May 21, 1997
While Gideon was not the obvious choice to lead Israel in battle against the Midianites, he was God’s choice—and that made all the difference! When God reduced his army to an inadequate group of unlikely men, Gideon, though fearful, responded with faithful obedience and worshipped the Lord. He trusted God to secure the victory. As Alistair Begg reminds us, in the Christian life there is no place for pride; rather, all deeds are done according to God’s will and for His glory.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Can I invite you to turn to Judges? And our focus this morning is to be in Judges chapter 7.
If the preoccupation in Judges chapter 6 is with the fleece, then the preoccupation of most people in Judges chapter 7 is about the way that the people drank the water. And if we are guilty of ignoring the context in chapter 6 and squeezing the fleece, then many of us have also preached somewhat dreadful sermons on why it was that people lapped rather than knelt down to drink. And I don’t want to fall foul of that this morning, and I don’t want any of you who were preparing a message on Judges 7 to go back and change it for Sunday—especially if it was about the way the people were drinking the water. But it’s really possible for us, as we said yesterday, that in coming to passages of Scripture with which we are familiar, our very familiarity with the text prevents us from doing justice to the text.
And one of the things that I’m trying to teach myself the longer I go in pastoral ministry and with the privilege of week-by-week preaching is the necessity of coming to the text with a spirit of agnosticism—that is, not with a spirit of unbelief but with a spirit of “I don’t know what this means.” When we always come to the text believing we know what it means, we tend, then, not to look at it with the eyes of faith nor to look at it with the eyes of expectancy, but simply to look for the usual familiar themes which many of us have known from our infancy. And as a result, what we do is reiterate again the same kind of emphasis that we’ve heard before. Now, where those emphases are right, then, of course, it is good for them to be repeated, but where they have perhaps missed something or have overemphasized something, then we do a disservice to ourselves and to our listeners unless we come to the text with a genuine desire for God to teach us by his Spirit so that we, learning, may then become teachers. And so, can I encourage you, as I seek to encourage myself, to open our gaze to Judges chapter 7 with a spirit of expectancy rather than with the spirit which says, “Oh, I know Judges 7; I’ve known it for a very long time”?
Of all that the story of Gideon teaches, as we said yesterday, it certainly is a vivid illustration to us of the fact, in 2 Corinthians 4, that God says of us that our treasure, the treasure of the gospel and of his grace, has been put in old clay jars so that the transcendent power might be seen to belong to God and not to us. The story of Gideon is a reminder to us that the people that God chooses to use are some of the most unlikely people at the most unlikely times—ordinary people chosen for extraordinary tasks. And the story contained in Judges 7 is certainly illustrative of the biblical principle where God, speaking, says, “[Your] thoughts are not [my] thoughts,” and “neither are your ways my ways.” And in the unfolding of the text, we encounter something of the reality of the sovereign purpose of God in the unfolding of his dealings with his people and at the same time the absolute necessity of the submission of those who would serve him to his revealed purpose.
Now, the events in chapter 7 had been prepared for in the life of Gideon in the context that we noted yesterday, and particularly in the conversation which had ensued between the angel, the manifestation of God himself, and Gideon; for example, in the encounter in verse 15, where Gideon says to him, “How can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family”—a reminder to us that Gideon was not the most obvious choice, but he was God’s choice. And it is not important that we are the most obvious choice, that we were voted the individual most likely to succeed, that we were regarded by a jury of our peers as the one with the most potential for influence or the greatest significance.
I can remember, for example, as a student at theological college in London, sitting amongst a group of people, many of whom had already done undergraduate degrees and were doing the theology degree which I was participating in as an undergraduate; they were doing it as a postgraduate. It has to do with the British system of education. Some of them had done engineering at Cambridge, others of them had done history in various places, and I was something of a junior in the event.
