God’s Sifting & Testing of Gideon’s Troops

Judges 7:1-6

Gideon, and all the people that were with him, rose up early, and pitched beside the well of Harod: so that the host of the Midianites were on the north side of them, by the hill of Moreh, in the valley.

And the LORD said unto Gideon, The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me. Now therefore go to, proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, Whosoever is fearful and afraid, let him return and depart early from mount Gilead. And there returned of the people twenty and two thousand; and there remained ten thousand.

And the LORD said unto Gideon, The people are yet too many; bring them down unto the water, and I will try them for thee there: and it shall be, that of whom I say unto thee, This shall go with thee, the same shall go with thee; and of whomsoever I say unto thee, This shall not go with thee, the same shall not go. So he brought down the people unto the water: and the LORD said unto Gideon, Every one that lappeth of the water with his tongue, as a dog lappeth, him shalt thou set by himself; likewise every one that boweth down upon his knees to drink.

And the number of them that lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, were three hundred men: but all the rest of the people bowed down upon their knees to drink water.

MATTHEW HENRY (1662-1714): The army consisted of thirty-two thousand men, a small army in comparison with what the Midianites had now brought into the field; Gideon was ready to think them too few, but God comes to him, and tells him they are too many.

G. CAMPBELL MORGAN (1863-1945): By divine direction, the first work Gideon was called on to do was to sift the army…The first test imposed was a proclamation that all who were faint-hearted and afraid should depart.

ALEXANDER MacLAREN (1826-1910): Why were the “fearful” dismissed?

WILLIAM ARNOT (1808-1875): Fear is not faith.

MATTHEW HENRY: Fearful faint-hearted people are not fit to be employed for God; and, among those that are enlisted under the banner of Christ, there are more such than we think there are.

ALEXANDER MacLAREN: Fear is contagious; and in undisciplined armies like Gideon’s, panic, once started, spreads swiftly and becomes frenzied confusion. The same thing is true in the work of the Church today. Who that has had much to do with guiding its operations has not groaned over the dead weight of the timid and sluggish souls, who always see difficulties and never the way to get over them? And who that has had to lead a company of Christian men has not often been ready to wish that he could sound out Gideon’s proclamation, and bid the “fearful and afraid” take away the chilling encumbrance of their presence, and leave him with thinned ranks of trusty men? Cowardice, dressed up as cautious prudence, weakens the efficiency of every regiment in Christ’s army.

HORATIUS BONAR (1808-1889): There is needed not only natural courage in order to face natural danger or difficulty; there is, in our own day, a still greater need of moral boldness, in order to neutralize the fear of man, the dread of public opinion, that god of our idolatry in this last age, which boasts of superior enlightenment.

ALEXANDER MacLAREN: The first test had sifted out the brave and willing…One lesson we may learn from this thinning of the ranks; namely, that we need not be anxious to count heads when we are sure that we are doing His work, nor even be afraid of being in a minority.

C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): Twenty-two thousand accepted that permission [to depart] and left their general with ten thousand.

G. CAMPBELL MORGAN: And still the number was too great, because the quality of the men making up the ten thousand lacked something of vital importance.

CHARLES SIMEON (1759-1836): Gideon was ordered to bring them down to a stream, and to separate those who lapped like a dog, from those who bowed down to drink like cattle.

J. R. MILLER (1840-1912): It seemed to make the smallest difference in the world whether a soldier drank by bowing down with his face in the water, or by lapping up the water with his hand as he stood: yet it was a difference that settled the question of fitness or unfitness for the great work before the army.

CHARLES SIMEON: Those who in a more temperate and self-denying way took up water in their hands and lapped it, as a dog lappeth, were to be the chosen band.

MATTHEW POOLE (1624-1679): The season of the year being hot, and the generality of the soldiers weary, and thirsty, and faint, they would most probably bow down upon their knees, that they might more fully refresh themselves by a liberal draught, as indeed they did; and it could be expected that there would be but few, who either could or would deny themselves in this matter.

ALEXANDER MacLAREN: The two ways of drinking clearly indicated a difference in the men. Those who glued their lips to the stream and swilled till they were full, were plainly more self-indulgent, less engrossed with their work, less patient of fatigue and thirst, than those who caught up enough in their curved palms to moisten their lips without stopping in their stride or breaking rank.

JOHANNES PISCATOR (1546-1625): This was a sign of strength of body and temperance of mind, as the other posture was of weakness and greediness.

G. CAMPBELL MORGAN: Men who bent down to get a drink of water were not sufficiently alive to the danger. An ambush might surprise them. Men who stooped and caught the water in their hands and lapped it were watchers as well as fighters.

WILLIAM KELLY (1821-1906): It proved whether they were wholly set on the one object—the one mission; or whether they could be distracted from it for a moment in order to take natural refreshment. This was the meaning of the test of the water.

ALEXANDER MacLAREN: The great lesson taught here is that self-restraint in the use of the world’s goods is essential to all true Christian warfare. There are two ways of looking at and partaking of these. We may either ‘drink for strength’ or ‘for drunkenness.’ Life is to some men, first a place for strenuous endeavour, and only secondly a place of refreshment. Such think of duty first and of water afterwards. To them, all the innocent joys and pleasures of the natural life are as brooks by the way, of which Christ’s soldier should drink, mainly that he may be re-invigorated for conflict. There are others whose conception of life is a scene of enjoyment, for which work is unfortunately a necessary but disagreeable preliminary…The water lapped up in the palm, as the soldier marches, is sweeter than the abundant draughts swilled down by self-indulgence.

GIOVANNI DIODATI (1576-1649): Those are fit to follow the Lord, who for zeal to His service, do but taste the pleasures of the world as they pass along, without staying with them, [using them] only for necessity, and not for any constant delight they take in them.

C. H. MACKINTOSH (1820-1896): Here then we have another great moral quality which must ever characterize those who will act for God and for His people in an evil day. They must not only have confidence in God, but they must also be prepared to surrender self.


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