This story is all about boasting, a special kind of boasting, boasting not in our own ability, but in God’s ability to save. That’s important because as long as we are boasting in our own accomplishments we will never have time to trust God to save us.
Have you ever heard the story of the Emperor’s new clothes? It goes a little something like this: The emperor hires two new tailors to make a suit for him. He pays a nice sum of money, they take measurements, and he expects them to return with a brilliant suit. The tailors are tricky folks and they play on the emperor’s gullibility and desire to be loved by others. They tell him that they have made a one of a kind unique suit, in fact it is so special that only those who are pure of heart can see how splendid it really is.
So it comes time to try one the suit and they show up with a box of nothing. They go through the motions just like they were laying out a real suit, but there is nothing there. They ask the emperor to disrobe so he can wear the special new suit. The emperor doesn’t see a suit, but not wanting to feel stupid, pretends he does. They pretend to help him fit in the suit. They ask him if it’s too snug, or if it fits just right and then they go on praising him, telling him how fine he looks in his new suit.
Then they start to call the castle staff in starting with the butlers and maids. They describe to these kind gentle folks that only those pure of heart and fit for service in the palace can see how splendid the fabric really is. Each person who comes in is afraid to admit that if they say the emperor is naked that it will reveal that they are not pure of heart and were never meant for palace work anyway. Finally there whole palace is in an uproar about how brilliant the emperor’s suit is. No one dare says that they can’t see it and they all go on pretending in order to cover their shame.
The next thing you know someone yells out, “Let’s have a parade and show everyone how brilliant your new suit is!” and of course that’s a good idea because everyone in the palace is pretending to be able to see this imaginary suit. The situation escalates quickly and the emperor is now marching out in front of his whole castle staff down the road through the village. People are running ahead announcing the reason for the visit from the emperor and that only those, “pure of heart, fit for a kingdom like ours can see how brilliant the suit really is.” The band assembles. The people, not wanting to betray their inability to see the suit all play along.
Then the procession rounds a corner and a little child who didn’t hear the announcement looks up and sees the king marching naked through the street with all his staff behind him, with the band playing, with all the people telling him how wonderful he looks in his new suit and says, “you’re naked!”
The charade is up! Everyone’s worst suspicions were realized. There never was a suit, it was all made up by some lazy tailors who wanted the kings money.
In a way we are like the king and all the towns folk when we boast about ourselves and what we have done. Boasting is like the emperor’s new clothes because we all stand in need, but boasting ignores that real need and shifts focus onto a lie that says, “I have enough.” People who have a problem boasting about themselves are trying to cover over a real need. To put it in perspective it’s like saying, “I know I am a sinner, but I’m really good at basketball,” or “I know that I can’t forgive that person for what they’ve done to me, but I’m really beautiful.” Or “I know that I’m going to spend eternity away from God in a place called hell, but man can I sing.” Boasting in ourselves is like the king who boasted in his new outfit. He was actually boasting in his ignorance.
The nation of Israel was overrun by Midianites. God had sent word that he would deliver them through the hand of Gideon, but He was going to do it in a way that it was obviously God who won the victory. The Israelites needed to know that even in their weakness that God was strong. They needed to boast not in themselves, in their nakedness, but in the God who covers over sin and provides for deliverance.
- When we are WEAK, we see God’s STRENGTH
Then Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the people who were with him rose early and encamped beside the spring of Harod. And the camp of Midian was north of them, by the hill of Moreh, in the valley. The LORD said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’ Now therefore proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home and hurry away from Mount Gilead.'” Then 22,000 of the people returned, and 10,000 remained. And the LORD said to Gideon, “The people are still too many. Take them down to the water, and I will test them for you there, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ shall go with you, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ shall not go.” So he brought the people down to the water. And the LORD said to Gideon, “Every one who laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set by himself. Likewise, every one who kneels down to drink.” And the number of those who lapped, putting their hands to their mouths, was 300 men, but all the rest of the people knelt down to drink water. And the LORD said to Gideon, “With the 300 men who lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hand, and let all the others go every man to his home.” (Judges 7:1-7 ESV)
Did you catch that? God reduced the size of Gideon’s army by over 99%! First, let’s get one thing straight the 32,000 people he gathered together weren’t enough to take on the enemy! We are told that the soldiers of Midian numbered around 135,000!
