When Gideon had to downsize his army of 32,000 men to 300, God gave him a criteria to use. This was an important battle. Not only was it Gideon’s first battle, but it would be a turning point for the Israelites whose freedom was stifled, as they were subjects to the Midianites for seven years. And ‘because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds’ (Judges 6:2). Besides being fugitives in their own land, ‘Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded their country. They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys’ (v4). God then appears to Gideon telling him that He would use him to save Israel out of the hands of their oppressors and invaders. But when Gideon mobilizes his army, God notes, ‘You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her’ (7:v2). Although God is always great, sometimes great isn’t God. And so, God finds ways to downsize Gideon’s army.
At first, God tells Gideon to announce to the army, ‘Whoever is fearful and afraid, may turn back and leave Mount Gilead’ (v3). After this directive, ‘Twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained’ (v3). Still, the Lord notices that the army is too large a number and tells Gideon, ‘There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will sift them out for you there’ (v4). God has been known to use water as a boundary setter and a separator to reveal a spiritual truth. He uses water to distinguish what is for Him and that which is not His. Some instances include the Flood in Noah’s time which separated the wicked men doomed for destruction from Noah’s righteous family, and the parting of the Red Sea which distinguished God’s people who travelled in safety from their oppressors who drowned. The use of water also symbolizes something that would later be revealed by God when He walked on earth as a man.
For Gideon’s army, God used water to distinguish men who were battle-ready. In this instance however, God used the men’s relation to water to qualify them. When Gideon took the men down to the water, the Lord tells him, ‘Separate those who lap the waters with their tongues like a dog from those who kneel down to drink’ (v5). After the men drank water in their own way, only 300 men lapped with their hands to their mouths. God then tells Gideon, ‘With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the other men go, each to his own place’ (v7). That night, Gideon and the chosen men went for battle and subdued their enemies. Interestingly, the battle was not won by spear or sword, but by Gideon’s army who ‘blew the trumpets and broke the jars that were in their hands’ (v19), and ‘when the three hundred trumpets were sounded, the Lord caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords’ (v22). Their enemies reduced their own numbers as they slew each other, and the remaining army that fled were pursued by the Israelites, until they were eliminated and the battle was won.
Unlike Gideon’s men pre-selected at the water point, the Messiah will first ‘crush kings on the day of his wrath . . . (and) judge nations, heaping up the dead and crushing the rulers of the whole earth’ (Psalm 110: 5-6), and after that, ‘He will drink from a brook in the way, therefore he will lift up the head’ (v7). In essence, Jesus is battle-ready and qualified for the battle against the forces of evil in the world. He does not need to be distinguished because as He says, ‘I am the Lord, there is no other; apart from me there is no God’ (Isaiah 45:5). So, God, ‘a warrior’ (Exodus 15:3), prepares men to serve in His army on His day of making war. Just like Gideon’s war, the war on the Day of the Lord is an important one. A war whereby those under the spell of ‘the god of this world’ (2 Corinthians 4:4) will be turned back, because they are not qualified to enjoy the spoils of victory and eternal life.
But before that Day of the Lord, God uses the same criteria He did to Gideon’s men in order to determine those qualified and ready to serve Him. However, the water is not a physical brook that men ought to drink from, but a spiritual one. Jesus explains that, ‘whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life’ (John 4:14). It is not physical water that Jesus talks about, rather, ‘By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive’ (7:v37-39). So, it is only those who have the Holy Spirit who can serve in Jesus’ army. Like Gideon’s men who went down on their knees and drank water from their hands became qualified, so those who submit to Christ and drink from His hand are qualified as His. The Spirit of Christ qualifies men because, ‘Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession- to the praise of his glory’ (Ephesians 1:13-14).
Gideon’s men who went to their knees and lapped water with their hands, and not directly with their tongues were qualified because God saw their hearts. God knew that they would be willing to take an unconventional instruction for battle. Instead of armoury, the men were simply to blow trumpets and break jars. In the same way, only those willing to humble themselves before Christ and drink from His hand only, are the ones who receive the Holy Spirit and made battle ready. In a world teeming with options and to the practical and logical human mind, salvation may seem constraining and illogical– very unconventional. In fact, ‘The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned’ (1 Corinthians 2:14). And like Gideon’s men, how Believers engage in warfare is different. Our jars of clay, our body (mind and will), have to be broken for Christ’s power to grant us victory, and our trumpets sound Jesus, the Word of Truth. While to the world this may seem as foolishness, it calls for one to ‘Endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ’ (2 Timothy 2:3). It also calls for a single-heartedness and a focus on Jesus, for ‘No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs- he wants to please his commanding officer’ (v4). In other words, we cannot be in the world and in Christ at the same time, because spiritual soldiers fully submit themselves to the Mission. We are constantly drinking from God’s hand for vigour in service, and eventual victory in all areas of our lives.
‘For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world and against the spiritual wickedness in high places’ ~ Ephesians 6:12