used to sacrifice for him bulls, he knew that when shove comes to push, this god of his is entirely powerless.
And the above right there explains why 32, 000 men were willing to follow this least man of the least family of a small clan who came in the name of the Lord. They didn’t have faith in Gideon. But as much as they held a grudge towards God for letting evil befall them, they knew the gods they worshipped ( which was the reason they were under Midianites rules in the first place) were powerless to save. They knew that if there was any hope for them, then it could only come from this God whom their fathers told them about.
But then, the Midianites and their cattle looked like the sand of the sea. Countless. Mighty. We Kenyans say numbers don’t lie. These guys had the numbers and they knew it and the Israelites knew it. So as much as 32, 000 men showed up, they left tens of thousands of Israelite men in the caves and dens who saw the Midianites numbers and freaked out. These 32000 were the radicals. The ones who said, better we try or at least die trying.
Then Gideon calls these 32, 000 men and instead of giving them a strategy, he tells those who are afraid and trembling to go home. Remember these 32,000 are atleast the courageous ones out of the Israelite men. But now that there is a leeway to go home, 22,000 men go. These are the ones who maybe have surviving family members who were calling them back. They are ones who were chochwad( convinced) by their friends to come fight in a battle. But inside there they knew they were not strong enough. Remember since Midianites started ruling over then, Israelites had never trained their military. They just had men who had good knowledge of how to makes caves and camouflage their dens and like Gideon do the right thing in the wrong place( beat wheat in the winepress) so as to survive.
Now, why did 10,000 still remain? What was driving these guys? Were they not afraid? Did they not see the tyranny of numbers that the Midianites had? Did they not see themselves and realise they would be overpowered even before the war begun? Did they not see Gideon and realise this guy was not an army general? Most probably Gideon had never been in a war before. But this 10,000 remained.
My thinking is that they were tired. The Midianites had fikishad them that point of ” wacha kiumane sasa”. They were angry. As much as they knew they could be defeated, they were fed up of hiding in caves and dens in their own land. They were angry at having to live like refugees in their land. And maybe they had nothing to look forward to at home. Or maybe, some trusted in this God they had heard about from their fathers. And were willing to give this God a chance to prove Himself. We might never know why they stayed.
And then Gideon calls the 10,000. Now they are thinking, here comes the war strategy against the Midianites. Operation flush out the Midianites. Instead ,this character ,takes them to a river for a water break. I mean, the war hasn’t yet begun, they are not yet thirsty. But they drink the water.
And yet again, Gideon calls them and tell the ones who drank the water kneeling down to go home. Imagine what this army felt. Both the 300 who remain and the 9700 men who go home. Like is this guy serious?? You see we read this passage assuming this men knew it was God telling then to do these things. But its Gideon telling them. Yes, Gideon is receiving these instructions from God but what this men have been going through so far is told to them by Gideon. And Gideon at this point is not being called Gideon, he is Jerubbaal, wanted man by Baal.
So imagine you are now the 300. You started as 32,000 people but your army general seems to not understand that numbers don’t lie. There is security in numbers. If you listen to us, even in failure people feel good if they were many. Someone would rather recount a tale of how they were conned by someone as a chama or group but its very embarrassing if you were the only one conned. Everyone seems to know that besides their Army commander. He seems to have a thing for operating against common sense. Remember he hasn’t even told them what the strategy is if there is any.
And that’s what God calls us to be at times. The 300. People who against all odds hold on to the mission at hand. Sometimes God calls us and doesn’t tell us what we are going to do or be with. When that happens, we get excited and jump on the mission train with all our friends. Then round one of elimination, and you remain few. But at least you have familiar faces around. So it can’t be that bad. Then another round of elimination and you remain the only familiar face you know of out of these 300. Do you give up?
Imagine the families and wives of the 300. When they were 32,000 men, the families might have supported them abit. When they were 10,000 they started raining in questions. Now that they are 300, as a wife or father of these men, would you still advice your man to stick in there with this small crazy general? Probably no. But we don’t see any of the 300 defecting.
My lesson here is that at times, my journey is mine alone. We might have been a crowd while starting out but if only a handful remain, and I’m among them, it doesn’t mean I’m wrong or in the wrong place. Which is why its important to follow your heart. By your heart I don’t mean feelings. I mean what your inner self is telling you, not what the world says or numbers. They lie at times. Or rather, their truth might not be your truth.
