A Tumbling Loaf of Barley Bread

If you were at the bottom of a big hill, would you be afraid of a little loaf of barley bread tumbling down the hillside towards you? Perhaps you would not be. However, in the passage we look at this time there was a tumbling loaf of barley bread which struck fear in the hearts of two men. We might in amazement ask, “who would ever be afraid of a loaf of bread?” To us it might seem almost ridiculous. Nevertheless, it was an important part of the next step in Gideon’s march to the battlefield as the valiant servant of Jehovah (Judges 7:9-14).

Remember that Gideon’s army had just been sifted from a small army to virtually no army. Only 300 men stood around him on the eve of the battle. That was a difficult situation.

How would we have stood there spiritually while facing an innumerable multitude of enemies with only 300 men? Before the impossible situation, our knees would knock. We would break out in a cold sweat. Our hearts would faint. We would have gone home.

Though Gideon may have had thoughts of turning back, the LORD from heaven commanded Gideon, “Arise, get thee down unto the host!” (Judges 7:9a). Gideon must march to the battlefield and fight. The battle must be fought through faith worked by God’s sovereign grace.

There was no turning back.

Gideon not only may not turn back, but he also could not turn back. The LORD added to His command the reason why Gideon could only go to the battlefield. The LORD stated the reason when He said, “for I have delivered it into thine hand” (Judges 7:9b). The deliverance of Gideon and Israel was certain.

However, the faith of the child of God is not always so persuaded of those certain promises of God. Often we stand before mighty spiritual enemies in weakness. In the face of the enemies, the LORD speaks to us His promises: for example, that “they that put their trust in the LORD shall be as Mount Zion which cannot be removed, but abideth forever” (Psalm 125:1). Yet, is it not true that our faith is weak and not persuaded of the certain and unchanging truth of those promises? We doubt and fear. We waver and hesitate. We become fainthearted and despair. If left to ourselves, we would certainly be drowned by an engulfing tide of disquietness in our souls.

This was Gideon’s condition on the eve of the big battle. He was spiritually very nervous. He faced a battle whose outcome seemingly would be won by the Midianites. Yet, the LORD said that He would deliver the Midianites into Gideon’s hand. Would Gideon walk by faith in that sure promise or would he live by what he saw with his eyes on the battlefield. Would he believe the promises or trust his eyes which counted an innumerable multitude of Midianites against just 301 Israelites?

Gideon’s faith was put to a severe test.

Only by the grace of God did Gideon not stumble and fall in unbelief. We see in this trial of Gideon’s faith that the LORD is mindful of His people’s weakness and frailty. That was true with Gideon. This is true of us, is it not? We sing of that in Psalter 281: “Mindful of our human frailty, is the God in whom we trust….”

The LORD in mercy knew the weakness of Gideon’s faith, and He in mercy led Gideon to a sure faith. The LORD did that because not in a wavering faith, but in a sure faith must Gideon go to the battlefield. To that end, the LORD commanded Gideon to go down to the host. In fact, when the LORD commanded Gideon, the LORD was already preparing what Gideon would need to bolster his faith.

Surely, Gideon needed the strengthening of his faith. He needed assurance. He needed to be persuaded with a sure conviction of the outcome of the battle. Do we not often need such strengthening? We need that encouragement daily. For Gideon, the LORD in mercy provided exactly that which by His Spirit would work in Gideon’s heart a sure spiritual confidence and trust in the LORD.

We read in the passage that the LORD said to Gideon, “But if thou fear to go down, go thou with Phurah thy servant down to the host: and thou shaft hear what they say: and afterward shall thine hands be strengthened to go down unto the host.” (Judges 7:10-1la)

Then we read that Gideon did go down to the host that night. By doing so, Gideon had humbled himself to confess his own need for strengthening. He desired that the LORD would help his unbelief, and he earnestly sought the assurance that the LORD had provided.

We learn in this passage that the LORD provided this assurance in a very unique way. Out of the mouth of His own enemies, the LORD would strengthen the heart of His servant, Gideon.

In the dark night, Gideon and his servant, Phurah, move quietly and carefully from bush to bush, behind this tree and the next tree, down the hillside together toward the outer part of the camp of the Midianites. Very cautiously, they crawled closer and closer until they were right next to a tent with two Midianite soldiers inside.

There at the first tent which they found, Gideon heard the soldiers inside talking together. Gideon overheard the one soldier tell a dream. Apparently, the soldier had awakened suddenly after a bad dream. Then when Gideon had come near the tent, the solider was rehearsing his dream in the ears of his buddy. The timing of Gideon’s approach to the tent and the telling of the dream was no accident. The LORD sovereignly governed all those things perfectly. The LORD did this in sovereign mercy for Gideon’s sake.

What was the dream that the Midianite soldier had? We are told in Scripture: “Lo, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the host of the Midianite, and came unto a tent, and smote it that it fell, and overturned it, that the tent lay along.”

A loaf of barley bread squashing a tent? What could that mean?

The buddy of the Midianite soldier knew exactly what it meant. He gave the interpretation right then and there. He said, “this is nothing else save the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel: for into his hand hath God delivered Midian, and all the host.”

