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THE STORY OF GIDEON AND HIS THREE HUNDRED SOLDIERS

At last the people of Israel came into the promised land, but they did
evil in the sight of the Lord in worshipping Baal; and the Lord left
them to suffer for their sins. Once the Midianites, living near the
desert on the east of Israel, came against the tribes. The two tribes
that suffered the hardest fate were Ephraim, and the part of Manasseh on
the west of Jordan. For seven years the Midianites swept over their land
every year, just at the time of harvest, and carried away all the crops
of grain, until the Israelites had no food for themselves, and none for
their sheep and cattle. The Midianites brought also their own flocks and
camels without number, which ate all the grass of the field.

The people of Israel were driven away from their villages and their
farms, and were compelled to hide in the caves of the mountains. And if
any Israelite could raise any grain, he buried it in pits covered with
earth, or in empty winepresses, where the Midianites could not find it.

One day, a man named Gideon was threshing out wheat in a hidden place,
when he saw an angel sitting-under an oak-tree. The angel said to him:
“You are a brave man, Gideon, and the Lord is with you. Go out boldly,
and save your people from the power of the Midianites.” Gideon answered
the angel:

“O, Lord, how can I save Israel? Mine is a poor family in Manasseh, and
I am the least in my father’s house.”

And the Lord said to him: “Surely I will be With you, and I will help
you drive out the Midianites.”

Gideon felt that it was the Lord who was talking with him, in the form
of an angel. He brought an offering, and laid it on a rock before the
angel. Then the angel touched the offering with his staff. At once, a
fire leaped up and burned the offering; and then the angel vanished from
his sight. Gideon was afraid when he saw this; but the Lord said to him:
“Peace be unto you, Gideon, do not fear, for I am with you.”

On the spot where the Lord appeared to Gideon, under an oak tree, near
the village of Ophrah, in the tribe-land of Manasseh, Gideon built an
altar and called it by a name which means: “The Lord is peace.” This
altar was standing long afterward in that place.

Then the Lord told Gideon that before setting his people free from the
Midianites, he must first set them free from the service of Baal and
Asherah, the two idols most worshipped among them. Near the house of
Gideon’s own father stood an altar to Baal, and the image of Asherah.

On that night, Gideon went out with ten men, and threw down the image of
Baal, and cut in pieces the wooden image of Asherah, and destroyed the
altar before these idols. And in its place he built an altar to the God
of Israel; and on it laid the broken pieces of the idols for wood, and
with them offered a young ox as a burnt-offering.

On the next morning, when the people of the village went out to worship
their idols, they found them cut in pieces, the altar taken away; in its
place an altar of the Lord, and on it the pieces of the Asherah were
burning as wood under a sacrifice to the Lord. The people looked at the
broken and burning idols; and they said: “Who has done this?”

Some one said: “Gideon, the son of Joash, did this last night.”

Then they came to Joash, Gideon’s father, and said:

“We are going to kill your son because he has destroyed the image of
Baal, who is our god.”

And Joash, Gideon’s father, said: “If Baal is a god, he can take care of
himself, and punish the man who has destroyed his image. Why should you
help Baal? Let Baal help himself.”

And when they saw that Baal could not harm the man who had broken down
his altar and his image, the people turned from Baal, back to their own
Lord God.

Gideon sent messengers through all Manasseh on the west of Jordan, and
the tribes near on the north; and the men of the tribes gathered around
him, with a few swords and spears, but very few, for the Israelites were
not ready for war. They met beside a great spring on Mount Gilboa,
called “the fountain of Harod.” Mount Gilboa is one of the three
mountains on the east of the plain of Esdraelon, or the plain of
Jezreel, where once there had been a great battle. On the plain,
stretching up the side of another of these mountains, called “the Hill
of Moreh,” was the camp of a vast Midianite army. For as soon as the
Midianites heard that Gideon had undertaken to set his people free, they
came against him with a mighty host.

Gideon was a man of faith. He wished to be sure that God was leading
him, and he prayed to God and said:

“O Lord God, give me some sign that thou wilt save Israel through me.
Here is a fleece of wool on this threshing floor. If to-morrow morning
the fleece is wet with dew, while the grass around it is dry, then I
shall know that thou art with me; and that thou wilt give me victory
over the Midianites.”

Very early the next morning, Gideon came to look at the fleece. He found
it wringing wet with dew, while all around the grass was dry. But Gideon
was not yet satisfied. He said to the Lord:

“O Lord, be not angry with me; but give me just one more sign. To-morrow
morning let the fleece be dry, and let the dew fall all around it, and
then I will doubt no more.”

