A faith that can’t be tested can’t be trusted. Too often, what people think is faith is really only a “warm fuzzy feeling” about faith or perhaps just “faith in faith
J.G. Stipe said that faith is like a toothbrush: Everybody should have one and use it regularly, but it isn’t safe to use somebody else’s. We can sing loudly about the “Faith of Our Fathers,” but we can’t exercise the faith of our fathers. We can follow men and women of faith and share in their exploits, but we can’t succeed in our own personal lives by depending on somebody else’s faith.
God tests our faith for at least two reasons: first, to show us whether our faith is real or counterfeit, and second, to strengthen our faith for the tasks He’s set before us. I’ve noticed in my own life and ministry that God has often put us through the valley of testing before allowing us to reach the mountain peak of victory. Spurgeon was right when he said that the promises of God shine brightest in the furnace of affliction, and it is in claiming those promises that we gain the victory.
- God tests our faith (Judg. 7:1-8)
The first sifting (vv. 1-3). God tested Gideon’s faith by sifting his army of 32,000 volunteers until only 300 men were left. If Gideon’s faith had been in the size of his army, then his faith would have been very weak by the time God was through with them! Less than 1 percent of the original 32,000 ended up following Gideon to the battlefield. The words of Winston Churchill concerning the RAF in World War II certainly applies to Gideon’s 300: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed to so few by so many.”
God told Gideon why He was decreasing the size of the army: He didn’t want the soldiers to boast that they had won the victory over the Midianites. Victories won because of faith bring glory to God because nobody can explain how they happened.
People who live by faith know their own weakness more and more as they depend on God’s strength. “For when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).
In telling the fearful soldiers to return home, Gideon was simply obeying the law Moses originally gave: “What man is there who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return to his house, lest the heart of his brethren faint like his heart” (Deut. 20:8, nkjv). “The fearful and trembling man God cannot use,” said G. Campbell Morgan. “The trouble today is that the fearful and trembling man insists upon remaining in the army. A decrease that sifts the ranks of the church of men who fear and tremble is a great, a gracious and a glorious gain”
Pride after the battle robs God of glory, and fear during the battle robs God’s soldiers of courage and power. Fear has a way of spreading, and one timid soldier can do more damage than a whole company of enemy soldiers. Fear and faith can’t live together very long in the same heart. Either fear will conquer faith and we’ll quit, or faith will conquer fear and we’ll triumph. John Wesley may have been thinking of Gideon’s army when he said, “Give me a hundred men who fear nothing but sin and love nothing but God, and I will shake the gates of hell!”
The second sifting (vv. 4-8). God put Gideon’s surviving 10,000 men through a second test by asking them all to take a drink down at the river. We never know when God is testing us in some ordinary experience of life. I heard about one minister who always took a drive with a prospective pastoral staff member in the other man’s car, just to see if the car was neat and if the man drove carefully. Whether or not neatness and careful driving habits are always a guarantee of ministerial success is debatable, but the lesson is worth considering. More than one prospective employee has ruined his or her chances for a job while having lunch with the boss, not realizing they were being evaluated. “Make every occasion a great occasion, for you can never tell when somebody may be taking your measure for a larger place.” That was said by a man named Marsden; and I’ve had the quotation, now yellow with age, under the glass on my desk for many years. Pondering it from time to time has done me good.
What significance was there in the two different ways the men drank from the river? Since the Scriptures don’t tell us, we’d be wise not to read into the text some weighty spiritual lesson that God never put there. Most expositors say the men who bowed down to drink were making themselves vulnerable to the enemy, while the 300 who lapped water from their hands stayed alert. But the enemy was four miles away (v. 1), waiting to see what the Jews would do; and Gideon wouldn’t have led his men into a dangerous situation like that.
My assumption is that God chose this method of sifting the army because it was simple, unassuming (no soldier knew he was being tested), and easy to apply. We shouldn’t think that all 10,000 drank at one time, because that would have stretched the army out along the water for a couple of miles. Since the men undoubtedly came to the water by groups, Gideon was able to watch them and identify the 300. It wasn’t until after the event that the men discovered they had been tested.
