The test of Faith

Nothing before, nothing behind;
The steps of faith
Fall on the seeming void, and find
The rock beneath.
That rock is the Word of God.
The familiar and exciting account of Gideon’s wonderful victory over the Midianites is really a story of faith in action, and it reveals to us three important principles about faith. If we’re to be overcomers, and not be overcome, we need to understand and apply these principles.
1. God tests our faith (Jdg. 7:1–8)
A faith that can’t be tested can’t be trusted. Too often, what people think is faith is really only a “warm fuzzy feeling” about faith or perhaps just “faith in faith.” I recall being in a board meeting of an international ministry when one of the board members said enthusiastically, “We’re simply going to have to step out by faith!” Quietly another board member asked, “Whose faith?” That question made all of us search our hearts.
J.G. Stipe said that faith is like a toothbrush: Everybody should have one and use it regularly, but it isn’t safe to use somebody else’s. We can sing loudly about the “Faith of Our Fathers,” but we can’t exercise the faith of our fathers. We can follow men and women of faith and share in their exploits, but we can’t succeed in our own personal lives by depending on somebody else’s faith.
God tests our faith for at least two reasons: first, to show us whether our faith is real or counterfeit, and second, to strengthen our faith for the tasks He’s set before us. I’ve noticed in my own life and ministry that God has often put us through the valley of testing before allowing us to reach the mountain peak of victory. Spurgeon was right when he said that the promises of God shine brightest in the furnace of affliction, and it is in claiming those promises that we gain the victory.
The first sifting (vv. 1–3). God tested Gideon’s faith by sifting his army of 32,000 volunteers until only 300 men were left. If Gideon’s faith had been in the size of his army, then his faith would have been very weak by the time God was through with them! Less than 1 percent of the original 32,000 ended up following Gideon to the battlefield. The words of Winston Churchill concerning the RAF in World War II certainly applies to Gideon’s 300: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed to so many by so few.”
God told Gideon why He was decreasing the size of the army: He didn’t want the soldiers to boast that they had won the victory over the Midianites. Victories won because of faith bring glory to God because nobody can explain how they happened. “If you can explain what’s going on in your ministry,” Dr. Bob Cook used to remind us, “then God didn’t do it.” When I was serving in Youth for Christ, I often heard our leaders pray, “Lord, keep Youth for Christ on a miracle basis.” That meant living by faith.
Too often, we’re like King Uzziah who was “marvelously helped, till he was strong. But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction” (2 Chron. 26:15–16). People who live by faith know their own weakness more and more as they depend on God’s strength. “For when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).
In telling the fearful soldiers to return home, Gideon was simply obeying the law Moses originally gave: “What man is there who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return to his house, lest the heart of his brethren faint like his heart” (Deut. 20:8, NKJV). “The fearful and trembling man God cannot use,” said G. Campbell Morgan. “The trouble today is that the fearful and trembling man insists upon remaining in the army. A decrease that sifts the ranks of the Church of men who fear and tremble is a great, a gracious and a glorious gain.”1
Pride after the battle robs God of glory, and fear during the battle robs God’s soldiers of courage and power. Fear has a way of spreading, and one timid soldier can do more damage than a whole company of enemy soldiers. Fear and faith can’t live together very long in the same heart. Either fear will conquer faith and we’ll quit, or faith will conquer fear and we’ll triumph. John Wesley may have been thinking of Gideon’s army when he said, “Give me a hundred men who fear nothing but sin and love nothing but God, and I will shake the gates of hell!”2
The second sifting (vv. 4–8). God put Gideon’s surviving 10,000 men through a second test by asking them all to take a drink down at the river. We never know when God is testing us in some ordinary experience of life. I heard about one leading minister who always took a drive with a prospective pastoral staff member in the other man’s car, just to see if the car was neat and if the man drove carefully. Whether or not neatness and careful driving habits are always a guarantee of ministerial success is debatable, but the lesson is worth considering. More than one prospective employee has ruined his or her chances for a job while having lunch with the boss, not realizing they were being evaluated. “Make every occasion a great occasion, for you can never tell when somebody may be taking your measure for a larger place.” That was said by a man named Marsden; and I’ve had the quotation, now yellow with age, under the glass on my desk for many years. Pondering it from time to time has done me good.
What significance was there in the two different ways the men drank from the river? Since the Scriptures don’t tell us, we’d be wise not to read into the text some weighty spiritual lesson that God never put there. Most expositors say the men who bowed down to drink were making themselves vulnerable to the enemy, while the 300 who lapped water from their hands stayed alert. But the enemy was four miles away (v. 1), waiting to see what the Jews would do; and Gideon wouldn’t have led his men into a dangerous situation like that. One well-known preacher claims that the 300 men drank as they did so they could keep their eyes on Gideon, but the text doesn’t say that either.
My assumption is that God chose this method of sifting the army because it was simple, unassuming (no soldier knew he was being tested), and easy to apply. We shouldn’t think that all 10,000 drank at one time, because that would have stretched the army out along the water for a couple of miles. Since the men undoubtedly came to the water by groups, Gideon was able to watch them and identify the 300. It wasn’t until after the event that the men discovered they had been tested.
“There is no restraint to the Lord to save by many or by few” (1 Sam. 14:6). Some churches today are mesmerized by statistics and think they’re strong because they’re big and wealthy, but numbers are no guarantee of God’s blessing. Moses assured the Jews that if they would obey the Lord, one soldier could chase a thousand and two would “put ten thousand to flight” (Deut. 32:30). All Gideon needed was 27 soldiers to defeat the whole Midianite army of 135,000 men (Jdg. 8:10), but God gave him 300.
It is clear from 7:14 that the Midianites knew who Gideon was, and no doubt they were watching what he was doing. I’ve often wondered what the enemy spies thought when they saw the Jewish army seemingly fall apart. Did it make the Midianites overconfident and therefore less careful? Or did their leaders become even more alert, wondering whether Gideon was setting them up for a tricky piece of strategy?
God graciously gave Gideon one more promise of victory: “By the 300 men that lapped will I save you” (v. 7). By claiming this promise and obeying the Lord’s directions, Gideon defeated the enemy and brought peace to the land for forty years (8:28).
The soldiers who departed left some of their equipment with the 300 men thus each man could have a torch, a trumpet, and a jar—strange weapons indeed for fighting a war

1 G. Campbell Morgan, The Westminster Pulpit, vol. 4, 209.
2 My friend, Dr. J. Vernon McGee, used to raise the question, “Why didn’t Gideon go home? After all, he was afraid!” Courage isn’t necessarily the absence of fear; it’s the overcoming of fear by transforming it into power. I once asked a well-known Christian collegiate star quarterback how he was able to run the ball so far down the field, and his reply was, “I was scared, just plain scared; so I kept moving!” There is a fear that paralyzes and a fear that energizes, and Gideon’s fear was the latter kind.
Wiersbe, Warren W.: Be Available. Wheaton, IL : Victor Books, 1996, c1994 (An Old Testament Study), S. 58
  March 2018  
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