† THIRD WEDNESDAY IN ADVENT †
Gideon’s Three Hundred Men
7 Then Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the people who were with him rose early and encamped beside the spring of Harod. And the camp of Midian was north of them, by the hill of Moreh, in the valley.
2 The Lord said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’ 3 Now therefore proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home and hurry away from Mount Gilead.’ ” Then 22,000 of the people returned, and 10,000 remained.
4 And the Lord said to Gideon, “The people are still too many. Take them down to the water, and I will test them for you there, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ shall go with you, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ shall not go.” 5 So he brought the people down to the water. And the Lord said to Gideon, “Every one who laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set by himself. Likewise, every one who kneels down to drink.” 6 And the number of those who lapped, putting their hands to their mouths, was 300 men, but all the rest of the people knelt down to drink water. 7 And the Lord said to Gideon, “With the 300 men who lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hand, and let all the others go every man to his home.”
32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.
Jesus, Founder and Perfecter of Our Faith
12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Do Not Grow Weary
3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.
The book of Judges devotes 3 chapters to Gideon. You’re probably familiar with his name, you’ve just heard something about him, but, because of our basic unfamiliarity with old testament history, you may not remember details. Why exactly he was commended by God for his faith.
According to Judges 6-8, Gideon was called by God to deliver Israel from her oppressor, Midian. After that, he ruled Israel, as her judge, for 40 years. Those are the simple facts, but, there’s much more to Gideon. Like you and me he was called out of darkness into the marvelous light of knowing God’s glory. God gave him great faith, when most needed, using him to help His chosen people.
Judges 6: says, the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian. That’s ever the history of Israel, always falling out of love with God, because, they forgot. At Gideon's time, as God's punishment for her faithlessness, Israel was totally dominated by Midian. they had to flee the good, low, land, to hide in mountain caves. To keep from starving, they had to hide their animals and any produce they could raise. Anything valuable the Midian army could find, they would confiscate.
Finally, finally, they could see no other way, and Israel cried out for help to the Lord. The bible says the Lord sent a prophet, thus, says the lord, the god of Israel: I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of slavery. I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you and gave you their land. And I said to you, 'I am the Lord your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.'
But you have not obeyed my voice. In other words, what’s the matter with you clowns? How can you forget continually all the things I’ve done for you and forsake your faith in your savior, God? God could have said, to heck with you, but, God relented and He decided to help.
Gideon, the youngest son in his family, is down inside a low spot, where the family would normally grind grapes for wine. He was down there because he was beating some grain out of wheat stalks and if he had been spied by the Midianites they would have confiscated it. Suddenly the angel of the Lord came and sat under a nearby tree and said to him, the Lord is with you, o mighty man of valor. Already we know something about Gideon's basic courage.
Now Gideon didn’t know it was an angel and responded rather sarcastically, please sir, if the lord is with us why then has all this happened to us? And where are all the wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, 'did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?' No, the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.
Gideon is speaking, with none other than the pre-incarnate Christ. We know this because God's word says, the Lord turned to him and said, go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian. Do not I send you? Now Gideon is unconvinced. His family had long lost their love for the true God and had been worshiping the false god Baal. Gideon responds, my family is the weakest in Israel and I’m the youngest son in the family. Please Lord, how can I save Israel?
Christ answers I will be with you. You will win. Gideon still doubts. So he says, show me a sign that it is the true God of Israel who speaks to me. I’ll go get an offering. He prepares a young goat and unleavened bread and he puts the meat in a basket and puts the broth in a pot and brings them to Christ who says, take the meat and the bread and put them on this rock and pour the broth over them.
Gideon does it. Christ, with the tip of his staff, touches the meat and unleavened bread. Immediately, fire comes out of the rock and consumes all of it and the angel of the Lord, Christ, vanishes.
Gideon believed. He built an altar to the Lord and called it the Lord is peace. That night, the Lord spoke again to him, take your father's bull and a second bull and pull down the altar of Baal your father has and build an altar to the Lord your God. Then take the second bull and offer it as a burnt offering. Understand, between the goat and bread and now a bull, Gideon has made offerings that are quite lavish for people who are in such want. But Gideon took ten servants and did as the Lord told him. But since he was afraid of his family and the men of the town he did it by the secrecy of night. Despite all the evidence Gideon is still fearful.
