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Jerubbaal. The mention of this name seems intended to keep before our minds that it is emphatically the servant of the Lord who is going forth to victory. The well of Harod, i.e. of trembling, so called, no doubt, from the incident recorded in Judges 7:3, that every one who was afraid (Hebrew, hared) departed from Mount Gilead. The well of Harod is not mentioned elsewhere, though two of David's mighty men are called Harodites (2 Samuel 23:25); but it is thought to be identical with "the fountain which is in Jezreel" (1 Samuel 29:1), on the slope of Mount Gilboa, and now called Ain Jahlood, the spring of Goliah. On the north side, etc.Gideon and his Abi-ezrites were naturally on the south side of the plain, on the hill, apparently Mount Gilboa, which there shuts in the plain. The Midianitc host was encamped to the north of him (so it is in the Hebrew), in the valley, i.e. the plain of Jezreel (Judges 6:33, note). By the hill of Moreh. Nowhere else mentioned; probably only a hillock, of which there are many in that part of the plain.
And the Lord said, etc. It must be remembered that this whole movement was essentially a religious one. It began with prayer (Judges 6:6, Judges 6:7), it was followed up by repentance (Judges 6:27, Judges 6:28), and the great purpose of it was to turn the hearts of the nation back to the God of their fathers. The Lord himself, therefore, graciously forwarded this end by making it plain that the deliverance from their oppression was his work, and his only. For the general sentiment compare Deuteronomy 8:10-18; Psalms 44:3-8; Zechariah 3:6, etc.
Depart early. The Hebrew word so rendered only occurs here. Its exact meaning is uncertain, but the old versions generally give the meaning of "depart," "go back." Some, with much probability, connect the word with the Hebrew for a sparrow, and give the sense of "flying," i.e. returning in haste. The sense of "early" expressed in the A.V. does not seem to be any part of the meaning of the word. See Deuteronomy 20:8 for the form of the proclamation. From Mount Gilead. These words cannot be explained with certainty. The conjectures are—
1. That there may have been a Mount Gilead on the western side of Jordan, on which Gideon's army was en-camped, though it is not elsewhere mentioned.
2. That Gilead is a transcriber's error for Gilboa, which only differs by one letter in Hebrew. It is pretty certain that Gideon was encamped on Mount Gilboa.
3. That the phrase was the formula used by the whole tribe of Manasseh, on the west as well as on the east of Jordan, although properly applying only to those on the cast.
4. Some (reading maher, in haste, for mehar, from the mount) render "let him return in haste to Gilead," i.e. to his home.
Judges 7:5, Judges 7:6
The water, viz; of the well or spring of Harod. That lappeth, etc. It showed a much more soldierly and self-controlled spirit just to quench the thirst by lapping the water out of the palm of the hand, than to kneel down and drink without stint out of the spring itself. The Lord saw the difference of character indicated by the two actions, and chose his instruments accordingly.
By the three hundred, etc. Compare the saying of Jonathan, "There is no restraint to the Lord to save by many or by few" (1 Samuel 14:6). The same principles which run through the choice of God s instruments on other occasions appear here. The instruments are to be such in quality or in quantity as to make it quite manifest that the excellency of the power is God's, not man's; and yet the instruments themselves are to be conspicuous for their rare excellence. The shepherd boy who sat on the throne of Israel was manifestly made to sit on that throne by the appointment of God; but what a ruler, what a noble character David was! It has always been deemed one of the proofs of the Divine origin of Christianity that its apostles were men of such humble station, and yet were able to change the whole religion and morality of the world; and yet what noble stuff Peter and John and Paul were made of! And so here the overthrow of the hosts of Midian by three hundred Israelites was manifestly the effect of the power of God fighting on their behalf. But yet what marvellous heroism was there in those three hundred! what strength of purpose, what iron-firmness of nerve, to see above thirty thousand of their comrades leave them in the face of the myriads of their foes; to remain quietly at their post, and, when the time came, to leave their camp and pour down into the plain. Their self-possession and self-restraint and absence of self-indulgence in the matter of the water was a true index of the unequalled qualities which they displayed in the sequel.
So the people took, etc. It is almost certain that the passage ought to be rendered, "And they took the victuals of the people in their hands, and their trumpets," i.e. the three hundred took or borrowed what provisions they needed for a few days, and the trumpets, which were to play an important part in the stratagem, from the people who were about to return to their homes. And the host of Midian, etc. The writer repeats this to give a perfect picture of the situation. The whole army returned to their homes; the three hundred alone with Gideon in the camp; the Midianite host in the plain beneath.
When we consider the extraordinary reduction of Gideon's army from 32,000 to 300 by a process of winnowing, not merely as an isolated fact, but as a portion of the instruction of God's word, we are at once struck with its analogy, in principle, to other broad teachings of the same Scriptures. Let us first consider the case before us, and then compare with it the analogies to which we allude.
