When Fewer is More
“Whosoever is fearful and trembling, let him return and depart early from Mount Gilead”
(Judges 7:3 ASV).
by Ken Allison
During the time of the Judges, the people of Israel would, at various times, forget their covenant relationship with Jehovah God, instead of seeking after strange gods. He would then turn them over to the hands of their enemies until they would cry out to Him because of their oppression. Jehovah would then raise up a deliverer to deliver them from the hands of their enemies.
The narrative concerning Gideon begins at just such a time. “And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD: and the LORD delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years” (Judges 6:1).
When we first encounter Gideon, he is threshing wheat in a winepress and an angel of the Lord visits him. He worked in secret so that he can bring into his household the grain which he has harvested. The angel addressed him with these words: “The Lord is with thee thou mighty man of valour” (Judges 6:12). “Mighty man,” at first glance, seems a strange title for a man hiding in a wine vat gleaning a small amount of wheat to keep his household alive. The term “mighty man” is usually reserved for fearless warriors, but we look at the Hebrew definition for “mighty man” (Strong’s H1368) and valour (Strong’s H2428). The combination of “mighty man” and “valour” could be interpreted as a strong man of virtue. Gideon was not an idol worshipper. If he had been, he would be known as a man of Belial (Deuteronomy 13:13).
Gideon was humble, a trait that is needful in all who will serve Jehovah. His humility was displayed when the angel told him that he would be the one to deliver Israel from the Midianites. Gideon responded that his tribe was the least in Manasseh and that he was the least in his father’s household. The angel reassured him that it would be Jehovah’s strength that would give him the victory (Judges 6:13-16). Gideon then asked the angel for a sign and brought him an offering of a young goat, unleavened bread, and broth in a pot (Judges 6:17-19).
Gideon’s offer was remarkable, considering the scarcity of the times and the size of the offering of bread: an ephah of flour. The usual meal offering is a tenth of an ephah (Leviticus 6:20). (What a beautiful picture of full consecration to God.) The angel then instructed him to place the goat and the bread on the rock and pour out the broth upon the ground. The angel then touched the offering with his staff, consuming it in flame. The consumption showed Jehovah’s acceptance of Gideon’s offer. Upon being reassured that he would not die, Gideon then built an altar and named it “Jehovah Is Peace.” The acceptance of the offering reminds us of the peace that we feel when Jehovah accepts our consecration to Him (Judges 6:19-24).
On that very same night, Gideon was to carry out his first covert operation for Jehovah. He took his father’s second-best bull of seven years and tore down the altar of Baal, cutting down the Asherah and sacrificing the bull upon it. Gideon performed it during the night so that he would not be hindered from accomplishing his mission in daylight. The slaughtering of a bull of seven years seems a fitting picture of Christ’s ransom sacrifice.
News of Gideon’s actions traveled quickly, and he came to be in a prominent position in Israel. Some would have him put to death. They presented this news to Joash, Gideon’s father. He responded by asking them if Baal were not capable of fighting his own battles. The result of Gideon’s actions against Baal earned him the title Jerubbaal (Let Baal contend against him), resulting in conversion in the land of Israel and a desire to serve the one God, Jehovah.
The Midianites reacted quickly to counteract the people’s defiance. The number of their force was 135,000 (Judges 8:10). Gideon then blew a trumpet to gather the nation to war. The tribe of the Abiezrites gathered to follow him. Gideon then sent a message to the northern tribes, and they came up to meet him. Blowing the trumpet was lawful for him to do, as we read in Numbers 10:9: “And if ye go to war in your land against the enemy that oppresseth you, then ye shall blow an alarm with the trumpet.” We also have heard the sounding of a trumpet; the sounding of present truth (Revelation 11:15). We, too, are called to battle. Our battle, however, is somewhat different: “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12).
The Sign on the Fleece
Gideon was now in a position of leadership among his fellow Israelites. He asked Jehovah for a sign showing His guidance in the mission at hand. Gideon sought advice by putting a fleece upon the ground overnight. The sign he asked for was that in the morning the coat would be wet from the dew, but the earth would remain dry. God gave him this sign. Gideon then asked for the ground to be damp and the fleece to be dry. This God also performed. Gideon was reassured that the action he was undertaking was for the benefit not only of his clan or sheepfold (wet fleece) but also for the whole land of Israel (damp ground).
