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Gideon . . . pitched beside the wall of Harod.
I. The Lord called him to fight. The world must see, now and then, the gigantic crimes of a mere man turned back by rival arms upon both idol and idolater, and that by the voice of the Almighty. Well said Victor Hugo, “Napoleon had been impeached before the Infinite.” The groaning of the bond, man in our own land entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. Arrogance, lust, and greed combined to challenge the eternal laws, and thousands went down together into silence, till we could learn the unwelcome fact that God is no respecter of persons. But out of the awful strife came praying souls, and a regeneration in the sources of influence and power. God is known to speak in the crisis, in the hero--yes, even in the rebel.
II. The Lord called Gideon to success. We may notice the conditions.
1. Careful preparation. There must be selection when daring deeds are to be performed. This is a principle in the Divine government as in the human. God husbands and adapts His resources, though seeming to scatter His treasures lavishly. Have you sifted out the real from the visionary and found the abiding truths which will not fail you in that hour of trial which must come to all living? They may be ominously reduced from all that promised well, as was Gideon’s army, but, like it, be enough.
2. Obedience. The open heart learns soon and plainly the Divine will. As, amid all the roar of Niagara, the practised ear catches the sweet notes of birds singing in the grove above, so, in the confusion of tongues, the willing soul may hear the clear voice of its Maker, instructing, guiding, cheering.
3. Humility. Nothing develops a nation’s pride like military success. Parade of troops, battalion after battalion in all the splendour of equipment and might of bearing, satisfies the popular ideals of greatness and strength. War is still an honourable trade, and, while it is, meekness will be despised. But, none the less, the King of kings “pours contempt upon princes, and weakeneth the strength of the mighty.”
4. Faith. Belief in the need, the call, the power, the method, the victory of Jehovah, was all-important with Gideon. (Sermons by the Monday Club.)
I. The Lord fighting for and with His people. God is the author of war, and He causes men to fight, in the same way that law is the author of sin and causes men to become transgressors. Were there no law there would be no transgression, and were there no God there would be no conflict of righteousness with unrighteousness. War is God’s whip for sinful nations; it is His rod of iron with which He will dash them in pieces as a potter’s vessel. There is a Divine retribution following nations, and sure to overtake them if they are workers of iniquity. And there is a Divine deliverance waiting for nations and for individuals, sure to come when they repent of their evil ways and cry unto God for His salvation.
II. The army made ready. When God has some great work to be done, or some hard battle to be fought, He chooses the men who are best able to fight or work.
1. The fearful were suffered to go back. Moral courage is a Christian virtue. Men are commanded to have it. Only “be strong and of a good courage.” “Be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee.” When God is with a man he has nothing to fear. Even Grecian and Roman heroes, when they showed great courage and wrought brilliant exploits, believed themselves to be acting under the influence of a Divine inspiration. It was the power of some god in their arms, they thought, that enabled them to smite great blows; and it was the courage of some god in their hearts that enabled them to face undaunted the most terrible foes.
2. The next process was to rid the army of the rash and unreliable. Audacity, no less than want of courage, unfits men for the highest service. Among all the qualities needed in a soldier of Jesus Christ, among all traits of character essential to true manliness, none perhaps is more important than a certain command of one’s self, a certain keeping of the body under and holding back of adventurous impulse. Those whom God will lead to victory must be “steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.”
III. The three hundred called to great exploits (Judges 7:7). Here is the key to human history. Common, ease-loving men are, by their own wish, excused from glory, from heroic deeds, lasting renown, and high fellowship with God in fighting the great battles of humanity and righteousness. They are permitted to return to their own places. They sink down into obscurity and oblivion. Three hundred heroes are chosen to be their deliverers and to smite for them the host of Midianites. Side by side with Leonidas and his three hundred Spartans, the immortal heroes of Thermopylae, will we place Gideon and his three hundred Hebrews, the immortal heroes of Mount Gilboa, asking for them no greater glory than belongs to the Grecian company, and believing that they are worthy to stand together as the immortal six hundred. (Edward B. Mason.)
The best work of the world done by the few
When did God ever complain of having too few people to work with? I have heard Him say, “Where two or three are gathered together in My name there am I.” I have heard Him say, “One shall chase a thousand, and two shall put ten thousand to flight,” But I never heard Him say, “You must get more men, or I cannot do this work; you must increase the human forces, or the Divine energy will not be equal to the occasion.” I hear Him say in the case before us, “Gideon, the people are too many by some thousands. If I were to fight the Midianites with so great a host, the people would say, after the victory had been won, ‘My own hand hath saved me.’” The work of the world has always been done by the few; inspiration was held by the few; wealth is held by the few; poetry is put into the custody of but a few; Wisdom is guarded in her great temple but by a few; the few saved the world; ten men would have saved the cities of the plain; Potiphar’s house is blessed because of Joseph; and that ship tossed and torn upon the billows of the Adriatic shall be saved because there is an apostle of God on board. Little child, you may be saving all your house--your father, your mother, your brothers, and your sisters. (J. Parker, D. D.)
And was this the upshot of all the talk, and preparations, and professions they had made? Who more eager apparently to rush to battle, who more loud in their bravados, than the very cravens who now slunk, with so cowardly a heart, from the shock of actual collision with the foe? We may readily suppose that Gideon, while making his proclamation in accordance with the Divine command, would not fail at the same time to remind them of the positive promise which he had received of the Lord, that He would be with them, and of the remarkable signs whereby that promise had been sealed. Nor in all probability would he neglect to point out to them the deplorable consequences which would certainly ensue to themselves and their families in the event of a defeat. And, if so, it might have been expected that all of them with one accord, would, in the chivalric spirit of high-toned patriotism, have scorned the base idea of deserting their colours, especially at such a crisis. What a mortification must this defection have been to Gideon! Yet, mindful of our own weakness and love of carnal ease, let us not too rashly or censoriously judge these men. It were only fair to take into consideration how surely bondage and subjection to a foreign yoke tend to crush the spirit of a people, to degrade and lower their mortal tone down to utter effeminacy. Nor ought it to be forgotten that a large proportion of these men had for some time past cast off their allegiance to the one living and true God, and that it is not improbable that conscience, which makes cowards of the bravest, might have had something to do with the retrograde movement which they so rapidly adopted. At the same time, however it may be palliated or accounted for, there can be no doubt that the conduct of which they were guilty was extremely reprehensible, and that it affords fitting occasion for just animadversion on the conduct of too many professed followers of Christ, who are ready enough to cast in their lot with Him so long as there is no immediate appearance of suffering or of sacrifice for His name’s sake, but who, the moment that real danger stares them in the face, take the earliest opportunity of slinking away and renouncing the principles to which they formerly in words adhered. Such disciples are totally unworthy of the name. They are not good soldiers of the Cross. They are devoid of the sterling principle which is essential to constancy and success in the Christian warfare--mere “carpet knights,” who “make a fair show in the flesh,” flourishing their trumpets and brandishing their weapons when there is no foe with whom to contend, but bating their breath and altering their whole tone and demeanour whenever circumstances occur which put their sincerity to the proof. (W. W. Duncan, M. A)
The people . . . are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands.
Pride hurled Satan from heaven, and turned angels into devils. Pride drove Adam out of paradise, and barred its gates against his posterity. Pride of intellect, pride of family, pride of wealth, pride of power, are adamantine chains, which bind men in fetters of sin. Boasting and vainglory are inherent to fallen nature. Angels, archangels, and cherubim, who stand in the unveiled presence of Jehovah, are the most humble of God’s creatures the most conscious of their own unworthiness. But fallen man ever boasts of his sufficiency, his goodness, his wisdom, his power. He will not believe that he can do nothing, and that God must do everything for his deliverance. Now, pride is a blind sin. It is an illogical sin. It has lost all sound logic in theology. Let man help grace to save him, and what would be the result? Why, just in proportion that man helped God he would “vaunt himself” against God. He would claim a share of God’s glory. Now, God will not give His glory to another. He is jealous of His own honour, majesty, glory.
I. We have a remarkable instance of the Lord’s jealousy of His own honour and glory. Salvation is essentially for the happiness of God’s people, But it is supremely for the glory of God. The Lord gives the victory to Israel as a free gift. Now, the salvation of the sinner is just as much a free gift as was Gideon’s victory. There is no more fitness in the creature to win heaven than there was power in these three hundred to win the victory. We are as powerless to help ourselves, as were they. Our calling, repentance, adoption, sanctification, are a free gift.
II. Now mark Man’s tendency to vaunt himself against the Lord. We may truly say of every man what Joash said to Amaziah, “Thine heart lifteth thee up to boast.” Vainglory is natural to the human heart. In the fable of the ancients the fly that sat on the axletree of the chariot-wheel gave out that she made the glorious dust of the chariot. Sin is proud. It exalts itself at the expense of God’s glory. When, therefore, the Lord visits the sinner with grace, grace is at once opposed by pride. “I will save thee,” saith the Lord. “Be it so,” saith the sinner. But “I will save thee freely,” saith the Lord. “Freely?” saith the sinner. “But what am I to do? Am I to do nothing? Are my good works to go for nothing? God! I thank thee that I am not so bad as some other men are!” Thus pride speaks, and would vaunt itself against the Lord, and say, “Mine own hand hath saved me, or at least helped to save me.” Do any doubt this? Think you that we are drawing colours too deep? Look for a moment--
1. At man’s notion respecting some good thing still remaining in his heart, notwithstanding his fall. How few really believe in the total depravity of the natural heart!
2. Look at man’s notion respecting the only ground of the sinner’s acceptance before God. The vaunting of the first-named evil is against God the Holy Ghost; boasting that He need not do everything in the soul. This vaunting is against God the Son, boasting that He need not do everything for the soul.
III. the means by which the Lord humbled man and exalted Himself.
1. The reduction of external means may be God’s way of giving success. Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity. Be not discouraged, then, if God cut down numerical strength. What if 32,000 be reduced to 300? “If God be for us, who can be against us?” “What are all the hosts of Midian to the Lord?”
2. The Lord thus manifests His tender care for His own people. The ungodly, like the Midianites, count the people of God “as sheep for the slaughter.” They think they can swallow them up as in a moment. But they forget that the Lord regards the cause of His people as His own. They forget that He hath said, “He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of Mine eye.” Oh! how sensitive is God to all injuries done wrongfully to the least of His saints! (G. A. Rogers, M. A.)
