Summary: The really dangerous enemies were within the hearts of Gideon’s soldiers. Fear was one of them, and he sent 22,000 men home.
Chapter 23: The Direction God Gave Gideon for the Modeling of the Army
1 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.
2 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.
3 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.
4 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.
5 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.
6 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.
7 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.
8 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.
Introduction to JUDGES 7
Imagine 32,000 Israelites facing 135,000 Midianites—“Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor, and their hosts with them, about fifteen thousand men, all that were left of all the hosts of the children of the east: for there fell an hundred and twenty thousand men that drew sword.” (Judges 8:10; KJV); but it was the kind of situation that the Lord uses to glorify His name. When God is on your side, the size of the enemy is of no great concern, so keep your eyes on Him.
The really dangerous enemies were within the hearts of Gideon’s soldiers. Fear was one of them (vv. 1–3), and he sent 22,000 men home.
Article 7.1: Tests
We never know when God is using the everyday things of life to test our faith. The men in Gideon’s army were tested by the way they drank water. Lot was tested by a disagreement over land (Gen. 13:6). Israel was tested by thirst (Exod. 15:22–27), and Moses was tested by the complaining of the people (Num. 20:1–13). We must constantly be on guard because sometimes we do not know what the lesson was until we have failed the test!
This passage does not mention that a priest was present with the Army of God; but it is very likely that there was a priest there, if for no other reason, he would accompany the army for political reasons, since Divine assistance would be expected in wars which were undertaken by the Divine command. The priest on these occasions was the representative of that God whose servant he was, and whose worship he conducted. It is remarkable that almost all ancient nations took their priests with them to battle, as they did not expect success without having the object of their adoration with them, and they supposed they secured his presence by having his representative with them.
Moses, who wrote the book of Deuteronomy including 20.1-9, which refers chiefly to the battles they were to have with the Canaanites in order to get possession of the Promised Land; for it cannot be considered to apply to any wars which they might have with the surrounding nations for political reasons, as the Divine assistance could not be expected in wars fought for strictly political reasons.
Here we have the priest's exhortation to encourage the people to battle those who inhabited the Promised Land. 1 When thou goest out to battle against thine enemies, and seest horses, and chariots, and a people more than thou, be not afraid of them: for the LORD thy God is with thee, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. 2 And it shall be, when ye are come nigh unto the battle, that the priest shall approach and speak unto the people, 3 And shall say unto them, Hear, O Israel, ye approach this day unto battle against your enemies: let not your hearts faint, fear not, and do not tremble, neither be ye terrified because of them; 4 For the LORD your God is he that goeth with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you. 5 And the officers shall speak unto the people, saying, What man is there that hath built a new house, and hath not dedicated it? let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man dedicate it. 6 And what man is he that hath planted a vineyard, and hath not yet eaten of it? let him also go and return unto his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man eat of it. 7 And what man is there that hath betrothed a wife, and hath not taken her? let him go and return unto his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man take her. 8 And the officers shall speak further unto the people, and they shall say, What man is there that is fearful and fainthearted? let him go and return unto his house, lest his brethren's heart faint as well as his heart. 9 And it shall be, when the officers have made an end of speaking unto the people, that they shall make captains of the armies to lead the people.—Deut 20:1-9 (KJV)