Let’s talk about a man named Gideon. When Gideon shows up on the scene Israel is, to put it lightly, a complete mess. They’re making the same mistake that they have countless times up to this point. It seems like every time God sends someone to save them from themselves they hold it together just long enough to get home and start it all over again. It’s not that Israel is in trouble, it’s that Israel has no idea how to stop getting into trouble.
Many of us are familiar with the fleece portion of Gideon’s story, in which he repeatedly asks God for a sign to be absolutely sure that he’s being called to war. In many ways, we often stop our involvement in the story there and boil it down to simple terms. Gideon needs a lot of reassurance from God, he gets it, he goes to war, he wins, and Israel gets a reprieve for a few more years. But on a recent read-through of Gideon’s story, I found myself paying much greater attention to his military campaign.
Gideon finally gets the courage up to make a stand, and does he ever get ready. Not being a planner myself, I have to admit that I’m thoroughly impressed by Gideon’s ability to pull together an army. By the time he’s ready to go, he has an army of around 32,000 men. I don’t have access to 32,000 people let alone 32,000 people I could convince to go to war with me. It appears Gideon’s on the cusp of starting something phenomenal, but suddenly something happens.
God pulls Gideon up short and tells him to send half of his army home. Then, God follows up again and tells Gideon to send more men home until he’s left with just 300. I can’t say exactly what those three hundred men were feeling at that moment, but if I had to hazard a guess I would say they were feeling totally crippled. In military terms, this appears to be an absolute disaster in the making. Why oh, why did God send home the bulk of their fighting force away, and leave the three hundred of them to face the battle alone? Did he want them all to die?
The staging of this scene is all too familiar to so many of us, and I am no exception.
Fact about myself: I live with a brain injury. I was in a traumatic car accident when I was nine and I got a traumatic brain injury to match it. The finer details of what that does to my brain are another conversation altogether, but I’ll hit the highlights. My brain injury is such that things like numbers, patterns, and sequencing can all be very difficult for me. What that means in a practical sense is that though I am a fully grown adult, I have no option but to rely on a lot of people close in my life for help. It is the reality I live with.
Sometimes it gets incredibly tempting to fall into a trap of thinking that my life would be so much easier without the brain injury. It’s particularly tempting to think this because it’s ultimately true. My life would be easier if my brain worked the same as everyone else’s. The amount of simplicity that would inundate my life and the lives of people who have been helping me all these years would be almost overwhelming. So many questions would never need to be asked just to get by. Embarrassing situations and explanations wouldn’t even exist. It would simply be easier.
War with 32,000 men on your side is also easier. And yet Gideon and his meager troops were left with the reality that they had a minuscule force to work against monumental odds. Those 300 men must have been scared beyond all understanding, but they didn’t understand the big picture. Because what the three hundred men left weren’t privy to was the extraordinary conversation that took place between God and Gideon before the 32,000 was slimmed down. God wasn’t shaving down the numbers for the sake of fun. He is a God of purpose and this situation was no different.
In Judges 7:2 we understand exactly what the 300 hundred didn’t know and what God is doing when he tells Gideon “You have too many warriors with you. If I let all of you fight the Midianites, Israel will boast to me that they saved themselves by their own strength.”
As usual, God’s not looking at the immediate situation but the entire story.
God didn’t send home the bulk of the fighting force for grins and giggles. What appeared to the men as a colossal military blunder was actually intended to allow God to do the bulk of the work and showcase his purpose and heart for the people of Israel. He was never viewing the battle as the Israelites responsibility in the first place. Later in verse seven, he tells Gideon “With these 300 men I will rescue you and give you victory over the Midianites.” Rescue. Rescue. This was never a matter of the Israelites needing to be something extraordinary to win the day. This was always about God showing his love and inviting them to something better.
You’re not being crippled. You’re being prepared.
What seems like the destruction of your chances to succeed may actually be the last step before God shows up and moves mountains. I say may because we still have a responsibility to critically evaluate our situation and check ourselves for unwise decisions. But if we’ve been listening carefully to God’s call, stepping out in faith, and somehow still getting pummeled by an angry, heartless world, get ready. God’s favorite entrance music is the sound of his enemy celebrating prematurely.
Impossible odds are not a sign of failure but an opportunity to shine an even brighter spotlight on the work God is doing. Having a normal brain would be nice, but if I had a normal brain I would have to give back every amazing conversation I’ve had about God’s love and strength when someone asks me “How did you get this far?”. I’m not sure I want to pay that price.
We’re all different, but we all have that thing that trips us up, that extra bit of work, that event we can’t shake, that wound that just won’t close. We all feel the weight of how much easier our lives would be to manage without that thing looming over our heads, but the mistake is in believing that our lives are contingent on our capability and therefore hampered in some way.
You are so much more than the things that leave you feeling crippled and you are still a part of God’s story.
To have that crippling feature does not mean your capability has been taken from you. It simply means your pride has, and honestly? We’re better off without it. What are you left with when all of your pride and desire for total self-sufficiency are stripped away is a place to trust that you are cared for and a starting point to direct other people to a God who can cover any weakness. It truly is not such a bad trade. You’re still in the fight. You’re still wanted in the fight. God is still working in the fight.
And the 300 men left with Gideon? They went on to win a resounding victory against their big odds. Trust that you might be able to do the same.
Let’s find some joy,