by the Rev. Martin Emmrich
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.
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.
The content of Yahweh's dream of confirmation for Gideon deserves some special attention. It is utterly absurd. A cake tumbles into a tent and overturns it. Could this get anymore fantastic? But the dream is meant to be grotesque, for it corresponds with the deliverance it portends.
Before Gideon leads his 300 fellows to the outpost of the enemy's camp, 7:12 reminds us once more what the odds were – as if we needed the reminder. 300 men against an alliance of forces that cover the valley like an insect plague! When Gideon's pitiful band surrounds the enemy, they do not even carry swords, but empty pitchers, trumpet, and torches. What will they accomplish there? Watch the enemy all night?
The battle shout of 7:20 is full of irony: "The sword belonging to Yahweh and to Gideon." What sword, please? As it turns out, the only swords featured in the scene belonged to the enemy, and they were used to butcher their own ranks (7:22).
This victory is indeed absurd, like a cake tumbling into a tent in order to overturn it. But that night no one was to miss the big point: Yahweh and Yahweh alone had handed the enemy over on a silver platter. The battle and the victory were his. He can deliver through overwhelming force or through a bunch of fellows who look like idiots when they approach the battlefield with empty pitchers, trumpets, and torches. He does appear to prefer the empty pitchers, though, lest anyone should glory in his sight. How we need to learn this lesson!
Our story makes me think of a scene in heavenly realms portrayed in Revelation 5. It is also dream-like, and, forgive me for saying so, no less absurd. John describes the heavenly host assembled at the throne of God. Then the focus shifts to a lamb. The lamb just stands there, and it looks like it has been slain. In some sense, this is a picture of weakness and vulnerability. And yet, the lamb becomes the catalyst of everything that transpires in heaven and on earth. "Worthy is the lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing" (Rev 5:12). The power of God is concentrated in a lamb that is brought to the slaughter. What a marvel!
Jesus was on his final visit to Jerusalem when certain Greek folks talked to Philip, saying, "Sir, we want to see Jesus." When Jesus heard this he prophesied, "The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified" (John 12:23). And he added, "Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out" (12:31). Within hours Jesus would hang on a cross, ridiculed and taunted by the mob. This was his glorification and the world's judgment he had talked about. If a cake tumbling into a tent is an absurd imagery of victory in battle, then how could Christ who died in utter weakness and ignominy overcome and conquer the world this way? But lest we miss the point, Paul comments on this paradox in even more perplexing terms: "Having disarmed principalities and powers, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in the cross" (Col 2:15). Paul claims that the cross of all things is Christ's triumphal march by which he exposed his enemies to ridicule, showing them to be utterly defeated. I do not understand this God's wisdom, but I love it. I love this gospel, it has the power to save, to set free from guilt and shame, expectations and opinions of people, and senseless competition. If you embrace this salvation you should not have to go out and prove something to the world. We do not need to make ourselves look better than we really are. The only thing we want to prove is that Jesus Christ is Lord. All glory is his.
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.