Good morning, Friends!
Thank you for joining us at worship today. We appreciate every person these days who takes the time and trouble to be here! We do share our services out on the internet, but it makes a big difference when people show up in person, and we appreciate it.
We’ve been looking at famous people in the Old Testament. And some of them are unlikely heroes with strange and interesting stories about how God worked through them.
We’ve looked at Samuel, and last week we looked at David and Goliath. Today we’ve got an interesting character, maybe less well-known, though some of you might remember him.
His name was Gideon. He lived during a time before there were any kings of Israel. There was no regular army. When Israel was invaded, all they had was a kind of volunteer militia, without even any real training or leadership.
The country was terrorized by armed gangs of nomads, who came swooping in out of the desert to steal all the food and cattle. People never knew then they were coming, and it says they came in thousands like swarms of locusts.
Israel itself had largely forgotten all they’d learned from Moses. Most people had completely forgotten God, and they’d even put up pagan altars all over the place. Enemies outside, and spiritual problems inside. It was a desperate situation.
God called Gideon to lead the people of Israel. And Gideon was a very unlikely leader. Like David, Gideon was the youngest son of his family. And Gideon’s family was from the smallest tribe in all of Israel. He didn’t have a reputation as a fighter, and he didn’t have a whole lot of backup from his clan.
When God called Gideon, he was actually hiding out. He was hiding in the wine press, which was a kind of a pit dug into the ground. He was trying to grind some grain in secret, so he could hide it and keep his family from starving.
It reminded me of how conditions must have been here in North Carolina, many times during the Civil War, when the armies and the bushwhackers came through time after time and took everything they could.
God called Gideon, and said he was going to make him a mighty warrior to save his people. Gideon said, “Excuse me, I think you’ve got the wrong person!”
God said, “No, I didn’t make a mistake.”
Gideon said, “Excuse me, I’ve still got my doubts.”
God said, “Test me!”
So Gideon set up an impossible test for God. He told God he’s leave a sheep skin out in the middle of the floor that night. When the dew came down and soaked everything, Gideon said he wanted to find the sheep skin dry as a bone the next morning.
Well, God didn’t have any problem with that. So Gideon said, “Let’s reverse things. I’ll put out the sheep skin again tonight, and I want the ground to be bone dry, but the sheep skin has to be sopping wet.”
Came out the next morning, and the ground was dry, but Gideon had to wring pails and buckets full of water out of the sheep skin.
So, Gideon was convinced. At least, sort of. One of the things about this whole story is that God isn’t afraid of being tested. God said, “Come on! Give me your best shot! But after we’re done, you’re going to believe in me.” (see Judges chapter 6 for all the details of this first part)
Anyway, at the point we’re reading today, Gideon has called out the army of Israel. They all show up, and they’re not the most impressive group anybody ever saw. They are way outnumbered by the enemy, who have a lot more experience in fighting than they do.
Early in the morning, Gideon and all his men camped at the springs. The enemy camp was north of them in the valley.
The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver the enemy into their hands, or Israel would boast against me. They’d say, ‘My own strength has saved me.’
The Lord said, “Now announce to the army, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave.’” So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained.
But the Lord said to Gideon, “There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will thin them out 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 as a dog laps from those who kneel down to drink.” Three hundred of them drank from cupped hands, lapping like dogs. All the rest got down on their knees to drink.Judges 7:1-8
I just want to stop here for a moment, and point out that this is not standard military procedure. The enemy had over 100,000 men. Gideon had about 32,000. So, they were outnumbered three to one.
God told Gideon to send home anyone who was scared. He didn’t want anyone who was faint of heart and likely to infect the rest of Gideon’s army with fear. 22,000 went home. Then God told Gideon to thin down his army even more. So he did.
Let’s read a little more.
The Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the enemy into your hands. Let all the others go home.” So Gideon sent the rest of the Israelites home but kept the three hundred, who took over the provisions and trumpets of the others.
Now the enemy camp lay below in the valley. During that night the Lord said to Gideon, “Get up, go down against the enemy 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 and listen to what they are saying. Afterward, you will be encouraged to attack the camp.”
So Gideon and his servant went down to the outposts of the enemy 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.
Gideon arrived just as a man in the enemy camp was telling a friend his dream. “I had a dream,” he was saying. “A round loaf of barley bread came tumbling into the our camp. It struck the tent with such force that the tent overturned and collapsed.”
His friend in the enemy camp responded, “This can be nothing other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has given us and our whole camp into his hands.”
