Gideon and His Brave Three Hundred
Judges vi: 1, to
the people of Israel did evil in the sight of the
Lord in worshipping Baal; and the Lord left them
again to suffer for their sins. This time it was the
Midianites, living near the desert on the east of
Israel, who came against the tribes in the middle of
the country. The two tribes that suffered the
hardest fate were Ephraim, and the part of Manasseh
on the west of Jordan. For seven years the
Midianites swept over their land every year, just at
the time of harvest, and carried away all the crops
of grain, until the Israelites had no food for
themselves and none for their sheep and cattle. The
Midianites brought also their own flocks, and camels
without number, which ate all the grass of the
field. These Midianites were the wild Arabs, living
on the border of the desert, and from their land
they made sudden and swift attacks upon the people
The people of Israel were driven away from their
villages and their farms; and were compelled to hide
in the caves of the mountains. And if any Israelite
could raise any grain, he buried it in pits covered
with earth, or in empty wine-presses, where the
Midianites could not find it.
One day a man named Gideon was threshing out wheat
in a hidden place, when suddenly he saw an angel
sitting under an oak-tree. The angel said to him,
"You are a brave man, Gideon; and the Lord is with
you. Go out boldly, and save your people from the
power of the Midianites."
Gideon answered the angel, "O Lord, how can I save
Israel? Mine is a poor family in Manasseh, and I am
the least of my father's house."
And the Lord said to him, "Surely I will be with
you, and I will help you drive out the Midianites."
Gideon felt that it was the Lord who was talking
with him, in the form of an angel. He brought an
offering, and laid it on a rock before the angel.
Then the angel touched the offering with his staff.
At once a fire leaped up and burned the offering;
and then the angel vanished from his sight. Gideon
was afraid when he saw this; but the Lord said to
him, "Peace be unto you, Gideon; do not fear, for I
am with you."
On the spot where the Lord appeared to Gideon, under
an oak-tree near the village of Ophrah, in the
tribe-land of Manasseh, Gideon built an altar, and
called it by a name which means "The Lord is peace."
This altar was standing long afterward in that
Then the Lord told Gideon that before setting his
people free from the Midianites, he must first set
them free from the service of Baal and Asherah, the
two idols most worshipped among them. Near the house
of Gideon's own father stood an altar to Baal, and
the image of Asherah.
On that night Gideon went out with ten men, and
threw down the image of Baal, and cut in pieces the
wooden image of Asherah, and destroyed the altar
before these idols. And in place he built an altar
to the God of Israel, and on it laid the broken
pieces of the idols for wood, and with them offered
a young ox as a burnt-offering.
On the next morning, when the people of the village
went out to worship their idols, they found them cut
in pieces, the altar taken away; in its place stood
an altar of the Lord, and on it the pieces of the
Asherah were burning as wood under a sacrifice to
the Lord. The people looked at the broken and
burning idols, and they said, "Who has done this?"
Some one said, "Gideon, the son of Joash, did this
last night." Then they came to Joash, Gideon's
father, and said, "We are going to kill your son
because he has destroyed the image of Baal, who is
And Joash, Gideon's father, said, "If Baal is a god,
he can take care of himself; and he will punish the
man who has destroyed his image. Why should you help
Baal? Let Baal help himself."
And when they saw that Baal could not harm the man
who had broken down his altar and his image, the
people turned from Baal back to their own Lord God.
Gideon sent men through all his own tribe of
Manasseh and the other tribes in that part of the
land, to say, "Come and help us drive out the
Midianites." The men came, and gathered around
Gideon. Very few of them had swords and spears, for
the Israelites were not a fighting people, and were
not trained for war. They met beside a great spring
on Mount Gilboa, called "the fountain of Harod."
Mount Gilboa is one of the three mountains on the
east of the plain of Esdraelon, or the plain of
Jezreel. On the plain, stretching up the side of
another of these mountains, called "the Hill of
Moreh," was the camp of a vast Midianite army. For
as soon as the Midianites heard that Gideon had
undertaken to set his people free, they came against
him with a mighty host. Just as Deborah and her
little army had looked down from Mount Tabor on the
great army of the Canaanites, so now, on Mount
Gilboa, Gideon looked down on the host of the
Midianites in their camp on the same plain.
