Defeating Midian

 

 

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Then the Lord said to Gideon, “By the three hundred men who lapped I will save you, and deliver the Midianites into your hand.” (Judges 7:7)

The children of Israel were led by Moses out of their Egyptian slavery, across the wilderness, and to the borders of the promised land. When Moses died, leadership was passed to Joshua. Joshua served the Lord by commanding the children of Israel in the conquest of the land of Canaan and its division to the various tribes. When Joshua died, no one was chosen to replace him as the one leader of Israel. Instead, for the next several hundred years, they were loosely governed by a series of “judges,” people who were called by the Lord to serve in particular ways during difficult times, when the Lord sent enemies to punish them for their evil. When they cried to the Lord for mercy and forgiveness, He would raise up a judge for them. Gideon was the fifth of the judges raised up by the Lord to save Israel from its enemies.

The particular story we are interested in today has to do with the Midianites. The Midianites were a large tribe that lived far to the south of the land of Israel, but they, together with their allies the Amalekites, found that it was far easier to travel into the fertile valleys of Israel at harvest time and simply take whatever they wanted than to go to all the effort of growing it themselves. We are told in the Word that for seven years the Midianites came up into Israel to steal the produce of the land and the flocks. There were so many of them that the people feared to do anything more than hide in the caves and rocks of the mountains.

Gideon was afraid of the Midianites too. When we first meet him he is threshing his wheat in a winepress in order to hide it from the Midianites. Far from being a natural leader, Gideon says of himself that his family is “weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house” (Judges 6:15). He appears to be a reluctant hero, for when the angel appears to him to ask him to be the next judge, Gideon asks for a number of miracles to prove that he really is the Lord’s choice.

The Lord has chosen Gideon to be His instrument because he was not already a great leader. The Lord wanted to remind Israel of His power to save, and if the children of Israel were to drive off the Midianites with a great leader and a large army, they were certain to claim the victory for themselves. Instead, the Lord was preparing a great miracle.

First, Gideon called to himself an army. Thirty two thousand soldiers responded to his call. Gideon told everyone who was afraid to go home. Twenty two thousand men went home. The Lord said that the remaining ten thousand were still too many, so He set a test for them: while they were marching to the battle, they crossed a stream. Most of the soldiers stopped to drink and cool off, grateful for the opportunity to rest, but a few of them were so eager to fight Midian that they ran right through the stream, only scooping water up with their hands. These three hundred were acceptable to the Lord, while all the rest were sent home. Surely, the only way this small band could win against Midian was if the Lord was to use them to perform a miracle.

Even after he is convinced that the Lord is with them, we find repeated evidence of Israel’s and Gideon’s fear: When the Lord commanded him to knock down his father’s altar to Baal, “because he feared his father’s household and the men of the city too much to do it by day, he did it by night” (Judges 6:27). When given the chance, twenty two thousand men of Israel went home rather than face Midian in the Lord’s army (Judges 7:3). Later, Gideon had gathered his three hundred men in the hills above the Midianites, and the Lord assured him that he would win. The Lord said to him, “But if you are afraid to go down (to fight), go down into the camp with Purah your servant” (Judges 7:10), and indeed, Gideon immediately took Purah, proving his fear, and went to spy in the camp. Only after he had heard the interpretation of the dream was Gideon prepared to attack the Midianites.

But attack he did. Again, it was under the cover of darkness, and it was a surprise attack, but facing an enemy that was as numerous as the “sand upon the seashore” (Judges 7:12) with three hundred men armed only with trumpets and clay pitchers with torches inside was not something to be undertaken lightly. Gideon and his men surrounded the camp, blew their trumpets and smashed their pitchers, exposing the torches inside. The Midianites were terrified by the sudden noise and light in the middle of the night, and especially so because of their dreams and fears of retribution by Israel and Jehovah. In their fear and confusion, they drew their swords and began killing one another as they fled in panic. One hundred and twenty thousand Midianites and Amalekites fell (Judges 8:10) without Gideon or his men drawing a sword.

The Writings tell us that, in general, the various Canaanite tribes that were in the land of Canaan during Old Testament times represent our hereditary evils. Sometimes, when we reflect on our spiritual state, and we become aware of our many states of evil, it may seem to us that we are completely surrounded by our evils. They seem “as numerous as locusts“, and “as the sand by the seashore in multitude” (Judges 7:12). Like the children of Israel, it seems to us that no matter what good we try to do, still those evils remain, taking away the delight of any small good deed we may accomplish. From time to time we come into states of spiritual temptation where it seems that our tendencies to evils are so numerous that they will soon overwhelm us, and we feel that we wish we could run away from them and hide. We fear our evils because others might see them. We fear our evils because they are painful to fight. We fear our evils because we cannot think well of ourselves when we know they are there lurking in the background. We fear to fight our evils because we are afraid that we might fail. We fear to shun them because the hells flow in and whisper in our ears and help think of all kinds of reasons why it is not the right time to fight them yet. We fear to fight them because we do not wish to loose the little pleasures our evils give us.

