Book of Judges Bible Study Outline: Chapter 7

Judges Chapter 7: Gideon and the Power of Weakness (Part 2)

 

By I Gordon

 

2 Cor 4:6-7 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

 

Introduction

 

It was mentioned in the previous Judges Bible study that God loves to do the Gideon. ‘The Gideon’ is where God takes weak people and difficult situations, and turns them around for His glory. God has been doing it for thousands of years and He is not about to stop now! We saw in the first study on Gideon from the book of Judges that when it came time to deliver Israel from the hand of Midian, God went to the smallest tribe, to the least family within that tribe, and chose the youngest member of that family… namely, our friend Gideon. Something special was obviously about to occur! This Bible study carries on from there, and using Judges Chapter 7, it focuses on Gideon’s unique victory over Midian and its startling accurate portrayal of New Testament truth.

 

Let the Battle Begin!

 

Judges 7:1-2 Early in the morning, Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) and all his men camped at the spring of Harod. The camp of Midian was north of them in the valley near the hill of Moreh. The LORD said to Gideon, “You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands…’

 

So the plans for Operation Smash-Midian are under way. But right from the beginning we see that this is not going to be an ordinary fight! Gideon has rounded up all the men he can find and they are still woefully short on numbers. In all 32,000 men are willing to put their lives on the line in order to help deliver Israel (vs 3). From Judges 8:10 we read the interesting fact that Midian had 135,000 fighting men, so each Israelite would have to take out roughly four Midianites for there to be victory. Pretty long odds you would think and Gideon has reason to be more than a little anxious! You can probably imagine his surprise then, when the Lord finally speaks to him saying ‘Gideon, you’ve got way too many men!’ Have such words ever been heard before going into a battle? What war has there ever been when being hopelessly outnumbered, the word goes forth to cut the numbers down yet again? In the natural it seems absurd! In the spiritual it is the very thing God wants to teach us.[1]   

 

Judges 7:2-3 In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her, announce now to the people, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’” So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained.

 

So God has decided to make weak Israel even weaker. Now why would God do that? Why does God allow times of weakness… even overwhelming odds at times? It is so that we will be more reliant upon Him and through that, He can show us more of Himself, His work on our behalf, and hopefully prevent us from stealing His glory![2] The human heart loves to claim credit for any victory or achievement. If God had allowed Israel to defeat Midian with only a quarter of the number of Midian’s men, then guess who would have got the credit? That’s right… not God. He may have received a bit of token praise, but probably precious little in the long run… and, it is just slightly possible that you would do the same thing!

 

Would You Be One Of The 300?

 

Judges 7:3-8 But the LORD said to Gideon, “There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will sift them for you there… So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the LORD told him, “Separate those who lap the water with their tongues like a dog from those who kneel down to drink.”  Three hundred men lapped with their hands to their mouths. 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 other men go, each to his own place.”  So Gideon sent the rest of the Israelites to their tents but kept the three hundred, who took over the provisions and trumpets of the others.

 

We read in the previous verse that all those who were really too fearful to fight were allowed to go home. So 22,000 (over two-thirds!) said ‘thanks, but I’m out of here!’ This was in accordance with the command given through Moses in Deut 20:1-8 where those that were fearful, or those that were engaged but not yet married, could go home if they liked[3]. But there was soon to be another test. Out of the 10,000 people that remained, 9700 kneeled down and drank straight from the water where as 300 evidently stood, and used their hands to bring the water to their mouth. God was only interested in the smaller group who were more watchful and alert, and didn’t give themselves over completely to their natural needs.[4] The other thing to note is that the people themselves, all of whom were keen to be used to fight Midian, didn’t even know there was a test going on. Likewise, God tests us, looking for hearts that are truly His, and these tests come in the ordinary events of our daily lives often without our knowing. So in all, 300 people remained… that’s 300 Israelites versus 135,000 Midianites. Israel was outnumbered 450 to 1! Well, outnumbered that is apart from the small fact that Israel had one Almighty God on their side!  

 

Encouragement from a good God!