So let’s do a little battle math. Let’s assume that all things are equal and so every guy can kill one guy. You’d need 135,000 guys to fight for you, not 32,000. Let’s say that you’re guys are really awesome and they do have the home court advantage so they are good for at least 2 of the other guys. You still need about 68,000.
Put it in money terms. Let’s say you’re trying to get enough money together to buy a really nice car. Something like a Lambrogini. You find one decked out, on sale for $135,000. You don’t have $135,000 so you raise money, you promise rides out to your friends if they invest, you pick up odd jobs, you wash dogs, you sell your parents stuff at yard sales and you work really hard and you come up with $32,000. It’s impressive right? But it’s not enough to buy the car, but given your skills in raising the money you may feel like it’s enough to enter a negotiation. Now imagine that $20,000 walks off and you are left with $12,000 to negotiate with for a $135,000 car. Now imagine that it’s down to $300… Do you know what kind of car you buy for $300? At that point you are just buying it for the parts.
How ridiculous to walk into a car negotiation for a $135,000 car with only $300 in your pocket! You wouldn’t even call the guy. It’s not enough!
That is how it looks for Israel when it comes to defeating Midian. It’s impossible! No one in their right mind is looking around at any point in this whole thing thinking, “I think we have enough guys, send some home.” In fact, if you’re just one of the guys waiting to go to war and you see everyone else walking off because of this or that, you get worried. Look at verse 2 though, it’s important for the LORD to illustrate a point to Gideon and all of Israel. He is the one who delivers.
In our society we look at weakness as a flaw. We don’t like weak characters in our movies. We love it when one guy comes in and is able to do what a whole team of folks would do in real life. We like the strong. We like the strong so much that sometimes we fake it. We put masks on to cover over our weakness. We boast in our accomplishments so you won’t see our failures and we talk about the failures of others so that you are too busy looking somewhere else to see us for who we really are. The paradox of the gospel enters at this point because no strong men can be saved; no pretender will be either. Only those who come to a point of honesty about their weakness will truly ever be made strong.
The Apostle Paul, perhaps the most preeminate Apostle from history said this:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.2 Corinthians 12:9-10, ESV
Paul knew that acknowledging weakness isn’t a curse, it’s a blessing. Being weak and realizing that there is no way that you can get out of a situation puts you in a position to give all the praise and glory to God. Paul looked at his own circumstance and knows that it is God who provides for him. The LORD is his strength and you are never stronger than when you have the LORD on your side.
Here is how you worship. When you know exactly how much God has done for you because you were unable to do it yourself you celebrate. You want to see a worship service? Go hang out with people who used to be drug dealers and prostitutes but have been saved by the grace of God. You want to hear people sing God’s praise with passion, go hang out with inmates who met Jesus while in prison. Why? Because these people have a better picture of what it’s like to receive God’s forgiveness and strength over sin.
If you drop your wallet and I find it and hand it back to you, you might be grateful because there might have been $20 in there. How much more grateful would you be if I found it and it had $200, or even if it had $2000. Our gratitude grows with the money we feel like we’ve lost.
How much more grateful will we be when we know that God has forgiven our sins against him! Most of us don’t even realize just how much that is. We are uncelebratory in worship because we are used to faking strength and boasting in our own accomplishments that we don’t realize how much he has done for us! Just like we need to know and celebrate what God has done in delivering us from our sins, Israel needs to know God is their deliver in this moment. So it’s down to 300.
- God is patient with us in our WEAKNESS
That same night the LORD said to him, “Arise, go down against the camp, for I have given it into your hand. But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant. And you shall hear what they say, and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.” Then he went down with Purah his servant to the outposts of the armed men who were in the camp. And the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the people of the East lay along the valley like locusts in abundance, and their camels were without number, as the sand that is on the seashore in abundance. When Gideon came, behold, a man was telling a dream to his comrade. And he said, “Behold, I dreamed a dream, and behold, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian and came to the tent and struck it so that it fell and turned it upside down, so that the tent lay flat.” And his comrade answered, “This is no other than the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel; God has given into his hand Midian and all the camp.” As soon as Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, he worshiped. And he returned to the camp of Israel and said, “Arise, for the LORD has given the host of Midian into your hand.” (Judges 7:9-15 ESV)
So this is what we know about Gideon. He’s always asking second guessing the LORD’s plan. First when God appears to He asks for a sign and so the LORD burns up a meal that Gideon brought out. Then we didn’t talk about this but Gideon puts out a fleece and asks God that everything but the fleece would be wet in the morning, then he puts out on the next day and asks that only the fleece would be wet and everything else would be dry. Now God says, “If you are still scared to go into battle just sneak down there and listen to what they are saying.” God gives him a third sign that He will be with Gideon.
