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Kingdom Living

Kingdom Living – Strength in numbers? (Judges 7:4-7)

Today’s Reading: Judges 6-7

Today’s Reflection: Judges 7:4-7

4) 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.” 5) 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.” 6) 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. 7) 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.”

After God called Gideon to save Israel from the oppression of the Midianites (Judges 6:14), Gideon raised an army of 32,000 men (Judges 7:1).  God said that it was too many.  Gideon told all those who were afraid to go home, leaving 10,000 men.  God said it was still too many.  He gave Gideon the instructions we see in Judges 7:4-7, leaving him with just 300.

Gideon was facing an army large enough to keep Israel bound and fearful for 7 years, an army probably numbering a 100,000 or more.  And he only had 300 men to do it with.

If we look back to the start of the story, Gideon wasn’t the boldest of leaders.  When God called him, Gideon proclaimed that he was the least of the weakest clan in his tribe (Judges 6:15).  He constantly needed assurances from God, asking for signs for confirmation (Judges 6:36-40).  Then when he finally amasses a decent sized army—much smaller than the army of Midian, but decent nonetheless—God tells Gideon he has too many men.  Wait, what?

The answer to understanding what appears so contrary to us can be found in two statements God makes to Gideon.  He tells Gideon his army is too large because Israel might believe it is their strength that overcomes the enemy instead of God’s power (Judges 7:2).  He also tells Gideon that as he leads Israel they will strike Midian as ‘one man’ (Judges 6:16).  That ‘one man’ is God, and the success of Israel’s army was tied up in their faith in that ‘one man’.  If Israel began to believe they could win the war by human means, they would focus on their own efforts.  But if they knew the only way they could win was by having God present with them and fighting for them, they would focus on God’s presence.  By diminishing Israel’s army to 300 bold, brave, willing and faithful men God ensured their focus was on Him.

In our human thinking we tend to see the ‘numbers game’ and think that ‘more is better’.  If making a certain amount of money is good, making more is better.  If having a certain sized church is good, having a larger church is better.  If having a certain audience for your ministry is good, having a larger audience is better.  But is it really?  Does more money make you more thankful, or more selfish?  Does a larger church mean a place where people are closer to God and each other, or a place that’s colder and more impersonal?  Is a larger ministry audience the sign of a truly convicting message or of a trivial, simplified, but pleasant sounding one?  More money, bigger churches and larger audiences are not necessarily the mark of better ministry.  Jesus never owned a home, never had a regular place of worship and, though He was followed by large crowds at times, when his teachings became challenging much of this audience deserted Him (John 6:60-66).

The lesson for us is clear.  There is no strength in numbers unless the ‘one man’ is on your side.  In fact, God will often place you in situations where the numbers are not in your favour in order to show you that His favour is all that you need.

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