Join us sundays at 10:30AM

The 300+1

April 21, 2024 Preacher: Chris LaBelle Series: Judges (Broken People, Unbroken Promises)

Scripture: Judges 7:1–25

Sermon Transcript:

Review:  We return to Judges this week and for the foreseeable future. Two weeks ago, we began to walk through the narrative of Gideon. Israel had rest for forty years after the battle of Deborah and Barak against the Canaanites. The cycle of Israel forgetting God continued and they did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. God gives them over to the Midianites for seven years. They are oppressed and driven to dens and caves in the mountains. God approaches Gideon at a winepress and chooses him as the next judge. After Gideon tests God and the Lord has Gideon tear down the idols, Gideon is preparing for battle with an army. The Israelites set up close just south of the Midianites to the north.
      Judges 7:1, “1 Then Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the people who were with him rose early and encamped beside the spring of Harod. And the camp of Midian was north of them, by the hill of Moreh, in the valley.”

 Relevance: This morning, in Judges 7, we are going to see a battle. A battle that will demonstrate God’s power through the weakness of men.

 

Main Point: The believer’s salvation is for the glory of God, accomplished through the weakness of men.

Transition: 

 

 

  • God deserves the glory for His victory. (v.1-8)

 

 

Explanation: If you remember also in chapter 6, Gideon assembled a massive army to help combat the numbers of the Midianites and Amalekites. He gathered the Abiezrites, his fellow people from Manasseh, and many others from Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali. Gideon’s army had grown to be quite large. 32,000 men in number. 

  • I can understand why you would assemble such an army. The Midianites have enslaved you for seven years. They have ransacked your food supply, taken over the freedoms and liberty of your people, and left you barren. In order to defeat such an enemy, the right military strategy would be to gather as many people as you can and attack in numbers.

 

God had another plan.

Judges 7:2a, “The Lord said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’”

  • Too many? God, haven’t you seen how strong these people are? Don’t you know that we need as many people as possible to defeat them?

 

Illustration: I don’t know about you, but anytime the bully needs to be taken care of, I am either going to round up some of my boys: “Hey Frankie, Tommy, I need you guys to take care of this guy”; or I am calling the strongest guy that I know to teach him a lesson.

  • We would all want to respond like that in the flesh wouldn’t we? But Gideon hears the Lord and listens. Gideon in this case calls upon the strongest guy he knows. His Lord. 

 

Explanation: God has a reason why He wants to minimize the army.

Judges 7:2b, “The Lord said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’

  • God could have used the 32,000 army to defeat the Midianites. God could have used only Gideon to accomplish this feat. God could have used any means to win this battle, but God knew that the pride of Israel would get in the way, if they thought for any moment, they won this battle with their own might. If they could tell themselves, “Look at what we did. Look how we overpowered them.” They would fail to recognize that it has been God at work all along. Instead, God wants them to know that it will only be by His power that they advance in victory. It would be His glory alone that would be the end result. Israel would not be able to say they did it, but instead they would look back at this and marvel at how God accomplished this feat by His power and for His glory.

 

If the people are too many, then how many does God need? God uses two tests to minimize the army. The first follows a military exemption found in the Mosaic Law.

Deuteronomy 20:8, “And the officers shall speak further to the people, and say, ‘Is there any man who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go back to his house, lest he make the heart of his fellows melt like his own.’”

Judges 7:3, “Now therefore proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home and hurry away from Mount Gilead.’” Then 22,000 of the people returned, and 10,000 remained.”

  • This strategy makes sense. You would never want fear to infiltrate an army. The mood and morale of the room would change. The whispers of pessimism and fear would altar an ability to stay in the fight. A manager at a trucking company would never hire a tractor-trailer driver who was terrified of traffic or driving on the road, and a good football coach would never assemble a team of players who were afraid of physical contact or the other team.
  • This also shows us just how monumental it has been to be under oppression from the Midianites for seven years. They were a formidable nation, strong in numbers, and the thought of going against them terrified 22,000 of the men.

 

The next test however was far more obscure. This test would not demonstrate a willingness for battle, but only to humble Israel. Look what the Lord tells Gideon.

Judges 7:4-7, “And the Lord said to Gideon, “The people are still too many. Take them down to the water, and I will test them for you there, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ shall go with you, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ shall not go.” So he brought the people down to the water. And the Lord said to Gideon, “Every one who laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set by himself. Likewise, every one who kneels down to drink.” And the number of those who lapped, putting their hands to their mouths, was 300 men, but all the rest of the people knelt down to drink water. And the Lord said to Gideon, “With the 300 men who lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hand, and let all the others go every man to his home.”

