Not What I Expected It To Say

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m reading through the Bible in 2008 along with my wife and two older kids. A few days ago the assigned reading included Judges 7 which is in the middle of the story about Gideon. It’s there that I came across one of those sentences in the Bible that if you are paying attention, really catch you off guard because they don’t say what you expect them to say.

Judges 7:2 The LORD said to Gideon, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me.'”

What you expect the author to write is something like this…

The LORD said to Gideon, “You have too FEW men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands because the Midianite army has too much fire power.”

But he doesn’t say that. Instead God says that he can’t defeat Midian because Israel has too many man. Too many men to fight a battle? Huh? When we go into a battle we instinctively believe in the Powell Doctrine of overwhelming force. According to our way of thinking, it’s impossible to have too many resources when you face serious challenges.

But God’s ways are different than our ways so he whittles Gideon’s army down to a mere 300 men before he is ready to give the Midianites into their hands. Why? Fortunately, God has made his reasoning very clear. If their army was large, they would think that they had saved themselves. They would have praised their own valor or equipment or skill. But if their army was small, the result would be that they would praise God alone for the victory.

Notice that regardless of the size of the army their victory would have been from God. The battle always belongs to the Lord. The point of winning with an incredibly small army was so that Gideon and Israel would know for certain that God had won it and in turn exalt God and not themselves.

This isn’t the only time that God used the “foolish things in this world to shame the wise” (1 Corinthians 1:27). Build an ark in the desert. Go through the Red Sea instead of around it. Speak to a rock when you need water. March around a walled city and blow trumpets when you want to defeat Jericho. Send a boy with a slingshot to face the Philistine giant. Pour water on the wood at Mount Carmel before you ask for fire to fall from heaven. Tell twelve men to feed over five thousand people with only five loaves and two fish.

There are many ways to apply this to our lives. Here are a few ideas to get you thinking.

1. If God has given you a burden for a ministry, don’t give up just because the odds are stacked against you. Remember that God can save by many or by few (1 Samuel 14:6).

2. Be careful to not boast in yourself or what you have done. Whether God provides for you through normal means (a large army) or unusual means (a small army), every victory, every good thing in your life comes from God.

3. Of course God doesn’t always give us the victory that we hope and pray for. In his sovereign wisdom, he sometimes withholds physical health, financial stability, or emotional healing. But even then God is at work. Perhaps he will use your weakness to bring great glory to his name.

4. Finally, read your Bible carefully because it doesn’t always say what you expect it to say.

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