This is message #5 is our sermon series, The Faith-FULL Life.
By the late 1930s and early 40s, Europe was hopeless. In the face of the German war machine under Adolf Hitler, it was becoming clear that his advances to capture the continent could not be held off, much less pushed back. Then, the United States entered the conflict and the tide of hope turned.
At some point, we all will face circumstances that feel hopeless. For me, it is an estranged relationship with my mother. For you, it may be finding a job that fits your gifts. It may be that you see no light at the end of your financial hardship. It could be a health condition that never seems to improve, or a besetting sin under which you feel perpetually condemned.
What turns the tide of hope for us is not military intervention, but divine intervention. Hope begins to grow when we realize, like the apostle Paul tells us in Eph 3:20-21, that God is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine, according to his power and for his glory. The message of hope for us can be boiled down to three words: God is able.
This is the lesson for us in Judges 7:1-25. Judges is the seventh book in the Bible, which describes the time in Israel from the death of Joshua in 1350 B.C. to the rise of Israel’s monarchy under King Saul in 1051 B.C. According to Judges 17:6, this was an era when “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” These are the descendants of Abraham, and Moses. But they had abandoned living under the wisdom and authority of God, which led to the people continually being oppressed by surrounding nations and in need of deliverance from the consequences of their spiritual and moral folly
The title of the book, Judges, does not mean that the twelve individuals who are described as judges wore robes and sat behind benches to oversee legal proceedings. Rather, a judge was a military type figure whom the Lord raised up to rescue the people from their enemies and to restore them as a renewed people who would be called to reject Canaanite idols of their neighbors and to worship the LORD alone, re-committing, in view of his perpetual, unmerited grace, to living under his wisdom and authority. What we see in Judges time and time again, is God revealing himself as Israel’s deliverer, doing for the people through these Judges what only he could do. In themselves, the people were helpless and hopeless. But with the LORD, they were never without hope. And the same is true for us today, because God is able.
The judge who is the focus of our passage in chapter 7 is a man named Gideon. The context for his call is recorded for us in Judges 6:
1 Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites. 2 Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. 3 Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. 4 They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. 5 They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count the men and their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it. 6 Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help.
This is the context in which the LORD raises up Gideon to be the next deliverer of Israel. But God did not look for human strength or ability. In fact, Gideon responded to his call:
15 “But Lord, how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” 16 The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.”
Gideon really only needed three words, the words that take us from being hopeless to being hopeful, from faithless to full of faith, enabling us to face our fears with courage and confidence. Not because we are able, but because God is able.
Which may be why…
I. The LORD Reduces Gideon’s Troops (vv. 1-8)
1 Early in the morning, Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) and all his men camped at the spring of Harod. The camp of Midian was north of them in the valley near the hill of Moreh. (see the map) 2 The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her, 3 announce now to the people, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’” So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained. 4 But the Lord said to Gideon, “There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will sift them for you there. If I say, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go; but if I say, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.” 5 So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the Lord told him, “Separate those who lap the water with their tongues like a dog from those who kneel down to drink.” 6 Three hundred men lapped with their hands to their mouths. All the rest got down on their knees to drink. 7 The Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the other men go, each to his own place.” 8a So Gideon sent the rest of the Israelites to their tents but kept the three hundred, who took over the provisions and trumpets of the others. Now the camp of Midian lay below him in the valley.
This was going to be Gideon’s first battle to lead. It would be like a teenager starting his first football game in the Super Bowl. You would think the LORD would choose a seasoned leader or at least recruit more men rather than reducing the number of soldiers.
But Gideon was going to learn the most important lesson of his life with a textbook of just three words: God is able. This is the same lesson we need to learn as we face, not Midanites, but similar challenges that we absolutely cannot handle ourselves: God is able.
This does not mean that God will work things out according to our plans. The Lord’s prayer instructs us to pray not for our will to be done, but for his. In the words of the eminent theologian Garth Brooks, “Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.”
His way is the better way. As his wisdom takes into account, not only the present and next week, and next year, but the next generation and into eternity. I love our own Bill Blankschaen’s definition of faith in his book, A Story Worth Telling, where he defines faith as “doing what you believe to be true, often in spite of what you see, sense or feel.”[i]
Faith holds on to what is true. Not what we want to be true, or feel to be true. But what IS true. What is true is that God he is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine. Regardless of the odds, God is never the underdog! And so, yes, we should ask big. But let’s recognize the difference between asking and demanding.
Because God is not only all-powerful, but is all-wise. In his wisdom, God saw fit to reduce Gideon’s troops. And yet…
II. Gideon’s Confidence is Bolstered (vv. 9-15)
9 During that night the Lord said to Gideon, “Get up, go down against the camp, because I am going to give it into your hands. 10 If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah 11 and listen to what they are saying. Afterward, you will be encouraged to attack the camp.” So he and Purah his servant went down to the outposts of the camp. 12 The Midianites, the Amalekites and all the other eastern peoples had settled in the valley, thick as locusts. Their camels could no more be counted than the sand on the seashore [135,000]. 13 Gideon arrived just as a man was telling a friend his dream. “I had a dream,” he was saying. “A round loaf of barley bread came tumbling into the Midianite camp. It struck the tent with such force that the tent overturned and collapsed.” 14 His friend responded, “This can be nothing other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands.” 15When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he worshiped God.
