The moment has come. It’s time for Gideon and his 300 warriors to attack the encampment of 135,000 Midianites and their allies. It’s shortly after midnight, after the changing of the guard, and all is quiet in the Valley of Jezreel except for the lazy shuffling of camels and horses, and a few barking dogs.
Gideon has spread his little army out across the hillside until they are surrounding the entire camp, with instructions to do exactly as he does. In the left hand of each warrior is a burning torch inside a clay jar; in his right hand is a ram’s horn. The torch inside the jar gives enough light to see where they are going without being detected by those guarding the camp.
One of the most fundamental principles of war is the element of surprise, and Gideon’s army is about to set in motion one of the most classic and devastating examples of this principle in the history of warfare. I would be shocked if this battle plan was not a standard part of West Point curriculum.
Suddenly, the stillness of the night is pierced by the lonely wail of a ram’s horn, followed by another, and another, and another; and out of utter darkness, 300 torches appear as the men break their jars, hold up their torches and shout, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!”
In the camp is mass confusion and bedlam as soldiers awake from their sleep to discover they are completely surrounded by what they take to be a massive army descending upon them from every side. Thinking that the enemy is already upon them, they grab their swords in the darkness and start fighting for their lives … against each other! In no time, 120,000 of them lie dead, and the remaining 15,000 flee — a manageable adversary over the following days as Gideon calls up troops from the surrounding tribes and pursues them until they are all captured and the commanders and two kings have been killed. A complete and decisive victory.
Years later, in another age and time, an apostle of the new Christian church writes to the church in Corinth, Greece, “For God, who said, ‘Let there be light in the darkness,’ has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.” (2 Corinthians 4:6-7)
Is Paul thinking of Gideon as he writes this? It doesn’t matter, because God is, just as God has arranged so much of history to teach us His truth. Certainly the following verses Paul writes about how we are afflicted, perplexed, persecuted and struck down would manifest the smashing of these clay jars of ours so that the light inside us can be seen with greater clarity — that our fragility and weakness, just as with Gideon, actually releases God’s power in our lives.
The sword of the Lord is much more effective than anything we or Gideon’s 300 men could ever strap around our waists. And, as with Gideon’s 300 men, God accomplishes victory without anything from us but our courage, and our attentiveness to Him and what He is doing and wants us to do in the world.
Welcome to Gideon’s army where we fight with nothing but torches, horns and shouts —where our light is Christ inside these fragile, broken bodies, our horns blow a new song of hope and deliverance, drawing people to Christ instead of away from Him, and our shouts are the shouts of worship. “A sword for the Lord and for you (and me)!”