Judges 2:12 tells us that the people of Israel “abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. As a result of their idolatry, “the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies Whenever they marched out, the hand of the LORD was against them for harm, as the LORD had warned, and as the LORD had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress” (Judges 2:14-15). The Hebrew word that is translated distress, yatsar (yaw-tsarˊ) means “to press” (H3334) and suggests that pressure was being applied in order to bring about some type of change. An identical word refers to pressure “through the squeezing into shape” and means “to mould into a form; especially as a potter” (H3335). Yatsar is used primarily in the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah to refer to God’s active involvement in the formation and subsequent destruction of the nation of Israel. The prophet Jeremiah was taken to the potter’s house so that he could see what God was going to do and to deliver the message to God’s people. Jeremiah 18:1-11 states:
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.
Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it. Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the Lord, Behold, I am shaping (yatsar) disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’
God compared his shaping of disaster to the pressure that the potter used to mold his clay into the form that he wanted it to take. God explained that it was necessary for him to do that because the Israelites had crossed over the boundary of right and entered the forbidden land of wrong. He said, “Because this people have transgressed my covenant that I commanded their fathers and have not obeyed my voice, I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died, in order to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the LORD as their fathers did or not” (Judges 2:20-22).
Testing was the method God used to prove that Abraham’s faith was genuine and that he would obey him, even if what he was being asked to do didn’t make any sense or was contrary to his human nature (Genesis 22:1-19). The Greek word peirazo (pi-radˊ-zo) means “to test” and is sometimes translated as tempted as when Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). “Testing will cause its recipients to appear as what they always have been. This is predominantly, though not exclusively, the sense of peirazo. Nothing in the word requires it to refer to a trial given with the intention of entangling the person in sins. Peirazo properly means to make an experience of, to pierce or search into, or to attempt (Acts 16:7, 24:6). It also signifies testing whose intention was to discover whether a person or thing was good or evil or strong or weak (Matthew 16:1; 19:3; 22:18); or if the outcome is already known to the tester, to reveal the same to the one being tested (2 Corinthians 13:5). Sinners are said to test God, when they put Him to the test by refusing to believe His word until He manifests His power. God tempts people only in the sense of self-knowledge and so that they may and often do emerge from testing holier, humbler, and stronger than they were before” (G3985). James, the oldest half-brother of the Lord Jesus, said in his letter to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (James 1:12-15)
The Greek word that is translated steadfast, hupomeno (hoop-om-enˊ-o) means “to stay under (behind), i.e. remain; figuratively to undergo, i.e. bear (trials), have fortitude, persevere” (G5278). Jesus used the word hupomeno on two different occasions to describe what was going to happen to his disciples after his death and during the great tribulation. Jesus said, “Brother will deliver brother over to death and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures (hupomeno) to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:21-22). Later he added, “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures (hupomeno) to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:9-13).
Jesus associated steadfastness or endurance during times of trials and testing with being saved in the sense of a person receiving material and temporal deliverance from danger, suffering, etc from God (G4982). When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said:
“The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.” And Gideon said to him, “Please, my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” And the Lordturned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” And he said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” And the Lord said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.” (Judges 6:12-16)
The LORD’s statement, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” (Judges 6:14), indicated that the LORD intended to give Gideon a supernatural victory. Gideon’s response showed that he was aware of his human limitations and that he didn’t believe he could accomplish what God expected him to do, but God assured Gideon that he would be with him and therefore, his predicted outcome was certain.
Gideon is included among the examples of outstanding faith in Hebrews 11:32, so we know that God was stretching Gideon spiritually when he said, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into your hand” (Judges 7:2). God explained to Gideon that the people might think that they had saved themselves if a normal sized army was used to fight the battle. God told Gideon to send home everyone that was fearful and trembling, “Then 22,000 of the people returned, and 10,000 remained” (Judges 7:3), but the LORD told 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.” 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.” 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. 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.” (Judges 7:4-7)
God said that he was going to test the people for Gideon. In this instance, testing meant that God was going to refine or purify Gideon’s army by letting each person’s the state of mind determine whether or not he would be a hindrance to Gideon’s intended victory. One who laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps might have been the sign of a person who was calm and relaxed, a person that had the peace of God, a kind of supernatural peace that passes all understanding. Only 300 of the 10,000 people who had already indicated that they were not afraid demonstrated the characteristic that God was looking for.
After his army was reduced to 300 men, God reinforced Gideon’s faith by letting him listen in on a conversation that took place in the Midianite camp. It says in Judges 7:9-15:
That same night the Lord said to him, “Arise, go down against the camp, for I have given it into your hand. But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant. And you shall hear what they say, and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.” Then he went down with Purah his servant to the outposts of the armed men who were in the camp. And the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the people of the East lay along the valley like locusts in abundance, and their camels were without number, as the sand that is on the seashore in abundance. When Gideon came, behold, a man was telling a dream to his comrade. And he said, “Behold, I dreamed a dream, and behold, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian and came to the tent and struck it so that it fell and turned it upside down, so that the tent lay flat.” And his comrade answered, “This is no other than the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel; God has given into his hand Midian and all the camp.” As soon as Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, he worshiped. And he returned to the camp of Israel and said, “Arise, for the Lord has given the host of Midian into your hand.”
