Gideon was surely puzzled at God’s move to weaken his army, the band of men who were going to save Israel. Yahweh instructed Gideon to diminish his force by sending all those who were trembling in fear to go home, leaving the army twenty-two thousand men lighter. As he watched the men file away, Gideon surely thought that God would be satisfied until the word came from Yahweh, “There are still too many men.”
The fearful, hesitant Gideon is faced again with the challenge to trust Yahweh in his weakness. He is far from the bold warrior of legend, being dragged against his will into this leadership, God has diminished the force that has followed him and now, Yahweh demands further attrition from his forces. While thoughts of turning and running back to Ophrah must have coursed through his mind, the Judge follows the Lord’s lead and invites his men to the spring for a drink. It is here that Yahweh will sift them out for him.
Yahweh will sort out the fighters based on the way they drink; some like dogs, plunging their face into the water and others, lifting the water to their vigilant faces and drinking from their cupped hands. Does God favor one method over the other? Contrary to many who have interpreted the scriptures through the centuries, the text does not give us this option. Yahweh’s method and choice of the warriors is purely his arbitrary choice and we must respect it. Certainly, Gideon does. In the arbitrary nature of the decision is the secret that God wants to convey; the 300 are not a sign of Israel’s strength, they are a sign of her weakness in the face of Yahweh, the one who can truly save.
This episode in the Gideon cycle explains so much in our own lives. How many times have we followed the leading of God only to find Him putting up barriers in our way, weakening us? Probably more than we would like. In some cases, we find that after we have accepted one barrier or humbling we find another one put in our way. We question whether or not we are truly following the proper leading. Perhaps the question should be, are we thoroughly dependent on God? Are we still hoarding some of the glory for ourselves?