That’s what it meant. The loaf of barley bread represented Gideon. Barley bread was the poor man’s bread. That pictured the fact that Israel and Gideon were poor, despised, and oppressed. Gideon himself was not mighty and noble, but weak and despised. In addition to the meaning of the bread, the tent referred to not just any tent, but the central tent in the heart of the host. The tent in the dream was the captain’s tent. The loaf of barley bread had violently destroyed the tent of the Midianites’ captain. This meant undoubtedly that the lowly Gideon, as one man against a thousand, would rout the Midianites by a violent and sudden destruction.

This dream and the interpretation were exactly what Gideon needed. Having heard the dream and the interpretation, Gideon on the spot near the tent worshiped the LORD in humble thanksgiving. Then he got up and in quiet confidence returned to his little band.

How did the dream do that? What was so significant about the dream and its interpretation that made Gideon so sure and confident of victory? First, the dream and the interpretation showed Gideon that the terror of the LORD and his servant, Gideon, had gripped the hearts of all the Midianites. It was common knowledge. The men in the tent talked as though everyone knew about Gideon. It was evident that the Midianites were not ignorant of Gideon’s approach to make war. They had heard the news that the trumpet blast had been sounded in Israel to gather an army against the Midianites. As they awaited the impending attack of Gideon and his army, the thought of Gideon loomed larger and larger in their minds. Of course, that terror was not because of Gideon himself. That growing terror in the hearts of the Midianites was the work of the Spirit of the LORD. He sovereignly worked terror in their hearts unto their destruction.

The news that the Midianites were terrified of Gideon was great encouragement to Gideon. In war strategy, often that is what generals try to do. They try to strike terror in the hearts of the enemy. When the enemy loses the battle in its collective heart against its own fears, they are also sure to lose against the real enemy in the real battle. Likewise, in this battle against the Midianites, the LORD as the Captain of that little band of 300 men struck terror in the hearts of the Midianites. Their terror was a terror of Jehovah, Who stood on Gideon’s and Israel’s side for Christ’s sake. Before Him, the proud wicked know they cannot stand.

As a result, Gideon was also convinced of the truth that Jehovah was with him. It was obvious to him that he himself could not strike terror in the hearts of his enemies. Only Jehovah could take an unknown Gideon, and make him a terror to the enemy. Thus, through the mouth of the Midianites, Gideon was convinced Jehovah was on his side. In that knowledge, Gideon returned to his host with confidence. By faith he saw not 301 Israelites against innumerable Midianites, but by faith he saw Jehovah in His glory against the heathen horde. Indeed, from that viewpoint of faith, Gideon went to battle in victory in peaceful assurance of Who the Victorious One always is.

Secondly, the dream and the interpretation also convinced Gideon in his soul of the promise of God in another way. More positively, what the Midianite said was very important to Gideon. The Midianite repeated exactly what Jehovah had said to Gideon: “Into his hand hath God delivered Midian, and all the host.” Notice, that he said, “delivered.” The Midianite as Jehovah spoke as though the battle was over and finished. The Midianites in their own minds were defeated long before even one sword was unsheathed.

By that, Gideon was assured that he would receive the victory in the battle. The victory was not up for grabs to the strongest army. The victory was decided already. Jehovah had decided that already in His counsel, and according to His promises to be fulfilled in the coming Messiah. By faith in the sure promises of Jehovah, Gideon must go to bring the defeat of the Midianites.

Gideon learned also that he would not go to the battlefield to establish the victory. The victory was already established. What a great comfort that was to him! The battle was won. In the comfort of that sure promise, Gideon could make his preparations for battle knowing that God by His grace alone had established the outcome. The salvation of God’s people did not depend upon him at all. Jehovah would use that tumbling loaf of barley bread to squash His enemies to destruction to show that He is God Alone Who saves and defends His people.

In that sure knowledge, Gideon returned and commanded his little band of faithful men go forward to the battlefield. He said, “arise; for the LORD hath delivered into your hand the host of Midian.”

Now Gideon was fully ready to fight the good fight of faith. In the full persuasion of his faith and trust in God, he went forward to fight the foe.

Are we ready to face and to fight the enemies in that same conviction? Do we have the same sure and unswerving trust in the promises of His Word?

The LORD teaches us that the enemy is also delivered into our hands. We might wonder how can that be true when the battles have not been fought yet. However, the LORD reminds us that in the atoning blood poured out on Calvary and in the glorious resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, we have the victory over all our enemies. That means that when God speaks His promises unto us, He does so on the basis of the perfect and complete work and person of our Lord Jesus Christ. In Him, the promises of God are fulfilled and sure.

Being persuaded of that by the grace of God, we may go forward to fight the battle in a faith that calmly rests in that truth. That truth also teaches us that when we fight, we fight not for, but in the victory of the Captain of our salvation once and certainly accomplished by Him for us. That victory He works in and through us by His Spirit of sovereign grace whereby we are faithfully and irresistibly called unto fighting the good fight of faith. In that victory of our Lord Jesus Christ, we shall tread our enemies under foot, even our very own sin and unbelief.

Are you attacked by temptations of your sinful nature or of the world? Do you struggle against sin and the choking worldliness around us? Do you battle with the mighty enemies of guilt, doubt, despair, or grief?

God commands us not to turn back from the battlefield. Rather, He calls us unto the battle that the glory of His Banner might be displayed.

So, the LORD commands us: “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses” (I Timothy 6:12). ❖