This picture reassures us that our actions are correct when we seek guidance through prayer and meditation in God’s word, knowing that our efforts will be in line with God’s plan of salvation, not only for ourselves (wet fleece) but for the whole world of humanity (wet ground). The fleece becoming wet first may suggest development of the “little flock” before the world is to be perfected.
There were 32,000 men who answered Gideon’s call to battle. That was a small number compared to the 135,000 battle-tested warriors of the Midianites. However, the angel of Jehovah had said to Gideon, “Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man” (Judges 6:16).
Jehovah God would now make sure that there would be no doubt that the victory would be of Him. God told Gideon that all those who were afraid could go home, and 22,000 men accepted this offer. Gideon now had only 10,000 men left in his army. Jehovah told Gideon to lead the thirsty men down to the water and observe how they drink the water. He is to keep only those not bowing on their knees, but who brought water to their mouth with their hand, lapping the water like a dog.
The fearful he sent home represent those who hear the gospel call, but after counting the cost (Luke 14:28), return into the world. The 10,000 left represent those who, after counting the cost, go on to a full consecration to God. The final test was a test of water, which represents the truth. The men who were not alert to the enemy and knelt, bowing to drink, represent the great company who are not careful in assimilating the truth.
The men who remained upright, bringing the water to their mouth and lapping like a dog, represent the bride class. The dog is one of the most loyal of domesticated animals. He is always faithful and obedient to do his master’s will, staying alert to predators and protecting his master’s possessions. Loyalty and faithfulness through vigilant obedience is the trait that enables us to be more than overcomers.
Gideon’s next covert operation was to go down to the enemy camp. There he was assured that Jehovah had given the Midianites into his hands. Gideon and his servant overheard one of the sentries telling his companion of a dream he had: a barley loaf that rolled into the camp. The interpretation was that God had given the Midianite camp over to Gideon. He now knew that the victory would be theirs. Barley is associated with Christ; for instance, the firstfruits of the barley harvest represent the raising of Christ from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20, Leviticus 23:10). We seek through prayer and meditation in Jehovah’s word that we are also following Christ and can continue our spiritual battles in full assurance of victory.
Gideon then divided the three hundred men into groups of one hundred, surrounding the Midianites on three sides (and a river on the fourth side). He gave each of the men a trumpet and a torch concealed in a clay pot. The men were to follow Gideon’s lead when he blew the horn. They were to do the same, breaking their vessels of clay and revealing their torches. The reaction to this nighttime attack caused the sleeping Midianites to arise in confusion, thinking three regiments were attacking them. The uncertainty caused the surprised soldiers to turn on each other. Gideon’s band placed strategically around the camp, then drove them down the valley between the mountains and the Jordan River. The rest of Gideon’s men left the tents where they had remained and pursued the remaining portion of the Midianite army south along the Jordan River. The tribes of Naphtali, Asher, and Manasseh then joined in the pursuit. The tribe of Ephraim later joined them in the quest. The battle continued until the Midianites were utterly defeated.
Lessons and Applications
(1) The first trumpet Gideon blew may represent the sounding of the trumpet of present truth.
(2) The blowing of the horns by Gideon’s men may be symbolic of a message to be given yet in the future.
(3) Breaking the vessels of clay represents passing beyond the veil by the feet members at the end of this age, following the final message. The revealing of the torches represents the truth shining forth in this process. Our light shines in sacrificing self for the Lord.
(4) The Midianite army was composed of three different nationalities of people, all of which were descendants of Abraham: the Midianites, the Amalekites, and the children or nations of the east (Arabs). The Midianites were descendants of Midian, son of Keturah (Genesis 25:1,2). The name Midian is a variation of a word meaning brawling or contention. This is a good description of the personality of that old enemy, the dragon, or civil power. The Amalekites, descendants of Amalek, who was a grandson of Esau (Genesis 36:6-12), could represent the beast or Papacy (Genesis 36:8, Esau is Edom).
The children or nations of the east were descendants of Abraham’s concubine (Genesis 25:1-6). Abraham resided in southern Palestine. Just before his death, he gave Isaac the inheritance. He gave gifts to the sons of the concubine and sent them eastward into northern Arabia. The nomadic tribes of this region might represent the false prophet — being descendants of Abraham, they may represent a protestant federation of churches or the Evangelical Alliance. Another possibility is that this could represent Islam. We shall continue to watch and see.