Gideon heads into battle with the Midianites with 32,000 soldiers. God says to him, "You have too many, scale it down." The numbers are whittled down to 300. What makes these 300 so unique? And what do they have to teach us about being a citizen of a city on a hill?
Greensburg Church of the Nazarene
** not a word for word transcript, but the sermon manuscript**
A long time ago, in a land far far away, there was group of warriors called the Spartans. To make a long story grossly short, their homeland was being threatened by the Persian army. Legend has it that three hundred Spartans marched out to hold them off, allowing other soldiers to return to defend their homes. Despite having superior numbers, the Persians could not get passed the Spartans. Wave after wave they sent, only to suffer heavy losses. It was not until the third day of battle that a passage was discovered leading behind the Spartans. Every Spartan died, each one fighting until their final breath. One can only hear their story and think, if they only had more men.
This story of the 300 is celebrated in history. Did you know the Bible has its own story about 300 hundred soldiers? It is centered around Gideon, a man who was hiding in cellar one day and called to lead God’s people into battle the next. But this story of the 300 is much different.
2 The Lord said to Gideon, “The troops with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand. Israel would only take the credit away form me, saying, ‘My own had has delivered me.’ 3 Now therefore proclaim this in the hearing of the troops, ‘Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home.’” Thus Gideon sifted them out, twenty-two thousand returned, and ten thousand remained. 4 Then the Lord said to Gideon, “The troops are still too many; take them down to the water and I will sift them out for you there. When I say, “‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go with you; and when I say, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.” So Gideon brought the troops down to the water; and the Lord said to Gideon, “All those who lap the water with their tongues; as a dog laps, you shall put to one side; all those who kneel down to drink; putting their hands to their mouths, you shall put to the other side.” 6 The number of those that lapped was three hundred; but all the rest of the troops knelt down to drink water. 7 Then the Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred that lapped I will deliver you, and give the Midianites into your hand. Let all the others go to their homes.” 8 So Gideon took the jars of the troops from their hands, and their trumpets; and he sent all the rest of Israel back to their own tents, but retained the three hundred. The camp of Midian was below him in the valley. (NRSV)
This is the Word of God, for the people of God, thanks be to God.
As our church celebrates thirty-six years of ministry, this passage reveals to us something about what it means to be a citizen of a city on a hill. To be clear, Gideon’s three hundred will win the battle that follows, just as we are assured of victory through Jesus. But what this teaches us is how to live in that assurance.
IN THE TEXT: Whittled down
***[v2] THE ARMY ***
As Gideon looked down into the valley where the Midianites are camped, he had to feel rather good about things. Though the enemy army was vast, God had already told Gideon the Israelites would win. This assurance gave Gideon confidence. How else would you explain a man hiding in a basement suddenly having the boldness to lead an army? His army consisted of 32,000 soldiers, that is a formidable force.
However, Israel’s strength was not based on the size of their army. It was not in the ability of Gideon as a leader, nor was it determined by the skills of their soldiers. God was the strength of His people. To prove this point, God told Gideon, “You have too many people, we are going to scale back.”
***[v3] THE FRIGHTENED***
At the Lord’s command, Gideon gives each soldier a choice. He tells them if they are too afraid, then they are free to go home. The Israelites had been oppressed and beaten down by the Midianites, and this was a chance to break free. But if these soldiers were too afraid, then they were free to leave.
Gideon’s army of 32,000 shrinks down to 10,000 because of this offer. 22,000 soldiers were too afraid to risk their lives in defense of their families and homes. They simply go home, leaving Gideon with one-third of the army remaining. And God still says to Gideon, “You have too many people, we are going to scale back.”
***[v4-8] THE THIRSTY***
Next God has Gideon lead the army down to the water. God points out two groups that form as the soldiers take a drink. There are those who get down on their knees and scoop up the water with their hands, and then those who scoop up water with their hand and then lap it like a dog. It is the second group, only three hundred, that God chooses for the battlefield.
Why? The first group is so thirsty that at the sight of water they forget where they are at. They drop to the ground to make it easier to take in as much water to quench their own thirst. However, they were within in sight of the enemy! And this position left them vulnerable. The other group, attended to their thirst while remembering this fact! Their own needs did not distract them from the purpose before them.
FROM THE TEXT: Fixated on
What does this have to with the mission of our church? How does this teach to be citizens of a city on a hill? It teaches that not only do we need to be brave, but we are to be intentional in how we live out our faith. There are three ways we do this.
First, we must live intentionally, having faith greater than our fear. How many times has God come through in our lives? In the lives of our loved ones? Can you show me any promise in the Bible that God has failed to keep? Or where He abandoned His people? If that is true, then what do we have to fear? Our hope is God Almighty, the Lion of Judah, and Lord of Heaven’s Armies. Gideon obeyed God because of his faith in God, so should we.
Second, we must live intentionally, knowing there is an enemy. The Bible tells us to put on the full of armor of God. Why? Because there is a war going on. You and I need to live like it. Even though we have been set free from its chains, evil is still out there. The 300 knew there was an enemy who wanted to destroy their homes and families, and with God as their strength they fixated on keeping them at bay. Our friends and family members are ensnared by addictions, broken habits, and lies of the enemy. We have the message of the gospel that can set them free, our obsession is getting their ears to hear it.
Third, we must live intentionally, not allowing our needs to distract from the battle. There is an old song from my kids’ camp/VBS days that says, “Every move I make, I make in you.” The song is proclaiming that no movement is wasted, but focused on Jesus and the mission He has given us. This is why the 300 were intentional about the way they drank water. They were thirsty, but that did not distract them from their purpose. Everything we do as a fellowship must be done with the intentional pursuit of the mission God has given us, being a light to the community of Greensburg.
BEYOND THE TEXT: Assured victory
How was Gideon and the 300 able to do this? God had already assured them of the victory. He had already told them no matter what happened on that battlefield, at the end of the day the Israelites would be victorious. Gideon and the 300 had faith in God’s promise, knowing the struggle was momentary on their path to victory. Then they lived intentional based on their faith in God’s assurance.
In the same way, God has already assured us victory. Paul wrote in Romans 10:9, “If you confess with you mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” The apostle does not write “maybe you will be saved” or “you could be saved.” He writes “you will be saved.” We have the assurance of salvation through Jesus Christ based on our confessions of faith. Our baptisms testify to the world our assurance. Now our lives should be lived intentionally based on this promise! Every move we make is in pursuit of God’s purpose for us, knowing that the promise is more than worth the threats that surround us.
CALL TO RESPONSE:
Do you confess Jesus is Lord? To be true in this confession we cannot be like the 22,000 soldiers who went home afraid. You and I may have less courage than the cowardly lion from the Wizard of Oz, but God can give us His Spirit which is always bold and courageous! To be true in this confession is not to neglect our own needs, but to not let those needs distract from the battle. God can empower us to live intentionally in all things.
Season 1 Episode 31. "Puff the Magic Christian." The text for the message is Colossians 2:8-23. The question we are trying to answer is "How do I be a good Christian?"