When was the last time you read Judges 7? If it’s been a while, or if you’ve never heard this well-known story, here’s the quick version.
In the book of Judges, the Israelites have settled into the Promised Land, Canaan, while also settling into a cycle of typical human behavior: disobedience to God, captivity to or oppression by one of their enemies, repentance, and liberation by a divinely appointed judge (leader). They then live in obedience to God for a few years before falling away again.
During this particular rotation of the cycle, God’s people are being oppressed by the Midianites and Amalekites. The Israelites have recognized their sin and cried out to God for deliverance.
So the LORD delivered them into the hand of Midian for seven years, and the hand of Midian prevailed against Israel. . . . and the children of Israel cried out to the LORD.Judges 6:1-2, 6
God has appointed Gideon (youngest son of a small family of the smallest tribe of Israel) to free His people. Gideon, however, doesn’t feel adequate for the task.
So he said to Him, “O my Lord, how can I save Israel? Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.”Judges 6:15
Setting up our theme, Gideon gives us a perfect example of I Corinthians 1:26: “not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.” We’ll see why in a moment.
Gideon summons the Israelites to war, and 32,000 soldiers show up. But God says, “Nope, get rid of these, get rid of these, get rid of these too” until only 300 soldiers are left.
And the LORD said to Gideon, “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands . . . Now therefore, proclaim in the hearing of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is fearful and afraid, let him turn and depart at once from Mount Gilead.” And twenty-two thousand of the people returned, and ten thousand remained.
But the LORD said to Gideon, “The people are still too many. . . . Everyone who laps from the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set apart by himself; likewise everyone who gets down on his knees to drink.” And the number of those who lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, was three hundred men; but all the rest of the people got down on their knees to drink water. Then the LORD said to Gideon, “By the three hundred men who lapped I will save you, and deliver the Midianites into your hand.”Judges 7:2-7
Gideon then takes his army–if you can still call it that–to the enemy camp, where God obliterates the Midianite and Amalekite forces. Israel returns to peace, freedom, and obedience to God’s laws.
When the three hundred blew the trumpets, the LORD set every man’s sword against his companion throughout the whole camp; and the army fled.Judges 7:22
Reading this passage with a body weak from chronic illness, I relate to the Israelite army. The last army–the small one.
I feel as if everyone else is that initial gathering of 32,000. Full capacity. Strong. Powerful.
I’m that little group of 300. Insufficient. Inadequate. Impossible. (Like Sarah, Abraham’s wife, when God told her she was going to have a baby.)
Maybe you feel the same way. There’s no way. You’re not enough. You simply, truly, humanly can’t.
We return to the question, Why did God reduce the army to less than 1% of its original size?
“Lest Israel claim glory for itself against Me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me’” (Judges 7:2). The exact same reason we find in
- Jeremiah 9:23-24: “‘Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD.’”
- Psalm 44:3: “For they did not gain possession of the land by their own sword, nor did their own arm save them; but it was Your right hand, Your arm, and the light of Your countenance, because You favored them.”
- II Corinthians 3:5: “ Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God.”
- I Corinthians 1:27-31: “But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty . . . that no flesh should glory in His presence.”
- II Corinthians 12:9-10: “And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. . . . For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
God has reduced you to better reveal Himself, both to you and to others.
I wonder how the stories circulated after that night in the enemy camp:
Guy 1: “Yeah, it was amazing, we completely routed their army and wiped out all survivors.”
Guy 2: “With only 300 men? No way that could have happened.”
Guy 1: “It did happen! God did it! That’s the only way it could have happened!”
God did it. That’s the reason God reduced the army, to show that the victory came from Him and not His people.
And that’s why He has reduced you. To show that any victories, any accomplishments, any abilities come from Him and not you. Because that’s the only way it can happen.
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.II Corinthians 4:7
My sister, don’t despise that reduction–what it took or what it looks like.
Don’t hate your limitations.
Don’t resent the sovereign choice of God that, seemingly contrary to reason and sense, may have brought you from 100% to less than 1%.
God shrank the army from 32,000 to 300, but then He took those 300 men and used them.
He has chosen you and is using you.
We just have to say with John the Baptist, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). Because it’s not about us. God has made us small so we can know–and show–how big He is.
As the children’s chorus “Jesus Loves Me” says,
Do you feel like 1% too? Can you recognize God’s greatness showcased in your weakness? Are you leaning into His strength, letting Him work through you, and praising Him for His might?