And I can remember vividly—and I won’t mention the individual’s name, lest by some strange happenstance somebody would know him—but I remember as, on one occasion, we went around the table discussing what we felt that God had in preparation for us, I remember saying that I felt that God would have me serve as a pastor. And I remember the laugh that came from the other side of the table, and the gentleman said, “Ha, ha, ha! You, a pastor? It’s an impossibility!” And it was supposed to be funny, and we all laughed. My hair was down to my shoulders; I wore platform-soled shoes. I used to buy trousers that had a 35-inch inside leg; now I buy them at 31½. Marriage has shrunk me in some senses, but also, I no longer wear the platform-soled shoes. But I can remember thinking, “Yes, I am a very unlikely prospect, and maybe this guy is right.”
And some of us are tempted to believe those comments. Some of us arrive at a conference like this surrounded by notebooks and smiling faces and hopes and dreams and schemes, and we say to ourselves, “You know, I am not the most obvious choice for this.” That’s not the issue, brother; it is whether you’re God’s choice. And if you’re God’s choice, then hell can’t stand against you.
Now, as a leader of the people, given this immense challenge, Gideon presumably, in light of the challenge that was before him, was reviewing his organization in light of what they were called to do. Verse 12 of chapter 7 describes the extent of the host against them: “The Midianites, the Amalekites and all the other eastern peoples had settled in the valley, thick as locusts. Their camels could no more be counted than the sand on the seashore.” So it’s a vast, vast challenge that is before them. He has been encountered in the phrase “God is with you, you mighty warrior;” we’ve had the dialogue that ensues from that; and now, as he recognizes the military challenge that is before him, he sets out to review his troops and to consider whether he is able to secure victory with the group that is gathered before him. He has, we’re told, some thirty-two thousand people.
And in verse 2 and following, here, of chapter 7, God gives to him direction. We noted it yesterday, we return to it now: “The Lord said to Gideon, ‘You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands,’” and then he explains, “‘In order that Israel may not boast against me’”—become self-reliant—“‘boast … that her own strength has saved her…’”
In other words, God says, “The victory that I grant is my victory. I am in no way dependent upon your numbers.” God is well aware of the pride that exists in the hearts of men and women whereby we would seek to take glory to ourselves and deny the glory to God. And so God is concerned to remove the majority of the troops in order to make it unmistakably clear that the power belongs to God and not to men. God wasn’t concerned to avoid defeat, but he was concerned to ensure that they knew the source of their victory. And he recognized that if they proceeded on the basis in which they found themselves, then the great temptation for them would be to become self-reliant and to say, “Well, it really makes sense, and we did a wonderful job.” We should notice in passing that God does not give the honor of service to those who will not give to God the honor of success.
Now, it may appear that we’re very successful, but God has a payday coming. And on that day when we stand before him, it will become apparent whether what we were building with had to do with gold and silver and precious stones or whether it was actually wood, hay, and stubble. And he is the one with the register, and he is the one who will call us to an account. Therefore, it is strangely possible for us to be apparently influential and successful and yet, on that day of reckoning, to discover that all of our proud boasts, and all of our affirmations, and all of our numbers, and all of our significance and apparent success amounted to just trash from the economy of heaven—a very vulnerable place in which to find ourselves. That’s why more gain is made in our lives through disappointment, through failure, through difficulty, and through tears than is made through success and through laughter; and that in seeking to shun trials, we miss blessings; and in seeking to gather around us the rudiments that would regard us as aptly ready to face the challenges, we miss the ability to be useful in the challenge.
As he determines—that is, God—to radically prune the numbers, showing that when he employs men and women, people in his service, he’s not indebted to us for our service, but we are indebted to him for ever giving us the opportunity to serve him. We got ourselves in a bad position when we have that little party for ourselves on our own, the self-pity party, the sort of Elijah-under-the-broom-tree deal going: “I am the only one left. I am the only one who cares about anything. I am the most significant thing around here, and everyone else is a bag of—” whatever it is. God says, “No, I’ll tell you what’s the amazing thing: the amazing thing is not that you’re serving me; the amazing thing is that I would use a clown like you in my service. After all, who do you think you are? Are you strong? No. Are you mighty? No. Are you really bright? No. So why would I use you?” “It’s a mystery.” That’s right! Now you’re starting to think. So much of contemporary evangelicalism begins with man, and the Bible always begins with God and his glory, and then man and his need and man and his significance.
