Crash! Clamor! Trumpet blasts jolted the Midianite army from their sleep.
Stunned and confused by the chaos of sound and lights, the Midianites scrambled for their weapons. In the darkness and confusion, the soldiers panicked, thinking they were outnumbered.
God caused each man to believe that his comrade was an Israelite. Midianite clashed sword with Midianite, while others fled for their lives. They used their swords to provide a way of escape, killing their fellow soldiers by mistake.
“We’re under attack! The camp is under attack!”
Seeing their camp surrounded by torch lamps on three sides, the Midianites thought tens of thousands of Israelite soldiers were about to swoop down upon them.
The groggy Midianites sprang up, frightened by the sound of the trumpet blasts, which they knew was the signal for war. Those who did not turn their swords on one another fled.
“Israel is about to overtake us—we’re all doomed!”
In reality it was only 300 Israelite soldiers, led by Gideon.
Gideon then organized soldiers from the tribes of Naphtali, Asher and all of Manasseh to pursue the retreating Midianite army.
Soon, God had granted victory to the Israelites. And after defeating the retreating armies, the Israelites cried for Gideon to be their king. He told them to instead “serve the Eternal.”
But how did Gideon get to this point—having the faith to lead an army of 300 against the Midianite hordes? What qualities allowed God to use him as a leader?
In the village of Ophrah, in the territory of Manasseh, lived Gideon, who was threshing wheat in a winepress. Normally, this was done by using cattle to tread the wheat on a threshing floor. But Gideon did so with a winepress because he feared the Midianites. He knew that they might come at any moment and take away his wheat. Gideon and his family desperately needed this crop, for there was very little wheat left to harvest.
For seven years, God allowed Israel to suffer under the brutal hand of the Midianites and their allies of wandering nations because they did not obey Him. In fear, the Israelites hid in caves.
Gideon worked behind a tree so as not to be seen. As he raced to get the wheat ready so he could hide it from the Midianites, he did not notice a stranger had sat beneath the tree. The stranger appeared to be a handsome, strong-looking man who wore fine clothing, clean and crisp. He definitely did not look like he had been living in a dirty cave.
The stranger said to him, “The Eternal is with you, Gideon, you mighty man of valor!”
Struck by the high quality and boldness of the stranger’s appearance, Gideon wondered if he was in the presence of someone important.
Gideon replied, “My lord, if the Eternal is with us, then why are we cowering in caves like wild animals? Why do we flee at the first sight of Midianite troops? Where are all of God’s miracles, which our fathers told us about—how God brought us out of Egypt and freed us from the bonds of slavery? The Eternal has forsaken us; He has delivered my people into the hands of the Midianites.”
Gideon had grown tired of living in daily fear, feeling helpless and without hope.
The stranger boldly said, “The Eternal is with you. Go in His might and you shall deliver Israel from the Midianites! Have I not sent you?”
Gideon suddenly realized that he was speaking with the Messenger of the Eternal, who would later be known as Jesus Christ.
“But how can I deliver Israel?” Gideon said. “My family is the least in the tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s household. There’s nothing special about me.”
Unlike most people, Gideon did not think that he was better than others. This meant that he had the right kind of attitude, the kind that God looks for when choosing His leaders. God rejects those who think they are greater than others—He knows that such vain people will not fear and obey Him.
Out of the tribes of Israel, Gideon’s clan, the Abiezrites, was the smallest in Manasseh, which is why Gideon did not think he was great or special.
The Messenger said, “I will be with you, Gideon. I shall enable you to conquer the Midianites as though they were only one man” (Jdg. 6:11-19).
Like Moses before him, Gideon needed to be reassured that God would truly work through him. Gideon could not yet bring himself to believe that God would choose to use someone like him to deliver Israel. So Gideon asked for a sign.
“Please stay here where you are. I will be right back and bring You an offering.”
The Messenger graciously agreed, knowing that men need His help to walk by faith and not by sight (II Cor. 5:7).
Gideon quickly gathered the best that he had, a young goat, unleavened bread and broth in a pot—placing it on a rock as directed by the Messenger.
When the Messenger of the Eternal took His staff and touched the offering, fire shot out from the rock, totally consuming the offering!
Amazed by this miracle, Gideon stood in awe. It showed that God had accepted His offering. Gideon turned to speak with the Messenger of the Eternal, but He had disappeared.
Suddenly realizing that this truly was God’s Messenger, Gideon feared that he did not pay God’s Messenger proper respect.
As he worried, the voice of God spoke to him: “Peace be with you, Gideon. Do not fear. You shall not die.”
Thankful and filled with awe, godly fear and respect, Gideon built an altar to God. He called it “The-Eternal-Is-Peace.” In the wonderful world tomorrow, all people will learn that living God’s way always brings peace (Jdg. 6:20-24).
That same night, God spoke to Gideon again. He said, “Take ten of your trusted servants and take your father’s seven-year-old bull with you. Destroy the altar of Baal, which belongs to your father, and chop down the carved image of wood next to it. Cut up the wood and build an altar for Me on the summit of this stronghold. Then use the wood to burn the bull upon My altar.”