Whosoever is fearful and afraid, let him return.--
The trial of Gideon’s army by the proclamation
Gideon has now obtained the necessary assurance of God’s favour; he takes courage to blow the trumpet, and to collect the forces of the various tribes, if haply, after all the strength he can procure, Israel may be able to stand before those fearful enemies, the Midianites. We may conceive Gideon in such a season of anxiety, hoping that more hearts will be stirred up for the arduous contest, when lo, the Lord says unto Gideon, “The people are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands.” What a majesty there is in these words! In consequence of this intimation, Gideon’s faith is to be tried by the lessening of his army upon the very eve of battle; and the courage of the army is to be tried, that it may be seen that “with God it is a little thing to save by many or by few.” As this trial respected Gideon, it was no slight one. To see, on the one hand, the Midianites “as grasshoppers for multitude,” and, on the other hand, twenty-two thousand turning their backs on their enemies at the very first sound of the trumpet, must have been a fearful sight indeed. It must have driven him for consolation to God’s own promise. We may see in it a picture of the outward and visible Church of Christ militant here on earth. Nay, to make the picture more striking still, it may be called a representation of the various congregations of which that outward and visible Church is composed. What is a congregation of professing Christians but an army enlisted under the banner of the Cross; soldiers engaged to contend with one common army, which would hold them in a bondage worse than Midian’s? And what is every faithful minister of the gospel but the leader of this host, the Gideon of the army? And what is the preaching of the gospel but the “proclamation” which calls our people to the battle against the Lord’s enemies and theirs? We can tell them of a better sacrifice than Gideon’s having been accepted on their behalf; we can point to “the Angel of the covenant” Himself, and say, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” We can testify that the enemy against whom we are called to fight has been already vanquished; that the Captain of our salvation has “led captivity captive,” that He has “overcome death, and him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.” Did Gideon represent the “dew” upon the fleece and on the earth, as an encouragement to his followers? We can testify that the very “dew” of the heavenly favour and blessing is even now poured out abundantly on the means of grace, moistening many a dry fleece and fructifying many a barren spot; and that the word of prophecy and promise is as sure as ever, that “Godwill be as the dew to His Israel.” And if we have greater encourage-ments than Gideon to offer, we have also more fearful warnings to hold out. We call to remembrance the baptismal vow by which each is bound to “fight the good fight of faith.” We tell our hearers of the awful consequences of being taken captive by the enemy. It may be asked, “Is it possible that, with such tremendous consequences hanging on the battle, men should not answer to the call? Alas! so it is. The spirit that is in them is one of cowardly inactivity, and it “cleaveth unto the dust.” They need a new heart and a new spirit to be put into them before they will enter upon the warfare against sin and Satan, a heart actuated by the principle (the only constraining principle) of love. In verse 34. of the former chapter we read, “But the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon,” and then “he blew the trumpet.” So the same Spirit must come upon him that leads, and upon them that follow, before the gospel trumpet will be blown effectually. This trumpet we would blow to-day. We blow it in the ears of those who, like Gideon’s army, appear to be all equally “on the Lord’s side”; but “the Lord knoweth them that are His.” Gideon’s proclamation, too, shall be ours: “Whosoever is fearful and afraid, let him return, and depart from Mount Gilead.” It is right to sound this proclamation, that men may “count the cost.” If we speak of religion as a life of enjoyment, we testify of it also that it is a life of self-denial. But if “the Spirit of the Lord” come upon those who hear this “proclamation,” then these apparent contradictions will be reconciled, the seeming mysteries will be all made plain; and it will be understood that Christ has a yoke to be borne by His people, but it is easy; that He has a burden to be carried by them, but it is light; that He has a service for them to engage in, but it is perfect freedom. Depending upon “the Spirit of God” to make known these “things of God,” we are to set before you good and evil, bitter and sweet, life and death, and then to say, “Choose you this day.” Now, if the whisperings of men’s consciences could be heard in the pulpit, as they are heard in heaven, what reply, I ask you, would yours be found to make to this appeal? If the motion of the body correspond with that of the mind, would there be none discovered among us “departing from Mount Gilead”? Would there be no man found to steal away from the spiritual battle through fear? Let conscience judge. Or if the reasons which urged the “fearful” to depart were to be given in as each left the field, what would they present? One is “afraid” that the service of Christ is too austere; it requires too many privations. He is unwilling to renounce a sin he loves. Another is “afraid” of being ridiculed or despised for entering decidedly on a religious course of life. He is ashamed of Jesus. A third is “afraid” of being “righteous overmuch.” Tell me, is the soldier “afraid“ of being thought too zealous when fighting in his country’s cause? Is the patriot “afraid” of being thought to love his native land too much when called upon to act in defence of its laws or its liberty? Time would fail to enumerate all the fears of the faint-hearted. Some are “afraid” of sacrificing their worldly subsistence. “What is a man profited, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Others “depart from Mount Gilead” for fear of persecution. When we exhort them as soldiers of the Cross, they listen perhaps to our exhortation; when we tell them of a warfare to be accomplished, they hearken possibly to the discourse; when we point out the enemy, all appear outwardly to be ready to engage; but when we say, “Come now, and testify by your lives that you are in earnest in your profession, that you mean what you say when you declare without reserve, “Here we offer and present unto Thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls, and bodies!“ how many depart! how few remain! We close with a word of encouragement to those who still keep their post in the field of battle. To such we say, “Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armour of God,” etc. (F. Elwin.)
A sifting among the defenders of the faith
The men who had hastily snatched their fathers’ swords and pikes of which they were half-afraid represent to us certain modern defenders of Christianity--those who carry edged weapons of inherited doctrine with which they dare not strike home. The great battle-axes of reprobation, of eternal judgment, of Divine severity against sin once wielded by strong hands, how they tremble and swerve in the grasp of many a modern dialectician! The sword of the old creed, that once, like Excalibar, cleft helmets and breastplates through, how often it maims the hands that try to use it, but want alike the strength and the cunning. Too often we see a wavering blow struck that draws not a drop of blood nor even dents a shield, and the next thing is that the knight has run to cover behind some old bulwark, long riddled and dilapidated. In the hands of these unskilled fighters, too well armed for their strength, the battle is worse than lost. They become a laughing-stock to the enemy, an irritation to their own side. It is time there was a sifting among the defenders of the faith, and twenty and two thousand went back from Gilead. Is the truth of God become mere tin or lead that no new sword can be fashioned from it, no blade of Damascus prim and keen? Are there no gospel armourers fit for the task? Where the doctrinal contest is maintained by men who are not to the depth of their souls, sure of the creeds they found on, by men who have no vision of the severity of God and the meaning of redemption, it ends only in confusion to themselves and those who are with them. (R. A. Watson, M. A.)
Backing out of God’s service
We have here a striking evidence of the different estimate men make of danger and hard work at a distance and at hand. The large numbers of the Christian army are singularly made up--are made up by those who are bold in intention, brave at home, but cowards in the field; they answer, or seem to answer, God’s summons at first, but take the earliest opportunity of backing out of their engagements. Many persons, when you speak to them of this and that useful undertaking, seem quite to enjoy the prospect of engaging in it, promise their services, and actually appear at the rendezvous; but the actual sight of the destitution, the disease, the ignorance, the incivility, the lying and fraudulent selfishness with which they must cope, quite frightens them, and they avail themselves of the first plausible opening to escape. And it is better they should do so, for by remaining, their faint-heartedness would be contagious, and unnerve their comrades. Every one knows how easy it is to work alongside of a cheery, bright, hopeful spirit; how difficult to bear up against the continual complaint and fear and wretchedness of the cowardly. Such, therefore, God rejects from His army (Marcus Dods, D. D.)
Why were the fearful dismissed
Because fear is contagious; and, in undisciplined armies like Gideon’s, panic, once started, spreads swiftly, and becomes frenzied confusion. The same thing is true in the work of the Church to-day. Who that has had much to do with guiding its operations has not groaned over the dead weight of the timid and sluggish souls, who always see difficulties and never the way to get over them? And who that has had to lead a company of Christian men has not often been ready to wish that he could sound out Gideon’s proclamation, and bid the fearful and afraid take away the chilling encumbrance of their presence, and leave him with thinned ranks of trusty men? Cowardice, dressed up as cautious prudence, weakens the efficiency of every regiment in Christ’s army. Another reason for getting rid of the fearful is that fear is the opposite of faith, and that therefore, where it is uppermost the door by which God’s power can enter to strengthen is closed. Not that faith must be free of all admixture of fear, but that it must subdue fear, if a man is to be God’s warrior, fighting in His strength. Many a tremor would rock the hearts of the ten thousand who remained, but they so controlled their terror that it did not over come their faith. We do not need, for our efficiency in Christ’s service, complete exemption from fear, but we do need to make the psalmist’s resolve ours: “I will trust, and not be afraid.” Terror shuts the door against the entrance of the grace which makes us conquerors, and so fulfils its own forebodings; faith opens the door, and so fulfils its own confidences. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The people are yet too many; bring them down unto the water.--
The trial of Gideon’s army by the water
As Gideon took his men to the water and tried them there, so we would bring your heart and conscience to the spiritual test which the subject may be understood to signify. Are you a self-indulgent Christian? The two terms have no connection with each other. If God discard the “fearful,” will He retain the “carnal”? If He dismiss those who are so cowardly that they dare not enter upon a profession of His religion, will He bear with those who have the audacity to live in the disgrace of it? To affect to serve God one day and really to serve divers lusts and passions another; to pretend to be one of “Christ’s Church militant here upon earth,” and yet actually to make no resistance to the enemy; this is only showing that instead of being, as you profess, a soldier of Christ, you are in reality a servant of Mammon. Tell us not, ye that are thus carnally-minded, of any warfare that you are waging with the great adversary of souls. The fact is, that you are already taken prisoners by the enemy, you are already led captive by him at his will. But the active soldiers of Christ need refreshment, as Gideon’s chosen band did; and they have it. What are the ordinances of Divine grace when blessed to the soul, but “times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord”? And now God says to Gideon, “By the three hundred men that lapped will I save Israel; and let all the other people go every man to his place.” We hear no complaint from Gideon. When he is commanded to send the men away, he sends them one after another by the hundred and by the thousand; not knowing when God would stay His hand or say, “It is enough.” This is faith, vital and practical faith. It is exactly that faith which the Christian is required to carry into the common transactions of life, and to act upon in the occurrences of every day: “The just shall live by faith.” In the evil day he is to live upon it when God takes away the desire of his eyes, or the means of his present subsistence, or the outward helps which he has been accustomed to, and on which, perhaps, he has been leaning too confidently. When these are struck from under him, then the proof of his faith is that he can “trust in the Lord, and stay himself on his God.” We are apt to tremble for the cause of the gospel around us when we see many depart and walk no more with Christ. But let those who remain think of the concern which their own souls have in the matter. Have some drawn back? The Captain of salvation says, “What is that to thee? follow thou Me.” Is the number of the fearful or disaffected great, and is it increasing? No matter if it be twenty-two thousand. “What is that to thee? follow thou Me.” Certainly it is our duty to use all the means which God puts in our power to strengthen our missionary ranks; but, nevertheless, when He is pleased from time to time thus to draft off, if I may so speak, the great men, and the strong men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men from our missionary host, it becomes us to look on with Gideon’s patient faith and meek submission; to regard the mysterious dispensation as intended to make known that “the excellency of the power is of God, and not of us.” Thus every death of a missionary will have a voice in it of encouragement as well as of warning from our God; and if we listen to it with the ear of Gideon’s faith, it will tell us “The people are yet too many.” And our answer should be, “Be Thou exalted, Lord, in Thine own strength: so will we sing, and praise Thy power.” (F. Elwin.)
