April 29, 2021, Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville AL, James Jackson, Lead Pastor
Good morning! Please open your Bibles to Judges 7.
Americans love a good underdog story… it’s in our blood. When you think of underdog stories, you think the Karate Kid, or the miracle on Ice, or any Rocky movie ever made. Except for Rocky 5. I don’t know what that was about.
But maybe one that you don’t think about, but you should, is Red Dawn. The first one. Not the second one. The one with Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen and the girl from Back to the Future and the other girl from Dirty Dancing. Where a bunch of high school kids beat the Russians.
Not the one with Thor and the chubby kid from the Hunger Games. Where a Marine and his little brother beat the North Koreans. That one was an abomination.
Not Red Dawn.
Not Red Dawn.
The story of Gideon going up against the Midianites is a lot like the story of a half dozen high school kids beating the Russians. You can’t even call it an underdog story. This is not a lesser team going up against a better team; this is the story of a powerless people going up against the mightiest force in the region.
This is not like Auburn beating Alabama. This is like a YMCA flag football team beating Alabama.
Remember the last time we talked about Gideon, God called him to go against the Midianites. Gideon was not, as I explained last time, your typical hero. When we first encounter him, he is cowering in fear in a hole. But God turns him into a man of bravery by assuring him of his presence with him. He tells Gideon in 6:14
“Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?”
God tells Gideon to go mount a resistance against the massive Midianite army. Gideon gets enough assurance from that to believe that God will give him the victory, so he goes home, destroys his father’s altar to Baal (at night, because he’s still pretty wimpy) and that earns him the nickname Jerubbaal which is loosely translated as “Butt kicker of Baal.” After that, he needs just a little more assurance, so he does the thing with the fleece, and now we are caught up to Judges 7. So let’s first look at chapter 7:1-3:
7 Then Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the people who were with him rose early and encamped beside the spring of Harod. And the camp of Midian was north of them, by the hill of Moreh, in the valley.
2 The Lord said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’
Don’t miss verse 2: “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’” You can learn so much about how God works in your life through that statement. But here’s the first point for our outline:
- God often weakens His warriors
You’re saying, well what does that mean, that God weakens His warriors. Here’s how he did it with Gideon. Go on to verse 3:
3 Now therefore proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home and hurry away from Mount Gilead.’” Then 22,000 of the people returned, and 10,000 remained.
“Whoever is fearful and trembling…” I wonder if Gideon tried to go with them? God was like, “Not you, Gideon.”
Now, this part actually makes sense. 10,000 brave soldiers might be better than 32,000 where 2/3 are wimps. If God a church to do something big and bold as a church, then by all means, let’s let the people who don’t believe in it find another church. This part makes sense.
But the next part makes absolutely no sense. Go to verse 4:
4 And the Lord said to Gideon, “The people are still too many. Take them down to the water, and I will test them for you there, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ shall go with you, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ shall not go.” 5 So he brought the people down to the water. And the Lord said to Gideon, “Everyone who laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set by himself. Likewise, everyone who kneels down to drink.” 6 And the number of those who lapped, putting their hands to their mouths, was 300 men, but all the rest of the people knelt down to drink water. 7 And the Lord said to Gideon, “With the 300 men who lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hand, and let all the others go every man to his home.”
You say, “Oooh… what’s the symbolism in keeping the ones who brought their hands up to their mouths to lap water? You probably have heard the preaching cliché that God selected the men who kept their eyes up and ready for battle. Mike and I talked about this this week—that God chose the best warriors. But I don’t think that was the case. Because as you will see in a few minutes, being the best warrior had ZERO to do with the battle plan. So it might have been just a random test designed to get rid of 97% of the army. God could have just as easily said, set aside all those who have freckles across the bridge of their nose.
And, actually, there’s a fascinating detail in verse 8 that I had never noticed before. It says,
8 So the people took provisions in their hands, and their trumpets. And he sent all the rest of Israel every man to his tent, but retained the 300 men.