Knowing the task would be dangerous, Gideon decided to carry out God’s instructions under the cover of nightfall. He took ten of his family’s most trusted servants and did as the Eternal had commanded.
The next morning, the people of the village were horrified to see what had been done to Baal’s altar. They also noticed that the wooden image of the Canaanite goddess Asherah, which stood next to the altar, was missing. The townspeople were shocked and angered.
“Who did this evil deed? Who would be wicked enough to disrespect the holy things of Baal and Asherah?”
Soon, the blame fell on Gideon—and the crowd wanted his life.
Joash, Gideon’s father, stood up for his son: “Will you fight Baal’s battles for him? If Baal is a god, then let him fight for himself.”
The accusers paused, exchanging nervous and embarrassed looks with one another. If they insisted on executing Gideon, it would appear that their pagan god was too weak to deal with a physical man. So they backed away from their accusations and let Gideon be.
News of Gideon’s “crime” reached the ears of the Midianites, Amalekites and the other desert wanderers. Fearing they had a rebellion on their hands, the leaders of these pagan hordes set up camp in the Jezreel valley.
Hearing about the approaching threat, Gideon asked God to show him what to do.
God sent the power of His Spirit to give Gideon the courage and boldness to meet the enemy head-on. Wasting no time, Gideon blew the trumpet alarm, calling for his clan, the Abiezrites, to assemble.
Once they had gathered before him, Gideon addressed them with a rousing speech: “For seven years, we have cowered under the threat of the Midianites and their ruthless allies. They have preyed upon our people like locusts. The time has come for our oppression to end.”
“But how?” someone shouted.
“By turning back to God—by fearing and obeying Him, and putting the Eternal first in our lives, as our fathers did in the past. God is the reason why Israel had so much success over their enemies, years ago. God will fight for us again, IF we put Him first. But if you continue to bow down to Baal, Israel is doomed. Baal cannot save us. Neither can the other false gods of the land. But the Eternal can!”
With one voice, the Abiezrites agreed to follow Gideon into battle.
Then Gideon sent messengers throughout Manasseh and the neighboring tribes of Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali. And these tribes responded to Gideon’s call to fight (Jdg. 6:33-35).
As Gideon and his leaders examined terrain maps and discussed battle plans, men whom he had sent out to spy on the Midianites’ camp came back with their report: “The enemy has amassed an army so large, it seems like a swarm of locusts. The Midianites and their allies are spread out as far as the eye can see” (Jdg. 7:12).
The report shook Gideon’s faith; he began to have doubts. “Is God truly using me?” he wondered to himself. “I have never commanded an army before. And I come from the smallest clan in my tribe—surely God wants someone greater than me to deliver Israel. After all, who am I?”
At this point, Gideon did not understand that God can use anyone to lead His people—as long as that person is humble and yielded to His divine will.
When he was alone, Gideon prayed to the Eternal. “Almighty God, if You will deliver Israel through me, as You have said, then please prove this to me with a miraculous sign. I shall leave a fleece of wool on the threshing floor overnight. Tomorrow morning, if there is dew on the fleece but the ground is completely dry, then I will know that you shall use me to deliver Israel.”
God has often had to encourage His servants, who sometimes lack the faith to go forward. So the Eternal was very patient and merciful to Gideon.
The next morning, Gideon discovered that the fleece was soaked with dew—in fact, he was able to wring out an entire bowl of water from it. Yet the ground had stayed dry. God had answered Gideon’s request.
Though encouraged by this miraculous sign, Gideon’s faith still was not strong enough. So he prayed to God again: “O Eternal God, please do not be angry with me. Just let me ask of You one more sign: I will leave the fleece on the threshing floor overnight again. When tomorrow morning comes, let the fleece be dry but the ground be wet with dew. Then I will know that You are truly using me.”
Again, God did as Gideon requested. The next morning, Gideon anxiously awoke to find that the ground was soaked with dew while the fleece was completely dry!
Gideon was so encouraged by this second miracle that he found the faith to do what had to be done (Jdg. 6:36-40).
Since God had patiently allowed Gideon to test him, God decided that it was time to test Gideon. God often tests His servants to discover their weaknesses and to build His holy, righteous character in them.
Though the Israelites were already outnumbered—32,000 Israelites against “swarms” of enemies, God decided to shrink the size of the army. This was done to test Gideon’s faith, as well as to prove, without a doubt, that God was the only reason Israel would succeed.
Soon, 32,000 soldiers became 10,000. But that was still too many. Again the army was paired down—with only 300 men remaining to fight.
Each time Gideon was asked to send more troops home, he complied—putting his faith in the Eternal rather than physical warriors.
God spoke to Gideon again: “Get ready to attack, for I have delivered the Midianites into your hands.”
Believing God would bring victory to the Israelites, Gideon knew he still had to do his part. He armed the 300 men with clay pitchers, torches and trumpets, later to be used to awaken the Midianites in frenzied confusion. And they set out in the dark of night to claim the victory God had promised.
Gideon was able to be used by God because he had a humble attitude and did not think too highly of himself.
To read more on how God can use a person with a meek and contrite attitude, and what God can accomplish through them, read the entire account of Gideon’s life in Judges 6-8.