Judges Sermon # 10A Judges 7:1-15 July 16, 2017
“Weakness Turned to Strength”
Pastor Louis Prontnicki Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church
If you had the choice, would you rather be physical strong or would you choose to be weak? If it was up to you, would you want to be in a position of power and might, or in a position of weakness, disadvantage, and frailty?
The paradoxical truth of the Gospel is that God wants us to be weak and dependent, so that we can succeed only through His strength. He wants to empty us of our toxic self, and fill us with His presence. And isn’t this emptying and filling the way of the cross of Christ? Think about 2 Cor. 8:9 “Though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that through His poverty, you might become rich.”
Last Sunday, in Judges 6:36-40, we saw that the Lord reassured Gideon, in the matter of the fleece. Here in Judges 7:1-8, the Lord weakens Gideon by drastically reducing the number of his soldiers; and then in 7:9-15, the Lord encourages Gideon in his weakness!
Here’s the Biblical principle behind all this: Our natural tendency is to take God’s glory for ourselves. We want the world to revolve around us. We want to be in control and have others think highly of us. Therefore the Lord will not entrust us with His work…unless we realize how weak and inadequate we are, whether it is witnessing, serving, praying, or following Him. This is one reason why God chooses to work through such weak and unlikely people, and why He humbles those who seem qualified. Let’s consider two major truths on how the Lord works:
I. The Lord Weakens Us So We Rely on Him (7:1-8)
“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. 2 The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me.’ 3 Now announce to the army, ‘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 thin them out 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 as a dog laps from those who kneel down to drink.” 6 Three hundred of them drank from cupped hands, lapping like dogs. 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 others go home.” 8 So Gideon sent the rest of the Israelites home but kept the three hundred, who took over the provisions and trumpets of the others.”
The key to Judges chapters 6-8 in found in 7:2 “In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her…” The Lord knows too well the pride in our hearts, the same sinful pride of thinking that we can save ourselves by our good works. He knows that even behind the most humble appearance there lies a self-congratulating boastfulness. We think ourselves better than others: judging them, and seeing ourselves as good and worthy.
Therefore the lesson the Lord will teach Gideon… and Israel… is that the Lord would deliver them, but not by the strength of their military might, nor by the number of their soldiers. The Lord will always make any self-reliance of ours crumble into dust! So how does the Lord do this with Gideon and his army?
First, the Lord reduces the number of Gideon’s soldiers from 32,000 to 10,000 (vv. 2-3). Gideon was thinking that now he had too few men for battle, but the Lord tells him that he has too many!
And what about the 22,000 who “trembled with fear” and were allowed to return home? Didn’t that cause them shame and dishonor? Not necessarily. Consider Deut. 20:8 [The officers shall say to the army: “Is any man afraid or fainthearted? Let him go home so that his brothers will not become disheartened too.” Those who lack faith – in a holy war directed by the Lord – should not participate, lest they discourage others.]
Matthew Henry writes that this reduction in numbers “may help us understand those divine providences which sometimes seem to weaken the church and its interests” (or when those frowning providences come upon our families, our health, our prosperity, etc.) Think about that: the Lord may at times deliberately weaken us, our church, and our ministries… so that He gets the glory, as we have to rely more on Him. I think that is what may be happening at our church! This is why we can rejoice in our weaknesses!
Second, the Lord reduces the number in Gideon’s army again, (vv. 4-8), this time from 10,000 soldiers to only 300 men! In the first reduction, the men decide who will go. In the second reduction, the Lord decides, by how they drank water… and there was no virtue in drinking either way.
Now some commentators try to see some significance in how the 300 men drank water, as if their method showed them to be ready for action. But I wonder if the Lord just wanted to test and strengthen Gideon’s trust, in what seemed to be an arbitrary division and reduction of his men. [As in Romans 9, cannot our sovereign God do whatever he wants to do, in any way He wants to do it?] The Lord wanted Gideon to trust that God knew what He was doing, especially when the way He went about it seemed arbitrary and haphazard.
How about you? Can you trust the Lord when His ways appear illogical and indiscriminate to you? For example, when cancer hits a healthy person… when a safe driver gets in a serious car accident…when some children follow the Lord and others don’t?
Look at the hymn: God moves in a mysterious way: God is His own interpreter, and He will make it plain.
So the Lord reduces their number from 32,000 to 10,000 (1/3) and then to 300 (1/32). Gideon will face 135,000 enemy soldiers (see 8:10), meaning that he is outnumbered 450 to 1… which are the same odds that Elijah faced at Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18:19). It makes me wonder: does the Lord like those odds against Him?!
Now you might ask at this point: “Why does the Lord reduce their number here, but not other battles which Israel fought in?” I think the answer is that with almost every judge, the Lord worked in surprising ways, right? And the surprise here was that He would give them victory through about 1/100th of their original number!
So remember: the Lord weakens us so we have to rely on Him, and Him alone!
Are you relying on Christ alone, for your forgiveness, for your encouragement, for your future?
II. The Lord Encourages Us in Our Weakness So We Rest in Him (7:9-15)
Now the camp of Midian lay below him in the valley. 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.”
If you had some idea that you were outnumbered by the enemy soldiers 450 to 1, and you were to lead your small army against this vast horde, wouldn’t you be afraid? It would appear to be a suicide mission! So the Lord devises a plan to encourage Gideon.
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. 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 [Like a scone] 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.” 15 When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he bowed down and worshiped. He returned to the camp of Israel and called out, “Get up! The Lord has given the Midianite camp into your hands.”
Here we see the Lord encouraging Gideon by giving him a command to obey, a promise to cling to, and a confirmation to rejoice in.
