By Jim Canter
Picture this: a gang of 450 men invade your neighborhood. You go out to meet them, armed with a flashlight and a band instrument! As ridiculous as this sounds, it is precisely what God was about to instruct Gideon to do. He would take a band of three hundred men against one hundred thirty-five thousand.
A substantial force of thirty-two thousand men had arrived to join Gideon against the Midianites and their allies. God told Gideon there were two many men to give Midian into their hands, so He had Gideon instruct all those who were fearful to go home. (Judges 7:1-3) Two thirds of them, twenty-two thousand soldiers packed up and left for home. There were now 10,000 men left.
Again, God told Gideon that the force was too numerous. This did not represent, as one might suppose, multiple attempts by God to whittle down the forces until He got a number He could live with. This was for Gideon’s sake. Obedience, resulting from faith and trust, was being learned.
The account of the water test to reduce the force of Israel has often been used to encourage Christians to be alert, courageous and obedient, but was this the point of the test? Much has been written and preached about why God chose the men who lapped over the men who knelt to drink.
WAS IT BECAUSE THEY WERE THE MOST ALERT AND COURAGEOUS?
The alert guys, in my mind were the ones who, as they were in plain sight of the enemy, knelt down low to drink, not the ones who, ignoring their enemy put their hands to their mouths to drink. That they were chosen by God only because they were the most courageous (as is indicated by Josephus, [Antiquities, Book 5, Chapter 6] seems to go against what was said in Judges 7:3, where the fearful and trembling were allowed to leave; however, it is possible that they were the most courageous of the ones not trembling with fear.
WERE THEY THE ELITE?
The argument that they were the “special forces unit,” falls short because they were outnumbered 450 to one. What difference would it make if they were the elite force against those odds? The elite forces concept would be contrary to God’s plan to remove boasting. The LORD needed these men to do something, and initially at least, fighting was not it.
If we read carefully the description of how the three hundred were to go into battle, we see the following picture: one hand would hold a jar with a torch in it. With the other hand, a trumpet (ram’s horn). How would the sword held? As we will later see, in the first part of the battle, when God was delivering the Midianites into Israel’s hands, there was no need for fighting. The battle belonged to the Lord.
DID GOD NEED TO “FIND OUT” WHO SHOULD GO AND WHO SHOULD STAY?
This often gets overlooked: God told Gideon, “I will test them for YOU there.” This was God’s demonstration to Gideon of His sovereignty over the affairs of men. Otherwise, are we to think that God didn’t know how many men there would be that lapped the water? Could we argue that God would say to himself, ” I hope we get the right number of men doing the right thing, you know, the elite guys. I’d hate to have to repeat this.”
WERE THE MEN MAKING A CONSCIOUS CHOICE TO BE A PART OF THE SMALLEST GROUP?
It had to take some time to water 10,000 men at the Spring of Harod. I wonder if the men saw Gideon separating out this small band of men who had been lapping the water, thinking that those men were going home while the large force would fight. If I was going to fight, I’d want to be a part of the larger division of soldiers, not the smallest. If I was Gideon, I would be tempted to say, “Guys, be careful how you drink!”
GOD AND HIS LITTLE BAND
A close look at the entire battle reveals that after God destroyed the largest force and the Israelites afterwards had joined the battle, the 300 who were with Gideon were tired, yet pursuing. They went on pursuing even though the people in two different towns refused to give them food and water. This took remarkable courage and stamina. God chose a few men who LATER demonstrated obedience, fearlessness and stamina.
WHAT IS THE REAL LESSON?
In trying to use the account of the water test to say something about the men God chose, we lose sight of the real lesson, which is not about the men, but about GOD.
It could be said that God chose the best and most courageous from the non-fearful 10,000; but not because of what was being demonstrated by how they drank. The test was not for God to find out anything about these men. He wanted a small force so the Israelites would not be able to boast. He got the exact number He wanted; no more, no less.
He allowed men to know the joy of having a part in His plan, but this was GOD’S choice, God’s deliverance and God’s victory brought about by His own supernatural means, for His own glory.
Copyright 2009 By Jim Canter. Jim is the worship leader for Grace Church of Tallahassee.
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, Copyright 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.