Gideon—Modest and Valiant Fighter for Jehovah
AMONG the men of ancient times whose faith is held out for Christians to imitate is that of Judge Gideon. Of him the writer of the Bible book of Hebrews states: “What more shall I say? For the time will fail me if I go on to relate about Gideon, . . . who through faith . . . became valiant in war, routed the armies of foreigners.” Yes, Gideon was one warrior whose faith in God was so strong that, when Jehovah instructed him to send home most of his army and fight with only 300 men against an army of 135,000, he did it, and Jehovah gave him the victory. But this judge of Israel also manifested another admirable quality, one that especially endears him to us, namely, his modesty, as we shall see.—Heb. 11:32-34.
Some two hundred years had passed since Joshua, Moses’ successor, had died. As Moses had prophetically warned, the Israelites were being deprived of the fruits of their toil because of their unfaithfulness to their God, Jehovah. (Lev. 26:14-16) For a number of years the neighboring pagan nations, in particular, Midian, had invaded Israel at harvesttime with hordes as numerous as locusts “and would ruin the yield of the earth.”—Judg. 6:1-6.
Then one day an angel of Jehovah appeared to Gideon, the son of Joash, of the Israelite tribe of Manasseh. At the time he was threshing grain in a winepress so as to avoid being discovered by the Midianites. Said the angel to Gideon: “Jehovah is with you, you valiant, mighty one.” Modestly Gideon ignored the compliment and replied with the force of logic: “Excuse me, my Lord, but if Jehovah is with us, then why has all this come upon us, and where are all his wonderful acts that our fathers related to us, saying, ‘Was it not out of Egypt that Jehovah brought us up?’ And now Jehovah has deserted us, and he gives us into the palm of Midian.”—Judg. 6:11-13.
When told that he himself would deliver his people, Gideon again showed his modesty by answering: “Excuse me, Jehovah. With what shall I save Israel? Look! My thousand is the least in Manasseh, and I am the smallest in my father’s house.” But Jehovah, by his angel, assured him: “Because I shall prove to be with you, and you will certainly strike down Midian as if one man.” This caused Gideon to ask for a sign, which was given him and by which he knew that the messenger was indeed Jehovah’s angel.—Judg. 6:14-24.
That same night Jehovah put Gideon to the test by commanding him to tear down his father’s altar of Baal, to cut down the sacred pole alongside it, to build an altar to Jehovah and then to offer a sacred bull upon it, using as firewood the sacred pole. Gideon did so at night with the aid of ten servants, which, let it be noted, took no little faith on Gideon’s part. When the men of the city the next day saw what had happened and learned that Gideon had done it, they clamored for his life, but his father Joash took Gideon’s part, shrewdly telling the aroused townsmen that they should let Baal plead for himself.—Judg. 6:25-32.
After this the Midianites, together with the Amalekites and the Easterners, again invaded Israel, encamping in the low plain of Jezreel. Then Jehovah’s spirit enveloped Gideon and he called together the Israelites of his own and three neighboring tribes to do battle with the invading marauders. Again to make certain that Jehovah God would be with him he asked for a sign, two in fact, which requests God readily granted.—Judg. 6:33-40.
As a result of his call to arms 32,000 fighting men gathered to Gideon, whereas the enemy had 135,000 men, or more than four times as many. But Jehovah said that even this number was far too great, for Israel might claim credit for the victory. So by means of two tests that Jehovah stipulated, all the fearful as well as all those not vigilant were eliminated, whittling down Gideon’s band to a mere 300. What faith in God it took for Gideon to proceed with 300 men against 135,000!—Judg. 7:1-8.
That Gideon might be certain of victory Jehovah instructed him to take his attendant and reconnoiter the enemy camp. Doing so, he overheard a man telling a dream about a loaf of barley bread that knocked over a tent in the camp of Midian, and heard that dream interpreted to mean: “This is nothing else but the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel. The true God has given Midian and all the camp into his hand.”—Judg. 7:9-14.