I. In a great emergency, at the call of Gideon, 32,000 men with much apparent devotion flocked to his standard. Leaving their homes and their families and their substance, they came forward willingly to meet danger and to endure hardship. To all outward appearance they were all animated by the same spirit, and might alike be credited with a resolution to die for their country and for their faith. But by and by a test was proposed: "Whoever is fearful and afraid, let him return and depart;" and forthwith more than two-thirds of that band shrank from the undertaking. Their hearts failed them; they thought of their homes left unprotected, they thought of the dreadful Midianites and Amalekites and children of the East, so numerous, so fierce, and so irresistible; their faith in God was a dead letter; the shame of deserting their comrades was not sufficient to restrain them; they left the camp and returned, 22,000 in number, to their own homes. But 10,000 remained true to the cause. These faced the danger and stood firm. Another test was then proposed, which should go much deeper, and sift the very choicest spirits from those of more ordinary mould. Of the 10,000 that remained, only 300 were found whose rigid self-denial, and stern self-discipline, and self-possessed presence of mind, showed them to be of that stamp which was necessary for a hazardous undertaking requiring boldness, endurance, watchfulness, and perseverance to insure success. And these 300 elect were accordingly retained to do the work alone; and they did it.
II. Now this is in accordance with THE ANALOGIES both of nature and of Holy Scripture. Take the creation of mankind viewed as intended to glorify God by the proper exercise of the splendid gifts bestowed upon them. Sift them first through a coarse sieve which will only separate the grossly wicked and ungodly, and yet what a large number will thus be found to come short of the purpose for which they were created. If all the irreligious, all the evil livers, all the impure and violent and unjust among mankind, stand separate, what a comparatively small number will remain who seem true to the end of their being, even in outward appearance and in the rough! But if we go on further to sift with a finer sieve, so as to separate the careless, and the selfish, and the worldly, and the hypocrites, and the lukewarm, and so on, and so as to isolate the true saints of God, the little flock, the faithful followers of the Lamb, those who shall shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father, and he to him for a name and a praise, alas, how will the number be reduced! Apply the same method to Israel. The seed of Abraham were separated from the rest of man, kind to be God's peculiar people, to fulfil a special purpose in the world as witnesses for God's unity and truth. But, as St. Paul teaches us, "they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called." There be many called but few chosen. There were the multitude, a disobedient and gainsaying people; and there was the remnant according to the election of grace, who believed the gospel, and who trusted in the promised Messiah and obeyed his voice. Or take the parable of the sower. One lot of seed falls by the wayside, and the fowls of the air devour it; another lot falls on the rock, and is soon burnt up by the scorching sun; a third is choked by the thorns, and brings no fruit to perfection; it is only one quarter of the seed sown that falls on good ground, and brings forth fruit with patience. Any one looking at the whole sample would have thought it all destined to be fruitful; but lo! only one fourth part comes to anything.
Now it is important to note this:—
1. With a view to ourselves, that we may sift ourselves before any winnowing of God comes unawares upon us. There are states of the world, or states of society, or conditions of outward circumstances, when the grain and the chaff, the wheat and the tares, the good fish and the bad, all pass muster, and there is no marked difference between them. Gideon's 32,000 all pass for good men and true. There come changes of circumstances, there comes a winnowing of God, events and situations which try men, which test their character, which put their faith, their integrity, their sincerity, their conscientiousness, their principles, to the proof, and presently of the 32,000 only 300 stand firm. Now it is a matter of infinite moment that we should examine our own selves and prove our own selves before such a sifting takes place. Just as workmen try the strength of the iron which is to support a certain weight, and do not leave it to chance whether it shall be found strong enough or not, so ought we carefully to try our own religious principles, whether they are of a kind that will stand the day of temptation, or of the kind that will break down. It is not enough to come to the front like Gideon's thousands for a moment; are we prepared to stick to our post like Gideon's 300 in the day of conflict and danger? It is not enough to be on the Christian side with the world s multitude for a time; we want that strength and perseverance which will secure our standing with the few when the multitudes fall away. It is important—
2. To notice this lesson of sifting with a view to forming a correct estimate of the probable issues of events. Look at any number of men engaged in any work, secular or religious, that requires steadfastness, tenacity of purpose, fixedness of principle, fortitude to brave danger and meet difficulties, and the probability is that only a small proportion of them will go through with what they have begun. Faint-heartedness, weariness, fickleness, inconstancy, and clashing considerations, will stop the many midway, and the work, if accomplished at all, will be the work of the few. Especially in work done for our Lord Jesus Christ, for the advancement of his kingdom and for the good of his Church, we must look to the few. The men of prayer, the men of earnest faith, the cross-bearing men, the men whose conversation is in heaven, and who are waiting for Christ, are the handful; but they are the men who will fight the real battle, and who, by grace, will win the real victory.
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
What a contrast the present position of Gideon as Israel's leader, within a few hundred yards of the dreaded foe, from that in which we first find him, threshing wheat in the wine-press secretly! Thus far has the Lord brought him, but much has to be done ere the soldiery he has shall be rendered efficient. Both leader and men have to pass through an ordeal such as must try them to the utmost. Not yet is the onset to be made that shall definitively retrieve the fortunes of Israel. Truly God's thoughts are not as men's thoughts. Everything is in apparent readiness, but delay is observed, and two mysterious tests are enjoined.
