160821 Judges 7:1-8

Last Updated on Sunday, 21 August 2016 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Judges 7:1-8
Theme: God Gives The Victory!

Some people call me Jerub-Baal, but you probably know me by another name. And there is a good chance that at some point you have seen it stamped on a Bible in your hotel room. I am Gideon, which literally means "striker," but I wasn't given that name because of my aggressive personality. Far from it. In fact, the biographical information recorded about me in the Bible gives the impression that in my younger years I was quite timid.

It was a dark time in the history of my people. We had done evil in the eyes of the Lord. We had forsaken the true God to worship idols. And God did not let our sins go unpunished. He allowed our enemies to attack us and oppress us. I say "enemies" plural because there was more than one. A coalition of nomadic tribes, Midianites and Amalekites and other eastern peoples, swarmed over the Promised Land like locusts. They destroyed our crops and slaughtered our animals and invaded our homes, so that we were literally forced to run for the hills.

That explains why I was threshing wheat in a wine press. I was hiding to protect what little food we had. I was hiding to preserve my life. And along with the rest of my countrymen who were buckling under the weight of Midianite oppression I cried out to the Lord for help.

The Lord heard our cry, and the angel of the Lord came to visit me. He called me a mighty warrior. He called me to lead God's people, but I wasn't easily convinced. I doubted my ability to lead, and far worse than that, I doubted God's power to save. Based on what I could see all around me, all the misery, all the idolatry, I wondered out loud if the Lord had abandoned us.

Thankfully the Lord did not abandon me. He remained patient with me. And to breathe new life into my dying faith God gave me a sign, actually three signs. First he made fire flare up from a rock to burn up my offering. And later he used water and a wool fleece to perform two more miracles.

One night I placed the wool fleece on the threshing room floor, and when I checked it the next morning I couldn't believe my eyes. The fleece was wet, soaking wet, so wet that when I squeezed it I filled a bowl with water. But the ground around the fleece wasn't wet or even damp. It was completely dry. The next night I did the same thing, with very different results. In the morning the piece of wool was dry, but the threshing room floor was completely covered with dew.

Speaking of water, our army had set up camp near the waters of the spring of Harod. Emboldened by the promises of God and filled with the Spirit of the Lord, I had summoned the men of my clan and my tribe of Manasseh and the neighbor tribes of Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali, and 32,000 soldiers answered the call to arms. It was a formidable fighting force, but we were still outnumbered more than four to one. And as I surveyed the camp of Midian sprawled out in the valley below, I didn't like our odds.

The Lord didn't like our odds either, but instead of instructing me to call up reinforcements he insisted that my army was too big. God told me: "Announce now to the people, 'Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead'" (3). And twenty-two thousand soldiers, more than two thirds of my army, did!

Only ten thousand soldiers remained, and I wasn't sure how we could defeat an enemy that numbered 135,000. But then I remembered how the Lord suddenly made fire flare from that rock. And then I remembered the wet wool fleece and the dry ground. I knew that my God was powerful. I knew that my God could do the impossible, but even those miracles didn't prepare me for what the Lord said next:

God told me: "There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will sift them for you there. If I say, 'This one shall go with you,' he shall go; but if I say, 'This one shall not go with you,' he shall not go" (4).

Even if was reluctant to obey the order, I did what I was told. I took the men down to the water and watched them as they drank. The majority knelt down to drink, but a small percentage, three hundred men total, cupped the water in their hands and lapped it like dogs.

The Lord told me: "With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the other men go, each to his own place" (7). And so I did. I sent 9,700 of my best men back to their homes, which meant that I was left with less than one percent of my original army, who gathered up the provisions and the trumpets of the soldiers who had departed.

I can only imagine what the men who remained were thinking: "What are you doing to us, Gideon? If gutting our army is supposed to be some brilliant military strategy, we don't get it. If you send us out to fight against the Midianites, you know what will happen. There is no chance that we will win. There is no doubt that we will all die."

Make no mistake about it. This unconventional battle plan wasn't Gideon's. It was God's. And there was a method to his madness. There was a reason why the Lord reduced my army from 32,000 to 300. He explained to me: "You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her..." (2) send anyone home who wants to go home.

God is not capable of sin, but he understands better than anyone how the sinful mind works. And he knows how quickly sinners can swing from fear and despair to arrogance and pride. So what if my men, outnumbered four to one, would have made a surprise attack on the Midianite camp? What if we would have devised a battle plan that played out to perfection? What if our army would have overcome seemingly insurmountable odds and won the battle? What would have happened next?

I am afraid that I know what would have happened because I know how often it has happened in my life. Too many times I have relied on my own strength to save me. Too many times I have taken all the credit for my successes and blamed others (including God) for my failures. That is why God reduced our numbers so drastically. That is why he sent 300 men into battle armed with trumpets and lanterns. To keep us from puffing up with pride. To prevent us from thinking that our own strength had anything to do with the outcome of the battle. To make it undeniably clear that God had given us the victory.

It was a valuable lesson, and even though it played out on a battle field thousands of years ago and thousands of miles away I hope that its significance is not lost on you. Because you and I have more in common than you might think. Now I know that not many of you have served in the military. And most of you have never ever led an army into battle. But like me you face challenges in your life, difficult challenges. And sometimes you might feel like the obstacles you face are insurmountable.

When you are confronted by those challenges, what do you do? Where do you go? Where do you turn? Do you put your trust in God, or do you try to go it alone? Do you think of Jesus as your Savior, or do you treat him more like a silent partner? You might go to him if things get really bad, but you are tough. You are smart. You are resilient. And you can think of plenty times when you took matters into your own hands and things worked out just fine.

The trap the Lord was trying to keep my men from falling into is the same sin that stains every human heart: pride. Pride infects all of us. Want proof? You are aware of the violence and vandalism that erupted in Milwaukee last week. When you heard the reports on the news, what was your initial response? Did your heart go out to those people, or did you inwardly shake your head at them? Did you shrug it off as just another example of bad people doing bad things in a bad area? Did you say a little prayer of thanks that our quality of life is better out in Lake Country, and maybe that the people who live out here are a little better too?

There is no excuse for burning buildings or assaulting police officers. Those are sins, terrible crimes, and the guilty deserve to be punished. But you and I are no better in the eyes of God, and his opinion is the only one that matters. The sins we commit, like the sin of pride, may be more subtle, but they are just as serious and just as dangerous. And a just and holy God has every right to condemn us.

So why hasn't he? Why are we still here? If we deserve to die for our sins, then why aren't we all dead? Because instead of giving us what we deserve God gave us a gift that none of us deserve. God's Son went to war for us, and talk about insurmountable odds. The people he came to save (at least most of them) rejected him. The devil and his demons were literally hell bent on destroying him. And the only weapon Jesus carried into the final battle wasn't a sword or a spear. It was a cross.

You know what happened next. Jesus died on the cross, but death did not signal his defeat. Just before he gave up his life on Good Friday Jesus declared victory. He declared that his work on earth was finished. He declared that death had lost its sting. And he declared that the sins of the world, the sins that make this world a dangerous place, the nagging sins that keep you up at night, the secret sins that you try to keep from other people, the sinful pride that lurks within, Jesus' death declares that every single sin has been forgiven.

That means Jesus' victory is our victory. That means we can say to Satan, "You are not my master." That means we can say to the sinful world: "I am not your slave." Not because of our superior strength. Not because we are a little better or a little less worse than anyone else. Not because of anything in us at all. But because of God's grace. Because Jesus died in our place. Because Jesus rose from the dead. Because God has given us the victory. Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Amen.

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