 

Judges 7:9-15 During that night the LORD said to Gideon, “Get up, go down against the camp, because I am going to give it into your hands. If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah  and listen to what they are saying. Afterward, you will be encouraged to attack the camp.” …Gideon arrived just as a man was telling a friend his dream. “I had a dream,” he was saying. “A round loaf of barley bread came tumbling into the Midianite camp. It struck the tent with such force that the tent overturned and collapsed.” His friend responded, “This can be nothing other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands.” When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he worshiped God.

 

Gideon and his 300 fighters are preparing to attack the camp of 135,000 Midianites. You can imagine what they were thinking... now was not a good time to be walking by sight! But God is incredibly kind here. I like this little passage because it shows the loving-kindness of God in bringing encouragement when His people are placed in a position of utter weakness. I like it because I can vouch for the fact that He still does it! When we need it most God still strengthens our faith through a dream, a verse, a prophetic word or encouragement from a friend. In this instant it came through a dream and its interpretation is clear[5]… God is going to give Israel victory! And look at Gideon’s reaction – He worshipped God! On the basis of that encouragement the deal was as good as done! He could walk forth in faith, even though in the natural the odds were truly against him. Hold on to the promises and encouragement God gives you in whatever form it takes. Because it is from God it is as tangible as experiencing the real thing! 

 

The Strange Weapons of our Warfare!

 

Judges 7:15-18 He returned to the camp of Israel and called out, “Get up! The LORD has given the Midianite camp into your hands.”  Dividing the three hundred men into three companies, he placed trumpets and empty jars in the hands of all of them, with torches inside.  “Watch me,” he told them. “Follow my lead. When I get to the edge of the camp, do exactly as I do. When I and all who are with me blow our trumpets, then from all around the camp blow yours and shout, ‘For the LORD and for Gideon.’”

 

So Gideon divides his 300 men into three companies and gives them their weapons. Put yourself into their position for a sec… You know you’re massively outnumbered. I guess you would be hoping for some new flash sword utilising the latest technology? So you take your place in the line and Gideon hands out the weapons… an empty clay jar, a torch, and a trumpet! Oh thanks a lot Gideon! What are we trying to do? Burst their ear drums? Drive ‘em crazy by playing off key? Well, we’ll get back to these strange weapons that we have been given shortly, but for now it is simply worth noting that with God natural circumstances don’t come into it! When you are weak, then He will prove Himself strong!

 

But We Have This Treasure Within Jars of Clay…

 

Judges 7:19-21 Gideon and the hundred men with him reached the edge of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just after they had changed the guard. They blew their trumpets and broke the jars that were in their hands. The three companies blew the trumpets and smashed the jars. Grasping the torches in their left hands and holding in their right hands the trumpets they were to blow, they shouted, “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!”  While each man held his position around the camp, all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled.

 

Finally, Midian starts to receive their just deserts. As the jars are smashed exposing the light of the torches, and the trumpets are frantically blown on every side of the camp, confusion reigns amongst the Midian forces! God is bringing victory over Midian! From all angles a cry goes out saying ‘a sword for the Lord and for Gideon.’[6] Now, that’s all very well and lovely I’m sure you will agree, but what does it have to do with us right here and right now? You may remember from the first study that Midian means ‘strife’. They stand as a picture of the trouble, trials and well, strife that occurs while living on this planet. Does God still use Midian today?[7] And if so, what clay jars, torches and trumpets do we use to gain victory today? Good questions and I’m glad you asked them. This passage in Judges has its New Testament fulfilment in 2 Corinthians chapter 4. You are the fragile clay jar; Jesus is the light within that jar; and your testimony to His greatness is the trumpet call you are asked to sound! Please read the following passage and think about it…

 

2 Cor 4:5-10 For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

 

God has made His light shine in our hearts. It is the light of the presence of the Lord Jesus within our lives[8]. But this ‘all-surpassing power’ God has placed within jars of clay… us! Fragile human beings – an earthenware vessel which contains the life of God! But how does this light shine forth? God’s light and power is seen in us as cracks appear in the outer jar. Just as Gideon and his army broke their jars to expose the light, so there must be times of weakness which cause a ‘cracking’ of our normal strength. Paul says it was times when he was…‘hard pressed’, ‘perplexed’, and ‘persecuted’. These times when through the power of weakness, ‘the life of Jesus may be revealed in our body’. So Gideon, with his limited followers, armed simply with a jar, a torch, and a trumpet, stormed the Midian camp from every side. 300 Israelites versus 135,000 Midianites! Would the light of God and the trumpet call bring victory? (Yep, the questions just keep getting tougher don’t they?)

