Sunday, January 10, 2010

Judges series - Judges 7

The way to read this article is that the orange underlined texts are the verses of the Bible (NIV, unless otherwise stated). The black texts following the Bible verses (and enclosed by square brackets) are my commentaries. At the end of these Bible texts and commentaries, I have inserted a section on "Points to take note".
{For full listing of all articles in this series, click here}

Judges 7

Gideon Defeats the Midianites

1 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. 2 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, 3 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. 4 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." 5 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." 6 Three hundred men lapped with their hands to their mouths. All the rest got down on their knees to drink. 7 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." 8 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. [“In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her” – for this, God reduced Gideon’s army from 32,000 to 300 men! Sometimes, I would daydream about God. I would think if only God would directly tell me what to do, then I would surely do what is requested without questioning. Many a time, I thought about why God did not just tell me what do to, surely I would obey. But would I really obey without questioning? Yes, God spoke to Gideon directly, but He also reduced the resource from 30,000 men to 300 men, to a mere 1%. From here we can see the faith of Gideon because he protested not.]
Now the camp of Midian lay below him in the valley. 9 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. 10 If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah 11 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. 12 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. [Although it was a figure of speech, all the same, the understanding is that the enemy’s army was really huge (more than 135,000 – see Judges 8:10). It is very interesting to note here that God voluntarily gave Gideon a sign despite having given a direct instruction to attack the enemy’s camp, and the assurance that the enemies would be delivered into his hands. God knew Gideon was afraid, who wouldn’t be, at the thought of fighting a battle with only 1% of the original strength. Yet we can say that Gideon was courageous.
I believe the courage, in the Bible, was about doing what was right despite being afraid. In Deu 31:6, Moses commanded Joshua to be courageous before passing the leadership baton to Joshua to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land, to fight the “giants”, and to claim the land the Lord had promised.

- Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. (Deu 31:6)

After the death of Moses, we read in Joshua 1:6-7, these words of God to Joshua –

6 "Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. 7 Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. ]

13 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." 14 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." [I am not (yet) knowledgeable to tell you how to know that God has indicated a sign to you, but I say we must try not to miss the signs that God gives us. If I put myself in Gideon’s shoes, honestly I probably missed the sign. I tell you why: God said, “If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp ……” I might have put up a bold front and denied that I was afraid and not go down to the camp! Gideon was both humble before God and honest with himself.]
15 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." 16 Dividing the three hundred men into three companies, he placed trumpets and empty jars in the hands of all of them, with torches inside. [Like I said, I am no expert (yet), but do you just brush aside probable signs or are you like Gideon, acknowledge them, receive them and thank God for them, and swing into action consistent with the signs? Previously, we have read (see Judges 6:39-40) that Gideon having gotten one sign, asked for another. In this case, he did not ask for another. So how? Perhaps, his experiences with God guided him. He grew with his experiences with God, he was “learning the ways” of his Lord.]
17 "Watch me," he told them. "Follow my lead. When I get to the edge of the camp, do exactly as I do. 18 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.' " 19 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. 20 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!" 21 While each man held his position around the camp, all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled. [Have you wondered why Gideon did the things he did here, I mean attacking the enemy camp that way? Strange thing to do, or was it not so strange? The more I dwell on this Bible character, Gideon, the more I realized that there is much to learn. Here again, what this is showing to me is that, again Gideon had been one who studied and got to know the ways of the Lord, including how the Lord dealt with the people and individuals in the past. I am suggesting to you that Gideon did not randomly decide to do something and ended up doing the thing that he did. Firstly, we did not read that God told him what to do except to attack the camp with mere 300 men. So why did he go to the camp to blow trumpets and shouted. I believe Gideon from his studies in the faith heritage, knew the significance of trumpet blowing and shouting that went along with it. In Numbers 10, God gave Moses instructions about trumpets. Separately, you can read all about them, if you like. Relevant to this act of Gideon is this:

When you go into battle in your own land against an enemy who is oppressing you, sound a blast on the trumpets. Then you will be remembered by the LORD your God and rescued from your enemies. (Num 10:9)

On top of this, being a warrior he must have learnt and remembered exactly how Joshua conquered Jericho on entry into the Promised Land. This is what is written in Joshua 6:5 –

When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have all the people give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the people will go up, every man straight in." (Joshua 6:5)

What about the jars with the torches inside? What was the significance? What did Joshua bring with him to go round Jericho 7 times together with the trumpets? The Ark of the Lord. What did the Ark represent? The presence of God. There, do you see it? Gideon was symbolically bringing the Spirit of God with him to attack the enemy camp. The Spirit of God was represented by the fire of the torches. The torches in the jars were like fire in the cloud (over the tabernacle/tent) (Ex 40:38).

