Having proven to Gideon that He was present with him, God next demonstrated that His presence was all Gideon really needed to defeat the Midianites.
But, if an Israelite army of 32,000 won against the innumerable hordes of the Midianites, Israel might take credit for the victory. To show that the victory was entirely His doing, God had Gideon reduce the size of his army dramatically to only 300 men!
First, God instructed Gideon to allow all the Israelites who were afraid to return home. “So 22,000 of the people turned back, but 10,000 remained” (vs. 3).
Don’t think too badly of the Israelites because the Midianites had an army of about 135,000! Furthermore, allowing the fearful to leave before the battle started was part of the Israelite code of conduct for waging war (see Deuteronomy 20:8).
But, it’s no wonder they were fearful. The possibility of defeating the Midiantes in battle probably seemed highly unlikely to most Israelites.
So with 10,000 men left, God directed Gideon to further reduce the size of his army using an unusual selection process. Gideon took the soldiers down to the spring of Harod, the spring of “trembling,” which aptly described the state of Gideon’s army after 22,000 deserted. As each soldier came forward to get a drink, Gideon retained those who lapped water from their hands while standing–300 men–but sent home those who knelt down on their hands and knees to drink directly from the water in the spring.
While no explanation is provided as to why those who lapped water from their hands were chosen and the others weren’t, I believe those lapping water from their hands were men who were more alert and disciplined, not allowing their natural inclinations, their thirst, to cause them to let down their guard, only sipping small drinks of water from their hands while looking around. And those who knelt down were men who might let their guard down in order to fulfill their natural inclinations, taking deep drinks of water directly from the pool with eyes downward.
But that’s another lesson for another time…
The lesson that Gideon and the Israelites needed to understand was that God could save them and defeat their enemies just as easily with a small band of men as with a large army.
God would use their weakness as a conduit for His strength. That’s how God works! He makes the weak strong, the sick healthy, the unlearned wise, the unfortunate blessed, the oppressed liberated, the dead alive!
God picks you up when you have fallen!
That’s simply how God deals with human beings. God is on a search and rescue mission.
But, if you don’t think you need to be found and rescued, if you don’t think you need to be restored, if you never fall down and need to be picked up, then you probably won’t ask for God’s help.
That seems to be a lot of people’s problem! They either think they’re okay just like they are or else they’ve accepted their fallenness as a way of life.
That’s what the Israelites did!
The Israelites were greatly oppressed by the Midianites for seven years before they cried out to God for help. They lived in caves, suffered hunger, and became completely destitute in their own land, the land God had promised them, before they cried out to God for reinstatement of what already belonged to them.
As a matter of fact, Gideon was threshing wheat in a wine vat in order to hide it from the Midianites when God called him!
So, let God raise you up when you fall down. And when you do, then continue to let God lift you up when you are tripped up by the circumstances of life.
Don’t accept fallenness as your way of life. Don’t stay down for the count!
Instead, let God give you a boost…
Let God reach down and help you up…
And then go again, this time with God’s help!
“‘Not by strength or by might, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord” (Zechariah 4:6).