I. THE DESIGN OF THESE TESTS. Although they must have seemed arbitrary, if not capricious, to many concerned, there is evidently "method in the madness." A partial explanation is given in the words, "The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me." The tests are meant, therefore—
1. To check the unbelief and self-conceit of men. The vast multitude is reduced to a few that men may give the praise to God, and his power be manifest. It is easy to suppose that such a tendency would show itself amongst the miscellaneous crowd. God could do the work by "many or by few," and it was well for them all to know it.
2. To secure efficiency. This would consist first, in the tried courage and discipline of those who remained; and secondly, in their faith and inspiration
II. THEIR ADAPTATION TO THIS DESIGN. By the adoption of the first expedient we are not to suppose that so many as left were lacking in ordinary courage. But they were not all heroes, and it was the heroic spirit that was needed. The anxious, irresolute, and timid were got rid of, and those who remained were men in earnest. The second test revealed the presence or absence of rarer qualities. This seems to be its rationale: the Israelites were close to the camp of the Midianites, who must have been watching the singular manoeuvres of their foes. The water where they drank must have been within easy reach for a demonstration, but they remained inactive. This created carelessness, a spirit of bravado in most. When they came to the water, therefore, they thought only of their thirst, and either forgot or despised the enemy. Flinging themselves down, they abandoned themselves to the luxury of quenching their thirst, and by their attitude exposed themselves to surprise and panic. But the three hundred stood up whilst drinking, and so had to lap. In this way they kept themselves alert, and showed that duty, not self-indulgence, was uppermost in their minds. It is the combination of prudence and self-denial with courage which is the most valuable thing in a soldier. The soldiers so tried are kept for the special effort, and the others who had not gone away are held in reserve to follow up the first blow struck, But over and above the special aim of each test, there was a discipline in the compulsory waiting and observing all that they involved—the loss of time, the trial of temper by apparent folly and arbitrariness, and the insignificant handful surviving the tests. So were Israel and its leader prepared. Is not all this like the discipline of life? God is so dealing with his children. The revelation and guardianship of great truths are committed only to the tried few; the signal movements and heroic duties of his kingdom are the care of elect sou]s, who when tested have been found true. The qualities requisite for a critical movement in a campaign are just those most valuable in life—faith in the leader, dauntless courage, superiority to self-indulgence, and constant prudence. We are to endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ. We know not what faults have to be corrected, what high service lies before us.—M.
Mine own hand hath saved me.
Nothing more impressive than the secrecy observed by God in bringing on his kingdom. He is not lavish of signs and wonders. Sufficient for the occasion, and no more. Not always asserting himself. So unobtrusive, that vain and empty minds are ready to conclude him non-existent or inoperative. "Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour." The place of God at the beginnings of things—the springs and roots; and the spiritual nature of God accounts for much of this He loves to work by despised instruments and obscure agencies. "Thy gentleness hath made me great."
I. HOW PRONE THE NATURAL MIND IS TO THIS IMPRESSION. Israel, as here stated, was constantly imagining it. The moral systems, ancient and modern, social and political nostrums and panaceas, of men show this. The glorification of courage, intellectual gifts, material resources.
II. ITS MISCHIEVOUS EFFECTS. Egotism; materialism; intellectual and moral pride. "For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God" (Romans 10:3). "Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life" (John 5:40).
III. PROOFS THAT MAN CANNOT BE HIS OWN SAVIOUR.
1. The miraculous deliverances of Israel. The weakness of luxurious and materially enriched times. The providences of life. The soul's inner experiences.
2. The true conception of salvation. A spiritual more than a material fact. Our relation to the law of God. "Not by works of righteousness which we have done," etc. (Titus 3:5). "And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness," etc. (Philippians 3:9). Inward witness—"By the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Corinthians 15:10).—M.
HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY
Success not dependent on numbers.
One of the first objects of a general's anxiety is to see that he has a sufficient number of men under his command. But Gideon is made to understand that he has too many, and must reduce his hosts before going to battle with the sanction and assistance of God. In Christian work the tendency is to rely on external appearances of strength manifested by a great array of workers rather than on the inconspicuous spiritual sources of real power. While remembering the need of more labourers of the right kind for God's field (Matthew 9:37, Matthew 9:38), we must also understand that the work may be suffering through excess in numbers of those labourers, whose character and method of work are not of the highest order.
I. THE POWER OF GOD IS FAR MORE IMPORTANT THAN ANY HUMAN AGENCY. In all Divine work the real energy is centred in God. We are but the instruments in his hands. The temptation is to forget that the true power and blessing come wholly from him (Deuteronomy 8:17), and to think so much of our labour in planting and watering as to ignore the one most important thing, God giving the increase (1 Corinthians 3:7). A gardener can only minister to the spontaneous life of nature; and if he becomes so infatuated with his skill as to attempt to manufacture a plant, his total reliance on his own resources will, of course, only reveal folly. So anything which leads us to magnify human agencies at the expense of Divine power will as surely produce failure.
1. The imposing appearance of too great numbers may lead us to neglect the aid of God. When we are few we feel our helplessness, and so learn to turn to God for strength; when we are many we imagine ourselves strong, and thus while we are (apparently) strong in ourselves we are really most weak. Presumption takes the place of faith, and human agency is relied on instead of Divine energy. The numbers of the Church, the elaborate organisation of her societies, the gifts and genius of individual men are all snares if they tempt us to neglect the one supreme source of success. The danger of the Church in the present day is to rely too much on the machinery of her institutions, instead of seeking the vital power which can alone inspire the energy of spiritual work.
