God + One

The Lord’s motive was clear: he would work “in order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her” (Judges 7:2b). God will not share his glory. To allow us to trust in anyone but him would be to encourage idolatry. His glory is always to our good.

So he instructed Gideon to reduce the size of his army in two ways.

First, he was to release any of the men who “trembles with fear” (v. 3), reducing the 32,000 member force to 10,000.

But still the army was sufficient to believe that it won the victory in its own strength, so the Lord required a second test. He led them to the spring of Harod; those who “lapped with their hands to their mouths” were to stay, while those who knelt at the water and drank with their mouths were dismissed (v. 6). The former were more ready for battle, with one hand at their sword. The latter were on their hands and knees, easy victims for attack. This second reduction left Gideon with 300 soldiers, who picked up the provisions and trumpets of the others (v. 8).

Our tour groups stood at this very spot last month. The area is unprotected and susceptible to assault. The very act of leading an army, already reduced by 66 percent, to this unsafe place where they could be reduced by another 97 percent, was implausible in the extreme. But this is what it would take for God to be glorified by Gideon’s army.

Now God wants you to do what Gideon did at your own spring of Harod. Name your Midianites, your problem or challenge or burden or decision. Ask this question: what would most glorify God in this? How could you most honor him? What would bring the most people to faith in him? What would most show his power and grace to the world? Ask him, and he will show you. Then decide to do that, by his help and for his glory. Do it today.

Trust his deliverance

Now Gideon and his tiny army were ready for battle. They were outnumbered beyond belief. But they had the high ground at the hill of Moreh, so that “the camp of Midian lay below him in the valley” (v. 8). And they were prepared to attack “at the beginning of the middle watch, just after they had changed the guard” (v. 19).

The Jews divided in the night into three “watches”: sunset to 10 p.m., 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., and 2 a.m. to sunrise. So the Midianite army would have just gone to sleep when the battle began. The strategic advantage was Gideon’s.

These decisions did not cause the rout of the Midianite armies, however. A crucial strategy was giving each of the 300 men a trumpet to blow and an empty jar with torches inside to hold (v. 16).

The “trumpet” they used was a ram’s horn, an instrument sounded to signal soldiers into battle or retreat. Not many were used for an army, as the person playing the shofar could not defend himself at the same time and was obviously easy for the enemy to identify. An opposing army hearing such a loud blast, right on their camp, would obviously assume a much larger force than Gideon’s army possessed.

Like the trumpets, the torches were carried only by a small number of troops in a conventional army. They made it difficult for the soldier to wield a sword or shield, and exposed his position to enemy attack. Nighttime hand-to-hand battles were more effectively waged in the darkness as well. A large number of torches would be counterproductive to the army’s success.

What torches the army required were kept in clay jars so they would remain lit but their flames low; in this way the army could creep up in the night undetected. When they broke the jars, the sudden flames surrounding the Midianite camp would be a second indication of a massive army on their perimeter.

Note that the Hebrew army held their torches in their left hands and their trumpets in their right hands (v. 20a). They had no sword or shield in hand when they began their battle, only the sword of their mouths: “they shouted, ‘A sword for the Lord and for Gideon'” (v. 20b). Gideon’s army was reduced by 99 percent, and those who remained for the battle were completely unarmed. Has any army ever waged a more unconventional battle?

What was the result? The entire Midianite army was routed. They had no time to light their own torches, and were too far from Gideon’s to see those around them. And so they attacked each other in the night, probably assuming that the Hebrews had run into their camp and were at their side (v. 22). Not to mention a likely stampede on the part of the frightened, massive camel herd.

What was the final military tally? The Midianites lost more than 135,000 men (Judges 8:10), defeated by an army which began their assault with 300 in number. The Midianite threat against Israel was destroyed, finally and forever. All because one man was willing to give his problem to God, seek his glory, and trust his power. And God was glorified by one of the most stunning, unlikely victories in military history.

Conclusion

On this Memorial Day weekend we stop to give thanks for the courage of more than a million men and women who died while serving our nation in a time of war. Every one of them could have refused the call to defend our freedom and serve our country. Every one of them answered it with courage which calls us to join their commitment today.What army has you outnumbered this morning? A torch and trumpet in the hand of a soldier of God will defeat a mighty army every time. God plus one is a majority. Just be sure you’re the one.