Gideon was a man of faith. He wished to be sure that
God was leading him; and he prayed to God, and said,
"O Lord God, give me some sign that thou wilt save
Israel through me. Here is a fleece of wool on this
threshing-floor. If to-morrow morning the fleece is
wet with dew, while the grass around it is dry, then
I shall know that thou art with me, and that thou
wilt give me victory over the Midianites."
Very early the next morning Gideon came to look at
the fleece. He found it wringing wet with dew, while
all around the grass was dry. But Gideon was not yet
satisfied. He said to the Lord, "O Lord, be not
angry with me; but give me just one more sign.
To-morrow morning, let the fleece be dry, and let
the dew fall all around it; and then I will doubt no
The next morning Gideon found the grass and the
bushes and the trees wet with dew, while the fleece
of wool was dry. And Gideon was now sure that God
had called him, and that God would give him victory
over the enemies of Israel.
The Lord said to Gideon, "Your army is too large. If
Israel should win the victory, they would say, 'We
won it by our own might.' Send home all those who
are afraid to fight." For many of the people were
frightened as they looked at the host of their
enemies; and the Lord knew that these men in the
battle would only hinder the rest.
So Gideon sent word through the camp, "Whoever is
afraid of the enemy may go home," and twenty-two
thousand people went away, leaving only ten thousand
in Gideon's army. But the army was stronger though
it was smaller, for the cowards had gone and only
the brave men were left.
But the Lord said to Gideon, "The people are yet too
many. You need only a few of the bravest and best
men to fight in this battle. Bring the men down the
mountain, beside the water, and I will show you
there how to find the men whom you need."
In the morning Gideon by God's command called his
ten thousand men out, and made them march down the
hill, just as though they were going to attack the
enemy. And when they were beside the water he
noticed how they drank; and set them apart in two
companies, according to their way of drinking. As
they came to the water, most of the men threw aside
their shields and spears, and knelt down and scooped
up a draught of the water with both hands together
like a cup. These men Gideon commanded to stand in
There were a few men who did not stop to take a
large draught of water. Holding spear and shield in
the right hand, to be ready for the enemy if one
should suddenly appear, they merely caught up a
handful of the water in passing and marched on,
lapping up the water from one hand.
God said to Gideon, "Set by themselves these men who
lapped up each a handful of water. These are the men
whom I have chosen to set Israel free."
Gideon counted these men, and found that there were
only three hundred of them; while all the rest bowed
down on their faces to drink. The difference between
them was that these three hundred were earnest men,
of one purpose; not turning aside from their aim
even to drink, as the others did. Then, too, they
were watchful men, always ready to meet their
enemies. Suppose that the Midianites had rushed out
on that army while nearly all of them were on their
faces drinking, their arms thrown to one side,—how
helpless they would have been! But no enemy could
have surprised the three hundred, who held their
spears and shields ready, even while they were
taking a drink.
Some have thought that this test showed also who
were worshippers of idols, and who worshipped God;
for men fell on their faces when they prayed to the
idols, but men stood up while they worshipped the
Lord. Perhaps this act showed that most of the army
were used to worship kneeling down before idols, and
that only a few used to stand up before the Lord in
their worship; but of this we are not certain. It
did show that here were three hundred brave,
watchful men, obedient to orders, and ready for the
Then Gideon, at God's command, sent back to the camp
on Mount Gilboa all the rest of his army, nearly ten
thousand men; keeping with himself only his little
band of three hundred. But before the battle God
gave to Gideon one more sign, that he might be the
God said to Gideon, "Go down with your servant into
the camp of the Midianites, and hear what they say.
It will cheer your heart for the fight."
Then Gideon crept down the mountain with his
servant, and walked around the edge of the Midianite
camp, just as though he were one of their own men.
He saw two men talking, and stood near to listen.
