Story Ten

 •  17 min. read  •  grade level: 5
GIDEON AND HIS BRAVE THREE HUNDRED
AGAIN the people of Ĭś̝ ra-el did evil in the sight of the Lord in worshipping Bā́ al; and the Lord left them again to suffer for their sins. This time it was the Mĭd́-ĭ-an-ītes, living near the desert on the east of Ĭś̝ ra-el, who came against the tribes in the middle of the country. The two tribes that suffered the hardest fate were Ḗ phră-im, and the part of Mā̇-năś seh on the west of Jôŕ dan. For seven years the Mĭd́ ĭ-an-ītes swept over their land every year, just at the time of harvest, and carried away all the crops of grain, until the Ĭś̝ ra-el-ītes had no food for themselves and none for their sheep and cattle. The Mĭd́ ĭ-an-ītes brought also their own flocks, and camels without number, whichh ate all the grass of the field. These Mĭd́ ĭ-an-ītes were the wild Arabs, living on the border of the desert, and from their land they made sudden and swift attacks upon the people' of Ĭś̝ ra-el.
The people of Ĭś̝ ra-el were driven away from their villages and their farms; and were compelled to hide in the caves of the mountains. And if any Ĭś̝ ra-el-īte could raise any grain, he buried it in pits covered with earth, or in empty wine-presses, where the Mĭd́ ĭ-an-ītes could not find it.
One day a man named Ḡĭd́ e-on was threshing out wheat in a hidden place, when suddenly he saw an angel sitting under an oak-tree. The angel said to him, "You are a brave man, Ḡĭd́ e-on; and the Lord is with you. Go out boldly, and save your people from the power of the Mĭd́ ĭ-an-ītes.”
Ḡĭd́ e-on answered the angel, "O Lord, how can I save Ĭś̝ ra-el? Mine is a poor family in Mā̇-năś seh, and I am the least in my father's house.”
And the Lord said to him, "Surely I will be with you, and I will help you drive out the Mĭd́ ĭ-an-ītes.”
Gĭd́ e-on felt that it was the Lord who was talking with him in the form of an angel. He brought an offering, and laid it on a rock before the angel. Then the angel touched the offering with his staff. At once a fire leaped up and burned the offering; and then the angel vanished from his sight. Gĭd́ e-on was afraid when he saw this; but the Lord said to him, "Peace be unto you, Gĭd́ e on; do not fear, for I am with you.”
On the spot where the Lord appeared to Gĭd́ e-on, under an oak-tree near the village of Ŏph́ rah, in the tribe-land of Mā̇-năś seh, Ḡĭd́ e-on built an altar, and called it by a name which means "The Lord is peace." This altar was standing long afterward in that place.
Then the Lord told Gĭd́ e-on that before setting his people free from the Mĭd́ ĭ-an-ītes, he must first set them free from the service of Bā́ al and Ăsh-ḗ rah, the two idols most worshipped among them. Near the house of Gĭd́ e-on's own father stood an altar to Bā́ al, and the image of Ăsh-ḗ rah.
On that night Gĭd́ e-on went out with ten men, and threw down the image of Bā́ al, and cut in pieces the wooden image of Ăsh-ḗ rah, and destroyed the altar before these idols. And in place he built an altar to the God of Ĭś̝ ra-el, and on it laid the broken pieces of the idols for wood, and with them offered a young ox as a burnt-offering. On the next morning, when the people of the village went out to worship their idols, they found them cut in pieces, the altar taken away; in its place stood an altar of the Lord, and on it the pieces of the Ăsh-ḗ rah were burning as wood under a sacrifice to the Lord. The people looked at the broken and burning idols, and they said, "Who has done this?”
Someone said, "Gĭd́ e-on, the son of Jṓ ăsh, did this last night." Then they came to Jṓ ăsh, Ḡĭd́ e-on's father, and said, "We are going to kill your son because he has destroyed the image of Ba'al, who is our god.”