2. The character of too great numbers may be such as to hinder the bestowal of the help of God. God cannot bestow his spiritual gifts on a people who are not spiritually-minded. If we gain numbers at the expense of spirituality, we do this also at the expense of Divine aid. Better be few, and constituting such a worthy temple that the Holy Ghost can dwell and work in us, than numerous, but possessed by a worldly spirit which degrades the temple into a house of merchandise.
II. THE QUALITY OF ANY HUMAN AGENCY IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE SIZE OF IT. It has been well said that it would be better for the cause of Christianity in the world "if there were fewer Christians and better ones." Xerxes found the vast numbers of his Asiatic hordes a hindrance to effective warfare with the disciplined Greeks. The great want of the Church is not more labourers, but better ones—better ministers, missionaries, teachers; not more sermons, but more able preaching; not a more ponderous library of Christian literature to meet the attacks of unbelief, but a few more powerful works (one book, 'Butler's Analogy was probably more effective in counteracting the influence of Deism than all the rest of the voluminous apologetic writing of the eighteenth century). It would be well if Church discipline were a reality, and Christian workers selected with conscientious care. The workers should be sifted by tests applied to their character and abilities.
1. Tests of courage and zeal are useful; so Gideon dismissed the timid, and only willing men were retained. The only valuable soldiers in Christ's army are the volunteers who delight in his service.
2. Slight incidents will often reveal character, and serve as tests of the quality of God's servants (Judges 7:7).—A.
Get thee down, etc; i.e. attack the camp at once with thy 300 men. But if thou art afraid to do so, go down first alone with Phurah thy servant, and hear what they are saying in the camp.
The armed men. The exact meaning of the word here rendered armed men (chamushim), and which occurs Exodus 13:18; Joshua 1:14; Joshua 4:12, is a little uncertain, but it is generally thought to be synonymous with another word (calutsim), also rendered armed (Numbers 32:32; Deuteronomy 3:18), and to mean literally girded, i.e. prepared to fight. These fighting men, as distinguished from the numbers of the nomads who were with their camels and cattle scattered all along the plain, were all collected in the camp, to the edge of which Gideon and Phurah crept stealthily in the dark.
A cake. The Hebrew word occurs nowhere else. Of barley bread. The commonest kind of bread, the food of only the poorer classes, indicating, therefore, the humble origin and station of Gideon. A tent. Rather, the tent; what in a Roman camp would be the pretorium, the general's tent. The words at the end of the verse are heaped up to indicate the total and entire upsetting and overthrow of the tent, symbolic of the rout and destruction of the Midianite host.
This is nothing else, etc. The dream and the interpretation are striking evidences of the terror which Gideon's name had already inspired among the Midianites. Because, although both the dream and the interpretation were of God, for the encouragement of Gideon in his great undertaking, yet they followed the course of nature and the laws of psychology. The presentiment that God had delivered Midian into Gideon's hand is exactly like the terror in the minds of the Canaanites which preceded the arrival of Joshua (Exodus 23:27; Deuteronomy 2:25; Deuteronomy 11:25; Joshua 2:9-11).
It was so, etc. The effect upon Gideon was like magic. He not only learnt the state of panic in which the Midianites were, but he had a further certainty that God was with him. His simple piety and adoring gratitude threw him at once upon his knees to thank God, and to cast himself anew upon his strength with un-doubting trust. His hands were indeed strengthened, and he lost not a moment in returning to his 300, relating in a few words the incident of the dream, and bidding them follow him. The Lord hath delivered, etc. Cf. 1 Samuel 14:20.
Trumpets, which had been collected from the whole army (Judges 7:8, note). Lamps. Rather, as in the margin, torches, within the pitchers, so as not to be seen till the pitchers were broken, when the torches would flare with a sudden blaze. The pitchers were vessels for drawing water, as appears from Genesis 24:14, Genesis 24:16, Genesis 24:18, Genesis 24:20. They were doubtless of earthenware, as they were so easily broken.
The sword of the Lord, etc. The word sword is not in the original here, though it is in Judges 7:20. It has either dropped out of the text accidentally, or what we have here is the shorter form of the war-cry. It is observable how careful Gideon is to put the name of Jehovah first. It was his cause against Baal, and the battle was to be fought in his strength, and the glory of the victory was to be his. The cry, "The sword of Gideon," would be peculiarly terrible to the many who had heard of the dream, of which the fulfilment was come so quickly.
The middle watch. The ancient Israelites divided the night into three watches of four hours each, from sunset to sunrise, i.e. from six p.m. to six a.m. The first watch, from six to ten, is not mentioned in the Old Testament; but we have the middle watch mentioned here (from ten to two), and the morning watch (from two till six): Exodus 14:24 and 1 Samuel 11:11. According to this, Gideon's attack would have taken place soon after ten p.m; or towards eleven, the time when the sleep would be the deepest, the watchmen of the first watch having lately fallen into their first sleep. The later Israelites adopted the Roman division of the night into four watches.
