That night the LORD said to Gideon, "Get up and go down against the camp, for I have given it into your hands.
I. GOD JUSTIFIES HIS WAYS TO THOSE WHO PUT THEIR TRUST IN HIM. It was a grace that this additional sign should be given. The patience and faith of the servant of God are recognised by a spiritual reward. The deep harmony, hitherto unsuspected, of the steps he had taken at the Divine instance with the process going on and assisted by God's influence in the minds of his enemies must have, when combined with the circumstances, - the still night, the darkness, the vast host in whose dangerous neighbourhood he lay, - produced a profound impression upon his mind. In such a revelation there is communion and spiritual rapture. It was a reward for all he had passed through. The wisdom of everything was plain. There are times like this in every true life. They come unexpectedly, as a grace from our heavenly Father. He leads us into his counsels, and confirms us. Obedience leads on to knowledge,
II. SUGGESTION IS GIVEN HOW TO PERFECT OUR SERVICE. In every saint's life there is something wanting - an indefinite incompleteness and crudity. Such revelations and providences remove this. Their practical utility is evident. Here were several matters made known to Gideon he had not probably dreamt of.
1. The carelessness of the watch, arising probably from the notion that Israel had disagreed and dispersed.
2. The liability of an army so composed, etc., to panic.
3. The influence of his own name (the use he made of this we know by the cry).
4. The secret fear in the hearts of his adversaries.
III. IT IS BY THE MORAL INFLUENCE OF GOD'S PEOPLE THE WORLD IS OVERCOME. Christians are too much afraid of the world. Fear not, says the Master, for I have overcome the world. Vivid realisations of this are sometimes afforded us. The whole stress of attention ought therefore to be laid upon character, obedience to God's will, and submission to his leadership. Though few and weak, the "little flock" will receive the kingdom. It is Christ in us of whom the wicked and the demons are afraid. Of what consequence all their multitude and array? Secretly the world respects and fears the self-denial and faith of Christians.
IV. A GRACIOUS REVELATION LIKE THIS HAS TO BE RECOGNISED ADORINGLY AND BY IMMEDIATE PRACTICAL OBEDIENCE. Gideon "worshipped" Jehovah. It was a time when every obstacle had been removed, and his way was clearly revealed. He could now sympathise with God and admire his consummate wisdom. For himself too he must have felt grateful. God was better to him than he had hoped. Victory was potentially his. No wonder that his heart poured itself forth in such unrestrained and adoring emotion. But the lesson of the sign was not lost. Practical advantage was at once taken of it. He "returned unto the host of Israel, and said, Arise," etc. Do not allow God's gracious revelations in our lives to be a dead letter. Act upon them, that our lives may be brought into subjection and harmony with his will. - M.
I. THE STRIKING PROVIDENCE which must have greatly refreshed Gideon. It may appear to be a little thing; but an occurrence is none the less wonderful because it appears to be insignificant. God is as Divine in the small as in the stupendous, as glorious in the dream of a soldier as in the flight of a seraph.
A cake of barley bread tumbled into the host of Midian.
(Marcus Dods, D. D.)
Homilist.1. A great end reached by most insignificant instrumentality.
2. The influence it had upon the mind of Gideon.
I. AN ARGUMENT FOR SPECIAL PROVIDENCE. The little and the great are not only inseparable parts of a whole, but what is called the little sometimes creates and sometimes destroys the great.
II. A LESSON FOR OUR EVERYDAY LIFE.
1. Despise not things of humble aspect. To do so is —
(1) (2) (3) 2. Cultivate an appreciation of the little. The observation of little events has done wonders before now. The fall of an apple unfolded the true theory of the material universe. The rushing of a little steam from a kettle led to the introduction of that steam power which has already almost changed the face of the world. A feather shows how the wind blows, and an insignificant event may indicate the direction of an eternal law. Mark little tendencies of character; small wishes and preferences may often throw a flood of light upon your spiritual history. Respect little virtues. Shun little sins. 3. Recognise God's presence in the minute as well as the vast. (Homilist.)
(2) (3) 2. Cultivate an appreciation of the little. The observation of little events has done wonders before now. The fall of an apple unfolded the true theory of the material universe. The rushing of a little steam from a kettle led to the introduction of that steam power which has already almost changed the face of the world. A feather shows how the wind blows, and an insignificant event may indicate the direction of an eternal law. Mark little tendencies of character; small wishes and preferences may often throw a flood of light upon your spiritual history. Respect little virtues. Shun little sins. 3. Recognise God's presence in the minute as well as the vast. (Homilist.)
(3) 2. Cultivate an appreciation of the little. The observation of little events has done wonders before now. The fall of an apple unfolded the true theory of the material universe. The rushing of a little steam from a kettle led to the introduction of that steam power which has already almost changed the face of the world. A feather shows how the wind blows, and an insignificant event may indicate the direction of an eternal law. Mark little tendencies of character; small wishes and preferences may often throw a flood of light upon your spiritual history. Respect little virtues. Shun little sins. 3. Recognise God's presence in the minute as well as the vast. (Homilist.)
