God's people have not been listening to him so he has allowed the Midianites to raid the land and destroy all their food. When the people realise their mistake, God chooses Gideon to rescue them. Gideon, the smallest man in his family, whose family is the smallest in his tribe, cannot believe that he is the man for the job and asks God to prove it.
“Greetings, mighty warrior, the LORD is with you!”
Gideon froze. The voice had come from somewhere nearby, but Gideon couldn't see who had spoken. In fact, he couldn't see very much at all, because, at that precise moment in time, he was standing at the bottom of a hole in the ground and he wasn't tall enough to see out of it. The hole was a pit that had been dug into his father's land long ago. In days gone by people had filled it with grapes and crushed them with their feet to squeeze out the juice so they could make wine. But now the pit was a hiding place where Gideon could keep food out of sight of his enemies.
It was seven years since the people of Israel had begun to disobey God; seven years since the Midianites had begun to raid their land and destroy their food; seven years since the Israelites had begun to flee from their homes to hide in the hills and in caves. Only now were God's people beginning to realise their mistake, only now were they beginning to turn to him for help.
Gideon pulled himself up to the top of the pit and peered over the edge. There, sitting on the ground, his back leaning against the old oak tree that belonged to Gideon's father, was an angel.
“Mighty warrior!” the angel exclaimed with a smile, “The LORD is with you!”
“I don't think so,” Gideon replied, “If God is with me then why am I hiding in this hole in the ground? Why are the Midianites taking all our food? Why has God left us?”
“Gideon,” the angel told him, “the LORD is sending you to save all Israel from the Midianites!”
“No, I don't think he is,” Gideon laughed, “How can I save Israel? My family is the smallest in my tribe, and I'm the smallest in my family. You've got the wrong man!”
“God will be with you,” the angel insisted, “and you will defeat the entire Midianite army as if they were just one man.”
So Gideon sent messengers throughout the land, calling the men of Israel to join him in battle against the Midianites and, to his amazement, they came, thirty-two thousand of them!
But Gideon was afraid. “What if I've made a mistake?” he asked himself, “What if I imagined the angel? If we try to fight the Midianites without God on our side we haven't got a chance! But what if I didn't imagine it? If we don't fight the Midianites we'll have disobeyed God again!”
Then Gideon had an idea. He looked up to heaven and prayed. “LORD, I'm going to take my fleecy blanket and leave it outside on the ground tonight. When I get up in the morning, if the fleece is all wet but the ground is all dry then I will know that you are sending me to fight the Midianites.”
The next morning, Gideon got up the moment the sun began to rise. The ground where he'd placed his blanket was dry, but when he picked up the fleece it was soaking wet. He twisted it in his hands and squeezed out a whole bowlful of water. “It's a miracle!” he declared.
But as the day went on Gideon started to worry. “What if it wasn't a miracle?” he asked himself, “What if the fleece just soaked up all the water and made the ground dry? LORD, please don't be cross with me, but I'm going to leave my blanket outside on the ground again tonight. When I get up in the morning, if the fleece is all dry but the ground is all wet then I will be sure that you are sending me to fight the Midianites.”
The next morning, as soon as it was light, Gideon went to see what had happened. The ground where he'd placed his blanket was soaking wet, but the fleece was completely dry. “Now that is definitely a miracle!” said Gideon with a nod.
So Gideon and his army set off at once to fight the Midianites. When they were almost within sight of the enemy camp, they stopped at a place where water was springing up out of the ground and flowing away in a stream. And that was where it happened – God spoke to Gideon.
“Gideon,” God began, “Your army is too big.”
“Too big?” Gideon choked, “How can it be too big? The more men I've got the more chance I have of beating the Midianites.”
“That's the problem,” God explained, “I don't want the people of Israel to think they saved themselves from the Midianites, I want them to know that I saved them.”
“I see,” replied Gideon, “Well, what do you want me to do?”
“Send home anyone who is afraid.”
Gideon shook his head in wonder, then taking a deep breath he called out, “Listen up everybody! I'm sure none of you will be interested, but God says if anyone is afraid he should leave.”
For a few moments nobody moved, then slowly, one by one, men began to break from the ranks and walk away. Gideon just stood and watched as tens, then hundreds, then thousands of men left his army, until only ten thousand remained.
“Ten thousand,” Gideon murmured to himself, “That's still quite a big army.”
“You're right”, came the voice of God again, “There are still too many. Take them down to the water to drink and watch what they do. Leave behind anyone who puts his face in the water, he's not watching out for the enemy, but take with you anyone who cups the water in his hands and brings it to his mouth.”
Gideon did as he was told and the number of men he kept was just three hundred.
That night Gideon divided his army into three groups of a hundred men and he gave each man a trumpet and a flaming torch. They covered the torches with empty jars to hide their light and then they surrounded the Midianite camp. When Gideon gave the signal, his men smashed the jars, waved their torches in the air, blew their trumpets and began to shout, “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!” Now God had given strange dreams to the men from Midian so that they had begun to believe that they would be crushed if the army of Israel attacked. Which is why, when the Midianites heard the trumpets and saw the torches burning all around them, they began to panic. They drew their swords and lashed out in every direction. In the darkness and the confusion they struck each other down until those who were left standing turned and ran for their lives.
Israel was free once again, saved from the Midianites, some would say, by the smallest man from the smallest family in his tribe. But the Israelites knew better, they knew that their mighty enemy had not been defeated by Gideon or by his army, but by their Almighty God.