Enormous, so we saw, was the panic that seized on Midian, when the trumpets sounded, the pitchers crashed, the battle-cry broke out and the torches blazed. The terror which seized Midian was the terror of God. The narrative brings this out. “And the Lord set every man’s sword against his fellow even throughout the host: and the host fled.”
Let us pause here and delineate on the great principle of truth which this war of liberation, as thus far waged, is remarkably demonstrated. This truth received statement by the Lord Himself in the following language. “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” (). In other words, Israel is saved not by his own hand but by that of the Lord; and thus the victory that overcometh the world is solely Israel’s faith—faith in the wonder-working power of his redeemer-God. By no other war in all ^Israel’s history was this truth brought into such bold .relief as by Gideon’s conflict with these Midianite hordes. Herein precisely lies the significance of this conflict and of Gideon ‘the mighty hero.
How plain that Israel’s victory was not by his own hand. The Midianites formed a mighty host. They had come up in great hordes “as grasshoppers for multitude: for both they and their camels were without number.” How apparently preposterous to send, in the dead of the night, against such a multitude a band of three hundred men armed with nothing more formidable in the way of weapons of war than trumpets and empty pitchers with burning lamps in them. The pitchers were broken and the soldiers stood there, not otherwise attacking, but simply holding the lamps, us freed from their opaque encasements, and alternately blowing the trumpets and shouting, “The sword of the
Lord and Gideon.” Certainly, the tactic employed excluded boasting; and the only truly rational explanation of the effect of this tactic—the terror and disorder that ruled the hour in the Midianite camp—is that God, in response to the living faith of Gideon and His band and through the working of this faith, accomplished His work—the work of setting every Midianite’s sword against his fellow, even throughout all the host, so that the host fled, ch. 7:22. Thus that tactic—the cry of Gideon’s men, the blasts of their trumpet, in a word, the working of the faith of the three hundred—were of God, His very own provision and as such merely means through which He troubled those heathen hordes and put them to flight. How could it be otherwise. How could those hordes of fierce men have been routed by the sight of a few burning torches, by the sound of the blast of a few trumpets and the shouts of a few men and by the noise of the breaking of some crockery, if God had not worked? What folly to begin and end with the dispersion of those hordes in Gideon and his military tactic and not in God. Yet, the infidels of this day and age, who refuse to give God glory, commit this very folly. And likewise the unbelieving Jews in Israel of Gideon’s day—Jews bent on vaunting themselves before God. Deism and Atheism are not modern phenomena. They date from man’s fall in paradise. Yet that tactic of Gideon must not be minimized. Those blazing lamps, trumpet blasts, and cries of Gideon’s men, in the dead of the night, did certainly strike terror to the hearts of the Midianites, but only because God worked through this tactic—worked another wonder of His grace in behalf of His oppressed people. Thus that tactic—the cry of Gideon’s soldiers—the cry: “The sword of the Lord and Gideon”—had great significance indeed. As was said, that cry was the working of the living faith of the true church. It thus overcame—did this cry and those , trumpet blasts—the world as represented by those .heathen hordes by which northern Canaan was being overrun. For the Lord responded to that cry—His own work in His people—and through it worked a miracle.
Thus the victory that overcame the world was not the force of arms but the faith of the three hundred— faith in the willingness and the power of Jehovah to save His people that He might be feared. God made it so plain that Gideon’s war with the Midianites was purely a venture of faith and therefore successful. First there is that reference to Gideon’s faith in the Lord’s greeting to him, “The Lord is with thee, thou mighty hero.” The sacred narrator describes in detail the working of this faith, first in Ophrah, than in the other fields of conflict. There were other ways in which the Lord, at that time, even before the commencement of the war with the Midianites, made it plain to His people that at all times the secret of their power was solely their faith—faith attaining expression in true penitence, implicit trust in God,- unwavering loyalty to His cause, and a holy eagerness to he of His party in His warfare with darkness. There was the doing of God that consisted in His diminishing the host of Israel until all that remained was a handful of men—Gideon’s three hundred, they that lapped with their hands from the water as lappeth a dog with his tongue from the water and thus did not, as the others, lie down by the edge of the brook by putting their lips to the water. The different manner in which each group satisfied their thirst could not have been without significance, Just what was indicated of inward disposition and habits of life the sacred author does not say. Thus there is more than one conjecture among interpreters; According to one view, the three hundred who drank after the manner of dogs were the fainthearted. But this view contradicts the spirit of the whole narrative. It militates against the notice that the fearful were sent home. If the fainthearted were demanded, the brave should have been dismissed. God saves by a few indeed but by the few in whose soul He genders by His spirit and His word, implicit faith in Him. To say that God saves by the few devoid of this trust is equivalent to saying that what overcometh the woman is not faith but cowardice. How could it be said that God, through sending deliverance, shows what He does for men who place their confidence in Him, if it were true that He wars His warfare through the agency of infidels.
