And when Gideon was come, behold, there was a man that told a dream unto his fellow, and said, Behold, I dreamed a dream, and lo, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the host of Midian, and came unto a tent, and smote it that it fell, and overturned it, that the tent lay along.
And his fellow answered and said, This is nothing else save the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a son of Israel: for into his hand hath God delivered Midian, and all the host.
Gideon was now established as the judge and leader in Israel. He had sounded a trumpet in Abiezer and all Israel had gathered behind him. They were not many, but 32,000 compared to the hundreds of thousands of Midianites with their allies. They were not experienced, trained or equipped for battle as their enemies were. But they represented the strength of Israel. If the yoke of oppression was to be thrown off, it was with these men that the battle would have to be formed. They represented the cause of Jehovah over against the wicked. In them the hope of Israel’s deliverance was to be realized. Should they now turn back, the revival of faith which was beginning to show in Israel would be dealt a mortal blow.
But after all, Gideon was only a man. It had not been so long ago that he had himself been hiding from the Midianites and performing his worship of Jehovah in secret. Now suddenly he was thrust to the front, and he found himself with the responsibility of preparing this shabby force of men for battle against the hordes of Midian. Gideon trembled at the very thought of it. All things considered, the whole situation looked quite impossible, except that Gideon believed in God. And even then at times his faith wavered and he began to wonder. At last he turned in his trouble to God for a sign that might strengthen him and give to him renewed assurance that God was able to give or withhold His blessing according to His own good pleasure. With sincere but troubled heart Gideon looked unto God and prayed.
Gideon was a man of the field who had grown up working with the soil. He knew the joy of going out in the early morning hour to find a well-watered field wet with the dew of heaven. It was to him a sign that God’s blessing rested there. Now, as he searched for a sign of blessing he could ask of God, his mind turned to this. Through the dew of heaven God could demonstrate His ability to place His blessing wherever He willed. Thus he prayed to God, “If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said, behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said.”
The next morning Gideon was awake very early. He hurried out to the threshing floor where he had placed the fleece, exposed to the weather. As he hurried along he could hardly fail to notice that the ground that morning was particularly dry and free from all traces of dew. But when he came to the fleece and caught it up in his hand, it was heavy with water. He took a bowl and wrung it out until the bowl was full. Gideon’s heart was lifted with joy, for this was indeed a remarkable answer to his prayer. Through the day he thought of it; but the more he thought, the more he began to realize that it was the nature of fleece to attract water much more quickly than other substances. Again doubts began to plague him until at last he turned to God again in prayer and said, “Let not thine anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once; let me prove, I pray thee, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew.”
Again the next morning Gideon arose early and hastened from his house. But now the morning was different; everything was heavy with dew as Gideon had seldom seen it before: But when he came to the fleece, it was absolutely dry. There could be little question but that it was a miracle. God was answering Gideon’s prayers.
God had consented to strengthen Gideon in His fear by giving him the signs which he requested. But at the same time God had determined to put Gideon to a test which would be much more severe. The time had come for the newly formed army of Israel, to take up its position over against the Midianites. Under the command of Gideon the 32,000 men did just that. They pitched camp by the well of Harod. The Midianites were immediately north of them, so that for the first time the comparative insignificance of Israel’s forces became fully apparent. It was then that God put Gideon to the test. He said, “The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me. Now therefore go to, proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, Whosoever is fearful and afraid, let him return and depart early from mount Gilead.”
This was surely the strangest and most inappropriate command that Gideon could imagine. Everyone was preoccupied with the smallness of Israel’s force, and that God at that time should declare it too large was almost inconceivable. And then, on top of that there was the basis of dividing the forces which God commanded. Here they were under the very shadow of Midian’s great army; so that morale among the men was understandably lower than ever before. Already, before they had come here, there had been so many who needed constant encouragement to stay with their forces. To offer these all free choice to leave now would seem just about disastrous. But this was the command of Jehovah, and it was not within Gideon’s right to question or reject it. He could only issue the proclamation, hoping that the men were stronger than he figured. But they were not. Having seen the size of Midian’s forces, most of them welcomed the opportunity to turn back. Over two thirds of them did, leaving Gideon with a mere force of about 10,000 men. They were those who stood strongest in their reliance upon God to give them the victory.
