Daily Devotional

June 30

Too Many People

by the Rev. Martin Emmrich

Scripture for Day 61—Judges 7:1–8:3

[Judges 7]

1Then 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.

2The 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.' 3Now 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.

4And 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." 5So 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." 6And 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. 7And 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." 8So the people took provisions in their hands, and their trumpets. And he sent all the rest of Israel every man to his tent, but retained the 300 men. And the camp of Midian was below him in the valley.

9That same night the LORD said to him, "Arise, go down against the camp, for I have given it into your hand. 10But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant. 11And 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. 12And 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. 13When 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." 14And 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."

15As 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." 16And 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. 17And he said to them, "Look at me, and do likewise. When I come to the outskirts of the camp, do as I do. 18When 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.'"

19So 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. 20Then 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!" 21Every man stood in his place around the camp, and all the army ran. They cried out and fled. 22When 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. 23And the men of Israel were called out from Naphtali and from Asher and from all Manasseh, and they pursued after Midian.

24Gideon 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. 25And 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 8]

1Then the men of Ephraim said to him, "What is this that you have done to us, not to call us when you went to fight against Midian?" And they accused him fiercely. 2And he said to them, "What have I done now in comparison with you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the grape harvest of Abiezer? 3God has given into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. What have I been able to do in comparison with you?" Then their anger against him subsided when he said this.


Within the cycle of Gideon (6:1-8:35) the plot reaches its climax in chapter 7 as Yahweh provides a spectacular victory over the dreaded enemy. Two detours are built into the story en route to the triumph, and in both these detours God addresses a remaining problem.

The first problem is by far the more important one. It is raised in the words of 7:2: "The people who are with Midian are too many for me to give them into your hands." But this is not what Yahweh says, is it? From a human perspective the words seem all too plausible, but in God's eyes the problem is the opposite: "The people who are with you are too many." Apparently, the issue is not whether God can deliver, but the people's response. Given Israel's spiritual dim-wittedness and notoriety in forgetting God, they would have claimed credit for themselves rather than for Yahweh. This word from the Lord shows just how well he knows his people, and the text will later confirm that this concern for his glory was based on more than just a suspicion. This whole episode is about who gets the glory. Most of what we read in this passage should be evaluated in light of this idea.

Yahweh prescribes a two-step process of reduction by which Gideon must decrease the number of the troops. The first criterion is simple enough. It is fear. Now the concept of the fear of men is one that already surfaced in chapter 6, but to see 22,000 frightened men in arms (more than 2/3 of the entire host) go home is surely scandalous. How do you think the rest of the men felt about it?

But it got even worse. The next test reduces the number to no more than 300, less than 1% of the original strength. Perhaps this was a test of readiness or alertness. The small group selected to enter the fray were those who did not take time to kneel down to drink water from the spring. Instead, they brought it up to their mouths with their hands. In any case, 9,700 men are sent home. They would not be needed in this confrontation. The rest were left with thoughts that we can only guess. "Could this be a suicide mission?"

At this point, the story takes yet another detour. This time the Lord anticipates a problem with Gideon (7:10-11). The words of God confirm that Gideon's former fear was celebrating a timely comeback. The question, "If you are afraid…" is hypothetical in form, but, of course, the problem is real. Gideon needed another sign of confirmation as a cure for his lack of confidence in God. He promptly takes God up on his offer.

So, in these two detours God addresses one and the same fundamental problem, albeit with two different faces: unbelief. In Gideon's case, it is his lack of trust in God. For him, the Midianites were too big and God too small. In the case of the people, God foresaw that they would make themselves too big and God too small, and so take credit for themselves. A boastful and proud attitude is just as much a sign of unbelief as is the fear of man. In fact, most people who believe they have reason for boasting do so on the basis of a comparison with others. This only goes to show that their thinking is still governed by other people and not God. In this sense, the story presents us with two kinds of unbelief. The fear of man will always prove to be a snare from which we must be delivered. So is pride which goes before a fall.

The author of these devotionals, the Rev. Martin Emmrich, is an ordained OPC minister (Westminster OPC, Corvallis, Oregon) as well as the author of Pneumatological Concepts in the Epistle to the Hebrews, a book on the teaching of Hebrews on the Holy Spirit. We are happy to make these devotionals on Ecclesiastes and other passages of Scripture available to you.

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