When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he bowed down and worshiped. Gideon returned to the camp of Israel and called out, “Get up! The Lord has given the whole enemy camp into your hands.”Judges 7:9-14
See, even before Gideon and his men attacked, the enemy were anxious. They were many, but inside, they were already scared.
Gideon divided his three hundred men into three companies, he placed trumpets and empty jars in the hands of all of them, with torches inside.
“Watch me,” Gideon told them. “Follow my lead. When I get to the edge of the enemy 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 enemy camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just after they had changed the guard. They blew their trumpets and smashed the jars that were in their hands. All three companies blew the trumpets and smashed the jars.
Grasping the torches in their left hands and holding trumpets in their right hands, they shouted, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” While each man held his position around the camp, all the enemy ran away, screaming as they fled.
When the three hundred trumpets sounded, the Lord caused the men throughout the enemy camp to turn on each other with their swords. The enemy fled to the borders. Israelites from all the nearby tribes were called out, and they pursued the enemy.
Gideon sent messengers throughout the hill country saying, “Come down against the enemy and seize the waters of the River Jordan ahead of them.”
So all the men of the nearby tribes of Israel were called out and they seized the waters of the River Jordan. They also captured two of the enemy leaders and killed them. They pursued the enemy troops and brought the heads of enemy leaders to Gideon, who was by the River Jordan.Judges 7:16-25
I want to say just a very few things about this story. I promise I won’t keep you long.
The first thing, I already said – that it’s OK to question God. That’s one of the important themes of the Bible.
Abraham questioned God. Jacob questioned God. Moses questioned God. The Jewish people had a long tradition of saying, “Hey, God, what are you doing? Is this your plan? Am I reading the signs right? Did you really mean me?”
People ask God questions all the time in the Bible. It’s not a sin or a failure. The Bible kind of expects it.
The Bible also talks about obedience once God has answered us. One of the greatest prayers in the Bible is, “Lead, and I follow. . .” Once God has answered our questions, God expects us to do as we’re told and not gripe and not look back.
The second thing I want us to remember from this story, is that it’s not about the size of the army. We saw this last week, in the story of David and Goliath.
Goliath was a one-man tank. He was like Superman, and he was on the other side. Nobody could stand up to him!
But David wasn’t disheartened. He knew he could win. Goliath had all this armor and these heavy super weapons. David had five smooth stones from down at the brook. One stone was all it took, and Goliath was dead.
It’s not about the size of the enemy, and it’s not about the size of the other army.
“Those who are with us are more than those who are against us,” the prophets used to say. “God can win with a few, just as well as with many.”
That thing with the jars and the torches and the trumpets was just the way they used to terrify the enemy. Noise and fire in the night and blowing ram’s horns woke them up in terror. The terrorists became the terrified.
It says that the enemy were so scared, they drew their weapons and they started killing each other by mistake in the darkness of the night.
The Bible says that evil loves the darkness, because evil always wants to hide its deeds so no one can see them. But in this case, the darkness and the surprise turned evil against itself. Probably three-fourths of the enemy casualties were against each other.
The third thing I want to point out, is actually connected with Springfield. That’s right – Springfield and the Bible!
When I first came here, back in 2015, of course I noticed the two pottery jars on either side of the front of the worship room. Nobody I asked could tell me anything about them.
When I was doing some work in the archives during the lockdown, I found an old note on apiece of paper that had faded and gone yellow.
It said that these two jars were given to the meeting by John Jay Blair back in 1927 when the new meetinghouse was built. He got them at the North Carolina State Pottery in Seagrove, south of Asheboro.
But then this week, when I was reading for my sermon, I found several different illustrations of jars which were used in Bible times. And every one of them looked just like the jars here in our worship room. Whoever made these jars had modeled them after ones from Bible times.
Now, I don’t want to suggest that we smash them, or hide torches inside them. But now that we know the story, I’d like it if everyone in the meeting could learn it and pass it on to the next generation.
Instead of just “those old jars at the front of the worship room”, I’m thinking we could call these the Gideon jars. Because that’s clearly what they’re modeled after.
As long as we are here, I hope you’ll remember. And I hope that you’ll always remember the story of Gideon. And take heart when times are tough.
Always remember that he didn’t think he was up to the job. He saw himself as weak, and he was definitely scared. But God saw Gideon as a mighty warrior. Not because of Gideon’s own strength. But God knew what Gideon could really do, if God helped him.
Gideon thought God was crazy to choose him. Gideon probably though God was crazy, when God told him he army was too big to get the job done.
God knew that it isn’t the size of the army that counts. It’s whether people are willing to be creative, and do what needs to be done, and follow when the Lord leads us.
It’s nice to be part of a big group. But the Lord can win with few, as well as many.