(Click here for a video of John reading this Catch.)
Imagine you are a Midianite guard assigned to midnight watch. The camp of 135,000 fierce warriors is quiet, campfires are burning low — some are down to the embers. You have to slap yourself awake every so often, and you are wishing you hadn’t stayed up for that marathon card game the night before, even though you won a good deal of money.
There are hills all around this camp making any approaching army visible especially since they would need torches to see on this dark, overcast, moonless night. You keep checking the hills, and nothing.
Suddenly the quiet is broken by the voices of men shouting and the sound of many horns blowing. You look at the hillside and there are hundreds of torches snaking down the towards you; you look to the right and see the same thing; to the left … the same; and behind you? Sure enough; you are completely surrounded. How did they get this close so unnoticed? You must have dozed off. Who are these guys? There must be thousands and thousands of them if each one of those torches represents a battalion of warriors. You grab your horn and blow a warning and suddenly everything is mass confusion. Soon there is the sound of fighting all around you, but you can’t see. You assume the enemy is already upon you so you start swinging your sword at anything you can hit. It’s sheer bedlam. Suddenly there is a sharp blow to your head and everything goes black.
By the time Gideon’s 300 reached the camp 120,000 Midianite warriors are dead. They killed each other, and the last 15,000 are trying to make their escape. So Gideon and his men pursue them picking up other Israelite warriors along the way and chased them down to the last man, Gideon himself running his sword through both Midianite kings. Yes Gideon. The same guy who only days before was hiding in a winepress. There’s no doubt that God had surely gotten them this victory.
It’s remarkable how thoroughly God has woven truth into history. He doesn’t waste anything. The battle plan of this story thousands of years earlier provides deep insight into Paul’s teaching in 2nd Corinthians 4:7. “We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.”
Gideon and his 300 warriors had kept their torches hidden inside the clay jars until they got in position on the hillsides surrounding the enemy camp. Then at Gideon’s command they smashed their jars held up their torches, blew their horns and shouted, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” and charged the camp, so that by the time anyone saw them, they were almost on top of them causing widespread panic.
The obvious metaphor here that cannot be wasted on sheer coincidence is that God has shown His light in our hearts (2 Corinthians 4:6), and we, as fragile jars of clay, display that light as we are cracked and made vulnerable by the circumstances in our lives and the ordinary challenges that face all of us and show up our human frailty. In fact everything about this story of Gideon — his fear, his hiding, his excuses, his need for proof that God would be with him, the elimination of anything he could trust in other than God, and his ultimate victory due only to the power of God — all are Old Testament illustrations of New Testament truths — things you and I encounter every day — things that remind us and everyone around us that everything comes from God and nothing comes from us. These are things that ultimately made Gideon a “mighty hero,” just as the angel had said.
But you can’t see the light until the clay jar is cracked. What has cracked you open? What has made you vulnerable? These things that we might be tempted to think of as unfortunate may not be so unfortunate after all if they reveal the light that is inside us by faith and the power of God that is made available to us as it was to Gideon.