Last week, the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, looking for the promised land. The background for tonight’s story is that the Israelites have already reached the promised land and they are settling into their new land and figuring out how to do life together, now that they are no longer living in slavery. Unfortunately, they are still living in a lot of conflict with the people around them.
Israel doesn’t have a king yet. Instead their leader is called a “judge,” which is where we get the title of this book. The “judges” are the charismatic leaders that God calls to help deliver the Israelites from these neighboring communities and lead them in faithful obedience toward God. So one could say that these are tales of the heroes of Israel who lead them through this conflict. Some of the more memorable judges are Deborah, Gideon and Samson.
In our story tonight, we meet Gideon. Israel is under the control of a group called the Midianites. In fact, things have gotten so bad that the Israelites have abandoned worshiping the God of Israel and, instead, have been worshipping the god of the Midianites – Ba’al. Gideon is the one who has been called as leader to deliver Israel from the Midianites.
I love the call story of Gideon. Gideon comes from the weakest tribe of Israel, Mannaseh. On top of that, Gideon is said to be the weakest member of his family. Listen to his call story. “The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, ‘The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior.’ Gideon answered him, ‘But sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our ancestors recounted to us, saying, “Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?” But now the Lord has cast us off, and given us into the hand of Midian.’” So the first thing Gideon does when he is called by God is question and challenge God! “But sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all of this violence happened to us.” That takes guts. And then it says, “then the Lord turned to him and said, ‘Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian; I hereby commission you.’” (Judges 6:12-14)
So Gideon is called by God, which pretty much leads up to our story for today. He is the leader of the troops, about to go to war with the Midianites. Gideon has gathered up about 32,000 troops and God says to him, “That’s too many troops. When you all win, you will simply say that it was all you. That you all won this war on your own, without any help from me.” So God tells Gideon to send home any troops who are frightened or scared. 22,000 of the troops were sent home. 10,000 stayed. But then God says to Gideon, “This is still too many.”
At this point, God takes Gideon and the troops down to the river and has them all drink from the running water. The troops who knelt down and drank from the river with their hands got sent home; all of the troops who lap up the water like dogs get to stay. The number of dog-like drinkers out of 10,000? Only 300.
Then with trumpets and torches in their hands, those 300 soldiers, only 1% of the original army, go one to defeat the Midianites. The Israelites abandon their worship of the Midianite God, Ba’al, and begin once again to worship the Lord…..for awhile any ways. So that’s it. That is the story of Gideon.
Now the problem with doing strange stories of scripture is that….there isn’t a lot written about them. In what I did find written about this text, I was shocked that no one took up the topic of why these men drink like dogs or why God would want the soldiers who drink like dogs over the ones who don’t.
Why do you think God had Gideon take the people who drink like dogs? Some ideas that came from the congregations last night are the following:
- Is it a humble way of drinking?
- Perhaps the ones who drank like dogs were the poor and uneducated, who never learned the proper manners of how to drink from a stream. Does our military system have a tendency to recruit from the poor and uneducated?
- It is a primal way of drinking and raw, primal characteristics can be beneficial when going into war
- Could drinking with your hand reflect fear? With your head out of the water, one can cautiously keep an eye out for enemies.
(For your viewing pleasure, here is a slow motion video of how dogs drink.)
What might we learn about ourselves in this story:
- Like Gideon, we too often question where God is in the midst of our own lives. When it doesn’t really feel like God is with us and for us.
- There can be a tendency to want to take the credit. God was concerned that with too large of an army, the Israelites would assume that it was all their own work in defeating the Midianites and that God was not at work in them.
What might we learn about God in this story:
- Notice how God chose the weakest person from the weakest tribe to lead this army – Gideon. God continues to prefer the small and weak over the large and strong.
- The one who questions the Lord is the one whom the Lord calls upon.
- God uses human agents to bring about God’s work in the world.