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Too Many!

This article was inadvertently missed for the September issue and belongs before the article which appeared in September. We apologize for the confusion.

That was the problem with Gideon’s army. Gideon did not see the numbers he had as a problem. Obviously, the men did not see the problem either. Though Gideon and his men did not think it a problem, the LORD did. In Judges 7:2a we read that “the LORD said unto Gideon, “The people that are with thee are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands….”

Gideon’s army was too large. Not according to man’s standards, but according the LORD’S standard this was a big problem. There were simply too many!

What?! Too many?! We would have objected to the LORD’S evaluation. We would size up the situation much differently. On the one hand, Gideon’s army numbered 32.000 men. On the other hand, the Midianites had a huge host which “lay along in the valley like grasshoppers for multitude; and their camels without number, as the sand by the sea side for multitude” (Judges 7:12). Even if the army of the Midianites numbered as little as 200,000 men, still that was huge in comparison to Gideon’s army. The Midianites would have greatly outnumbered the Israelites. In other words, 6 well fed and confident Midianites would have easily defeated 1 oppressed and miserable Israelite. We would cry out, “Much too few! Not enough!”

Having too many is not regarded often as a problem today in the church world at large. Often the church has too many because churches aim at regular numerical growth like investments in a stock fund. They aim for at least a 10% increase in numerical growth every year.

However, in order to buy that kind of numerical success, too many sell the truth. Differences are softened. Doctrine is compromised. Doctrinal differences are dismissed simply as only mere misunderstandings of stubborn theologians of the past. Unions are made on the basis of the idea that the more numbers we have, the greater power we will have against the real enemies out there on the battlefield. But, too often off to the side has fallen bloodied, battered, and trampled, the sorry victim of the truth. Too many times that has happened.

This evaluation is often hard sometimes for the believer to understand. Too many is bad? Few is best? Why are the laborers in the harvest always few? Why is not the enrollment to overflowing at our Seminary? Why do our Covenant schools lack teachers so that our school boards sometimes must resort to unsavory emergency plans “B” and sometimes “C” to get instruction for the children?

Too many? Who would ever think of that? We would cry out, “Never enough!” The LORD teaches us that the laborers are always few, the church in the world always is a remnant, and the faithful church militant a small, feeble band.

Why was Gideon’s band too large even though it was already puny? Some may have joined for the wrong reasons. Some may have joined because of “peer pressure.” They did not want to look bad sitting at home while the rest of the men in the town went to war. So, to save face, they went along with their neighbor men, but their heart was really not consumed with zeal for fighting under the LORD’S banner.

Others failed at first to count the cost of what this battle would require for them personally and spiritually. They were filled with tremendous enthusiasm at first, but at the sight of the vast multitude of Midianites, their flame of enthusiasm sputtered and was soon extinguished in a puff of smoke.

Some may not have had the proper skills and stamina for the approaching battle. As the later history shows, stamina was exactly what was needed. The men would need great physical and spiritual stamina in this battle against the innumerable horde.

Though there were such problems among the army, yet the LORD declares the reason. If Gideon would have gone with even the army he had, Israel would yet have been tempted to boast in themselves. The LORD points that out to Gideon when He said,

“The people are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against Me, saying, “Mine own hand hath saved Me. ’’(Judges 7:2)

The LORD will show by a wonder that His Hand alone saves.

The LORD reminds Gideon that Israel by nature were boasters. They were proud and stiff-necked. Not only they, but we, too! We are prone to boast about ourselves. We are prone to overemphasize the abilities of men whom God gave to the church. We are prone to boast in ourselves as if we saved ourselves by our genius or skill. We are not immune to such sinful thoughts. As young people, we must be very careful how we remember 75 years of the LORD’S goodness to our churches. If we boast in men, the LORD declares to us: “There are too many men in your thoughts!”

Such is also true personally. We are prone to boast in ourselves as though we have attained to our measure of godliness and holiness through our efforts. The LORD thunders unto us: “There is too much man in your thoughts!”

You understand, that even when we give ourselves just a little speck of credit, then there is too much man in our thoughts. When there is too much man in our thoughts, there is no room for the LORD!