Now, the reduction which is before us takes place in two stages. First of all, we’re told in verse 3 that he is to announce to the people, “Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.” Now, this should be no surprise. If you know your Bible, in Deuteronomy and chapter 20, the people of God were given directions as to going out to war. You may remember that. The officers were to say to the people in the army, for example, “Has anybody around here built a new house and not dedicated it?” If you put your hand up, you got to go home, in case you died in battle and someone else dedicated your house for you. And also, the officers asked the group, “Has anyone got engaged recently?” “Has anyone become pledged to a woman and not married her?” A few guys put up their hands; he said, “Okay, go home, because you might die in the battle, and someone else will marry her. And you don’t want that do happen, do you?” The guy says, “You bet your life I don’t! I’m out of here,” and they were gone.
And then “the officers shall add”—this is Deuteronomy 20:8—“then the officers shall add…” This is an interesting one. We can kind of understand that you gotta close on your house; therefore, you better go back and do it; or you gottta go and finish things off with this girl that you’ve been hoping to marry. But then it says, “Is any man afraid or fainthearted? Let him go home so that his brothers will not become disheartened too.” There’s tremendous wisdom in that, isn’t there? You know, you get in your elders’ meetings or your deacons’ meetings, you ought to go through this. I mean, I think we should to do this stuff: “Anybody got something to deal with with your house? Why don’t you just go home; you’re preoccupied. And your girlfriend? Go home! And is anybody chicken? Yeah, why don’t you go home as well.” Now we’re starting to resonate. Okay, fine! You’ve just come from some of those meetings: “Oh, I don’t think so. Oh, we’ve never done it that way before. Oh, I heard of somebody over there, and they tried it, and it was a disaster.” It just saps the jolly life out of you.
Twelve men went to spy in Canaan, ten came back—had the same experience, went the same place, saw the same fruit, saw the same giants—and ten of them were fainthearted and said, “It can’t be done!” Two guys, Joshua and Caleb, stood up and said “Let’s do it!” You gotta get rid of the ten and move forward with the two. It’s not ’cause the two are special; it’s just ’cause the two are trusting. They may be the most unlikely two. The ten may be the guys with wisdom. They may be the guys with acumen. They may be the guys with business background. They may be the guys with strategic planning experience. And the only two you’re left with is some old guy who’s been around for a hundred and ten years and some novice who isn’t even wet behind his ears, and the two of them are saying, “I think we can definitely do it!” And so you’ve immediately got a choice: “Do I go with the ten and shut the thing down? Or do I go with the two?” Go with the two every time! Send the other ten home. Send them home!
You say, “If I send them home, they may send me home.” Fine. We’ll all go home! And then we’ll get up on the morning, and we’ll figure out what we’re gonna do from there. But we’re not gonna have the fearful shut the thing down! It’s amazing: you read the minute books of church leaderships, and “Mr. Rodney Fortigue-Smythe wanted to minute his disapproval and his extreme concern over the outlandish gesture…” Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. “Goodbye, Fortigue-Smythe. Thank you.”
Why were they to go home? They were to go home because they would have a detrimental effect on the battle. Get these guys out of here! We don’t need people in the battle going, “I don’t think we can do this.”
Now, that’s interesting to me. I think you’ve picked up on the fact that I think it’s interesting. And that’s why, here, this isn’t outlandish; this is in accord with the principles that had previously been laid down: “So Gideon, here, we’re going to reduce the numbers.” Can you imagine, of course, how that goes? He’s looking at the thirty-two thousand saying, “I wonder if I’ve got enough here, in light of all these camels. We can’t even count the camels, let alone the people. We can’t count the humps, let alone the number of people that have been riding on the back of these things.” And the Lord says, “This is what we’re gonna do: ask the folks, say to them, ‘You know, if anybody’s fearful or trembling with fear, they can turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’”
Now, the matter-of-fact response here in verse 3b, in this sentence, is incredible: “So twenty-two thousand men left.” Can you imagine him? First of all: “Well, I’m not sure thirty-two thousand is enough.” The Lord says, “Let’s just give anybody that wants to leave the chance to leave.” So we’ve got the guy who’s told, “You’re the mighty man. You know, you are God’s man. We’re gonna tear this place apart.” “Okay, I’m not sure we’ve got enough.” God says, “Don’t worry about ‘enough.’ Let’s try and pare it down. Just ask anybody who wants to go home to go home.” So he stands up—and I don’t know how he was feeling; we’ll find out in heaven—but he says, “You know, the word of the Lord is if any of you are afraid of the prospect, then you should just leave.” And he stands and he watches, and two-thirds of the army splits. He might have expected a few of the guys that didn’t like him to leave, but this is a mass exodus.