“There is no restraint to the Lord to save by many or by few (1 Sam. 14:6). Some churches today are mesmerized by statistics and think they’re strong because they’re big and wealthy, but numbers are no guarantee of God’s blessing. Moses assured the Jews that if they would obey the Lord, one soldier could chase a thousand and two would “put ten thousand to flight” (Deut. 32:30).
It is clear from 7:14 that the Midianites knew who Gideon was, and no doubt they were watching what he was doing. I’ve often wondered what the enemy spies thought when they saw the Jewish army seemingly fall apart. Did it make the Midianites overconfident and therefore less careful? Or did their leaders become even more alert, wondering whether Gideon was setting them up for a tricky piece of strategy?
God graciously gave Gideon one more promise of victory:
“By the 300 men that lapped will I save you” (v. 7). By claiming this promise and obeying the Lord’s directions, Gideon defeated the enemy and brought peace to the land for forty years (8:28).
The soldiers who departed left some of their equipment with the 300 men thus each man could have a torch, a trumpet, and a jar—strange weapons indeed for fighting a war.
- God encourages our faith (Judg. 7:9-15)
The Lord wanted Gideon and his 300 men to attack the camp of Midian that night, but first He had to deal with the fear that still persisted in Gideon’s heart. God had already told Gideon three times that He would give Israel victory (6:14, 16; 7:7), and He had reassured him by giving him three special signs: fire from the rock (6:19-21), the wet fleece (6:36-38), and the dry fleece (6:39-40). After all this divine help, Gideon should have been strong in his faith, but such was not the case.
How grateful we should be that God understands us and doesn’t condemn us because we have doubts and fears! He keeps giving us wisdom and doesn’t scold us when we keep asking (James 1:5). Our great High Priest in heaven sympathizes with our weaknesses (Heb. 4:14-16) and keeps giving us more grace (James 4:6). God remembers that we’re only dust (Ps. 103:14) and flesh (78:39).
God encouraged Gideon’s faith in two ways.
God gave Gideon another promise (v. 9). The Lord told Gideon for the fourth time that He had delivered the Midianite host into his hand. (Note the tense of the verb, and see Josh. 6:2.) Although the battle must be fought, Israel had already won! The 300 men could attack the enemy host confident that Israel was the victor.
Some people have the idea that confident, courageous faith is a kind of religious arrogance, but just the opposite is true.
Christians who believe God’s promises and see Him do great things are humbled to know that the God of the universe cares about them and is on their side. They claim no merit in their faith or honor from their victories. All the glory goes to the Lord because He did it all! It’s the unbelieving child of God who grieves the Lord and makes Him a liar (1 John 5:10).
Hope and love are important Christian virtues, but the Holy Spirit devoted an entire chapter in the New Testament—Hebrews 11—to the victories of faith won by ordinary people who dared to believe God and act upon His promises. It may be a cliche to some people, but the old formula is still true: “God says it—I believe it—that settles it!”
God gave Gideon another sign (vv. 10-14). It took courage for Gideon and his servant to move into enemy territory and get close enough to the Midianite camp to overhear the conversation of two soldiers. God had given one of the soldiers a dream, and that dream told Gideon that God would deliver the Midianites into his hand. The Lord had already told Gideon this fact, but now Gideon heard it from the lips of the enemy!
It’s significant that Gideon paused to worship the Lord before he did anything else. He was so overwhelmed by the Lord’s goodness and mercy that he fell on his face in submission and gratitude. Joshua did the same thing before taking the city of Jericho (Josh. 5:13-15), and it’s a good practice for us to follow today. Before we can be successful warriors, we must first become sincere worshipers.
- God honors our faith. (Judg. 7:15-25)
“But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6, nkjv). Faith means more than simply trusting God; it also means seeking God and wanting to please Him. We don’t trust God just to get Him to do things for us. We trust Him because it brings joy to His heart when His children rely on Him, seek Him, and please Him.
How did God reward Gideon’s faith?
