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Too Big to Be Used - Judges 7:1-25

Judges  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented
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Copyright June 10, 2018 by Rev. Bruce Goettsche

I am an America’s Got Talent Junkie. I love watching the show, I will watch clips on YouTube, clips from Britain’s Got Talent and clips from other countries. My favorite part of the show is the performance that is unexpected. Someone walks onto the stage and you are looking for one thing and get another thing entirely. There is something powerful about a great story; especially when the underdog beats the odds. Often these moments bring tear to my eyes.

This morning we read one of an unexpected moment brought about by the power of God. Gideon comes against the powerful Midianite army with a ragtag army and they destroy them.

The book of Hebrews lists Gideon as one of the examples of faith in Hebrews 11. At times, Gideon sure does not look like a noteworthy hero of faith. He tested God when God called him to lead three different times!

After all the resisting, Gideon finally began to lead. He assembled an army of 32,000 men. We aren’t told much about the army, but we do learn later that it did not include the tribe of Ephraim. In Judges 8:10 we are told the Midianite army numbered 135,000 men. Needless to say, Gideon and his army were outnumbered 4 to 1! They were also vastly undermanned as to weapons. Yet, the Lord speaks to Gideon and says,

The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many warriors with you. If I let all of you fight the Midianites, the Israelites will boast to me that they saved themselves by their own strength. 3Therefore, tell the people, ‘Whoever is timid or afraid may leave this mountain and go home.’


Personally, I am surprised Gideon doesn’t say, “WHO has too many men?” God told Gideon to give the men a chance to “un-enlist” from the military. He said anyone who was scared was free to go home without reprisal. Apparently, these men could do math! They were vastly outnumbered and 22,000 of them, went home! This left Gideon with only 10,000 men.

One author pointed out that the surprise of the passage was the fact Gideon was still there! He had shown he was not enthused about the project. This is where his faith blooms. God explained why He was going against all military wisdom and making the troops SMALLER rather than larger. He wanted the victory to be so surprising that people would have no other explanation than the hand of God.

The odds were now 13.5 to 1. No military commander would like those odds, but God said the army was still too large!

4But the Lord told Gideon, “There are still too many! Bring them down to the spring, and I will test them to determine who will go with you and who will not.” 5When Gideon took his warriors down to the water, the Lord told him, “Divide the men into two groups. In one group put all those who cup water in their hands and lap it up with their tongues like dogs. In the other group put all those who kneel down and drink with their mouths in the stream.” Only 300 of the men drank from their hands. All the others got down on their knees and drank with their mouths in the stream.

Some teachers spend a lot of time trying to figure out why the one way of drinking was better than the other. It is foolish speculation. How the men drank was not the issue. The idea was to lessen the number of soldiers. These guys were not better soldiers because they drank from their hands. It was not about the skill of the solider! The point was to create a stage on which the glory of God could shine!

There is a quick lesson to be learned here. When God needs to prepare us to serve Him, He doesn't usually give us a pep talk to make us "believe in ourselves." He does just the opposite. At times, he reminds us of how weak we are, so we will rely on Him entirely. His goal is not to build up self-confidence, He wants to develop our faith.

This is why God often will use humble people who are "nobodies" to do extraordinary things. God wants people who will point to Him and give Him the glory for all that happens. Some of today's most popular Christian authors sell books by telling people they are great and just need to be "who God made them to be." God is not promoting self-esteem or human potential.

So now Gideon is to face an army of 135,000 people with only 300 men! It is now 450 to 1! We see Gideon at his best. There is no pushback here. Gideon was convinced now that this is what God wanted him to do. However, deep down inside, God knew Gideon was concerned.


The Midianite camp was in the valley just below Gideon. 9That night the Lord said, “Get up! Go down into the Midianite camp, for I have given you victory over them! 10But if you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah. 11Listen to what the Midianites are saying, and you will be greatly encouraged. Then you will be eager to attack.”

So Gideon took Purah and went down to the edge of the enemy camp. 12The armies of Midian, Amalek, and the people of the east had settled in the valley like a swarm of locusts. Their camels were like grains of sand on the seashore—too many to count! 13Gideon crept up just as a man was telling his companion about a dream. The man said, “I had this dream, and in my dream, a loaf of barley bread came tumbling down into the Midianite camp. It hit a tent, turned it over, and knocked it flat!”