After commanding Gideon to move against the enemy in the valley, he knows Gideon is afraid, and so the LORD allows Gideon to hear God’s plan in advance with his own ears. The Midianites were not going to rout Israel. They were going to run from Israel!
The result for Gideon was the bolstering of his confidence in facing the impossible call for 300 men to defeat 135,000. In the face of such odds, but knowing the power of God on his behalf, he falls on his knees to worship.
You see, in order to move forward with confidence, Gideon had to look forward to what the LORD would do. In order for us to move forward, we have to look backward to what the LORD has already done.
In Romans 8, Paul declares that, because God the Father gave his son, Jesus, for us as our sin-bearer, we can know that whatever challenge is before us–whatever it is –that God, as our strong, able Father who loves us, is with us and is for us. Since Jesus faced our ultimate enemy and secured our ultimate victory, we can know that whatever we face, that in a very real sense, the battle belongs to the LORD – to our Father, the God who is able.
What often holds us back at this point is the reality that things do not always look like God is with us or for us. We can’t see the job, or the spouse, or the children. We wonder if we’ll ever smile or laugh again, because all we can see is the army massed against us. The addiction is too strong and the feeling of condemnation too heavy.
Gideon could relate. Yet, against all odds…
III. The LORD Secures the Victory (vv. 15b-25)
15b He returned to the camp of Israel and called out, “Get up! The Lord has given the Midianite camp into your hands.” 16 Dividing the three hundred men into three companies, he placed trumpets and empty jars in the hands of all of them, with torches inside. 17 “Watch me,” he told them. “Follow my lead. When I get to the edge of the camp, do exactly as I do. 18 When I and all who are with me blow our trumpets, then from all around the camp blow yours and shout, ‘For the Lord and for Gideon.’” 19 Gideon and the hundred men with him reached the edge of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just after they had changed the guard. They blew their trumpets and broke the jars that were in their hands. 20 The three companies blew the trumpets and smashed the jars. Grasping the torches in their left hands and holding in their right hands the trumpets they were to blow, they shouted, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” 21 While each man held his position around the camp, all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled. 22 When the three hundred trumpets sounded, the Lord caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords.
Remember, the Israelites have the high ground to the south of the valley. It is 10:00 PM, and by this time the Midianite troops would be asleep or at least nearing sleep. With the 300 men spread out at the ridge atop the valley, the crashing of clay pots, shouts, and trumpet blasts apparently made the Midianites think that the Israelite army was huge and were engaging in a surprise attack. As they woke and scrambled around the camp, they may have thought that those running around were Israelites on the attack, and so began striking out in the dark, unknowingly against their own men.
23b The [Midianites] fled to Beth Shittah toward Zererah as far as the border of Abel Meholah near Tabbath. 23Israelites from Naphtali, Asher and all Manasseh were called out, and they pursued the Midianites. 24Gideon sent messengers throughout the hill country of Ephraim, saying, “Come down against the Midianites and seize the waters of the Jordan ahead of them as far as Beth Barah.” So all the men of Ephraim were called out and they took the waters of the Jordan as far as Beth Barah. 25 They also captured two of the Midianite leaders, Oreb and Zeeb. They killed Oreb at the rock of Oreb, and Zeeb at the winepress of Zeeb. They pursued the Midianites and brought the heads of Oreb & Zeeb to Gideon, who was by the Jordan.[ii]
This week I Googled, “Biggest upsets of all time.” What tops every list is the Miracle on Ice, when the US amateur hockey team defeated the Soviet professionals at the 1980 Winter Olympics. But Israel’s victory over Midian is bigger—the biggest upset of all time. And it was a blowout! When Israelite troops capture and decapitate two key Midianite leaders, they confirm that the enemy had been utterly and absolutely defeated. Gideon had learned that, in spite of what we see, sense or feel, God is able!
And he still is. God is able…
- – To provide unexpected financial resources
- – To heal relationships & physical infirmities
- – To control the weather and direct nations
- – To bring a wayward child to salvation, your sister, father
- – To raise the funds that we need to purchase land and to build a facility
- – To cleanse you from your sins and reconcile you to the Father as a fully-forgiven, never to be rejected son/daughter, giving you power over even the most entrenched besetting sin.
This is where the gospel is really the biggest upset of all time! Because we are just like the Israelites, who over and over have rejected the authority and wisdom of God, doing what is right in our own eyes, giving lip service to God, but retaining lordship over our own lives. We are the ones who deserve to be destroyed.
But God sent a deliverer. Not Gideon, but Jesus, whose bloody, crucified body graphically confirms that the condemnation of our sin is utterly and completely defeated! Jesus allowed himself to be captured and nailed to a Roman cross in order to receive the judgement of God’s law so that we could be set free and receive the blessing of God’s grace.
Like Europeans in the 1940s discovered during World War II, the tide of hope turns when a deliverer shows up who is willing and able to sacrifice himself to save the oppressed. This is who Jesus is for those who will receive him as their Savior-Hero – the God who gives grace to those who deserve judgement – the God who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine.
[i] Bill Blankschaen, A Story Worth Telling, p. 9.
[ii] [ii] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Jdg 7:1–25.