When less is more – Judges 7
By Rev. Dr. Brent Russett – Asbury Free Methodist
February 12, 2023
This is the third instalment of four in our series on Gideon. To remind those of you who were here, and bring those of you who were not up to speed, let me tell you the story.
Israel had been overrun by the Midianites. They stole or destroyed the crops. They killed their cattle. They swarmed their land. Out of the dire poverty, the Israelites called out to God, who they had abandoned. God first sent a prophet to speak against the Baal worship that the people were involved in. Then God sent an angel to a guy named Gideon.
Gideon was hiding in a wine press threshing wheat. The angel said, “Greetings, you mighty warrior, the Lord is with you.” Gideon argued the point because he didn’t feel like a mighty warrior, and it looked to him like the lord had abandoned them. But the angel told Gideon to go in the strength he had and save Israel. In verse 16 of chapter 6, God promises Gideon that he will be with him and they will strike down the Midianites together
Gideon asks for a sign that this is the word of the Lord, and fire comes out of the rock and consumes the meal he had set before the angel.
So now what you have is Gideon armed with God’s promise that he will strike down the Midianites. The Midianites were still over 120000 strong. Gideon was still just one man.
Some of you have challenges in your life that look overwhelming. The Midianites take the form of depression, or financial crisis, or job stress, or peer pressure, or relationship issues, or major conflict. It could be anorexia, or sexual issues, or health issues, and the list could go on and on. There are very few of us who don’t have significant challenges.
The challenges, though, don’t all have to be negative. Maybe you feel God’s call to develop a ministry, a business, a product, or write a book, and the challenges seem huge. Whatever the Midianites are that are standing before you, the life of Gideon has something to say to you.
So, Gideon saw an angel, and he received the promise of God that God and he will strike down the Midianites. God has confirmed his promise with a sign.
Judges 6:34 (NIV)
34 Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him.
The Abiezrites are a family, a clan, of warriors amongst the Israelites. That fact that Gideon could summon them and the tribes to Israel was astounding. That in itself was a miracle of God. Gideon, you may remember, came from the least of the tribes of Israel, and he came from the least of the families in that tribe. But here he is summoning the warriors of Israel, and they are responding to the summons.
Now Gideon has taken action. He has summoned an army. He is moving forward. But internally, his gut is twisting. Will people respond? Even if they do, what chance do we have?
Have you ever been there? You take a step of faith and then say what on earth have I got myself into.
So, Gideon says, God, I need more. I know you have promised. I know you have confirmed your promise. But God, I need you to confirm your promise again. God, I am going to place this hunk of wool, a fleece, on the ground. If it is wet and the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand. He went to bed, woke up, and sure enough, the wool was wet, and the ground was dry. But Gideon says God, don’t be mad. But I am going to set the wool out again. If it is dry and the ground is wet, then I will know it is you. God did that miracle too.
I think Gideon was pushing it. You remember John the Baptist’s father. He asked the angel how I know that what you say is going to come to past. He ended up not being able to speak for 9 months. But this time, God chose to meet the request.
I often hear of people doing the equivalent of putting out a fleece of wool. If God does this, then I will go that way; if he doesn’t, I won’t. There is a time for this kind of guidance. However, I think that this kind of thing should be used sparingly.
You will notice that it is used to confirm a promise already given. It is used to verify the direction that has already been given. There is a time to ask God to confirm what you believe he is telling you.
But I want you to know this, if God is going to give you signs like these, he is usually going to require greater faith down the road. The more he confirms what he is going to do, the more He is going to ask you to trust Him.
Let’s move with the story into chapter 7. Gideon had blown the trumpet and summoned the men of Israel to war. 32000 men responded. The general rule of war is if you are going to attack the enemy, you want four people for every person the other army has. The reality with the men that showed up was that it was 4 to 1 against them. Now we have 32000 men against 120000 men. So, the odds are not in Gideon’s favour.
But this is what God says to Gideon.
Judges 7:2 (NIV)
2 The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me.’
This verse is really important if you are going to understand the provision of God in your life. Do you get what it is saying? Even though Gideon is seriously outgunned or out sworded, as it were, God says, you are so strong I can’t work. He says, if you are going to experience my power, working on your behalf, then you also need to know that you are too strong right now.
Although the odds are not in Gideon’s favour, great military leaders like Alexander the Great have won victories with odds like this. If Gideon had won, they would have called him Gideon the great. But God will not share His glory.