The fact that Gideon saw the people of the East spread out along the valley like locusts in abundance and yet, believed that the LORD was going to give them into his hand with the aid of only 300 soldiers is evidence that his faith was at work and that he was expecting a supernatural victory.
Jesus told his disciples multiple times before his death that he was going to be crucified, but he also indicated that he was expecting a supernatural victory, his resurrection three days later. Matthew’s gospel tells us that after Peter confessed Jesus as the Christ, “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man’” (Matthew 16:21-23). Jesus rebuked Peter because he wasn’t setting his mind on the things of God. The Greek word that is translated setting your mind, phroneo (fron-ehˊ-o) means “’to think, to be minded in a certain way’; implying moral interest or reflection, not mere unreasoning opinion” (G5426). This suggests that Peter was thinking like Satan and was a hindrance to Jesus’ mission of saving the world at that point in time. Similar to the way the LORD bolstered Gideon’s faith before he went into battle, Matthew tells us that six days later, “Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light” (Matthew 17:1-2). Afterward, “Jesus commanded them, ‘Tell no one the vision until the Son of Man is raised from the dead’” (Matthew 17:9). Jesus referred to his transfiguration as a vision, a supernatural spectacle (G3705) that was intended to help Peter, James, and John to discern more clearly his true identity (G3708). The reason why Jesus commanded them to tell no one the vision until he was raised from the dead may have been because the knowledge that Jesus was going to be glorified through his death on the cross might have changed the religious leaders’ minds about crucifying him.
Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God said:
“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:6-9)
The Hebrew word that is translated higher, gabahh (gaw-bahˊ) means “to soar” (H1361). The idea behind the use of this word is that God’s thoughts and ways are beyond our grasp, but there is also a sense that knowing things the way God does causes us to operate on a higher plane, to do things that are above or beyond the normal capabilities of humans.
God told Gideon that he couldn’t give the Midianites into his hand with the 32,000 people he started off with “lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me’” (Judges 7:2). The attitude that we can save ourselves or that we can thwart God’s effort to bring about a particular outcome is rooted in pride and self-sufficiency. The nations that surrounded Israel promoted this kind of thinking and were determined to disrupt the establishment of a godly nation. Psalm 83 reveals the extent to which this negative mindset was driving the Midianites to interfere in the lives of God’s people. It states:
O God, do not keep silence;
do not hold your peace or be still, O God!
For behold, your enemies make an uproar;
those who hate you have raised their heads.
They lay crafty plans against your people;
they consult together against your treasured ones.
They say, “Come, let us wipe them out as a nation;
let the name of Israel be remembered no more!”
For they conspire with one accord;
against you they make a covenant—
the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites,
Moab and the Hagrites,
Gebal and Ammon and Amalek,
Philistia with the inhabitants of Tyre;
Asshur also has joined them;
they are the strong arm of the children of Lot. Selah (Psalm 83:1-8)
The enemies’ attempt to wipe out the nation of Israel was met with a plan that was so beyond their wildest imagination that no one had a clue what was going on when Gideon and his three hundred men came to the outskirts of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch and blew their trumpets and smashed the jars that were in their hands (Judges 7:19). Panic set in, “And the army fled as far as Beth-shittah toward Zererah, as far as the border of Abel-meholah, by Tabbath” (Judges 7:22).
Judges 7:22 tells us that when Gideon’s 300 soldiers blew their trumpets, “the LORD set every man’s sword against his comrade and against all the army.” In other words, the LORD caused the enemies’ army to start fighting each other. Gideon and his men didn’t have to do anything until the size of their army had been reduced significantly. Judges 8:10-12 states, “Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor with their army, about 15,000 men, all who were left of all the army of the people of the East, for there had fallen 120,000 men who drew the sword. And Gideon went up by the way of the tent dwellers east of Nobah and Jogbehah and attacked the army, for the army felt secure. And Zebah and Zalmunna fled, and he pursued them and captured the two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, and he threw all the army into a panic.” Gideon was able to turn the tables on his enemies’ army by capturing the two kings that had instigated the war against him. The Hebrew word that is translated into a panic, charad (khaw-radˊ) means “to shudder with terror” (H2729). Charad is used in Exodus 19:16-17 to describe the Israelites reaction to meeting God. Likewise, the women that went to Jesus’ tomb on the morning of his resurrection “went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them” (Mark 16:8). The Greek word that is translated astonishment, ekstasis (ek’-stas-is) refers to “the state of being out of one’s usual mind” (G1611). Supernatural events can cause a type of temporary insanity in that we aren’t able to think like we usually do. From that standpoint, they are disruptive and may be used by God to change people’s minds and attitudes about their circumstances, as was demonstrated by Gideon’s victory over the Midianites and Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.