So Gideon, and the hundred men that were with him, came unto the outside of the camp in the beginning of the middle watch; and they had but newly set the watch: and they blew the trumpets, and brake the pitchers that were in their hands.
And the three companies blew the trumpets, and brake the pitchers, and held the lamps in their left hands, and the trumpets in their right hands to blow withal: and they cried, The sword of the LORD, and of Gideon.
And they stood every man in his place round about the camp: and all the host ran, and cried, and fled.
Quietly and confidently Gideon made his way through the darkness out of the camp of Midian. The dream he had heard related was as a voice from heaven. There was no doubt in his mind but that God had sent that dream so that it might be heard by him. It was a prophecy of what was soon to happen. The fear which this mere dream had struck into the hearts of those hardened warriors was but a foretaste of what the impending attack would do to the whole of the multitude of Midian. Eager with anticipation, Gideon made his way back to the waiting three hundred.
Meanwhile, in the camp of Midian, it was not unlikely that the two men that Gideon had overheard were preparing themselves to take up the middle watch of the night. The time was approaching, and for them there was little use in trying to catch a little more sleep. Buckling on their swords, they stepped out into the darkened night to try to regain their composure before the duties of the watch became theirs to keep. Slowly they went about seeking out the other watchmen of the night, trying to find someone to reassure them. In muted whispers they related to each one they met the dream and what they felt it meant. In the light of day they might all have laughed it off as a fantastic thing, but now in the darkness of the night it appeared all too real. By the time the middle watch had taken its posts, everyone was on edge. Their fires seemed to give little warmth that night; the flames only seemed to raise up before their eyes phantoms of lurking figures on every side. As never before the hearts of Midian’s brave watchmen were gripped by the cold chill of fear. God was preparing them for what was soon to happen.
As Gideon moved silently through the night; his heart was lifted in a chorus of silent worship to his God. Arriving at the place where his men were waiting, his face still shone with the radiance of this new confidence, and it echoed in his voice as he spoke. “Arise,” he shouted eagerly, “for the LORD hath delivered into your hand the host of Midian.”
Quickly Gideon divided his men into three groups of one hundred each. Then he gave to each his weapons. A stranger array of weapons could hardly be imagined. It was almost ridiculous. Had they been any but these three hundred God-fearing men, they might well have refused to go to battle with weapons like these. To each was given a trumpet, a torch, and an empty pitcher. Then he gave to them their instructions, “Look on me, and do likewise: and, behold, when I come to the outside of the camp, it shall be that, as I do, so shall ye do. When I blow with a trumpet, I and all that are with me, then blow ye the trumpets also on every side of all the camp, and say, The sword of the LORD, and of Gideon.” Thereupon the three groups set out, each in its own direction, to compass the camp of the Midianites.
All was still and dark in the valley of Jezreel. Across the floor of the valley was sprawled the great host of Midian, silent in sleep. The only ones who stirred in the camp were the watchmen keeping their watch. Their fires, spaced at intervals, marked the outline of the camp. There was no dozing on watch that night. They remembered the foreboding dream that had been told them, and its fear would not go away. They longed for the dawn, but the night had only just passed its midpoint. Troubled, they looked to the hills for some clue; but the hills gave them no answer. Actually the men of Gideon were there arranging themselves along the crest of hills surrounding the valley; but they moved silently, and their torches, covered with the empty pitchers, only smoldered for lack of oxygen and gave no light. The watchmen of Midian could only guess if anything was going on in those hills, and what it might be. But they were on edge and ready to jump at a moment’s notice to spread alarm through the camp.
Then it happened. First the sound of a single trumpet, clear and shrill, cutting through the stillness of the valley from one end to the other with a call to battle. And then from every side there came the blast of many trumpets, as though the heavens themselves were giving answer. Jumping to their feet, the watchmen of Midian stood in stunned silence searching the hills for a sign of what was upon them. And then came the second sound, the sound of hundreds of earthen pitchers being dashed to pieces on the rocks; but to those in the valley below it must have sounded as though the very hills themselves were being rent asunder by the onrush of a mighty army. Mow they saw; for suddenly the crest of hills glowed with the bursting flames of innumerable fires, as though the heavens had suddenly kindled them. They glowed with a frightening light. And after it all came that shout, “The sword of the LORD and of Gideon.” How often had they not laughed to scorn the name of the God of Israel, and now that name was descending upon them in judgment. And a judgment it was, like that which shall come at the world’s end. In that day the trumpet will be that of Gabriel, the light will be that of the Son returning in all of His glory; and it will be the earth that will be dashed to pieces like a potter’s vessel; but the Midianites knew all of the fright of those who call to the hills to cover them. For a moment the watchmen stood paralyzed in the grip of fear; and when at last they pulled themselves together sufficiently to turn to the camp to sound the alarm, they found the aisles between the tents already teeming with people. Their fellows, of course, had heard the sound and were turned out to see what it was that had made it. But in the darkness and the resultant confusion, all they could think was that the warriors of Gideon had sprung from the earth to devour them. Drawing their swords, they began to fight for their lives. Soon the sound of real battle filled the valley throughout; and when any paused to look up, there were still those burning lights glaring down from the hills about them. All through the night there went up the anguished cries of fighting as the host of the Midianites melted away. At last with the first rays of dawn they turned and ran and fled.
