Forerunners Chapter 18 – The jars

Chapter 18

“Okay, everyone, settle down. Now our fearless leader has joined us we can get going.”

His friends laughed. Mike was a known tease, but his teasing was never vindictive. He got on well with people.

Dean tried to snap himself out of his mood and pay attention to what Mike had to say. His mind kept drifting, but he was determined to listen.

“Many of you might know I’m the youngest of four boys. My brothers are highly intelligent, with scary job titles!”

“And you’re not?” Rory said laughing at the thought of Mike not believing he was intelligent.

Mike smiled.

“There are different kinds of intelligence. They’re academic, I’m not.”

Rory nodded in understanding and Mike continued.

“As intelligent as I may seem to my friends, I always felt inferior as I was growing up. My parents were both teachers, my brothers began to qualify as a solicitor – now a barrister; a university lecturer – soon to be a professor; and an auditor, of all things! I am not in that league. I was a ‘C’ student. I could thrash them with a cricket ball or a tennis racquet, but that was not considered a success in our family.”

Cries of ‘shame’ and ‘it’s a disgrace’ were silenced by Simon.

“Folks, let’s give Mike a chance to tell his story in the same way we have given everyone else.”

Simon was concerned about Dean and his reaction to what was happening. They still had a whole day to go. He had a feeling Dean was in no mood for the high-spirited teasing going on. It was a pity to curtail the good spirits in the room, but he was not at all sure whether Dean would last the time, or whether he would decide to leave early. Simon didn’t want that to happen for they had a special day planned tomorrow which revolved around him.

“As I was saying,” Mike continued, “I was beginning to think I was a failure when Simon invited me to join him for the Class of 1990. Simon has always been a good friend, and he persuaded me to go along.

“I enjoyed the story. I’d not heard it before. But I loved the innovation and the trust it exhibited. It’s the story of Gideon. Here it is.

The jars

Israel was in trouble. The people of Midian had gathered forces with other tribes and had massed against the people of Yahweh in the valley of Jezreel. How could Yahweh’s chosen nation even survive against such numbers? Who would lead them into such a fierce battle? Why had they left Egypt where the evil they knew was better than the evil which faced them now? They were sure they faced certain death as Yahweh had deserted them.

Only a few in Israel admitted they had spoken to the Lord and the Lord had answered them.

Only a few.

Noah, Abraham, Moses. The great men of their people.

Gideon was another. He was Purah’s master. Purah had served him since he was a child and they knew one another well. Sometimes Purah found it hard to believe the stories Gideon told him. They were strange. But Gideon believed them – and acted on them too. Somehow he seemed to get away with it. Like the time he told the people he had been visited by an angel of the Lord. He had, he said, been commanded to destroy the altars to the local gods and build an altar to the One God, Yahweh. When he did this, he made himself unpopular with the people. But they agreed Baal would take revenge on Gideon in his own time, so they left him alone.

But Baal had done nothing, and now Israel was in trouble. They were afraid.

Gideon told Purah that he had spoken to Yahweh.

Gideon had said to Yahweh, “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised – look I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.”

Purah knew he would never have had the courage to speak to Yahweh like that. Perhaps that’s what made Gideon the one whom Yahweh had chosen in those desperate times.

Gideon explained to Purah how he had laid the fleece out, just as he had suggested, and in the morning the fleece was wet with dew but the surrounding ground was dry. But, Gideon said, he was still not sure the Lord wanted him to lead his people, so he made another suggestion.

“Don’t be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece, but this time make the fleece dry and let the ground be covered with dew.”

And Yahweh did what he had asked!

Purah found it so difficult to believe. Why should Yahweh do as one man asked? Even though Gideon seemed so doubtful about what Yahweh was asking him to do, he had more faith than many in Israel; Purah included. Word spread and messages were sent out. The people’s excitement grew. Maybe Yahweh was going to do something miraculous to save them.

So when the trumpet blew and the call to arms was sounded, Israel responded. They were prepared to follow anyone who was willing to lead them, even if that person was Gideon. For once again, he declared the Spirit of the Lord had come upon him.

Gideon and Purah were amazed at the number who came. Thousands gathered, carrying all sorts of arms from pitchforks to swords. There were hardened warriors, young boys, farmers and stall holders. They came from miles away, ready to fight for their families and their land. For a moment Purah wondered if they were ready to fight for Yahweh. But with all the noise and the excitement, there was no opportunity for him to ask any of them that question.

Gideon kept Purah beside him. It was as if he wanted someone he knew close by. As the men poured in, the two of them stood on raised ground and were grateful to Yahweh for urging so many to respond to the call. It seemed as if they may stand a chance against the enemy forces, even if the odds were still against them. Purah believed Yahweh would not let them down and would compensate for the difference in numbers in some way.

