“The LORD said to Gideon, ‘The people are still too many. Take them down to the water, and I will test them for you there, and anyone of whom I say to you, “This one shall go with you,” shall go with you, and anyone of whom I say to you, “This one shall not go with you,” shall not go’ ” (v. 4).
Gideon received the encouragement of divine signs and was able to muster a large army when God called him to lead the Israelites against Midian (Judg. 6). These facts no doubt gave him some additional confidence that he would be able to fulfill the calling that the Lord had given him. But lest there be any doubt that the Lord Himself would be behind the victory over Midian, God spoke to Gideon once more before the battle, telling him to do something that makes little sense from a human perspective.
We refer, of course, to the way that the Lord whittled down Gideon’s army before Israel went to war against the Midianites. In keeping with Deuteronomy 20:1–9, God told Gideon to send home 22,000 men from the army of 32,000 (Judg. 7:1–3). And if reducing Gideon’s army by two-thirds was not enough, our Creator then reduced it further, taking it down to three hundred men. He did this by having Gideon separate out the soldiers who bent down to lap water (vv. 4–8). Many commentators have proposed theories to explain why God chose the men who lapped the water, but it is difficult to be sure why those men were selected because the text never gives us the reason. However, one thing is certain. Even if we do not know why one group was chosen over another, we do know that God reduced the forces of Gideon in order to prove that the victory would be His. Judges 7:2 indicates that fighting with 32,000 men would have caused the Israelites to boast in their own strength. Cutting the force by about 99 percent without compromising the victory would prove that God was fighting for Israel.
The rest of Judges 7 details how Gideon’s army defeated the Midianites. First, Gideon received confirmation that Israel would win (vv. 9–14). Then, his three hundred soldiers went up against Midian with torches and empty jars, not with ordinary weapons. They broke the jars and held aloft the torches when Gideon blew the trumpet, creating such a confusion that the Midianites fought with one another. God delivered Midian into the hands of Israel, yet Israel won not because of its superior battle prowess but because the Lord made the Midianites use their swords against their comrades (vv. 15–25).
Judges 7, then, proves that salvation is of the Lord alone. As Matthew Henry comments, “My own hand hath saved me is a word that must never come out of the mouth of such as shall be saved.”
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
We cannot rest in our own strength or our own works to enjoy the salvation of the Lord. He alone can defeat the enemy, and He delights to use the most unlikely means to do so. We are not to trust in our superior numbers, superior skills, or superior strategies. Instead, we must be faithful to the Lord, trusting Him to accomplish His purposes through the unlikeliest of means.