I heard a sermon this morning from Pastor David Jeremiah on Gideon’s trial of faith. For some reason, this is a passage that I’ve heard many sermons on.Â One of the weirdest aspects of this particular event in history is the method God used to whittle down the army to the numbers He wanted.
Pastor Jeremiah mentioned that God’s entire goal in this exercise was to demonstrate that when Israel triumphed, it was due to the hand of the Lord, and not their own strength.
The Lord said to Gideon, The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, My own hand has saved me. – Judges 7:2
We must understand all of God’s activities based upon the purposes He has set forth.Â If He says that His intent here was to demonstrate that it was the power of the Lord that won against the Midianites, then we can ascertain that His goal in whittling down the army was NOT to cull the herd of the more unfit soldiers.
However, this was my problem with Pastor Jeremiah’s message.Â He did a great job in explaining that the Lord was the reason for the victory of the Israelites.Â He explained that thinking that God’s goal in reducing the numbers of the Israeli army was to demonstrate His power and remove the Israelites’ ability to boast is not mere conjecture.Â The above quote shows that to be the case.Â However, when he came to the part where God uses an admittedly odd method for deciding who stays and who goes, Pastor Jeremiah seems to have forgotten about God’s goal.
This is the passage I am speaking of, here:
And 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. So he brought the people down to the water. And the Lord said to Gideon, Every one who laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set by himself. Likewise, every one who kneels down to drink. And the number of those who lapped, putting their hands to their mouths, was 300 men, but all the rest of the people knelt down to drink water. And the Lord said to Gideon, With the 300 men who lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hand, and let all the others go every man to his home. So the people took provisions in their hands, and their trumpets. And he sent all the rest of Israel every man to his tent, but retained the 300 men. And the camp of Midian was below him in the valley. – Judges 7:4-8
Pastor Jeremiah admits that many commentators will say that there is no reason for the Lord to use this particular test; that it was merely a way to whittle the numbers down to ridiculous amounts.Â However, he then asks his listeners to assume that there is a purpose in God’s methods, and that this purpose is to choose the best and brightest among the soldiers for God’s army.Â Pastor Jeremiah explains that God only wanted the best soldiers for his army, and that this test would show who was really worthy for service in defeating the Midianites.
He explains that those who stayed mostly upright would have been more alert, watching out for a sneak attack or anything out of the ordinary.Â Thus, these people would be better suited to be watching the flanks of the army, etc.
He explains that those who put their face in the water were more concerned about worldly needs than anything else, and thus they were not wholeheartedly serving their commanders, etc.
He says that while God’s army contained less people, it now contained more men. (A point which is mathematically impossible without referring to percentages, which he did not.)
He also said that God wanted people who were willing to go against the majority to do what is right.Â (Not sure how he assumes that lifting water to your face is more “right” than drinking directly from the stream in such a situation, but that was what he said.)
Ultimately, however, I don’t find these points to be very compelling.Â Given that God’s purpose was to display that Israel’s victory could not have come from them, I see no reason why God would then attempt to ensure that His army was comprised of the best and brightest.Â Aside from the fact that Pastor Jeremiah is making parallels to the Christian life right and left, casting a great many problems on his understanding of God choosing only the best and brightest to serve Him, he has completely abandoned the first part of his message…the groundwork that should now be used to understand God’s actions.
At the very least, the Lord is merely reducing Israel’s military numbers to display His power. If you must attribute some reasoning as to why God used this method, I don’t think it’s consistent with what the Lord is doing in that passage to assume that He was trying to retain the best and brightest soldiers.
It’s far more likely, based on God’s stated purpose here, to assume that He is actually trying to retain the least fit soldiers.Â Soldiers know that when they can get sustenance, they need to get sustenance and get back to work.Â They know that if they’re without water, and in a desert climate, they need to avail themselves of any ponds or streams that they come across.Â They may not have another opportunity anytime soon.Â If a battle approaches, they know they need to be in top fighting shape, and that includes being properly hydrated.
A soldier who, on the other hand, stayed upright and drank from his hand might be more concerned with etiquette, and far less likely to want to get their hands dirty when it came to it.
Such a test would be more in keeping with God’s stated goal of eliminating Israel’s ability to boast in their own power.
However, we need to leave room for the fact that there could be no real purpose in God’s choosing His army by this method or any other.Â We could be reading much more into this than God intended.Â One thing is certain: The Lord did not give His reason, so any speculation we make is quite unnecessary.Â If God had wanted us to know why He chose this test, He’d have given that information to us.