Have you ever found yourself facing a situation where it seemed that the odds were against you? Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is no easy assignment. Today’s spiritual climate can be intimidating and overwhelming. When we look around and see the darkness that surrounds us, it may seem that all odds are against us when it comes to reaching people for Christ. Even within the church, it seems that only a few are really serious about making an impact for the kingdom while the rest of the crowd seems perfectly content to sit by and watch. Think about where we are in the average church today–only a few actively share their faith with lost people; only a few are consistently giving to support the church financially; only a few are exercising their spiritual gifts; only a few are doing a majority of the work. While this may be discouraging to some, keep in mind that God does His best work when it seems like all the odds are stacked against Him and His people. What can you do with just a few? The better question to ask is, “What can GOD DO with just a few who are faithful and sold out to Him?” Gideon learns this lesson firsthand in Judges 7:1-25. He learns firsthand that God is never impressed by big armies or big crowds. Instead, God is looking for just a few who will obey and trust Him.
Keep in mind that Gideon had never been a military man. When God called him, he was threshing out grain in a winepress. He was untrained and unskilled in the art of warfare. Gideon had admitted his own weakness and struggled with confidence. Judges 6:34 says, “But the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon.” It literally means that God clothed Himself with Gideon. A good illustration of this would be a hand that fills and uses a glove. There is nothing special about the glove, and the glove is not effective until the hand fills it. Gideon learns that God shows Himself powerful on behalf of those who have faith. Our strength does not come from our numbers. Our strength does not come from our supplies. Our strength does not come from our resources. Our strength comes only from the Lord, and He supplies His strength those who simply trust Him. If we want to understand how God works, I believe there are some key lessons worth pointing out from this passage of Scripture.
First of all, when we want to ADD, God may want to SUBTRACT (7:1-3). At the close of chapter 6, God has confirmed to Gideon that He wants to use Gideon to deliver Israel from the Midianites. Here in chapter 7, God is getting them ready for a confrontation with Midian. The odds are overwhelmingly against Israel. Verse 12 says that the Midianites were “as numerous as locusts.” When Gideon begins to rally Israel together, we read that some 32,000 people show up. Simply looking on, it would appear that this was a good number. The truth, however, is that God is never impressed by a crowd. When you study the ministry of Jesus, you will see that large numbers of people followed Him, too. Crowds often pressed to hear Jesus and get something from Him. John 6 shows that large crowds followed Jesus because they got something from Him to feed their stomach, but that was as far as their devotion to Him went. Jesus says in John 6:26, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.” When Jesus began to teach some hard truths, the crowd dwindled until only His disciples remained. Jesus has promised to build His church, but that doesn’t always mean that He will build a crowd. Gideon and his 32,000 people are getting ready. The next chapter tells us that there were 135,000 in the camp of Midian. That still means that the odds were 4-1 against Israel. Gideon thinks that the army is too small; God says it is too big. In fact, God says that the people were too many for Him to give the Midianites into Israel’s hands. What was the reason? God says that the people would claim glory for themselves and would think that they were saved by their own hand. Had 32,000 people went to war with the Midianites and come out on top, they would have claimed glory for themselves. They would have thought that they won the battle themselves. God destroys all human pride and it is one of the things that He hates the most. Whenever He works in the lives of His people and shows Himself strong on their behalf, it is always after they come to the realization that they desperately need Him and are powerless without Him.
Second, when we want to depend on TALENT, God wants us to depend on HIM (7:4-8). God tells Gideon to allow those who are fearful to leave and return to their homes. We’re told that 22,000 of the people choose to do so, thereby leaving Gideon with 10,000. The odds now are 13.5 to 1. Strangely, God tells Gideon yet again that the army is too big. When it is all said and done, Gideon is left with 300 men, meaning that the odds are 450 to 1. Perhaps Gideon is scratching his head, wondering, “What is God up to here?” God is bringing His people to a place of total dependance upon Him. They can’t rely on their talent. They can’t rely on their own muscle or military prowess. They are in a place of helplessness without God’s gracious intervention. It is said that the theologian Thomas Aquinas once called on Pope Innocent II when the latter was counting out a large sum of money. The Pope remarked, “You see, Thomas, the church can no longer say, ‘Silver and gold have I none.’” Aquinas replied, “True, but neither can she now say, ‘Rise up and walk.’” When we rely on our own talent and ingenuity, we get what we can do. But when we fully depend on God and step out in obedient faith, we get what God can do. My library is full of church growth books and how-to manuals. I’ve read Simple Church, Transformational Church, Essential Church, Purpose-Driven Church, and every other kind of “church” book out there on the market. While many of these books are helpful in their own unique ways, the bottom line is that the church belongs to Jesus and she has been given power by His life-giving Spirit. When she obeys His commands and yields to His control, it is absolutely amazing at what He does in and through her witness! We can never “wow” the crowds and win them to Christ with our cleverness or our gimmicks. God explained to Gideon why He was decreasing the size of the army–He didn’t want a bunch of Israelites walking around strutting their stuff thinking that they’d won the day. God wanted to bring victory through His own power that was secured by their faith. It is always faith that secures the victory. Someone has well said, “If you can explain what’s going on in your ministry, then God didn’t do it.” Victories that are won because of faith bring glory to God because nobody can explain how they happened in the first place.