This, however, was only the beginning. Gideon may have found it disconcerting to have such a large portion of his forces return home; but in the eyes of Jehovah it was not yet enough. He had eliminated those who were weakest in faith, and now there was still another division He would make. Thus He came to Gideon again and said, “The people are yet too many; bring them down unto the water, and, I will try them for thee there: and it shall be, that of whom I say unto thee, This shall go with thee, the same shall go with thee; and of whomsoever I say unto thee, this shall not go with thee, the same shall not go.”
No longer did Gideon even hesitate. The way of the Lord, he had learned, was far beyond his understanding; and he should not question it. Trusting in faith, he obeyed the Lord’s command and brought his small band of 10,000 men down to the water and instructed them to drink. As they did so, a remarkable division became apparent among them. There were a few that stooped down on their haunches, and lifting the water to their mouths lapped it from their cupped hands as a dog laps. The rest, however, found it more natural to put their mouths directly to the water by bowing upon their knees. This was the posture learned by all those who were practiced in the worship of Baal. In the way they drank it was made evident who followed the service of idols and who had not. Thus God gave to Gideon the command, “Every one that lappeth of the water with his tongue, as a dog lappeth, him shalt thou set by himself; likewise every one that boweth down upon their knees to drink water.”
The result which finally came to the fore after everything was done was typical of the spiritual state of Israel. Of the 32,000 who had first answered the call of Gideon, there were only 300 with courage enough to stand for the cause of Jehovah over against the enemy, and who had never bowed the knee to Baal. This did not necessarily mean that the rest were reprobate or lost. There were undoubtedly many of them who now understood the evil of their way and were repentant. Nonetheless, in their unfaithfulness they had been the cause of Israel’s low estate, and God would not use them to deliver His people. Only 300 true and faithful men remained, but they were sufficient for the. cause of God. This he expressed to Gideon, “By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you, and deliver the Midianites into thine hand: and let all the other people go every man unto his place.”
At last the forces of Israel were ready, 300 men who had but one asset, they had always remained faithful in the worship of Jehovah. God was satisfied, and so He said that same night to Gideon, “Arise, get thee down unto the host; for I have delivered it into thine hand.”
Still, however, that same night before they proceeded to battle, God would give to Gideon yet one more sign of the coming victory. Gideon had not asked for it, but it was important that from him should be removed every last vestige of doubt or fear that might remain. This was to be a venture of faith. It was necessary that Gideon should be able to inspire his men unto battle with an example of complete confidence in their God. So God said to him, “But if thou fear to go down, go thou with Phurah thy servant down to the host: and thou shalt hear what they say: and afterward shall thine hands be strengthened to go down unto the host.”
It was an impressive thing to do in itself, to sneak with his servant into the very camp of Midian itself. Everything seemed to emphasize the immense size of the host. First there were the camels and cattle grazing on the outskirts of the camp. Off in the distance one could see the occasional flicker of a camp fire that still burned unto the far reaches of the valley. The tents of Midian squatted there like a vast horde of dark grasshoppers. To try to imagine their number was all but impossible. As they crawled through the camp, it was quite evident that the Midianites were not concerned about anything the Israelites might do. If they had even bothered to keep a watch over Gideon’s camp, it had surely been reported that the forces of Israel had all but completely scattered to their respective homes. The quiet of untroubled sleep was evident on every side. It was the hand of God that guided the two men on until at last they came to a tent where voices were to be heard. The men had been asleep already too, but now they were awake again in a highly agitated state. The one had a dream and was telling it to his companion. Gideon heard him say, “Behold, I dreamed a dream, and, lo, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the host of Midian, and came unto a tent, and smote it that it fell, and overturned it, that the tent lay down.” His tone of voice betrayed that he felt an ominous warning to be implied in what he had dreamed.
Then the other man spoke. God1 had given him an insight that filled his heart with the resignation of terror. With a flat voice he replied, “This is nothing else save the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel: for into his hand hath God delivered Midian, and all the host.”
Quickly and with thankful confidence Gideon returned to summon his men.