But the next morning Purah was in for a shock. Gideon called him to his tent and told him what he had heard the Lord say to him during the night. Purah was dismayed. Gideon told him, the Lord had given him explicit instructions.

Yahweh had said Gideon had too many men. Yahweh could not deliver their enemy, the Midianites, into their hands, if Israel had such a large army because then Israel would boast it was their own strength that had saved them. Then they would not give God the glory for the victory. Gideon was to announce to the army that anyone who was afraid may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.

Purah could not believe what he was hearing. They had had a remarkable response from the men of Israel and yet Yahweh was telling them to send a huge number of men home! Purah stared at Gideon in horror.

“But …”

“No, Purah, my friend, no buts. We must do what the Lord tells us.” Gideon seemed to grow in stature as he said these words to his servant, whom he called his friend. He straightened his shoulders as Purah watched in amazement. Gideon’s eyes blazed with passion.

“We will do as the Lord commands.”

Gideon stood on the hill and called the men to him. He repeated the Lord’s words to them. Throughout the day men drifted away and Purah watched, his heart sinking as, one after the other, they left.

Twenty-two thousand men admitted to their fear. They picked up their pitchforks and swords and went home.

Twenty-two thousand.

From his hillside viewpoint, Purah looked in dismay at those who were left. Two thirds of their army were gone. Purah was convinced they would not stand a chance against the hordes which snapped at their borders. He wondered what Gideon could be thinking? How would they ever manage? It would be certain death. He looked across at Gideon. He seemed to be excited to see what was happening below them in the valley.

When he went to bed that night, he said his own prayer to Yahweh.

“Lord Yahweh, when my end comes, let it be quick and thorough. Don’t let me lie on the battlefield suffering, or live for years with an injury which means I’m dependent on others for the rest of my life.”

It was with a heavy heart that he went to Gideon the next day. But Gideon’s eyes were still shining with the fervour Purah had noticed the day before.

Gideon leapt to his feet as Purah entered his tent. “Purah, I’ve been waiting for you. Come we must go up the hill to give the men a new command.”

Purah was not sure he wanted to go. He had a feeling this was not going to be good news for the armies of Israel. Gideon led the way, striding up the slope, eager to reach the vantage point. Purah trudged up behind him without any enthusiasm.

He was puzzled as Gideon ordered the men down to the water to drink. Perhaps his friend was ill, struck with an evil spirit. He could not make sense of the logic of Gideon’s command. But once again Gideon had heard from Yahweh.

As Gideon and Purah watched the men go down the hill to the water, Gideon told Purah the Lord would thin them out for him. They were to take note of those who lapped the water with their tongues from their cupped hands, in the same way a dog laps. These men were to remain to fight, and those who knelt down to drink straight from the water were to go home.

Purah was dismayed at the idea that more men would be leaving them. He hoped not many of the men would get down on their knees to drink. It would make them vulnerable to attack. Surely few would expose themselves to danger like that. It made sense to scoop up some water and lap it up from your hand.

They watched. And while they were standing together, Gideon heard the Lord speak to him again.

He told Purah at once what he had said.

“With the three hundred men who lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the others go home.”

Now Purah was certain Gideon was ill. Three hundred men? Against the Midianite hordes? He must be possessed with an evil spirit.

Gideon reported to the men what Yahweh had said. During the day most of the men left, for they had gone down on their knees and sucked up the water. They handed their trumpets and supplies over to those who stayed.

That night, the Lord spoke to Gideon again. Gideon came rushing into Purah’s tent.

“Purah, Purah, wake up. We must go!”

Purah was on his feet at once, every muscle quivering, ready for action. He had slept, alert to an unexpected attack and was searching for the attackers even as he leapt up.

“Purah, the Lord has spoken to me again. He has given us both an order. Come, we must leave now.”

“But Gideon, what has he told you?” Purah was reluctant to go, but Gideon would not accept his objections.

“These are the words he gave me, Purah. ‘Get up; go down against the camp, because I am going to give it into your hands. If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah and listen to what they are saying. Afterwards, you will be encouraged to attack the camp.’ Come, come, there is no time to lose.

“Yahweh has spoken, Purah, and we have to obey.”

Purah was over-awed by the fact that Yahweh had mentioned him by name. All reasons as to why this was not a good idea, left his mind. After all, who was he to question Yahweh?

They went down the hill to the enemy camp. Purah’s heart was thumping in his chest. His palms were wet with sweat, and he jumped at the slightest sound. When he saw the size of the camp, it did nothing to change his mind that they were on a death mission. The enemy’s camels alone could not be counted! There seemed to be more of them than grains of sand on a lakeshore! Every time one of them coughed or snorted, Purah thought his last moment had come.

But Gideon wanted to go closer right up to the tents. Purah tried to hang back but Gideon kept tugging him on, closer and closer to death. Purah was certain the enemy could hear them breathing as they crawled up to a tent, so close they could hear the men talking. They picked up snippets of their conversation. But then they came to a tent where two men were talking about a dream one of them had had, and the voices were loud enough for them to hear each word.

