Last week I was in such a struggle that I called upon my deceased mother. She told me to tell you that we must be at our best when things get bad. You may ask, “How can we be at our best?” In response I call upon a powerful biblical example.
First, let me briefly share how bad things are. Many of us will have the whole United States government arrayed against us rather than protecting us. You can fill in the details of all the ways that will play out. Suffice it to say that it is very bad when the whole U.S. government is against you. The question is, “How can we be at our best when things get really bad?”
Gideon is one of my favorite biblical stories. I call up the spirit of Gideon when it seems like everything is strongly against me. You may know the story, but I want to share a summary with you. The Midianites were many and powerful. They were oppressing the people of Israel. God told Gideon to go forth and fight the Midianites, but Gideon was very reluctant. Gideon gathered 32,000 troops, but the Midianites had a whole host of troops, 135,000 to be exact. God told Gideon he had too many troops and to reduce the number.
At God’s direction, Gideon told his troops that all those who were fearful should leave. Twenty-two thousand of the 32,000 left, leaving just 10,000. God told Gideon to further reduce his troops. Gideon tested the 10,000 by having them drink from a stream. Those who kneeled, put their heads down and drank directly from the stream were sent away. Those who kept their heads up and lapped water from their hands were kept. The troops were reduced to 300.
At this point, Gideon must have realized that he had to fight differently. He had 300 and the Midianites had 135,000. Gideon followed God’s direction to a tee. His faith was no longer limited by belief in his soldiers or in himself. Gideon was moving on faith.
Gideon gave each of the 300 men a trumpet, an empty water pitcher and a lamp. The men were divided into three groups and sent in various directions so the Midianites would be surrounded. On a signal each group was to perform the same actions.
In the middle of the night, Gideon gave the signal by sounding a trumpet. All 300 blew their trumpets, broke the empty water pitchers and raised their lamps in their left hands while shouting, “The sword of the Lord and Gideon.”
The collective sounds of the 300 trumpets, 300 pieces of pottery breaking and 300 voices shouting “The Sword of the Lord and Gideon” coming from every direction with flickering lights from the lamps caused the Midianite troops to wake up in a panic, run, cry out and flee. Some of the Midianites turned on each other in panic. As the Midianites fled, the other 31,700 troops who left because of fear pursued the Midianites, and there was a great victory.
Let’s briefly explore a few of the lessons contained in the story of Gideon. First, when we are oppressed we must fight back. The Midianites were oppressing the children of Israel. People were reluctant to fight back. But they eventually fought back. They brought an end to the oppression.
Second, no matter how great the odds, there is always a path to victory. The Midianite troops were far greater in number, more than four to one initially. When the troops were reduced, Israelites were outnumbered by a ratio of 441 to 1. Still, there was a path to victory. There is always a path to victory.
Third, we cannot fight those oppressing us by using their methods to fight. We have to develop new and creative approaches. The Midianites used a large number of troops and swords. The children of Israel used trumpets, the breaking of water pitchers, lamps and human shouts.
Fourth, we do not need everyone to succeed. Those that are fearful, we must let them go. Those that do not use common sense, we must let them go. Gideon started with 32,000 and ended up with 300. The 300 overcame the 135,000.
Fifth, unity is powerful. It is better to have 300 unified than 32,000 disunified. We must leave the fearful and the less wise in order to unify and move ahead to achieve great victories. There was unity in their actions. All 300 blowing were their trumpets at the same time, breaking empty water pitchers at the same time, holding up flickering lamps in their left hands at the same time, and shouting the same seven words at the same time.
Sixth, when the path to victory is clear, even the fearful and less wise will join the battle in a useful way. When the Midianite troops were on the run, the once fearful joined the chase and helped seal the victory. There is a time for a few, and there is a time for the many.
Seventh, leadership is critical. Gideon was chosen to lead, but he was willing to follow God’s leadership. His troops must have believed in him because 22,000 left when he said go, and another 9,700 left when he said go, and 300 followed him in spite of great odds and danger.
Eighth, and most importantly, we must call on the Higher Power in our struggle against oppression. Gideon was open to that Higher Power and followed directions to a tee. His works were multiplied so he and his followers could overcome great odds to free his people.
EPILOGUE – There is power in everyday things when we combine them in creative and unifying ways. Gideon used the trumpets, empty pitchers, lamps and human shouts. Civil rights leaders used marches, songs and prayers. Each wrought a great victory. When we face great odds in trying to do good, we must call upon all our resources including the greatest resource.