Then Jerubbaal, who is Gideon, and all the people that were with him, rose up early, and pitched beside the well of Harod: so that the host of the Midianites were on the north side of them, by the hill of Moreh, in the valley (verse 1).Jerubbaal, the name given to Gideon by his father Joash as the result of his obedience to God's command, had risked his life by destroying the image of Baal, and so earned himself the name Jerubbaal -- 'Baal's antagonist'. He was in good company, as others who had two names include Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Joseph, Esther, Daniel, Paul and Peter. He made an early start, for despite the ominous foe, he was impatient to get to grips. He was in the service of the King, and would brook no delay now. He made for the hilly district on the edge of the Plain of Jezreel above the well of Harod. It would have been foolish and dangerous to encamp on the plain in full view of the host of the enemy. Perched on these hills he could see the vast array of tents below in the valley.
The number of this huge army can be computed from chapter 8, verse 10. It was 135,000 men. Gideon's army was less than one tenth of this and must have been desperately short of weapons. This was a fantastic venture of faith, and this faith was tested even further:
And the Lord said unto Gideon, The people that are with thee are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against Me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me. Now therefore go to, proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, Whosoever is fearful and afraid, let him return and depart early from mount Gilead. And there returned of the people twenty and two thousand; and there remained ten thousand' (verses 2,3).
"... lest Israel vaunt themselves against Me". That was exactly what Israel had done time and time again. After the Lord had saved them from hunger, thirst, danger and defeat, and given them a wonderful inheritance -- they turned their backs on Him. They neglected and forgot all about Him. What a barrier to God sin is! As we look into our own hearts and lives we can well appreciate this. So the Lord determined to keep them from their pride, and from becoming puffed up as a result of the strength of His power and might. Had an army of this size vanquished the armies of the enemy, it would have been an amazing victory. But the Lord Who knew the heart of man, or perhaps we should have said, Who knows the hearts of men, commanded Gideon -- 'Whosoever is fearful and afraid'. It is a psychological fact that cowardice is exceedingly contagious. The presence of timid men in an army is a source of direct danger.
Gideon must have thought that his army was too few already, yet he obeyed God's command, and the result was that 'there returned of the people twenty and two thousand'. Nearly everyone reads this number as twenty-two thousand, but is this correct?. The sight of the armies against them must have struck terror into the hearts of all the men of Israel that beheld them, but it is difficult to believe the number that went back was really twenty-two thousand. One or two commentators agree on two thousand and twenty, and that figure seems a more realistic one. The remainder left was a mere ten thousand.
And the Lord said unto Gideon, The people are yet too many; bring them down unto the water, and I will try them for thee there: and it shall be, that of whom I say unto thee, This shall go with thee, the same shall go with thee; and of whomsoever I say unto thee, This shall not go with thee, the same shall not go.
So he brought down the people unto the water: and the Lord said unto Gideon, Every one that lappeth of the water with his tongue, as a dog lappeth, him shalt thou set by himself; likewise every one that boweth down upon his knees to drink.
And the number of them that lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, were three hundred men: but all the rest of the people bowed down upon their knees to drink water.
And the Lord said unto Gideon, By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you, and deliver the Midianites into thine hand: and let all the other people go every man unto his place (verses 4-7).
Here was a fresh trial of faith indeed. No wonder this man's name is mentioned in Hebrews 11, that chapter of heroes. In obedience to the Lord's words the men were brought down to the water, to the spring of Harod. 'I will try them for thee there', and the word is, 'I will purge them' as gold from dross, literally.
In the heat of the sun, their thirst was great, and the majority of them discarding what arms they carried, flung themselves on the ground and drank their fill, regardless of any precaution. Thus they became sitting targets for any enemy ambush. The few, with one knee bent and the other stretched behind, their weapons gripped in one hand for instant action, and their eyes watching for danger, they threw the water with the fingers of their free hand in a continuous stream through their open lips. They were satisfied quickly and were away. These numbered but three hundred. The Lord said, 'By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you', so nine thousand seven hundred men were allowed to depart for home. One cannot imagine there were any regrets.
