The Courage of Sticks and Pots

“Trust the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.” A proverb often heard during times of indecision, stress and or fear. Growing up as a teenager and on into my adult years, this verse became less a Biblical proverb and more a sentimental adage to make me feel better. It would often be during times of existential crisis when the robotic response would come. I would have an idea where I felt like God wanted me to go, or what I felt like God wanted me to do, but had no plan of execution. Deflated by lack of inspiration I’d go to a pastor, leader, or friend and vent my angst. At times I could time their sage like response, “Well Zack you got to trust the Lord. In fact there is a verse: Trust the Lord with all your heart…” Finally I got fed up with the lack of application, threw my hands up and said, “What does that even mean! Great verse, but it doesn’t help me decide or even hint at what choice to make!”

As life has progressed I have learned to love the wisdom of that verse. Wisdom I learned only through actually trusting the Lord, versus trying to find the wisdom in His direction. It was never easy, and never is. In fact it always seems that just when I think I’m about to do what I feel God has called me to do, He stops me and rearranges my life so that it seems harder than the plan I previously had. Yet somehow it always ends up better than anything I could have ever done. It’s a lesson I learned most from one of Christendom’s favorite Sunday school characters: Gideon. I will now digress to telling his tale.

Israel had become a nation occupied by a vicious people from Midian. These Midianites had brought the nation of Israel to its knees by nearly over taking the country. Near where the Midianites occupied in a town near Ophrah was a coward hiding in a ditch trying to do his chores out of plain sight for fear of the people from Midian. Sobbing at the terror of being outside of his house at all, he quickly beat the wheat against the stones trying to salvage just enough to eat. As he did this an angel appeared above him. Smiling and confident the angel called out to this man, “Gideon! The Lord is with you. O mighty man of valor!!” Gideon looked up and saw the angel standing above him. He paused for a minute or two in both awe and bewilderment. “Excuse me; did you just call me a mighty man of valor?” Gideon wiped his face with his fear soaked shirt, and climbed out of the ditch. “Please, if the Lord is with us, why have these barbarians from Midian over run us? And where are all the wonderful promises God promised? I mean you brought us up from Egypt, but now we are ruined again. The Lord you say is with me, though He seems to have forsaken me!”

Gideon then paused. That statement “mighty man of valor” had emboldened him in such a way that shocked even him. Ten seconds ago he was an anxious mess in a ditch and now he’s standing up to the angel of the Lord. He gathered himself together. “Is there hope for us to be free from the Medians’?” The angel’s eyes turned familiar. They went from angelic brightness, to the blazing fire he had heard about when Moses looked into the bush years ago. “Go Gideon in the might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” Gideon’s stomach dropped into a knot. “Wait wait wait! My clan is the weakest of the clan’s. I am the least in all of my father’s house. I was just hiding in a ditch, sobbing with fear of the Midianites. You want me to face them? And defeat them?” The Lord starred him directly in the eyes and said, “I will be with you. You will strike them as one man.”

A year had passed, Gideon returned to making sacrifices and rallying people in His area by telling them about his encounter. The Lord gave him signs from heaven to embolden him all the more. He sent messages to all the other clans and tribes in the region. Thousands came. He labored for months, and grew in courage. The day came when Gideon stood before 32,000 soldiers that he had rallied because of his encounter. He went to the Lord and said; “you promised us victory at my hand, bless us as we go to war” Then God did something shocking. “I’ll help you Gideon, but this is too many men. They may be foolish enough to think it was their own might. Tell them that if they are afraid that they can leave.”

Gideon, puzzled by the command, quieted everyone down. He stood on top of a hill, cupped his hands over his mouth and yelled, “Anyone who is afraid or trembling at the thought of war can leave now!” As he dropped his hands to his side, he witnessed a dust cloud as 22,000 men turning and fleeing the area. Frustrated he looked up to the sky at a loss. Once the dust had settled 10,000 men remained. Feeling like quitting, Gideon thought back to that day when the Lord called him out of that ditch. He remembered the promises the Lord made Him. Every bit of logic and reason told him going to war when you are outnumbered 5 to 1 is a bad idea. Still he chooses to trust and obey.

