“God’s anonymous: Gideon’s 300 men”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.
For some reason, and I’m not really sure why, we in America love to root for the underdog. Maybe it’s because we’re a nation of immigrants who, against all odds, came here to start lives of our own, or maybe it’s because our original thirteen scrappy colonies once stood up against the British empire and won!
Whatever the reason, we love to root for the underdog.
And think of how many underdog stories there are! Take Sylvester Stalone for example. You know him as the actor who played John Rambo and Rocky Balboa. Not only did Philadelphia dedicate a statue in his honor, he’s in the International Boxing Hall of Fame!
But when he was just starting out, it just wasn’t that way. In fact, before he became so famous, he had to sell his dog for $15, just to make ends meet. Today, he’s worth right around $420 million!
You’ve heard of Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon? Back in July of 1994, he left his job in an investment firm to start up an online bookstore on a makeshift desk in his parents’ garage. And though he told his investors that there was a 70% chance his business would fail, today he’s worth more than $187 billion, (yes, that’s with a “b”), billion dollars, making him the richest man in the world! And it all started in his parents’ garage.
The Bible has quite a lot of underdog stories too. Think of Moses and Pharaoh, David and Goliath, and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. In fact, as one author put it, “Childless women. Old men. The youngest sons. Cowards. Stutterers. Daydreamers. Shepherds. Murderers. Slaves. Prostitutes. Here is one of the central truths of the entire Bible--the ‘theology of the underdog.’”
So it was in the words of Judges chapter 6. I’ll begin at verse 11: “Now the angel of the Lord came and sat under the terebinth at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, ‘The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor’” (Judges 6:11-12).
The book of Judges chapter 6 begins as a huge army, a band of pillagers and marauders, set out to attack Israel. And poor Israel was in so much trouble, their backs were literally up against the wall.
It hadn’t always been that way. For the past forty years, God had blessed them and protected them from all their enemies. But while God was blessing them, they were ignoring Him and fell into complacency and unbelief. And instead of worshiping the one, true God, they began to worship false gods, like Baal and Asherah. So God sent the Midianites and the Amalekites to attack them and punish them.
And punish them they did! Listen to verse 2: “And the hand of Midian overpowered Israel, and because of Midian the people of Israel made for themselves the dens that are in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds. For whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them. They would encamp against them and devour the produce of the land, as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey. For they would come up with their livestock and their tents; they would come like locusts in number--both they and their camels could not be counted--so they laid waste the land as they came in. And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel cried out for help to the Lord” (Judges 6:2-6).
For seven long years, the Midianites and the Amalekites--evil incarnate, thick as locusts--pillaged and plundered them, stealing their crops and killing their sheep and cattle. And there was nothing, not one thing, that anyone could do to stop them, except to hide in caves and holes in the ground.
Which takes us to the words of verse 11: “Now the angel of the Lord came and sat under the terebinth at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites” (Judges 6:11).
Let’s stop there for a moment. Beating out wheat in the winepress? That’s weird. If you’re going to beat wheat, you do it in a large, open place, like a big, flat rock, or on some huge threshing floor, where you can throw it up high in the air and let the wind blow the chaff away. No one beats wheat in a winepress, unless they’re afraid. Unless they’re scared.
Which is exactly what Gideon was. To put a little more contemporary spin on it, Gideon was the Don Knotts, the Barney Fife, of the Old Testament, the least likely person God would ever choose to deliver His people. It was like sending Private First Class Gomer Pyle to lead the Allied Forces at the Battle of the Bulge.
Is it any surprise that God would call someone like Gideon? It shouldn’t be. God is in the business of calling the least, the smallest, and the weakest among us. When God called Moses, he was eighty years old, and so was Daniel when men threw him into a lion’s den. David was just a young shepherd boy. Matthew was a tax collector. And Peter was a bold, impetuous fisherman.
As Paul once wrote to the Corinthians: “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong...so that no one may boast before Him” (I Corinthians 1:27, 29).
So there he was, hiding from the Midianites, beating wheat in a hole in the ground, when all of a sudden he looked and saw an angel sitting under a tree.
And what did the angel say? “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor” (Judges 6:12).
Now that’s a good one! Hiding from the Midianites, beating wheat in a winepress, he sure doesn’t seem like much of a “mighty man of valor” to me.