Testing-points in life
Many are the commonplace incidents, the seemingly small points in life, that test the quality of men. Every day we are led to the stream-side to show what we are, whether eager in the Divine enterprise of faith or slack and self-considering. Take any company of men and women who claim to be on the side of Christ, engaged and bound in all seriousness to His service. But how many have it clearly before them that they must not entangle themselves more than is absolutely needful with bodily and sensuous cravings, that they must not lie down to drink from the stream of pleasure and amusement? We show our spiritual state by the way in which we spend our leisure, our Saturday afternoons, our Sabbaths. We show whether we are fit for God’s business by our use of the flowing stream of literature, which to some is an opiate, to others a pure and strengthening draught. The question simply is whether we are so engaged with God’s plan for our life, in comprehending it, fulfilling it, that we have no time to dawdle and no disposition for the merely casual and trifling. Are we in the responsible use of our powers occupied as that Athenian was in the service of his country of whom it is recorded: “There was in the whole city but one street in which Pericles was ever seen, the street which led to the market-place and the council-house. During the whole period of his administration he never dined at the table of a friend”? Let no one say there is not time in a world like this for social intercourse, for literary and scientific pursuits or the practice of the arts. The plan of God for men means life in all possible fulness and entrance into every field in which power can be gained. His will for us is that we should give to the world as Christ gave in free and uplifting ministry, and as a man can only give what he has first made his own, the Christian is called to self-culture as full as the other duties of life will permit. He cannot explore too much, he cannot be too well versed in the thoughts and doings of men and the revelations of nature, for all he learns is to find high use. But the aim of personal enlargement and efficiency must never be forgotten, that aim which alone makes the self of value and gives it real life--the service and glory of God. Only in view of this aim is culture worth anything. And when in the Providence of God there comes a call which requires us to pass with resolute step beyond every stream at which the mind and taste are stimulated that we may throw ourselves into the hard fight against evil there is to be no hesitation. Everything must yield now. The comparatively small handful who press on with concentrated purpose, making God’s call and His work first and all else, even their own needs a secondary affair--to these will be the honour and the joy of victory. (R. A. Watson, M. A.)
The revelation of character
A man is known only when he is tried. And yet it would be a mistake to suppose that this test is administered to us in some great matter, or on some grand occasion. The two most suggestive words to us in the parable of the good Samaritan are these, “By chance there came down a certain priest.” The Saviour does not mean by using this expression to give countenance to the idea that anything really occurs by chance, but rather to fix our minds on the ordinary and incidental nature of the occurrence. It happened that there came a priest. He was going on his journey. He had, most likely, a definite object before him. He was not thinking, probably, of his own character. Least of all was he dreaming that he was at the moment being tested. He only made it evident that he could not be troubled to do anything for the half-dead traveller, and so he unconsciously revealed his true character. But so it is always. We let out our truest selves when we do not know that we are doing it. When Gideon led his army to the brook and bade them drink, the men thought only of slaking their thirst. Some, more luxurious in their nature, went down upon their hands and feet and put their lips to the stream to take in a full supply. Others, more dashing and impetuous in their disposition, could not take so much trouble, but lifted the water by their hands, lapping it up thus with them, as a dog lappeth it with his tongue. Not one of them, perhaps, was conscious of doing anything special. Yet, through that tiny drink, each one revealed the sort of man he was; and Gideon, by Divine direction, selected the latter to be the deliverers of Israel. Now it is by the casual engagements of every day that God is testing us yet. By the little opportunities that are furnished to us, so to say, by chance, He is causing us to unveil our inmost selves. For the test is all the more searching because we are unconscious of its application. We prepare for great occasions, thus putting such an unnatural strain upon ourselves that we are not really ourselves. It is only in the abandon of unconsciousness that we make manifest genuinely what we are. We all know how true that is in the art of portrait-taking. The best likeness of a man is taken when he is unaware of it; but if you set him down before a camera and tell him to look pleasant, the result will be a prim, precise expression, meant to be the best, but, just because of that, exceedingly unnatural. But it is quite similar with character. To know what a man is you must take him when he is not aware that you are judging him. God gauges us in little things. He watches us not so much when a great occasion is making its demand upon us, and we are trying to do our best, as when some ordinary opportunity is at our hand. Thus regarded, life even in its minutest and apparently most trivial aspects becomes a very solemn thing. We are being weighed in God’s balance every day. Men think with dread of the Day of Judgment, and we do not desire to take a single element from its importance. There will be such a day, and it will be more awful than we think of. But in the light of the principles which we have now tried to enforce, every day is, in its measure, also a Day of Judgment. God is testing us every hour, and according as we stand His scrutiny He sends us forward with His Gideons to emancipate the enslaved, or dismisses us ignominiously from His service. (Christian Age.)
By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you.--
Gideon’s three hundred
I. Then, little things make great differences in life. It was a little thing that made the difference between “the three hundred” and the rest of the army--“lapped.” But little things represent great equivalents. Little things test and reveal character.
II. Then, quality in human instrumentality is of more importance than quantity. We are taught here that success in God’s cause does not depend upon numbers. The victory is already potentially ours when we use the right means in the right spirit. The great want of the Church is not more members but more of the right stamp. The only soldiers that amount to anything in God’s service are volunteers; men who enlist, put on the armour, obey orders, and delight in the service.
III. Then, the few may stand firm, and do noble service in spite of the bad example of the many.
IV. Then, God is worthy of our trust and hearty co-operation in selecting His agents and carrying on His work. Divine wisdom was afterwards seen in the selection of these men. So it must be in God’s spiritual army, in our conflict with self and sin. Evil habits, unholy practices, false principles, must all be pursued, tracked to their hiding places, and remorselessly slain with the edge of the sword. It is harder to live Christianity than to be converted to it.
V. Then, is it God’s fixed plan to work through the few, rather than the many? No; it is God’s plan, all things being equal, to work, not through a part, but through all His people whether few or many. Why, then, did He reduce Gideon’s army from thirty-two thousand to three hundred men? Happily we are not in the dark as to the cause; God Himself tells us why He did it. He had to do so in order that His power might be recognised in the victory. (T. Kelly.)
Gideon and the three hundred
1. It is the small matters which reveal us, the slight occasions. Think not that the Lord is cheated by the world’s bravos. He leaves the world, religious or profane, to judge you when you are got up for its inspection. He follows you home in your most familiar moods, your most simple and necessary actions, your frank and free communications, and He sees there the man, as all beings, angels, men, devils, will see him one day, when the veils are lifted and the inner realities of life and character appear.
2. There is One watching us when we are most unconscious, drawing silently auguries of character, and forecasting destiny. The Lord proves faculty in His test-house the daily occasions of life, and hangs it up if found true in His armoury for higher use. Hence the leisure hour is so precious; it tells so mightily on the life and destiny of the man. The soul ungirds itself then, and lets its bent appear. Teach it to love in the quiet hours the things that make for its health, its growth, its life, and leave the work hours to their care. As the man is in silent, secluded moments, God finds him in all the great crises of his history.
3. Keep your knee for God alone. The men bent the knee to sensual good. That was their fatal weakness in God’s sight. Kneel to God, and it will cure you of all other kneeling. See His face each day before you look on the world’s, and its frowns will not scare you nor its smiles allure. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)
The reduced army
What an extraordinary difference between Gideon’s army as it was at first and Gideon’s army as it was at last--between the thirty-two thousand who set out with him in the morning and the three hundred who stayed with him at night! But I can tell you of a difference which is far more wonderful than that--the difference I mean between the visible Church of Christ and His real Church. Just think of the number of our outwardly baptized persons. But how many out of all this vast company are really chosen by the Lord to be His soldiers? But how shall this remnant be distinguished from the rest? Is there not something which, like the waters in the case of Gideon’s army, may make the difference apparent between the true and the false? The world, for example, forms a very good test by which you may discern a true Christian from a false one. Look at the conduct of the generality. See how they bow down to drink at the waters of the world! See how they give themselves up wholly to its pleasures and pursuits! Unmindful altogether of eternal things they set their affections upon things beneath, and make them the one great end for which they live. Earth--earth--earth is all in all with them. But mark the conduct of a little remnant who are here and there to be discerned amidst them. These men come unto the waters with the rest. They have their business in the world as others have. But oh! in how different a spirit from the rest! They may be compared to those three hundred men that lapped. A little of earth’s comforts is enough for them. They covet not great things in this life; but if the Lord shall give them only “food and raiment,” they are well “content.” Their moderation is known unto all men. Even whilst they are enjoying earthly comforts there is still no “bowing down” towards them. Their eyes are rather towards Him who gave these mercies, and their desire is to make so good an improvement of them as to glorify the Giver. But is this the only test by which you may discern the true Christian from the false one--the use which they severally make of the world in which they live? Let me point you out another water, as it were, where the distinction may be seen. Only here they that sip are the professors, and they are the believers who “bow down to drink.” The water that I mean is the water of the gospel--that water of the well of life to which every thirsty soul is so graciously invited in those well-known words, “Ho! every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters!“ I have said that of these waters professors only sip. Even that, perhaps, is a stronger term than should be used. Oh, what thousands are there of men who call themselves believers who just come, as it were, to these waters of salvation and look at them, and go away again without a taste. They just come, I mean, to the preaching of the Word, listen to it with a dull and idle ear, and then go off again with no more knowledge of it than they brought to church with them. Others will go a little further. They hear--they listen--they admire. There are professors, I know, who will go further than this. Yet it is with the best of them but a sipping at the stream. A little measure of the mere semblance of religion is sure to satisfy the man who is but half a Christian. But not the man to whom that name in truth belongs. The real Christian will be satisfied with nothing short of a full and an abundant draught. Moderate as he is in his desires of earthly things, he has a spiritual appetite which it takes no little to content. Nor is he satisfied with attending any ordinance unless he leaves it with a blessing--refreshed and strengthened for his Master’s work. It was only the true-hearted part of Gideon’s army which remained with him. These only shared his victory and reaped the fruits of it. And think you that Jesus will not make the like distinction? (A. Roberts, M. A.)