When the men of the town get up the next morning and see the Baal altar has been torn down and a prime bull sacrificed, they all say, who did this? When they learn it was Gideon, they demand he is put to death. Gideon’s father was a Baal worshiper, but, he must have been a skeptic. Basically, he says, let Baal defend himself. If he’s god, he’ll do the killing of my son. Of course, that didn’t happen.
The Spirit of the Lord was on Gideon. He now sounded the trumpet and called the people to follow him so they could destroy the hated Midianites. Yet, still unsure, he wanted another sign. He says to God, I’m going to lay a piece of wool on the ground. If dew is only on the wool in the morning and not on the ground then I’ll know that you will save Israel by my hand. So, the next morning, in a climate where dew is rather rare, he wrings the piece of wool he’s picked up from the dry floor and fills a bowl full of water.
But, man is Gideon like you and me. He wants more proof, just like us. We always want to think that visual evidence is better than what God says to us. He says to God, let’s do this again but this time I want the dew on the ground and the fleece to be dry. And the next morning, the ground was wet and the wool was dry.
Finally convinced, at a nearby spring, Gideon gathers 32,000 volunteers. But God says to him, you’ve got too many men. When you win, you and the people will think it was because you had a better army. Ask the troops, who among them, is afraid to fight and send them home. 22,000 left. Then the Lord says, eh, that’s still too many. Let’s whittle the number down just a bit. Have all 10,000 take a drink from the spring. If they get down on their hands and knees to drink, send them back to camp. If they take water into their hand and bring it up to drink, keep them. That left Gideon with only 300 men.
That night the Lord said to Gideon, attack now, I’ve given you the victory. But, again, Gideon needs assurance. So, the Lord tells him, sneak into the enemy camp and, listen at a tent. Once there, Gideon hears one man say to another, I dreamed a dream and behold a cake of barley bread tumbled down into our camp and struck our tent and knocked it flat. His tent mate says, oh man, Gideon's gonna beat us.
Now, Gideon's fired up. He praises God and we see what the gift of great faith and confidence in the true God does. He returns to camp and tells the 300, the Lord has assured me of victory. Take no weapons. Divide into 3 companies. Take an empty jar, a trumpet, and, some torches. Spread out around the edges of the enemy camp and when I blow my trumpet, you blow yours and shout for the Lord and for Gideon.
At the signal, in the middle of the night, they smash the jars, blow the trumpets, hold high their lighted torches and they shout. And, with the noise of smashing jars, the blaring trumpets, the lighted torches all around the camp, and people calling out the name of God and Gideon, there was so much confusion among the Midianites, they were killing one another as they fled. It was a total rout of the enemy without any weapons at all. Gideon sends messengers throughout the land, go out against the Midianites wherever you find them. And finally, Israel was completely freed from her oppressors.
There were other things. Gideon was forced to clean up all kinds of messes. But, when he finally got home the people said, rule over us, Gideon. You and your son and your grandson also, for you have saved us from the hand of Midian. Gideon humbly replied, I will not rule over you and my son will not rule over you. The Lord will rule over you.
Then Gideon made a request which he believed would honor God for the victory, that actually turned out to be a big mistake. He asked those who’d benefited from the victory to give him gold earrings from their spoil. They answered, we will willingly give them. Between the massive weight of gold and the gold Gideon had gained from the enemy on his own, he made an Ephod. Now that was a ceremonial garment the priests used in worship, normally made from linen. But this one was made from solid gold, it was never meant to be worn. It was to stand as a symbol of God's faithfulness. But, it was so unbelievably valuable, people, the people of Israel coveted it for the gold, rather than seeing it as a sacred object.
Scripture says, Gideon's good intention became a snare to Gideon and to his family. Nevertheless, as long as Gideon lived and judged Israel there was peace. The land had rest forty years in the days of Gideon and he died in a good old age and was buried in the tomb of his father. But as soon as Gideon died the people of Israel turned again and began to serve the false god Baal. They forgot, again, to serve the true and living God. They forgot about Gideon and all the good he had done to Israel.
Through God's word, what do we learn from Gideon? We learn that in the same way the Lord fought for him, providing no weapons other than His Word, God also fights for you, especially when the odds against you appear, when the enemy appears too great. God does this by overcoming your greatest enemy, your sin. And He did it in the most improbable way. By the sacrifice of his only son upon the cross. He provides you, now, by Word and Sacrament, with all the faith you need to overcome and to obtain the gift of eternal victory, which, is always through faith in Jesus’ precious name.