The View from Mt. Gilboa
Standing on slopes of Mt. Gilboa, directly above the Harod, Spring my thoughts turned to the great victory God wrought through Gideon and his companions. I could look out towards the Hill of Moreh and imagine the camp of Midian spread out “numerous as locusts…as the sand by the seashore in multitude” (Judges 7:12). Ancient warfare was, by my modern sensibilities, a terrifyingly up close and personal conflict – no shooting at targets miles away or dropping bombs out of the air. To wield a sword against an enemy meant confronting them face to face. That would be scary enough but what would it be like to march towards well over a hundred thousand1 fighting men with just three hundred, and only (of all things), a shofar and a torch concealed under a jar as your weapons? That would be a test of faith and courage indeed.
Let me state the obvious: God chooses the small to overcome the large, the weak to overcome the strong and the foolish to overcome the wise. Before Gideon’s three hundred there was Abraham’s three hundred-eighteen taking on the Mesopotamian confederacy. There are many more such heroes of faith, who as the writer of Hebrews noted, “subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens” (Hebrews 11:33–34). But perhaps no other event in the biblical narrative illustrates the few overcoming the many more than Gideon’s three hundred against the vast multitudes of the peoples of the east.
1. Judges 8:10 describes the remnant of the Midianite army as some 15,000 having lost 120,000 in the battle – thereby reckoning the original fighting force as 135,000 soldiers.
Mighty Man of Valor?
Gideon is threshing wheat in the family winepress. Not exactly the best location to separate grain from chaff but at least Gideon was not resigned to giving up what little grain he had. However, this is not the picture of some sort of Hollywood defiant rebel hero – Gideon is not hoping the Midianites will “make his day”; he is hiding away threshing under cover.
How striking then is the Angel of the Lord’s address, “The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor”( Judges 6:12). Gideon’s answer belies the angel’s2 greeting, his protestations imply this must be a case of mistaken identity, “O my Lord, how can I save Israel? Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house” (Judges 6:15). Supernatural aid didn’t appear to be a viable option either, Gideon’s experience with the miraculous was tepidly second hand – only stories passed down the generations of a time long since passed (Judges 6:13).
Despite His initial reluctance, the God of Israel displayed three miraculous signs to Gideon (see, Judges 6:21, 37-38, 39-40) and having mustered some thirty thousand men from the northern tribes, Gideon now had the courage to do battle. According to the Torah, before Israel went to battle the commander was to give an opportunity for the fearful to depart from the ranks without shame or penalty (Deuteronomy 20:8,9). I wonder if Gideon’s newfound confidence wavered when, given the same opportunity, over two thirds of his army quickly took their leave. Still, he had ten thousand. The Torah also promises one hundred shall put ten thousand to flight (Leviticus 26:8). By that ratio, ten thousand (one hundred times one hundred) was more than enough to do the job!
But in order to ensure Israel knew beyond doubt who their savior was, the Lord demanded a further paring down of the ranks, leaving only a token force to face absurdly overwhelming odds. You know what happened next. When the three hundred blew their shofars, waived their torches and proclaimed “The sword of the Lord and of Gideon”( Judges 7:20), the Midianites were deluded into thinking they were being attacked by a much larger force (who would have the chutzpah to attack such a multitude with only three hundred?) and in the ensuing confusion the Midianites fought and destroyed themselves.
The Battle Belongs to the Lord
A daring strategy, but I see more than a clever ruse made supremely successful through heaven’s aid. The battle took place at the time of the wheat harvest. This also corresponds with Shavuot (the feast of weeks) when Israel received the Torah at Mt. Sinai and there made covenant with Adonai. The record of that first Shavuot describes the Lord descending onto the mount “in fire “and with “the blast of the shofar” (Exodus 19:18,19). As Gideon’s men waved their torches and blew on their shofars they were not only sending a message to the Midianites they were prophetically declaring the promise of the covenant before the God of Israel. By faith, they were proclaiming that the One who promised to take Israel as His own people would never break covenant with them. The “Sword of the Lord” is the covenant promise that despite Israel’s failures He would never break faith with them:“The Lord will judge His people and have compassion on His servants when he sees their power is gone…If I whet my glittering sword, and my hand takes hold on judgment, I will render vengeance to my enemies” (Deuteronomy 32:36,41).