Gideon’s three hundred
A striking story. Especially might it be a useful story for all preachers to-day who find themselves in some little tide of popularity. It is a sore story this on Church statistics, especially when the numbers swell, and we are apt to indulge in a great chorus of praise because of numerical success. How the Lord Almighty had to reduce thirty-two thousand stalwart men to three hundred in order to bring the band up to its effective strength! The Captain of our salvation has strange ways with Him, has He not? Sometimes past finding out. Now, these men utterly deceived Gideon, and we have to learn that lesson--that we may utterly deceive each other. Are our hearts right? When we count you upon our totals, does the Lord also count one, or are you to Him a mere fraction--a nothing? The Lord said, virtually, “Gideon, give these people a chance to go home, and see what you shall see. Say to those that are timid and of a fearful heart, Go back.” And twenty-two thousand showed the breadth of their backs, executing strategical movements upon home! Are we going to be blown away like chaff, or can we stand it? Are we wheat after all? And even when there were not so many by twenty-two thousand with Gideon as at first, still they were not dense and compact enough for God’s purposes. For God wants His army to be not like a great, big, overgrown cabbage that has run to blades and has no heart in it, but He wants His army to be dense--not extensive, but intensive--sound at the heart, solid as a cannon-ball. Notice, then, when we come to this second action of God’s testing of these people how difficult it is to detect hypocrisy. Mark you, these other thousands ought to have gone off with the first batch; they ought to have gone at the first telling. But such an ingrained thing is formalism and hypocrisy that these people stood firm when they ought to have gone. There ought to have been no second sifting process needed. One was enough to lay bare the hearts of men to themselves if they had been simple and honest and sincere. You have the same thing to-day, precisely--people who come with you up to the point of real work, and then “Presto! Pass!” they are gone. In God’s great name let me ask what are you doing but coming to church once a week? Now, I wish to say that your seat could be better occupied if that is all that is to come out of you. What was the test which God applied to them in this sore business? Well, I think it was just this. I am not going to say that these three hundred men were braver, bolder, grander men than those who had gone away. I am not going to say that these men were men of blood and iron--that they had no fear, no doubts, and no misgivings. No, I do not think that. I think that they were men who felt their hearts beat beneath their jerkins like any others. They had very likely the same doubts and the same misgivings as to the success of this revolt against Midian as the thousands had who had gone home; only they did not yield to them. They encouraged themselves in God; they encouraged themselves in Gideon. In all their weakness and helplessness they leaned all the harder upon Him who had called them to this fight, in which were involved death or victory. And that is all that God wants yet. God never asked any mortal man to do more than trust in Him. These three hundred men were only flesh and blood, and this was a desperate business. Twenty-two thousand of their countrymen had gone away from fear; but when these three hundred came to the ford it seemed that what was in their heart was not retreat, but fighting. Because when they came to that ford, a key position, an important place, they cannot lie down and give themselves up to the business of taking drink like the others. It was not drinking, but fighting that was in their heads and in their hearts; and they lapped as a dog lapped, so that they were free to see the oncoming of the host, and to spring to their places in an instant. Thus they drank, and God said, “These are the men.” This thing called faith in God is a thing that tells. It tinges, it tinctures, it colours every word you speak, and everything you do. (J. McNeill.)
The three hundred men that lapped
Here is one of those battles of God which are being waged in century after century, crisis after crisis, by the armies of Truth against the hordes of unrighteousness. Gideon, trusting manfully in his Divine commission, sets himself to deliver Israel from the Midianites. Cheered himself by God’s manifest goodness, he succeeds, as men count success, in gathering together a strong army. Thirty-two thousand men was a serviceable army to put into the field to risk the chances of battle with a successful, arrogant, and overwhelming enemy. “The people that are with thee are too many.” What? Is not Providence on the side of big battalions? Is it not the defiant cry which is ever rising up in hoarse murmurs from the army of the world? “Every one thinks as we do. You are alone. Every one does as we do. You are the victim of a foolish prejudice. You must yield in the end. The house of Baal is full from one end thereof to the other, while you, you prophet of the Lord, shivering in your isolation, try to perpetuate a failure.” Midian comes on with its overwhelming cry, “Every one thinks so, every one says it, every one does it; numbers are on our side, therefore we are right.” Ah! my brethren, do I touch on a subtle danger which is incident to societies--to count heads, and to boast of numbers on the books? Remember, the very charter of existence in a guild is quality, not quantity. It is the concentration of the earnest few against the careless and undisciplined many. So Gideon has to submit--there in the presence of the enemy, with a tradition of disgrace behind him, he, a leader of reputed cowards, has to submit to the departure of twenty-two thousand men, leaving his splendid band reduced to a pitiable ten thousand. The fearful and the half-hearted go away, and more than half his host has vanished. Ah, is it some annual meeting we are thinking of there in our guild room, where the leader says, “I do not care for a guild of non-communicants, who do not keep to the rules. Let every one resign who does not intend to live up to his profession,” and with a heavy heart he sees the diminution of his flourishing band. Poor Gideon, with his wretched ten thousand! But what is this? “The people are yet too many “ is the inexorable decree of God. They must yet be submitted to the test. They are brought down to the water of the well Harod near where they were encamped, to be tried with the test of thirst, which has so often proved the value of disciplined troops. “By the three hundred men that lapped, I will save you.” There are many wells of water to try the guild members in this city. He will never fight a battle of the Lord who, with his badge round his neck, goes down on his knees to drink his fill of pleasure, unrestrained, unmindful, self-indulgent. The servant of the Lord who is to win in the battle of Midian, just tastes lightly of the pleasures of life, which are free from sin, as they that use this world as not abusing it, for the fashion of this world passeth away. “The three hundred men that lapped.”
1. These are the sort of members that we want for Church guild, for they represent in the first place a band of men who have learnt the great lesson of self-control. They were men not to be moved by a draught of water on a hot day. The cause of God had stilled the cry of appetite. Ah, it is not a bit of use joining in a splendid service, waving banners, singing hymns, talking about the Catholic Faith, wearing a badge, and attending sometimes a guild meeting, if we have not learnt the splendid lesson of self-control. “The three hundred men that lapped.”
2. They represented to Gideon also a band of enthusiasts. Their heart was elsewhere, when they stood by the water. They barely had time to remember the keenness of their thirst, as they strained at the leash, and pulled at the bridle, the restraint of delay, between them and victory. Only second in importance to the moral basis is the enthusiasm of right in the member of a guild. There are few things more depressing, and few things more wrong than the listless apathy, which men either affect or feel in this glad world of God’s creating. As you step into rank you feel what a splendid thing it is to exist, to live at all. You feel what wondrous powers God has given you in body, soul, and spirit. With your senses you reach out to all around you. With your mind you live in the past, enjoy the present, or imagine the future in all the freedom of intellect, with your spirit you are in touch with God. You feel at least you never can cumber the ground as one of those painted grubs who crawl about the earth, or flit about as creature of the day in bright clothes and meaningless flight, now expanding in the sunshine, now dying at the first frost of adversity. The guild member is serious, he is active, he is useful, because he has the enthusiasm of life, and even more, he has the enthusiasm of Christianity. He knows what the Church has been to him. He is enthusiastic--how can he help it?--none of these things move me, he says, as he passes the well, as he gazes at the hosts of Midian, and his own attenuated ranks. He longs to help others, himself to be a centre of good and a rallying point for the forces of the Lord. We want a band of enthusiasts, alive with the enthusiasm of God. We are suffering at the present moment from silliness, men who play at religion, men who are not in earnest, men who talk and do not act. “The three hundred men that lapped.”
3. Gideon might count on these as determined men. They were men who had counted the cost; when others refused to come forward they had presented themselves; when others went back they had stood firm; when others had failed in a simple trial, they had shown what manner of men they were. A battle of three hundred against a host would mean determined men, and the battle of the Lord needs determined men now. The conflict for each of us needs strength and determination of character. Do not believe for one moment that it will ever be easy to be good. Our fathers found it hard to resist evil, so shall we; our fathers found it hard to pray, so shall we. You will want all the firmness of your will in the combat of life which lies before you. Moab lies in ambush with all his countless hosts, the battle will be hard and long. If you be but an insignificant fraction out of the number of professing Christians, keep on; if you be but a small and attenuated remainder, out of those who have fallen away since you first became enrolled, still keep on. The freshness, it may be, has worn off; the monotony of life is beginning to tell upon you; it may be, the hard falls and rough blows of life have disheartened you--keep on. Bodies of pledged men like you are, after all, the strength of the Church. (Canon Newbolt.)
1. Nearly everything great in this world has been effected by a few men, or, perhaps, a single man, who believed in it when everybody else saw only difficulties and objections. The struggle between the right and the expedient, or the practical and the ideal, is always going on. The exploit of Gideon’s band was as nothing compared with the daring of the few Galilean fishermen who went forth to preach to a hostile world the story of Christ and Him crucified. “All things are possible to him that believeth.”
2. In the next place we may observe that God chose for this great work the man who was to be His instrument, and Gideon obeyed the call. It then became his duty to set to work and collect an army. The result was just what might have been expected. A large number of Gideon’s compeers thought it highly desirable that the yoke of the invader should be cast off their necks, but they were afraid to try and do it. They saw the difficulties more plainly than they saw the good to be attained. Even some of those who volunteered at first went back after they had counted the cost. Just so. Every man who honestly assumes a responsibility and attempts a good work may be perfectly sure that ten people will say, “Well done! Go on!” for every one who will say, “I will help you, though I stand to lose by it!“ In such cases the man who sees what ought to be done must just obey his call and go forward. It is not upon men, but upon God that he must depend.
3. Further, let us bear in mind that the issues of all things are in the hands of God. We need not be afraid of compromising the doctrine of moral freedom by any such assertion as this. Man has power of choice when he has not power of action. Power of action may be indefinitely extended. God may complete our purposes when they are beyond our ken, and may supplement our deficiencies if we honour Him by obedience and faith. The shortest road to the attainment of an ideal or the fulfilment of a duty is to fearlessly perform what one knows to be right, and trust in God for the issue. We need but lamps and pitchers and trumpets. We must take trouble and be wise, while remembering that the race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong. (R. J. Campbell, B. A.)
Fit men for the fight
God required but few men, but He required that these should be fit. The first test had sifted out the brave and willing. The liquor was none the less, though so much froth had been blown off. As Thomas Fuller says, there were “fewer persons, but not fewer men,” after the poltroons had disappeared. The second test, “a purgatory of water,” as the same wise and witty author calls it, was still more stringent. The dwindled ranks were led down from their camp on the slopes to the fountain and brook which lay in the valley near the Midianites’ camp. Gideon alone seems to have known that a test was to be applied there; but he did not know what it was to be till they reached the spring, and the soldiers did not know that they were determining their fate when they drank. The two ways of drinking clearly indicated a difference in the men. Those who glued their lips to the stream and swilled till they were full were plainly more self-indulgent, less engrossed with their work, less patient of fatigue and thirst than those who caught up enough in their curved palms to moisten their lips with out stopping in their stride or breaking rank. The former test was self-applied, and consciously so. This is no less self-applied, though unconsciously. God shuts out no man from His army, but men shut themselves out; sometimes knowingly, by avowed disinclination for the warfare, sometimes unknowingly by self-indulgent habits which proclaim their unfitness. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
A cake of barley bread tumbled into the host of Midian.
Encouragement for Gideon
Gideon felt that he was but the thin, weak, limp cake; that there was a ludicrous disproportion between the means at his command and the work he was to accomplish. But then, behind him was the unseen but mighty wind of God’s Spirit, that swept him on irresistibly and made him invincible. This was Gideon’s encouragement, and this must be the encouragement of each of us in all duty. That man must have low aims indeed who never finds himself confronted by duty that he feels to be impossible; who does not feel again and again that the conquest of sin in himself is impossible; who is not again and again perplexed by the difficult circumstances he is silently swept into; who does not feel helpless before the profound, rooted misery, the masses of distress and crime in the world. What can one do? We can do nothing of ourselves; God does not expect that we should. But there is nothing we may not do, if the almighty inspiration of God takes us and carries us forward as its instrument. But how, you will say, are we to secure that inspiration? how are we to get into the current of God’s Spirit, so as to be carried along by it? How, we may ask in reply, do sailors get to their destination? They cannot themselves drag their ship along--they are helpless in this respect; neither can they raise winds for themselves. They cannot supply their own motive power, and yet they can do all that is necessary. They know where and when certain winds blow, and getting into the current of these, they guide their vessel to its port. You also know the directions in which God’s Spirit blows; you know the objects towards which God is willing to help you; you know what God Himself aims at and wishes done; and though you cannot reach those objects by your own strength, yet if you set your face towards them, if you keep your soul in their direction, if you make them your real aim, God’s Spirit cannot miss you--you will be caught and carried along in His powerful inspiration. (Marcus Dods, D. D.)
