Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE DESIGN OF THESE TESTS. Although they must have seemed arbitrary, if not capricious, to many concerned, there is evidently "method in the madness." A partial explanation is given in the words, "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." The tests are meant, therefore -
1. To check the unbelief and self-conceit of men. The vast multitude is reduced to a few that men may give the praise to God, and his power be manifest. It is easy to suppose that such a tendency would show itself amongst the miscellaneous crowd. God could do the work by "many or by few," and it was well for them all to know it.
2. To secure efficiency. This would consist first, in the tried courage and discipline of those who remained; and secondly, in their faith and inspiration
II. THEIR ADAPTATION TO THIS DESIGN. By the adoption of the first expedient we are not to suppose that so many as left were lacking in ordinary courage. But they were not all heroes, and it was the heroic spirit that was needed. The anxious, irresolute, and timid were got rid of, and those who remained were men in earnest. The second test revealed the presence or absence of rarer qualities. This seems to be its rationale: the Israelites were close to the camp of the Midianites, who must have been watching the singular manoeuvres of their foes. The water where they drank must have been within easy reach for a demonstration, but they remained inactive. This created carelessness, a spirit of bravado in most. When they came to the water, therefore, they thought only of their thirst, and either forgot or despised the enemy. Flinging themselves down, they abandoned themselves to the luxury of quenching their thirst, and by their attitude exposed themselves to surprise and panic. But the three hundred stood up whilst drinking, and so had to lap. In this way they kept themselves alert, and showed that duty, not self-indulgence, was uppermost in their minds. It is the combination of prudence and self-denial with courage which is the most valuable thing in a soldier. The soldiers so tried are kept for the special effort, and the others who had not gone away are held in reserve to follow up the first blow struck, But over and above the special aim of each test, there was a discipline in the compulsory waiting and observing all that they involved - the loss of time, the trial of temper by apparent folly and arbitrariness, and the insignificant handful surviving the tests. So were Israel and its leader prepared. Is not all this like the discipline of life? God is so dealing with his children. The revelation and guardianship of great truths are committed only to the tried few; the signal movements and heroic duties of his kingdom are the care of elect sou]s, who when tested have been found true. The qualities requisite for a critical movement in a campaign are just those most valuable in life - faith in the leader, dauntless courage, superiority to self-indulgence, and constant prudence. We are to endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ. We know not what faults have to be corrected, what high service lies before us. - M.
gentleness hath made me great."
I. HOW PRONE THE NATURAL MIND IS TO THIS IMPRESSION. Israel, as here stated, was constantly imagining it. The moral systems, ancient and modern, social and political nostrums and panaceas, of men show this. The glorification of courage, intellectual gifts, material resources.
II. ITS MISCHIEVOUS EFFECTS. Egotism; materialism; intellectual and moral pride. "For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God" (Romans 10:3). "Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life" (John 5:40).
III. PROOFS THAT MAN CANNOT BE HIS OWN SAVIOUR.
1. The miraculous deliverances of Israel. The weakness of luxurious and materially enriched times. The providences of life. The soul's inner experiences.
2. The true conception of salvation. A spiritual more than a material fact. Our relation to the law of God. "Not by works of righteousness which we have done," etc. (Titus 3:5). "And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness," etc. (Philippians 3:9). Inward witness - "By the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Corinthians 15:10). - M.
Matthew 9:37, 38), we must also understand that the work may be suffering through excess in numbers of those labourers, whose character and method of work are not of the highest order.
I. THE POWER OF GOD IS FAR MORE IMPORTANT THAN ANY HUMAN AGENCY. In all Divine work the real energy is centred in God. We are but the instruments in his hands. The temptation is to forget that the true power and blessing come wholly from him (Deuteronomy 8:17), and to think so much of our labour in planting and watering as to ignore the one most important thing, God giving the increase (1 Corinthians 3:7). A gardener can only minister to the spontaneous life of nature; and if he becomes so infatuated with his skill as to attempt to manufacture a plant, his total reliance on his own resources will, of course, only reveal folly. So anything which leads us to magnify human agencies at the expense of Divine power will as surely produce failure.
1. The imposing appearance of too great numbers may lead us to neglect the aid of God. When we are few we feel our helplessness, and so learn to turn to God for strength; when we are many we imagine ourselves strong, and thus while we are (apparently) strong in ourselves we are really most weak. Presumption takes the place of faith, and human agency is relied on instead of Divine energy. The numbers of the Church, the elaborate organisation of her societies, the gifts and genius of individual men are all snares if they tempt us to neglect the one supreme source of success. The danger of the Church in the present day is to rely too much on the machinery of her institutions, instead of seeking the vital power which can alone inspire the energy of spiritual work.
2. The character of too great numbers may be such as to hinder the bestowal of the help of God. God cannot bestow his spiritual gifts on a people who are not spiritually-minded. If we gain numbers at the expense of spirituality, we do this also at the expense of Divine aid. Better be few, and constituting such a worthy temple that the Holy Ghost can dwell and work in us, than numerous, but possessed by a worldly spirit which degrades the temple into a house of merchandise.
