JUDGES 1:1-22

JANUARY 19, 2012





            Sad to say, I only vividly remember two books I read for courses in college.  Of course, it was a long time ago, so maybe it’s understandable only to remember two, but the two I remember reading, because they impressed me so much was first, The Autobiography of Malcolm X.  You may have read it as well.  Little did I know at the time would I move to Omaha where his life began.

            The other book was one I doubt you read, or maybe even heard of.  It was for a political science course on the Supreme Court, and the book was titled Gideon’s Trumpet.  Written in 1964 by Anthony Lewis, the book chronicles Clarence Earl Gideon’s fight for the right to legal counsel.  Clarence Earl Gideon  was a poor drifter accused in a Florida state court of felony theft.  Being poor Gideon represented himself, since he could not afford an attorney and he was convicted, sent to prison.  While in prison he began studying the American legal system and after studying he was convinced that his constitutional rights to due process under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution had been violated.  He wrote the FBI asking for help.  They ignored his letter.  He wrote the Florida Supreme Court and they ignored his letter.  Then in January of 1962, he mailed a five-page petition handwritten in pencil to the Supreme Court of the United States asking the nine justices to consider his complaint.  Again, all without legal counsel or help.  The Supreme Court, in reply, agreed to hear his appeal which resulted in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Gideon v Wainwright holding that a criminal defendant who cannot afford to hire a lawyer must be provided with a lawyer at no cost.

            This led to a second trial, this time with legal representation.  His lawyer pointed out the weaknesses in the prosecutions case against him, and Clarence Gideon was acquitted of the crime.   Robert F. Kennedy remarked about the case,


            If an obscure Florida convict named Clarence Earl Gideon had not sat down in prison with a pencil and paper to write a letter to the Supreme Court; and if the Supreme Court had not taken the trouble to look at the merits in that one crude petition among all the bundles of mail it must receive every day, the vast machinery of American law would have gone on functioning undisturbed. But Gideon did write that letter; the court did look into his case; he was re-tried with the help of competent defense counsel; found not guilty and released from prison after two years of punishment for a crime he did not commit. And the whole course of legal history has been changed.


            Anthony Lewis titled his book Gideon’s Trumpet.  Why?  Because Anthony Lewis went back to another Gideon, the Gideon we have been looking at these past two Sundays, and in the biblical Gideon, he saw another overwhelming underdog who overcame unbelievable odds and changed history.  Let’s turn to that story about Gideon’s trumpet now.

            What I want to do is divide this seventh chapter into three parts and draw two conclusions from it.  Part one covers verses one through eight, and let’s call this part of the chapter The Preparation.  The eighth harvest was rolling around and the Midianites with their fierce and scary camels, were ready to attack once more.  Two Sundays ago we talked about how the Midianites cruised into town each harvest season and took whatever they pleased.  So, God chose Gideon, our unlikely liberator, the Barney Fife of Judges, to deliver the Israelites from Midianite oppression.  After a spectacular barbecue and a couple of fleeces, Gideon is good to go, and what we are about to witness may be the greatest upset in military history.  If Marion high school fielded a football team, and challenged the Nebraska Cornhuskers, and beat them 56-0, we would come close to the approximation of Gideon’s victory. 

            Now, note what God asks Gideon to do.  Verse 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 from me, saying, ‘My own hand has delivered me.‘   Now, therefore proclaim this in the hearing of the troops, ‘Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home.’”  (We would expect Gideon to head home at this point, but surprisingly he doesn’t.)  Thus Gideon sifted them out; twenty-two thousand returned and ten thousand remained. 


            Picture the scene. 135,000 Midianites are camped outside the city limits.  In response, Gideon has gathered 32,000 men.  He’s outnumbered 4-1, and God tells Gideon he has too many men.  God says, “We need to draw down the troops.  I don’t want any of you to think you pulled off this victory without me.”  Gideon does as told and now he’s outnumbered 13-1.

            God, however, was not finished yet.  God still thought the Israelites might go boasting about pulling this off, so God issued another directive.  It’s in verse four.


            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 her 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.  The number of those that lapped was three hundred; but all the rest of the troops knelt down to drink water.  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 home.” 


            In other words, those with the best manners, were sent home.  Those who drank like animals, were to stay.  After that downsizing, Gideon’s forces were outnumbered 450-1. 

            That ends part one, The Preparation.  God is ready to go.  Gideon, however, is not and that leads us to the second part of the passage which we’ll call The Confirmation.  This covers verses nine through fourteen, and we’ll begin with verse nine.


