Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Apr 9 2019 - Judges 7:1-25 – The defeat of Midian

Gideon had been chosen by God to deliver Israel from their Midianite oppressors. So he gathered together an army of 32,000 men. But the Lord told him that his army was too large – even though the Midianites are described as being as countless in number as the sand on the seashore (see Judges 7:12). With an army of 32,000 the Israelites might just have been tempted to boast that they had won the victory by their own power.

So began the process of whittling down Gideon's army to the size of a school outing. All manner of explanations have been given for the way in which the majority are sent home, but the simple explanation is the one given in the text; God is determined to defeat the Midianites by his own power – "Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty" (Zechariah 4:6). The reduction of the numbers to a ridiculously small band of 300 was not to isolate the best soldiers but to demonstrate God's power to give victory to his people despite their weakness.

Gideon was given encouragement when, directed by the Lord, he overheard someone in the Midianite camp recounting his dream concerning a large barley loaf that rolled down the hill and flattened a tent. His companion responded by saying, "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" (7:14). Whether this answer is given in fear or in jest we are not told, but it is evident that the Midianites have heard of Gideon and of his plans to attack their camp. One can assume therefore that they were not entirely unprepared for battle.

Gideon's tactics involved surrounding the Midianite camp during the cover of darkness. Then, at midnight, they caused as much confusion as possible with blazing torches, trumpets and shouts – reminiscent in some ways of the fall of Jericho. In their panic and confusion the Midianites end up fighting one another in the darkness. Those that managed to flee the camp were picked off by the cordon of Gideon's men.

The surrounding tribes of Israel were then recruited to mop up the scattering Midianite army and put them, and particularly their leaders, to the sword. In this way, the Midianites were utterly defeated.

The story of Gideon teaches us that God does not require vast armies to accomplish his purposes: he did not require large numbers to defeat the Midianites; he did not require large numbers of disciples after Christ's resurrection to transform the Mediterranean world of the first century; he does not require overwhelming human power today to extend his kingdom. God accomplishes his purposes, "Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty" (Zechariah 4:6).

"And now it is our turn... It is our turn to rediscover the beautiful, dangerous, compelling idea that a group of people, surrendered to God and to each other, really can change the world." (Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis, p.164)

Great God, forgive me when I am so overwhelmed with a sense of my own inadequacy that I retreat from the work of your kingdom. Give me the faith of Gideon who went out against a great army with only 300 men knowing that he was going with your promise, your presence and your power. Help me to know that Christ has already secured the victory over the kingdom of this world and that there can be no doubt concerning the ultimate triumph of his kingdom.

Give me the faith which can remove
and sink the mountain to a plain;
give me the childlike praying love,
which longs to build your house again.

Peter Misselbrook