by the Rev. Martin Emmrich
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.
Although Gideon worships Yahweh after hearing about the dream in the Midianite camp, his attitude will soon become ambiguous. His battle cry, "For Yahweh and for Gideon," affords an initial clue. This shout claims a spotlight position for Gideon alongside Yahweh. The subtle nuance is more apparent when we compare Gideon's attack with the fall of Jericho in Joshua 2. The tactics of encircling the enemy, the blowing of trumpets, and shouting all find a parallel in Joshua's raid of Jericho. However, Joshua's command to shout did only give glory to God: "For Yahweh has given you the city" (Josh. 2:16). In contrast, Gideon's shout compromises the concept by introducing his name.
He also appears to be forgetful of the point of Yahweh's reduction of the troops to 300. This was done so that God would retain his glory. But Gideon re-mobilizes the tribes of Naphtali, Asher, and Manasseh, who had come with him to Gilead (6:35). The reader must remember that these were the same soldiers that Yahweh had just sent home because they would not be needed in this war. Gideon reverses the command of the Lord and pulls the troops back into the battle.
The involvement of the troops that were never meant to join the fray will later result in strife and contention (8:1-3) over who among them would get the glory—precisely the kind of notion Yahweh wanted to suffocate when he reduced the number of warriors so drastically.
Gideon's answer to the challenge of Ephraim (8:1-3) is also revealing. At first, he shrewdly defuses a tension that could easily have led to civil war. But are his diplomatic words really truthful in what they say about his engagement? They certainly have an air of humility, but flattery resonates in them as well. The reason why the Ephraimites turn away is because he is all over them with flattering notions. There is a difference between flattery and encouragement, and it is often inherent in the motive, not necessarily in the words themselves. Flattery is telling people what they want to hear in order to use them for one's own ends. Flattery tends to destroy the heart.
Once again, there is a kind of shrewdness in Gideon's reply, but his flattery sends the people home thinking that they have earned a badge of honor. Gideon's words feed the pride of the warriors and give them what they had come out for: glory. But in order to do this, Gideon has to take it from somewhere else, or rather, someone else. All glory does not go to God after all. What is missing from Gideon's speech is a simple reminder that neither he nor Ephraim have a claim in this matter. His speech lacks a reference to God who made it all possible, and without whom they would not have this conversation.
In virtually every aspect of our lives God's glory is at stake. We ought to remember that God has already won, he has conquered the world, and all things are his and for him. This is also how we learned Christ. If we live for his glory, then we are free. We do not need to compete, and we do not need to be more than we are. But we are beloved children of God imaging his Son Jesus Christ. What an honor!
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.