            That night the Lord said to him, “Get up, attack the camp; for I have given it into your hand.  But if you fear to attack, go down to the camp with your servant, Purah.”


            Given what we know thus far of Gideon what will he do?  Attack right away or take a little scouting trip with Purah?  How many vote for attack right away?  How many for taking a little scouting trip? 

            Well, there are two types of miracles.  One is a “natural” miracle where the course of nature is altered and the second is “circumstantial” where certain events happen at just the right time and Gideon gets one of circumstantial ones to add to the three natural ones he’s already had.

            Right when he and Purah reach the Midianite camp, they hear two Midianite soldiers talking.  One soldier wakes up from a bad dream, wakes up his buddy and says,  verse thirteen ...


            I had a dream, and in it a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian, and came to tent, and struck it so that it fell; it turned upside down and collapsed.”  And his comrade answered, “This is no other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, a man of Israel; into his hand God has given Midian all the army.


            By the way barley was a food of very poor people.  It was a fitting symbol for Israel at the time.  For seven years in a row Midian had seized Israeli wheat and had turned the Israelites into eaters of barley.  The tent was the symbol of the nomadic Midianites.

            With that the two Midianites went back to sleep and Gideon and Purah scurried back to camp, convinced of God’s presence and that brings us to part three, verses fifteen through twenty-two, The Battle.  Verse fifteen.


            When Gideon hear the telling of the dream and its interpretation, he worshiped; and he returned to the camp of Israel, and said, “Get up; for the Lord has given the army of Midian into your hand.”  After he divided the three hundred men into three companies, and put trumpets into the hands of all of them, and empty jars, with torches inside the jars, he said to them, “Look at me, and do the same; when I come to the outskirts of the camp, do as I do.  When I blow the trumpet, you also blow the trumpets, and shout, ‘For the Lord and for Gideon!’”


            Let me fill in the rest of the story.  When the Midianites were awakened they were surrounded on three sides by lights and torches and the sounds of trumpets, and in all the confusion the camels stampeded, and in all the chaos, the Midianites panicked and began to slaughter one another.  God and Gideon and the Israelites prevailed.  The Midianties bothered them no more.

            These are the three parts of the story.  Now for the two conclusions.  Conclusion number one:  God gives us the victory but it’s important that God gets the glory. 

            If Gideon had gone out and defeated the Midianites with that 32,000 man army, they would have been tempted to have thought that they did it.  They would have been like the Georgia woodpecker who was pecking away on a big thick Georgia pine, and while he was pecking on it a lightning bolt burst out of the blue, hit that gigantic pine tree and split it half in two. Well, the woodpecker flew off and a few minutes later he was seen flying back with ten other woodpeckers behind him saying, "There it is gentlemen, right over there."

            There is a great lesson that we need to learn about our great God recited in Isaiah 42:8, "I am the Lord, that is my name; and my glory I will not give to another."  God will give us the victory as long as we are willing to give God the glory.

            The other lesson to be learned from this passage goes like this:  Courage is tough to muster, but it cuts the mustard.

            It was tough for Gideon.  It’s tough for us.  And remember, courage is not the absence of fear ... after all we can hear Gideon’s knees knocking across three thousand years of history ... no, it’s not the absence of fear, it is the presence of God that makes all the difference. 

            Did you know that three times Abraham Lincoln picked up his pen to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, a document he authored and a document in which he believed, yet he didn’t sign it because he knew the ill will that would be directed his way as a result of the signing?  On the fourth time, however, on January 1, 1863 he finally stopped his hand from shaking enough to sign the document.  According to Civil War historian James M. McPherson, Lincoln told Cabinet members that he had made a covenant with God that he would issue the Emancipation Proclamation, and he was going to honor that covenant.[1]  With knees knocking, and with his God infusing him with courage, he signed the Emancipation Proclamation. 

            The devil is the sinister minister of fear.  Jesus Christ is the potent pastor of courage.  The Apostle Paul reminds us of that.  He wrote to his friend Timothy, "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind." (II Tim. 1:7).  More often than not we may feel like the Cowardly Lion who went to Oz to ask for courage.  We don’t need to go to Oz.  We need to go to Jesus.  That’s where we find it. That’s where we find the courage to face the pile of laundry one more day.  That’s where we find to courage to say, “I’m sorry.”  That’s where we find courage to stand up for what we believe.  It’s in Jesus, Jesus. 

            Courage is tough to muster, but it cuts the mustard.  Amen.





[1] McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom, (1988), p557.