“Thus the people took their foodstuffs in their hand and their shofars, and each man of Israel departed, every man to his tent; and the 300 men were strengthened. And the camp of Midian was in the valley below.”
Even though this passage is predominantly about the departure of the masses, it seems that we also learn a good bit about the Midianites, namely that they have set up camp in the valley. On a practical level, this would be the most expedient way for a large army and its baggage train to travel; it is hard to take a large army with pack through the mountains and rough terrain — ask Hannibal!
Yet, expediency is rarely a valuable tactic when it comes to war. And, this particular case is no exception to the rule. Tactically, you want to hold the high ground, not be stuck defending the low ground. This was especially true when you know that the remnant of the Israelite military had set up camps in the caves of the mountains (Judges 6:2).
Does this mean that the Midianites were foolish? Indeed, they were foolish in the Biblical sense (see Psalm 53:1). Strategically, then? Were the Midianites that foolish strategically, they would have never built the empire that they had built. A better answer is that this shows them to be rather arrogant. The philosophy goes something like this: Israel is not a real threat, so lets move so much down into position that we will overwhelm them — the “shock and awe” tactic put into practice in the ancient world. And given that they don’t expect any serious threat, why worry about the terrain one takes? But soon, the Midianites will learn not to underestimate the God of Israel. God loves to mock the arrogance of man (Psalm 2:4).
How the nature of the wicked has not changed. Throughout the ages and even today the wicked seem to take pleasure at belittling the followers of God. The question is, “How do we respond?” You see, just as the nature of the arrogant has not changed, neither has the nature of our God. Yet, Christians oftentimes cower before the wicked rather than boldly proclaiming the truth before a watching world that God would be glorified. Christian, don’t settle for being mocked and ridiculed. Do not be silent in the face of injustice. Our God is a mighty God and none can stand before him.
“And the number of those who lapped with their hands to their mouth was 300 men; all of the remaining people bent over the knee to drink water. And Yahweh said to Gideon, ‘With the three hundred men who lapped, I will save you and give Midian into your hand and let all of the people go, each man to his home.’”
All but the 300 are now dismissed to their homes. At this point, an army of 32,000 men has been reduced to 300…just about one percent of those who originally rallied to fight alongside of Gideon. By human reckoning, even the thirty-two thousand was small compared to the hordes of the Midianites, but 300 is almost laughable…that is in human terms. The key phrase in the verses leading up to this is “I will save you and give Midian into your hand…” God is doing the work (as he always does in the life of God’s people!) and God is ordering such so that he is the one who gets the glory. The rest of the soldiers are sent home.
But why send the soldiers home? Why not keep them as backup? Why not keep them as a support staff to assist the wounded? First, that defeats the purpose of calling out the 300 and would demonstrate a lack of trust on Gideon’s part. But there is something more important than that. Each man is sent back to his village with a purpose, and that is to report to the people what God is doing on the battlefront. Imagine each man returning home and his wife and kids and extended family would be pulling him to the side and saying, “Why are you back so soon? Didn’t Gideon need you? Did the Midianites not show up?” At this point, there are 31,700 men who are traveling to villages all through the region and telling the people, “No, God is going to move, so Gideon is only keeping 1 out of every 100 men that showed up.” That, folks, is exciting news.
In todays world of televisions and the internet, I fear we take for granted the ability to communicate easily and quickly. We are used to an ever-moving feed of news that tells us what is going on across the globe with very little delay in time. Yet, in our hyper-active news-fed world, I fear we have lost the value of face-to-face explanations of what is seen. In addition, given this era’s rejection of the things of God, it seems that the majority of what is reported has to do with violence, war, terrorism, and political scandal. Well, that, and the social lives of the rich and famous. Really??? Is not news of the spread of the Gospel much more significant on an eternal scale? How beneficial it is for the church to hear a missionary back in the states on furlough, say, “This is what I am seeing the hand of God do in such-in-such a land.”
The sad thing is that many Christians have fallen into the trap of thinking that what the evening news reports as important is what is truly important that they don’t get excited when a missionary comes to report as to what they see God doing. Shame on the church and shame on the Christian that is more concerned with crime statistics, sports statistics, and the stock market than on the movement of God in the world. How we need to train ourselves to look at the world through the lens of the Bible and not with the lens of human society.
“And Yahweh raised up Judges. And they saved them from the hand of their looters.”
The role of the Judge is one that clearly is designed to prefigure Christ. They are redeemers of the people from their adversaries. They are signs of God’s grace, given that the people are in the hands of their adversaries because of their sins. They are signs to the people that God will not leave or forsake them, despite their sin. They are often prophets in their role, they often offer sacrifices as the priests do, and they certainly have a kingly function as they rally the armies (or are a one-man army) against the enemies of God’s people. Thus, they fulfill to a limited extent the role of Mediator, which again we find Jesus fulfilling in an ultimate sense.
As we arrive at this verse, though, we also enter into a summary of the whole book of Judges (we have moved from looking back to looking forward). The sad thing is that this cycle of sin is not unlike the cycle that Christians today, Churches today, and even nations today find themselves falling into. Yet, we must be aware that God also gives the warning to the church that he will remove their lamp stand from its place if they persist in their sin. Judges is far more than a history book. It is Messianic as it points toward Christ. It tells us of the long-suffering of God towards his covenant people. But it also stands as a warning to us today lest we turn to idols of our own making.
“And they went from there against those who dwelt in Debiyr — the name of Debiyr was Qiryath-Sepher.”