The Midianite soldier: the power of the little
1. A great end reached by most insignificant instrumentality.
2. The influence it had upon the mind of Gideon.
I. An argument for special providence. The little and the great are not only inseparable parts of a whole, but what is called the little sometimes creates and sometimes destroys the great.
II. A lesson for our everyday life.
1. Despise not things of humble aspect. To do so is--
Give the acorn time, and it shall become a forest, and cover oceans with the fleets of nations; give the little rill, starting from the solitude of the hills, time, and it shall become a river bearing on its bosom the wealth of kingdoms.
2. Cultivate an appreciation of the little. The observation of little events has done wonders before now. The fall of an apple unfolded the true theory of the material universe. The rushing of a little steam from a kettle led to the introduction of that steam power which has already almost changed the face of the world. A feather shows how the wind blows, and an insignificant event may indicate the direction of an eternal law. Mark little tendencies of character; small wishes and preferences may often throw a flood of light upon your spiritual history. Respect little virtues. Shun little sins.
3. Recognise God’s presence in the minute as well as the vast. (Homilist.)
The dream of the barley cake
I. The striking providence which must have greatly refreshed Gideon. It may appear to be a little thing; but an occurrence is none the less wonderful because it appears to be insignificant. God is as Divine in the small as in the stupendous, as glorious in the dream of a soldier as in the flight of a seraph.
1. Now observe, first, the providence of God that this man should have dreamed just then, and that he should have dreamed that particular dream. Dreamland is chaos, but the hand of the God of order is here. God is not asleep when we are asleep; God is not dreaming when we are.
2. Further, I cannot but admire that this man should be moved to tell his dream to his fellow. It is not everybody that tells his dream at night; he usually waits till the morning. God ruleth men’s idle tongues as well as their dreaming brains, and He can make a talkative soldier in the camp say just as much and just as little as will subserve the purposes of wisdom.
3. It is remarkable that the man should tell his dream just when Gideon and Phurah had come near. God has so arranged the whole history of men, and angels, and the regions of the dead, that each event occurs at the right moment so as to effect another event, and that other event brings forth a third, and all things work together for good. O child of God, when you are troubled it is because you fancy that you are alone; but you are not alone; the Eternal Worker is with you. Oh, for a little heavenly eyesalve to touch our eyes that we may perceive the presence of the Lord in all things. The stars in their courses are fighting for the cause of God. Our allies are everywhere. God will summon them at the right moment.
II. The comfortable trifle which Gideon had thus met with. It was a dream, and therefore a trifle, and yet he took comfort from it. We are all the creatures of sentiment as well as of reason, and hence we are often strongly affected by little things. Gideon is cheered by a dream of a barley cake. When Robert Bruce had been frequently beaten in battle, he despaired of winning the crown of Scotland; but when he lay hidden in the loft among the hay and straw, he saw a spider trying to complete her web after he had broken the thread many times. As he saw the insect begin again, and yet again, until she had completed her net for the taking of her prey, he said to himself, “If this spider perseveres and conquers, so will I persevere and succeed.” There might not be any real connection between a spider and an aspirant to a throne, but the brave heart made a connection, and thereby the man was cheered. If you and I will but look about us, although the adversaries of God are as many as grasshoppers, yet we shall find consolation. I hear the birds sing, “Be of good cheer,” and the leafless trees bid us trust in God and live on, though all visible signs of life be withered. But what a pity it is that we should need such little bits of things to cheer us up, when we have matters of far surer import to make us glad! Gideon had already received, by God’s own angel, the word, “Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man.” Was not this enough for him?
III. The cheering discovery. Gideon had noticed a striking providence, he had received a comfortable trifle, but he also made a very cheering discovery; which discovery was, that the enemy dreamed of disaster. You and I sometimes think about the hosts of evil, and we fear we shall never overcome them, because they are so strong and so secure. Hearken: we over-estimate them. The powers of darkness are not so strong as they seem to be. The subtlest infidels and heretics are only men. What is more, they are bad men; and bad men at bottom are weak men. It is natural to men to fear, and doubly natural to bad men.
IV. The dream itself and its interpretation. The Midianite in his dream saw a barley cake. Barley cakes were not much valued as food in those days, any more than now. People ate barley when they could not get wheat, but they would need to be driven to such food by poverty or famine. Barley-meal was rather food for dogs or cattle than for men; and therefore the barley cake would be the emblem of a thing despised. A barley cake was generally made upon the hearth. A hole was made in the ground, and paved with stones; in this a fire was made, and when the stones were hot a thin layer of barley-meal was laid upon them, covered over with the ashes, and thus quickly and roughly baked. The cake itself was a mere biscuit. It may have been a long piece of thin crust, and it was seen in the dream moving onward and waving in the air something like a sword. It came rolling and waving down the hill till it came crash against the pavilion of the prince of Midian, and turned the tent completely over, so that it lay in ruins.
1. Now, what we have to learn from it is just this, God can work by any means. He can never be short of instruments. Gideon, who threshes corn to-day, will thresh the Lord’s enemies to-morrow. Preachers of the Word are being trained everywhere.
2. God can work by the feeblest means. He can use a cake which a child can crumble to smite Midian, and subdue its terrible power. I have heard that a tallow candle fired from a rifle will go through a door: the penetrating power is not in the candle, but in the force impelling it. So in this case it was not the barley biscuit, but the almighty impulse which urged it forward, and made it upset the pavilion. We are nothing; but God with us is everything. “He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might He increaseth strength.”
3. Note, next, God uses unexpected means. If I wanted to upset a tent I certainly should not try to overturn it by a barley cake. If I had to cannonade an encampment I should not bombard it with biscuits. Yet how wonderfully God hath wrought by the very persons whom we should have passed over without a thought! O Paganism, thy gigantic force and energy, with Caesar at their head, shall be vanquished by fishermen from the sea of Galilee! God willed it so, and so it was done.
4. But the dream hath more in it than this. God useth despised means. This man Gideon is likened unto a cake, and then only to a barley cake; but the Lord styles him “a mighty man of valour.” God loves to take men whom others despise, and use them for His glorious ends.
5. But, then, God ever uses effectual means. Even if He works by barley-cakes, He makes a clean overthrow of His enemy. A cannon-ball could not have done its work better than did this barley cake. Wherefore, be not afraid, ye servants of God, but commit yourselves into the hands of Him who, out of weakness, can bring forth strength. Do you not think that this smiting of the tent of Midian by the barley cake, and afterwards the actual overthrow of the Midianite hordes by the breaking of the pitchers, the blazing of the torches, and the blowing of the trumpets, all tends to comfort us as to those powers of evil which now cover the world? When we are thinned out, and made to see how few we are, we shall be hurled upon the foe with a power not our own. Were things worse than they are, we should still cry, “The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon!” and stand each man in his place till the Lord appeared in strength. Another lesson would I draw from the text as to our inward conflicts. You are feeling in your heart the great power of sin. The Midianites are encamped in your soil; in the little valley of Esdrelon which lies within your bosom there are countless evils, and these, like the locusts, eat up every growing thing, and cause comfort, strength, and joy to cease from your experience. You sigh because of these invaders. I counsel you to try what faith can do. This seems a very poor means of getting the victory, as poor as the barley cake baked on the coals; but God has chosen it, and He will bless it, and it will overthrow the throne of Satan within your heart, and work in you holiness and peace. Once again, still in the same vein, let us try continually the power of prayer for the success of the gospel, and the winning of men’s souls. Prayer will do anything--will do everything. It fills the valleys and levels the mountains. By its power men are raised from the door of hell to the gate of heaven. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The soldier’s dream
There is a little incident in connection with Christ’s resurrection which merits careful notice. We allude to the following words: “Then went in that other disciple.” Unconsciously men influence each other mightily for good or evil, The incident before us illustrates this. A soldier wakes and tells “his fellow” of a curious dream which he has had; the latter volunteers an interpretation of it. How little they thought that the commander-in-chief of the enemy was eagerly listening outside! Still less did they imagine that their conversation was the means of nerving him to new courage. More than that: the brief talk of these heathen soldiers was a link in the chain of events by which the destiny, not only of Israel, but of mankind, was effected. Truly, “no man liveth unto himself.”
I. God condescends to human infirmities. Gideon had a direct, distinct assurance that in the coming battle he should be triumphant. “I have delivered it into thine hand.” What more could he want? But see how graciously the Most High came down to the tent of His servant. If a sign or “token” will do what a promise cannot, then, although it ought not to be necessary, it shall be granted. In His dealings with us God “knoweth our frame.” Brightly does this fact shine out in the life of the Incarnate One. After His resurrection Thomas was sceptical. He must see and feel or he “will not believe.” In this he was quite wrong. All the world over, testimony is accepted as a sufficient ground for faith. The evidence sought was granted.
II. God adapts His revelations to our special needs. Think of Gideon’s position. It is the night before the battle: the forces of the foe are “like grasshoppers for multitude,” the Hebrew army is stringently limited to three hundred men. Under such circumstances, the temptation of the Jewish generalissimo would be to think that an attack by such an unequal, fearfully disproportionate host would result in defeat. What, then, does he require? A conviction to the following effect: that in the impending conflict numbers will count for nothing. And that is exactly what, in singular and indeed grotesque style, the dream teaches him. The barley-cake flung against the tent upsets it, stakes, pole, canvas, and all. Well may we pause to admire this exquisite adaptation of Divine revelation to human requirements. The ascended Redeemer has “gifts for men,” not one gift but many, and none shall seek a suitable gift in vain. In a certain Austrian city there is a bridge in the parapets of which stand twelve statues of the Saviour. He is represented in various relationships--Prophet, King, Priest, Pilot, Physician, Shepherd, Sower, Carpenter, and so forth. The country people coming into the city in the early morning with produce from the market, pause before the Sower, or Shepherd Christ, and offer their worship to Him. Two hours later, the artisan, coming to his workshop, bends before the Carpenter. Later still, the sailor prays to the heavenly Pilot. And in the warm sunlight of the forenoon, the invalids, creeping out to enjoy the fresh air, rest and adore under the image of the Great Physician. Christ has a manifestation of Himself to fit all human needs. Indeed, what is true of Him holds good also of the whole Bible: it is adapted to all: whatever our peculiar circumstances, we may find in it something to meet them.