  • The people are still too many. God was going to get the glory using as few people asGideon could muster up. There wasn’t a reason that God made the army smaller, other than to show to Israel that He is powerful enough to defeat an army. God was going to use a weak man in Gideon, from a weaker tribe in Manasseh, from an even weaker nation in Israel to show them that salvation is by God’s grace alone for His glory alone. This is good news.

2 Corinthians 12:7a-10, “So to keep me from becoming conceited… a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

 

Application: We are all like Gideon and Paul here. We are weak. We get tired. The promises and expectations for our lives are often marked by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. Pride and self-centeredness get in the way. It is often when this takes hold that we forget God. When Israel forgot about God and His faithfulness, God allows them to become weak. By God’s grace and power, God sends a deliverer to save them. When we were dead in our sin, apart from Christ, God weakened us to the point of crying out to Him. It was God’s grace that He sent His only Son to die to take the punishment we deserve. He sent the deliverer to save us. And when we allow sin and idols to replace the goodness of Christ, God allows us to become weak. Even if we are pursuing the Lord, God allows circumstances and hardships in our lives to keep us weak.

  • This thorn in the flesh for Paul was allowed, so that Paul would not become conceited. It was ultimately for his protection. If Paul’s ministry is founded in his strength, it really is no strength at all. Paul was a mortal man. Paul didn’t have the ability to combat a messenger of Satan. All he needed was the grace that only God provides through Christ.  
  • It is only through our weakness that God is effective, otherwise we would boast in our own ability to save ourselves. To repent. To love and serve others. Our God uses weak and broken people. This is good news, because when we submit to our Father God through Christ in weakness, God is much stronger in us. May we always remember that anything good in us, ultimately points to the work of God in our lives if you are born-again. He deserves the glory and honor.

Revelation 4:11, ““Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” 

 

Transition: God now is about to demonstrate His strength through Gideon and the weaker army of 300. 

 

 

  • God uses the weak to accomplish His victory. (v.9-25)

 

 

Explanation: After Gideon and the men took provisions and began preparing for battle, the Lord still had one more thing to do. God is now going to give Gideon final reassurance of victory over the enemy. This reassurance demonstrates God’s faithfulness and love for His people and helps to strengthen Gideon’s faith. Remember, Gideon has already put the Lord to the test multiple times back in chapter 6 through the sign of the fleece and meat and unleavened bread. Gideon destroyed the idols that God instructed him to destroy, but because of fear, he did it at night and brought 10 of his servants. Gideon has been faithful in obedience, but fear and uncertainty have so far been markers of his actions. Gideon has needed to see something tangible to believe that God was actually powerful enough to back it up. This interaction though, notice how God is the one to initiate the request.

Judges 7:9-11, “That same night the Lord said to him, “Arise, go down against the camp, for I have given it into your hand. 10 But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant. 11 And you shall hear what they say, and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.” Then he went down with Purah his servant to the outposts of the armed men who were in the camp.”

  • God tells Gideon that He has given the Midianites and Amalekites into Gideon’s hand. This would be a victory for the Israelites. There were no ifs, ands, or buts about it. God was going to come through for Gideon and use his weakness to accomplish it.
  • God knows Gideon inside and out. Gideon has shown tendencies of fear and uncertainty before. God gives him help to enter into the camp. He tells Gideon to bring his servant Purah to join him.
  • God tells Gideon that he will hear what they say, and it will strengthen him. Who is going to speak? What does Gideon need to hear that will encourage him? It will be a dream about a loaf of bread.

 

Gideon and Purah begin their travels toward the enemy camp. This in itself is remarkable and incredible risky.

  • It would be like asking the Commander-In-Chief of the Ukrainian army to walk into the center of the Black Sea Fleet base, which is Russia’s largest military base, which is located in Sevastopol, Ukraine. Then to walk around and listen for a confirmation of an upcoming military victory. This place would be heavily guarded and there would be “Wanted: Commander-In-Chief of Ukraine” posters plastered everywhere. The risk would be sure death.
  • This is no different for Gideon. Gideon and Purah, by faith, are told to walk into enemy territory. And they walk in obedience toward the dangerous and guarded Midianite camp.

Judges 7:12, “12 And the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the people of the East lay along the valley like locusts in abundance, and their camels were without number, as the sand that is on the seashore in abundance.”

As they approach the camp, they see the endless number of soldiers awaiting battle, confirming the dire reality of their situation. They are outnumbered and outclassed in a “military manual” strategy so to speak. In this case, two against an army.

  • But really there were three, and the third person being the God of the universe. Through God’s providence, He allowed Gideon and Purah to hear about one of the men’s dreams and its interpretation.