I am very aware of this when it comes to Asbury. God will not share his glory. I long to see our church live in a way that is only explainable by God. We have a good board and good programs and good people. You may have a good pastor. But all those things will not amount to anything unless God does what only God can do. Only God can answer prayer. Only God can transform lives. Only God can do miracles. And God will not share his glory with another. So, when we see God at work, we must be careful to give him all the glory.
There are many of you who need to take note of this in your own life as well. Here is the temptation. When faced with the Midianites in your life, you want to become Alexander the Great. If I only could find the right strategy, if I only could become stronger. If I only could learn new skills, then I could defeat the Midianites.
It is quite possible that God wants to develop your character as you face your Midianites – But sometimes God says to us, “You are too strong for me to deliver you.”
If I defeat the Midianites in my life by smarts and skill, then I am going to look back and say, “Look what I have done.” But God will not share his glory. So, he lets us come to the end of our resources. When He steps in to deliver us, then we will look back and say, “Look what God has done.”
Sometimes God says to us, “You are too strong.” But it doesn’t make any sense to us because we don’t feel strong. We feel outnumbered four to one.
Our temptation is to try to make ourselves stronger without consulting God. We vacillate between being overwhelmed by the task and being confident that if we can just get around the next corner or implement the next strategy, it will be all right. All the time, God says you are too strong.
What usually happens is that we bang our heads against the proverbial wall so many times that we get an emotional and spiritual headache and we give up. We settle. We say, “this is just the way life is.” But that is not God’s way either.
The only way out of situations like these is to hear from God. That is part of the reason why we teach the Abide course around here. I want you to learn to hear from God.
Sometimes we bring the Midianites in our lives to God and we hear what Paul heard. “My grace is sufficient for you.” Sometimes we bring the Midianites in our lives to God, and we will hear, “wait.” That, by the way, is different than saying – the situation in my life is not changing so I guess God is telling me to wait. You see, when you do that, the best you can do is persevere. But when you know in your spirit that God has said wait, then waiting becomes active. We wait on the Lord, and our strength is renewed. We anticipate the day when God takes his foot off the brakes.
But sometimes, we need to hear from God because he is going to give us a new strategy, a different way of tackling the problem. Usually, want he does is start with a promise.
That is what he did for Gideon back in chapter 6.
Judges 6:16 (NIV)
16 The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.”
The Midianites had to be dealt with. Gideon could not deal with them in his own strength. But neither was he irrelevant. Gideon had his role to play and God had his role to play. When dealing with the Midianites in your life, it is the same. There are things that you must do, and there are things that God must do. But I have often found that God doesn’t do what he wants to do in the situation until we do what he wants us to do in the situation.
It wasn’t that Gideon was irrelevant to the process. It wasn’t that all Gideon had to do was stop leading and then God would take over. It wasn’t that Gideon should just withdraw, and then God would do his part. God just wanted Gideon to work in a very different way. God gave Gideon a strategy, a way of approaching the problem.
Now the strategy that God gave Gideon was one that made no sense, in the natural. It will not make the textbook in any military college. But, if you know that the strategy is from God, if you have heard from God, then it would be best to follow.
Here are some things I have seen God ask of his people when dealing with the Midianites in their lives.
For the strategic thinkers in the bunch, I have seen him ask that they pray more and strategize less. For the hoarders, who are trying to hoard their resources to meet the challenge, he has asked them to give more and to trust him. Sometimes, and I see this a lot, God asks people to spend more time working on their hearts and less time working on the Midianite challenge. It is amazing how, when we follow God’s direction, God works out the challenge in front of us.
In God’s economy, less is more. Those who exalt themselves will be humbled. Those who humble themselves will be exalted. Those who save their life will lose it. Those who lose their life for Christ’s sake will find. Give, and it will be given unto you, good measure pressed down, shaken together and running over. In God’s economy, less is more.
If you want to see the power of God at work in your life, then you will have to learn what it means when God says through Paul, “My power is made perfect in your weakness.”
Back to the story – in verse 3, God tells Gideon to tell the men, “if your afraid, go home,”—- and 22000 did.
If you are going to downsize, do it with God’s direction. Because God always cuts what’s needed. What this directive did was cut fear out of the army. In fact, when God was giving his people instruction in Deuteronomy on how to go to war. God commanded this.