God gave him wisdom to prepare the army (7:15-18). Gideon was a new man when he and his servant returned to the Israelite camp. His fears and doubts were gone as he mobilized his small army and infused courage into their hearts by what he said and did. “The Lord has delivered the camp of Midian into your hand,” he announced to the men (v. 15, nkjv). As Vance Havner said, faith sees the invisible (victory in a battle not yet fought) and does the impossible (wins the battle with few men and peculiar weapons).
Gideon’s plan was simple but effective. He gave each of his men a trumpet to blow, a jar to break, and a torch to burn. They would encircle the enemy camp, the torches inside the jars and their trumpets in their hands. The trumpets were rams’ horns (the shofar) such as Joshua used at Jericho, and perhaps this connection with that great victory helped encourage Gideon and his men as they faced the battle. At Gideon’s signal, the men would blow the trumpets, break the pitchers, reveal the lights, and then shout, “The sword of the Lord and of Gideon!” God would do the rest.
Gideon was the example for them to follow. “Watch me…. Follow my lead…. Do exactly as I do” (v. 17, niv). Gideon had come a long way since the day God had found him hiding in the winepress! No longer do we hear him asking “If—why—where?” (6:13) No longer does he seek for a sign. Instead, he confidently gave orders to his men, knowing that the Lord would give them the victory.
It has been well said that the Good News of the Gospel is we don’t have to stay the way we are. Through faith in Jesus Christ, anybody can be changed. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17, nkjv).
Jesus said to Andrew’s brother, “You are Simon [“a hearer”]…. You shall be called Cephas [“a stone”]” (John 1:42, nkjv). “You are—you shall be!” That’s good news for anybody who wants a new start in life. God can take a weak piece of clay like Simon and make a rock out of him! God can take a doubter like Gideon and make a general out of him!
God gave him courage to lead the army (vv. 19-22). Gideon led his small army from the Spring of Harod (“trembling”) to the Valley of Jezreel, where they all took their places around the camp. At Gideon’s signal, they all blew their rams’ horns, broke the jars, and shouted, “The sword of the Lord and of Gideon!” Finding themselves surrounded by sudden light and loud noises, the Midianites assumed that they were being attacked by a large army, and the result was panic. The Lord intervened and put a spirit of confusion in the camp, and the Midianites began to kill each other. Then they realized that the safest thing to do was flee. Thus they took off on the caravan route to the southeast with the Israelite army pursuing.
God gave him opportunity to enlarge the army (vv. 23-25). It was obvious that 300 men couldn’t pursue thousands of enemy soldiers, so Gideon sent out a call for more volunteers. I’m sure that many of the men from the original army of 32,000 responded to Gideon’s call, and even the proud tribe of Ephraim came to his aid. To them was given the honor of capturing and slaying Oreb (“raven”) and Zeeb (“wolf”), the two princes of Midian. The story of Gideon began with a man hiding in a winepress (6:11), but it ended with the enemy prince being slain at a winepress.
Gideon’s great victory over the Midianites became a landmark event in the history of Israel, not unlike the Battle of Waterloo for Great Britain, for it reminded the Jews of God’s power to deliver them from their enemies. The day of Midian was a great day that Israel would never forget (Ps. 83:11; Isa. 9:4; 10:26).
The church today can also learn from this event and be encouraged by it. God doesn’t need large numbers to accomplish His purposes, nor does He need especially gifted leaders. Gideon and his 300 men were available for God to use, and He enabled them to conquer the enemy and bring peace to the land. When the church starts to depend on “bigness”—big buildings, big crowds, big budgets—then faith becomes misplaced, and God can’t give His blessing. When leaders depend on their education, skill, and experience rather than in God, then God abandons them and looks for a Gideon.
The important thing is for us to be available for God to use just as He sees fit. We may not fully understand His plans but we can fully trust His promises; and it’s faith in Him that gives the victory.
To view other posts, about Gideon, see: How to Fight Against Fear, God Will Test You or We Can Be Transformed By God.
Message Audio/Video and Outline: https://upwards.church/watch-now/leander-campus-videos
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Sources: Bible Exposition Commentary (BE Series) – Old Testament – The Bible Exposition Commentary – History.
Life Application Bible Study Notes