CAUTIOUS AND DISCREET
But how were 300 men to put to rout 135,000? Obviously not with swords and spears. The answer is found in wise King Solomon’s words: “Wisdom”—that is, divine wisdom—“is better than implements for fighting.”—Eccl. 9:18.
Gideon was not only a man of exemplary faith and modesty but he was also discreet and cautious. In fact, it might be said that discreetness and caution went hand in hand with his being modest. The modest man does not presume too much, he is careful, he knows his limitations. So when God’s angel first appeared to him, Gideon asked for a sign so as to know for certain that this commission was coming from Jehovah. Was his caution justified? It surely was in view of the unusual nature of his commission and his being selected, he being the least of the least.—Judg. 6:17-23.
Note also Gideon’s caution in requesting of the angel: “Do not, please, move away from here until I come to you and I have brought out my gift and set it before you.” Here he was going to bring an offering by which to test the messenger or angel and he did not want him to vanish or walk off before he returned! (Judg. 6:18) And did not Gideon show due caution by proceeding against Baal’s altar at night? To have tried to do so in broad daylight would have infuriated all the Baal-worshiping townsmen and made it impossible to carry out his assignment. Cautiously he did this at night, taking along with him ten servants, no doubt to have some stand watch while the rest assisted him in tearing down the altar of Baal and in carrying out the rest of his assignment.—Judg. 6:25-28.
Then, upon having gathered the fighting men, 32,000 strong, he asked Jehovah for further evidence that Jehovah was with him. He asked that a fleece spread out at night on his threshing floor be wet with dew the next morning but all the rest of the floor be dry. When God granted him this miracle, Gideon asked for a miracle of the converse: “Do not let your anger blaze against me, but let me speak just once more. Let me, please, make a test only once more with the fleece. Let, please, dryness occur to the fleece alone, and upon all the earth let there come to be dew.” Yes, Gideon cautiously wanted to have Jehovah’s being with him established by two tests so that there could be no question as to whether the first miracle had been just a coincidence. And Jehovah, far from being displeased, granted Gideon this request also, which, let it be noted, was made with due modesty. No question about it, Gideon had the caution and discreetness that go with modesty. That caution and discreetness guided him in the strategy that he used. And what was that? A war of nerves!—Judg. 6:36-40.
First of all, Gideon gave each of the 300 men with him a horn or trumpet and a large earthenware jar inside of which he had placed a large torch. Next he divided his men into three groups of a hundred men each so as to be able to approach the camp of Midian from three sides. And cautiously Gideon timed matters so that he and his men came upon the camp of Midian right after the guards had been changed at the beginning of the middle night watch and when something unexpected would be the most likely to startle the guards or watchers.—Judg. 7:15-19.
Then, in keeping with Gideon’s instructions, his men did as he did. They suddenly shattered the stillness of the night by blasting 300 trumpets, by smashing 300 large earthenware jars and by shouting 300 powerful war cries, at the same time lighting up the sky with their 300 torches. The surprised and startled Midianites, thinking they were surrounded by 300 bands of warriors, began shouting in terror and fleeing. And not only that, but “Jehovah proceeded to set the sword of each one against the other in all the camp.”—Judg. 7:19-22.
With this turn of events the men of the three tribes of Naphtali, Asher and Manasseh were called to join in the pursuit, Gideon also sending messengers to the proud and powerful tribe of Ephraim to head off the fleeing Midianites, which they did, capturing their princes Oreb and Zeeb and executing them. But upon meeting up with Gideon the men of Ephraim complained because he had not called them to help in the first place. They “vehemently tried to pick a quarrel with him.” But Gideon pacified them by modestly observing, “Are not the gleanings of Ephraim better than the grape gathering of Abiezer [Gideon’s family stock]?” And he pointed to their successes, saying: “What have I been able to do in comparison with you?”—Judg. 7:23 to 8:3.