And Jṓ ăsh, Ḡĭd́ e-on's father, said, "If Bā́ al is a god, he can take care of himself; and he will punish the man who has destroyed his image. Why should you help Bā́ al? Let Mal help himself.”
And when they saw that Bā́ al could not harm the man who had broken down his altar and his image, the people turned from Bā́ al back to their own Lord God.
Ḡĭd́ e-on sent men through all his own tribe of Mā̇-năś seh and the other tribes in that part of the land, to say, "Come and help us drive out the Mĭd́ ĭ-an-ītes." The men came, and gathered around Ḡĭd́ e-on. Very few of them had swords and spears, for the Ĭś̝ ra-el-ītes were not a fighting people, and were not trained for war. They met beside a great spring on Mount Ḡĭl-bṓ ȧ, called "the fountain of Hā́ rod." Mount Gĭl-bṓ ȧ is one of the three mountains on the east of the plain of Ĕs-dra-ḗ lon, or the plain of Jĕź re-el, of which we read in the last Story. On the plain, stretching up the side of another of these mountains, called "the Hill of Mṓ reh,” was the camp of a vast Mĭd́ ĭ-an-īte army. For as soon as the Mĭd́ ĭ-an-ītes heard that Ḡĭd́ e-on had undertaken to set his people free, they came against him with a mighty host. Just as Dĕb́ o-rah and her little army had looked down from Mount Tā́ bôr on the great army of the Cā́ năan-ītes, so now, on Mount Ḡĭl-bṓ ȧ, Ḡĭd́ e-on looked down on the host of the Mĭd́ ĭ-an-ĭtes in their camp on the same plain.
Ḡĭd́ e-on was a man of faith. He wished to be sure that God was leading him; and he prayed to God, and said, "O Lord God give me some sign that thou wilt save Ĭś̝ ra-el through me. Here is a fleece of wool on this threshing-floor. If to-morrow morning the fleece is wet with dew, while the grass around it is dry, then I shall know that thou art with me, and that thou wilt give me victory over the Mĭd́ ĭ-an-ītes.”
Very early the next morning Ḡĭd́ e-on came to look at the fleece. He found it wringing wet with dew, while all around the grass was dry. But Ḡĭd́ e-on was not yet satisfied. He said to the Lord, "O Lord, be not angry with me; but give me just one more sign. To-morrow morning, let the fleece be dry, and let the dew fall all around it; and then I will doubt no more.”
The next morning Ḡĭd́ e-on found the grass and the bushes and the trees wet with dew, while the fleece of wool was dry. And Ḡĭd́ e-on was now sure that God had called him, and that God would give him victory over the enemies of Ĭś̝ ra-el.
The Lord said to Ḡĭd́ e-on, "Your army is too large. If Ĭś̝ ra-el should win the victory, they would say, 'We won it by our own might.' Send home all those who are afraid to fight." For many of the people were frightened as they looked at the host of their enemies; and the Lord knew that these men in the battle would only hinder the rest.
So Ḡĭd́ e-on sent word through the camp, "Whoever is afraid of the enemy may go home." And twenty-two thousand people went away, leaving only ten thousand in Ḡĭd́ e-on's army. But the army was stronger though it was smaller, for the cowards had gone and only the brave men were left.
But the Lord said to Ḡĭd́ e-on, "The people are yet too many. You need only a few of the bravest and best men to fight in this battle. Bring the men down the mountain, beside the water, and I will show you there how to find the men' whom you need.”
In the morning Ḡĭd́ e-on by God's command called his ten thousand men out, and made them march down the hill, just as though they were going to attack the enemy. And when they were beside the water he noticed how they drank; and set them apart in two companies, according to their way of drinking. As they came to the water, most of the men threw aside their shields and spears, and knelt down and scooped up a draft of the water with both hands together like a cup. These men Ḡĭd́ e-on commanded to stand in one company.
