Summary: God frequently trims our resources to get us to depend entirely on Him. When we’re serving in God’s army we become part of the “overwhelming minority.”
“The Sword of the Lord"
Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
Many of us are familiar with the management concept of downsizing—we’re told to “do more with less”. However, nations don’t usually downsize when preparing for war! They mobilize their reserves and cancel all leaves and requests for discharge and retirement.
God frequently trims our resources to get us to depend entirely on Him. Sickness, financial reversal, family conflict, and other difficulties cause us to turn our lives over to God. When the odds seem overwhelming, God overwhelms the odds!
Gideon’s force was already hugely outnumbered. The Mideonite army was 135,000 strong, while Gideon’s force numbered a mere 32,000. Gideon must’ve been pondering his slim chance of survival. At least he understood the might of his enemy. We’re often oblivious to the forces around us that try to snare and defeat us. We need to recognize that we’re engaged in spiritual warfare daily, battling the world, the flesh, and the devil.
To guarantee that history would record this battle as a divine victory, God issued an order for a massive reduction-in-force. It’s been cynically observed that “Providence is on the side of the strongest battalion.” Gideon’s army proved otherwise, that victory is in the Hand of God. After returning most of his army to civilian status, Gideon’s only hope was in the Lord of hosts. The downsizing resulted in a vulnerable 22,000 man reduction-in-force. Gideon was left with a meager 300 troops. His only option was to trust God or perish. He was left virtually without an army. But when we’re serving in God’s army we become part of the “overwhelming minority.”
It is a popular notion that God kept only Gideon’s best soldiers, those who were wary and watchful as they drank, distinguished from those who “carelessly” lapped the water like dogs. The problem with this interpretation is that there is no hint at all that the ones chosen were superior. We could just as easily say these were the most fearful of Gideon’s troops. The issue is to engage the enemy with a handful of soldiers to showcase God’s power. God’s distinction was arbitrary.
In his book, Hearts of Iron, Feet of Clay, Gary Inrig states: “You cannot be too small for God to use, but you can be too big. If you want credit for what God is doing, God will not use you…that is why, as you look around, you will see God working in a powerful way in the lives of some very weak people. They are people who are careful to give God the glory.” Who gets the credit when we’re successful? Do we bask in our victory, or praise God for His work in our lives?
We can imagine Gideon’s state of mind. The odds weren’t very good to begin with, and then got worse. Fortunately he spent the night before battle in a hotel room where he found a Gideon Bible! No, he spent that night gathering information on the enemy situation.
Well aware of Gideon’s weak faith, God reassures him by arranging for Gideon to overhear a conversation between two enemy soldiers. As Gideon conducted a covert reconnaissance of the enemy, he and his servant Purah gather some encouraging intelligence. In concealment, Gideon listens in as two Mideonite soldiers discuss a strange dream (in ancient times dreams were highly regarded as means of predicting future events). In the dream, a hard loaf of barley bread rolls into the Mideonite camp and flattens one of the tents. They conclude that the loaf represents Israel. The Mideonites had plundered Israel and stolen their wheat harvest. The impoverished Jews had to resort to barley bread. The tent could only represent the nomadic Mideonites. One of the soldiers cries out in awful realization, vs 14: “This is nothing less than the sword of Gideon…God has given Mideon and all the camp into His hand!” This was not chance, or a “lucky break”; the sovereign God gave Gideon a sign of His own.
God protected Gideon during his incursion into enemy territory; God led Gideon to one specific tent; He then timed Gideon’s arrival to hear about a dream and its interpretation. Gideon’s fears and doubts were overcome. He was mentally prepared for combat. We see definite growth of character from the man cowering in a wine press to a confident general ready to lead his outnumbered troops into battle. Gideon was no George Patton or Norman Schwartzkopf. He was a farmer, an unconventional leader by secular standards; but God’s strength is revealed by enabling the weak to triumph. Gideon’s was not being modest—he lacked the resources to overcome and had to rely on God. Perhaps we’ve found ourselves in similar circumstance.
Unlike popular psychologists, God does not propose that we should believe in ourselves. Our narcissistic society celebrates self-reliance. But God strips us bare, forcing us to recognize our frailty and inadequacy. God shows us that human resources are insufficient for the battles we face. God then teaches us the lesson of dependence, which results in confidence. Paul understood this when he affirmed, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). With God’s power, Gideon was able to “boldly go where no Jew had gone before”!