They stood, etc. Gideon's men did not advance, but stood, each company in the place assigned to them, at different sides of the-camp. This had the effect of awakening the whole camp simultaneously, and they started to their feet and ran hither and thither in confusion, shouting as they went. Undisciplined troops, especially excitable Orientals, are very liable to be thus thrown into a panic. Fled. The Cethib has, caused to fly, i.e. either "put to flight," or "carried away," as in Judges 6:9; Exodus 9:20. In the former case the nominative must be the Israelites; in the latter, their tents, herds, stuff, etc; must be understood. Both are very awkward. The Keri, fled, is probably right, unless caused to fly has the sense of "bid them fly," in which case the preceding word, cried, might be taken in its common sense of they sounded an alarm. The whole clause would then run thus: And all the camp ran; and they sounded a retreat, and bid them flee.
Blew the trumpets, etc. Hearing the confusion, the three companies blew their trumpets, probably more loudly than before, to give the impression of a hot pursuit being at hand. The Midianites, thinking the enemy were upon them, and not being able in the dark to distinguish friend from foe, mistook their flying comrades for pursuing Israelites, and fell upon and slew one another. In like manner the Philistines had done when attacked by Jonathan and his armour-bearer (1 Samuel 14:20), and the Ammonites, Moabites, and Edomites when attacked by Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20:23). Beth-shittah. House of acacias. The exact situation of it, and of Zererath and Tabbath, is unknown. They must have been villages lying on the route from the plain of Esdraelon to the banks of Jordan, probably between Little Hermon on the north and Mount Gilboa on the south, where there was a very ancient high road from Jezreel to the Jordan by Beth-sham Indeed it is highly probable that Shuta, a village mentioned by Robinson, marks the site, as it retains the name of Beth-shittah. For Zererath some read, with some of the old versions and manuscripts, Zeredath (r and d being scarcely distinguishable in Hebrew), and identify it with Zarthan near Succoth, mentioned Joshua 3:16 and 1 Kings 4:12; 1 Kings 7:46. Abel-meholah (the meadow of the dance) was the birthplace of Elisha (1 Kings 19:16), and is mentioned in conjunction with Beth-shan, Jezreel, and Zartana in 1 Kings 4:12. Eusebius tells us that in his time Abel-meholah was called Beth-maiela, and situated ten miles below Beth-shan, or Scy-thopolis. There was also, he says, close by an Abel-maiela.
The men of Israel, etc. Gideon's disbanded army got together again very quickly when they heard of the flight of the Midianites. Zebulun is not mentioned.
Mount Ephraim. Rather, the hill country, of Ephraim. For some reason Gideon had not invited the Ephraimites to join in the war before (Judges 8:1); but now, seeing the extreme importance of seizing the fords of Jordan, so as to stop the escape of the Midianites, he sent messengers in all haste to the men of Ephraim, who accordingly "took the waters unto Beth-barah and Jordan." The waters seem to mean a number of streams running from the hill country of Ephraim into the Jordan, and which had to be crossed by the Midianites before they could reach the Jordan fords. The site of Beth-barah is unknown. It is not thought to be the same as Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptising (John 1:28). Beth-barah must have been on the west of Jordan.
Oreb, a raven, and Zeeb, a wolf. The rock known afterwards as the rock of Oreb (Isaiah 10:26), and the wine-press (see Judges 6:11) known as the wine-press of Zeeb, were so called from being the places where these two princes were taken and slain by the Eph-raimites. In like manner the well of Harod is called by the name it afterwards received (Judges 7:1), and the palm tree of Deborah in like manner (Judges 2:5), and Lehi (Judges 15:9). These are valuable indications (to which many more might be added) of a living tradition older than the written history. The capture of Oreb and Zeeb is celebrated in Psalms 83:11 and Isaiah 10:26. On the other side Jordan, i.e. the east side of the river, which Gideon had now crossed, as is related in Judges 8:4. The narrative runs on here to complete the history of the doings of the men of Ephraim, and goes back at Judges 8:4 to take up the thread of the history of Gideon (see Judges 2:1-6, note).
The whole Book of Judges is so full of lessons of faith, as the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews teaches us when he refers to "Gideon, and Barak, and Samson, and Jephthah" (Hebrews 11:32), that we cannot help recurring to the subject of faith if we would honestly draw the instruction which each portion of Scripture is intended to convey. But though the same general lessons of faith—its nature, its triumphs, its sure rewards—recur in the successive histories, yet each has some proper lesson peculiar to itself. Referring then to the remarks on Judges 1:8-21 for such general lessons, we will notice some peculiar trials to which the faith of Gideon was subjected.
