Guarding the Fords

“And the men of Israel shouted out from Naphtali and from Asher and from all Manasseh. And they pursued after Midian. And messengers were sent out from Gideon to all the mountains of Ephriam, saying, ‘Go down and engage Midian and hold from them the waters as far as Beth-Barah and the Jordan.’ So, all of the men of Ephriam were called to and they captured the waters of Beth-Barah and the Jordan. And they captured two princes of Midian: Oreb and Ze’eb and killed Oreb at the Rock of Oreb and Ze’eb was killed at the Winepress of Ze’eb and they pursued Midian. The heads of Oreb and Ze’eb were brought to Gideon from beyond the Jordan.”

(Judges 7:23-25)

The route of the Midianites is near total. God broke the wicked nation’s army and the people had the privilege of participating in “mopping up.” As the 300 men that God elected began the pursuit, the cry went out to all of the surrounding areas, essentially saying, “Join us in the pursuit!” Gideon sent messengers to Ephriam as well (we will come back to this), to those holed up in the mountain fortresses (remember Judges 6:2) and command is given to hold the waters of the Jordan and Beth-Barah.

Beth-Barah is a ford in the River Jordan just north of the Dead Sea. It is the place where John the Baptist would later engage in his baptizing ministry, known in his day as “Bethabara” or “Bethany Beyond the Jordan” (John 1:28). In fact, as John records, it would be here that John pronounced Jesus to be the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” In that statement, a place that was once an important hub for strategic and commerce reasons became an even more important hub for eternal reasons and the purpose of God’s covenant.

And then we have the account of the two princes that were captured and executed. It is unclear as to whether the rock and winepress respectively represent territories within Israel that these Midianite princes had carved out for themselves and thus named after themselves or whether these places were given such names as a reminder of the great victory that God wrought this day over the Midianites. Either way, the wicked were stripped of their power.

What follows is in-fighting (isn’t that always the way things are, when great victories are won!). But let us focus on the victory that takes place and the totality of the victory. God is not satisfied with half-measures and it is not good enough that the Midianites are removed from the land, but their princes are executed and the ford through which they came was now properly guarded.

What we do not do well, as Christians today, is that of setting up guards on the wall. We find ourselves making headway and winning victories, but as soon as the victory is won, we go back to life as usual and do not seek to set up guards that will protect the gains that are made. This can be in terms of influences in the community or in terms of gains in personal sanctification. If we do not guard the ford — the place from which temptation comes — we will find ourselves falling back into sin.

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