The next morning, Gideon found the grass, and the bushes wet with dew,
while the fleece of wool was dry. And Gideon was now sure that God had
called him, and that God would give him victory over the enemies of
Israel.

The Lord said to Gideon: “Your army is too large. If Israel should win
the victory, they would say, ‘we won it by our own might.’ Send home all
those who are afraid to fight.”

For many of the people were frightened, as they looked at the host of
their enemies, and the Lord knew that these men would only hinder the
rest in the battle. So Gideon sent word through the camp:

“Whoever is afraid of the enemy may go home.” And twenty-two thousand
people went away, leaving only ten thousand in Gideon’s army. But the
army was stronger though it was smaller, for the cowards had gone, and
only the brave men were left.

But the Lord said to Gideon: “The people are yet too many. You need only
a few of the bravest and best men to fight in this battle. Bring the men
down the mountain, past the water, and I will show you there how to find
the men whom you need.”

In the morning Gideon, by God’s command called his ten thousand men out,
and made them march down the hill, just as though they were going to
attack the enemy. And as they were beside the water, he noticed how they
drank, and set them apart in two companies, according to their way of
drinking.

When they came to the water, most of the men threw aside their shields
and spears, and knelt down and scooped up a draft of the water with both
hands together like a cup. These men Gideon commanded to stand in one
company.

There were a few men who did not stop to take a large draft of water.
Holding spear and shield in the right hand, to be ready for the enemy if
one should suddenly appear, they merely caught up a handful of the water
in passing and marched on, lapping up the water from one hand. God said
to Gideon:

“Set by themselves these men who lapped up each a handful of water.
These are the men whom I have chosen to set Israel free.”

Gideon counted these men, and found that there were only three hundred
of them, while all the rest bowed down on their faces to drink. The
difference between them was that the three hundred were earnest men, of
one purpose; not turning aside from their aim even to drink, as the
others did. Then, too, they were watchful men, always ready to meet
their enemies.

So Gideon, at God’s command, sent back to the camp on Mount Gilboa all
the rest of his army, nearly ten thousand men, keeping with himself only
his little band of three hundred.

Gideon’s plan did not need a large army; but it needed a few careful,
bold men, who should do exactly as their leader commanded them. He gave
to each man a lamp, a pitcher, and a trumpet, and told the men just what
was to be done with them. The lamp was lighted, but was placed inside
the pitcher, so that it could not be seen. He divided his men into three
companies, and very quietly led them down the mountain in the middle of
the night, and arranged them all in order around the camp of the
Midianites.

Then at one moment a great shout rang out in the darkness, “The sword of
the Lord and of Gideon,” and after it came a crash of breaking pitchers,
and then a flash of light in every direction. The three hundred men had
given the shout, and broken their pitchers, so that on every side
lights were shining. The men blew their trumpets with a mighty noise;
and the Midianites were roused from sleep, to see enemies all round
them, lights beaming and swords flashing, while everywhere the sharp
sound of the trumpets was heard.

They were filled with sudden terror, and thought only of escape, not of
fighting. But wherever they turned, their enemies seemed to be standing
with swords drawn. They trampled each other down to death, flying from
the Israelites. Their own land was in the east, across the river Jordan,
and they fled in that direction, down one of the valleys between the
mountains.

Gideon had thought that the Midianites would turn toward their own land,
if they should be beaten in the battle, and he had already planned to
cut off their flight. The ten thousand men in the camp he had placed on
the sides of the valley leading to the Jordan. There they slew very many
of the Midianites as they fled down the steep pass toward the river. And
Gideon had also sent to the men of the tribe of Ephraim, who had thus
far taken no part in the war, to hold the only place at the river where
men could wade through the water. Those of the Midianites who had
escaped from Gideon’s men on either side of the valley were now met by
the Ephraimites at the river, and many more of them were slain. Among
the slain were two of the princes of the Midianites, named Oreb and
Zeeb.

A part of the Midianite army was able to get across the river, and to
continue its flight toward the desert; but Gideon and his brave three
hundred men followed closely after them, fought another battle with
them, destroyed them utterly, and took their two kings, Zebah and
Zalmunna, whom he killed. After this great victory the Israelites were
freed forever from the Midianites. They never again ventured to leave
their home in the desert to make war on the tribes of Israel.

After this, as long as Gideon lived, he ruled as Judge in Israel. The
people wished him to make himself a king.

“Rule over us as king,” they said, “and let your son be king after you,
and his son king after him.”

But Gideon said:

“No, you have a king already; for the Lord God is the King of Israel. No
one but God shall be king over these tribes.”

Of all the fifteen men who ruled as Judges of Israel, Gideon, the fifth
Judge, was the greatest, in courage, in wisdom, and in faith in God.

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