Judges 7:13-14, “13 When Gideon came, behold, a man was telling a dream to his comrade. And he said, “Behold, I dreamed a dream, and behold, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian and came to the tent and struck it so that it fell and turned it upside down, so that the tent lay flat.” 14 And his comrade answered, “This is no other than the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel; God has given into his hand Midian and all the camp.” 

  • This is the reassurance that Gideon needed to hear. God’s providence leads Gideon to the exact place and right time. The cake of barley bread represented the poor man’s bread. The same bread that would have been common among the people of Manassah. Gideon and Israel were destitute. They were oppressed. They were barren. Beaten and battered for seven long years. This bread (Israel), soft and weak, would tumble into Midian’s camp and flatten it. Gideon would be the man to lead Israel, and God would give the Midianites into Gideon’s hands. This is astounding. This is music to the ears of Gideon.

 

Look how Gideon responds.

Judges 7:15, “15 As soon as Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, he worshiped. And he returned to the camp of Israel and said, “Arise, for the Lord has given the host of Midian into your hand.” 

  • Gideon is joyous. He worships the Lord! The rightful response to God’s blessings of grace and providence is worship. God has given full assurance of Gideon’s victory by minimizing Gideon’s army and allowing Gideon to hear a dream and interpretation from the enemy camp.
  • Even though the Midianites and their army is larger in number and strength, God is still stronger and mightier than they are. God will work out the victory for Israel through the weakness of Gideon and his army.

 

Illustration:  The same rings true for believers today! 

Tim Keller writes, “When we know we are weak, we need to remember that God is strong. We also need to be reminded of the truth that those things which stand opposed to us are not as strong as they often appear. Satan cannot force us to sin; the power of idols can be broken; those who mock or persecute us are often conflicted and broken beneath their confident exterior. God graciously gives Gideon the opportunity to see this: that this vast army, “thick as locusts,” underneath their armour have trembling hearts. They know what Gideon is only now convinced of: “God has given the Midianites… into [Gideon’s] hands.”

 

Explanation: Gideon, encouraged and confident in the Lord, now prepares his army for the battle.

Judges 7:16-18, “16 And he divided the 300 men into three companies and put trumpets into the hands of all of them and empty jars, with torches inside the jars. 17 And he said to them, “Look at me, and do likewise. When I come to the outskirts of the camp, do as I do. 18 When I blow the trumpet, I and all who are with me, then blow the trumpets also on every side of all the camp and shout, ‘For the Lord and for Gideon.’”

  • The stage is being set here for an uncommon and unusual strategy for defeating this army.
    • The men will have trumpets and empty jars with torches inside of them.
    • Once they are in position, they will blow the trumpets, smash the jars with the torches, and yell, “For the Lord and for Gideon.”
  • This strategy from afar seems preposterous. It seems outlandish. It seems crazy.

 

Illustration: Imagine enlisting in the Marines and instead of handing you a gun, they hand you a trombone. As a bass player, the least popular member of the band (sorry Newman, that’s just how it is for us bass players), if I was handed a bass guitar for war, I would be in much trouble against the modern tactics of warfare.

  • But if I knew that God was going to use that bass guitar for battle, that I could defeat an entire army playing the sickest, funkiest, bass groove known to man, I’d slap that bass until the strings fell off. I’d yell a sword for the Lord and point that bass into the air.

 

Explanation: The proof is in the pudding. The results are already decided. Watch how God works through Gideon to implement this strategy.

Judges 7:19-20, “19 So 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. 20 Then 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!”

  • The battle begins. Gideon has given careful instructions on what they need to do to secure the Israelites victory over the Midianites. And they do exactly what Gideon instructs. They set themselves on the outskirts of the camp and blow the trumpets. After they blow the trumpets, they broke the jars. Once they broke the jars, they shouted, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” They stood their ground. All they had to do was stand their ground.
  • This strategy was carefully crafted and worked to secure the victory. After all, Gideon was a mighty warrior. This “attack” had a purpose. But how does it turn out?

Judges 7:21-23, “21 Every man stood in his place around the camp, and all the army ran. They cried out and fled. 22 When 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. 23 And the men of Israel were called out from Naphtali and from Asher and from all Manasseh, and they pursued after Midian.”

  • The Midianites are thrown into a frenzy. The 301 trumpets, loud smashing of the jars, torches and the loud shouting worked together to make the Israelite army appear and sound much larger than it really was.
  • This strategy of Gideon, which was actually God’s perfect plan, caused confusion among the men of the enemy camp and drove them out of their camp. They were just switching watch over the camp, so the middle shift had to have been tired, and the third shift of watch were just waking up for their watch.
  • The enemy, unprepared for such a raucous, ran around, pointed swords at one another, looked absolutely confused, they assumed there was a much larger force against them and they fled! Like a scene from “The Three Stooges”, the Midianites looked like Larry, Curly, and Moe. The Lord caused them to turn on one another, and eventually they fled. All of this done without a single soldier dead. The Midianites cry out. They got out of dodge. They skipped town. They tried to escape. 