Taking our Place in Gideon’s Army
As I stood among my brothers on Mt. Gilboa I rejoiced in the weakness and seeming insignificance of our company of Messianic believers in Israel. We too are vastly outnumbered. At present, we make up perhaps two tenths of one percent of Israel’s total population. The “weapons” at our disposal are no match for the powerful, culturally entrenched resources of those who stand against us. But that is exactly the kind of odds that the God of Israel prefers. It seems He takes pleasure in stacking the deck against Himself, “for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few”(1 Samuel 14:6). Our part is to keep moving forward, to go in what strength we have (Judges 6:14) and to remember and proclaim the covenant faithfulness of our God. The words of assurance sent to Gideon, “Surely, I will be with you”( Judges 6:16) are our words too: “…even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Amen.
2. As our beloved brother Asher Intrater has explained, the Angel of the Lord is a manifestation of the pre-incarnate Yeshua. See, “Who Ate Lunch with Abraham”, Intermedia Publishing, 2011
Israel National Men’s Gathering in the Spirit of Gideon
At summer’s end 60 men from 12 different congregations all over Israel took part in a national Messianic men’s gathering – the first of its kind to have taken place in at least a decade. The Tents of Mercy Network and Olive Tree Ranch were privileged to facilitate the event. The feedback and response showed great excitement and impact.
1) To gather together as believing men living in Israel, to be strengthened and to strengthen each other in faith and power.
2) To take a stand in the face of threats on many different fronts:
For our nation militarily and morally
For our families and congregations
For each of us personally as men
3) To declare God’s victory in all of these areas.
Similarly, Gideon and the men of Israel faced the threats of sin, idolatry and a menacing foreign power. Though vastly outnumbered, they stood together. By faith, they performed the word of the Lord. He gave the victory.
Our gathering took place as an overnight campout at Harod Springs National Park (Gideon’s army base camp) at the edge of the Jezreel Valley. The thrust of our time together was especially to involve the “working-man lay-person.” We were not looking for a passive audience to sit and listen to a renowned guest speaker. Our desire was for men to communicate with each other so as to raise our level of faith and awareness above the daily grind of work hours, economic pressure, family challenges and the like – to set our eyes on God’s victory.
Gideon and his army of 300 blew their shofars (ram’s horns), woke the vast Midianite army in the middle of the night, broke their pitchers to reveal the fire of their torches, and proclaimed with a victory shout, “The Sword of the Lord.” More than a military tactic, this was at its heart a resolute, “do or die” faith proclamation that God “owns” the war. God is in charge. The battle is the Lord’s.
We gathered in a similar spirit to proclaim God’s victory over difficult odds, in the face of intractable challenges; and yes – even in the face of a potentially horrifying specter of war involving weapons of mass destruction.
After an evening of praise, fellowship, prayer and chicken barbeque, we all took shofars and walked up the mountain slope in the darkness to a clearing from which we could look out over the same valley to which the Midianite horde had come long ago to oppress the people of Israel.
Together we blew on the horns for several minutes and proclaimed that God has the victory. After the shofar blowing and shouting died down, instead of emotional elation, an incredible calm came over us all – the peace of confidence, the assurance of trust. Different men lead out spontaneously in many quiet songs of worship, speaking of God’s kingship on earth, declaring, “Hear O Israel” and the declaration of faith and hope from the Kaddish: “He who makes peace on high, He will make peace on us and on all Israel. And proclaim ‘Amen.’” There was an unusual unity in the Holy Spirit. We were not interacting with each other on the basis of congregational affiliation or who was or was not a leader.
The next morning reserve and passivity had clearly worn off. Man after man rose to share from his heart – primarily “ordinary” guys and not pastors or elders. Here are some of the things they said:
- If we try to stand alone as men, we will be easy prey. We must stand together.
- Just as it was with Gideon, before we can gain the public victory, we will be going through the sanctification of tearing down things we have put above God.
- This gathering is a parable and precedent of unity among us as brothers, without regard to “pet theologies,” egos and human agenda.
- God is asking for our attention. Listen to what He has to say to you.
- God pays attention to our responses (for example – in what manner Gideon’s soldiers drank the water from Harod Spring).
- We are called as men to a new level of freedom. Some of the issues are being dealt with now.
- The commandment to take up the armor of God is plural. We are to do this TOGETHER, not as a scattered coalition of individuals (Eph. 6:10-18).