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This is one of my favorite OT stories because it is the best illustration of a key biblical principle: God demonstrates His strength in our weakness. We always want to be as strong as possible in facing any challenge; we prefer to have as many resources as possible at our disposal. We have no problem if the odds are on our side; in fact we prefer that to be the case. But God has a different perspective.

Look at all of the furor stirred up over our country’s defense budget cuts – anything that would weaken our military advantage; we already have such a decisive advantage due to technology; but we hate to see our forces reduced or any steps taken that would put us at risk. At the same time the military (and every other part of our government culture) is being pressured to remove any vestige of “In God we trust.”

We have seen in earlier weeks how the Lord called Gideon to be the military deliverer from the oppression of the Midianites. God was ready for Gideon to move forward and then Gideon hit the Pause button to seek confirmation of his calling. Gideon said to the Lord, “Not so fast – my faith is flickering; I need to be sure that I can trust your power to come through for me. Now the tables are turned; Gideon seems ready to move forward and engage the enemy, and the Lord says, “Not so fast. I can’t have you going into a battle where the victory is solely going to be based on my grace and power with any possibility of you looking back and taking credit because of some contribution of strength on your part.” You have to be at the point of desperation in weakness to ensure that God gets all of the glory.

Desperation in weakness is not a comfortable starting point. It is not intended to be comfortable. Think of our personal salvation from the bondage of sin. What did we contribute in our own strength to deliver us from the domain of darkness? “Jesus paid it all … All to Him I owe … sin had left a crimson stain .. He washed it white as snow.” We need to live out that same gospel message of God’s grace and power in our ongoing battles each week.



“Then Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the people who were with him, rose early and camped beside the spring of Harod; and the camp of Midian was on the north side of them by the hill of Moreh in the valley.”

Started with 32,000 troops who had answered the battle cry and had assembled to follow the leadership of Gideon; they were at least somewhat willing to enter into battle against terrible odds of 135,000 (8:10)

“Rose early” – shows their willingness to obey God and get things started; amazing that God had rallied this many troops behind the leadership of Gideon; what an encouragement that must have been to him – these people were “with him” ready to follow his direction

PreceptAustin: His new name was a constant reminder of the futility and impotence of their beloved Baal! It was like every time they heard his name it was in their face!

Name Harod means “trembling” or “terrified” – good place for them to assemble

Inrig: between the two armies was a valley, containing the spring of Harod. That was the only water available for Gideon’s men, and it made getting a drink a rather interesting adventure.

Probably not in immediate view of the enemy .. but ambush was a distinct possibility

Maybe you could overlook the valley from some vantage point and get a sense of the vast number of enemy encampments with their camels and their weaponry – all being staged to advance against your homeland.




A. The Problem – The Situation is Not Desperate Enough

“And the LORD said to Gideon, ‘The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands, lest Israel become boastful, saying, My own power has delivered me.’”

The Lord’s thinking is so different from our thinking – we would never fear having too many resources or too great odds in our favor; but the Lord is concerned that He alone receive the glory

Our propensity towards pride and self confidence and boasting is so far greater than we can even imagine

Where do we become boastful … claiming “My own power has delivered me”

– Maybe when we do well in a test in school – I really nailed that one

– Maybe when we figure out the answer to a challenging situation at work

– Certainly this is why some Christian athletes are always careful to verbalize their reliance on the Lord – since the spectators want to give them hero status and all the credit

– Maybe when we resist a particular temptation we are tempted to think that our own regimen of spiritual discipline and will power has protected us

Gary Inrig: Judges 7:2 is one of the most important verses in the Bible for understanding God’s principles of spiritual warfare. God is not interested in simply giving His people victory. He is concerned with teaching us trust. In fact, if our victories make us self-reliant, they are ultimately more disastrous than defeat.

So sometimes smaller is better. God says not many strong, not many wise, not many rich have been called; He loves to show His strength through our weakness

B. The Test – Look for Faith – Deut. 20:1-4, 8

“Now therefore come, proclaim in the hearing of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is afraid and trembling, let him return and depart from Mount Gilead.’ “

[Mount Gilboa instead of the problematic Gilead which is located on the east side of the Jordan River]

Adam Clarke: Dr. Hales endeavours to reconcile the whole, by the supposition that there were in Gideon’s army many of the eastern Manassites, who came from Mount Gilead; and that these probably were more afraid of their neighbours, the Midianites, than the western tribes were; and therefore proposes to read the text thus: Whosoever from Mount Gilead is fearful and afraid, let him return (home) and depart early. So there returned (home) twenty-two thousand of the people. Perhaps this is on the whole the best method of solving this difficulty.

What is the problem with Fear in a military setting?

  • Fear Paralyzes

  • Fear is Contagious

But remember how God used Gideon even when he was fearful … but God cannot use us when our fear causes us to take opportunity to run away from the conflict – Never Give Up!