There were a few men who did not stop to take a large draft of water. Holding spear and shield in the right hand, to be ready for the enemy if one should suddenly appear, they merely caught up a handful of the water in passing and marched on, lapping up the water from one hand.
God said to Ḡĭd́ e-on, "Set by themselves these men who lapped up each a handful of water. These are the men whom I have chosen to set Ĭś̝ ra-el free.”
Ḡĭd́ e-on counted these men, and found that there were only three hundred of them; while all the rest bowed down on their faces to drink. The difference between them was that these three hundred were earnest men, of one purpose; not turning aside from their aim even to drink, as the others did. Then, too, they were watchful men, always ready to meet their enemies. Suppose that the Mĭd́ ĭ-an-ītes had rushed out on that army while nearly all of them were on their faces drinking, their arms thrown to one side,-how helpless they would have been! But no enemy could have surprised the three hundred, who held their spears and shields ready, even while they were taking a drink.
Some have thought that this test showed also who were worshippers of idols, and who worshipped God; for men fell on their faces when they prayed to the idols, but men stood up while they worshipped the Lord. Perhaps this act showed that most of the army were used to worship kneeling down before idols, and that only a few used to stand up before the Lord in their worship; but of this we are not certain. It did show that here were three hundred brave, watchful men, obedient to orders, and ready for the battle.
Then Ḡĭd́ e-on, at God's command, sent back to the camp on Mount Gil-bed all the rest of his army, nearly ten thousand men; keeping with himself only his little band of three hundred. But before the battle God gave to Ḡĭd́ e-on one more sign, that he might be the more encouraged.
God said to Ḡĭd́ e-on, "Go down with your servant into the camp of the Mĭd́ ĭ-an-ītes, and hear what they say. It will cheer your heart for the fight.”
Then Ḡĭd́ e-on crept down the mountain with his servant, and walked around the edge of the Mĭd́ ĭ-an-īte camp, just as though he were one of their own men. He saw two men talking, and stood near to listen. One man said to the other:
"I had a strange dream in the night. I dreamed that I saw a loaf of barley bread come rolling down the mountain; and it struck the tent, and threw it down in a heap on the ground. What do you suppose that dream means?”
"That loaf of bread," said the other, "means Ḡĭd́ e-on, a man of who will come down and destroy this army; for the Lord God has given us all into his hand.”
Ḡĭd́ e-on was glad when he heard this, for it showed that the Mĭd́ ĭ˗an-ītes, for all their number, were in fear of him and of his army, even more than his men had feared the Mid́ ĭ-an-ītes. He gave thanks to God, and hastened back to his camp, and made ready to lead his men against the Mid́ ĭ-an-ītes.
Ḡĭd́ e-on's plan did not need a large army; but it needed a few careful, bold men, who should do exactly as their leader commanded them. He gave to each man a lamp, a pitcher, and a trumpet, and told the men just what was to be done with them. The lamp was lighted, but was placed inside the pitcher, so that it could not be seen. He divided his men into three companies; and very quietly led them down the mountain, in the middle of the night; anal arranged them all in order around the camp of the Mĭd́ ĭ-an-ītes.
Then at one moment a great shout rang out in the darkness, "The sword of the Lord and of Ḡĭd́ e-on," and after it came a crash of breaking pitchers, and then a flash of light in every direction. The three hundred men had given the shout, and broken their pitchers, so that on every side lights were shining. The men blew their trumpets with a mighty noise; and the Mĭd́ i-an-ītes were roused from sleep, to see, enemies all round them, lights beaming and swords flashing it the darkness, while everywhere the sharp sound of the trumpets was heard.
They were filled with sudden terror and thought only of escape, not of fighting. But wherever they turned, their enemies seemed to be standing with swords drawn. They trampled each other down to death, flying from the Ĭś̝ ra-el-ītes. Their own land was in the east, across the river Jôŕ dan, and they fled in that direction, down one of the valleys between the mountains.