How often has it happened in the history of nations that a general has been in a commanding position, with superior manpower, weapons, and supplies, but has refused to move in spite of orders to do so because he was convinced in his own mind that he faced an unbeatable foe? There are many examples, and when we read of such a situation, do we not say to ourselves, “That fool! If he would just move forward with confidence the battle would be quickly won!”

My friends, each of us is in just such a position. Our army is made up of all the angels of heaven who stand ready to fight evil for us at our smallest request. Our enemies are the hells, who cannot stand the sphere of heaven, and will flee in panic at the thought of their approach. But the army of heaven will not move against our evils until we overcome our own fears and command them to do so.

Unless we do something about our evils, we will go to hell. We cannot save ourselves by our own power, for by ourselves we have no power over hell. The only one who can save us from our own evils is the Lord. These things are all well known. What is important about the story of Gideon’s fight against Midian is that it reveals, in the internal sense, how the Lord can save us. He saves us by means of the 300 soldiers who did not stop to drink, but instead lapped the water like dogs.

The Midianites represent a state of falsity caused by the failure to do what is good to the neighbor (See AC 8815). This is a general state of evil of life and the falsities that are needed to justify doing evil that is the natural state of man. As said before, it can seem an overwhelming task to fight such an evil — if you take it on by yourself. The internal sense reveals how the Lord will help us in this battle. The Writings tell us that those who lapped the water represent those who, from some natural affection, seek to know the truth (See AE 455). We can then say that the Lord saves us from the falsity and the evil of life that are ours by heredity, by giving us a natural affection (through remains) to eagerly seek truth.

Truth is the only thing which will save us. Jesus Christ, speaking in the Divine Human and therefore representing the Divine Truth, said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no one comes to the Father, except by Me.” (John 14:6) Truth is the way. No one comes to the Father except by learning, believing, and living Divine Truth from the Word. We cannot be saved by doing good only. Anyone can do good, and do it from any motive. We cannot change our spiritual make-up by ourselves just by doing what is right. The Lord alone can build the new will. All our loves are in the domain of the Lord alone.

The illustration of this important fact used by the Writings themselves is that of the heart and lungs. The heart represents the will. We cannot change our heart rate by thinking about it; it is not subject to voluntary control. However, we can change our heart rate indirectly by going for a run, or resting quietly in bed. This illustrates how we can cooperate in the process by which the Lord regenerates us. Since we cannot change our moods or loves by our will, we must therefore be able to change them with another means. The Divinely provided means is for us to know the truth, to examine our lives by that truth, and to shun those things that are evil. If we do this, then the Lord can flow into our minds in secret ways, remove the evils, and replace them with the opposite goods.

Gideon was terribly afraid of the Midianites because they came into his land and stole his things. His life was dominated by the fear of loosing his things. One of the main causes for fear in the world today is the fear of loosing our things, our possessions, our pleasures. If we focus entirely on the material pleasures of this world, we are doomed to despair, for we know that in death we will loose everything of this world. If we are to destroy fear, we must change our focus from the material world to the spiritual world. We must seek to earn eternal gifts. We must turn to the truth in the Word for guidance. Then, when we act like Gideon, in harmony with the Lord, we can conquer the Midianites. The fear that we had of loosing our possessions can be transferred to our enemies, who, when faced with our confident attack flee in confusion.

When we feel disgusted with ourselves for our worldliness, when we find ourselves worrying about our things, our possessions, when we fear that we will not be found worthy to enter heaven, we need to remember how Gideon defeated Midian without even drawing a sword, and we need to remember what the Lord Himself said: Do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you. Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom (Luke 12:29-32). AMEN.