“With their trumpets…” Hang on. It’s easy to blow right past that detail because we know that trumpets are going to be part of the story later. But don’t miss this. Gideon starts off with an army of 32,000 men. Then 22,000 go home because they’re scared. That leaves 10,000. Now, presumably, he’s sent out the call for fighting men to assemble and go against Midian. Tim McNeese—you’re in the National Guard. Let’s say your unit is deployed. What do you take to the battle with you? That’s right. Weapons. Guns. Rifles. Grenades. RPG’s. And I imagine that when Gideon put out the call to come fight, 9,700 men showed up with whatever weapons they could scrounge up.
300 show up with… trumpets? So, yeah. God sends the football team home, and he keeps the marching band!
God often weakens His warriors before He uses them. What can we learn from this? Now, God never delights in hurting us. But God does want us to trust him, to depend on him. That’s the most important thing we can ever learn in life. So sometimes God weakens us so we have no choice but to trust him.
It could be your health. It could be your job. It could be your kids going off the rails. It could be the fact that our attendance post Covid has only been about 2/3 what it was pre-Covid.
I’m not saying God is the one doing any of those things directly; just that God’s sovereign purpose behind them might be teaching you to lean into him like never before.
JD Greaar says it this way: “If dependence is the objective, weakness is an advantage.” Think about that: How could weakness ever be an advantage? If it makes you lean into Jesus, where real power is, it’s an advantage.
- If when your husband failed you, you learned you could rely on your heavenly Father, then that heartbreak was an advantage.
- If losing your job taught you that you could trust your heavenly Supplier, then that anxiety was an advantage.
Weakness forces you to lean into God, and there and sometimes only there can you learn the four words that can absolutely transform your life: GOD IS ALWAYS FAITHFUL. You may never learn that God is all you need until God is all you have!
The Apostle Paul said it this way. In 2 Corinthians, he talks about all the incredible things God had allowed him to experience. All the great revelations he’d had. Then he says, “To keep me from exalting myself, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh.” We don’t know what it was. But he kept praying that God would take it away, and God didn’t take it away. Finally, after the third time, Jesus said to Paul, You know what? My power is going to be made perfect in your weakness “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
You see, if all we ever do as a church or as individuals is stuff that we can accomplish on our own, then we are never going to demonstrate the power of Jesus to the people around us.
This is one of the most important spiritual truths you can ever learn: your strengths are more dangerous to you than your weaknesses, because your strengths keep you from hoping in God’s mercy. Salvation happens when we realize we can’t save ourselves, and we fall on the mercy of God. Utterly unrighteous; utterly hopeless. He does it all.
AW Tozer, in The Root of the Righteous, put it this way: “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply.”
So, listen… I want you to rethink what God might be doing in your life. Maybe you are experiencing an army reduction right now… and I want you to be open to the essential lesson God is showing you in it.
Now here’s the second truth I want you to see. And that is that
- God is patient with faltering faith.
Gideon didn’t just automatically leave the creekbank and say, “Awesome. I’ve got 300 trumpet players. Let’s get ‘em, boys.”
I’m here to kill Midianiites and chew bubble gum… and I’m all out of bubble gum.
No. Verse 8 says that “the camp of Midian was below them in the valley.” Verse 12 goes even further. It wasn’t just the Midianites. It was the Amalekites, too. It was
“all the people of the East lay along the valley like locusts in abundance, and their camels were without number, as the sand that is on the seashore in abundance.”
Judges 8:10 puts the number at 135,000. So Gideon’s trumpet players are outnumbered 450 to 1. So it’s at this point that God says to Gideon, (verses 10-11)
10 But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant. 11 And you shall hear what they say, and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.”
“If you are afraid…” YA THINK?!?
And so Gideon and Purah go down into the Midianite camp (probably shaking in their sandals the whole way), and verse 13 says that they overheard a Midianite telling his friend about a dream he had. Look at verse 13:
And he said, “Behold, I dreamed a dream, and behold, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian and came to the tent and struck it so that it fell and turned it upside down, so that the tent lay flat.”