Problem is not so much fear but doubting the power of the Lord to give them the victory; lack of faith; these were the doubters – certainly God did not really mean what He said; How could He be calling us to take on such a superior enemy; this looks like a suicide mission; “As for me and my house … we are heading home”

Cf. witnessing – Don’t make judgments about who might respond or who would never respond

C. The Results – Trimming the Troops to 10,000

“So 22,000 people returned, but 10,000 remained.”

Gideon shocked and dismayed when he saw how many turned back at this invitation and fled the camp to return to their villages – how disheartening!

Warren Wiersbe: A faith that can’t be tested can’t be trusted. Too often, what people think is faith is really only a “warm fuzzy feeling” about faith or perhaps just “faith in faith.” J. G. Stipe said that faith is like a toothbrush: Everybody should have one and use it regularly, but it isn’t safe to use somebody else’s. We can sing loudly about the “Faith of Our Fathers,” but we can’t exercise the faith of our fathers. We can follow men and women of faith and share in their exploits, but we can’t succeed in our own personal lives by depending on somebody else’s faith. God tests our faith for at least two reasons: first, to show us whether our faith is real or counterfeit, and second, to strengthen our faith for the tasks He’s set before us. Spurgeon was right when he said that the promises of God shine brightest in the furnace of affliction, and it is in claiming those promises that we gain the victory. Victories won because of faith bring glory to God because nobody can explain how they happened. “If you can explain what’s going on in your ministry,” Dr. Bob Cook used to remind us, “then God didn’t do it.” Too often, we’re like King Uzziah who was “marvelously helped, till he was strong. But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction” (2Ch 26:15–16). People who live by faith know their own weakness more and more as they depend on God’s strength. Testimony of Apostle Paul: “For when I am weak, then am I strong” (2Co 12:7-10)

Surely the Lord will allow Gideon to move forward with this reduced force of only 10,000 men.



[Although really the only thing essential is the sovereign activity of the Lord on their behalf]

A. (:4a) The Problem – The Situation is Not Desperate Enough

“Then the LORD said to Gideon, ‘The people are still too many;’”

PreceptAustin: He doubtless knew the tales of Barak’s army of 10,000 (Judges 4:6 – precedent for using this number of troops) and how God had used them to route Sisera’s invincible forces. So Gideon must have reasoned ‘If 10,000 are good enough for Barak, then it’s good enough for me.’ But he was unprepared for the next command of God (v4).

You cannot be too small for God to use but you can be too big. If you want the credit for what God is doing, God will not use you. He says that He alone is Lord and there is no other and that He will not give His glory to another. And so we often see God working powerfully in the lives of some very weak people. They are the ones who know that only He could get the glory and they are careful to give it to Him

Application: don’t bemoan your weak state; glory in your weakness

B. (:4b-5) The Test – Look for Focus – Kneeling lappers like dogs vs hand to mouth lappers who only crouch down instead of kneeling [we get confused here]

“’bring them down to the water and I will test them for you there. Therefore it shall be that he of whom I say to you, This one shall go with you, he shall go with you; but everyone of whom I say to you, This one shall not go with you, he shall not go.’ So he brought the people down to the water. And the LORD said to Gideon, ‘You shall separate everyone who laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, as well as everyone who kneels to drink.’”

Obviously 2 groups involved here – but the language in the text is confusing – God is using this exercise to demonstrate His sovereign choice of who He wants to send into battle with Gideon; do they drink like a dog who is driven only by satisfying physical needs or like an alert soldier who is conscious of the danger surrounding him

Block: you could treat the conjunction at the beginning of the second condition as an epexegetical waw, that is, if clause B is intended to clarify clause A, then the picture becomes perfectly clear. When these men go down to the spring and try to lap water like a dog, they must get down on their knees… others lap by bringing the water up to their mouths with their cupped hands [they both lap in some sense; so verse 5 only describes one of the two groups]

Inrig: The spring was in plain view of the Midianites, and there was always the possibility of an ambush. Gideon was to watch how the men drank. Some of the people would scoop up water in one hand, holding their spear in the other, and then lap it like a dog. Others would fall flat on their faces, forgetting about everything else and drink to their heart’s content.

Adam Clarke: The original word yalok is precisely the sound which a dog makes when he is drinking.

You never know when the Lord is testing you – need to be alert; sober minded; in one sense, all of life is a test

Rich Cathers: This was taken out of Duke University’s Staff newsletter.

At Duke University, there were four sophomores taking Organic Chemistry. They did so well on all the quizzes, midterms and labs, etc., that each had an “A” so far for the semester. These four friends were so confident that the weekend before finals, they decided to go up to University of Virginia and party with some friends up there. They had a great time. However, after all the partying, they slept all day Sunday and didn’t make it back to Duke until early Monday morning. Rather than taking the final then, they decided to find their professor after the final and explain to him why they missed it. They explained that they had gone to UVA for the weekend with the plan to come to study, but, unfortunately, they had a flat tire on the way back, didn’t have a spare, and couldn’t get help for a long time. As a result, they missed the final. The Professor thought it over and then agreed they could make up the final the following day. The guys were elated and relieved. They studied that night and went in the next day at the time the professor had told them. He placed them in separate rooms and handed each of them a test booklet, and told them to begin. They looked at the first problem, worth 5 points. It was something simple about free radical formation. “Cool,” they thought at the same time, each one in his separate room, “this is going to be easy.” Each finished the problem and then turned the page. On the second page was written: (For 95 points): Which tire?