The command to obey is to get up and go down to the Midianite camp, in the middle of the night.
The promise to cling to is that the Lord will give the camp into his hands.
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.” Perhaps Gideon had a hard time sleeping, knowing the 450 to 1 odds against him. God comes to him with a command to obey “Get up and go down to the camp” (Now… at night!), and with a promise to believe/ trust: “I am going to give the enemy camp – with 132,000 men! – into your hands!”
What commands and promises is the Lord giving you and giving to me, which would relieve our fears and give us encouragement to move forward in faith in the Lord?
The confirmation to rejoice in is the dream and interpretation which Gideon overhears. At first, the sight of the vast number of Midianites might have actually been discouraging to Gideon, even just seeing their campfires and the size of their encampment. But what the Lord sovereignly allowed him to hear would greatly encourage him! Think of what Gideon overheard between two Midianite friends in the camp, and how he was able to hear it:
It was of the Lord’s timing and location. He is Sovereign over time and space.
How did these Midianites know of Gideon, and were talking about him – even that they were afraid of him! – at the very moment Gideon and his servant came within earshot!
How amazing that in this dream, Gideon is portrayed as a barley cake [barley was the cheapest grain in that region, and it underscores the poverty and weakness of Israel] which knocks down a tent, which is as unlikely as Gideon’s 300 men defeating the 132,000 strong Midianite army!
The Lord allows Gideon to eavesdrop both on some Midianite soldiers’ dream and its interpretation! What a custom-made encouragement! And Gideon’s response? First, “He worshipped God.” Next, he told his band of 300 to “Get up! The Lord has given the Midianite camp into your hands.” (7:15)
Matthew Henry comments: “With Gideon’s army being diminished…he must either fight by faith or not at all; God therefore here provided recruits for his faith, instead of recruits for his forces.” That is a good principle: we look for more money, more workers, more volunteers, etc., while the Lord may be looking to give us more faith, more encouragement, more trust and reliance upon Him and His promises.
Two illustrations, one about our church, and the other from my own life.
First, for the past 32 years, our church has been experiencing the “Gideon Method” of church growth! The Lord has been reducing our numbers since before I got here. Why? I think the answer is that He wants us to increase our reliance upon Him.
Second, for the past 32 years, the Lord has been “reducing me.” Lynn and I left for the mission field of the Middle East, and I struggled with learning Arabic and finding a suitable ministry, so that we came home after only four years. Why? One reason was so that I would learn the lesson of Judges 7:2 “In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her…” The Lord used my weaknesses to humble me, break me, and make me rely upon and rest in the strength of the Lord in deeper ways.
The Lord is always graciously seeking to break us, humble us, and reduce us (make less of us… to “decrease” like John the Baptist – John 3:30 – so that Christ may increase). We don’t like this process. It makes us fearful or angry or discouraged/ depressed… but the Lord does it because it suffocates our sinful pride and helps us to see God’s power and grace more clearly, so that we, like Gideon (v. 15) will respond by worshipping Him!
Brothers and Sisters in Christ: the Lord knows our frame (Ps. 103:14); He knew that Gideon was afraid (7:10-11) and He knew the best way to strengthen and encourage him. The Lord uses the introvert, the uncertain, and the fearful. Hebrews 11:32-34 “I do not have time to tell about Gideon…. who through faith conquered kingdoms… and whose weakness was turned to strength… and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.” He uses us in our weakness, so that we need to fully rely on God [F.R.O.G.]
What about you? Are you relying on God…. For the deliverance from the guilt and power of your sins?… for overcoming your idols and addictions?… for victory and joy in your heart?
We aren’t facing the vast Midianite army, and we aren’t Gideon, seeing our army of 32,000 get pared down to a measly 300! So how do we apply this Scripture? Let me suggest three ways:
First: trusting in the number of people in your church.
Many churches can boast of having big congregations and programs for every demographic, but our congregation is small in number; we have wondered how we will survive in a few years… but already the Lord has been doing some amazing things among us!
Second: trusting in the number of dollars in your bank.
We tend to find our security in the number of dollars in our bank account, our savings and retirement accounts, etc. But what if the Lord wants to reduce those numbers of dollars, through a stock market plunge or through a financial emergency… so that we would not be able to boast of/ take pride in/ trust in our financial resources?
Third: trusting in the number of healthy years in your body.
We can expect that as we age we will still have a certain measure of health and mental awareness, so that we will be able to live a certain lifestyle and enjoy it, for a certain number of years. But what if the Lord greatly reduces that expected number of years? What if at age 50 or 60 you or your spouse are now looking at having only a few good years left? What if a devastating illness hits you in your 20s, 30s, or 40s, and now it appears that your good years have almost disappeared? How will you face the “Midianites” with poor health, declining faculties, or major disabilities?
This is where the lessons of faith, seen in the Gideon story, must be put into practice, as you accept and rejoice in your weaknesses, and then let the Lord encourage you as he works through you!
Finally: Who do you fear?
22,000 of the Israelites soldiers were afraid of being killed in battle (v. 3; Deut. 20:8)
Gideon himself was afraid of facing the vast number of Midianites, especially with only 300 men, facing odds of 450 to 1 against him! (v. 10)
But ultimately it was the Midianites, possessing a 450 to 1 advantage in numbers, who ran in fear from Gideon’s small band (implied in v. 21 “All the Midianites ran, crying as they fled.”) God designed the battle so that Gideon’s 300 did not have to fight, only to frighten the enemy.
Therefore we need to fear the Lord, not men.
We need to stand by faith… or we will not stand at all.
Who do you fear? Where is your faith? Only in Christ can you stand.