God's Mighty Men of Valor: Lessons From Gideon

Judges 6‑8  •  17 min. read  •  grade level: 6
Judg. 6-8
The history of Gideon is of much practical importance. It is the history of one of those revivals in Judges so peculiarly applicable to the present circumstances and need of the Church.
From time to time Israel had been sold into the hands of their enemies. Groaning under the consequences of their sin, they had cried unto the Lord; and the Lord, ever faithful, had raised up someone as a deliverer out of the hands of those that spoiled them. He was grieved for the afflictions of His people, He judged their sin and evil, yet, at the same time, pity and saved. But then the persons by whom He wrought were always in themselves insignificant.
"The children of Israel," we read, "did evil in the sight of the Lord: and the Lord delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years." Chapter 6:1.
The Midianites knew not that it was the Lord who had delivered Israel into their hands; yet, in reality, they were but the rod with which it pleased Him to punish His people.
"And the hand of Midian prevailed against Israel." "And Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites; and the children of Israel cried unto the Lord." vv. 2, 6.
The Lord first sent a prophet who testified of their sin, and then raised up the instrument for their deliverance.
"And there came an angel of the Lord, and sat under an oak which was in Ophrah, that pertained unto Joash the Abiezrite: and his son Gideon threshed wheat by the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites." v. 11.
Not anything could have been more abject than the condition of Gideon as described here- stealthily threshing wheat (for fear of the Midianites) to feed his family! But here is one whom the Spirit of God delights to make mention of; whose name, unrecorded of man, is thought worthy to be recorded by Him (Heb. 11:32-34). The Spirit of God writes to magnify the grace of God, not to exalt man. He would have us bear in mind such little incidents as that noticed here in the history of the soldiers of faith, in order that we may see by what weak and insignificant instruments God works. His mightiest victories have ever been won by such, and not by those who had resources in themselves.
"And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him, and said unto him, The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valor." v. 12. What a remarkable salutation! Stealthily threshing wheat to hide it from the enemy did not look like valor. But God's "mighty" men have ever been such as were cowards in themselves, men distrustful of their own strength and wisdom in coping with the enemy, men who "out of weakness were made strong." None are "mighty" men "of valor" but those to whom it has been said, "The Lord is with thee." When God calls a person by a name, He makes that person what the name imports; but He takes the most abject man of an abject tribe to make him His "mighty man of valor." "Ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called" (see 1 Cor. 1:25-29). God works not ordinarily by such; the credit would then be given to our wisdom, our influence, and the like; and it is written, "No flesh" shall glory in His presence. He takes "the foolish things of the world to confound the wise" and "the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised,... yea, and things which are not, to bring to naught things that are." If Timothy is exhorted to "fight the good fight of faith," it is as one "strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus."
"And Gideon said unto him, 0 my Lord, if the Lord be with us, why then is all this befallen us?
His heart has been touched and prepared of the Lord for the work to which he is called. He has a deep sense of the condition of Israel upon his soul, though he is without the power to help them; and he has been comparing that condition with the title and power of the Lord. This is the way of faith.
"And the Lord looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?"
The Lord looked upon him. That is the first thing. The man who is really strong and mighty is he who has thus gotten into the secret of Israel's impoverishment. The Lord has looked upon him. The Lord has identified Himself with him, and shown His heart to be toward him. There is no limit to His might.
But does Gideon feel himself to be a strong man? No! never before had he so known his own weakness and insignificance; never had he so felt the poverty of his father's house as now.
"And he said unto Him, 0 my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house." v. 15.
Thus it is always with the soldiers of faith. They have never so felt their own weakness as when called to be God's mighty men of valor. "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts." We need to feel that we are weak; that brings in Omnipotence. We shall have a life of feeling by-and-by, in the glory; now we are called upon to lead a life of faith. What saint does not know from the experience of the deceitfulness of his own heart, that if we had power in ourselves instead of in Christ, we should be something? God does not intend us to be something in ourselves.
"Wherewith shall I save Israel?" His threshing instrument would have been a poor thing indeed to look at as that "wherewith" to go against the host of Midian. Never, we repeat, had he felt the poverty of his father's house as now. When God is about to use a man, he makes that man feel most consciously nothing in himself. If He delivers by Gideon's hand, He must have the glory, not Gideon; His must be the strength, not Gideon's. It is always as it should be when we realize our own nothingness. Strong in the Lord, we are weakest in ourselves. Can we not, almost invariably, trace our failures to self-confidence? When a believer thinks that he is going to do a feat, his failure often becomes ridiculous. God must abase that which is proud and lifted up.
As with David, in another fight of faith, there was no sword in the hand of Gideon-not anything "wherewith" to go against the Midianites. But what does that matter? "If God be for us, who can be against us?" He does not go forth unarmed. "Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man."