I. THE SACRIFICES OF FAITH. Let us put ourselves in Gideon's place. Suddenly called out of insignificance and obscurity, he had played the part of a statesman, a leader, and a general. As the result of his well-concerted measures, he found himself at the head of 32,000 men. As he reviewed this great force, so unexpectedly got together, how must his heart have swelled with pride and hope! No doubt that great army was the instrument by which he was to deliver Israel, and he could but feel some self-gratulation at the success of his plans. To a man of an eager spirit as he must have been, no greater disappointment could have occurred than to be told to dismiss that army without striking a blow. Just when he was about to acquire immortal fame to himself, and to save his country, and establish the great religious reformation which he had begun, by their means, to see them, and all his own prospects with them, melt away like a heap of snow before the sun, and that by his own act, must have been a trial indeed. But Gideon's faith stood the trial. Before God's clear command all his natural feelings and wishes gave way at once. He might have said with St. Paul, "What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ;" for he acted in that self-same spirit. His faith prompted him to obey, at whatever sacrifice of inclination and natural desire. That places him on a very high pedestal among believers. But let us look again at the extraordinary singleness of eye with which Gideon's faith led him to act. The loss of the first 22,000 men was indeed a heavy one, but still they went away of their own free will. But the 10,000 who remained had given proof of a brave and constant spirit, and how could he put upon them the affront of sending them away, after a test of an arbitrary kind, as men unfit to face the enemy? It was now not Gideon's ambition only, not his amour-propre, which would rise in rebellion against a hard command, but his feelings as a soldier, as a comrade, as one who desired to retain the good opinion of his countrymen, and who wished to be popular amongst them. Dismiss the 9700 men who had left home, and were come to share the danger with him, and who had refused to leave him when they might have done so! Expose himself to the charge of fickleness and folly—to be thought like a man who builds a house and then plucks it down with his own hands; to be liable all his life to the hatred and resentment of those whom he had so affronted! (See 2 Chronicles 25:10.) How could he obey such a hard command? But if Gideon's natural man spake thus, the voice of his faith spake in contradiction to such thoughts, and spake with authority. His faith still prompted him to obey, and he did obey, because he looked with a single eye to the will of God, and took no count of consequences to himself or others. Here again then his faith was of a very high quality.
II. THE RISKS OF FAITH. But we may look at Gideon's faith in a little different light, and mark the immense risks that he ran, having all human probabilities against him, and only the promise of God for him. Here was a vast host of 135,000 men within less than an hour's march of him. His position was anyhow one of the utmost danger. To weaken his force even by 1000 men must seem an act of great imprudence. To denude himself of his whole force except a handful of 300 men was like courting destruction, like putting his head in the lion's mouth. Humanly speaking, Gideon and his 300 would be crushed like insects under the feet of the Midianite host. And yet he dehberately reduced his force to 300 men, and then marched down from his stronghold into the enemy's camp. He set the word and promise of God on one side, and all the fearful risks and dangers on the other, and these last were in his eyes as nothing in comparison with the former. He went down with his 300 in full confidence of the victory which he won. In this too his faith was worthy of all praise and imitation.
III. VERIFICATION OF THE WORD OF GOD. But here perhaps a caution is necessary, Lest we mistake what faith is. Faith is such an entire trust in the word of God that it produces obedience to that word, whatever it requires of us. But we must not mistake our own fancy, or our own wishes, or our own opinion, for the word of God. Had Gideon rushed down upon the Midianite host upon the impulse of his own courage, or in reliance on his own stratagem, or under an unfounded belief that God had sent him, instead of admiring his faith, we should have had perhaps to blame him for foolhardiness, or to accuse him of foolish vanity, or to pity him for his fanaticism. It was because his course was founded upon the clear and distinct word of God that it is held up to us as an object of admiration and imitation. And it is worth observing in this connection what abundant assurance was given to Gideon that the very word of God was his warrant for what he did, and how cautious Gideon was to obtain such assurance. The distinct appearance and words of the angel at first, his tarrying by the terebinth tree at Gideon's request, the fire which consumed the sacrifice at the touch of the angel's staff, the vanishing of the angel out of his sight, his reappearance that same night, the sign, twice repeated, of the fleece of wool, the reiterated communications by the word of the Lord, and the dream that he heard in the Midianite camp are so many proofs upon proofs, like our Lord's appearances after his resurrection, given by God to make his revelation certain, and so many evidences of Gideon's wise caution in ascertaining beyond a doubt that it was the word of God which was directing him in this terrible enterprise. In trying to take Gideon's faith as a model of our own, we must first imitate his care in ascertaining what the word of God really does require of us. The sad mistakes that have been made by misguided men in all ages, confounding the passions of their own hearts, or the hallucinations of their own brains, with the requirements of the 'written word of God, and even in their heated fanaticism imagining that special revelations were made to them by the Holy Ghost, confirms the lesson, given us by Gideon, of not accepting anything as the word of God upon light or insufficient evidence. To accept as the word of God without sufficient evidence any impression, or impulse, or vision, or dream, or interpretation of Scripture, is not a proof of a strong faith, but an evidence of a weak, and rash, and credulous mind. We may place, therefore, as first in order of importance, as well as the first that rises to the surface from the history of Gideon, the lesson of taking all due care and caution in verifying the word of God. This implies: circumstanced as we are, diligent and prayerful study of Holy Scripture, so as to be imbued with its true spirit, and to know thoroughly what it requires of us under the various circumstances of life. But when once the requirements and meaning of the word of God are plain, then a true faith will obey it, in spite of any sacrifice of worldly interest or self-pleasing which such obedience may incur, and in spite of any risks of worldly evil which may ensue. And the reason is obvious. Faith rests upon the perfect goodness and infinite power of God. If once, therefore, we know that God commands us to do such or such a thing, or to leave such a thing undone, we are certain that it is really for our good to do it, however much appearances may be the other way. We are certain too that the power of God is sufficient to bear us harmless through all dangers, however insuperable they may seem to us. It is of the very essence of faith, therefore, to give more weight to the unseen power and love of God than to the visible losses and dangers which threaten to be the result of obedience to God's word, and to make light of sacrifice of worldly advantages, or of selfish interests, in view of that closer communion with God which comes of obedience to his commandments. So Gideon acted, so Abraham acted, and so Moses acted, and thus must we act if we would be reckoned with them. The sacrifices we are called to make and the risks we are called to run by a conscientious obedience to the word of God in all its breadth will probably be much smaller than theirs were; perhaps only the sacrifice of some gratification to our vanity, or some addition to our self-esteem, the risk of some loss to our gains, or some check to our haste to get rich; but every such sacrifice made in the spirit of a true faith, and every such risk run in simple trust to the promises of the word of God, will be accepted of God in his Fatherly love, and will help to make us rich in faith, and to secure our place among the heirs of that kingdom which God hath promised to them that love him.
