It is an interesting, and important, insight to look at Gideon's story and realize just how many men showed up to fight who were also scared to do so, but do you want to know the secret about this whole thing?
Gideon was afraid, too.
That's right - the total number of men in Gideon's army who were afraid was not twenty-two thousand. It was twenty-two thousand...and one. In fact, if we go back just one chapter in the book of Judges (from chapter 7 to chapter 6), we can easily see just how scared Gideon is, even before God calls him to lead Israel into battle.
When the messenger of the Lord appears to Gideon in verse 12, Gideon was beating out wheat in a winepress. Read that again, carefully. He was beating out wheat in a winepress. You don't have to be a Catholic to know that there's no wheat in wine. So what is he doing there?
He's hiding from the Midianites, who have been ruthlessly oppressing Israel for quite awhile. The raiding armies have destroyed Israel's crops, stolen and murdered their livestock, ravaged their land. Whatever tiny little bit of wheat Gideon has managed to both grow and harvest, he doesn't dare let Midian get their hands on, so he's hiding in a winepress, beating his wheat, trying to scrape together enough for a loaf of bread or maybe two.
And by the way, this is one of the most hilarious scenes in the Bible if you let it play out in your head. Here's Gideon, this complete nobody in the nation of Israel, beating out the tiniest measure of secret wheat in a winepress, and the messenger of the Lord comes to him and says, "Hail, Mighty Warrior!" Gideon looks around panicked. He's in this winepress hiding from the mighty warriors. The messenger of the Lord greets one? Where is the Midianite lurking? Gideon cannot possibly imagine that the messenger means him.
After a quick little back-and-forth, Gideon figures out that this is a messenger of the Lord and that he is, somehow, the mighty warrior, and the messenger of the Lord commands him to tear down his father's altar to the foreign god, Baal. And here again, we see how scared Gideon is.
Gideon took ten of his servants and did what the Lord had told him to do. However, he didn't do anything during the day. He was too afraid of his father's family and the men of the city, so he did it at night.
He's standing in a winepress, beating out wheat, talking with a messenger of the Lord who has already proven himself through one miraculous consuming fire, coming to terms with the idea that he might, in fact, be the mighty warrior the messenger was talking about, but he's still too scared to even tear down a single altar to a false god.
But he does it under cover of darkness, his father seems okay with it, and he goes about amassing his army, of which 69% are sent home before they even get their boots wet because they confess to being afraid. Gideon's afraid! His boots aren't wet, either, but they're shaking. Yet, of the 22,001 scared men in Gideon's army, he is the one scared man to stay.
When God's finally whittled his troops down to a manageable 300 men, He tells Gideon to attack. The time is ripe! But if you're afraid, the Lord says.
Right. ..."If." God knows Gideon, and Gideon's got a track record on this particular question. If you're afraid, sneak into the enemy camp and listen to what they're saying about you.
So here we are with an army whittled down to less than a third of its enlistment by the simple question of fear, yet the commander of these forces is probably the most fearful man there. But he shows up, too. That says something about this mighty warrior, doesn't it?
It says something about his God, too.
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