 

 Judges 7:22-23 When the three hundred trumpets sounded, the LORD caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords. The army fled to Beth Shittah toward Zererah as far as the border of Abel Meholah near Tabbath. Israelites from Naphtali, Asher and all Manasseh were called out, and they pursued the Midianites.  

 

Yeah, ok, there was victory. I know… you knew that already! We shouldn’t leave this chapter however without emphasising the last ingredient for true victory over Midian. The jars had been smashed, the light of the torches had been exposed, but it was when the trumpet sounded that the Lord brought victory over the Midianite enemy. Blow the trumpet! Not your own trumpet however. A lot of people blow their own trumpet and while they like the sound it gives, it is definitely way off key for the rest of us! Blow the trumpet of God. Look at how the Apostle Paul wrote it in the passage from 2 Corinthians that we have been looking at – ‘For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord.’ The testimony and trumpet call that we sound is about Him, not us. In the midst of difficulty, the real and honest testimony about God is an awesome thing. God will speak through it to draw Christians and non-Christians alike.[9]    

 

Conclusion

 

In the last two studies we have focused on Gideon and what we have called the ‘power of weakness’. We have seen how God delights in using weak vessels to display His strength and faithfulness. We have also seen that this can often come about in the times when Midian (strife and trouble), is around. Like Gideon, it is daunting and scary when faced with overwhelming odds. Trials are never nice when you are in them, otherwise they wouldn’t be called trials! But we can take heart that God has a purpose for them. It is for the strengthening of your faith and the displaying of His life through you! Each crack in the clay vessel brings forth a little more light! The Apostle Paul said

 

2 Cor 12:9-10 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

 

To be honest I can’t say that I ‘delight’ in weaknesses and in hardships. Paul really had learned the reality of what this is all about. But I can look back and say that through difficulties and times of weakness, God has been my strength. And looking back now, I wouldn’t change those times even though at the time they were very difficult. So whether you are currently faced with ‘strife’ or can look back and recall such a time, always remember that God’s power is made perfect in weakness and that God loves to do the Gideon! 

 

 



[1] We spend so much time weighing things up in the natural it’s not funny. But God will use testing situations to bring us to the point of weakness… times when we can no longer rely on the natural. And then we see what God can do! While we are slow to learn, what an awesome thing it is to realize that there is someone with us who is totally and utterly independent from all natural circumstances!

 

[2] This verse in Judges 7:2 reminds me of Deut chapter 8. It is a very interesting chapter dealing with why God allowed trials of different types to occur when He led Israel through the wilderness. You would do well to read, think, and then read and think again. Especially think about Deut 8:2-3, 10-14, 15-17. If you find yourself in a current trial or test then always remember the last part of verse 16!

 

[3] Notice that there is no condemnation for those that are too fearful to fight. In our age, God still looks for people He can use. But at times, fear still prevents us from being used. God does not condemn us over this as He knows where we are at, but it is a missed opportunity to see God move and to grow in our faith. 22,000 of Gideon’s men went home. There wasn’t a word said against them. But what a testimony they missed out on which only the final 300 would have had. So don’t let fear so rule that you miss seeing how God would like to move.

 

[4]  I once heard Peter Thomas, Major Ian Thomas’ son, speak concerning these two tests and he said (very hazy rough quote) ‘God was looking for those that He could use. The first group disqualified themselves from the task (through fear), where as the majority of the second group God disqualified because they were not watchful and ready to be used.’ I personally find this quite convicting…Do I disqualify myself, does God disqualify me, or am I able to be used? I know that I sometimes, because of fear, disqualify myself from being used by God.  