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
The crowning sign.
All through this drama the spirit of Gideon was being trained for a decisive service. His faith had been tried to the utmost. Alone of all that host had he borne the responsibility of reducing it to 300 men. God's influence upon Gideon was from beginning to end moral and spiritual.
I. GOD JUSTIFIES HIS WAYS TO THOSE WHO PUT THEIR TRUST IN HIM. It was a grace that this additional sign should be given. The patience and faith of the servant of God are recognised by a spiritual reward. The deep harmony, hitherto unsuspected, of the steps he had taken at the Divine instance with the process going on and assisted by God s influence in the minds of his enemies must have, when combined with the circumstances,—the still night, the darkness, the vast host in whose dangerous neighbourhood he lay,—produced a profound impression upon his mind. In such a revelation there is communion and spiritual rapture. It was a reward for all he had passed through. The wisdom of everything was plain. There are times like this in every true life. They come unexpectedly, as a grace from our heavenly Father. He leads us into his counsels, and confirms us. Obedience leads on to knowledge,
II. SUGGESTION IS GIVEN HOW TO PERFECT OUR SERVICE. In every saint's life there is something wanting—an indefinite incompleteness and crudity. Such revelations and providences remove this. Their practical utility is evident. Here were several matters made known to Gideon he had not probably dreamt of.
1. The carelessness of the watch, arising probably from the notion that Israel had disagreed and dispersed.
2. The liability of an army so composed, etc; to panic.
3. The influence of his own name (the use he made of this we know by the cry).
4. The secret fear in the hearts of his adversaries.
III. IT IS BY THE MORAL INFLUENCE OF GOD'S PEOPLE THE WORLD IS OVERCOME. Christians are too much afraid of the world. Fear not, says the Master, for I have overcome the world. Vivid realisations of this are sometimes afforded us. The whole stress of attention ought therefore to be laid upon character, obedience to God's will, and submission to his leadership. Though few and weak, the "little flock" will receive the kingdom. It is Christ in us of whom the wicked and the demons are afraid. Of what consequence all their multitude and array? Secretly the world respects and fears the self-denial and faith of Christians.
IV. A GRACIOUS REVELATION LIKE THIS HAS TO BE RECOGNISED ADORINGLY AND BY IMMEDIATE PRACTICAL OBEDIENCE. Gideon "worshipped" Jehovah. It was a time when every obstacle had been removed, and his way was clearly revealed. He could now sympathise with God and admire his consummate wisdom. For himself too he must have felt grateful. God was better to him than he had hoped. Victory was potentially his. No wonder that his heart poured itself forth in such unrestrained and adoring emotion. But the lesson of the sign was not lost. Practical advantage was at once taken of it. He "returned unto the host of Israel, and said, Arise," etc. Do not allow God's gracious revelations in our lives to be a dead letter. Act upon them, that our lives may be brought into subjection and harmony with his will.—M.
The strategy of Gideon is one of the military marvels of antiquity. It seems simple and well adapted to its end; but that did not appear at first. In truth he was taught of God, inspiring his mind and illuminating his common sense, his experience, and his spiritual faculties. From the "lamps, pitchers, and trumpets" we learn—
I. How THE ENEMIES OF GOD ARE TO BE DEALT WITH.
1. The means to be employed are of Divine appointment. Not what human wisdom would devise, nor as appealing to material aid. "Gideon overcame Midian with unarmed soldiers, bearing only trumpets, torches, and pitchers. So Christ overcame the world by unarmed apostles, bearing the trumpet of preaching and the torch of miracles (Theodoret).
2. Prompt and intelligent advantage is to be taken of the opportunities presented. What served at this juncture would have been entirely useless at another time. Knowledge of men is of immense advantage to the Christian worker; tact, and perception of the capabilities of the several means of grace. The power of Christian truth can never be overrated, but it may be misapplied.
3. Unity and co-operation should be shown by God's servants Nothing could be finer than the device, save the manner in which it was carried out. Greater works than these shall be done when all Christ's servants are of one heart and one mind.
