August 30, 2020
I really enjoy the story of Gideon because it's an account that shows God having a bit of fun with Gideon (for example, calling him a valiant warrior while he's in hiding - Judges 6:12) but also because it shows Him to be very understanding of this young man's fears and insecurities. And of course, I like it because it also has a dream!
Gideon lived at a time when the Midianites were pillaging Israel, leaving the people practically nothing to live on. They would leave for a while, allowing the Israelites to plant their fields and once the crops were ripe, they would come down like locusts and destroy everything in their path. The cities were empty and the people were in hiding. Gideon, being a fearful and timid man, would have to thresh his wheat secretly by hiding in his father's wine-press. But God came and found him there and transformed him from a fearful young man into one of the greatest judges that Israel ever had, enabling him to lead an army of only 300 men against an "army as thick as locusts" (Judges 7:12).
Gideon didn't seem cut out to be a warrior, but the "Spirit of the Lord" came upon him and soon enough, men from many other tribes came and joined him in the fight to oust the invaders from the land. On the eve of the great battle, God spoke to Gideon. His peculiar instructions were to actually go down near the enemy camp and listen to what the men there were saying. Gideon was intrigued enough to overcome his fear and he obeyed the Lord. He arrived just as one soldier was telling another comrade the following:
"Behold, I dreamed a dream; and a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian, and came to the tent, and struck it so that it fell, and turned it upside down, so that the tent lay flat." And his comrade answered, "This is no other than the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel; into his hand God has given Midian and all the host." (Judges 7: 13-14)
By going into the enemy camp, Gideon not only heard a dream being told but also heard its interpretation. This is what God had wanted him to hear! I find this little bit of scripture so fascinating and exciting, but it is very often passed over as we hurry up to read the account of the strategy Gideon used to win the battle.
Gideon was a man who needed signs, many signs, that God was with him. And in His graciousness and merciful kindness, God granted Gideon a sign that was unmistakable, thus quelling his fears and filling his heart with great courage. After all, he only had 300 men to defeat a whole army!
So how did the soldier, this 'son of the East' know what the dream meant and how did Gideon know that the other soldier's interpretation was correct?
Well, the invaders were nomads who lived in tents, so it was very clear that the tent represented the besieging army. Since Israel was more agricultural, it made sense that the barley cake would represent Gideon's people.
But there is also something else. Barley was the food of the lowly and the poor, which exactly described the situation of the Israelites at that time. For 7 years, the Midianites had been stealing their crops and reducing them to eat barley, a food that was typically given to dogs or cattle. Barley was therefore eaten when there was nothing else to eat. So the barley cake very clearly pointed to Gideon's men whose families had been reduced to poverty.
This little piece of cake or bread, this lowly instrument then came rolling into the enemy camp and struck a tent. Notice that in the text it is stated that it struck "the" tent. So those Midianite soldiers knew that "the" tent being referred to, this very particular tent, was an important one; probably the pavilion reserved for the commander-in-chief or a great prince of these nomads. The barley cake struck it and turned it upside down, pointing very clearly to a decisive Israelite victory. The overthrow would be complete.
There's another piece to this dream that I find very interesting but also a bit puzzling. Gideon was no King David and he never had an illustrious career as a great soldier, but the Midianite soldiers knew him by name and knew that he was also the son of Joash! Now, it's conceivable that by the time the battle was to be fought, the enemy had heard of the Israelite leader. In any case, those two enemy soldiers were totally convinced that the dream pointed unequivocally to their utter defeat at the hand of the sword of Gideon, the little barley cake. However it is interesting to note that the scriptures never state that Gideon or his men used any swords to defeat the enemy, so the sword too was symbolic of their defeat.
So Gideon and his servant Purah were encouraged by the dream and its interpretation and they too believed without any doubt that God was indeed with them and would deliver them from the invaders. Their victory would be complete and Gideon had received his sign.
What an interesting bit of scripture! And what a beautiful example of the merciful Providence of God! Gideon needed a sign so God sent him to the enemy camp, a camp likened to an army of locusts, and he arrived at precisely the right place to overhear two men talking. One of them began to describe a dream at exactly the time when Gideon arrived. And what is even more astounding is that this prophetic dream was given to a pagan soldier. Equally astounding is that God gave the interpretation to another pagan and through this, granted Gideon the courage to go into battle with his army of 300 men. They went on to rout the enemy with only horns, pitchers and torches! Just as the dream had prophesied...