We might be prone to giving Gideon a hard time, but how many times do we play these same sorts of head games with ourselves. God might be leading you to share the gospel with a classmate and so you do things like. “OK God if you are really telling me to share with them, then they will be the first one in class today” or “They will be sitting up front by the teacher.” And all sorts of stuff like that. Just so you know, it’s not the devil telling you to share the gospel with someone and it wasn’t the devil wanting to free Israel. We just need some help and encouragement knowing that God is going to go with us.
Sometimes God does come down to our terms like he did with Gideon and the fleece. Most often he delivers on his terms, like with this dream that Gideon overhears the man talking about. Gideon is so pumped about this that he runs back and rallies the troops… all 300 of them and hatches a plan.
- Often it isn’t a matter of supernatural ability, but natural ability used in a supernatural way. (Gideon is more like batman than superman)
And he divided the 300 men into three companies and put trumpets into the hands of all of them and empty jars, with torches inside the jars. And he said to them, “Look at me, and do likewise. When I come to the outskirts of the camp, do as I do. When I blow the trumpet, I and all who are with me, then blow the trumpets also on every side of all the camp and shout, ‘For the LORD and for Gideon.'” So Gideon and the hundred men who were with him came to the outskirts of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, when they had just set the watch. And they blew the trumpets and smashed the jars that were in their hands. Then the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the jars. They held in their left hands the torches, and in their right hands the trumpets to blow. And they cried out, “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!” Every man stood in his place around the camp, and all the army ran. They cried out and fled. When they blew the 300 trumpets, the LORD set every man’s sword against his comrade and against all the army. And the army fled as far as Beth-shittah toward Zererah, as far as the border of Abel-meholah, by Tabbath. And the men of Israel were called out from Naphtali and from Asher and from all Manasseh, and they pursued after Midian. Gideon sent messengers throughout all the hill country of Ephraim, saying, “Come down against the Midianites and capture the waters against them, as far as Beth-barah, and also the Jordan.” So all the men of Ephraim were called out, and they captured the waters as far as Beth-barah, and also the Jordan. And they captured the two princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. They killed Oreb at the rock of Oreb, and Zeeb they killed at the winepress of Zeeb. Then they pursued Midian, and they brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon across the Jordan. (Judges 7:16-25 ESV)
This plan is ingenious! Gideon’s men surround the camp. They wait for a shift change. This is important because here is what would have happened at a shift change. 1/3 of the army would have been asleep. 1/3 of the army would have just woken up and taken their spot to guard the perimeter of the camp. And 1/3 of the army would be walking back to their tents with their weapons having just come off guard duty. So the 1/3 of the guys who were asleep get woken up in the middle of the night. They hear the enemy trumpets. They grab their weapons and behold there are already armed men in the camp. They go straight to battle not knowing that they are fighting their own guys. The guys on guard duty turn around and see people fighting and think the enemy has already advanced through the camp and so they join the fray and a massive army destroys itself in one night.
The cool thing is that this little plan seems to be Gideon’s plan. God used Gideon in his weakness to hatch a really cool plan that would deliver the whole army into their hand without much fighting. Gideon’s God given military brilliance would have never come to light had he not been pushed into leading the nation of Israel.
They chase down the Midian leaders. The whole thing comes full circle as the leaders go into hiding and are eventually caught. Where are they caught? One is caught and beheaded at a winepress, like where Gideon was threshing wheat when the LORD appeared to him and the other was caught and beheaded at a rock, like the one the LORD showed Gideon that he would be with him by burning up a meal.
You might find yourself like a Gideon, hiding, thinking there is no way that God can use you. Can I tell you, He can and he will. You may have a calling to go across the room to share Jesus with a friend, coworker, family member, or even a stranger and you are wondering, “Will God go with me?” I can promise you, he does! It may not work out as you intend, but when you trust him he is with you. You may be scared because God has given you a vision much larger than you are and you wonder why or how it could ever be accomplished. Know this, when you are little, God is big. When you fear God, you don’t fear people.