14His companion answered, “Your dream can mean only one thing—God has given Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite, victory over Midian and all its allies!”(Judges 7:8–14)

I love the way this story is told . . . the Midianite army was like a swarm of locusts, with camels too many to count. We see the impossible task given to Gideon. Not only did they have more men, they were also much better equipped! Try to imagine what is going through the minds of Gideon and Purah as they crept up to the enemy camp.

They eavesdrop on one of the tents as a man is sharing his dream. Stop and consider how amazing this is! Gideon came to just the right spot, at just the right time, where a man had a dream about Gideon. It was a strange dream (the kind I usually have) but the listener immediately had an interpretation, and it was about Gideon's defeat of the Midianite army!!! Gideon was emboldened for battle.

Before we get to the battle notice how kind and gracious God is. He understands the fear and uncertainty in Gideon and the men, and He takes steps to encourage them. How kind God is! We should, based on his track record, trust God without any need for assurances. But God bends low to our weakness. He does not rebuke, He reassures. It is OK to admit doubts and fears to the Lord. He loves it when we come to Him honestly.


Gideon was now flush with enthusiasm. He is ready to take on Midian in the strength of the Lord!

he returned to the Israelite camp and shouted, “Get up! For the Lord has given you victory over the Midianite hordes!” 16He divided the 300 men into three groups and gave each man a ram’s horn and a clay jar with a torch in it.

17Then he said to them, “Keep your eyes on me. When I come to the edge of the camp, do just as I do. 18As soon as I and those with me blow the rams’ horns, blow your horns, too, all around the entire camp, and shout, ‘For the Lord and for Gideon!’” (15-18)

We assume the men had weapons of some kind. However, all we hear about are the torches, the ram horns, and the clay pots. We aren't told that God gave Gideon this plan. Perhaps it is something he dreamed up . . . but I strongly doubt it. Somehow, I believe this is what God told Gideon to do.

It was probably around midnight when Gideon divided his 300 men into groups of 100 each. They spread out around the camp up on a hill. At the right moment (Gideon, followed by the other men, blew his horn, broke the clay pot (exposing the torch) and then they yelled: "For the Lord and for Gideon."

At this time of the night, it was likely the guard was changing watches. The noise from the shouts of the men likely woke everyone up with a start and they assumed they were being attacked. It is likely the Camels might have been stampeding. As men came racing out of their tents they would have seen other men running around in the camp. Since it was dark (and they had just awakened) their first instinct would have been to assume they were Gideon’s army. in fear they began to kill each other.

Try to imagine Gideon and his men standing around the camp while all the chaos was going on. They were not doing anything! God had turned the Midianites against each other!

It may be tempting to conclude that God wants us simply to sit back and watch Him work. That is not the case. God wants us to trust Him to work and to WORK THROUGH US. In order to make the victory complete, the Israelites had to completely destroy the Midianites.

23Then Gideon sent for the warriors of Naphtali, Asher, and Manasseh, who joined in chasing the army of Midian. 24Gideon also sent messengers throughout the hill country of Ephraim, saying, “Come down to attack the Midianites. Cut them off at the shallow crossings of the Jordan River at Beth-barah.”

So all the men of Ephraim did as they were told. 25They captured Oreb and Zeeb, the two Midianite commanders, killing Oreb at the rock of Oreb, and Zeeb at the winepress of Zeeb. And they continued to chase the Midianites. Afterward, the Israelites brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon, who was by the Jordan River.

Oreb and Zeeb ere Midianite princes. The rock and winepress where they were killed were later named after them. Many of the extra soldiers from Naphtali, Asher, and Manasseh were those who left the army either out of fear or were dismissed because of their drinking style. Now that the Midianites were on the run, everyone wanted in on the action.

Gideon even called on the tribe of Ephraim for help. He had not called on Ephraim earlier because they were the most southern of the tribes involved. We’ll find out in the next chapter that they were not happy they were not called on. We will continue the story next week but for now, let’s ask the key question for us: What should we be learning from this account?


We don’t need an army when the Lord is on our side. This is the lesson we keep forgetting. We are forever trying to “muster courage” or “come up with a plan.” This may be a shock to you . . . God does not need our help! He involves us, so we can share in His glory. He does not NEED us.