Names fascinate me. Qiryath-Sepher (or Kiriath-Sepher as many Bibles transliterate) literally means, “The City of the Book” or “The City of Writings.” The Greek translation of this city is Po/liß Gramma/ton (Polis Grammaton) — “The City of Letters (Epistles).” Later, then, this city’s name is changed to Debiyr (Debir in most modern transliterations), which most likely is derived from the Hebrew word, rAb∂d (dabar — meaning, “word”), though ryIb∂d (Dabiyr) is also used to refer to a holy sanctuary — see 1 Kings 6:5, 8:6, Psalm 28:2, 2 Chronicles 5:7 to see the term applied to the Holy of Holies in the Temple.
What adds to the interest is that many digs have been done in the area presuming (by its name) that it would contain a library of sorts — a treasure trove for scholarly research. Such a trove has yet to be found. William Albright, one of the founders of the modern Biblical Archaeology movement, thought that he found Debiyr — a dig that is today referred to as Tell Beit Mirsim. Yet no library was found, though there is evidence of an active weaving industry — potentially a place of trade for travelers. Albright’s view about the location of Debiyr is challenged by some, but archaeology is a constantly changing discipline.
If, though, Debiyr is a reference to a holy place — a monastery of sorts perhaps located there in ancient times — it is perhaps feasible to identify the city not so much as a library of academic pursuits, but a place where various monks (likely pagan) would come to pray — a place where the scrolls were written, not kept. Yet, all this is speculation — how did this city get its name? We just do not know.
Book of Judges Outline
I. The Crisis and Conquest after Joshua’s Death (1:1-36)
a. Who shall go up to fight for us? (1:1-2)
b. Judah and Simeon go up & defeat the Canaanites (1:3-7)
c. Judah fights and takes the city of Jerusalem (1:8-10)
d. Continued conquest (1:11-20)
e. Benjamin fails to drive out the Jebusites (1:21)
f. Joseph takes Bethel (1:22-26)
g. Manasseh) fails to drive out Canaanites (1:27-28)
h. Ephraim fails to drive out Canaanites (1:29)
i. Zebulun fails to drive out Canaanites (1:30)
j. Asher fails to drive out Canaanites (1:31-32)
k. Naphtali fails to drive out Canaanites (1:33)
l. Dan pushed back by the Amorites (1:34)
m. Joseph halts Amorite advance (1:35-36)
II. First cycle of Sin
a. The Angel of the Lord pronounces judgment for not breaking down pagan altars (2:1-5)
b. The people return to their homes under Joshua’s leadership and lived in peace all of the days of Joshua’s life and of the lives of those who knew him (2:6-10)
c. The people did “The Evil” (2:11-13)
d. God gives them up to their enemies (2:14-15)
e. The Summary of the Book (2:16-3:6)
III. Second Cycle of Sin
a. The people did “The Evil” (3:7)
b. The people served the Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia for 8 years (3:8)
c. God raised up Othniel as a deliverer (3:9-10)
d. The land had “rest” 40 years (3:11)
IV. Third cycle of Sin
a. The people did “The Evil” (3:12)
b. The people served the Eglon, king of Moab for 18 years (3:12-14)
i. Possible setting for the book of Ruth?
c. God raised up Ehud as a deliverer (3:15-29)
d. The land had “rest” for 80 years (3:30)
e. God raised up Shamgar as deliverer against the Philistines (3:31)
V. Fourth cycle of Sin
a. The people did “The Evil” (4:1)
b. Jabin, King of Canaan & Sisera conquered for 20 years (4:2-3)
c. God raised up Deborah as deliverer (4:4-24)
d. The Song of Deborah (5:1-31)
e. The land had rest for 40 years (5:31)
VI. Fifth cycle of Sin
a. The people did “The Evil” (6:1)
b. Midian conquered for 7 years (6:2-6)
c. God sends a prophet to speak warning to the people (6:7-10)
d. God raises up Gideon as deliverer (6:11-8:21)
e. The people seek to make Gideon king (8:22-27)
f. The land had rest for 40 years (8:28)
VII. Interlude: Abimelech’s reign
a. The people enter into idolatry (8:29-35)
b. The rise of Abimelech to power (9:1-6)
c. The Parable of the Trees (9:7-15)
d. The Judgment of Jotham (9:16-21)
e. Abimelech reigns for 3 years (9:22)
f. The fall of Abimelech (9:23-57)
g. God raised up Tola as judge for 23 years (10:1-2)
h. God raised up Jair as judge for 22 years (10:3-5)
VIII. Sixth Cycle of Sin
a. The people did “The Evil” (10:6)
b. The Philistines conquered for 18 years (10:7-9)
c. The people repent and the Lord rebukes them (10:10-16)
d. Who will go up for us? (10:17-18)
e. God raises up Jephthah as deliverer (11:1-33)
f. The result of Jephthah’s hasty vow (11:34-40)
g. Jephthah leads the people of Gilead against the people of Ephraim (12:1-6)
h. Jepthah judged Israel for 6 years (12:7)
i. God raised up Ibzan as judge for 7 years (12:8-10)
j. God raised up Elon as judge for 10 years (12:11-12)
k. God raised up Abdon as judge for 8 years (12:13-15)
IX. Seventh Cycle of Sin
a. The people did “The Evil” (13:1)
b. The Philistines conquered for 40 years (13:1)
c. God raises up Samson as deliverer (13:2-15:19)
d. Samson judges Israel for 20 years (15:20)
e. Samson and Delilah (16:1-22)
f. Samson’s Faithful Death (16:23-31)
X. Interlude: Micah, two Levites, the Tribe of Dan, and the Concubine
a. Micah and the Levite (17:1-13)
b. Micah’s Idol and Levite taken by the Tribe of Dan (18:1-31)
c. The Levite and his Concubine (19:1-30)
d. The people of Israel avenge the Levite against Benjamin (20:1-48)
e. Wives for the men of the tribe of Benjamin (21:1-24)
XI. Close of the Book
a. “There was no king in Israel and everyone did what is right in their own eyes”