Text: Judges 7:1-25
“The Lord said to Gideon, ‘The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’” —Judges 7:2
For many, 2020 has been a year of downsizing and scaling back. A pandemic has affected every sector of our societies. Businesses have had to reduce their staff in order to stay afloat. Churches and ministry organizations have had to make budget cuts. Families have had to scale back vacations, travel, and holiday gatherings for social distancing measures. The inconvenience of reducing our “norms” has taken a significant toll on our lives.
But what if I tell you that downsizing is something that God has used throughout history as a peculiar means of positioning His people for something really big? Consider how Jesus’ following decreased markedly after multitudes were offended by one of His hard teachings about discipleship (John 6:60-71). If Jesus believed that preserving large numbers was the key to empowering His church, then surely He would’ve been more careful about not offending the masses, right?
We see a similar pattern in the story of Gideon as he reaches the prime of his calling as a judge in Israel’s spiritual roller coaster journey. His legacy is one of an unlikely and unqualified leader who galvanizes a dubious band of warriors and, against all odds, wins an improbable battle over their people’s generational oppressors. But the way in which God had him prepare for this epic showdown seems a bit counterintuitive.
Gideon will have to go up against a Midianite army numbering 132,000 experienced and well-trained militants. After he is able to muster together a willing mission team of about 32,000 men, the Lord tells Gideon, “The people with you are too many.” Is God making a joke out of Gideon? He’s already outnumbered four to one and now God says he has too many people to take into battle. Then the Lord says that anyone who is afraid must stay home. Suddenly Gideon’s army is scaled down to 22,000. Now he’s outnumbered six to one and after another very mysterious test, the army is reduced to 300.
‘Thank you, Lord, now you’ve got us outnumbered forty to one,’ Gideon might’ve wisecracked. The Las Vegas odds makers are really having a hard time keeping up with this one. Yet Gideon’s 300 troops go into battle and the Midianites are miraculously routed. Verse 22 says, “When the three hundred trumpets sounded, the Lord caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords.” It was such an extraordinary victory that, given the odds, none of Gideon’s underdogs could’ve possibly taken the glory for themselves. God wasn’t going to give them any margin to rob Him of His glory in that season of triumph.
Why did God use this pattern of downsizing as His battle-winning strategy? His word gives us the answer: “lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’” The Lord loves to win at such odds! He has always given major victories to unqualified people with inadequate resources who simply took Him at His word. He orchestrates all kinds of mismatches and impossible situations so that we will see how big He is and not rob Him of His glory by thinking we did it in our own cleverness. I love how Ron Hutchcraft says it:
“God knows we all have pride issues, we tend to be controlling people, and we tend to rely on the methods that have always seemed to get it done for us. But God puts us in situations where, like Gideon, we’re left saying, ‘If there’s a victory here, it’s going to have absolutely nothing to do with me.’ So if you find yourself out-manned, out-gunned, and under-resourced right now—if it seems like God has been cutting you back and putting limitations on you—realize this may very well be the prelude to an amazing victory!”
Consider this, beloved: If this season of downscaling has been frustrating for you, just try to imagine what God is setting you up for next. Or perhaps you can’t imagine… maybe that’s the point—“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20)
Heavenly Father, as the song says, ‘I’m gonna see a victory… For the battle belongs to You Lord… I’m not backing down from any giant… for I know how this story ends.’ It always ends for Your glory and my good. Help me to trust in your goodness and your faithfulness when faced with overwhelming odds. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for personal reflection, small group discussion, or dinner table conversations:
- When have you ever been part of an amazing or unlikely victory?
- Why did God say that Gideon had too many fighting men? (Judges 7:2) How did Gideon feel about attacking the Midianites with only three hundred men? What did the Lord do to encourage Gideon? (vv. 9-15)
- What leadership qualities did Gideon display? What important lesson did God teach Gideon and Israel through these events?
- In what circumstances do we tend to depend on ourselves? When have you ever faced a challenge that seemed too big for you to handle? What does this passage say about giving God the glory for success in life?
- What can you do today to give the Lord credit for victories you have experienced in your life recently? What specifically can you do to depend on the Lord for help?
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