I wrote yesterday how I'm afraid that we read the Bible and turn Old Testament characters into heroes that never existed. There's only one Hero in the Bible - God - and all the narratives in Scripture are meant to highlight His glory and strength and power.
Gideon is one of those characters we try to transform into a hero; he simply wasn't one. His story is meant to reflect the glory of God, so let's continue the narrative:
Gideon's Three Hundred Men
Then Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the people who were with him rose early and encamped beside the spring of Harod. And the camp of Midian was north of them, by the hill of Moreh, in the valley.
2 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.’ 3 Now therefore proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home and hurry away from Mount Gilead.’” Then 22,000 of the people returned, and 10,000 remained.
4 And the Lord said to Gideon, “The people are still too many. Take them down to the water, and I will test them for you there, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ shall go with you, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ shall not go.” 5 So he brought the people down to the water. And the Lord said to Gideon, “Every one who laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set by himself. Likewise, every one who kneels down to drink.” 6 And the number of those who lapped, putting their hands to their mouths, was 300 men, but all the rest of the people knelt down to drink water. 7 And the Lord said to Gideon, “With the 300 men who lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hand, and let all the others go every man to his home.” 8 So the people took provisions in their hands, and their trumpets. And he sent all the rest of Israel every man to his tent, but retained the 300 men. And the camp of Midian was below him in the valley." (Judges 7:1-8, ESV)
Gideon's army starts out as 32,000 strong. It's not an impressive army, considering that the Midianites came like locusts in number to devour Israel's crops and livestock. From the beginning, Israel was outnumbered and facing the impossible. And that's before God even starts to slash the military budget.
The Lord says, "The people with you are too many" - it's a seemingly irrational statement! But it makes complete sense to God, because He's not after a strategic military victory; He's after pride in the human heart.
After being laid low, living in caves, and having nothing to eat, the Lord knows that Israel would take credit for what only He could produce. Just like us, Israel is at risk of thinking that they have graduated from divine provision. Isn't it amazing (and scary and sad) how quickly we forget our need and boast in our own strength?
God's not done. In wisdom and love, He has to make it painfully obvious that this victory will come from His hand only. As if 10,000 wasn't small enough, the Lord reduces Gideon's force down to 300 men.
Remember, Gideon is no King Leonidas of Sparta - this is a man who was afraid to come outside. Don't try and turn this mission into a heroic battle led by a fearless general. From a human perspective, it's utter nonsense. And that's exactly what God had in mind.
A Different Battle
You see, God wants Gideon to realize that hope is only found in Him. He wasn't calling Gideon to attack the Midianites; He was calling Gideon to attack the life-dominating fear that had been produced by self-reliance. Gideon had only depended on his own strength (which was non-existent), and that's why you find him hiding in a cave, questioning God's call on his life.
We're just like self-reliant Gideon. For some of you, self-reliance might result in arrogance. You look proudly at yourself and the skills and abilities you have, and, taking credit for what only grace could produce, you move through life relying on your own strength.
For others, self-reliance might result in Gideon-like fear. You look timidly at yourself and the weaknesses you have, and, relying on your own strength (or lack thereof), you move through life fearfully, forgetful of the empowering grace that comes from the Holy Spirit.
For both types of self-reliant people (or somewhere in between), God has provided perfect and abundant grace. Through a variety of means, some painful and terrifying, God will lovingly pursue your heart and call you away from self-reliance.
Where do you need to abandon hope in you and run to the One who is Hope?