II. THE QUALITY OF ANY HUMAN AGENCY IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE SIZE OF IT. It has been well said that it would be better for the cause of Christianity in the world "if there were fewer Christians and better ones." Xerxes found the vast numbers of his Asiatic hordes a hindrance to effective warfare with the disciplined Greeks. The great want of the Church is not more labourers, but better ones - better ministers, missionaries, teachers; not more sermons, but more able preaching; not a more ponderous library of Christian literature to meet the attacks of unbelief, but a few more powerful works (one book, 'Butler's Analogy was probably more effective in counteracting the influence of Deism than all the rest of the voluminous apologetic writing of the eighteenth century). It would be well if Church discipline were a reality, and Christian workers selected with conscientious care. The workers should be sifted by tests applied to their character and abilities.
1. Tests of courage and zeal are useful; so Gideon dismissed the timid, and only willing men were retained. The only valuable soldiers in Christ's army are the volunteers who delight in his service.
2. Slight incidents will often reveal character, and serve as tests of the quality of God's servants (ver. 7). - A.
I. GOD JUSTIFIES HIS WAYS TO THOSE WHO PUT THEIR TRUST IN HIM. It was a grace that this additional sign should be given. The patience and faith of the servant of God are recognised by a spiritual reward. The deep harmony, hitherto unsuspected, of the steps he had taken at the Divine instance with the process going on and assisted by God's influence in the minds of his enemies must have, when combined with the circumstances, - the still night, the darkness, the vast host in whose dangerous neighbourhood he lay, - produced a profound impression upon his mind. In such a revelation there is communion and spiritual rapture. It was a reward for all he had passed through. The wisdom of everything was plain. There are times like this in every true life. They come unexpectedly, as a grace from our heavenly Father. He leads us into his counsels, and confirms us. Obedience leads on to knowledge,
II. SUGGESTION IS GIVEN HOW TO PERFECT OUR SERVICE. In every saint's life there is something wanting - an indefinite incompleteness and crudity. Such revelations and providences remove this. Their practical utility is evident. Here were several matters made known to Gideon he had not probably dreamt of.
1. The carelessness of the watch, arising probably from the notion that Israel had disagreed and dispersed.
2. The liability of an army so composed, etc., to panic.
3. The influence of his own name (the use he made of this we know by the cry).
4. The secret fear in the hearts of his adversaries.
III. IT IS BY THE MORAL INFLUENCE OF GOD'S PEOPLE THE WORLD IS OVERCOME. Christians are too much afraid of the world. Fear not, says the Master, for I have overcome the world. Vivid realisations of this are sometimes afforded us. The whole stress of attention ought therefore to be laid upon character, obedience to God's will, and submission to his leadership. Though few and weak, the "little flock" will receive the kingdom. It is Christ in us of whom the wicked and the demons are afraid. Of what consequence all their multitude and array? Secretly the world respects and fears the self-denial and faith of Christians.
IV. A GRACIOUS REVELATION LIKE THIS HAS TO BE RECOGNISED ADORINGLY AND BY IMMEDIATE PRACTICAL OBEDIENCE. Gideon "worshipped" Jehovah. It was a time when every obstacle had been removed, and his way was clearly revealed. He could now sympathise with God and admire his consummate wisdom. For himself too he must have felt grateful. God was better to him than he had hoped. Victory was potentially his. No wonder that his heart poured itself forth in such unrestrained and adoring emotion. But the lesson of the sign was not lost. Practical advantage was at once taken of it. He "returned unto the host of Israel, and said, Arise," etc. Do not allow God's gracious revelations in our lives to be a dead letter. Act upon them, that our lives may be brought into subjection and harmony with his will. - M.
I. How THE ENEMIES OF GOD ARE TO BE DEALT WITH.
1. The means to be employed are of/Divine appointment. Not what human wisdom would devise, nor as appealing to material aid. "Gideon overcame Midian with unarmed soldiers, bearing only trumpets, torches, and pitchers. So Christ overcame the world by unarmed apostles, bearing the trumpet of preaching and the torch of miracles (Theodoret).
2. Prompt and intelligent advantage is to be taken of the opportunities presented. What served at this juncture would have been entirely useless at another time. Knowledge of men is of immense advantage to the Christian worker; tact, and perception of the capabilities of the several means of grace. The power of Christian truth can never be overrated, but it may be misapplied.
3. Unity and co-operation should be shown by God's servants Nothing could be finer than the device, save the manner in which it was carried out. Greater works than these shall be done when all Christ's servants are of one heart and one mind.
II. IN WHAT LIGHT THEIR POWER IS TO BE REGARDED. Gideon began his enterprise with the conviction, which he communicated to his followers, "The Lord hath delivered into your hand the host of Midian." The victory is already potentially ours if we use the right means in the right spirit. All the pomp and influence of sin ought not to daunt us. It is a house divided against itself, and subject to a thousand alarms. The least saint, in God's strength, may put an "army of aliens" to flight.