Through the night Gideon’s three hundred remained untouched upon the mountains and had only to listen to learn what effect their strange attack had had. But meanwhile they knew that with the coming of morning they would have to act. Now the time had come to gather all Israel to the spoil. Swift runners were sent by Gideon to the closest tribes, Naphtali, Asher, and Manasseh. He summoned the people to come and pursue and destroy the fleeing enemy. Especially to Ephraim he sent to come and take the fords of Jordan to keep the Midianites from passing over them. To these men of Ephraim fell the first great trophy of battle; Oreb and Zeeb, two of the princes of Midian, were taken by them and slain.
Now began what would prove to be for Gideon the most difficult part of this whole campaign. God had destroyed for him the power of the whole host of Midian, but still to be dealt with was the sinfulness of Israel.
It began with the men of Ephraim. Standing as they did at the crucial fords of Jordan, they soon saw how great was the victory which had been brought about by Gideon and his three hundred. Immediately they were moved to envy. Thinking back, they concluded that they had never even been adequately called to take part in the project. Thus when Gideon himself with his band of three hundred men came to the fords of Jordan to pass over, they were met not with a feeling of gratitude to God for what had happened, but with a spirit of rancor and bitterness. Angrily the men of Ephraim chided him saying, “Why hast thou served us thus, that thou calledst us not, when thou wentest to fight with the Midianites?”
Gideon was astonished. To him there was no more glory in one part of this victory than another. To serve God in any capacity was a privilege, and one part was as great as the other. In very fact Ephraim had played a very considerable part. Of this he reminded them. “What have I done now in comparison of you?” he asked. “Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abiezer? God hath delivered into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb: and what was I able to do in comparison of you?” With this the anger of Ephraim was abated.
More serious, however, was that which met him after he had crossed over the Jordan. By this time he and his three hundred men had gone close to twenty-four hours without sleep or food, and they were faint. Thus when they came to the city of Succoth, they stopped expecting to find willing assistance in their need. Gideon went himself to the elders of the city and said, “Give, I pray you, loaves of bread unto the people that follow me; for they be faint, and I am pursuing after Zebah and Zalmunna, kings of Midian.”
It was to Gideon’s utter astonishment that he was met not with sympathy but with bitterness. Acidly they retorted, “Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in thine hand, that we should give bread unto thine army?” Outwardly they appeared to be questioning the ability of Gideon to complete his victory; but it was apparent that underneath these men preferred to live godlessly under the oppression of Midian than under a righteous judge like Gideon. They were not going to help Gideon toward victory.
To this Gideon retorted, “Therefore when the LORD hath delivered Zebah and Zalmunna into mine hand, then I will tear your flesh with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers.”
Next Gideon stopped at the city of Penuel with the same purpose. But here his reception was the same, for this city was even more sinful than Succoth. In the city was a tower of which they were very proud and which may well have been used for idolatrous purposes. Thus Gideon left them also with a warning, “When I come again in peace, I will break down this tower.”
Of all of the thousands of Midian, about 15,000 had escaped with Zebah and Zalmunna the kings. They had crossed the Jordan and had come to a mountain stronghold where they thought themselves safe. But God was with Gideon, so that he came upon them even here, destroyed the host, and captured the kings.
With the two kings as evidence, Gideon returned to Succoth and Penuel. Taking the elders of Succoth, he said to them, “Behold Zebah and Zalmunna with whom ye did upbraid me, saying, Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in thine hand, that we should give bread unto the men that are weary?” With this he had them beaten with the thorns and briers of the wilderness. But with the men of Penuel he was even more severe. Returning to their city, he broke down their tower as he had said; but he also slew the elders because of the extent to which they had led the people into sin.
Henceforth this would be Gideon’s most important work, to judge and lead the people in righteousness before God.