14 And the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” 15 And he said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house.” 16 And the Lord said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.” (Judges 6:14-16)
I was recently asked to do a doctrinal review of children’s Bible study materials for a national organization. This involved going through the material page by page and making notes on a separate comments page about any doctrinal or theological issues that came up.
The Bible story for the entire month of study was the story of Gideon, and for the most part, the writer and developers of the material did a great job. However, the Bible translation they use translates Judges 6:14 to say,
The Lord turned to Gideon. He said to him, “You are strong. Go and save Israel from the power of Midian. I am sending you.”
Now, I get the need to simplify the language of the Bible to make it easier for children to understand. And I don’t want to throw an entire translation under the bus, which is why I’m not telling you which translation they use. But I think they got this particular verse dangerously wrong, because it changes the whole point of the story. No other English translation suggests that God chose Gideon because he was strong. All of them have some variation of “Go in the strength you have.”
Gideon wasn’t strong. When God first spoke to him he was threshing wheat in a hole in the ground for fear of being seen by a Midianite raiding party (normally you threshed wheat on a hilltop, where the wind could blow away the chaff).
God calls Gideon a mighty warrior (6:12) when he is anything but. In chapter 7, God had Gideon trim an army of 30,000 down to 300 so no one could claim Israel defeated Midian by their own strength (side note: resist the interpretation that “God only wanted the men who cupped their hands to their mouth so they could keep their heads up and ready for battle.” Again, not the point of the story).
Finally, when the time does come to fight, Gideon gives each of these 300 men a torch, a pot, and a trumpet. They have their hands full. I can imagine one of these, um, “warriors” saying, “Hey, if I’ve got a torch in one hand and a trumpet in the other, how am I supposed to carry my sword?”
And God says, “Exactly.”
There is a world of difference between God sending us into battle because we are strong and God sending us into battle with the strength we have. Any strength we have is the Lord’s strength. Any battle we win is the Lord’s victory.
And any translation that suggests otherwise needs to go back to the editing desk.