In chapter six, we read that God had Gideon call for others to join him –thousands of Israelites came. He (and his countrymen) thought it was to join in the battle, but God’s purpose was for them to see the magnitude of the forces against them. The Israelites had 32,000 troops and their enemy had 135,000.
Early in the morning, Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) and all his men camped at the spring of Harod. The camp of Midian was north of them in the valley near the hill of Moreh. The LORD said to Gideon, “You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her, announce now to the people, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’” So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained. (Judges 7:1-3)
Although Gideon was outmanned, he was prepared to take on the enemy. He knew that God was with him, but his confidence was still in what he could see –the size of his army. God was going to demonstrate His own power so that Gideon would trust Him even more.
But the LORD said to Gideon, “There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will sift them for you there. If I say, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go; but if I say, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.” So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the LORD told him, “Separate those who lap the water with their tongues like a dog from those who kneel down to drink.” Three hundred men lapped with their hands to their mouths. All the rest got down on their knees to drink. The LORD said to Gideon, “With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the other men go, each to his own place.” So Gideon sent the rest of the Israelites to their tents but kept the three hundred, who took over the provisions and trumpets of the others. (Judges 7:4-8)
After sending twenty-two thousand back home, there still remained ten thousand. God knew that those who would hear about this battle later would remember Gideon’s great army rather His miraculous power. So even more troops were sent home. It’s like what John the Baptist said. “I must decrease so that He may increase.”
The focus of this part of the story is traditionally –and mistakenly– on the men and how they drank the water, lapping it with their tongues from their hands versus kneeling to it. Some say that the ones who stood lapping were better soldiers because they remained more aware of their surroundings. But let’s remember that this story is about transferring Gideon’s dependence from men to God. Gideon is the least-of-the-least in his tribe. In the same way, these men would have been the least-able warriors so that all of the glory would go to God!
Now the camp of Midian lay below him in the valley. During that night the LORD said to Gideon, “Get up, go down against the camp, because I am going to give it into your hands. If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah and listen to what they are saying. Afterward, you will be encouraged to attack the camp.” So he and Purah his servant went down to the outposts of the camp. The Midianites, the Amalekites and all the other eastern peoples had settled in the valley, thick as locusts. Their camels could no more be counted than the sand on the seashore. (Judges 7:8-12)
Gideon was learning first-hand what is written in Proverbs 3:5-6. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”
Gideon arrived just as a man was telling a friend his dream. “I had a dream,” he was saying. “A round loaf of barley bread came tumbling into the Midianite camp. It struck the tent with such force that the tent overturned and collapsed.” His friend responded, “This can be nothing other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands.” When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he worshiped God. He returned to the camp of Israel and called out, “Get up! The LORD has given the Midianite camp into your hands.” Dividing the three hundred men into three companies, he placed trumpets and empty jars in the hands of all of them, with torches inside. (Judges 7:13-16)
Can you imagine overhearing a conversation that went something like this? A man said to his friend, “I had a really strange dream last night. A loaf of bread came rolling down a hill and it hit our tent and knocked it over.” The friend responded, “Wow, that could only have one possible meaning. Gideon is going to destroy us all.” Where would that understanding have come from if it wasn’t from God? These men wouldn’t have known about Gideon –he was that obscure, least-known person, from the weakest clan, from a subservient people who have been dominated for seven years!
“Watch me,” he told them. “Follow my lead. When I get to the edge of the camp, do exactly as I do. When I and all who are with me blow our trumpets, then from all around the camp blow yours and shout, ‘For the LORD and for Gideon.’” Gideon and the hundred men with him reached the edge of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just after they had changed the guard. They blew their trumpets and broke the jars that were in their hands. The three companies blew the trumpets and smashed the jars. Grasping the torches in their left hands and holding in their right hands the trumpets they were to blow, they shouted, “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!” While each man held his position around the camp, all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled. (Judges 7:17-21)
The plan was to take some trumpets, torches and jars to attack the countless enemy. Although it’s not said, the torches were probably hidden under the jars –much like under a lamp shade.
When the three hundred trumpets sounded, the LORD caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords. The army fled to Beth Shittah toward Zererah as far as the border of Abel Meholah near Tabbath. Israelites from Naphtali, Asher and all Manasseh were called out, and they pursued the Midianites. Gideon sent messengers throughout the hill country of Ephraim, saying, “Come down against the Midianites and seize the waters of the Jordan ahead of them as far as Beth Barah.” So all the men of Ephraim were called out and they took the waters of the Jordan as far as Beth Barah. They also captured two of the Midianite leaders, Oreb and Zeeb. They killed Oreb at the rock of Oreb, and Zeeb at the winepress of Zeeb. They pursued the Midianites and brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon, who was by the Jordan. (Judges 7:22-25)
When the trumpets were blown, the jars broken, and the lights exposed, God caused the enemy soldiers to turn on one another. It wasn’t the loud sounds or sudden lights that caused confusion in the camp. It was all God! The Israelites could claim no part in this victory. More than a hundred thousand Midianites and their friends were killed.