Publication: Pastoral Letter, April 2012
Dear Friend in Christ:
Judges chapters 6-8 tells us the story of Gideon, a story that is very relevant to our lives and how we measure God’s requirements for victory. Gideon’s story contains numerous lessons for us in our struggles and helps us to understand how God works to deliver us. First, some background.
Moses led Israel out of Egypt approximately 1500 or 1400 years before Christ. After his tenure came Joshua, whom he appointed as a successor. Following Joshua there was no dominant leader for all the people. This is the period of “The Judges” who ruled primarily in various localities (1300 BC-1050 BC). This period was characterized by Judges 17:6, “In those days, there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” They made up their own rules-an ancient form of “post-modern” culture. The nation was fragmented and lawless.
In addition to fragmentation, the nation fell under the domination of their enemies, which led to economic deprivation. The Midianites stole their crops and their labor. There is a clear relationship between godly leadership and economic growth. Fragmentation, domination, and depression are the results of departing from the One who gives leadership.
I believe in the Sovereign God. He raises up, and He puts down. The Lord sent His angel to Gideon while Gideon was threshing wheat and hiding in the wine press for fear of the Midianites, who might show up at any moment and steal the wheat.
“Hail, you mighty man of valor!” the angel said. “The Lord is with you.” Gideon was frightened. “If the Lord is with us, what are these Midianites doing here?” The angel then demonstrated his power to Gideon, convincing Gideon that God was indeed calling him. Then he sent Gideon home to pull down the altar of Baal that was in his father’s house. The test of our call always begins at home, in our own house. Gideon passed the test and pulled down the pagan altar. When confronted by Baal worshipers, Gideon’s father defended him, and Gideon’s reputation grew as a courageous leader. Once-fearful Gideon, who considered himself the least in his father’s house, had now become Gideon the courageous because God was with him. If God is with us, we need not fear to obey. When we obey, others are inspired to follow.
Approximately 32,000 men gathered to Gideon because there was a hunger for leadership and victory. But 32,000 was a small number compared to the Midianites, who were joined by the Amalekites and others of the East. As Gideon looked down on them from the hill, they looked like swarms of locusts. The 32,000 seemed not nearly enough. It was then that the Lord said, “32,000 are too many. If you win, you will say we did it.”
I am reminded of 1 Samuel 14:6, “The Lord is able to save by many or by few.” Of course, we prefer many. But then, we also say, “We did it.” Apparently, the Lord does not measure by numbers; He is looking at something else. So, the Lord began to winnow the troops.
“Tell everyone who is afraid that they must go home.” As the men looked at the armies below, 22,000 of them went home. The odds just got a lot worse. The remaining 10,000 watched more than two thirds depart. But God wasn’t through.
“Bring them to the water,” the Lord said, “and I will test them for you there. You will keep those that I say, and the others will go home. Everyone who laps water from his hands will stay, and everyone who gets down on his knees will go home” (paraphrased).
Gideon watched as 9,700 men got down on their knees while only 300 lapped water from their hands. He was left with only 300. “I will save you with 300,” the Lord said.
So, what was the Lord looking for? It certainly wasn’t numbers. We know that He was looking for at least two things: courage and vigilance. Other traits are implied, such as discipline and obedience. Only the tests which the Lord Himself required would reveal those traits.
We often attribute our tests to people or circumstance, but the truth is that the Lord administers tests. Peter speaks of the trial of our faith. He knew something about trials. In the case of the Lord’s tests, we usually get the test before we get the lesson.
The Lord warns against untested words, leaders, or ideas. “Prove all things.” So, he tested before the battle. Do not be discouraged when tested. See it as preparation of faith and character, for future opportunities.
The Lord said to Gideon, “Arise and go down to the camp of Midian” (it was night) “and listen to what they are saying.” As he and his servant listened to the two of the Midianites at the outpost of the camp, they overheard their conversation. One was recounting a dream in which he saw a loaf of barley bread tumble down the hill into the camp and knock down a tent. The other replied, “This is the sword of Gideon; into his hand, God has delivered Midian.”
The Lord had already struck the enemy with fear. Then Gideon worshipped God and returned to tell his men that the Lord had already delivered Midian into their hands. It is good to know that the victory is won before the battle begins.
The Lord had equipped the men; now He would give them their weapons: a trumpet, an empty pitcher, and a torch which was to be placed in the pitcher. They were divided into three groups and surrounded the camp of the Midianites in the middle of the night, when their enemies were asleep. Then they were to wait for Gideon’s signal, blow their trumpets, break their pitchers and shout, “The sword of the Lord and of Gideon!” They were then to stand their ground.