I don’t want to spiritualize this or anything, but I was talking to a young man yesterday, and he said, “You know, I’ve been there twelve months, and I’ve blown out half the congregation.” I said, “Well, you may have to blow out the other half before you can even get started.” It’s not unusual in Scotland to have to preach your church empty before you can preach it full, ’cause you’ll never preach it full with these people in there. So they either get on or they get out, but you don’t want them halfway. It’s either “Cheerio!” or “Welcome!” but it’s not “We don’t know.” We want absolute clarity: “Are you staying? Stay. Are you going? Get as far away from here as possible. We don’t want you all standing around on the outside going, ‘I don’t think you should have waited.’ Just take off, get your stuff, and leave.”
And so he’s got ten thousand left. That’s a dramatic reduction! Now we’re down to ten thousand, and then “the Lord said to Gideon…” Can you imagine what… He’s like, “Whoa, what’s coming now?” He couldn’t have imagined it! “There’s still too many.”
Now, remember, this is not some kind of anti-church-growth sermon—although I do want it to go on record that I am well capable of such a sermon. If the first stage of the reduction is related to the morale of the army, which it clearly appears to be, then what of this second stage of the reduction? What is this about, when we get it down by another 9,700?
Now, you see, it’s at this point that we get into difficulties. And it’s at this point that we start to get, you know, clever with our conjecture, and we get into the lappers versus the kneelers. And this is where we impress the people with all the thing about kneeling down and lapping, and what the guy was looking while he was lapping, or kneeling while he was not looking, and all this kind of stuff. And frankly, we don’t have a clue what we’re talking about! We haven’t got the foggiest idea in the world what we’re on about, because it doesn’t say. You see? And most of the sermons that you hear preached on this have to do with, somehow or another, that this was a test looking for only the alert, and all the dreamy and the careless were to go. So we would just keep the alert ones. And the alert ones were not those who were kneeling down, we tell the people, because if you were kneeling down, you couldn’t be looking. How we know that is… ’Cause there’s a number of ways you can kneel down. But usually that’s it. “But if you were lapping, like this, then you could be looking,” and so, that’s it.
Oh, come on! One of the ways… Have you ever thought about the fact that they might have been lapping, they might have been lying completely horizontal—right?—with their faces hanging over the edge into the pond so that they’re hanging right over the edge of the thing, and then they’re just kinda doing this with it up into their face? In other words, these guys are clueless! I mean, if you’re looking for three hundred you don’t want, here they are! They’re surrounded by more enemies than you can imagine. Someone says, “You want to get a drink of water?” They’re like ducks, man: they bury their heads right in the thing! But the way we preach the passage, we can’t have that, because these have got to be the ones who are looking. Because God wouldn’t want ones that aren’t looking, would he?
Yes, he might! Because if he wanted to make it absolutely clear that the reason for the victory was because of him, then the most unlikely three hundred would join with the most unlikely individual in order that God may be glorified—in order that the people around might say, “How in the world could this ever take place? Three hundred jokers with a funny wee guy at the front, and they’re chasing us halfway across the universe! What’s going on here?” It’s God!
Now, I just want to say this to you in passing: when we find ourselves asking why lapping was the sign of a better soldier, we’re on the wrong track. I think we’re missing the whole point: “And since,” you know, “Grandfather George, he always told us about the lappers…” See what I mean? We’re not agnostic enough in coming to the passage. We just assume that’s how we preach it.