3. Recognise God's presence in the minute as well as the vast.
1. Now observe, first, the providence of God that this man should have dreamed just then, and that he should have dreamed that particular dream. Dreamland is chaos, but the hand of the God of order is here. God is not asleep when we are asleep; God is not dreaming when we are.
2. Further, I cannot but admire that this man should be moved to tell his dream to his fellow. It is not everybody that tells his dream at night; he usually waits till the morning. God ruleth men's idle tongues as well as their dreaming brains, and He can make a talkative soldier in the camp say just as much and just as little as will subserve the purposes of wisdom.
3. It is remarkable that the man should tell his dream just when Gideon and Phurah had come near. God has so arranged the whole history of men, and angels, and the regions of the dead, that each event occurs at the right moment so as to effect another event, and that other event brings forth a third, and all things work together for good. O child of God, when you are troubled it is because you fancy that you are alone; but you are not alone; the Eternal Worker is with you. Oh, for a little heavenly eyesalve to touch our eyes that we may perceive the presence of the Lord in all things. The stars in their courses are fighting for the cause of God. Our allies are everywhere. God will summon them at the right moment.
II. THE COMFORTABLE TRIFLE which Gideon had thus met with. It was a dream, and therefore a trifle, and yet he took comfort from it. We are all the creatures of sentiment as well as of reason, and hence we are often strongly affected by little things. Gideon is cheered by a dream of a barley cake. When Robert Bruce had been frequently beaten in battle, he despaired of winning the crown of Scotland; but when he lay hidden in the loft among the hay and straw, he saw a spider trying to complete her web after he had broken the thread many times. As he saw the insect begin again, and yet again, until she had completed her net for the taking of her prey, he said to himself, "If this spider perseveres and conquers, so will I persevere and succeed." There might not be any real connection between a spider and an aspirant to a throne, but the brave heart made a connection, and thereby the man was cheered. If you and I will but look about us, although the adversaries of God are as many as grasshoppers, yet we shall find consolation. I hear the birds sing, "Be of good cheer," and the leafless trees bid us trust in God and live on, though all visible signs of life be withered. But what a pity it is that we should need such little bits of things to cheer us up, when we have matters of far surer import to make us glad! Gideon had already received, by God's own angel, the word, "Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man." Was not this enough for him?
III. THE CHEERING DISCOVERY. Gideon had noticed a striking providence, he had received a comfortable trifle, but he also made a very cheering discovery; which discovery was, that the enemy dreamed of disaster. You and I sometimes think about the hosts of evil, and we fear we shall never overcome them, because they are so strong and so secure. Hearken: we over-estimate them. The powers of darkness are not so strong as they seem to be. The subtlest infidels and heretics are only men. What is more, they are bad men; and bad men at bottom are weak men. It is natural to men to fear, and doubly natural to bad men.
IV. THE DREAM ITSELF AND ITS INTERPRETATION. The Midianite in his dream saw a barley cake. Barley cakes were not much valued as food in those days, any more than now. People ate barley when they could not get wheat, but they would need to be driven to such food by poverty or famine. Barley-meal was rather food for dogs or cattle than for men; and therefore the barley cake would be the emblem of a thing despised. A barley cake was generally made upon the hearth. A hole was made in the ground, and paved with stones; in this a fire was made, and when the stones were hot a thin layer of barley-meal was laid upon them, covered over with the ashes, and thus quickly and roughly baked. The cake itself was a mere biscuit. It may have been a long piece of thin crust, and it was seen in the dream moving onward and waving in the air something like a sword. It came rolling and waving down the hill till it came crash against the pavilion of the prince of Midian, and turned the tent completely over, so that it lay in ruins.
1. Now, what we have to learn from it is just this, God can work by any means. He can never be short of instruments. Gideon, who threshes corn to-day, will thresh the Lord's enemies to-morrow. Preachers of the Word are being trained everywhere.
2. God can work by the feeblest means. He can use a cake which a child can crumble to smite Midian, and subdue its terrible power. I have heard that a tallow candle fired from a rifle will go through a door: the penetrating power is not in the candle, but in the force impelling it. So in this case it was not the barley biscuit, but the almighty impulse which urged it forward, and made it upset the pavilion. We are nothing; but God with us is everything. "He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might He increaseth strength."
3. Note, next, God uses unexpected means. If I wanted to upset a tent I certainly should not try to overturn it by a barley cake. If I had to cannonade an encampment I should not bombard it with biscuits. Yet how wonderfully God hath wrought by the very persons whom we should have passed over without a thought! O Paganism, thy gigantic force and energy, with Caesar at their head, shall be vanquished by fishermen from the sea of Galilee! God willed it so, and so it was done.
4. But the dream hath more in it than this. God useth despised means. This man Gideon is likened unto a cake, and then only to a barley cake; but the Lord styles him "a mighty man of valour." God loves to take men whom others despise, and use them for His glorious ends.