II. IN WHAT LIGHT THEIR POWER IS TO BE REGARDED. Gideon began his enterprise with the conviction, which he communicated to his followers, "The Lord hath delivered into your hand the host of Midian." The victory is already potentially ours if we use the right means in the right spirit. All the pomp and influence of sin ought not to daunt us. It is a house divided against itself, and subject to a thousand alarms. The least saint, in God's strength, may put an "army of aliens" to flight.
III. UPON WHOM THE SOLDIER OF THE TRUTH OUGHT TO DEPEND. Gideon is filled throughout with a profound trust in Jehovah. It is that which gives the moral character to his plans. Although he saw-how potent his own name was amongst the Midianites, he did not content himself with the war-cry, "The sword of Gideon," but preferred "The sword of the Lord (Jehovah) and of Gideon." Christians can rely implicitly upon spiritual means and methods, because they believe in God, who informs and directs all earnest effort. The Israelites stood still and the Lord fought for them.—M.
Verse 22-ch. 8:4, Judges 8:10-13
Following up advantage.
A model of diplomatic skill, judicial sternness, and soldier-like hardihood and resolution. Far from home, amid hardship in strange regions, he tracks the enemy even into the inaccessible Hauran. There is a Syrian proverb, He fled into the War of the Safa, i.e. into an unassailable refuge.
I. THE CO-OPERATION IS SOUGHT OF ALL ISRAELITES WHO CAN BE OF HELP. He had reasons for keeping the glory to his own trusty band. But there is no selfishness in his disposition. The advantage of his nation and the glory of Jehovah is uppermost in his mind. He finds work, therefore, for all All are engaged, that it may be a national victory. Some have to lay the foundations, begin the work, sow the seed; others can then carry out. The least Christian has something he can do. It is a duty of leaders to make and indicate fitting work for all. "The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few." Ephraim can do one part of the work best; he another. And having hitherto abstained, they were quite fresh now.
II. A SAGACIOUS AND KINDLY FORBEARANCE IS SHOWN TO THE JEALOUSIES OF BRETHREN. No word of rebuke is spoken to the tribes that held back. Persuasion is used, opportunity for usefulness is presented, the patriotism of the tribes is relied upon. It was no time for questions and wranglings. Well would it be for the different branches of Christ's Church did they follow a similar policy. Would that we were all so busy that we had no time for doctrinal disputes and questions of precedence and apostolic authority!
III. NO PAUSE OR REST IS OBSERVED UNTIL THE TASK IS COMPLETED, The deserted Midianite camp with all its riches does not tempt. Hunger and thirst and weariness are endured rather than lose the advantage. Only a determination to follow up the surprise with thorough and exemplary vengeance could have sustained him. So the conflict with sin and the world is to be conducted. Better to wear out than to rust out. Evil habits, unholy practices, false principles have to be tracked out to their last refuges and finally disposed of. It is harder work to live out Christianity than to be converted to it; harder work to follow out in detail, and into the practice and life of every day, the great doctrines of righteousness than to understand and explain them intellectually. There is a loud call for vigour, thoroughness, patient continuance in well-doing. The day is Christ's; let us make it wholly his.—M.
HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY
I. THE ASSURANCE OF SUCCESS IS A HELP TOWARDS ATTAINING IT. Gideon had feared to attack the hosts of Midianites and Amalekites till he had discovered that they feared him; then he took courage and energy to devise the plan of victory. Too much diffidence is dangerous. Hope inspires with ingenuity as well as with courage; it is a brightness, an influence that enlivens thought. Therefore hope has its place in the first rank of Christian graces (1 Corinthians 13:13). The promises of the Bible are not only comforting, they are inspiring. Our great encouragement should be that the powers of evil fear Christ and his army.
II. THOUGHT IS SOMETIMES MORE NEEDFUL THAN FORCE. Gideon's victory was a triumph of thought, of contrivance. The right disposition of our energies is more important than the mere sum of them. It would be well if Christians practised on behalf of the cause of Christ the same wisdom which men of the world display in business, in politics, etc; so far as this is not inconsistent with perfect honour (Luke 16:8). Christ requires us to be wise and harmless (Matthew 10:16). Dulness is not holiness. Intellectual gifts should be consecrated to God, not despised as unfit for his service. The diplomatist and the tactitian may find work in the service of Christ. In mission work organisation, economy of strength, ingenious adaptation of means to ends should be carefully studied, and the gift of wisdom sought in addition to that of zeal.
III. MORAL INFLUENCE IS BETTER THAN PHYSICAL FORCE. Gideon had conquered before he had struck a blow. The dismay he created and the confusion this produced in the hostile camp secured him victory. Though we cannot be justified in descending to deception, we may aim at influencing others by thought and feeling rather than by direct physical means. Christianity is a triumph of ideas. It is a sign of intellectual and spiritual failure when the Church desires to effect by the aid of the law what she should have done by the influence of moral suasion, as in restraining immorality, etc.
IV. IGNORANCE IS WEAKNESS. The Midianites and Amalekites were ignorant of the number of Gideon's army, or they would not have been deceived. They were too self-confident to inquire, as Gideon had done, concerning their condition. Ignorance and superstition create imaginary foes. An evil conscience is quick to imagine danger (Proverbs 28:1). The terrors which surround us are worse in imagination than in reality. Darkness and ignorance make men their own worst enemies (Judges 7:22).—A.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Judges 7". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12