GOD’S WORD FOR YOU
16 After he divided the three hundred men into three companies, he gave each of them horns and empty jars, with torches inside the jars. 17 He said to them, “Look at me, and do the same thing. When I come to the outskirts of the camp, do as I do. 18 When I blow the horn, I and all the men who are with me, then you also blow your horns around the whole camp, and shout, ‘For the LORD and for Gideon!’”
Dividing a force into three groups was a typical Israelite strategy. Saul used it against the Amorites (1 Sam. 11:11), David used it when hunting Absalom (2 Sam 18:2), and later in Judges, Gideon’s son would use three divisions in his attack on the city of Shechem (Judges 9:43). Judas Maccabeus also used this strategy against Timothy and the Ammonites (1 Macc. 5:33).
Now we see that although Gideon took the rations from many of the other soldiers, it was really more the containers—clay jars—that he was interested in, and not so much the bread and dried fruit and mutton jerky (or whatever it was) that they contained. The clay jars enabled Gideon and his men to carry lit torches close to the Midian camp without being seen, and without having to take the time later to use flint and tinder to get them going.
19 So Gideon and the hundred who were with him came to the outskirts of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, when they had just set the watch. They blew their horns and smashed the jars that were in their hands. 20 So all three companies blew their horns and broke their jars, holding the torches in their left hands and the horns in their right hands as they blew them, and they cried, “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!” 21 While each man held his position around the camp, all the Midianites ran. They cried out and fled.
In Matthew 14:25, we are told that the Romans divided the night into four watches (6-9 PM, 9-Midnight, Midnight-3 AM, and 3-6 AM). The Jews divided the night into three watches, with the middle watch falling between 10 PM and 2 AM. It was the beginning of the middle watch, after 10 pm and therefore several hours after night had fallen, when Gideon and his men broke the sleepy silence, broke out of the darkness with their torches, and broke the orderliness of the Midianite camp. Suddenly the sleeping nomads heard hundreds of rams’ horns blasting away in the darkness, and suddenly the darkness was lit all around them by torches, and suddenly there was shouting from all around. Men were shouting, “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!”
The result was chaos—just as the Lord know it would be.
22 When they blew the three hundred horns, the LORD caused them to turn on one another with their swords. The army fled as far as Beth-Shittah toward Zererah, as far as the border of Abel Meholah near Tabbath. 23 Then the men of Israel were called out from Naphtali, from Asher and from all of Manasseh, and they pursued the Midianites.
The Midianites drew their swords—some in a natural soldier’s reflex, some in self-defense, some in fear, and some because everybody else was doing it. But in the ten-o’clock darkness of the Jezreel Valley, no one could tell anybody else apart, and the Midianites began to attack one another. At least three and perhaps more dialects were spoken by these people (Midianite, Amalekite, and the other desert peoples), so it wasn’t just a matter of calling out in your own tongue. In the excitement, the vast army began to cut itself to pieces.
The nomads ran south and east, down into the Jordan valley. They made for Abel Meholah, about fifteen miles south-southwest of the Hill of Moreh, and Gideon called in reinforcements. The Midianites were chased away, and as we pause here, the chase continues.
The servant of God can be confident of God’s protection and can ask God to strike his enemies. David sang about this many times. “All my enemies will be ashamed and dismayed, they will turn back in sudden disgrace (Psalm 6:10). “My enemies turn back, they stumble and perish before you” (Psalm 9:3). “Rise up, O Lord, confront them. Bring them down! Rescue me from the wicked by your sword” (Ps. 17:13). “Pour out your wrath on them, let your fierce anger overtake them” (Ps. 69:24). These are known as imprecatory psalms; they contain curses or prayers for punishment on God’s enemies (and the psalmist’s enemies). These prayers leave the concept of punishment in God’s hands, and we do the same thing when we pray the Lord’s Prayer. Whenever we pray “Hallowed by thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” we pray that God would judge the devil and all those who do not bless God’s name, who try to thwart the work of his kingdom, and who do not do his will. So when we read “In your unfailing love, silence my enemies, destroy all my foes, for I am your servant” (Ps. 143:12), we’re not breaking the Fifth Commandment by wishing violence or evil on someone. We’re keeping the First Commandment by asking God to carry out his will in the world. We don’t take this work into our own hands—but we recognize that the Lord put this work into the hands of Gideon (those are his very words, Judges 7:7, 7:9 and 7:15), to save his people and to bring about his plan to take away the sins of the whole world.
Pastor Timothy Smith
Archives by Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel: http://www.wlchapel.org/worship/daily-devotion/
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul's Lutheran Church, New Ulm, Minnesota