III. God teaches us to get help from the enemy. Who were the instruments of Gideon’s encouragement? Not allies but adversaries: the reassuring voices came not from an Israelitish home but from a Midianite tent. Unwittingly, the heathen arrayed against him proved his timely stimulus. Here is another valuable lesson for us: make your very foes your aid. Satan is an enemy. Learn from him and his artifices where much of your moral strength is to be found, namely, in the Bible. “The devil can quote Scripture for his purpose.” A careful, painstaking, sympathetic knowledge of Scripture is the grand panacea for heresy and the true palladium of our faith. Temptation is a foe, otherwise we should never have been taught to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” Albeit, it is often one of our best friends. “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation.” Vanquish it and you are mightier than you were before. The ancient Scandinavians believed that the power and the prowess of each foe they felled to the dust entered into them, and, unquestionably, new courage and fresh zeal are the portion of him who overcomes sin. Again: St. Paul speaks of those as “enemies of the Cross of Christ” “who mind earthly things.” The worldly are foes of the gospel; whether they mean it or not, they retard its glorious progress. Yes: but what a lesson those “enemies of the Cross” read us who are believers in it! Their intelligence and earnestness about business, education, pleasure, may well put to shame the slow advances that we make, with heaven itself in view. (T. R. Stevenson.)
The insecurity of the godless
In every combination of godless men there is a like feeling of insecurity, a like presage of disaster. Those who are in revolt against justice, truth, and the religion of God have nothing on which to rest, no enduring bond of union. What do they conceive as the issue of their attempts and schemes? Have they anything in view that can give heart and courage, an end worth toil and hazard? It is impossible, for their efforts are all in the region of the false where the seeming realities are but shadows that perpetually change. Let it be allowed that to a certain extent common interests draw together men of no principle so that they can co-operate for a time. Yet each individual is secretly bent on his own pleasure or profit, and there is nothing that can unite them constantly. One selfish and unjust person may be depended upon to conceive a lively antipathy to every other selfish and unjust person. Midian and Amalek have their differences with one another, and each has its own rival chiefs, rival families, full of the bitterest jealousy which at any moment may burst into flame. The whole combination is weak from the beginning, a mere horde of clashing desires incapable of harmony, incapable of a sustaining hope . . . Look at those ignorant and unhappy persons who combine against the laws of society. Their suspicions of each other are proverbial, and even with them is the feeling that sooner or later they will be overtaken by the law. They dream of that and tell each other their dreams. The game of crime is played against well-known odds. Those who carry it on are aware that their haunts will be discovered, their gang broken up. A bribe will tempt one of their number and the rest will have to go their way to the cell or the gallows. Yet with the presage of defeat wrought into the very constitution of the mind, and with innumerable proofs that it is no delusion, there are always those amongst us who attempt what even in this world is so hazardous, and in the larger sweep of moral economy is impossible. In selfishness, in oppression and injustice, in every kind of sensuality men adventure as if they could ensure their safety and defy the day of reckoning. (R. A. Watson, M. A.)
Arise, for the Lord hath delivered into your hand the host of Midian.
Divine Providence overruling the result
I. The hand of the Lord visible in this deliverance.
1. In the general effect produced.
2. In the use of the particular means employed.
II. A picture of the Church’s experience in every age.
1. She is still surrounded by enemies numerous as the sand on the sea shore.
2. The enemies are a heterogeneous confederation. Science, philosophy, criticism, atheism, agnosticism, etc.
3. The attacks are persistently made.
4. Every possible advantage is on the side of the enemy. Truth is in the minority, and has always been exposed to the grossest misrepresentation.
5. The inherent power of Bible truth makes victory certain in the end. (J. P. Millar.)
A trumpet . . . empty pitchers, and lamps.
I. Consider the mortal and material part of man under the emblem of a pitcher containing within it a lamp or firebrand.
1. The pitcher is made of potter’s clay, even as man was formed of the dust of the ground.
2. Again, the pitcher’s manufacture is brittle, and easily shattered into a thousand fragments.
3. Notice, as a final point of comparison, the intransparent character of the earthen vessel. If we desire to see the beauty and brilliancy of a light, and at the same time to preserve it from extinction by the rude breath of the atmosphere, we must perforce find for it a transparent medium of glass or crystal; hardly a ray will struggle out of the mouth of a pitcher. The human body is an inapt vehicle for certain strong and passionate emotions of the natural soul. We speak, for example, of a grief that is too deep for tears, and much more for the spiritual emotions of a holy and devout soul. Those emotions are rather hindered than furthered by the material body. The mortal frame is not a fitting tabernacle for the display of the exhibition of grace.
II. Consider the light within the pitcher; the soul, or immaterial part of man, enclosed for the present within a material framework, the breath of lives breathed into the vessel of clay.
1. First, there is the animal life. And even this lowest species of life is very beautiful and glorious, and worthy of Him from whom it emanates. Like a flame it is most subtle, and, as it were, eludes the grasp and ken of man. How does it interpenetrate the whole realm of nature! And yet you cannot tell where it resides. It is transfused through matter without taking up its abode in any particular locality. Like a flame it glows in the ruddy cheek of health; like a flame it glances and sparkles in the sunlit stream; like a newly-kindled lamp it gradually dawns in the opening bosom of the flower. Learn to bless God for natural as well as for spiritual life.
2. But to turn to the second kind of life--rational--the life of the intellect. This, too, is a very subtle and very beautiful emanation from the Father of life. I spoke of animal life just now as diffused through the whole realm of matter. How does the keen and active intellect of man seek to explore and penetrate through all subjects and substances. How beautiful does the tide of words gush forth from the pen or from the lip! How is the reader or the audience carried along against his will, and captivated by the happiness and beauty of such discourse! And whence this happiness and beauty? It is the lamp of life-rational struggling forth, the spirit within the earthen pitcher; it is the fire-brand of the human mind shaking off on every side its lustrous sparkles.
3. But there was yet a higher life breathed into man at his first creation--spiritual life. And if the two former lives admit of a comparison with a lamp or a fire-brand, how much more apt is such a similitude to set forth the life of the immortal spirit. By the life of the spirit I mean that life which evinces itself in holy affections of joy, love, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. It resembles a flame principally in the circumstance that it aspires towards heaven. Like a flame, moreover, it has a wonderful property of self-propagation. Spiritual life kindled in one little dark corner of the earth will soon, by throwing out sparks as of a fire-brand, light up other beacons near and around it. And, finally, amongst those so brought, there subsists the warmth of spiritual intercourse, which is called, in the technical language of theology, the “communion of saints.” (Dean Goulburn.)
The battle of the pitchers
1. I learn, in the first place, from this subject, the lawfulness of Christian stratagem. You all know what strategy is in military affairs. Now I think it is high time we had this art sanctified and spiritualised. In the Church, when we are about to make a Christian assault, we send word to the opposing force when we expect to come, how many troops we have, and of course we are defeated. There are thousands of men who might be surprised into the kingdom of God. We have not sufficient tact and ingenuity in Christian work. We have in the kingdom of God to-day enough troops to conquer the whole earth for Christ if we only had skilful manoeuvring.
2. I learn from this subject also that a small part of the army of God will have to do all the hard fighting.
3. Again, I learn from this subject that God’s way is different from man’s, but is always the best way. If we had had the planning of that battle, we would have taken those thirty-two thousand men that originally belonged to the army, and we would have drifted them, and marched them up and down by the day, week, and month. But that is not the way. God depletes the army, and takes away all their weapons, and gives them a lamp, and a pitcher, and a trumpet, and tells them to go down and drive out the Midianites. I suppose some wiseacres were there who said, “That is not military tactics. The idea of three hundred men, unarmed, conquering such a great host of Midianites!” It was the best way. What sword, spear, or cannon ever accomplished such a victory as lamp, pitcher, and trumpet? God’s way is different from man’s way, but it is always best. Take, for instance, the composition of the Bible. If we had had the writing of the Bible, we would have said, “Let one man write it. If you have twenty or thirty men to write a poem, or make a statute, or write a history, or make an argument, there will be flaws and contradictions.” But God says, “Let not one man do it, but forty men shall do it.” And they did, differing enough to show there had been no collusion between them, but not contradicting each other on any important point. Instead of this Bible, which now I can lift in my hand--instead of the Bible that the child can carry to school--instead of the little Bible the sailor can put in his pocket when he goes to sea--if it had been left to men to write, it would have been a thousand volumes, judging from the amount of ecclesiastical controversy which has arisen. God’s way is different from man’s, but it is best, infinitely best. So it is in regard to the Christian life. If we had had the planning of a Christian life we would have said: “Let him have eighty years of sunshine, a fine house to live in; let his surroundings all be agreeable; let him have sound health; no trouble shadow his soul.” I enjoy the prosperity of others so much I would let every man have as much money as he wants, and roses for his children’s cheeks, and the fountains of gladness glancing in their large round eyes. But that is not God’s way. It seems as if a man must be cut, and hit, and pounded, just in proportion as he is useful. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
A good general
It was said by Napoleon that God was on the side of the strongest battalions. Notwithstanding our present advances, materialism is still deified. Gideon’s first battle teaches another lesson. We may go back to rude ages in order to learn the might of moral forces.
I. A good general is led, not by caprice, not by the promptings of ambition, not by the desire of spoil, not by the voice of an unthinking host, but by patriotism, by the love of humanity broadly considered, and by the leading of the Eternal.
II. A good general leads. Gideon himself gave the example of brave deeds: took his part in the fray, ready to do, dare, die. Consider the Captain of our salvation. He goes before in every conflict.
III. A good general inspires. The men catch the burning enthusiasm of their leader.
IV. A good general wisely disposes. Three companies. Christ places each where best for him.
V. A good general skilfully uses unlikely weapons. The ram’s horn of gospel preaching more affectual than the silver trumpet of philosophy. Fishermen have beaten the savants. A tinker’s the greatest name in modern literature. A cobbler a great missionary. A weaver mightiest of explorers.
VI. A good general raises a good battle-cry: “The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon.” Better than Napoleon’s--“Gentlemen, remember that forty centuries are looking down upon you.”
VII. A good general makes good soldiers.
VIII. A good general secures a good issue. (W. Burrows, B. A.)
Valuable as the light of the sun and moon is to us, yet there are times when we cannot enjoy either, and therefore require artificial lights. And of these we have a fair variety. We might notice a few of the lamps that are in daily use amongst us.
I. The street lamp. This light is for the benefit of the public generally. But we have living street lamps as well. They give us moral and spiritual light. Every true Christian is a lamp, lit by God with the light of Christ, and is to be like the street lamp, giving light to the multitudes who pass by. And we ought to be unselfish, and whether in storm or sunshine we should show our light. And although one lamp does not seem to be of great importance, yet a number of them give us a light almost as good as the sun.
II. The house lamp. The first place where Christians ought to shine is at home. There we must stand up for Christ and show whose side we are on. Sometimes we find people ready to make a great profession in the street or at the meeting, but very different at home. They may thus deceive men, but they cannot deceive God.
III. The private lamp or lantern. This is a faithful companion to us when in the country on dark evenings. We are all travellers on life’s journey, the way is strange, and the end hid from our view, and unless we can find lamp we must be eternally lost. We discover in Scripture the assurance that, “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”
IV. The stable lamp. This lamp would scarcely be suitable for the mansion, but it is well adapted for the stable. And among Christian lights we have some suited for one sphere and some for another.