Here then is the mighty man of valor, and here is his armor.
Gideon asks a sign: "And he said unto Him, If now I have found grace in Thy sight, then show me a sign that Thou talkest with me."
There is feebleness, doubtless, here; he ought to have had simple confidence, and not to have needed a sign; still, all he really cares for is having the Lord with him.
When Gideon's heart is reassured, he builds an altar there unto the Lord, and calls it "Jehovahshalom" (v. 24).
And now he is prepared for service. He has been under God's tutorage. He has learned where his strength is; he no longer says, "Wherewith shall I save Israel?" And the Lord has given him confidence to stand before Him. But where does He set him to work?-with the Midianites? No, not in the least. He has to begin the Lord's work at home with that which is nearest to himself.
"And it came to pass the same night, that the Lord said unto him, Take thy father's young bullock, even the second bullock of seven years old, and throw down the altar of Baal that thy father hath, and cut down the grove that is by it: and build an altar unto the Lord thy God upon the top of this rock, in the ordered place, and take the second bullock, and offer a burnt sacrifice with the wood of the grove which thou shalt cut down." vv. 25, 26.
There judgment commences. We must "cease to do evil" before we "learn to do well." Obedience to God is the saint's rule and liberty. Not all the powers in the world have a title to interfere with this. And, moreover, if God says, Pull down the altar of Baal, He will give strength to do it.
"Then Gideon took ten men of his servants, and did as the Lord had said unto him: and so it was, because he feared his father's household, and the men of the city, that he could not do it by day, that he did it by night." v. 27. He acts unhesitatingly. And what is the consequence? Immediate opposition.
The action of faith always excites the flesh. Israel knew not where their strength was; they thought it was in Baal. Gideon had learned it to be in God.
When we are mixed up with the world, Satan has no occasion to disturb us; let him be alarmed, and up come Midianites, Amalekites, etc. "Then all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the children of the east were gathered together, and went over, and pitched in the valley of Jezreel." v. 33.
Here is Gideon with his own people against him, and the enemies of Israel gathered together and pitching in Jezreel. But he has peace with God, and the Lord is (so to speak) bound to appear on his side. How does he act? "The Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet; and Abiezer was gathered after him." v. 34. Had Gideon been serving Baal, he could not have blown that trumpet. But Baal is down, and the altar of God is set up in the ordered place. He sends messengers throughout all Manasseh, who are also gathered unto him, and to Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali.
But Gideon still has a further lesson to learn. (A lesson each of us must learn.) He has known the acceptance of his offering. The youngest of an idolatrous household, he has built an altar to the Lord, and begun to destroy idolatry. But he has yet to learn that there is not a bit more courage or prowess really in the men that had gathered after him than in himself.
"And the Lord said unto Gideon, The people that are with thee are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against Me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me." Chap. 7:2.
At once he has to get rid of a great number of them.
This is done, first of all, by means of an ancient ordinance of Moses. The Lord tells him, "Whosoever is fearful and afraid, let him return and depart early from mount Gilead. And there returned of the people twenty and two thousand". and there remained ten thousand. v. 3.
To all appearances, Gideon was weakening his own hands. At the first proclamation twenty-two thousand left him; but in reality, instead of losing strength, he was gaining by their departure. These fearful and fainthearted ones would have discouraged the rest had they remained among them. "Let him go and return unto his house, lest his brethren's heart faint as well as his heart" (Deut. 20:8). The flesh is very bold in word; but when it comes to the point of trial, with Peter it curses and swears that it knows not Jesus. "The flesh profiteth nothing" (John 6:63).
"And the Lord said unto Gideon, The people are yet too many; bring them down unto the water, and I will try them for thee there: and it shall be, that of whom I say unto thee, This shall go with thee, the same shall go with thee; and of whomsoever I say unto thee, This shall not go with thee, the same shall not go." v. 4.
There is such a thing as the trial of our faith; and while we would be quite unable to test one another, God knows the best way of testing each.
"So he brought down the people unto the water: and the Lord said unto Gideon, Every one that lappeth of the water with his tongue, as a dog lappeth, him shalt thou set by himself; likewise every one that boweth down upon his knee? to drink. And the number of them that lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, were three hundred men: but all the rest of the people bowed down upon their knees to drink water. And the Lord said unto Gideon, By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you, and deliver the Midianites into thine hand: and let all the other people go every man unto his place." vv. 5-7. God's ways are strange to sense. The infidel scoffs at them. These who were sent home were really not afraid (as those who departed before) to go to the battle; they were all of them soldiers girded for war. The test was this: whether in that thirsty day they would lap the water, putting the hand to the mouth, or bow down and drink at their ease. The three hundred chosen ones (those by whom the Lord was about to work) had not time for halting; their hearts were in their work, and they merely took a drink as they went on their way.