C. (:6-8) The Results – Trimming the Troops to 300

“Now the number of those who lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, was 300 men; but all the rest of the people kneeled to drink water. And the LORD said to Gideon, ‘I will deliver you with the 300 men who lapped and will give the Midianites into your hands; so let all the other people go, each man to his home.’ So the 300 men took the people’s provisions and their trumpets into their hands. And Gideon sent all the other men of Israel, each to his tent, but retained the 300 men; and the camp of Midian was below him in the valley.”

Here we see both groups contrasted side by side –

– the good lappers vs

– the kneelers who are the bad lappers like dogs

Rich Cathers: God uses vigilant people:

I believe the significance is that these men weren’t the ones who bowed down with their face in the water. Instead, they were the ones who were aware of their surroundings. They would be the first ones to see the enemy approaching.

These guys were aware that they were in a war. They were aware that the enemy was just around the corner.

As you’re going to see, Gideon was going to need people who had their eyes opened and were paying attention.

In regards to our flesh and temptation, Jesus said to Peter,

(Mat 26:41 KJV) Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

In regards to the Second Coming, Jesus said,

(Mark 13:32-33 KJV) But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. {33} Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is.

In regards to our enemy in the battle, Peter writes,

(1 Pet 5:8 KJV) Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:

Alexander Maclaren:

God required but few men, but He required that these should be fit. The first test had sifted out the brave and willing. The liquor was none the less, though so much froth had been blown off. As Thomas Fuller says, there were ‘fewer persons, but not fewer men,’ after the poltroons had disappeared. The second test, ‘a purgatory of water,’ as the same wise and witty author calls it, was still more stringent. The dwindled ranks were led down from their camp on the slopes to the fountain and brook which lay in the valley near the Midianites’ camp. Gideon alone seems to have known that a test was to be applied there; but he did not know what it was to be till they reached the spring, and the soldiers did not know that they were determining their fate when they drank. The two ways of drinking clearly indicated a difference in the men. Those who glued their lips to the stream and swilled till they were full, were plainly more self-indulgent, less engrossed with their work, less patient of fatigue and thirst, than those who caught up enough in their curved palms to moisten their lips without stopping in their stride or breaking rank. The former test was self-applied, and consciously so. This is no less self-applied, though unconsciously. God shuts out no man from His army, but men shut themselves out; sometimes knowingly, by avowed disinclination for the warfare, sometimes unknowingly, by self-indulgent habits, which proclaim their unfitness.

Dale Ralph Davis: It is amazing how virtuous the lappers become in the view of expositors. They are heralded as the vigilant, watchful ones who lean down, scoop a little water, always with their eyes on the enemy (which may yet have been several miles to the north!), while the kneelers are the careless, who think only of their thirst. For example, one expositor (who shall remain anonymous, concludes:

God saw how untrustworthy would be those thousands who carelessly indulged under the lure of the flesh, over against the three hundred who exemplified a spirit of vigilance [sic] and disciplined life in the Spirit. Thus were selected the strong and resolute, the men who could be trusted under rigorous conditions, those who did not think of themselves before the enemy’s unexpected assault. This is ever the divine principle of selection for service.

The problem with this kind of exposition is that it has no basis in the text. The text does not hint at any virtue or vice in how one guzzles water. The water-drinking episode was simply Yahweh’s mechanism for further reducing Gideon’s army …God’s strength made perfect in weakness

But God clearly says He is testing the people here – so just as the first test chose out those with a positive characteristic of faith, this second test differentiated those who were more inclined to a focused and alert sense that would lend itself to obedience

Motyer: The object was to reduce Gideon’s army to a force not of a particular kind, but of a particular number. A small corps of crack troops is precisely what God does not want. The three hundred are meant to be not an elite, but a group so inadequate that when the battle is won (God declares) it cannot be a case of Israel’s saying “My own hand has delivered me.” Until the numbers are reduced to the level at which it is clearly the Lord and not Israel who wins the battle, they are too many.

But faith and obedience are compatible with giving God the glory rather than relying on the skill and strength of man – so there is no problem here.


Need to be strong in Faith and strong in Focus

Outnumbered 450 to 1 – those are the kind of desperate odds that the Lord loves!

Inrig: That is the first part of God’s preparation. Gideon’s army had been reduced to such proportions that they had no alternative. They could either depend totally upon God, or they could perish. Their only hope lay in God. Now comes the second stage of preparation. With their self-confidence destroyed, they were not prepared to learn the lesson of confidence in God.

Brensinger: Acts of reduction and self-denial repeatedly prepare people for spiritual service. The Bible makes plain that power, pride, and possessions often obstruct divine activity. Yet genuine human weakness provides God with fertile soil in which to perform his mighty works. In all divine-human partnerships, God alone brings victory….

“Trust and Obey because there is no other way to be happy in Jesus”