Lessons: Judges 7; AE 734:13

First Lesson: JDG 7

Then Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the people who were with him rose early and encamped beside the well of Harod, so that the camp of the Midianites was on the north side of them by the hill of Moreh in the valley. {2} And the LORD said to Gideon, “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel claim glory for itself against Me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’ {3} “Now therefore, proclaim in the hearing of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is fearful and afraid, let him turn and depart at once from Mount Gilead.’ ” And twenty-two thousand of the people returned, and ten thousand remained. {4} But the LORD said to Gideon, “The people are still too many; bring them down to the water, and I will test them for you there. Then it will be, that of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ the same shall go with you; and of whomever I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ the same shall not go.” {5} So he brought the people down to the water. And the LORD said to Gideon, “Everyone who laps from the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set apart by himself; likewise everyone who gets down on his knees to drink.” {6} And the number of those who lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, was three hundred men; but all the rest of the people got down on their knees to drink water. {7} Then the LORD said to Gideon, “By the three hundred men who lapped I will save you, and deliver the Midianites into your hand. Let all the other people go, every man to his place.” {8} So the people took provisions and their trumpets in their hands. And he sent away all the rest of Israel, every man to his tent, and retained those three hundred men. Now the camp of Midian was below him in the valley. {9} It happened on the same night that the LORD said to him, “Arise, go down against the camp, for I have delivered it into your hand. {10} “But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant, {11} “and you shall hear what they say; and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.” Then he went down with Purah his servant to the outpost of the armed men who were in the camp. {12} Now the Midianites and Amalekites, all the people of the East, were lying in the valley as numerous as locusts; and their camels were without number, as the sand by the seashore in multitude. {13} And when Gideon had come, there was a man telling a dream to his companion. He said, “I have had a dream: To my surprise, a loaf of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian; it came to a tent and struck it so that it fell and overturned, and the tent collapsed.” {14} Then his companion answered and said, “This is nothing else but the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel! Into his hand God has delivered Midian and the whole camp.” {15} And so it was, when Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, that he worshiped. He returned to the camp of Israel, and said, “Arise, for the LORD has delivered the camp of Midian into your hand.” {16} Then he divided the three hundred men into three companies, and he put a trumpet into every man’s hand, with empty pitchers, and torches inside the pitchers. {17} And he said to them, “Look at me and do likewise; watch, and when I come to the edge of the camp you shall do as I do: {18} “When I blow the trumpet, I and all who are with me, then you also blow the trumpets on every side of the whole camp, and say, ‘The sword of the LORD and of Gideon!'” {19} So Gideon and the hundred men who were with him came to the outpost of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just as they had posted the watch; and they blew the trumpets and broke the pitchers that were in their hands. {20} Then the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the pitchers; they held the torches in their left hands and the trumpets in their right hands for blowing; and they cried, “The sword of the LORD and of Gideon!” {21} And every man stood in his place all around the camp; and the whole army ran and cried out and fled. {22} When the three hundred blew the trumpets, the LORD set every man’s sword against his companion throughout the whole camp; and the army fled to Beth Acacia, toward Zererah, as far as the border of Abel Meholah, by Tabbath. {23} And the men of Israel gathered together from Naphtali, Asher, and all Manasseh, and pursued the Midianites. {24} Then Gideon sent messengers throughout all the mountains of Ephraim, saying, “Come down against the Midianites, and seize from them the watering places as far as Beth Barah and the Jordan.” Then all the men of Ephraim gathered together and seized the watering places as far as Beth Barah and the Jordan. {25} And they captured two princes of the Midianites, Oreb and Zeeb. They killed Oreb at the rock of Oreb, and Zeeb they killed at the winepress of Zeeb. They pursued Midian and brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon on the other side of the Jordan. Amen.

Second Lesson: AE 734:13

[13] From this it can be concluded what these statutes signify in the spiritual sense, namely, that the men of the church, that is, the men in whom the church is, who are signified by “the sons of Israel going out to the war,” are the ones to fight against enemies, which are the hells, and not those who have not yet become men of the church or men in whom the church is; therefore it is said that those “that have built houses and have not yet dedicated them,” also those “that have planted vineyards and have not yet gathered the fruits of them,” also those “that have betrothed wives and have not yet taken them,” shall not go out to the war, for all these signify those in whom the church has not yet been implanted, thus who have not yet become men of the church; and it is said that such “should go and return to their house, lest they should die in the war,” which means that such will not prevail over their enemies, but their enemies over them, since those only prevail over spiritual enemies who are in truths from good, or in whom truth is conjoined to good. It is also said, “lest another man dedicate the house,” “gather the fruit of the vineyard,” and “take the wife,” which signifies lest falsities and evils conjoin themselves with good, or truth of another kind with the affection of good; for “another man” signifies falsity, and also other truth, thus truth that is not concordant. That “the fearful and soft of heart” should also return home signified such as were not yet in the truths and goods of the church and thereby in confidence in the Lord, for such fear the evil, and also cause others to fear them, which is signified by “lest they cause the heart of their brethren to melt.” These then are the interior reasons, or reasons from the spiritual world, why these things were commanded. Amen.

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