Now, you’re sensible men, and you’ve every right to disagree with me. But think this out: surely the object was to reduce Gideon’s army to a force not of a particular kind but a force of a particular number. The issue was not the kind of people that were left; the issue was the number of people that were left. It wasn’t that Gideon was trying to put together a small commando unit, three hundred of the best and the brightest. God is not in need of three hundred crack troops! You see, he’s not in need of the special and the strong and the lappers rather than the kneelers and the alert rather than the unalert. Goodness gracious, just look at your congregation! Look at your choir! If you ever doubt that God has a sense of humor, just look at the choir. Look at these people! Now, people that are in the choir, they always send me letters… All I’m saying is the average choir is a sort of microcosm of the congregation. You look at those people, you’ve got a sort of small cross section of the bigger group, and you say, “Are we really gonna turn the world upside down with this?” And the answer is it’s highly unlikely. And God says, “I like it when it’s that way.”
See, the problem that many of us are facing in our churches is we’re trying to get it in the position where it’s highly likely. And we’re reading all this stuff that tells us how to do it, and what you put here, and how you get three of those there, and five, and take away the number you first thought of and multiply it by six, and before you know it…
The three hundred that are left are meant to be not an elite but a group so inadequate that when the battle is won, no one—Gideon, the three hundred, the gang that left, or the surrounding people—will be in any doubt: “God did this.” And that’s what, incidentally, worship is supposed to be about—and now that I mentioned the choir, I’ll just have a little detour for a moment.
What does it say in 1 Corinthians 12 or 14, wherever it is? The issue is… Well, hey, I know it’s in 12 or 14; that’s a start. Boy, you guys are tough! You know, it says the real issue is that men in coming into the encounter with the people of God will be caused to fall down on their faces and say, “Surely God is in this place”; that that would be the only explanation for what’s going on—not the slickness of the methodology, not our ability to offer it to them at the lowest common denominator, not our ability to make it acceptable and amenable to them, but the fact that here are a group of people, they’re a funny looking group of people, they’re an ordinary group of people, they’re apparently not particularly influential, but there is something going on there, and it is “God is in this place.” And that’s, you see, what the issue is here in Judges 7.
Now, how good of God, having given this instruction to him, to follow it up with a dream that he can hear. There’s a direction that he gives, and then there’s a dream that Gideon hears. Gideon has done what he’s been told; he takes the men down to the water, and so on. He sends the rest of the Israelites to their tents, he keeps the three hundred, and they’ve got to gather up all the provisions and the trumpets and everything else—quite a carry-on. And “now the camp of Midian lay below him in the valley.” That’s the same thing that is said in verse 1: “The camp of Midian was … in the valley.” And it’s just a little reminder, you know? The writer says, “Now, let’s not forget about the camp below in the valley.” And “during [the] night the Lord said to Gideon, ‘Get up, [and] go down against the camp, because I[’m] going to give it into your hands.’”
And then listen to this: “If you[’re] afraid to attack…” Oh, how gracious of God! What a wonderful Shepherd and Father and Counselor and Guide. You know, if it had been you and me, we would have said, “‘If’? ‘If you are afraid to attack’? I’m scared spitless to attack, God.” You see, bravery is not the absence of fear, is it? If you ask a rock climber how he is so brave to go up there without those safety things, he’ll say, “I’m not brave. It scares me to death. I simply conquer the feelings.” So bravery is the harnessing of fear, the overcoming of fear. So it is not that we’re strong and useful when we can say, “Oh, I’m not afraid. I’ll go and do that.” I think the position is, “Yeah, I am afraid. But…” And the Lord comes to him, and he says, “I want you to go down, and I want to acknowledge that if you’re afraid, you may need a little more encouragement. And I have provided you with recruits for your faith, but I’m not providing you with recruits for your forces.” What a lovely teacher he is. Kind: “If you’re afraid…” Strict: “Go down.”