The next day Gideon gathered his 10,000 men to discuss strategy, and break them up into companies. He went to the Lord and asked for His blessing. The Lord responded,” Gideon there are still too many.” The Lord then gave Gideon the strangest of instructions. He told him to send the 10,000 down to the river to drink. Then he told him to send home anyone that drank lying on their belly. Well apparently drinking while lying on your belly was en vogue because 9,700 men drank their water as such. At the sight of so many Gideon threw himself to the ground in disgust. “We are ruined!!” He began to sobbing into his hands the way he had a year ago in the ditch. “Why God did you lead me this far, only to drop me back into despair!?” Still Gideon decided to trust and obey.

Gideon ordered the belly drinkers wearily to go home. He wiped his eyes, took a deep breath and sighed as he looked at the 300 remaining men standing at the bottom of the hill. The men looked at each other baffled. Many thinking maybe Gideon was more crazy than inspired; most sticking around out of morbid curiosity. Walking down the hill Gideon tried to remember back to the day the Lord called him out of the ditch. He tried to regain some semblance of the courage he had that day. Looking at the 300 men, knowing they are about to face nearly 50,000, courage was hard to muster. He began to pray and remind God of His promises to deliver Israel from the Midianites at his hand. He cries out in front of the men; “God there is no way this can work, give us wisdom, and show us what to do!” The Lord answers.

“You and your men drop your armor, swords, and weapons. Get some sticks, pots, and a few trumpets instead.” Gideon is at his wits end. “WHAAAT?! The God of Moses must be cruel. He must think of our lives as a joke, and us His play things. Why does He command such madness!?” He looks at the 300 curious faces in front of him and sighs. “Look guys, God has given me a strategy. I know it’s His a plan from the One who delivered us from Egypt, but I can’t for the life of me understand it’s wisdom. But you agreed to be here, and I am your commander, so here is what we are going to do…” He instructs the men, deciding to trust and obey.

Night came, and they grabbed their sticks as torches, clay pots, and trumpets. They waited until the Midianites went to sleep. They crept up the hill just outside their camp. Gideon met them there. He had been standing there all night replaying the encounter he had with the angel. Over and over he recited what the Lord had told him. He looked out over the sea of sleeping Midianites and looked back to his 300 faithful slowly climbing up the hill. He pondered calling it all off citing the pure absurdity of what the Lord had commanded. Still Gideon decided to trust and obey.

He lifted his arms to the sky and signaled to them to take heart. They crowded into a big huddle a top the hill. He looked them all into the eyes with surging confidence. “Guys, tonight Israel is free from Midian oppression. Tonight we break the pots, light the sticks, and blow the trumpets and victory will be His! Tonight we obey the Lord’s instructions, and trust Him.” They broke up into three companies and went to different parts of the surrounding hills to surround the camp. Then all at once they did as the Lord commanded. They broke the pots, lit the sticks, and blew the trumpets.

The strangest thing followed. The Midian soldiers woke up in terror at the sounds of being surrounded. So terrified that they ran out of their tents and killed everyone they saw, until they were dead. The Midianites committed suicidal war on itself and was thus defeated. Gideon stood agape along with his men. What was originally going to be a bloody battle of 32,000 on 50,000 turned out to be a complete victory without a single Israelite lifting a sword. God fulfilled His promise, in such an unusual yet effective way. Gideon and his men could do nothing but fall down in worship.

The story of Gideon is not one of valor, strength, or even emotional stability. It’s one of simply doing two things: trust and obey. It’s a story of putting our trust into the plans of a sovereign God. It never seems to make sense or be easy in the process.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and He will make your paths straight.”

Selah

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