“The LORD said to Gideon, ‘The people with you are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over Me, saying, “My own hand has saved me.”’” (Judges 7:2)
In the time of the judges, God did many incredible things in Israel. Though the Israelites repeatedly turned from Him and chased after foreign gods, He still heard their cries and raised up a deliverer for them when they wearied of the oppression of their enemies. He used a variety of characters for this important job. One man killed 600 Philistines with a stick, another used his uncommon left-handedness to assassinate a king, and one judge was a woman. But one thing remained the same throughout all the judges: God used ordinary, disadvantaged people to do great things.
One of the best illustrations of this concept is found in the story of Gideon. If anyone was ill-equipped to be a judge and deliverer of Israel, it was Gideon. When God called him to lead an army against the Midianites, he did everything he could to get out of it. He asked for several signs, most likely in the hopes that one would fall through and he would have an excuse for not going. But when that idea failed, he finally agreed to go to war.
At first, about 32,000 men joined his army. This must have been exciting; with this many men, it wouldn’t be too hard to wipe out the Midianites. But then God said something surprising: there were too many. So Gideon asked everyone who was afraid to go home—and 22,000 men left. 10,000 remained, but that was still too many. So Gideon brought his army to a river and had them drink. 9,700 men failed this test, leaving only 300 men to go up against the Midianites. These 300 might have been the bravest, most observant men, but their chances of winning had decreased exponentially. Their assured victory had dissipated like a vapor.
Nevertheless, this was the army God wanted, and Gideon trusted that He would defeat the Midianites as He had promised. They went up against the enemy with nothing but trumpets, torches, and clay jars, confident that God would bring about victory. And that is exactly what happened. When the trumpets sounded, God drove the Midianites into a panic. They fought against each other, and the survivors fled. Gideon and his army chased them down and, with the help of the Ephraimites, destroyed them. With only 300 men, God had routed the Midianites.
This story is incredible, because it shows that God doesn’t need our strength. If He relied on us, then He would have most certainly not turned away 31,700 soldiers. He would have needed every man possible to fight against the enemy. But as it was, He used 300—and He really didn’t need them. But He chose to use them, in order to show everyone His power. No one could say that it was by their own doing that the Midianites were destroyed. It was obviously God, working in the lives of a few faithful men who simply believed He would keep His promise. He’s still the same today. He still calls to us, inviting us to join Him in His work and be used by Him. But before He can really use us in mighty ways, we must understand that we can accomplish nothing in our own strength. And that’s exactly the way God wants it. He purposely calls us to things that are impossible for us, so that when they still come about, He gets the glory. That’s a terrifying, awe-inspiring thing about Him. But what freedom comes with the knowledge that God has strength enough for whatever He calls us to do!