Profiles in Courage: Gideon

In the natural world, it might be true that courage is fear under control. But it is not generally so in the Bible, where we learn that fear is the opposite of courage. In fact, fear recedes from the heart to the extent that an appreciation for the Almighty moves in. Remember the Lord’s words, “It is I, be not afraid” (John 6:20, KJV).

Israel was under the heel of Midian, with a dwindling food supply and fear that drove them into caves. Into this nightmare, an unnamed prophet comes to convict Israel of their disobedience. We don’t need his name, but we do need his message, which is a reminder of the power and care of God in days past. He, however, gives no hint of hope for the present.

A message of hope does come by the Angel of the Lord to the industrious Gideon as he secretly threshes wheat, hiding it from the enemy. The message is pointed, powerful, and plain: “The Lord is with you” (Judges 6:12). Immediately, questions and doubts arise as he analyzes the message through the lenses of his own circumstances. Likely, we have done the same. Intellectually, we know God is with us, but the bleak conditions around us attack our sanity. We wouldn’t whisper it to anyone, but we even wonder if God has forgotten us.

We also might ask, “Why is this happening? Where is the evidence of God’s love?” The Lord looks past these questions, which the unnamed prophet has already addressed. There is a further message: “Go in this might of yours and save Israel … have not I sent you?” (Judges 6:14, ESV).

There may be a reason that the Lord has appeared to Gideon. God, Who takes note of the “cup of cold water” given to a disciple (Matt 10:42), saw the budding courage of this thresher. There is no insignificant act in God’s reckoning. The effort you make this Lord’s Day to get out, though disheartened and dismayed, will bear fruit. It may not be today or tomorrow, but it will accomplish its purpose in God’s plan. Gideon is doing what he can in weakness and fear, preferring to work in the darkness. The Lord is not put off by this feebleness, and will soon use him to rout Midian in the darkness. The Lord will also use you, taking up your “cup of cold water,” if that’s all you have, to fulfill His will.

On the face of it, the odds are stacked against Gideon. Looking at the enemy, innumerable Midianites surround him. Looking inward, his father has an altar to Baal. Looking around, the country is wrapped in paralyzing fear. But the odds are not stacked at all. Gideon is about to learn that the Lord plus nothing is a majority.

Gideon is not thrust into the face of the enemy immediately. He has been more concerned about the external oppression than the internal condition. Isn’t that often the way? First, he has some cleaning up to do at home, so he tears down his father’s altar. Next, in great uncertainty, he lays down the fleece of wool. Then, in fear, he goes to the Midianite camp at night and learns that God has spoken to them as well. Each step gives him a greater appreciation for God. The Lord graciously walks with us in small steps as our courage grows. You might ask, “Where is the courage?” The story mentions his fear several times, but the Biblical reason for courage is God Himself. Gideon’s fear is receding, and soon he will feel as Paul did: “I know Whom I have believed” (2Tim 1:12, KJV).

Gideon’s army is not large, but suddenly he is left with only 10,000 men. We might ask, “What will you do with merely 10,000?” But “merely” is not part of his vocabulary now. The presence of God has gripped him, changed him. “I am with you” fills his horizon. But then, at the water, others are sent home and 300 remain. Can you imagine this little company marching through the town? Maybe somebody smirks, “Chosen because they don’t drink like others. How inspiring!” Mind you, that would be a good testimony to have even today. Somebody else might ask, “Whatever will you do with pitchers?” He would answer, “We’re going to break them. The rest is up to God.” You will remember that brokenness, the power of God, and courage go together in Scripture.

Though Gideon feels the lowly size of his army, he is not afraid to divide it further. Division makes something smaller. Surely multiplication would be preferred. Multiply it by 10, by 100 even. But divide it into three? “Gideon, whatever will you do? You only have 100 men in your company.” Still, he moves on, recalling, “Have not I sent you?”

The Lord does not even have to use that small number. In the darkness, the breaking of the pitchers, the blazing torches, and the blaring trumpets raise the sleeping Midianite army. What happens next is the Lord’s doing. God “set every man’s sword against his fellow” (Judges 7:22, KJV). Gideon must certainly have felt small to see such decimation of the enemy. That sense of “small” is a spiritually healthy feeling. You will remember others who were used of God after asking, “Who am I?”

We also, in our turn, will face overwhelming problems, especially “people” problems. May the Lord grant us Biblical courage to stand, and help us to remember the broken pitchers, and to leave the swords with God. David summed it up years later: “The battle is the Lord’s” (1Sam 17:47, KJV).

There’s more to this story. As Gideon got older he lost his grip. Maybe he coasted on easy street. Maybe he grew proud as his exploits were rehearsed. It is easy to get cold, to imagine the source of courage is in self. May the Lord preserve us as we age. O Lord,

Keep us cleaving to Thyself
And still believing,
Till the hour of our receiving,
Promised joys in heaven.”