“I had a dream,” the man said, “A round loaf of barley bread came tumbling into the Midianite camp. It struck the tent with such force that the tent overturned and collapsed.”

Gideon had his ear close to the tent, but Purah had his back to it, watching left and right for any sign that their presence had been detected. He could hear the voices though and was startled by the second man’s response to his friend’s dream.

He said, “This can be nothing other than the sword of Gideon, son of Joash, the Israelite. Yahweh has given the Midianites and the whole camp into Gideon’s hands.”

Purah was relieved to hear this, but his reaction was nothing compared to that of Gideon. He fell flat on his face and worshipped Yahweh. Purah continued to keep watch as he marvelled at his friend’s devotion to his God. He himself was not going to take any unnecessary risk which may result in them dying there. But Gideon cared nothing for the danger they were in. His priority at that moment was to worship Yahweh and that is what he did.

Purah had to run to keep up with Gideon as he strode back to the Israelite camp, then hurried around, calling to the men.

“Get up! The Lord has given the Midianite camp into your hands.”

The men leapt up to obey. Gideon divided them into three groups, each one hundred men strong. He gave every man a jar and then explained to them what he wanted them to do with it. They had to put a flaming  torch inside it. Once again, Purah wondered about Gideon’s sanity. What was the point of having a blazing torch hidden inside a jar? How would that help them to win the victory Gideon seemed so certain would be theirs? The men did not question Gideon but did as he asked, carrying their jars above their heads as they would if they held the torches up to give light. Then Gideon told each man to take a trumpet.

Purah was concerned. How would they fight, encumbered as they were, holding a torch in a jar and a trumpet? Once again, he braced himself, preparing for death.

Gideon ordered the small fighting force to keep their eyes on him.

“Follow my lead,” he said. “When I get to the edge of the camp do exactly as I do. When I, and all who are with me, blow our trumpets, then from all around the camp blow yours and shout, ‘For the Lord and for Gideon.’”

In silence, Purah crept with Gideon and his hundred men to the edge of the Midianite camp. Purah was determined to protect this brave, reckless man with his own life if need be. The other two groups spread out so the Midianites were surrounded. Gideon ordered the men to break their jars and blow their trumpets. At that moment, Purah understood. They had approached the camp in darkness and silence. Now suddenly there was not only blazing light but the deafening blast of three hundred trumpets.

“A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!”

All three hundred Israelites bellowed the words at the top of their voices, and the camp erupted into chaos. The Midianites had been asleep. It was just after the changing of the guard in the middle watch of the night. They had no idea what was happening. Blinded by the light which dazzled them, surrounded by an unknown number of attackers, they turned on one another in fear. Slashing and stabbing, they slaughtered each other in frenzied attacks.

Those who survived fled.

Gideon sent out messages through the hill country of Ephraim telling the men to go and seize the Jordan ahead of the Midianites. Many of the enemy were killed. Their leaders were captured and beheaded.

Gideon and his army crossed the Jordan themselves in pursuit of the fleeing soldiers.

But in spite of the victory the Lord had given them on that day, the people of Israel grumbled against Gideon and his men, refusing to give them any of the food supplies they so desperately needed.

Purah still believed they had no hope of victory. But then, at that time, he did not know the One God as Gideon did, for Gideon not only routed the Midianite army but then returned to punish those who refused to help him.

When the people saw how victorious Gideon had been, they asked him and his sons to rule over them. But he refused, saying, “I will not rule over you, nor will my sons rule over you. The Lord will rule over you.”

The story of Gideon should have had a happy ending. It showed Israel what faith in Yahweh could do. Gideon was devoted to Yahweh. But when Gideon refused the people’s request for him to rule over them, he asked each one of them to give him a gold earring

In the end, there were seventeen hundred shekels of gold.

Purah watched in dismay as Gideon made it into an ephod which the people worshipped. Purah could not understand how Gideon could do such a thing when the One God had given him a victory over thousands with just three hundred men at his command. Things were never the same again. Their relationship changed as a result of Gideon’s fickle behaviour, for Purah had come to believe in the might of Yahweh and served him for the rest of his life. But he mourned the loss of his friendship with Gideon, even though he continued to serve him.

Purah realised it was not Gideon or his leadership skills that won the battle with torch and trumpet. It was Yahweh, acting on behalf of his people.

He saved Israel that night.

Blessed be his name.

About Mandy Hackland

My love in life is to encourage others to deepen their relationship with God. I write devotional material, stories and small group studies with that in mind. I live in South Africa and also love spending time in the bush, bird watching and walking. I have moved to the coast and am enjoying the green spaces and beautiful vistas that surround me, reminding me of God's grace every day.
This entry was posted in Abundant Life, Christian growth, Christian hope, Christian Living, Christian writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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