Third, when we are tempted to FEAR, God reassures us through FAITH (7:9-15). Fear was still tugging at Gideon’s heart. This is in spite of the fact that God had already told him three times that He would give Israel victory (6:14, 6:16, 7:7). Fear persists in Gideon’s heart in spite of the fact that God had already given him three signs: fire from the rock (6:19-21); the wet fleece (6:36-38); the dry fleece (6:39-40). This simply illustrates that God is patient with His servants. In the face of fear He gives us grace and reassures us through faith. Warren Wiersbe writes, “Some people have the idea that confident, courageous faith is a kind of religious arrogance, but just the opposite is true. Christians who believe God’s promises and see Him do great things are humbled to know that the God of the universe cares about them and is on their side. They claim no merit in their faith or honor from their victories. All the glory goes to the Lord because He did it all!” Pay careful attention to what Gideon’s reaction is in this passage upon being reassured by God. Verse 15 says that he worships, and then he moves ahead with confidence. Rather than being paralyzed by fear, the followers of Jesus trust Him in faith and step out in obedience.
Fourth, when we think we need WEAPONS, God says all we need is our WITNESS (7:16-25). All of this ran totally contrary to human rationale. You don’t win a fight against 135,000 with merely 300, and you certainly don’t win a fight without the proper weapons. The truth, however, is that God honors our faith, not our ingenuity. It would require faith for Gideon and his men to do what God asks. Hebrews 11:6 says, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” Notice that Gideon doesn’t lead with the philosophy that says, “Do as I say.” He leads by the philosophy that says, “Do as I do.” Three times in verse 17 we see Gideon calling on his men to follow his example. This is exactly the way that Jesus led and instructed His disciples. He poured Himself into twelve men over a three and a half year period of time, modeling before their eyes a life of obedience and submission to the Father. He then sent them out and gave them the mission of making disciples of the nations, but also giving them His power. As a result, the story of the church in Acts is one of exponential growth. The few became many within decades. The disciples literally turned the world upside down with the gospel.
Gideon’s men didn’t need modern, sophisticated weaponry to defeat the Midianites. All they needed was faith and few chosen instruments. What were those instruments? Notice the “weapons” that Gideon’s men were given: a trumpet to blow, a pitcher to break, and a torch to burn. Upon the proper signal, Gideon’s men were to blow their trumpets, break their pitchers, burn their torches–and God would do the rest. Not to spiritualize the text, but I see some practical truth represented in these weapons. The trumpet reminds me of our WITNESS. The men were instructed to simply blow their trumpets. In the New Testament, Paul commended the church in Thessalonica for “trumpeting” forth the gospel. The pitcher reminds me of our WEAKNESS. The pitcher was nothing more than a clay pot. It was only when it was broken that it could be useful to God. Adrian Rogers once said, “Men like to throw away broken things, but God never uses anything until He first breaks it.” As long as we are proud and self-sufficient, God will refuse to work through us. The torch reminds me of the WORK of Christ in me as a disciple. He is the Light of the world, and I am to simply shine His light. It is the light which dispels the darkness!
The victory that God brought about over the Midianites through a handfull of obedient men served as a watershed moment for Israel. It served as a reminder of God’s power to deliver them from their enemies. As the church, we can also learn from this event and be encouraged by it. God doesn’t need large numbers to accomplish His purposes, nor does He need especially gifted leaders. It is not talent or ability that He is looking for. The only “ability” He is looking for is availability. What can only a few do? The answer is absolutely nothing. But when just a few make themselves available to God, when just a few obey Him and take Him at His word, God will accomplish great things.