5. But, then, God ever uses effectual means. Even if He works by barley-cakes, He makes a clean overthrow of His enemy. A cannon-ball could not have done its work better than did this barley cake. Wherefore, be not afraid, ye servants of God, but commit yourselves into the hands of Him who, out of weakness, can bring forth strength. Do you not think that this smiting of the tent of Midian by the barley cake, and afterwards the actual overthrow of the Midianite hordes by the breaking of the pitchers, the blazing of the torches, and the blowing of the trumpets, all tends to comfort us as to those powers of evil which now cover the world? When we are thinned out, and made to see how few we are, we shall be hurled upon the foe with a power not our own. Were things worse than they are, we should still cry, "The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon!" and stand each man in his place till the Lord appeared in strength. Another lesson would I draw from the text as to our inward conflicts. You are feeling in your heart the great power of sin. The Midianites are encamped in your soil; in the little valley of Esdrelon which lies within your bosom there are countless evils, and these, like the locusts, eat up every growing thing, and cause comfort, strength, and joy to cease from your experience. You sigh because of these invaders. I counsel you to try what faith can do. This seems a very poor means of getting the victory, as poor as the barley cake baked on the coals; but God has chosen it, and He will bless it, and it will overthrow the throne of Satan within your heart, and work in you holiness and peace. Once again, still in the same vein, let us try continually the power of prayer for the success of the gospel, and the winning of men's souls. Prayer will do anything — will do everything. It fills the valleys and levels the mountains. By its power men are raised from the door of hell to the gate of heaven.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. GOD CONDESCENDS TO HUMAN INFIRMITIES. Gideon had a direct, distinct assurance that in the coming battle he should be triumphant. "I have delivered it into thine hand." What more could he want? But see how graciously the Most High came down to the tent of His servant. If a sign or "token" will do what a promise cannot, then, although it ought not to be necessary, it shall be granted. In His dealings with us God "knoweth our frame." Brightly does this fact shine out in the life of the Incarnate One. After His resurrection Thomas was sceptical. He must see and feel or he "will not believe." In this he was quite wrong. All the world over, testimony is accepted as a sufficient ground for faith. The evidence sought was granted.
II. GOD ADAPTS HIS REVELATIONS TO OUR SPECIAL NEEDS. Think of Gideon's position. It is the night before the battle: the forces of the foe are "like grasshoppers for multitude," the Hebrew army is stringently limited to three hundred men. Under such circumstances, the temptation of the Jewish generalissimo would be to think that an attack by such an unequal, fearfully disproportionate host would result in defeat. What, then, does he require? A conviction to the following effect: that in the impending conflict numbers will count for nothing. And that is exactly what, in singular and indeed grotesque style, the dream teaches him. The barley-cake flung against the tent upsets it, stakes, pole, canvas, and all. Well may we pause to admire this exquisite adaptation of Divine revelation to human requirements. The ascended Redeemer has "gifts for men," not one gift but many, and none shall seek a suitable gift in vain. In a certain Austrian city there is a bridge in the parapets of which stand twelve statues of the Saviour. He is represented in various relationships — Prophet, King, Priest, Pilot, Physician, Shepherd, Sower, Carpenter, and so forth. The country people coming into the city in the early morning with produce from the market, pause before the Sower, or Shepherd Christ, and offer their worship to Him. Two hours later, the artisan, coming to his workshop, bends before the Carpenter. Later still, the sailor prays to the heavenly Pilot. And in the warm sunlight of the forenoon, the invalids, creeping out to enjoy the fresh air, rest and adore under the image of the Great Physician. Christ has a manifestation of Himself to fit all human needs. Indeed, what is true of Him holds good also of the whole Bible: it is adapted to all: whatever our peculiar circumstances, we may find in it something to meet them.
III. GOD TEACHES US TO GET HELP FROM THE ENEMY. Who were the instruments of Gideon's encouragement? Not allies but adversaries: the reassuring voices came not from an Israelitish home but from a Midianite tent. Unwittingly, the heathen arrayed against him proved his timely stimulus. Here is another valuable lesson for us: make your very foes your aid. Satan is an enemy. Learn from him and his artifices where much of your moral strength is to be found, namely, in the Bible. "The devil can quote Scripture for his purpose." A careful, painstaking, sympathetic knowledge of Scripture is the grand panacea for heresy and the true palladium of our faith. Temptation is a foe, otherwise we should never have been taught to pray, "Lead us not into temptation." Albeit, it is often one of our best friends. "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation." Vanquish it and you are mightier than you were before. The ancient Scandinavians believed that the power and the prowess of each foe they felled to the dust entered into them, and, unquestionably, new courage and fresh zeal are the portion of him who overcomes sin. Again: St. Paul speaks of those as "enemies of the Cross of Christ" "who mind earthly things." The worldly are foes of the gospel; whether they mean it or not, they retard its glorious progress. Yes: but what a lesson those "enemies of the Cross" read us who are believers in it! Their intelligence and earnestness about business, education, pleasure, may well put to shame the slow advances that we make, with heaven itself in view.
(T. R. Stevenson.)
(R. A. Watson, M. A.)
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