 

[5] The note in my Bible is quite useful here. It says ‘barley bread (rather than wheat bread) aptly represented the poor farmers of Israel, and tents the nomadic Midianites.’ So the little poor common barley bread eaters, the Israelites, were about to destroy the entire Midian camp.’ Well, it’s semi-useful.

 

[6] For those interested, Charles Spurgeon says the following concerning this shout – “Remember that the true war-cry of the Church is Gideon’s watchword, “The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon!” God must do it, it is his own work. But we are not to be idle; instrumentality is to be used—“The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon!” If we only cry, “The sword of the Lord!” we shall be guilty of an idle presumption; and if we shout, “The sword of Gideon!” alone, we shall manifest idolatrous reliance on an arm of flesh: we must blend the two in practical harmony, “The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon!” We can do nothing of ourselves, but we can do everything by the help of our God; let us, therefore, in his name determine to go out personally and serve with our flaming torch of holy example, and with our trumpet tones of earnest declaration and testimony, and God shall be with us, and Midian shall be put to confusion, and the Lord of hosts shall reign for ever and ever. “

 

[7] I kind of fear that I have made the whole problem with Midian sound quite exciting. In reality, it’s not. Times of weakness and uncertainty are very difficult. As I began to prepare this study several weeks ago, my brother and sister in law were having their second child. Shortly after the birth it was found that the child had a very rare and potentially fatal blood condition. They were taken immediately by helicopter to a hospital in another city. As I prayed, I was thanking God for His love and kindness towards them, when I felt Him say to me ‘that will be tested.’ That kind of stopped my praying in its tracks. It’s not that God is not loving and kind towards us, but there are times when He allows trials which could cause us to question His kindness. With the newly born little girl having frequent blood platelet transfusions (and some of those only just in time to save her from haemorrhaging) , it was found that complications from the birth process had caused pressure in the mother’s intestines to increase to the point where the walls of the intestines ruptured in two places. The doctors told my brother that this was again extremely rare and in the cases he knew of, there was a 30 to 70% chance of death. Anyway, so it has been a long haul for them but 6 weeks later they were both able to leave hospital. The awesome thing however is that God was so faithful to them all during the entire difficulty. God has been good to them and my sister in law was able to testify in our church recently of God’s faithfulness, which brought great encouragement and comfort to all those that listened. There is something really powerful when you testify (blow the trumpet of God) in the midst of the strife of Midian!

 

[8] We are called, like Gideon, to let this light shine. The presence of God in our lives should not be hidden but should be allowed to shine forth through our character and actions. Jesus said ‘You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.’
 

[9]  Just a quick note about Moses… Now Moses was a man who knew a little about trials and the like – especially in bringing Israel out of Egypt and through the wilderness. Now I was reading exodus the other day and it said that he testified to Gods goodness through these difficulties to his father in law Jethro. Here it is, Exodus 18:8-12 Moses told his father-in-law about everything the LORD had done to Pharaoh and the Egyptians for Israel’s sake and about all the hardships they had met along the way and how the LORD had saved them. 9 Jethro was delighted to hear about all the good things the LORD had done for Israel in rescuing them from the hand of the Egyptians.  10 He said, “Praise be to the LORD, who rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians and of Pharaoh, and who rescued the people from the hand of the Egyptians.  11 Now I know that the LORD is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.”  12 Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and other sacrifices to God, and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law in the presence of God.’

 

Ok, so it is not such a quick note. But anyway, look at what Jethro’s response was. In verse 9 it says that Jethro ‘delighted’. Other versions say he had joy. Verse 10 shows that it brought praise for God from Jethro. Verse 11 shows that it strengthened Jethro’s faith in the Lord and all that he could do. And finally in verse 12 it made Jethro want to offer something back to God because of His wonderful faithfulness. So shine your light and blow the trumpet! It brings joy, praise, and faith in those that hear. And it can make them desire to offer themselves back to God because of who He is!