Deuteronomy 20:8 (NIV)
8 Then the officers shall add, “Is anyone afraid or fainthearted? Let him go home so that his fellow soldiers will not become disheartened too.”
Gideon downsized as commanded.
There seem to be two kinds of people in this world. People who won’t follow God’s commands and people who have a knee-jerk reactions to God’s commands. Don’t be either of those two types of people.
I have watched people hear from God and not obey. I have also watched people who have heard from God and assumed they knew what he meant, and they ran ahead of God.
For instance, I have watched people who have been convicted by God to simplify their life. They assumed they knew what he meant, and they went overboard. A year later, they were saying that probably their response wasn’t the best response. If God shows you something you need to do, then spend some time asking him how he wants you to do it.
People, hear God, obey God. Gideon did that and he strategically cut out the fear in his army. But that wasn’t enough for God. He then gave Gideon this drinking test. I don’t know if there was any significance to it other than it acted as a filter. In the end, Gideon was left with 300 men.
Gideon started off with 4 to 1 odds against. Now he had 400 to 1 odds against. Now that was something that God could work with. Remember, people, the size of the problem is not the issue. It is the size of God and the plan of God that is always the issue.
The best of it was the 300 men were armed with a trumpet, a torch and a bowl. Now I used to play trumpet, and my sound was somewhat murderous, but if I am facing real soldiers with real swords, I want a little more than a trumpet.
If I were Gideon, I would be thinking —well I would be trying not to think –because this is one of those situations that no matter how you look at it, you are not going to make sense of it. – Except for God.
God wakes Gideon up and says it’s time to attack. But if you are afraid, go down to the enemy’s camp and eavesdrop on the conversation. Gideon took his servant and snuck down into the camp.
Judges 7:12–15 (NIV)
12 The Midianites, the Amalekites and all the other eastern peoples had settled in the valley, thick as locusts. Their camels could no more be counted than the sand on the seashore.
13 Gideon arrived just as a man was telling a friend his dream. “I had a dream,” he was saying. “A round loaf of barley bread came tumbling into the Midianite camp. It struck the tent with such force that the tent overturned and collapsed.”
14 His friend responded, “This can be nothing other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands.”
15 When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he bowed down and worshiped. He returned to the camp of Israel and called out, “Get up! The Lord has given the Midianite camp into your hands.”
When Gideon heard this, the odds had not changed. The circumstances hadn’t changed. But his faith changed. And now they are ready to go. The first response to a faith change is worship. Gideon bowed down in worship. His next response is action.
Well, you know the rest of the story. They divided up into three companies of 100 men. They surrounded the camp. At Gideon’s signal, they smashed the pots, showed the torches, blew their trumpets and didn’t move.
The Midianite camp probably figured they were surrounded. They panicked and killed each other in their effort to run. This, by the way, is often the response of the enemy when the Lord intervenes. We see it over and over again.
I don’t know what the Midianites you are facing. But I know that God is bigger than your issues. And I know that he wants to come and direct you.
This deliverance all started back at the first of chapter 6, where it says the people cried to the Lord. Are you willing to go there? Even though it may lead you on this incredible adventure of faith. But then God has a way of rewarding that kind of faith. Less is more when God is in it.
But know this, God will not share his glory. So, instead of becoming some form of Alexander the Great, he may ask you to become less so that he can do more. Learn to hear from him. Learn to be obedient to him. Watch God do, what only God can do.
Sermon Questions – February 12, 2023
Judges 7 – When less is more
1. What are you giving thanks for today?
2. What are you praying about this week?
3. Read Judges 6:36-40. What was Gideon trying to understand? Is using a “fleece” a good way to understand the will of God? Why/Why not? Are there certain situations where you would/ would not use a fleece?
4. Read Judges 7:2. Why does God want Gideon to decrease the number of men who are going to fight? How does this apply to our lives?
5. Read Judges 6:16 – Remembering the previous question, what does this verse tell us about how God works? How do you know what you are to do and what God is to do?
6. The sermon talked about how in God’s economy, less is more. Can you give concepts from scripture that help us understand that?
7. What does the way Gideon shrank his army tell us about how we should follow the direction of God? Judges 71-7
8. Read Judges 7:12-15 What has changed to make Gideon ready to lead in battle? What are some of the things you notice about this passage that might help you in your challenges?
9. We have been looking at Gideon over the past 3 weeks. What was the process that brought victory? (Hint: it started with the people calling on God for deliverance.)