The Sword of the Lord (Judges 7:15-8:21)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
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“Gideon and His 300” (1907), Bible card, “Coprighted 1907 by Providence Lithograph Co.” Unknown artist. Larger image.

Now we look carefully at the battle. The strategy God guides Gideon to is audacious — and successful. The result is the rout and slaughter of an immense army. But as we study this, let’s concentrate on the man Gideon — his faith, his leadership, his decisiveness, and his faults. Look for lessons you may apply to your own life.

300 Men, Trumpets, Jars and Torches (7:15-20)

God has prepared and encouraged Gideon. Now he awakens his remaining 300 men with similar words to what God used to awaken him: “Get up! The LORD has given the Midianite camp into your hands” (see 7:9).

“When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he worshiped God. He returned to the camp of Israel and called out, ‘Get up! The LORD has given the Midianite camp into your hands.’ Dividing the three hundred men into three companies, he placed trumpets and empty jars in the hands of all of them, with torches inside.

‘Watch me,’ he told them. ‘Follow my lead. When I get to the edge of the camp, do exactly as I do. When I and all who are with me blow our trumpets, then from all around the camp blow yours and shout, “For the LORD and for Gideon.” ‘

Gideon and the hundred men with him reached the edge of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just after they had changed the guard. They blew their trumpets and broke the jars that were in their hands. The three companies blew the trumpets and smashed the jars. Grasping the torches in their left hands and holding in their right hands the trumpets they were to blow, they shouted, ‘A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!’ ” (7:15-20)

Privately, Gideon has needed reassurance, but publicly, in front of his men, he exudes a positive, confident leadership — “Watch me. Follow my lead. Do exactly as I do.” Oh, that Christian leaders today could so live that they could say this, as the Apostle Paul wrote, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Instead we are so apologetic about our weaknesses that we don’t project confident leadership. Somehow we need to learn how to balance vulnerability with effective leadership.

Gideon’s strategy involves several elements:

  1. Surround the Midianite camp with a line of men a few hundred feet apart. This way the enemy will feel like they are being attacked from all sides.
  2. Attack late at nightto surprise and confuse the enemy. The beginning of the middle watch would be about 10 pm.1
  3. Sound trumpets (shofars)from 300 different directions. Trumpets were used in battle to sound the charge or retreat, much as bugles were used in the American Civil War. Usually one trumpet would be sounded to direct each company of soldiers. When the enemy hears 300 trumpets they imagine that a huge army is attacking them.
  4. Break pottery jars. The jars serve two purposes: (1) to hide the light of the torches until the right time and (2) to create a great deal of noise upon shattering in order to confuse the enemy.2
  5. Raise torches. Torchlights suddenly appearing all around the Midianite camp underscore the impression of being surrounded and induce panic.
  6. Shout a battle cry, “A sword for the LORDand for Gideon.” 300 men shouting a battle cry from diverse directions adds to the fear and panic of the enemy.

Can you imagine the faith, the sheer nerve — Yiddish chutzpah — it requires of Gideon and his 300 courageous men to plan to rout an army of 135,000 in this fashion? Gideon is either very crazy or else very sure that it is God’s voice he is hearing, being careful to obey God in every respect.

A Rout of the Midianite Army (7:21-23)

Here’s how the strategy unfolded:

“While each man held his position around the camp, all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled. When the three hundred trumpets sounded, the LORD caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords. The army fled to Beth Shittah toward Zererah as far as the border of Abel Meholah near Tabbath. Israelites from Naphtali, Asher and all Manasseh were called out, and they pursued the Midianites.” (7:21-23)

The Midianite army panics and, unable to see in the dark and running into each other, begin to strike each other down with their swords. Many are killed by their comrades right in the camp. Those fortunate enough to escape this slaughter flee as fast as they can go. Now Gideon calls upon fighters from the tribes of Naphtali, Asher, and Manasseh to help him capture and destroy the remaining Midianites.