The Lord was revealing to Gideon and the nation of Israel that His arm was not shortened. It was to be His power that delivered them from the might of their enemies. He would show them that he that glories must glory in the Lord, and all flesh must be silent before Him -- 'lest Israel vaunt themselves against Me'. This was to silence boasting and teach humility.
The principles underlying this selection, so far as we are concerned, include firstly that in all our dealings with the enemy, only the glory of God, and not the magnifying of self, or faith, or suffering, or anything, apart from the cross of Christ, can be permitted as a goal, or accepted as a means. Secondly, only those who, as Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 7:31, 'use this world, as not abusing it (using it to the full)', can be trusted with victory.
God often does His work by means of the weak and the despised. A handful of humble men in the upper room; Paul in his prison. So Gideon learned that not by the might of men nor by their power, not by great armies does God save, but by the faithful few, of whom it can be said like Jonathan and his armour bearer, 'They wrought with God that day'. Is it not folly to boast in numbers? 'By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you'.
So the people took victuals in their hand, and their trumpets: and he sent all the rest of Israel every man unto his tent, and retained those three hundred men: and the host of Midian was beneath him in the valley (verse 8).
It is understood that most of the ancient versions render the beginning of this verse -- 'And they (i.e. the three hundred men) took the provisions and trumpets of the people (i.e. the nine thousand seven hundred men that returned home) in their hands'. Food would have been short among the army of Israel, so it would be their decision to give everything they had in the way of provisions to the few brave men who would be left to engage the enemy. So with the rams' horns, and in fact were it not for this verse, we might well wonder later on how they all came to possess one. Here was a venture of faith if ever there was one. No mention is made of swords or spears, so it could well have been the case that they were left armed only with trumpets! The three hundred Spartans at Thermopylae were armed, and defended a narrow valley. These three hundred men of Israel were unarmed and had to attack the enemy in the plain, but the Lord furnished Gideon with a good foundation on which to rest his faith:
And it came to pass the same night, that the Lord said unto him, Arise, get thee down unto the host; for I have delivered it into thine hand. But if thou fear to go down, go thou with Phurah thy servant down to the host: And thou shalt hear what they say; and afterward shall thine hands be strengthened to go down unto the host (verses 9-11).
It is indeed a wonderful thing to know that the Lord comes down to our level and remembers that we are dust. His initial command was simple and clear, and then, fully understanding the limitations of the heart of this man, He tells him to go and listen to what they are saying among themselves on the enemy side. 'I have delivered this great army into your hand, nevertheless if your faith to trust Me would be strengthened, take your armour-bearer and make a reconnaissance of the enemy's outer defences. You will hear something there that will enable you to accept My word'. Gideon must take Phurah with him so that when the information they would glean was reported to the remainder of Gideon's small company of men, it would come from the mouths of two witnesses and so be established.
So these two men, under cover of darkness, crept down to the plain below where the armies of the enemy lay encamped.
Then went he down with Phurah his servant unto the outside of the armed men that were in the host. And the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the children of the east lay along in the valley like grasshoppers for multitude; and their camels were without number, as the sand by the sea side for multitude (verses 11,12).
They were able to make out the enormous army that opposed them. The size of it must have appalled them, but the Lord had not sent them only to see the mighty forces that were against the few of Israel, although doubtless it was part of the lesson Gideon had to learn. It was however the conversation between two sentries that the Lord would have him hear.
And when Gideon was come, behold, there was a man that told a dream unto his fellow, and said, Behold, I dreamed a dream, and, lo, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the host of Midian, and came unto a tent, and smote it that it fell, and overturned it, that the tent lay along. And his fellow answered and said, This is nothing else save the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel: for into his hand hath God delivered Midian, and all the host (verses 13,14).
The significance of this dream is inherent in the words 'a cake of barley bread', as we shall learn in our next article, but we read in verse 15:
And it was so, when Gideon heard the telling of the dream, and the interpretation thereof, that he worshipped, and returned into the host of Israel, and said, Arise; for the Lord hath delivered into your hand the host of Midian.
N. J. DREDGE