My favourite story from the Bible involves the troops of Gideon taking a drink of water from a nearby brook. I know it doesn’t seem much of a page-turner does it? The book of Judges recounts this fabulous event. At this point in Israel’s history, Gideon is leading the nation as they attempt to settle in the Promised Land, an act which often brings about war with the surrounding nations. In this particular event, Gideon and his army are about to face a battle with the Midianites. Now, Midian is a much larger nation than Israel, and thus even with an army of 32,000 people, Israel was vastly outnumbered.
As the day of battle draws near, God says to Gideon “you have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands . . . announce now to the people ‘anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave.” Now I have never been to war, but I imagine this announcement would not inspire confidence in the troops; nor would the fact that two thirds of the army begin packing their things. 22,000 troops turn their backs on the upcoming battle and head for home, leaving only 10,000 troops remaining (who are now wondering why they stayed!)
It is here where the story for Israel seems to go from bad to worse. Again the Lord comes to Gideon with a strange request: “There are still too many men, take them down to the water and I will sift them for you.” One by one the people approach the brook to take a sip and the Lord directs Gideon to divide them in terms of how they drink the water. Those who ‘lap up the water like a dog’ are to be placed on one side, and those who kneel down to drink on the other. 9700 people kneel down to drink from the brook; 300 lap up the water like a dog.
Which group do you think God directs Gideon to choose? The lappers.
It is difficult to understand why lapping up water like a dog was so significant, but a couple things are clear. For one, the scriptures never make any positive reference to a dog. The Israelites understood dogs to be wild, unclean scavengers. They were not loveable pets to dress up or carry around. Israel had no understanding of Lassie, or Toto, or that German shepherd from ‘The littlest Hobo.’ No; dogs were unlovable beasts to be avoided. Thus, the implication is that these 300 lappers were not the cream of the fighting crop. Secondly, in choosing the group of 300, God effectively reduces Gideon’s army by over 99%. Gideon’s army is now only a speck of what it once when he first awoke in the morning. Yet, odd as it may seem, it is now that God says to Gideon ‘Go down to the camp of Midian, because I am going to give it into your hands.’
God’s activity in our lives may seem hard to understand. Frankly, it may even seem down-right ridiculous at times. However God’s activity in our lives is always to our benefit, and serves to increase our honest, authentic, and heartfelt trust in his strength and provision. God initially tells Gideon that his army is too strong because ‘you may boast against me that [your] own strength has saved [you].’ With less that 1% of his army remaining, Gideon has no choice but to rely on God; and the army can do nothing but face the battle in an attitude of trust and reliance upon the God who would lead them and fight for them.
Could it be that when God does the unexplained, the unconventional, or even the unabashedly weird in our lives, it is because God is trying to lead us into a space of trust and reliance? You see, what sometimes hinders our faith is not our unwillingness to enter into the places God leads us to, but the oft too-prevalent attitude of self-reliance and self-mastery. While we may take the steps that God wants us to take, we do so in our own strength and power. We see our life of faith as a life that is lived by our own strength and understanding. This is what God defines as ‘boasting against me.’
The fact is, God has given us amazing promises in regards to how we enter into our future. God has promised to empower us and to strengthen us to meet the challenges and temptations that we will inevitably face. Furthermore God has promised us that His presence will reside with us deeply and intimately as we journey through those times. Being a people of faith means that we recognize our bare, apparent, and humble need for God. Instead of turning to the 32,000 reasons why we can gain our own victory, we are to cultivate an attitude of trust and reliance. When we face our own ‘Midianites,’ the call of faith is not in seeking to win our own battles, but to trust that God will win the battle for us.
It can be hard to try to muster whatever strength we need to fight our battles. The attempt to bring about our own victories, based on our own stratagems and strengths can be exhausting to us, leaving us both anxious and tired. But what freedom is found in allowing God to be the force of strength for us; what peace is uncovered in acknowledging our basic need for help; and what Joy erupts in watching God move as he has promised!
In the end, Gideon’s army praises God for the victory that God secured over the Midianites. When we embrace our need, not just for God’s guidance but also for his strong presence, then we truly will begin to live our lives in humble trust and reliance. Then, like Gideon and his army, our lives too will be transformed into places of ceaseless praise for the great and glorious things that God does for us.