In part 1 of this series, I said that things were going to get a little weirder. I thought maybe weird wasn’t the right word, but after looking it up it makes perfect sense. If that’s possible for something weird to make perfect sense. But the definition of weird suggests something ”supernatural or uncanny” and can also “induce a sense of disbelief”. I think that applies here. God is definitely supernatural, uncanny (mysterious), or beyond belief at times. This is kind of the heart of this series and why the world and even believers have such a hard time understanding the “ways” of God.
There I go again putting the word “way” in quotations. “Robby, stop that immediately! I think we get your subliminal messaging.” Well at least I didn’t spell it backwards. I just want to be clear. Robby’s “way” doesn’t always make sense either. Oops I did it again, and I referred to myself in the third person. That’s weird. Okay, I’ll really stop this time. Really.
The purpose of this series is to compare and contrast God’s way vs. “the worldly way”. There is a difference and sometimes a huge difference. There are numerous examples in the Bible that illustrate this contrast. However, it doesn’t mean that it is always easily understood. Arsenio Hall, a late-night talk show host in the 90’s, coined the phrase “things that make you go hmmm”, as in things that aren’t easily understood and require some serious thought. God wasn’t kidding when He said, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” in Isaiah 55:8-9. So, with those thoughts in mind, we’ll continue to explore the encounter between God and Gideon in Judges 6-8.
In part 1, we discovered from Judges 6 that the Lord calls Gideon to basically lead the Israelites back to the right path, to God’s will and way of living. Remember that the Israelites have once again done what is “evil in the eyes of the Lord” (Judges 6:1 NIV), and for “seven years he (God) gave them into the hands of the Midianites” as a consequence for their disobedience. As a result of the suffering they endure at the hand of the Midianites, the Israelites cry out to the Lord for help, which is a reoccurring plot line in the history of Israel. When this happens, God hears their cries and usually chooses someone, a leader or deliverer like Moses, to lead the nation back to repentance. This time God chooses Gideon. He’s next on the list. However, Gideon seems like an unusual pick. According to Judges 6:12, the “angel of the Lord” or as we discovered last week is actually God himself or Yahweh who says that Gideon is a “mighty warrior”, but he’s insecure, and not exactly overflowing with confidence. When God calls him, he’s “threshing wheat”. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but it’s not exactly where we would expect to find a great leader or champion for God.
In Judges 6:13 Gideon says, “Pardon me, my lord but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.” Instead of a resounding, “whatever you want me to do Lord. I’m your guy. Just point me in the right direction and I’ll get our people out of there”, Gideon is questioning whether this whole thing is legit. He wants “signs” and “wonders” like plagues, sea’s being parted, and mana from heaven. In response the Lord graciously obliges him with signs and wonders. You can read about them in Judges 6. They’re not exactly earth shattering but they are “signs” nonetheless.
Apparently, these signs are enough to convince Gideon that this whole thing is the real deal because in Judges 7 we find Gideon and “all his men camped at the spring of Harod” which is close to where the Midianites are encamped. So, their getting ready for battle. Gideon is “all in” and its game time! But this is where it gets weird and God is getting ready to throw Gideon a nasty curve ball.
Gideon is up early in the morning. He’s had his coffee, puts on his armor, probably grabs his sword, maybe does some pre-battle stretching, and is putting on his “game face” for the big battle ahead. He’s probably feeling some pre-battle jitters, but he’s good and ready to go. He’s high fiving his troops and getting everyone fired up when the Lord says, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me.’ 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.(Judges 7:2-3 NIV)
Okay, let’s take a short pause to digest this because I’m sure that is what Gideon was doing. So, start “pausing” now…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..
Okay you can start reading again. I wasn’t sure how long to make the dots for the pause. If I did too many, you might have checked out and we can’t have that so get back in the game!
As we can only imagine, Gideon is probably dumb founded and in disbelief as he watches 22,000 soldiers walk out of camp. He’s probably thinking, “Too many men. are you kidding me! What’s wrong with having too many men? This has to be a joke, right? After all God does have a sense of humor” and he’s probably also thinking “I can’t believe I let Him talk me into this. I knew this would happen!” Gideon is probably hoping that the Lord will say, “Gotcha!” followed by “Hey Gideon, I really had you going there for a minute buddy. I’m sorry but I couldn’t resist. Everybody was just so tense. You guys need to lighten up and have some fun with this”. Then they would all laugh it off saying, “Lord, you’re such a big kidder.” But the Lord isn’t kidding, and he’s not done yet.
The Lord continues in verse 4 saying, “There are still too many men…” Even after 22,000 have left there are still “too many men”. It goes without saying that Gideon at this point is probably and understandably demoralized along with “all his men”. In the first purge, all those who were too scared to fight are allowed to leave. It kind of makes sense, but how is God going to “thin the ranks” this time. Well, it gets even weirder because the Lord has a strange way of determining who stays and who goes. Judges 7:4 says, But the Lord said to Gideon, “There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will thin them out…” Gideon probably still dizzy from the first thinning of the ranks does as the Lord asks, but he’s probably muttering to himself all the way down to the watering hole or river.
Here is how the Lord proposes to thin them out. “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.” Three hundred of them drank from cupped hands, lapping like dogs. All the rest got down on their knees to drink. 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.” (Judges 7:5-7 NIV)
That’s kind of a weird way to do it, right? What in the heck does how they drink the water have to do with their fighting skills? Well, there is a little logic there worth mentioning. Those who “kneel down to drink” by cupping their hands and lapping like dogs can look around while they drink. They are in a better position to defend themselves whereas those who kneel down and drink by putting their lips down into the water can’t see as well. They are in a more vulnerable position. At least that’s my theory. By the way, this purge costs Gideon an addition 9700 men. Now he’s down to only 300. Yikes!
Anyway, Gideon starts the day with 30,000 men. Not a bad number, but when we learn from Judges 7:12 that Gideon and his army are facing an enemy that’s numbers are as “thick as locusts” and “Their camels could no more be counted than the sand on the seashore” 30,000 might not be enough. Then God starts thinning the ranks whittling it down to a mere 300 men. 300 facing an enemy that has so many they can’t be counted. That’s scary. Most of us would be thinking the same thing as Gideon’s army. “This is a suicide mission. We’re going to get slaughtered.” It goes without saying that their odds of winning by any standards are nonexistent, but especially not by human or “worldly” standards. The numbers just don’t add up. It doesn’t make sense. However, God doesn’t operate according to human standards. He has His own way of doing things. He’s got a plan, a better plan. It might be weird and not make a lick of sense humanly speaking, but as we’ll see next week, it works.
Well, just when we thought it couldn’t get weirder, it does and will. Stay tuned next week for the strange and unusual conclusion of this Biblical adventure. Then we’ll finish up this series in Part 4 by defining a “worldly way” that might make more sense or “appear to be right, but in the end, it leads to death”. (Proverbs 14:12 NIV)
Have a great weekend! Love y’all!
Director of Family Ministry and Facility Coordinator – Andrews UMC