Ḡĭd́ e-on had thought that the Mĭd́ ĭ-an-ītes would turn toward their own land, if they should be beaten in the battle; and he had already planned to cut off their flight. The ten thousand men in the camp he had placed on the sides of the valley leading to the Jôŕ dan. There they slew very many of the Mĭd́ ĭ-an-ītes as they fled down the steep pass toward the river. And Ḡĭd́ e-on had also sent to the men of the tribe of Ḗ phră-ĭm, who had thus far taken no part in the war, to hold the only place at the river where men could wade through the water. Those of the Mĭd́ ĭ-an-ītes who had escaped from Ḡĭd́ e-on's men on either side of the valley were now met by the É phră-ĭm-ītes at the river, and many more of them were slain. Among the slain were two of the princes of the Mĭd́ ĭ˗an-ītes, named Ṓ reb and Zḗ eb.
A part of the Mĭd́ ĭ-an-īte army was able to get across the river, and to continue its flight toward the desert; but Ḡĭd́ e-on and his brave three hundred men followed closely after them; fought another battle with them, destroyed them utterly, and took their two kings, Zḗ bah and Zăl-mŭń nȧ, whom they killed. After this great victory the Ĭś̝ ra-el-ītes were freed forever from the Mĭd́ ĭ˗an-ītes. They never again ventured to leave their home in the desert to make war, on the tribes of Ĭś̝ ra-el.
The tribe of Ḗ phră˗ĭm, in the middle of the land, was one of the most powerful of the twelve tribes. Its leaders were quite displeased with Gĭd́ e-on, because their part in the victory had been so small. They said to Ḡĭd́ e-on, in an angry manner, "Why did you not send word to us, when you were calling for men to fight the Mĭd́ ĭ-an-ītes?”
But Ḡĭd́ e-on knew how to make a kind answer. He said to them, "What have I done as compared with you? Did you not kill thousands of the Mĭd́ ĭ-an-ītes at the crossing of the Jordan? Did you not take their two princes, Ṓ reb and Zḗ eb? What could my men have done without the help of your men?" By gentle words and words of praise Ḡĭd́ e-on made the men of Ḗ phră-ĭm friendly.
And after this, as long as Ḡĭd́ e-on lived, he ruled as judge in Ĭś̝ ra-el. The people wished him to make himself a king. "Rule over us as king," they said, "and let your son be king after you, and his son king after him." But Ḡĭd́ e-on said, "No; you have a king already; for the Lord God is the King of Ĭś̝ ra-el. No one but God shall be king over these tribes.”
Of all the fifteen men who ruled as judges in Ĭś̝ ra-el, the fifth judge, was the greatest, in courage, in wisdom, and in faith in God.
If all the people of Ĭś̝ ra-el had been like him, there would have been no worship of idols, and no weakness before enemies, Ĭś̝ ra-el would have been strong and faithful before God. But as soon as Ḡĭd́ e-on died, and even before his death, his people began once more to turn away from the Lord and to seek the idol-gods that could give them no help.
Lesson 17. The Earlier Judges.
(Tell Stories 8, 9 and 10 in Part Second.)
1. Did the Israelites keep the promise which they had made to serve the Lord only? No, they forgot God, and served idols.
2. What came upon them because of their sins? They fell under the power of their enemies.
3. Who many times brought the people back to God, and set them free from their enemies? Rulers who were called Judges.
4. How many of these "judges" in turn ruled over the Israelites? Fifteen.
5. Who was the first of the judges? Othniel.
6. What one of the judges was a woman? Deborah, the fourth judge.
7. What did Deborah do for the Israelites? She led them to a great victory over the Canaanites.
8. Who was the greatest of all the judges? Gideon, the fifth judge.
9. What did Gideon do for the people? He won victories over the Midianites.
10. Who helped Gideon to win his first great victory? A band of three hundred brave men.