Everyone loves an underdog story…
As long as the underdog wins in the end.
Aside from a captivating movie plot or book idea, no good military tactician would consider it a sound real-world strategy to face a fierce opponent like the Midianites with only 300 men; especially, when you began the day with 32,000 soldiers. This type of military decision seems downright foolhardy.
Consider the Hollywood movie 300. In this movie, 300 fearless Greek warriors go to battle against a much larger Persian war machine. While they fight valiantly, and with great zeal, in the end, they get steamrolled by the formidable Persians. Despite having immaculate CGI’d abs and any number of Greek gods to call upon (plus the creative license of the writers to let the underdogs win in the end) the battle was lost before it even began. Great movie, terrible real-life strategy.
Gideon’s army in Judges 7 should have had the same fate as the Greek army in 300, except there was one key difference; God was on the side of the Israelites. When God shows up, it doesn’t matter how many people He uses, the victory is assured. Time and again in Judges we have seen God use underdogs, great odds, and unlikely heroes to deliver victory on His behalf. By taking this approach, God makes it clear that He is the orchestrator of each victory and the glory, honour, and recognition are appropriately given to Him, rather than the judge or Israelites. No doubt, the strategy God used in this case would be called foolish by human standards, but then again, God uses the “foolish things of the world to shame the wise…so that no human being would boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor. 1:27,29).
We shouldn’t be surprised when we get to Jesus and see God working in the same way. In Jesus, we have another unlikely saviour who overcomes seemingly impossible odds to conquer a formidable enemy, thereby bringing glory to God.
How great were the odds stacked up against Jesus?
Let’s take a look:
He was born in an obscure village in rural Palestine.
He grew up in Nazareth – “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46)
He worked as a carpenter.
He was despised and rejected by his own people. (Is. 53)
He had no outward beauty. (Is. 53)
Consider the enemy Jesus conquered: death. Now, I can concoct a strategy (admittedly a poor one) for how to engage a human army, but I can’t even begin to think about how to fight death. Ever watched a cartoon or movie where the characters try to punch a ghost? Their arms go right through and they are left reeling because they can’t even interact with that realm. Jesus conquered an enemy greater than any human army (without calling upon any number of angels at his disposal), and left no doubt that only God could have been the author of such a victory.
There is also value in contrasting the faith of Gideon and Jesus leading up to their respective battles.
Gideon repeatedly distrusted the words of God (Judges 6:13, 17, 27, 37) and, ultimately, becomes convinced through the word of a man (Judges 7:15).
Jesus repeatedly trusted the words of God, so that the Scriptures would be fulfilled (Luke 22:42), rather than the words of man (Pilate, soldiers mocking Jesus, the criminal on cross).
In Jesus, we have an escalation of the themes occurring in Judges 7. Instead of an army of 300, Jesus was alone. Instead of defeating a human enemy, Jesus defeated a supernatural one. Rather than trust in the words of mankind, Jesus trusted in the words of God. Jesus is the better Gideon in the same way that he is the better Moses (Hebrews 3) and the better Adam (Romans 5).
A ruthless leader with great power extorts the loyalty of his people through fear and coercion.
A selfless leader earns the loyalty of his followers through love and sacrifice.
God doesn’t wield his power like a ruthless dictator, but exemplifies true sacrifice by dying for His people. In conquering death and forging ahead with His kingdom, we are not coerced but convinced and compelled to be a part of God’s mission. Convinced by His power, compelled by His love.
“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died for them and was raised again.” – 2 Corinthians 5:14,15