MEMORIAL SERVICES FOR 1914-1918 WAR
7 Then Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the troops that were with him rose early and encamped beside the spring of Harod; and the camp of Midian was north of them, below[a] the hill of Moreh, in the valley.
2 The Lord said to Gideon, ‘The troops with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand. Israel would only take the credit away from me, saying, “My own hand has delivered me.” 3 Now therefore proclaim this in the hearing of the troops, “Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home.”’ Thus Gideon sifted them out;[b] twenty-two thousand returned, and ten thousand remained.
4 Then the Lord said to Gideon, ‘The troops are still too many; take them down to the water and I will sift them out for you there. When I say, “This one shall go with you”, he shall go with you; and when I say, “This one shall not go with you”, he shall not go.’ 5 So he brought the troops down to the water; and the Lord said to Gideon, ‘All those who lap the water with their tongues, as a dog laps, you shall put to one side; all those who kneel down to drink, putting their hands to their mouths,[c] you shall put to the other side.’ 6 The number of those that lapped was three hundred; but all the rest of the troops knelt down to drink water. 7 Then the Lord said to Gideon, ‘With the three hundred that lapped I will deliver you, and give the Midianites into your hand. Let all the others go to their homes.’ 8 So he took the jars of the troops from their hands,[d] and their trumpets; and he sent all the rest of Israel back to their own tents, but retained the three hundred. The camp of Midian was below him in the valley.
9 That same night the Lord said to him, ‘Get up, attack the camp; for I have given it into your hand. 10 But if you fear to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah; 11 and you shall hear what they say, and afterwards your hands shall be strengthened to attack the camp.’ Then he went down with his servant Purah to the outposts of the armed men that were in the camp. 12 The Midianites and the Amalekites and all the people of the east lay along the valley as thick as locusts; and their camels were without number, countless as the sand on the seashore. 13 When Gideon arrived, there was a man telling a dream to his comrade; and he said, ‘I had a dream, and in it a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian, and came to the tent, and struck it so that it fell; it turned upside down, and the tent collapsed.’ 14 And his comrade answered, ‘This is no other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, a man of Israel; into his hand God has given Midian and all the army.’
15 When Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, he worshipped; and he returned to the camp of Israel, and said, ‘Get up; for the Lord has given the army of Midian into your hand.’ 16 After he divided the three hundred men into three companies, and put trumpets into the hands of all of them, and empty jars, with torches inside the jars, 17 he said to them, ‘Look at me, and do the same; when I come to the outskirts of the camp, do as I do. 18 When I blow the trumpet, I and all who are with me, then you also blow the trumpets around the whole camp, and shout, “For the Lord and for Gideon!”’
19 So Gideon and the hundred who were with him came to the outskirts of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, when they had just set the watch; and they blew the trumpets and smashed the jars that were in their hands. 20 So the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the jars, holding in their left hands the torches, and in their right hands the trumpets to blow; and they cried, ‘A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!’ 21 Every man stood in his place all around the camp, and all the men in camp ran; they cried out and fled. 22 When they blew the three hundred trumpets, the Lord set every man’s sword against his fellow and against all the army; and the army fled as far as Beth-shittah towards Zererah,[e] as far as the border of Abel-meholah, by Tabbath. 23 And the men of Israel were called out from Naphtali and from Asher and from all Manasseh, and they pursued after the Midianites.
24 Then Gideon sent messengers throughout all the hill country of Ephraim, saying, ‘Come down against the Midianites and seize the waters against them, as far as Beth-barah, and also the Jordan.’ So all the men of Ephraim were called out, and they seized the waters as far as Beth-barah, and also the Jordan. 25 They captured the two captains of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb; they killed Oreb at the rock of Oreb, and Zeeb they killed at the wine press of Zeeb, as they pursued the Midianites. They brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon beyond the Jordan.
The victory over the Midianites was won by a partnership of the Lord and his leader. The testing of the fighters is instigated by the Lord who doesn’t want his people to think they’ve won by their own strength of numbers. But surely the hard- earned wisdom of the drinking test is human as is the carefully choreographed surprise attack with its simulation of a much bigger force. This is holy war as envisaged by the people of Israel. Only the call from God brings the tribes together and even then only the most committed can participate.
The purpose of holy war is destruction of the enemy who is seen as having insulted the God of Israel; a measured victory is not therefore an option: blasphemers must be exterminated. That is not a pretty idea; and we can see its ugliness face to face in the jihad of Isis in Iraq/Syria at the present time. It may give us a clearer perspective on the actions of the Judges if we see them as setting up and protecting the Lord’s Caliphate in land which had once belonged to others; just as the narratives of the Judges shed light on the attitude of Israel to any infringement of its right to the land of Israel today.
Of course the behaviour of Gideon was no worse than that of the founding heroes of many nations, including my own. It’s interesting that heroes like William Wallace and Gideon never invited men to fight because they hated the enemy but only out of a nobler commitment to freedom or to God. Both freedom and God were invoked ad nauseam by the warring parties in the 1st world war; and were given a ritual nod in the various remembrance services yesterday. It is right of course to recognise the courage and sacrifice of combatants, but also right to question their intelligence. If the young men of Europe had used their brains instead of responding to propaganda, the vicious old men who led them into war would have lacked armies. This is especially true of those young men whose countries initiated the conflict by aggression. If Governments knew in advance that their young men and women would refuse to fight in a war of aggression, the world would be much more peaceful. If armies were recruited on the basis that they would only ever fight to protect the lives of people under attack and to keep the peace, armies would be very different from what they are at present. If nations made sure that that there were decent jobs for young people, joining the armed forces would be a calling and not a sad necessity.
It’s hard to deny that the story of Gideon is a good story. The narrator knows the right buttons to push, so that readers can see the courage and cunning of Gideon as well as his faith in God. If however, the readers imagine being the families of Oreb and Zeeb, who would have found the bodies of their dear ones minus their heads, which had been taken as trophies to Gideon, they will see matters differently. It’s important for Christian readers who use the Bible to read these narratives critically, as otherwise the ghost of holy war will continue to haunt their thinking today