According to another view, those who in order to drink threw themselves down upon their knees showed thereby that they were devotees of Baal and this because their posture in drinking indicated that they were accustomed to pray as kneeling before idols. This view is weighed down by the difficulty that those who lay down to drink were not of the fearful and the afraid. At least they had not availed themselves of the opportunity, given them by the proclamation, to leave the field of conflict and return to their homes. If kneeling must be taken as a certain indication of gross idolatry than also the fear by which the first and much larger group was driven home. In that case only 300 of 33,000 men in Israel served God. Though possible, this is not likely. Certain it is, however, that the hearts of the fearful ones were not right with God. What can be said is that many in this group, though true believers into the hearts of their disposition, were nevertheless defiled by the idolatrous practices of the ungodly and that many more were no true believers at all. But what is to be said of the 9,700 who were dismissed on account of their having drunk kneeling? The view that their posture is meaningless, that all of these men or at least many of them were spiritually qualified, that the only reason of their dismissal was that God was resolved to save by the few? and that therefore there was no connection whatever between their being sent home and their inward disposition and antecedent religious habits—this view is likewise incapable of being held. Certainly who and what a man is shows itself in the unrestrained motions of the body. Though it need not be maintained that, to the last man, all these kneelers were apostates, who had been crowding Baal’s temple, yet what their posture must be taken to have indicated is that, in the eyes of Him who alone judges the heart, they were spiritually unqualified for the conflict. This being true, the Lord set them aside before the eyes of men to accomplish His work through the three hundred, His purpose being to stress the great significance of faith, of true religion in the heart, and thereby to drive home to the heart of the nation that it is solely by faith that Israel lives and triumphs over the adversary,—triumphs even though that faith be shut up in the hearts of but 300 men. Wherein then may these kneelers have been deficient. Consider that in the present crisis they quenched their thirst with leisure, and with the enemy poised for the attack. These men were lacking in spiritual alertness, zeal, and consecration to the cause of God. That wherein they were deficient, the three hundred excelled. Hence, the latter did not so drink, that from eagerness to quench their thirst, they forgot the adversary. They had power to cry from the heart, “The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon.”
That cry calls for explanation. It was a meaningful cry, full of dreadful implications for the adversary. For it had reference to but one sword, the sword of the Lord and of Gideon. The cry thus proclaimed that Gideon, as the Lord’s anointed, warred the warfare of God and that therefore the doom of Midian was sealed. It proclaimed, did this cry, the covenant of God as being with His people, the calling of this people, the rights and privileges implicit in this calling—the right to fight the fight of the Lord—the power and willingness of God to save according to His promise, and the victory with which He crowns the faith of His people. And God, the true preacher of His word, spake this cry—His word—in the hearts of the heathen; and they were afraid and they fled. Thus the sword employed in the first and decisive stage of this war was the word of God as born to the heathen by faithful men and as laid upon the hearts of the heathen by the Lord.
A meaningful cry. And faithful men of God, the prophets of the Lord, still utter that cry. Through the ages to the end of time they prophesy of the doom of the world and the deliverance of God’s people. And the wicked are afraid, for the cry is on their hearts laid there by Christ. And their final terror will come at His sudden appearing in glory—a terror wherein the earth shall be smitten by the rod of His mouth and all the wicked shall be slain by His breath, a terror wherein the trump of the arch-angel shall sound and the firmament shall pass away with a noise and the elements shall burn that there may be new heavens and a new earth. Of all these things the war with Midian and its successful issue spake. For consider the time of the attack—in the night—and its suddenness. Consider its issue—the complete dispersion of the enemy. And consider finally that the weapon employed was the efficacious word of God. Let the people of Israel therefore not vaunt themselves before the Lord. But let them give God all the glory. One more remark and then we pass on. The men of zeal and holy daring and devotion in Israel were exceedingly few at that time. So it always is. But it is well, for God so wills—wills to accomplish His work through the few.
As to the dispersed Midianite host, it fled to Bethshittah in Zererath and to the border of Abelmeholah, unto Tabbath. The mention of these places had a local significance for the people of Israel who were acquainted with their situation. What the mention of these places tell us is that the Midianites did not flee in one body, but in two divisions and directions. This explains the measures adopted by Gideon. Unable to pursue both himself, he calls on Ephraim to cut off the other line of flight across the fords of the Jordan. Also the fearful ones, the troops that had been collected from Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali, now gather themselves together and pursue the Midianites. Now they have courage, now with the victory achieved and the enemy on the run.
The Ephraimites, responding to Gideon’s call, came down against the Midianites, “and took before them the waters unto Bethbarah and Jordan. And they took two princes of the Midianites: Oreb and Zeeb; and they slew Oreb upon the rock Oreb, and Zeeb they slew at the winepress of Zeeb, and pursued Midian, and brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon on the other side of the Jordan.”
The names of the two princes captured and slain are suggestive,—suggestive of the character of those Midianite hordes and of the character of the kingdom of this world in general. Oreb means wolf and Zeeb means raven. Under these names the two princes had been dreaded. They were fierce and brutal men, who lived by their swords and with whom might was right.