Not too long ago, I did a prophetic painting for myself, I drew a jar, and I sensed that the Lord was saying I was like the jar to hold and pour out water and fire. Water and fire are both symbols of the Spirit of God. You read in the next verse what happened when the trumpets were blown, and the men shouted and broke the jars, letting out the torches of fire. The Spirit of the Lord confused the enemies, causing them to turn on each other with their swords. 300 men were enough because they did not even have to exchange sword strokes with the vast enemy!

Before I leave this part of the commentary, let us learn something here, this is not just a nice story of victory. I receive conviction that we should learn as much as we can concerning the things of the faith, the faith heritage, how God dealt with the people, and individuals in the Bible, the ways of the Lord, how people reacted, how God reacted and acted, both in the ancient past and the not so distant past. Of course, we do not necessarily blow trumpets anymore, but there were many more recent ways of how the Lord was working in the world, we should learn about them, be open to them, and maybe even apply them in our own circumstances – be like Gideon.]
22 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. 23 Israelites from Naphtali, Asher and all Manasseh were called out, and they pursued the Midianites. 24 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. 25 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.
[Sweet victory. Great victory. Through Gideon. Just to refresh, the many names mentioned here included some of the tribes of Israel - Naphtali, Asher, Manasseh, Ephraim (the latter 2 are part of the house of Joseph), and of course, Gideon himself was from the weakest clan in the Manasseh tribe. I find that knowing the 12 tribes of Israel makes it easier to relate to some of the stories in the Old Testament. You can always go back to my commentary for Judges 1:2 for the complete list]

Points to take note/learn:

1. In service for Lord, one must be attentive to God
This was the attitude of Gideon. Even after a double confirmation (with unmistakable signs of the fleece) from the Lord to fight the powerful Midianites and her alliances, with the promise of the Lord going with him, Gideon was still attentive to God, to what God wanted him to do to accomplish his mission. Remember I talked about “catering to God” in my points to learn in Judges 6. I talked about the hypothetical example of the one working with Billy Graham would cater to Billy; what more if it were God? Gideon was working with God; he catered to God. That is what we must also do, cater to God. Many church liturgies leave no room for this, sad to say!

2. Victory is meant to glorify God, and God alone
Whether we meant it or not, it is best for us not to use the word, glory on ourselves. I feel it is wrong for some preachers, even well-known ones to encourage people to use the word glory on themselves. Glory, presently, belongs solely to the Lord. All must be ascribed to the Lord; no one is allowed to take any of it for himself. You may want to read my separate article on “Reserve glory and worship for God, practice honor, and grow in favor with God”. God reduced Gideon’s army strength to 1% so that all glory might be ascribed to Him and Him alone.

3. Without faith you cannot glorify God
The Scriptures directly said without faith it is impossible to please God. I believe without faith you cannot glorify God, too. The Scriptures does, in fact, talk about doing things without element of faith at all as sin; and if it is sin it obviously cannot glorify God. Going to battle with 1% army strength really required faith, in absolute numbers it was 300 men against 135,000!

4. It is ok to be afraid but we must be courageous
God knew Gideon was afraid, who wouldn’t be, at the thought of fighting a battle with only 1% of the original strength. Yet we can say that Gideon was courageous. I believe the courage, in the Bible, was about doing what was right despite being afraid.

5. Be humble and be humble
In the last Chapter we have already discovered that Gideon was humble, and that was a likeable trait by God. We see here again Gibeon was humble before the Lord; had he not being humble and admit that he was afraid, and had he put up a bold front before God, he would have missed the sign given by God through the dream of one of enemy’s men about the loaf of barley bread crashing the enemy at her camp.

6. Know our faith heritage to know what to do
This again is a repeat of one of the points to take note of, in the previous chapter of this Book of Judges. It is just that I paraphrased it differently. Gideon knew what to do, to get to the enemy’s camp, to blow the trumpets, to shout, and to smash the jars to let the fires of the torches to come forth, all because he probably knew the significances of the available resources from his understanding of the faith heritage (as explained in the main body of the exposition).

7. Faith must be followed by actions consistent with the faith
Faith without action is dead; the Book of James tells us that. Gideon acted consistent with his faith in God. God said to take only 1% of the army strength and to go into the enemy’s camp of 135,000, he acted on it! Do we really believe God is good, God is in control, and He has our interest at heart, too? If we do, there should not be lack of actions consistent with that faith in our lives.

Anthony Chia – God, help me not to be a NATO member – No Action Talk Only.

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