A word of promise, a word of direction: “‘[And you can take] your servant Purah and listen to what they[’re] saying. [And] afterward[s], you[’ll] be encouraged to attack the camp.’ So he and Purah his servant went down to the outposts of the camp.” Can you imagine what that journey was like? I don’t want to delay on it, but he and his buddy, they go down, and it has been described for us that these folks are everywhere. It’s all campfires and tents and camels making noises and making other things that camels do, and it’s just a huge panoply of daunting dimensions. And they must have gone on that journey, and as they crept into the camp, and as they observed it all, and as they found themself on the outposts, they must have been saying, “Goodness gracious, what are we going to possibly to do here? The odds are overwhelmingly against us. Everything is stacked against us! Goodness, when we asked the people if any were fearful, we had the whole twenty-two thousand of them leave. The Lord has taken us down to three hundred. It’s you and me, Purah, and we’re down here.” And Purah says, “Gideon, shhh! Shhh. Listen. Listen.”
And they hear talking in the tent. And they draw a wee bit closer to the tent. And they hear a guy talking to his friend. And he says to this friend, “I had a dream …. [And] a round loaf of barley bread came tumbling into the Midianite camp. It struck the tent with such force that the tent overturned and collapsed.” You can imagine them just moving a little: “This is interesting.” And then comes the interpretation: “His friend responded, ‘This can be nothing other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands.’”
You think God is in charge? Yeah he’s in charge! He’s not just in charge in the camp of the Israelites; he’s in charge of the camp of the Midianites. God is in control. “God is still on the throne,” as the old song says,
And he will remember his own;
Tho’ trials may press us and burdens distress us,
He never will leave us alone.
The Lord God omnipotent reigns. It doesn’t always seem so. But it is so! That is why the hymn writer says,
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The [skies] ye so much dread
Are big with [blessing] and will break
[With mercy] on your head.
Now, it’s going to take faith to believe that. But that is exactly what it takes: “Without faith it is impossible to please God, for anyone who comes to God must believe that he exists and that he is the rewarder of those who diligently seek him.”
And Gideon has heard the word of direction. He has responded in obedience. He has now heard the word in the dream, and interestingly enough, the response is, “When Gideon heard the dream and it’s interpretation, he worshipped God.” What a wealth is contained in that, which we will allow silence to pass over. “He worshipped God.” What did he do? Did he lie face down on the ground? Did he stand with his eyes towards heaven? Did he lift his hands in the air? Did he sing a little chorus that he’d known? What did he do? We don’t know. But we do know this: that in that moment, if never before, he had an almost overwhelming sense of the fact that as his servant, as God’s servant, he was to God, as the prophet Zechariah says, as the very apple of God’s eye—that God’s concern for him, God’s interest in him, God’s provision for him, his purpose for him, meant everything.
Guys, pastoral ministry is not easy. You can move from place to place, but people reincarnate themselves—and it’s never the nice ones. And there’s no ideal place to serve God except the place he sets us down. And it is a precious and a wonderful time when God is at work, picks us up in the warmth of his embrace, and he holds us close to his heart, and, as in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “he gently leads those” who [have] “young.” And there is something of that in this secret moment there, as Gideon does the only thing that it is right to do: to worship God. Long before the words of the Shorter Scottish Catechism, he understands it: that the chief end of Gideon is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. So whether he has a big group or a wee group, whether his church is apparently influential with these vast numbers or whether it is apparently insignificant with small numbers, he understands that one plus God is a majority.
And so it is that he returns to the camp—and with this I finish, because lunch is coming, and the day is fast going. He goes back into the camp, and he says to them, “Get up!” It’s directive. Leadership must be directive. He doesn’t go back to the camp and say, “Okay, guys, anybody got any bright ideas? Anybody got anything they would like to do?” Not a good question to ask, because they might say, “We’d like to do what the other 31,700 just did.” So he says, “Okay, boys, let’s go! Let’s get up. Let me tell you how we’re going to do this. I’m gonna divide you into three groups. And Samuel, will you distribute the trumpets, please? And Levi, can you gather up some of the stuff from over there in that pile that you made when the other chaps went home, and can you make sure that everybody has got a jar? And will you, Benjamin, will you take care of the torches for us? Now, here’s what we’re going to do: we’re going to…” Incidentally, verse 17, he says, “Follow me, watch me”: “Follow my lead. When I get to the edge of the camp, I want you to do what I do.” And then this is what he says: “Now, I hope you can handle this, fellas. The instructions are clear, but I want you to listen. This is what is necessary for this victory to take place. You’ve got to be able to blow the trumpet, break your jar, and shine your torch.”