Even Gideon had his doubts. As he said: “Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house” (Judges 6:15).
Even more, think of what he could have said! He could have said, “Do You know what I’m up against, Lord? Do You have any idea! We’re talking Midianites and Amalekites! Their soldiers are as thick as locusts! Their army is 135,000 strong!”
But that’s when God had something amazing, something more in store.
The conversation went something like this: “Gideon,” God began, “your army’s too big.”
“Too big?” Gideon choked. “How can it be too big? The more men I have, the better chance I’ve got of beating the Midianites.”
“You see, that’s the problem,” God explained. “I don’t want the people to think they saved themselves from the Midianites. I want them to know that I saved them.”
“I see,” replied Gideon. “Well, what do You want me to do?”
“I want you to send home anyone who’s afraid.”
Gideon shook his head in wonder, then took a deep breath as he called out, “Everybody, listen up! I’m sure none of you will be interested, (we are, after all, on the same team, here!), but God says that if any of you are afraid, you can go on home.”
For a few moments, nobody moved. Then slowly, one by one, men began to break rank and walk away, first by the tens, then by the hundreds, then by the thousands--twenty-two thousand, in fact--until only ten thousand more remained.
“Ten thousand,” Gideon muttered to himself. “That’s still a pretty big army.”
“You’re right,” came the voice of God again. “There are still too many. So let’s take them down to the water and watch what they do. Then leave behind anyone who puts his face in the water--he’s not watching out for the enemy. Instead, take anyone who cups the water in his hands and brings it to his mouth.”
And how many were left? Three hundred. Three measly hundred. Compared to 135,000 Midianites, the odds were pretty much NOT in their favor, as in 450 to 1.
But as Gideon was soon to find out, as long as God is on your side, all you need is one. For with the most unlikeliest weapons of all--a pot, a torch and a horn--he would win the victory.
It’s easy to say that the Bible is filled with men and women with varying degrees of fame. Even those who aren’t Christian have at least heard of some of them, like Adam and Eve, Moses and Abraham, and David and Solomon.
But in addition to the many that we know by name, there are countless others for whom we know no name--God’s anonymous.
And I suppose, it had to be that way. For if all of their names were recorded, our Bible would be a much, much bigger book!
But that’s okay, for it reminds us that we too are part of a nameless multitude of the earth. No matter who we are, no matter what we’ve accomplished, history will hardly remember all the things we’ve said and done.
But even though we may be forgotten to history, we’ll never be forgotten by God. For just as He knew the names of each of those three hundred men who fearlessly and faithfully followed Him, He knows our names, and He, by His grace, has written them in His Book of Life.
As an old saying goes: “When you were born, you cried, and the world rejoiced. Now live your life in such a way that, when you die, the world will cry, and you’ll rejoice.”
Early in the morning of July 4, 1885, a baker sent his nine-year-old son, a boy named Joseph Meister, to a nearby town to buy some yeast. But while he was there, he was suddenly attacked and mauled by a rabid dog. It threw him to the ground, and bit him fourteen times across his hands, his legs and his thighs. Some of the wounds were so deep, he could hardly walk.
And since his mother was sure he had contracted that dreaded disease called rabies, and knew there was no possible way he could survive, she took him straight to Paris to a famed microbiologist by the name of Louis Pasteur who, at the very same time, was experimenting with a vaccine for animals. He had already developed one that seemed to work on rabid dogs, but he had never tried it on an infected human. Having nowhere else to turn, she begged him to help her son.
So on July 6th of 1885, after consulting with other scientists and physicians, Pasteur injected him with the spinal fluid from a rabid rabbit. Then he waited.
Then over the next ten days, he gave him twelve more injections, each one stronger than before, until finally, he was cured.
Years later, near the end of his life, when asked what epitaph he would like engraved on his tombstone, out of all his amazing accomplishments as the pioneer of immunology, Pasteur chose three simple words: “Joseph Meister lived.”
You too have been saved for a reason, for a purpose. As the apostle Paul once wrote in his second letter to Timothy: “He saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works, but because of His own purpose and grace, which He gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (II Timothy 1:9).
Just as You once used Gideon and his three hundred fearless and faithful men, use us, dear Father, for Your kingdom and for Your purpose, as we too seek to faithfully follow You, for Jesus’ sake. Amen