III. UPON WHOM THE SOLDIER OF THE TRUTH OUGHT TO DEPEND. Gideon is filled throughout with a profound trust in Jehovah. It is that which gives the moral character to his plans. Although he saw-how potent his own name was amongst the Midianites, he did not content himself with the war-cry, "The sword of Gideon," but preferred "The sword of the Lord (Jehovah) and of Gideon." Christians can rely implicitly upon spiritual means and methods, because they believe in God, who informs and directs all earnest effort. The Israelites stood still and the Lord fought for them. - M.
I. THE ASSURANCE OF SUCCESS IS A HELP TOWARDS ATTAINING IT. Gideon had feared to attack the hosts of Midianites and Amalekites till he had discovered that they feared him; then he took courage and energy to devise the plan of victory. Too much diffidence is dangerous. Hope inspires with ingenuity as well as with courage; it is a brightness, an influence that enlivens thought. Therefore hope has its place in the first rank of Christian graces (1 Corinthians 13:13). The promises of the Bible are not only comforting, they are inspiring. Our great encouragement should be that the powers of evil fear Christ and his army.
II. THOUGHT IS SOMETIMES MORE NEEDFUL THAN FORCE. Gideon's victory was a triumph of thought, of contrivance. The right disposition of our energies is more important than the mere sum of them. It would be well if Christians practised on behalf of the cause of Christ the same wisdom which men of the world display in business, in politics, etc., so far as this is not inconsistent with perfect honour (Luke 16:8). Christ requires us to be wise and harmless (Matthew 10:16). Dulness is not holiness. Intellectual gifts should be consecrated to God, not despised as unfit for his service. The diplomatist and the tactitian may find work in the service of Christ. In mission work organisation, economy of strength, ingenious adaptation of means to ends should be carefully studied, and the gift of wisdom sought in addition to that of zeal.
III. MORAL INFLUENCE IS BETTER THAN PHYSICAL FORCE. Gideon had conquered before he had struck a blow. The dismay he created and the confusion this produced in the hostile camp secured him victory. Though we cannot be justified in descending to deception, we may aim at influencing others by thought and feeling rather than by direct physical means. Christianity is a triumph of ideas. It is a sign of intellectual and spiritual failure when the Church desires to effect by the aid of the law what she should have done by the influence of moral suasion, as in restraining immorality, etc.
IV. IGNORANCE IS WEAKNESS. The Midianites and Amalekites were ignorant of the number of Gideon's army, or they would not have been deceived. They were too self-confident to inquire, as Gideon had done, concerning their condition. Ignorance and superstition create imaginary foes. An evil conscience is quick to imagine danger (Proverbs 28:1). The terrors which surround us are worse in imagination than in reality. Darkness and ignorance make men their own worst enemies (ver. 22). - A.
Judges 7:22-ch. Judges 8:4, 10-13He fled into the War of the Safa, i.e. into an unassailable refuge.
I. THE CO-OPERATION IS SOUGHT OF ALL ISRAELITES WHO CAN BE OF HELP. He had reasons for keeping the glory to his own trusty band. But there is no selfishness in his disposition. The advantage of his nation and the glory of Jehovah is uppermost in his mind. He finds work, therefore, for all All are engaged, that it may be a national victory. Some have to lay the foundations, begin the work, sow the seed; others can then carry out. The least Christian has something he can do. It is a duty of leaders to make and indicate fitting work for all. "The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few." Ephraim can do one part of the work best; he another. And having hitherto abstained, they were quite fresh now.
II. A SAGACIOUS AND KINDLY FORBEARANCE IS SHOWN TO THE JEALOUSIES OF BRETHREN. No word of rebuke is spoken to the tribes that held back. Persuasion is used, opportunity for usefulness is presented, the patriotism of the tribes is relied upon. It was no time for questions and wranglings. Well would it be for the different branches of Christ's Church did they follow a similar policy. Would that we were all so busy that we had no time for doctrinal disputes and questions of precedence and apostolic authority!
III. NO PAUSE OR REST IS OBSERVED UNTIL THE TASK IS COMPLETED, The deserted Midianite camp with all its riches does not tempt. Hunger and thirst and weariness are endured rather than lose the advantage. Only a determination to follow up the surprise with thorough and exemplary vengeance could have sustained him. So the conflict with sin and the world is to be conducted. Better to wear out than to rust out. Evil habits, unholy practices, false principles have to be tracked out to their last refuges and finally disposed of. It is harder work to live out Christianity than to be converted to it; harder work to follow out in detail, and into the practice and life of every day, the great doctrines of righteousness than to understand and explain them intellectually. There is a loud call for vigour, thoroughness, patient continuance in well-doing. The day is Christ's; let us make it wholly his. - M.