So often in history the church has emerged from a state of indifference or wilfulness into a season of revival that began when some obscure handful of souls cared enough and met regularly to intercede.
Judges 6:1-10 paints a bleak picture of the parlous state of Israel when ‘the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian for seven years’ (Judges 6:1). Their crops were plundered annually by hordes of marauders from ‘the East’ (Judges 6:3). So they had ‘made for themselves … dens … in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds’ (Judges 6:2). ‘And Israel was brought very low because of Midian’ (Judges 6:6). That expression is a common way of saying that they were depressed. Whenever we are in a low mental and emotional state we are vulnerable to the devil’s ‘arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God.’ Then, with the ‘weapons of our warfare’, we must set about actively ‘waging war’ in ‘divine power to destroy strongholds … and take every thought captive to obey Christ’ (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). Israel at last ‘cried out for help to the Lord’ (Judges 6:6).
Gideon enacted a parable of preparation for communion with the Lord. ‘Now the angel of the Lord’ – the pre-incarnate Son of God, no less – ‘came and sat under the terebinth at Ophrah … while … Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press to hide it from the Midianites … and the Lord … said to him, “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valour’ (Judges 6:11-12) – the basic ingredients for Eucharistic bread and wine!
Significantly he is threshing wheat, worth twice the price of barley (2 Kings 7:1). Yet in 7:13-14 ‘barley bread’, the cereal having the least value as food, was characteristically the appropriate cereal to represent Gideon himself; so he is not trusting in his own merits. He confessed: ‘“Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” And the Lord said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man”’ (Judges 6:15-16).
God’s power was perfected in Gideon’s weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9)
On thus being reminded by the Lord that victory would not be ‘by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit’ (Zechariah 4:6), Gideon willingly cooperated in God’s secret means of twice whittling down the vast numbers of the ranks of volunteer troops until a mere 300 remained – a corps with inner dedication (Judges 7:1-8).
Use what is to hand, but in God’s prescribed way and in his time
The chosen time to attack was ‘at the beginning of the middle watch, when they had just set the watch’ (Judges 7:19) – when the old guards had grown sleepy and their replacements had yet to adjust their night vision and get their general bearings. ‘And they blew the trumpets and smashed the jars’ that had been covering glowing reeds that were now waved in the air to pick up oxygen and burst into flame – on three sides of the enemy’s camp. Imagine the enemy being wakened by such sudden strange noises as ram’s horns and smashed crockery, and poking their heads out of their tents to see their encampment surrounded by fire! The wee sma’ hours can never be a good time to wake up to confusion that seems to have neither rhyme nor reason. No wonder they fled and victory was soon in Israel’s grasp – restoration had begun.