You all know how the rest of the story proceeds. Their army general gives them a trumpets and empty jars with torches in them. But before he does that he has woken them up by encouraging them and telling then to arise for the Lord has given the Midianites into their hands. And here we learn that sometimes the hardest part was starting out. After deciding to stay with Gideon, we see God encouraging them. When they were 32,000 or 10,000, Gideon didn’t seem this confident. But now that they are 300 Gideon now seems like the leader he was supposed to be.
Encouraging them and now giving them the strategy they have all been waiting for. It might be crazy but atleast its something. We don’t see them being worried or questioning or grumbling as the Israelites are used to doing. They obey. Same with us, sometimes the weapons and strategies that God gives us don’t make sense to us or anyone around. Nothing explains them. But its not our part to make sense out of what God calls us to do. We don’t see the bigger picture but God does. And we should rest in that belief.
And here comes in something we’ve heard a hundred times, what’s in your hand? Gideon didn’t go to buy this weapons of mass destruction ( read trumpets and empty jars with torches inside). Judges 7;8 tells us that Gideon took them from the 10,000 men when he was sending them the 9700 men home. God in most cases doesn’t introduce new weapons to fight out our old common battles. He uses us( even when we are afraid and broken) and whatever we have in our hands. Be it a talent or skill. Probably these 300 men had never been trained for war, meaning unlike some David’s men in the later books of the Bible, these men were not proficient users of swords and knives. But they knew how to blow a trumpet. And some of them even came with jars and torches for obvious use, carrying water and seeing at night. God used their skills and objects to lead them to victory. Looking at it from this point of view, we see God as being so caring as not wanting to stress them by teaching then new skills or starting to give them a military training manual just a few hours to wartime.
But I’m sure the 300 at that time didn’t see it that way. They didn’t see it from the point of view of God giving them the easiest way out. The way that had the least stress. But they went ahead with this strategy. That carry these 3 things and do as the army general did. And this right here is where we are asked, do you believe the bible literally? Like do you think most of the promises of God to you and His assurances are for real as of now? Like when He says He is with you all the times, when you are being oppressed by the Midianites ( going through a rough patch) are those words true to you literally? Do you believe them at that point?
And that’s what God calls us to do. To believe in Him despite the numbers ( the hardness of your circumstance which is real and true by the way), despite yourself( your ability is which is way limited when compared to the hardship or circumstance you are going through) and despite what He calls us to do( which at that point will seem downright crazy and even unreasonable, or too easy/simple to be for real). God calls us to trust Him literally, like as of now and here, and know that He is God.
We all know what happens next, the 300 are divided into 100 and the 100 are all given a side to hold. If the Midianites were as many as we are told they are, and the now divided into 100 per troop army is supposed to hold their place or surround them, then it is very likely each man found himself alone. Judges 7;21 tells us each man held his place. What this means is that as much as we are in a common mission, each of us has to hold their place alone. Your position matters and is important. Take it seriously. It was at night, they have these 3 simple objects at hand, they are alert looking out for Gideon to make a sign, they don’t even know what he’ll do exactly. He told them to follow what he’ll do. Everyone, is alone looking down at the Midianites camp that is like the sands of the sea . They are waiting.
And if life is anything to go by, waiting is one of the hardest things to do. And at some point in life, we will be alone, led by some crazy guy, with some crazy instructions, facing a mountain of a problem ahead of us and all we will be required to do is wait. Waiting for what to happen exactly? We don’t know. And when that time comes, only our assurance in God will keep us sane. Definitely the world by then might have ruled us out, our hearts might have gotten tired of questioning us, and all we’ll have to hold onto at that point, is God said. And the fact that God said will be enough. Its always enough.
The story goes on and the war begins and thousands of Israelite men from various clans join in. Some even want to start war with Gideon for not calling them, like seriously?
But following the 300, they must feel good seeing the hand of God. But guess what? They are only human, they grow weary. And as they pass somewhere, 2 times Gideon asks for them loaves of bread, and 2 times those people refuse arrogantly. Just because you are now winning is still not enough for people to now see your point of view that you have been explaining all along. And its okay. Gideon doesn’t start arguing with them. He moves on with the 300 but promises to be back.
We see God through Gideon. By the end of it, Gideon is asked to lead in verse 23 of chapter 8 but He now knows God personally and he refuses. He tells them that the Lord will rule over them. No one has an experience with God and stays the same. You grow and your understanding of God grows.
But we also see God through the 300. And in most cases we’ll be called to be them. If Gideon is anything to go by, they must have been afraid and scared, but they followed this God anyway. We might never get the right circumstances to obey God in our lives. So we’ll do it anyway.