“And Gideon went up by the way of those who dwell in tents from the east to Nobach and Yagebahah. And he smote the army because the army was careless.”
We find a little more of a geography lesson as Gideon pursues his foes. Interestingly enough, while all of the geographic names may seem be a bit of overkill at times, it is the presence of real names, regions, and locations that help verify the truthfulness of the Bible over the folk-stories of many tribes which are set in general areas without specific markers. Thus we find Gideon’s army still pursuing the Midianites down along the major travel pathways, moving to the southeast from the Jabbok river.
We are told something else of historical interest in this verse, and that is that the path that Gideon is traveling is the path of the “tent-dwellers” from the east. By the time of the Judges, there was a complex and well-developed set of tribal groups that roamed the Eurasian steppes, from Persia in the west as far as what we know as China in the east. These steppe-tribes were largely responsible for the domestication of the horse for travel as well as travel and trade from the east to west and the other way around. These nomads lived in tents (normally a “yurt”) and seem to be what the author is describing here in terms of the path that Gideon is following.
The last line of this verse helps us to have a better sense of what is taking place. We are told that the Midianite army had been careless. Some of our English translations will translate this word as “felt secure.” The term itself is jAfR…b (betach) and it conveys this sense of security that leads someone into a kind of “carefree” manner of behavior. Likely, the Midianites had found a seemingly good place to set up their defenses and they assumed that the Israelites would be coming down the main road. Gideon, though, went along the nomadic caravan paths and attacked from an angle that the Midianites did not expect and which proved to make them vulnerable, again causing casualties and the routing of the army. Again we see Gideon establishing himself as a man that understands military strategy, though let us never forget that the power and success of this campaign lies with the God that Gideon worships.
I want, though, to make the observation that the church is often like the Midianite army. We find a position of relative comfort and earthly strength and then we let our guard down. Politically, it has not ceased to amaze me as to how many Christians think that the Christian “way of life” is now safe and secure with the last administrative change in the Oval Office. Christianity does not stand or fall on the basis of a President or governments. Governments have sought to mandate Christianity only to create a body of people whose practice is in conformity with the law, but whose hearts are far from God. Further, governments have sought to squash Christianity only to find that the faith of the remnant is stronger and more vibrant than ever.
The culture around us is still very much anti-Biblical and no amount of government or law will ever change that reality. Hearts changed by the Holy Spirit will change that reality. Yet, we can create a context culturally where that is more prone to happen…we can be salt as well as light…or to use the words of Micah…we do justice. That is part of what God commands of us anyway.
Folks, there is no putting our guard down. There must be no sitting back and assuming that things in the culture around us will ever go back to “the way they used to be.” Satan will continue his onslaught hard and fast…and like Gideon, Satan knows the back ways to do so. So, we must establish our defenses, be vigilant guards on the walls, and engage as mighty warriors in the culture around us, tearing down the strongholds of hell in our midst.