Judges 7:4 - Then the Lord said to Gideon, "The people are still too many; bring them down to the water and I will test them for you there." Read all of Judges 6 and 7.
September and school are here again. It's hard to believe, but it won't be long before midterm exams are upon us! This is not a very pleasant thought, but then again, taking exams isn't all that bad. Sure, there's always the pressure and the fear of failing, but at least you can prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for an exam. What really hurts are those unannounced tests that some teachers spring on you! Those so-called "pop quizzes" can be devastating. From the teacher's perspective, however, those unannounced tests are very revealing. They certainly separate the dedicated students from the last-minute crammers! And they invariably point out the difference in attitudes which students have towards their teachers as well as their studies. Yes, unannounced tests are very indicative of where a student is "coming from" and where a student is "at". Unannounced tests cause the student masks to come off! God gives unannounced tests. Every growing Christian is a student in the school of God, and the Teacher has the policy of giving unannounced tests to measure our faith. Sometimes they are small quizzes and other times they are "biggies". They can be administered anywhere and in any of our everyday situations. These tests are so unannounced that many times we don't even know that we're being tested. But God knows, and He's watching to see how we do. He's interested in our whole approach to "studies" in His school, as well as our attitudes toward Him. In Judges 7 we have the account of some unannounced tests that God gave some of His people during the days of Gideon. Judges ruled in Israel before the time of the kings, and Gideon was one of the judges who was used by God to deliver Israel from the Midianites. The Midianites were one of Israel's enemies who lived on the east side of the Jordan. They had a unique way of keeping Israel in subjection. Every year the hordes of camel-riding Midianites would swarm across the Jordan into Israel's territory around harvest time. They would ravage the land, taking whatever crops they wanted and destroying the rest. They also took every sheep, ox and donkey they laid their eyes on. This had gone on for seven straight years. No wonder many Israelites hid in mountain dens and caves as the Midianites approached, and no wonder they finally cried to the Lord. (See this background in Judges 6:1-6.) You see, the Lord had permitted Israel's defeat by the Midianites because of Israel's sin. Finally, after seven years of discipline, Israel got the message and turned again to the Lord. God's discipline for His people today, as well as in Gideon's day, is always programmed to turn wayward hearts back to Him. (See Hebrews 12:3-11.) The first unannounced test that God gave His people could be called the "Who Will Answer?" test. The Midianites had swept across the Jordan for the eighth straight year of harvest looting (6:33). In the power of the Spirit of the Lord, Gideon sent out a call to the people to come and fight the enemy. This summons was the call of God. The appeal went out first to Gideon's family, the Abiezrites; then to his own tribe in Israel, Manasseh; then finally to the surrounding tribes of Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali (6:34-35). Many responded to the call--but not everyone. There were certainly more people in the combined tribes of Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali than the 33,000 (7:5) that responded to God's call. Oh, there were probably many "good reasons" as well as obvious excuses for refusing the call. "A hopeless cause!" "Why should I submit to Gideon?" "Let the other tribes carry their fair share of the load!" "I'm too busy reinforcing my hideout in the mountains!" The "Who Will Answer" test is still being given to God's people today. The enemy of our souls is "ravaging the land" all around us. Satan is at work at your school and at your job. Moral standards and truth are up for grabs. God's call goes out to every growing Christian to join in the battle. The call is not just for foreign missionaries or "those in the ministry", but for all of us. What are we doing to fight the enemy right where we are? Are we helping out with the thrust of Christian witness on campus--or are we running to the hideouts of delay and indecision? Have we joined the Bible study that some "Gideon" is trying to start where we work--or are we watching the effort fizzle from the security of our cave of non-commitment? If we refuse to respond to the call, not only does the enemy continue his devastating work, but we fail God's unannounced test. A second unannounced test was given to Gideon and his followers in Judges 7:1-3. Let's call this test the "Who Is Afraid?" test. This test was given when Gideon brought his recruits to the Valley of Jezreel where the enemy armies were camped. From the hills bordering the southern edge of this large valley, the Midianite camp could be seen stretched out below them. There were so many enemy troops that they looked like locusts covering the land--as numerous as the sand on the seashore (7:12)! Imagine yourself as one of the Israeli enlistees, getting your first glimpse of the enemy. "What am I getting myself into?" "I never realized what I was being called to do!" "I'm all for coming out of the caves, but not now!" "I'm going AWOL the first chance I get!" Well, Gideon's men didn't have to wait very long before they got the chance to drop out and run home. The Lord said that anyone who was afraid could bail out immediately, and more than two-thirds of Gideon's army "took the Lord at His word"! Little did they realize that they had just failed an unannounced test. The Lord still administers the "Who Is Afraid?" test as a measure of our faith. He never forces us to fight if we want to run back to the shelter of our mountain hideaways. But He does test us. Are we willing to stand up for the Lord when confronted with the enemy? Do we stand up (maybe alone) for the truth of the Bible in our English and Biology classes--even if it means a lower grade? Do we stand up for the absolute moral values of Scripture in the dorm or on the job--even though everyone else is tubing it? This not only takes guts, but a tested faith behind the guts. In verses 4-7 of Judges 7, we see a third unannounced test which God gave to Gideon's followers. The "Who Is Alert?" test was given to the 10,000 brave soldiers who still "hung in there" after the first two "quizzes". This third test was administered at the spring of water where they camped. Gideon's men never dreamed that they were being tested by the way they got a drink of water. But the way they quenched their thirst was very significant. It indicated whether they were alert to the enemy. If they carelessly got down on all fours to immerse their heads and mouths in the cool water, it was pretty obvious that they were more concerned about meeting their own needs than about getting on with the battle. If, on the other hand, they took the water up in their cupped hands and lapped it so that they could still keep their eye out for the enemy, then it proved that they were alert and ready to move out for the battle. Only 300 men passed this test--only 3 percent! Only a small percentage of Christians pass the "Who Is Alert?" test today. Faced with the enemy, we're more concerned about ourselves and our needs than with fighting the battles of the Lord. Ephesians 6:10-18 warns us that we are in a spiritual battle and we dare not fail to be alert. We are not alert if we are more concerned about our physical comfort than about our spiritual condition. We are not alert if we are more concerned about our advances in this world than about enemy advances in our family or fellowship. Good intentions have never yet won a battle--or passed an unannounced test! As in Gideon's day, the way we go about meeting our basic needs is a good indication of "where we're at" spiritually, and whether we're passing the "Who Is Alert?" test. Gideon's 300 men who passed all three tests were a pitifully small army--much less than 1 percent of the enemy's 135,000 men (8:10). We can imagine Gideon's shock (and faith!) as God whittled his army down to a mere handful. Gideon probably breathed a sigh of relief when God finally stopped saying, "You have too many people!" But how could a band of 300 men with trumpets and torches defeat 135,000 well-equipped men? No problem! One plus God is always a majority! Read the rest of Judges 7 and see how the Lord pulled off the victory with the 300 men whose faith was tested. This is always God's way. His choice soldiers are the students whose faith has been demonstrated by unannounced tests!