Let’s look at the equipment: notice there are no swords. The trumpet represents the sound of the Gospel-the message strongly proclaimed. The pitcher represents the vessel, and the fire represents the Holy Spirit’s power. The shout was the declaration of devotion to God and His leader. It was that devotion that made them one.
Once the message is proclaimed, the vessel will be broken, and only then will the Holy Spirit be revealed. Then we must simply stand our ground, trusting God and leadership.
These weapons seem strange indeed, but they are the Lord’s chosen means. He gives us the message, and He gives us the Spirit within our human vessel. The vessel must be broken. So, it was with Christ, the apostles, and so many who had been revealed the glorious light of God. This is what Paul is speaking of in 2 Corinthians 4.
There are many who volunteer but who remain afraid. Still others who are willing, but not vigilant. There are still others who have “trumpets”, but will not proclaim the Gospel; still more who do not have the fire. And then, there are yet those who refuse to “break the pitcher”. We cannot preserve our lives and reveal His. I do not know what the pitchers looked like; perhaps valuable, or works of skill. But they had to be broken.
So, it was that in the middle of the night, when the enemy was asleep, that the men of Gideon surrounded that camp. At His signal, they acted as one, blowing the trumpets, breaking the pitchers, revealing the fire, and shouting, “The sword of the Lord and of Gideon!” Then they stood in their places.
What happened next was sheer panic. The Midianites, who had already been made afraid by the Lord, awakened surrounded by shouts, trumpets, the sound of breaking pitchers, and thinking that they had been surprised by a vast army, began in the darkness and confusion to destroy one another, then fleeing from the scene.
When word of the victory reached the rest of Israel, thousands of men joined the battle and killed many of the enemy, and captured others. Some of the tribes rebuked Gideon for not allowing them to be part of the army, and others refused to contribute food to Gideon’s men. The battle had been won, but the culture had not been changed. There was still no common mentality in Israel.
Was Jesus thinking of Gideon when He said, “Many are called, but few are chosen?” (see Matthew 20:16). I do not know, but He could have been. God does choose both the people and the methods. We cannot copy Gideon’s victory, but we can learn from the principles of trumpets, pitchers, and torches.
Some may look at this story as myth; I do not. I was in Israel in 1969 after the “Six Day War” when Israel was outnumbered thirty-to-one, but won an overwhelming victory in just six days. I heard the amazing stories of how they overcame. The Lord does not count the odds before He acts, nor should we. What we must do is be courageous, vigilant, know the Gospel, have the power of the Holy Spirit, lay down our lives, be devoted to God, and to the leadership that He gives to us. If so, one can chase a thousand and two can put ten thousand to flight (Deuteronomy 32:30).
There are many similar stories of God’s victory given to His people through the centuries. I think of Valley Forge or Dunkirk. And, of course, the Bible is full of such stories. And there are stories of defeat and depravation when His people turned away from Him. You would think that we would learn from history, but people do not learn from the history they do not know. That is why I remind us of the 300. You and I can be one of those.
Our calling through CSM is to extend the kingdom of God, one person at a time, equipping you for mission and victory in your daily life. Over the past decades, we have done so through personal ministry and events; through missions; through magazines, books, and letters; through audio and video messages; and now through the internet and social media. We have also served as a seedbed and a catalyst for many other ministries that have affected the world.
Please continue to remember us in your prayers and in your budget during this month, and throughout this year. Like so many ministries, we have experienced some lean times financially, even as the opportunities and needs for ministry have increased. Our hope is in the Lord; we are so thankful for those faithful believers who He has raised up to support us in these significant and urgent times.
We hope you will be with us in Gatlinburg, TN, at our annual CSM Leadership Conference, May 16-18. Our timely theme this year is “The Power of the Prophetic Word” and we will feature Marc Dupont and Michael Coleman, along with myself and others. Please visit our website at csmpublishing.org or call us at (251) 633-7900 for more information. Also, visit the CSM Store for some very encouraging new audio resources that we believe you will find encouraging and useful.
Scripture Reference: Judges, 1 Samuel, 2 Corinthians, Matthew, Deuteronomy
Charles Simpson is an internationally-known author, Bible teacher, and pastor, serving in ministry since 1955. He is also Editor-in-Chief of One-to-One Magazine and ministers extensively throughout the United States and the nations.