Why does a dad ask their young son or daughter to help with a project? Why does a mother ask a child to help with a meal or some other task? Do the parents need their help? No most of the time they are quite capable on their own. They invite their child to help so they can learn, and spend time together.

What we need to learn is: God is sufficient. As Paul said, “He can supply all our needs.” Gideon felt too small for the task. Do you know why? Because he WAS too small for the task. However, when He was walking with the Lord, they could not be defeated.

We endlessly try to fix things by our programs, our personalities, our arguments and our schemes. Until we turn to and trust the Lord we will be like the Israelites under the thumb of your “Midian”. Your Midian may be

A physical limitation

An intolerable task

An obnoxious co-worker

A disinterested spouse

A financial challenge

Legal entanglements

Whatever your “Midian,” the answer is the same: stop stocking your arsenal of home remedies and begin to trust God.

God is not interested in simply making our lives pleasant. He wants more. He wants to teach us how to trust Him. Sometimes God allows us to be in impossible spots because he knows our victories sometimes make us self-reliant and a little self-absorbed. At that point, the victories are more dangerous than the defeats.

One of the biggest challenges we face (especially as Americans) is to stop trying to “fix things” in our own strength. We would be much better served to set aside the worry and scheming and spend that time in prayer . . . simply listening.

Second, some of the “impossible” challenges are where we will learn the most and experience our most faith-stretching victories. If you have been a follower of Christ for any length of time, think back to the time when you felt the closest to the Lord. For many, even most of us, this was when we saw God’s hand at work in a time of great trial.

When called on to speak and were terrified . . . but God’s peace, presence and calm took over and the words just seemed to flow.

When you were given a task you felt was impossible to complete but you seemed to have insights from out of nowhere and God led us to the completion of the task.

When our heart was broken, we felt life was over, and God gave a profound comfort and deepened us. At times, He even surprised you with expressions of His love and grace.

When you felt all alone, and you had nowhere to turn. . . you found Him ready to embrace you and meet your need.

Sometimes God has to allow our legs to be knocked out from under us before we will turn to Him. He made us to be in a relationship with Him. The longer we ignore Him the more lost we become. God can survive just fine without us. We will wilt away without Him.

This is where some people are confused about the Christian faith. They think it is about rules that must be obeyed. They seem to think God wants to control us. This is a misunderstanding. God did not give us laws and commandments to control us but to show us how to live. It is kind of like the instructions you get in some Do-it-yourself project. The instructions aren't meant to control or dominate you . . . they are given to show you the way the items were meant to be assembled.

In much the same way, the Law of God is not like a whip to keep us in line. It is more like a doorway that leads to life. The message of the gospel "makes us alive." God leads us to where we really want/need to be. We can resist this, but we do so to our detriment.

God’s grace and patience are unmatched. I hope you see God's grace, patience, and power throughout this passage. Gideon resisted. He was scared. He needed reassurance. God addressed the fear and gave Gideon the assurance he needed. If we are willing to follow, the Lord will address our concerns, our doubts, and our questions. He will do this patiently and with love.

God showed grace and mercy to rebellious Israel. They continued to spit in God's face with their idolatry and yet when they cry out to Him, He responds. For thousands of years mankind treated God with indifference, yet, He sent Christ to redeem us. What an amazing God we have! When it comes to salvation, we are not seeking God, he is seeking us.

Are you going through a time of trial? Are you facing some mountain or Midian in your life? I ask you to consider something: Is it possible, God is using this time of testing to get your attention? Is it possible God is speaking to you in a way that will reach you in the crush of activity and noise in the world? Perhaps, instead of running from and resisting God, we would be wise to run to Him. Could God be trying to awaken you to your need for salvation and new life? Have you been simply playing the game? If so, this trial may actually be one of the greatest expressions of His love. He is fighting to get your attention so you will come and know His forgiveness, grace, and a new beginning.

Gideon discovered that the Lord could do far more than he ever imagined. You may think it is impossible for God to change someone like you. Maybe you even think it would be like sending 300 soldiers up against an army of 135,000 and thinking they were going to be victorious.

He is the God of miracles. And the next miracle may be the one He does in your heart. It is my prayer that you will hear, see, and respond. May God help us to trust Him more than we trust what our minds can comprehend.

Copyright June 10, 2018 by Rev. Bruce Goettsche

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