Don’t miss the humor here. This Midianite doesn’t dream of a spear, or a sword, or Chuck Norris. He says, “I dreamed a loaf of bread hit our tent and knocked it down.” And it’s not even good bread. He’s barley bread—the cheap stuff. What could be less threatening than a loaf of bread? What sports team would choose a loaf of bread as their mascot? It’s like, “Hey, We’re the “Biscuits.”
So Gideon could have been a little put off by this. But then he hears the roommate’s interpretation of the dream. Verse 14:
14 And his comrade answered, “This is no other than the sword of Gideon… God has given into his hand Midian and all the camp.”
Gideon recognizes in this that God is reassuring him: Verse 15 says,
As soon as Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, he worshiped. And he returned to the camp of Israel and said, “Arise, for the LORD has given the host of Midian into your hand.”
God patiently props up faltering faith I find it really comforting in this story how God takes such time and patience to reassure Gideon. Sometimes we picture God saying, “If you don’t have absolute confidence in me all the time, I will reject you.” But that’s not what we see here, is it?
In Mark 9:22, a man with a sick son came to Jesus and says, “Jesus, if you are able to do something, have pity.” And Jesus responds with “If you can?” All things are possible for the one who believes. And if I was Jesus, I would be thinking, “ What’s wrong with you? Don’t you know who I am?” Tell you what: go memorize some Scripture and come back when you’re ready to go all-in.” But instead, the man says to Jesus, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” And Jesus heals the boy.
Do you sometimes feel like you’ve got faltering faith? That’s ok. Ask your questions. Say what the father in the gospel story said: “I do believe. Help my unbelief.
But also that at some point, you have to take the risk. Think about what is going on in this scene. Gideon is afraid, and God is trying to reassure him. So God tells him to go deep into the MIdianite camp, close enough to overhear a conversation in a Midianite tent. I don’t know about you, but if I was Gideon, and I was afraid of 135,000 soldiers in front of me, the last thing I would want to do is sneak down into the middle of the camp with some guy named Purah.
What’s the lesson? God will patiently develop your faith, but it requires you from time to time to take steps of faith of your own.
Here’s how faith works: God reveals a little, you take a step. God reveals a little more; you take a step. Scripture says, “Draw near to God, he will draw near to you.” If you are waiting on God to answer all your questions before you’ll believe, you’ll never get there. Take that first step, and he’ll explain more as you go.
Psalm 119:105 says that God’s Word is a lamp to our feet. We’re like, “I don’t just want enough light for the next step.” We want a spotlight that’s going to show us the entire path. God develops our faith by lighting our steps. And by the way, a really fun thing about Psalm 119:105 is that it promises both. The word for “lamp” is like a little penlight. But then God says that His Word is also a light for our path. And that word really is like a big, blazing, searchlight. When we take the small steps, God lights the whole path. And this is what he did with Gideon.
Gideon worships, he goes back to the camp of the Israelites, and he gets to work. Now just like before, there is a part of this that makes sense, and a part of it that makes no sense. Let’s start with what makes sense:
First, verse 16 says he divides the 300 into three companies of 100 each. That way they can spread out and encircle the whole camp.
Skip down to Verse 19: they came down to the camp at the beginning of the middle watch of the night, right at the beginning of a shift change. So 1/3 of the Midianite army was returning into the camp from being on guard duty; 1/3 were getting up to go out on duty; and 1/3 were still fast asleep. This is good strategy.
But now here’s the part that doesn’t make sense. We get Gideon’s battle plan in verse 16. I need a volunteer. (Anderson Wade, if he’s there).
Ok, so Anderson, we’re going to outfit you for battle. Now, we’ve already established that Gideon has 300 trumpet players, right? So here. Hold this trumpet.