The Apostle speaks of being entangled "with the affairs of this life" (2 Tim. 2:4); all that we can safely take, if we would "please Him who hath chosen" us to be soldiers, is just a drink by the way. There is a very great difference between being in the circumstances of this life, and being entangled with them. When tested by the Lord, those who bowed down were not fit for His use any more than the faint-hearted. They must go to their homes.
Gideon (instructed that the battle is the Lord's, and that he must get rid of all encumbrances) is next shown his enemies. "And it came to pass the same night, that the Lord said unto him, Arise, get thee down unto the host; for I have delivered it into thine hand." v. 9. It is a blessed thing to be shown our enemies, and to be told with Gideon that the Lord has delivered them into our hands. Our old man is "crucified" (Rom. 6:6), the world "overcome" (John 16:33), and its prince "judged" (John 16:11). If we are walking by faith as risen with Christ, Satan, the world and the flesh are under our feet.
And mark further how graciously the Lord anticipated the need of His servant in adding, "But if thou fear to go down, go thou with Phurah thy servant down to the host: and thou shalt hear what they say; and afterward shall thine hands be strengthened to go down unto the host." vv. 10, 11.
Let us follow Gideon. "Then went he down with Phurah his servant unto the outside of the armed men that were in the host. And the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the children of the east lay along in the valley like grasshoppers for multitude; and their camels were without number, as the sand by the seaside for multitude. And when Gideon was come, behold, there was a man that told a dream unto his fellow, and said, Behold, I dreamed a dream, and, lo, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the host of Midian, and came unto a tent, and smote it that it fell, and overturned it, that the tent lay along. And his fellow answered and said, This is nothing else save the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel: for into his hand hath God delivered Midian, and all the host." vv. 11-14. Divine encouragement is never to the puffing up of the flesh. Anything of pride and self-importance must have been sorely wounded. When God will show His favored servant the things that are coming to pass, and that he shall smite the Midianites as one man, He makes him feel that (in himself) he is but a "cake of barley bread." And is there not instruction for ourselves in this? Were Christians stripped of their worldliness, and made more like the "cake of barley bread" (the most homely thing possible), the world would stand more in fear of them.
"And it was so, when Gideon heard the telling of the dream, and the interpretation thereof, that he worshipped." Before he goes to battle, he worships in the full confidence of victory. The worship of faith is always the worship of confidence. Were we really in our own eyes the "cake of barley bread," there would be more abounding praise. "He... returned into the host of Israel, and said, Arise; for the Lord hath delivered into your hand the host of Midian." v. 15.
What is this "host of Israel"? Three hundred men! The Midianites are as "grasshoppers for multitude"; the Lord's "host" but a handful of men! It is most important to see the dignity attached to the three hundred. And now comes the conflict: "And he divided the three hundred men into three companies, and he put a trumpet in every man's hand, with empty pitchers, and lamps within the pitchers. And he said... when I blow with a trumpet, I and all that are with me, then blow ye the trumpets also on every side of all the camp, and say, The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon." vv. 16-18. The weapons of their warfare were the most foolish things imaginable-trumpets, pitchers and lamps in the pitchers! Faith's weapons must be mighty through God alone.
"So Gideon, and the hundred men that were with him, came unto the outside of the camp.. and they blew the trumpets and brake the pitchers that were in their hands... and held the lamps in their left hands:... and they cried, The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon... And the Lord set every man's sword against his fellow, even throughout all the host." vv. 19-22. Our power is in giving testimony to Jesus, and never getting out of the place of being but "earthen vessels." We must remember that the vessel only contains the light; let us not pretend that it is the light. The excellency of the power must be of God, not of us.
"And Gideon came to Jordan, and passed over, he, and the three hundred men that were with him, faint, yet pursuing them." Chap. 8:4. What three little words could be more blessedly descriptive of the Christian than these? not "faint" and sitting down; not "faint" and giving up; but "faint," yet pursuing. We have to do with Him who "giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might He increaseth strength." (Isa. 40:29). It is a blessed use to make of our faintness and weariness, that of drawing out the fullness of the supply of grace and strength in Christ. It is said, "Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might"; but to whom? To the one who has no strength in himself, who would give up his course if strength were not supplied to him.
We do not like the trial of faith. It is very painful, doubtless, to feel day after day our own weakness. We want to feel that the battle is over; but let us remember that now is our time of war. We are called on to fight as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, and that in a daily round of conflicts. Today there has been sufficient grace and sufficient evil. What we need is to live day by day in reliance on God. He is faithful, and will supply strength according to the occasion and need. The Church will not be at rest till the Lord comes. But weakness ought to be no hindrance to our going forward-"faint, yet pursuing."