So it seems that Gideon may not have been the weenie that I’ve kind of always assumed him to be.
Most times that I read his story, I get this impression of Gideon being very insecure: threshing his grain in the winepress so the Midianites wouldn’t take it from him like some schoolyard bully… calling himself the runt of the runtiest litter in Israel… always asking for signs to confirm God’s calling… performing his operations at night, et cetera, et cetera… But in my most recent reading of Gideon’s story, I’ve gained a lot more sympathy for him.
I can see that Gideon was actually a man of great faith. That faith may have often been cut by fear — but that doesn’t necessarily have to take away from his faith. When he clearly knew that God was asking him to do something, he did it. He made it all the way from his initial encounter with the angel of the LORD to the formation of a 32,000-man army without any extra prodding or testing. His fear didn’t prevent him from taking action. It was only after the army was assembled and it became clear that the decisive battle was at hand that Gideon went back to God with the fleece tests. He was clearly prepared to fight. He just wanted to do it God’s way, with God’s protection and involvement.
Once Gideon got the special confirmation he was looking for (by way of the fleece tests), it seems that he was that much more faith-filled — to the point that he was ready to whittle down the size of his army from 32,000 to 300 (a greater than 99% reduction of forces), without a single word of complaint.
I still think it’s interesting that God made special accommodations for Gideon’s fears — even after Gideon had made it all the way to the eve of a battle with the mighty multitude of Midianites against his measley 300 soldiers. Judges 7:9 says, “During that night the LORD said to Gideon,” — notice, by the way, that it’s God taking the initiative to approach Gideon after the general plan of attack had already been worked out — “Get up, go down against the camp, because I am going to give it into your hands. If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah and listen to what they are saying. Afterward, you will be encouraged to attack the camp.” And that was when Gideon and Purah got to hear the Midianites’ nightmares about “Gideon the Great” (Ha! If only they knew!) and everything else took its course from there.
So yeah: I think it’s neat to see how Gideon was just a normal guy (not some caricature of cowardice), struggling to live by faith and getting some beautiful, strategic support from God in the process. It makes me realize just how vital it is to have regular times of seeking God and listening for his voice — giving me just enough reassurance and courage to make it to the next step in the process.