Can you imagine if you’d been one of the three hundred? “Gideon, we started off with thirty-two thousand here a couple of days ago. You got us down to three hundred. How in the world we’re still here we don’t know. We just had our heads in the bucket, and you said, ‘You’re in.’ Now, Gideon, we know that God has been speaking to you. We’ve been hoping that, ’cause you’re our leader. And apparently, you had a peculiar session with him last night, and Purah tells us that you were really in touch. And as a result of that, we have been waiting here with bated breath. When you came back and woke us up in the morning, and as we look down at this vast company with all these fires and camels’ humps and people, we were anticipating, Gideon, that you would have a really good, strategic plan for the future of our church! We would have thought that it would have had all the acumen and wisdom that we have come to expect in the approach of contemporary evangelicalism. And you come up and wake us up and stand us up and tell us, ‘Here’s what you’ve gotta be able to do: you’ve gotta be able to blow your trumpet, break your jar, and shine your torch.’ Is that it?” What military expertise is necessary for this victory? None. None! The fighting would involve others brought back in later on, but in this initial encounter, the Midianites were gonna do it to themselves. He didn’t need crack troops to fight. He needed faithful guys who would stand up, blow the trumpet, smash the jar, and shine the torch.
I don’t want to violate my own principles now and spiritualize the thing away at the end, but the fact of the matter is, it really comes down to that kind of dependence in our day. Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men…” He said, “You got a treasure in an old clay jar. How ’bout smashing the jar? You got a fat head, Alistair Begg. We could smash that down a little. That would be really important.” And are you prepared to shout? Remember the story of—was it Gipsy Smith? Gipsy Smith said, “If they tell me that I can’t shout and I can’t preach and they enclose me in a barrel, then I will shout glory out of the bung-hole!” And so God looks on his servant, and he says, “Hear what we’re going to do.”
Now, you know that the end of the story is quite remarkable.
Loved ones, I need to say to you that I think the greatest danger that we face is the danger as outlined by Joe on the first evening. I think he’s absolutely right: I think it is the danger of self-reliance. I think that we’ve imbibed so much of the spirit of our generation that we have forgotten that God’s plan is very different from ours. And with this I close:
Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; [he] chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are.
Why? “So that no one may boast before him.”
I think it is distinctly possible that God looks down, as it were, on the potential armies of evangelicalism, and he says, “You are too many, because at the moment, you’re tempted to rely on your own abilities and to take credit for your own successes. And I won’t share my glory with another.”
May the Lord help us to think these things out.
Father, I pray that you will save us as pastors from imagining a standard at which we do not ourselves live, and then calling our people to live at that standard and, by doing so, disheartening them and deceiving ourselves. We pray that in our day and in our generation, you will teach us again what it means when Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing”—that our need of you is not partial but total. And then, Lord, take us, with our torches and our old clay pots and with the trumpet, as it were, of your Word, and in all of our inadequacy and in all of our fear, use us to your great glory, we pray. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
 See 2 Corinthians 4:7.
 Isaiah 55:8 (NIV 1984).
 Judges 6:15 (NIV 1984).
 Judges 6:12 (paraphrased).
 See 1 Corinthians 3:12–15.
 See 1 Kings 19:4–10.
 See Deuteronomy 20:5.
 Deuteronomy 20:7 (NIV 1984).
 See Deuteronomy 20:7.
 See Numbers 13.
 See 1 Corinthians 14:25.
 Kittie L. Suffield, “God Is Still on the Throne” (1929).
 William Cowper, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” (1774).
 Hebrews 11:6 (paraphrased).
 See Zechariah 2:8.
 Isaiah 40:11 (NIV 1984).
 The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 1.
 Matthew 5:16 (KJV).
 Attributed to Billy Bray in Frederick William Bourne, The King’s Son; or, A Memoir of Billy Bray, 8th ed. (London, 1874), 34. Paraphrased.
 1 Corinthians 1:26–29 (NIV 1984).
 John 15:5 (NIV 1984).
Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.