Now, verse 16 says that Gideon also gave them a torch [hand him a torch] and an empty jar [put the jar over the torch]. So here’s what we’re gonna do. You’ve got the trumpet in your right hand and the torch in your left hand, and when I give the signal, you’re going to light the torch, smash the jar, blow the trumpet, and say “for the Lord and for Gideon!”
Ready, Anderson? Okay. I’m gonna count to three. No, we can’t really light the torch, because Michael Whaley’s here, and he works for the fire department. So on three you’ll smash the jar, hold up the torch, blow the trumpet, and say, “A sword for the Lord!” Ready? Ok! One, Two, Three!!
Now, Anderson, of all the things I gave you, what’s one thing that you don’t have?
That’s right. NO SWORD.
They didn’t have swords. They had trumpets. And torches. And… pottery. But here’s the thing: Usually, a torch and a trumpet signified a whole battalion. So when Gideon places his 300 trumpet players around the valley, he’s counting on the Midianites assuming that each one represented an entire unit. When all those clay jars smashed against the canyon walls, and it echoed, it would have sounded like thousands of swords being clashed together. So, in the dark, at the beginning of the middle watch, and a bunch of soldiers are coming into camp to go to bed, and a bunch more are coming out of the camp to go on duty, and then all these trumpets are sounding and pottery is breaking and men are shouting, and the Midianites assume that these people coming back into the camp are attacking them and so verse 22 says that
22 When they blew the 300 trumpets, the Lord set every man’s sword against his comrade and against all the army.
So they all kill each other. THE END. And they all live happily ever after… except for the Midianites.
And not a single Israelite casualty. Which brings us to the third point:
God blesses the plan that gives Him glory.
Now, let me point out something cool here… God never explained to Gideon how to conduct this battle. Gideon seems to come up with this on his own. And I love this, because we are entering a season where we are doing some long range planning. There are a group of people that I’m leading to ask the question, “What do you want to be true of Glynwood Baptist Church 20 years from now? And what will it take to get there?
So God is not anti-planning and strategizing. God’s reduction of Gideon’s army forced him to come up with a new plan, and it was a better plan—because it resulted in a victory that didn’t cause a single Israelite casualty.
God’s all about planning—as long as it’s a plan that will give him glory. If we just plan things that we can do on our own, God won’t bless that, because we don’t need Him to. But what if we plan some things that could not be accomplished apart from God’s power? What if we decided we were going to retire our church’s debt within a year? You say, “Pastor, that’s not realistic. Our overall giving is down 20%. We can’t retire the debt in a year. You want something unrealistic? How about sending the Alabama marching band out against ISIS?
It is better to be WITH Jesus and against a massive ARMY than to be with a massive army but without Jesus. The mature Christian know Jesus + nothing = everything. They say, “In Christ, I can give up all that I have because in Christ, I already have all that I need.” So the question, God, is where do you want me? I want to be with you.
Christianity begins with, “I’m not righteous enough to save myself.” It continues every day for the rest of your life with, “I need God’s power for every good thing in my life.” Could I ask you to spend a few moments in the presence of the Holy Spirit? BOW YOUR HEADS
Maybe this morning you are aware of your weakness, but you haven’t really considered what God has trying to teach you through it. Has He weakened you in some way so He can use you in some way?
Or maybe God has delivered you from weakness in the past, but you’ve slipped back into a sense of independence from God. This morning, God is telling you WAKE UP! Don’t make me do something drastic.
Or maybe you’ve never begun that journey… you’ve never realized how hopeless you are without God.
The two things you can never overcome on your own are sin and death. You can’t release yourself from the curse of sin or deliver yourself from the power of death. Jesus did both of those for you. He died in your place suffering the curse for your sin and overcame death for you in his resurrection. You have to receive that, confessing your weakness and acknowledging that Jesus did for you what you couldn’t do for yourself and receiving it from as a gift. Have you ever done that? Would you like to? Pray a prayer like this: “Jesus, I confess I cannot save myself and you must do that. I give my whole life to you.”