One man said to the other:
"I had a strange dream in the night. I dreamed that
I saw a loaf of barley bread come rolling down the
mountain; and it struck the tent, and threw it down
in a heap on the ground. What do you suppose that
"That loaf of bread," said the other, "means Gideon,
a man of Israel, who will come down and destroy this
army; for the Lord God has given us all into his
Gideon was glad when he heard this, for it showed
that the Midianites, for all their number, were in
fear of him and of his army, even more than his men
had feared the Midianites. He gave thanks to God,
and hastened back to his camp, and made ready to
lead his men against the Midianites.
Gideon's plan did not need a large army; but it
needed a few careful, bold men, who should do
exactly as their leader commanded them. He gave to
each man a lamp, a pitcher, and a trumpet, and told
the men just what was to be done with them. The lamp
was lighted, but was placed inside the pitcher, so
that it could not be seen. He divided his men into
three companies; and very quietly led them down the
mountain, in the middle of the night; and arranged
them all in order around the camp of the Midianites.
Then at one moment a great shout rang out in the
darkness, "The sword of the Lord and of Gideon," and
after it came a crash of breaking pitchers, and then
a flash of light in every direction. The three
hundred men had given the shout, and broken their
pitchers, so that on every side lights were shining.
Then men blew their trumpets with a mighty noise;
and the Midianites were roused from sleep, to see
enemies all round them, lights beaming and swords
flashing in the darkness, while everywhere the sharp
sound of the trumpets was heard.
They were filled with sudden terror and thought only
of escape, not of fighting. But wherever they
turned, their enemies seemed to be standing with
swords drawn. They trampled each other down to
death, flying from the Israelites. Their own land
was in the east, across the river Jordan, and they
fled in that direction, down one of the valleys
between the mountains.
Gideon had thought that the Midianites would turn
toward their own land, if they should be beaten in
the battle; and he had already planned to cut off
their flight. The ten thousand men in the camp he
had placed on the sides of the valley leading to the
Jordan. There they slew very many of the Midianites
as they fled down the steep pass toward the river.
And Gideon had also sent to the men of the tribe of
Ephraim, who had thus far taken no part in the war,
to hold the only place at the river where men could
wade through the water. Those of the Midianites who
had escaped from Gideon's men on either side of the
valley were now met by the Ephraimites at the river,
and many more of them were slain. Among the slain
were two of the princes of the Midianites, named
Oreb and Zeeb.
A part of the Midianite army was able to get across
the river, and to continue its flight toward the
desert; but Gideon and his brave three hundred men
followed closely after them; fought another battle
with them, destroyed them utterly, and took their
two kings, Zebah and Zalmunna, whom he killed. After
this great victory the Israelites were freed forever
from the Midianites. They never again ventured to
leave their home in the desert to make war on the
tribes of Israel.
The tribe of Ephraim, in the middle of the land, was
one of the most powerful of the twelve tribes. Its
leaders were quite displeased with Gideon, because
their part in the victory had been so small. They
said to Gideon, in an angry manner, "Why did you not
send word to us, when you were calling for men to
fight the Midianites?"
But Gideon knew how to make a kind answer. He said
to them, "What have I done as compared with you? Did
you not kill thousands of the Midianites at the
crossing of the Jordan? Did you not take their two
princes, Oreb and Zeeb? What could my men have done
without the help of your men?" By gentle words and
words of praise Gideon made the men of Ephraim
And after this, as long as Gideon lived, he ruled as
judge in Israel. The people wished him to make
himself a king. "Rule over us as king," they said,
"and let your son be king after you, and his son
king after him." But Gideon said, "No; you have a
king already; for the Lord God is the King of
Israel. No one but God shall be king over these
Of all the fifteen men who ruled as judges in
Israel, Gideon, the fifth judge, was the greatest,
in courage, in wisdom, and in faith in God.
If all the people of Israel had been like him, there
would have been no worship of idols, and no weakness
before the enemies, Israel would have been strong
and faithful before God. But as soon as Gideon died,
and even before his death, his people began once
more to turn away from the Lord and to seek the
idol-gods that could give them no help.