Only the LORD must be in all our thoughts because only His hand saves! Only the LORD brings us peace and prosperity by the wonder of grace in Jesus Christ.

To reveal that glorious truth through Gideon and his army, the size of Gideon’s army must be the right size. This history must show that our redemption is only by the Hand of the LORD. He alone saves His people. Only He saves us who are lost and dead in sin by nature. Only He saves us unto the life of faith and repentance. Even that life, The LORD alone works. He works our faith and obedience to fight the good fight of faith.

That truth which the LORD will show in type and shadow in this history, was revealed perfectly in our Lord Jesus Christ. He perfectly reveals the sovereign and almighty Hand of the LORD. He went to the cross of Calvary and destroyed the evil horde of our enemies. He conquered the dominion of darkness. He as the Captain of our salvation also conquers our pride and boasting so that by faith we learn that the battle is the LORD’S, the victory is His, and we fight in that war only as chosen and sanctified instruments unto His glory, not ours.

That salvation by grace alone which God has wrought in Christ leaves absolutely no room for man to boast in himself. Before the cross of Christ, God makes crystal clear the truth that it is absolutely impossible for man to save himself. However, what is absolutely impossible for man God did. He has delivered us by the wonder of grace.

With a zeal to prevent spiritual Israel and us from missing that truth, the LORD took special measures to teach Israel that truth clearly in this history. By sifting Gideon’s band down to the right size, Gideon and his band would go to the battlefield perfectly displaying the banner of truth that the LORD alone saves us from our sin by the wonder of grace in Christ alone unto everlasting peace.

We learn in Judges 7:3-6 that the LORD reduced the size of Gideon’s army in two steps. In the first step, Gideon was reminded to announce what Moses commanded in Deuteronomy 20:8.

And the officers shall speak further unto the people, and they shall say, “What man is there that is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return unto his house, lest his brethren’s heart faint as well as his heart.

Gideon may have assumed that since there were so few, it was not possible that any would be fearful or fainthearted. On that assumption, he may have judged Deuteronomy 20:8 as unnecessary.

However, great must have been Gideon’s surprise as he watched 22,000 men step out of the ranks and go home. Over half his army was gone! Only 12,000 remaining.

Surely, Gideon thought that this was quite enough sifting! We also would heartily agree that the LORD had sufficiently made His point, and very clearly we would now know that deliverance is by the LORD’ s hand alone.

But, the Righteous LORD knows our sinful nature much better than we. No occasion will the LORD give to sinful nature to boast. The LORD is jealous for His Name and glory. Therefore, Gideon’s band still had much too many! (Judges 7:4)

Under the LORD’S direction, Gideon brought the remaining men to a brook near the battlefield and signaled to them to refresh themselves at the brook. Gideon watched the men as they one by one refreshed themselves. Gideon was commanded to watch for those men who only scooped some water with one hand out of the brook and lapped the water out of that hand as a dog laps up water. These were set aside in one group. All the others who bent down on both knees or laid on their stomachs to drink the water, or even perhaps dunked their heads under water, these were set aside in another group.

After this test was finished, the army was divided into two groups: a large group of 11,700 men and a very small group of only 300. The 300 had lapped water out of their hand as a dog laps up water. Gideon had to answer: “Do I fight with 11,700 or 300?” Which group would you have picked?

For the glory of His Name, the LORD had chosen the 300.

The 300 showed they were by the grace of the LORD ready for battle. With an eye on the battlefield, their right hand on their sword, and their left hand only to scoop up a little water, these men had passed the test. They had their eye of faith on the Banner, their hand of faith on the sword of the LORD, and their heart consumed with zeal for the glory of the Name of the LORD of hosts. They were ready for battle of faith.

The LORD sent Gideon and 300 men to fight the Midianites. Indeed, the LORD would fulfill His earlier word to Gideon that he would “smite the Midianites as one man” (Judges 6:16). That was virtually the situation. The LORD had not exaggerated at all.

By this history, the LORD reminds us very clearly that His Hand alone saves us by the wonder of His sovereign and particular grace in Christ alone.

Then unto Him alone, let us give praise, honor, and glory.

Never will they be “too many!” ♦♦♦