 

But the princes of Midian didn’t get far. The reinforcements were called in.

Judges 7:24-25, “24 Gideon 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. 25 And 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.”

  • Gideon sends messengers to intercept the fleeing soldiers. Ephraim waits at the Jordan River and they capture two of the Midian princes. Oreb and Zeeb.
  • Through the irony of God’s plan, Oreb is killed at the rock of Oreb. The first reassurance of the Lord’s to Gideon took place at a rock where the Angel of the Lord vanished after the meat and unleavened bread were consumed by the fire.
  • Zeeb is killed at the winepress of Zeeb. The Lord first appeared to Gideon at a winepress.  

 

Application: While this military strategy appeared to be a genius plan by the great and mighty warrior Gideon, this was really the plan of God. God was graciously working through the gifts and strengths of Gideon to implement a perfect military strategy. This was unusual indeed, but effective, nonetheless. Gideon could not say at this point that he was the one who put all of this together. After all, God chose a fearful and doubting man in Gideon. God chose Gideon, from the weakest tribe Manasseh. In choosing Gideon to lead, He purposefully limited the army from 32,000 men down to 300. God then worked through Gideon to not use swords or artillery to attack, but like the poor man’s barley bread, used a harmless instrument, broken jars, torches, and yelling to cause the enemy to flee.

  • God often chooses and uses the weakness of men to accomplish His will. We see this plainly in Gideon’s narrative. We saw it in this battle. We also see it in our own lives.
  • Much like Israel could not save themselves, we could not say we saved ourselves. Outside of Christ, we were broken sinners. We were weak and in darkness. We were enemies of the God of the universe. God in His amazing grace sent His Son Jesus into the world who wasn’t weak, who lived the perfect life, and walked step by step with the Father into His death, burial, and resurrection. At the cross, Jesus paid a bloody price for our sin. In His death, we experience a death, the death of the old weak man/woman. In Jesus’ resurrection, we experience life! We are a new creation! As Kevin mentioned last week, if you believe this, you are now united in Christ. 
  • Even in our unity with Christ, we still feel weak at times. Life’s storms and circumstances feel heavy on our soul. Our enemies feel larger than life at times. Our weakness however is the very thing that reminds us of our dependence on God and our need to trust Him. God’s love for those who trust Him point us to every hardship working for our own good and for His glory.
  • God’s character isn’t such that He wants us to remain weak just for the sake of it. He isn’t a man with a magnifying glass on an anthill, causing us suffering just for His pleasure. God isn’t a puppet master who pulls the strings and controls us like marionettes in a play. In allowing us to become weak and suffer, we are actually seeing His goodness. He reminds us of and gives us reassurance that He will always be there for us. For the believer, God is with you always. 
  • God’s reassurance to Gideon through the interpreted dream reminds us that God is always with us. He is with us in His Word and through His Church (other people). When generations of Israelites forgot about God and His faithfulness, they stumbled, they fell on their face. God’s way of dealing with His people was to make them weak, so they would return to the Lord.

Conclusion

 

Clarification and Exhortation: What can we glean then from Gideon’s story in Judges 7? We see God’s faithfulness and grace through a weak man and a weakened army. We see that God is powerful enough to defeat our enemies. Our sin, our pride, our fears, our flesh are all defeated by the power of God. The power of God was fully demonstrated at the cross, where Jesus paid the ultimate price in death, and was raised in glorious power in His resurrection. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead now dwells with those who have put their faith in the gospel. God’s grace in our weakness through suffering and trials, shows us that God is actually working to make us look more and more like His Son. Every act of grace and mercy on our lives points us not to our own ability or glory, but to the glory of God.

  • God is also giving Redeeming Grace Church reassurance this morning. While we may be smaller in number. God has given us a heart to know and trust His Word. This living Word of God is the foundation of everything we do. This Living Word of God points to Jesus, the Word made flesh. And God has given us each other. May we walk side by side as a united church, encouraging one another in Christ. Pointing one another to the power of the gospel. May we love, serve, and pray for one another regularly. Let us be reminded that all of what we do, depends on the work of Christ in our lives.
  • If you are here and do not know Jesus, I plead with you to repent and believe in the gospel. When it is all said and done, it will be a terrifying thing to be in the hands of God’s wrath at judgment day. The door of salvation is open for you. The free gift is there to grab. Please consider this offer. Let’s pray.

More in Judges (Broken People, Unbroken Promises)

July 14, 2024

3 Minor Judges & Review

July 7, 2024

Shibboleth

June 23, 2024

Jephthah's Vow