Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord . . . . The theme continues. This time it’s the Midianites who oppress them for seven years, and God raises up Gideon to save them. The story is famous, and rightly so. God’s sense of humor shows throughout. It starts with the angel of the Lord coming and sitting under an Oak at Gideon’s families land. He’s just handing out. Then he appears to Gideon and says something totally ridiculous, and you can see why as you read the rest of the story: “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” This is just funny. Gideon is anything but a mighty warrior. In fact he’s more of a faithless coward, just the kind of person God would pick to do his work! All God gets is, “But Lord . . .” This is classic:
14 The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” 15 “But Lord,” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” 16 The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.”
The Bible is nothing if not consistent. It is not by man’s power that God saves, but by his own will and power. Here he picks the least of the least, and that is because he wants there to be no confusion as to who the Savior is. For all of human history mankind has tried to save itself, and God says over and over and over again, that is just not possible. I must save you, he says, or you will not be saved. Thus the name Jesus who will save his people from their sins.
The strength Gideon has is not from himself, but is because God is with him. But seeing the Lord isn’t enough for Gideon to step out and do as he’s commanded. No, he must put God to the test. He wants a sign that this is all real, and God condescends and gives him the signs he wants. Then God commands him to tear down the pagan altar set up for Baal in his town, which he does. But it does it at night because he’s afraid of the people. They wake up in the morning, and their pagan altars are destroyed. Of course they are angry, but Gideon tells them if this Baal you worship is so strong then let him defend himself. All false Gods cannot deliver because they are nothing. But the God of Israel delivers big time!
Yet Gideon hasn’t seen enough. He asks for another sign, the famous wool fleece on the ground. God condescends again. Then the Lord makes it very clear who will provide the victory, chapter 7:
2 The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me.’
Notice what a boast of our own strength against God actually is; there is no neutral ground in the universe. He who is not with God, is against him. That’s why Paul says this in Galatians 2:21:
I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
So God winnows the army down to 300 men to fight against another army, as it says, “thick as locusts.” In fact it is not just the 300 that defeat the “eastern peoples,” but they surround the camp of their enemies and blow trumpets which throws the camp into confusion and they flee. Then Gideon calls out other clans who route their enemies. God used natural and supernatural means to accomplish his task and bring victory for his people. Either way, it is God who saves.