March 7, 2016
It’s all in the Numbers.
If you’re glued to the incessant election updates running across the bottom of any screen, you could call a time-out on life for the next eight months, until the final numbers are tallied. Until then, primaries and caucuses – polls and projections – will keep everyone on the edge of excitement or despair, based on the numbers. Reason: the majority always wins.
Well, maybe not always.
History is the collision of consequences from the decisions and actions of other people in other times, connecting in the present. When God hits the highlights of history, he connects the dots of past actions that lead to current events, and shows the importance of putting the right currents in motion…
God’s plan for Abraham was for him to have one son – Isaac – who would be the bloodline of God’s promises for Abraham, through barren Sarah. Abraham’s bad decision: have a bunch of sons, just in case God needed numbers. He ended up with eight sons – through three “moms” – and history has recorded the conflict between their offspring: the sons of Ishmael and Midian both became nemeses to Isaac’s family line, the Jews.
A thousand years later, the Midianites were marauding enemies who were plundering and pillaging Israel, and God allowed their oppression because of the spiritual infidelity of the Jews: they had violated their covenant relationship with him through their embrace of the Canaanite deities. Things got so bad that “they cried out to the Lord for help” (Judges 6:6).
God intervened. He called a leader who had no delusions of grandeur; in fact, Gideon declined the initial offer because he couldn’t wrap his mind around God’s view of his future: “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior” (Judges 6:12). Gideon’s past was defining his future, in his view. God’s alternate: he maintains the prerogative to change the course of history, by his sovereign intervention.
You may remember the story: a couple of fleeces – and, some initial vetting – brings Gideon to the point of action. With 135,000 Midianites – and their Israel-hating friends – amassing for battle, it’s time to call in the troops. Gideon sends a flash-message to four of the twelve tribes of Israel to join him for the attack, and 32,000 respond. The human odds: 4:1, and the Jews are on the wrong side of the equation…
The story turns almost humorous: directed by God to thin the herd, he invites anyone who is afraid to go home. Twenty-two thousand pack up and bolt; 10,000 remain. Then, they do the drink-from-the creek test, and only 300 pass that final exam. Now it’s 450:1, and those are the odds that God was looking for, so they would never be able to say, “My own strength has saved me” (Judges 7:2).
Pitchers, torches and trumpets are the arsenal-of-choice for the middle-of-night attack. Read it for yourself – Judges 7 – and be amazed: awakened by the trumpets, blinded by the torches… the forces of Midian were decimated by “friendly fire,” as they self-destructed in the dark. Only 15,000 escaped; Gideon and his special forces pursued them and utterly destroyed them. The final tally: 135,000 enemies utterly destroyed; no casualties from Israel.
The outcome: the Jews attempted to elevate Gideon to royal status: “Rule over us!” His response: “I will not rule over you… the Lord will rule over you.” (Judges 8:22-23). The convention reached a stalemate; God came out the winner.
A fascinating perspective, from biblical history: God never needs the majority to accomplish his purposes. He only needs the people he has called to believe his view of their future more powerfully than they believe their version of their past…