Gideon and his 300 men, though tired, kept on pursuing the fleeing invaders who were finally reduced to a mere 15,000 out of 135,000. Even those remaining ones were caught off guard by Gideon and his men, who dispersed them, capturing their kings Zebah and Zalmunnah, whom Gideon himself executed as war criminals. Thus ended the invasion of Midian and its cohorts. The credit for the victory belonged to Jehovah!—Judg. 8:10-12, 21; 7:2, 22.
The rout of the Midianites was so complete and devastating that Gideon was able to judge Israel for forty years without needing to resort to war again. Out of appreciation for what Gideon had done, the men of Israel asked him to establish his family as a ruling dynasty: “Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson as well, for you have saved us out of the hand of Midian.” But, no, Gideon, modest warrior that he was, wanted none of the pomp and creature worship that went with man-made royalty: “I myself shall not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. Jehovah is the one who will rule over you.” He was content to remain a judge, a servant of God and of the people as they needed him.—Judg. 8:22, 23.
However, Gideon did suggest that they contribute of the gold jewelry they had gained as the spoils of war, which they did and with which he made an ephod. Although he no doubt had this ephod made with all good intentions, in the end it proved to be a snare to all Israel, including Gideon and his household. Apparently the Israelites idolized it as they idolized the copper serpent that Moses had hoisted in the wilderness. So the record of Gideon is not without one serious flaw—again eloquent testimony of the candor of Bible writers.—Judg. 8:24-27; 2 Ki. 18:4.
LESSONS FOR US TODAY
There is much profit to be gained from considering the Bible record of Judge Gideon. Even as Gideon was a man of faith, trusting in Jehovah God though faced with tremendous odds, so must Christians today have strong faith, for they also are greatly outnumbered by an unbelieving and hostile world. Even as Gideon was shown to be modest from beginning to the end, so Christians today must be ever modest, ‘not thinking more highly of themselves than it is necessary to think.’ (Rom. 12:3) And just as Gideon showed himself cautious throughout, so Christians must be cautious. They want to be sure of the things they believe, even as did the ancient Beroeans; and when faced with those who would interfere with their worship, they heed Jesus’ words to be ‘cautious as serpents.’—Matt. 10:16; Acts 17:11; 1 Thess. 5:21.
The record of Gideon and his 300 is also of prophetic significance to Christians, for from it we can draw parallels in our day. Thus just as Israel came to be in bondage because of laxness in their worship of Jehovah, so Jehovah’s people in modern times for a period came to be in bondage to Satan’s agents because of laxness as to pure worship. And as Gideon back there proved to be a breaker of idols, so Christians today expose the idolatry in Christendom, literal and symbolic, both statues of saints and such organizational idols as the United Nations.
Further, as Jehovah provided Gideon back there to deliver his people, he has provided the Greater Gideon, Jesus Christ, to deliver his people today. Then again, as back there tests revealed those who were deserving of sharing in the initial striking victory by weeding out those who were fearful or lacking in vigilance, so in modern times Jehovah has permitted tests that have caused the fearful and negligent to fall by the way. And, finally, as the combined forces of Israel were used by Jehovah to destroy the invading hosts of Midian and their cohorts, so Jesus Christ and all his heavenly forces, including those of spiritual Israel, will destroy all the enemies of Jehovah God and of his people, in line with the inspired prayer of the psalmist: “Do to them as to Midian . . . As for their nobles, make these like Oreb and like Zeeb, and like Zebah and like Zalmunnah . . . that people may know that you, whose name is Jehovah, you alone are the Most High over all the earth.”—Ps. 83:9-18.
Truly the account of Gideon and his 300 is part of ‘all Scripture inspired of God,’ and it ‘is beneficial for teaching us so that as Christians we may be competent, completely equipped for every good work’; and, in particular, that we might be strong in faith and vigilant, yet modest and cautious!—2 Tim. 3:16, 17.