V. The lighthouse lamp. This is a stationary light, and as such is of great service. Let us as Christians seek to be as steady lights, contented with our lot and shining there. The lighthouse is a saving light. Multitudes have been saved by them. We as Christians ought to be saving lights. If we have been saved ourselves we must seek to save others. (John Mitchell.)
Blowing the trumpets
Each man had one, and each blew it as he joined in the assault. They did not leave this business to their leader alone. Just so should every Christian soldier make it his duty to proclaim the glad tidings of the kingdom of grace and redemption. Not that every private in the ranks is to aspire to be a Gideon--a captain of the army. A battalion cannot be all officers, whether the corps be Caesar’s or Christ’s. While all cannot guide and control the movement of the host, all can assert, with consenting voice and stroke, the merits of the cause for which it has taken the field. Every Christian is not called to the pulpit. But this is by no means the only method of publishing salvation. “Let him that heareth say, Come.” They therefore mistake who think they have no word to utter for God. Every man blew his trumpet. They blew together--commander and followers. So do not always the men of Christ’s army. While zeal for their Master may move the energies of part, others have lost sight of the point of successful assault, have loitered or laboured elsewhere very much to no purpose. Or their note is a dispiriting one, sounding a retreat rather than an onward, resolute movement. Their tones of brooding discontent spread discouragement through the whole encampment. Gideon and the three hundred blew their trumpets together. It not unfrequently happens that the minister blows one note, but many of his band a very different one. How many sermons preached in the fear of God, on the Sabbath, are utterly negatived by professed believers of the gospel in the family, the workshop, the counting-house. Look at this common and mischievous habit among Church members. Men and women of Israel, remember that if the Church is to speak effectually for God in the ear of a disobedient world, it must speak in unison, in harmony. (N. Y. Evangelist.)
A meagre equipment
It is always pathetic to read of that experience of Agassiz when as a young man he was summoned to Paris to be associated with a great naturalist. He was too poor to provide himself with the appropriate instruments for the conduct of his work; so poor he could not procure a decent coat in which he might present certain letters of introduction. He was no mean man in the esteem and knowledge of the world even then, but he was poor. He had a meagre equipment, but the very meagreness of his equipment had in it a sufficiency for the thing he had in hand, and in spite of the want of equipment he rose to be our greatest naturalist.
The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon.--
The finite-infinite--the work of God and the work of man
There is a strange power in a battle-cry. In certain circumstances a single word, or a simple motion, may rouse men to a frenzy of heroism. One electric sentence, such as that addressed by Nelson to his men, “England expects that every man this day will do his duty,” may be the making of a victory. It brings before the imagination in a moment such a picture of country, of home, of duty, of fame, as suffices to awaken some of the grander elements of the mind. A battle-cry is fitted to inspire confidence in friends and fear in foes. It is not strange, therefore, that the followers of Gideon, so few in number, should seek, as they were about to meet the countless hosts of Midian and Amalek, to fortify their hearts with a stirring watchword--“They cried, The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon!” What strikes us at first as somewhat strange is that they should add the name of Gideon to the name of the Lord. It is not without good reason that this addition is made. Just as great and abstract ideas have not their full influence over the mind until they are associated with some illustration--embodied in some concrete form; so the thought of God, in the height and infinitude of His being, has not that practical influence on the mind as mere abstraction, which it has when associated with some human agency--when brought down to the earth and brought near to us in the form of a man. Hence, indeed, the incarnation of God in man. And so the battle-cry of Christianity is, not merely the sword of the Lord, but the sword of the Lord and His Christ. Besides, it was literally the arm of Gideon, as well as the arm of the Lord, that gained the victory; and therefore we have suggested to us by these words the union of the Divine and the human in the work of the world, or the co-existence and co-operation of the Infinite and the finite.
I. The fact of this union. As the planet flies swiftly in its orbit, impelled by the opposing centripetal and centrifugal powers; as the path of the ship is the result of the combined action of wind and helm; as the body of man moves freely over the solid ground, finely balanced between earth, air, and sun; so the path of the soul is the result of the combined action of heaven and earth. The breath of the Divine Spirit fills the sails, and the little helm of the human will is allowed to modify the course.
1. The union of the Divine and the human in the operations of nature. God created paradise and led man into it; but He did not leave His creature to a life of idleness. He put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. The fruits of the earth were to be matured by the touch of man as well as by the power of God. As the seasons revolve in their beauty and variety, the creature has always to unite his energies with those of the Creator to bring the harvest forth. And what is all art and science but man following God, imitating God, working with God? Man looks upon the works of God; and from the union of his beholding mind with these fair forms there come forth the creations of art--the inspired poem, the pale statue, and the coloured canvas. These productions are the combined result of that inspiration which the Almighty has given, and the artist’s own earnest labour. The result is cut out by “the sword of the Lord, and of Gideon.”
2. The union of the Divine and the human in the administration of secular affairs. What is the true idea of government? Is it not that of a theocracy, or a world in which God is king--a world in which every king is clothed with power as Gideon was, and in which every magistrate’s sword is the sword of the Lord as well?
3. More directly is it seen in the individual Christian life that the power of God is working with the power of man. Conversion is pre-eminently a work of God. It is a new creation, and God is the Creator. The wounds of conviction are made by the sword of the Lord. We are born again of God. At the same time, it is no less clear in Scripture that conversion is a work in which man himself must play a part. There is an act of the Divine will, but there is also an act of the human will. We are “justified by faith,” and faith is an act of the mind. Every righteous action performed is a fruit both of the Divine Spirit and the human spirit. Every true and believing prayer is at once an inspiration of man and an inspiration of God. In the warfare of the soul the Divine arm and the human arm must both be lifted against the foe; and it is still “the sword of the Lord, and of Gideon,” that gains the victory. To the same effect are those wonderful words, “Work out your own salvation . . . for it is God who worketh in you,” etc.
4. The union of the human and the Divine in the work of spreading the gospel.
II. The invisible relation of the two powers. We cannot draw a line between the two, and say, “There the Divine ends, and here the human begins: up to this point God has been the worker; after that man is the worker.” As the battle goes on, we cannot say, “On yonder part of the field are the heavenly forces, and on this part the earthly forces.” We cannot say, “Now God has laid down the sword, and now man has taken it up.” The two energies are blended in such invisible relation and mysterious co-operation that we cannot thus distinguish them. There is but one sword between the Lord and Gideon; and both grasp the hilt at the same time.
III. The wisdom and advantage of this arrangement.
1. It reveals to us the dignity and solemnity of life. We are fellow-labourers with God. We are grasping and wielding the same sword. This truth invests life with the highest sacredness and solemnity. If it does not derogate from God’s dignity to work, it cannot derogate from man’s. The dignity that comports with or consists in idleness is altogether foreign to true elevation of life.
2. While this co-operation is fitted to lift us up, it is also fitted to cast us down. True humility is wrought in us by the increasing realisation of God’s existence and presence. His majesty looks down upon us and His holiness looks in upon us evermore. Earthly honours inflate and pamper the vanity of the human heart, but heavenly honours humble still more the heavenly.
3. The combination of entire dependence upon God with the greatest individual activity. What a blessed thing it is to have the arm of the Almighty to lean upon in our daily life! Dependence upon others is not always desirable; but dependence upon God is our very life and strength. The former has a tendency to produce servility and inactivity, the latter leads to the greatest activity. Those who believe most entirely that everything depends upon God at the same time work as energetically as if everything depended on themselves. Those who have done most good in the world are those who have ascribed all goodness to God.
4. Since God is a worker, the success of His work is certain; but since we also are workers, we should be filled with fear lest we be found unfaithful and fall short at last. The fact that an army has a great general--one who is a host in himself, one sure to lead to victory, does not make the men who fight under him indifferent as to how they fight. It makes them fight all the better. It inspires them with an almost superhuman power. Under the leadership of God, then, what great deeds might we not accomplish, if we had faith to follow Him more closely! With what joy might we even fall in the fight, when we know that the day is already ours! But the practical point for every believer is, that a certain portion of the work is entrusted to him. What an awful responsibility! What a value does this give to time! (F. Ferguson, D. D.)
Few things are more remarkable than the inspiring power, whether for good or evil, which a short, pithy, pregnant saying possesses for the mind. Proverbs, watchwords, party cries, have always played an important part in human affairs, and leaders of men have ever recognised their value as powerful instruments for swaying and controlling masses of people. No Spartan of old fought tamely who had received from wife or mother that parting mandate, “Return either with your shield or upon it!” No Crusader in the ranks of Richard the Lionhearted, as they charged against the hosts of Saladin, could have heard unthrilled that glorious watchword, “Remember the Holy City!” “God defend the right!” was the suppliant cry of youthful enthusiasm that rang out from the lips of the Black Prince at Cressy. “St. George for England!” was the cheer with which the whole fleet saluted the flagship of Howard of Effingham, in an hour when the heart of England stood still. “Victory or Westminster Abbey!” shouted Nelson as he boarded the great “San Josef” in Sir John Jervis’s engagement with the Spanish fleet off Cape St. Vincent; and in less than eight years afterwards he had signalled along the line at Trafalgar that never-to-be-forgotten message, “England expects that every man will do his duty!” All these watchwords had their meaning, their deep and inspiring meaning, at the time they were uttered, but none ever meant more, ever suggested a mightier truth, than that oldest battle-cry we know of, “The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon!” Trust in God and implicit faith in and dependence upon His wisdom, power, and love, was the central truth, the central duty, inculcated throughout the Divine education of the chosen race. Trust in God lies at the foundation of all true character; for it is that which “can alone” (to use Martineau’s fine words) “render absolute the rules of righteousness,” and “save them from the gnawing corrosion of exceptions, and raise them from flexible convictions of men into a law secured on the eternal holiness.” “Intellectual integrity,” adds the same writer, “moral tenacity, spiritual elevation, all alike involve, in their higher degrees, an unconditional trust in the everlasting sway of Divine justice, wisdom, and love.” God saw fit to educate one particular people in this all-important truth, that they might become witnesses to the world, for all time, of that saving spirit of loving and faithful submission to the will of God which found its most perfect exponent in Christ our Saviour. To this end all God’s dealings with Israel were invariably directed. Those three hundred men in Gideon’s little band did not complain that they had neither sword, nor spear, nor shield. They made the best of what they had, and committed themselves to the guidance of a wise and protecting God. He knew that they must conquer that mighty host (if they were to conquer it at all) not by their own unaided strength, but by His wise generalship. It was for them a bloodless victory. The battle was won, not by their own skill in fighting, but by their obedience to Jehovah and their implicit trust in Him. “By faith” they conquered, “as seeing Him who is invisible,” and their victory will remain for all time a parable to successive generations of men. For a parable it is of the battle of life. The divinest success in life is achieved, not through the possession of great power, but by the faithful use of such powers as we have. If God be not for us how shall we prevail? Round your life and round mine there lie foes--hidden, spiritual foes--which we are powerless to conquer in our own unaided strength and wisdom. The evil lusts and passions of our own hearts, and the trials and difficulties and temptations of the world, these are the foes that lie “like grasshoppers for multitude” encamped around our daily life, and if we would conquer them we must fight with the weapons that God has given us, and not be faint-hearted; for we shall overcome, not of ourselves, but by the help and the guidance of Him “who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Nay more, if we would conquer we must surely do so with those same three weapons which Gideon put into the hands of his three hundred warriors--the lamp, and the pitcher, and the trumpet.
1. God commits to each of us a lamp or torch, which is to be trimmed and kept bright through life. Every man has his own torch; his own peculiar powers of mind and body; his own individual character; his own special post in life, and opportunities of influencing others for good or for evil. The work we do and the example we show--this, in short, is the torch we hold as trust from God, who says to each of us, as He said to the Jews of old, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
2. But then, in the second place, we learn that our lamps, like those of Gideon’s band, must not be displayed until the proper moment arrives for them to be seen. For awhile they must be concealed, as it were, within empty pitchers. Our characters are not formed, we are not fitted for the work of life, in a moment. Hence those years of school discipline through which we have all passed. This season of preparatory culture and seclusion is as necessary for us men as it was for “the Son of Man,” who, for thirty years, during which He prepared Himself for His short ministry, lived a life of retirement and subjection at Nazareth. In His career on earth there was no precocious self-assertion, no premature display. But the time comes when we are each summoned to leave the life of preparation and enter upon our life of work in the world, and then, if we be true servants of God, and neither cowards nor slaves to self, we shall be ready to cast aside the empty pitcher, and hold up before men’s eyes a well-trimmed lamp.
3. And then, lastly, there are the trumpets. Just as the torch means man’s work and knowledge and character, and the pitcher represents the method by which he receives and matures his light until the hour comes for revealing it, so the trumpet typifies the sound of the human voice, the power with which, by precept and exhortation, by uttered principle and uncompromising assertion of truth, we carry the gospel of Christ into the world. There are so many time-servers amongst men, who will not dare to confess what they believe to be true and know to be right, if it happens to conflict with the popular notions of society. They reserve their principles for congenial company, where they will be safe from contradiction, and they go about the world agreeing, like sycophants, with anything and everybody. But let such men remember that the world owes its highest good to those who have had the courage of their convictions. They are the messengers of truth and of God. “Their sound is gone out into all lands, and their words unto the ends of the earth.” We have thus arrived at the full meaning of that battle-cry, “The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon.” It is the motto of our Christian profession. It expresses in a symbol the bloodless victory of the Christian life, through Christ our Lord: the victory which is won with no earthly weapon, but with the “sword of the Spirit.” (H. E. J. Bevan, M. A.)
The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon
A company of English soldiers were in disgrace. Through some bad conduct they had for a while lost their colours, and were in trouble about it. It so happened that these men had to take part in some battle where a piece of hard fighting had to be done. One morning the men were in line. Some distance away was a hill held by the enemy which it was extremely important that the English should secure. The commander addressed his men and urged them on to the conflict which was soon to take place. He finished his brief address to them by saying, “Men, your colours are on the top of yonder hill.” It was enough. Their souls were fired, and long before the day was out they had dislodged the enemy, secured the hill, wiped out the disgrace in which they had been, and won back their lost regimental colours by their bravery that day. The Church of God is engaged in war against the hosts of the world, and every member of God’s Church has to take his share in the conflict, and must seek to remove the enemies of God. If we notice how Gideon and his men carried on their work for God, we may perhaps learn a few things which we may also practise with some profit.
I. We will first notice their unity. There were no divisions, no quarrels, no mutinies among them. They stood as they were ordered to stand. Does not this speak to us and with a loud voice? Have the hundreds of God’s hosts to-day that spirit of unity which should mark all the soldiers of the Cross? Have we always obeyed orders from headquarters? If the soldiers in the ranks of the armies of the living God could only forget all party difference, and cease to contend about minute distinctions, and present a united front, the kingdom of darkness would soon receive such blows as would make it totter and reel. We have many illustrations in the history of Christianity, of what can be done by a united Church of God.
II. Let us now notice their courage. Had they been Englishmen they could not have displayed more fibre and courage than was shown, In its conflict with the world the Church needs men of courage. There never was a time it more needed them than now. There are many great and pressing social and religious problems which need attention and require men of courage and faith to deal with them; and in all her work she needs men of brave hearts and true, who are not easily daunted. She wants brave officers to serve in her ranks--men of skill, piety, and courage. She wants the best sons and daughters in her ranks. She is charged with the responsibility of the salvation of the world. She has to make greater inroads into the ranks of the enemy. God is with us, and God can make us brave and bold.
III. But we must now notice the faith of these men. It was a victory of faith. Oh, what a theme for contemplation the victories of faith furnish! The Church needs men of faith to-day. This is an age of scepticism, of doubt, and criticism. It has become almost fashionable to talk about doubting as if it were a mark of strength and special attainment to do so. The Church wants men who live in the sunshine of strong heroic faith and power. She wants men who can, in mighty faith, march round the strongholds of sin, just as the Israelites marched around ancient Jericho. She needs men who can go with Bible in hand and win victories for God.
IV. In conclusion, we will briefly notice the success they experienced. It was complete. They stood in order round the camp as they were commanded. At the given signal they raised their shouts, broke their pitchers, and flashed their torches. They stood and watched the consternation of the enemy. It was a victory which was God-given and full. The history of the Church of Christ abounds with God-given victories. The victories of the past are to be far surpassed in the future. (C. Leach, D. D.)
The natural and supernatural
I. Some of the events in which we behold the co-operation of the natural and supernatural.
1. In providence.
2. In conversion.
3. In the sustenance of a religious life.
4. In the propagation of the gospel.
II. That the co-operation of the natural and supernatural is necessary to ensure success.
1. This is the only way success is to he expected.
2. This is the only way in which success is possible.
3. The co-operation of the natural and supernatural makes success certain.
III. Practical lessons.
1. We should endeavour to form a true estimate of ourselves. We can do a little, but cannot do all.
2. Learn to acknowledge the Lord in every success. (D. Lewis.)
Gideon’s gallant three hundred
I. The brave company with which he attacked the foe.
II. the battle-cry of Gideon and his gallant three hundred.
1. The first secret of their strength was that they all realised that the battle they had to fight was not their own, but God’s. A man may fight very hard for himself, yet there is a point at which heroism inspired by self-interest fails; but let it be inspired by the love of another, and let that love be centred in an object worthy of the greatest daring, and there you will find a courage which is simply transcendent and irresistible. Look at the men who have wrought the greatest deeds on earth, and you will find that the first thing they emphasised was just this, “We are not come out in our own cause and our own strength, but God’s.” There would not be sufficient inspiration in any other cause to enable them to meet such overwhelming odds as those which they met with unfaltering step, and at length overcame.
2. As the battle was the Lord’s, so the weapons were His: “The sword of the Lord.” You notice how Paul emphasises the same truth--“Put on the whole armour of God”; and again, “Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges?” If we are to be God’s soldiers we must be armed with His weapons. A young man enlists in the army; there is a sword given to him; it is not a sword he has had made for himself, but one that has been submitted to certain tests, though, alas! they have been more imaginary than real occasionally. It is the Queen’s sword, and as such it is her will that it shall be so made as to be worthy of the mettle of every soldier who will wield it and of the empire that supplies it. The soldier is not allowed to risk his life by getting his village blacksmith to make one for him. There must be the stamp of the Government upon it. The battle is the Queen’s and the sword is the Queen’s; and when the soldier gets that sword he feels that the whole British Empire has staked its credit largely upon the quality of that sword, as well as the courage of the man who has accepted it. The fact that the Queen supplies the sword, and that it represents the power and the righteousness of the country whom he serves, adds vigour to his arm and determination to his assault. So is it with us. We, as the soldiers of Christ, have the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, and, thank God, this has never snapped yet in our hands.
3. In a glorious sense Gideon was joint possessor with the Lord of the sword he wielded: “The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon.” There was no blasphemy in this cry; it was a humble recognition of the fact that God had taken Gideon into His service, and into joint possession of the sword with which Gideon fought. Once again, referring to the ordinary soldier, you ask him, “Whose sword is that?” He replies, “It is mine.” Yet he never made it, and never purchased it. You say to him, “Nay, but it is the Queen’s sword.” He replies, “The Queen gave it me.” You add, “Then it is yours.” “Yes, the Queen’s--and mine”; and it is in that conjunction, “and,” which joins the Queen to the poor soldier, that we find the secret of his prowess on the battlefield. Just so here, “The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon,” was the cry which imparted more than human strength to Gideon and his soldiers. God’s warriors have to fight with the world and its evil. The sword is the Lord’s, but it is also ours. It is given us so that we may make the best use of it, and that every man who has enlisted in Christ’s army can say in the same breath, “It is God’s battle and mine.” (D. Davies.)
I. The companies engaged. Happy is he who is numbered among the three hundred. Be it so that he is in the minority. Many have forsaken him, more are against him. But he is invincible for all that, as long as he does battle with but one weapon, “The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon.”
II. The trumpet’s blast. Never did means appear more contemptible than those employed by Gideon. Thus the Lord teaches us that means are weak or strong just according to His appointment. Weak means are strong, powerful, and all-prevailing, when He ordains the end to be fulfilled by them. When God blesses, the worm Jacob can lift up his head, and thresh the mountains. But the mightiest instruments are naught without His blessing. Now, we have here, in the trumpet’s blast, the pitchers broken, and the lamps held forth, striking and appropriate emblems of the preaching of the gospel. They are fit emblems of the weakness of the instrument and of the power of its effects. The preaching of the everlasting gospel is as the blowing of Gideon’s trumpets. How apparently inadequate the means to the end! How weak, how foolish! “Men must be fanatics to suppose that men’s evil passions will be subdued, that the love of sin will be uprooted, that their affections will ever be turned heavenward, by preaching nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Human nature,” says the world, “needs something different. If you wish to convert the heathen, civilise them first, and then preach the gospel to them.” But let us turn from man to God. He who made the trumpet, knew full well its power. He would not put the trumpet into our hands and bid us blow if the breath of His power were not ready to go forth with the blast. The dead in trespasses and sins hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear do live, and live for ever. Whilst uncertain sounds, a gospel which is not the gospel, settle men in their sins, and cause sport to devils, the clear blast of this trumpet shakes the infernal kingdom to its centre, spreads jubilee among the slaves of earth, and awakens joy in the presence of angels. We pause to ask, have these gladsome notes sounded in your ears in the dead night of your soul? Have you been awakened by the loud blasts of the gospel trumpet?
III. The pitchers broken. Earthen pitchers seemed to be of all things the most absurd to fight with. The three companies might do some execution were they fully equipped. Trumpets might alarm and terrify, but what could pitchers do? How astonished must have been these three hundred men when Gideon said, “Arm yourselves with pitchers”! The result proved the efficiency of these contemptible instruments. They did what no sword, no battle-axe, no spear could do. They held the lights, they contained the lamps. They were nothing in themselves, but they were everything to the enterprise. Now, we have in these pitchers a striking emblem of the ministers of the gospel. They are earthen vessels, carrying the lamp of life. We ask, then--and does not the value of your never-dying interests compel us to ask you?--have you seen this light? have you been guided by that lamp? Has it shone into your mind, and given you the saving knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ? Has it been the power of God unto your salvation? (G. A. Rogers, M. A.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Judges 7". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
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