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The Least of the Weakest
Based on Old Testament Judges 6-7
(Written by Jaclyn Tepe)
The sun had just begun its descent beneath the forever distant horizon as a small family began its preparations for dinner. The children scrambled about the house lazily obeying the orders that came from their mother while she steadily worked over the small fire. She didn't mind her children's attitude of disregard at the moment for she had secretly been worrying over the safety of her husband and didn't want her anxiousness to rub off on the children. Her husband had departed almost two weeks ago when a call to arms had been raised by a man named Gideon. Being a well trained and conditioned man, her husband had naturally left to aid his fellow men in any way that he was able. He had left with encouraging words and calming phrases, but still Elizabeth had not been able to rest peacefully since his departure.
Although her husband had mentioned nothing of the cause to which he was about to embark, she knew that he was leaving to challenge the Midian army, one whom had harassed and plagued them for several years non-ending. She knew also that too few men had been called to present an even respectable challenge to the formidable foe, and since her husband's departure, she had witnessed the return of hundreds of men whom had been with her husband to leave. So what now of her beloved? How could so few stand a chance against so many? Why had others returned while so many were still away? All these and other questions had been more like a tormenting presence in her mind than a series of logical fears. The quietness of the day seemed to be foreshadowing the loneliness of death while the stillness of the night hinted at the desolate nature of defeat. She was thankful, however, that her children were too young to understand the gamble one takes when involved with war, and that they were being spared the horrifying uncertainty of the future that now haunted her ponderings. For now, they played as they always had, aware that their father was absent, yet certain that his return would be forthcoming, and for that thought alone she was thankful. Their hope had become hers and now sustained her weary mind.
The sun had set, and the house was lit only by a small lamp high on its stand in the center of the room. The children were reclining at the table as Elizabeth began to bring the food to where they sat. As she placed the food on the table, she caught a glimpse of surprise and joy clearly etched on the face of her youngest child. Then, in an instant all three children were leaping from the table and hugging a man that stood silhouetted in the doorway. Tears freely flowed down Elizabeth's face as she turned and saw Jeremiah reaching down with strong arms to catch and sweep the young children up into a loving embrace. As he did so, he gazed into her eyes with a tender look of reassurance mixed with a sigh of relief at having returned safely. Setting his children back on the ground, Jeremiah held his wife close to him and gently kissed away the tears on her cheeks. "I saw so many others return that I was worried that the battle had already been fought, and that you had been left behind," she whispered as he kept her close to his chest. Jeremiah whispered to her and then turned to his children who were staring at him with large, curious eyes. "Do you want to hear a story?" asked their father as he joined them at the table. "One that involves amazing odds, odd requests, and even stranger victories?" With one voice the children cheered in affirmation, as their father began one of his great stories, this time, however, he was telling the truth.
"It all began with a man named Gideon, a man that does not live too far from our very house. Because of the Midians and their habit of destroying whatever our fields and flocks can yield, he, like many others, had been threshing his wheat in a winepress hoping to remain hidden from their pillaging army when an angel mysteriously appeared to him," explained Jeremiah to the amazement of his children. They had heard of angels and prophets who had visions, but never had they lived so close to a man that was known to have had a visitor from God. "'The Lord is with you, mighty warrior,' greeted the heavenly being," continued their father.

"'But sir, if the Lord is for us, then why has he allowed such horrors to descend upon us at the hand of the Midianites? I have often heard of the miracles and wonders he performed for our fathers, but where is he today? Has he deserted us and left us for our foes?' questioned Gideon. Again the angel of the Lord spoke to Gideon telling him to go in strength and defeat the Midian army, but again, Gideon questioned this admonition."

'But sir, what is there that I can do for the country of Israel? Not only is Manasseh the weakest of the clans, but I am the least among my family. What would you have me do?' Gideon excused in a near trembling voice. One did not idly meddle with the Midian army unless one was seeking a quick death or life-long imprisonment."

"'I will be with you,' encouraged the angel, 'and you will be victorious.' Resigned to the fact that there may be no way of escaping this visitor, Gideon asked permission to go and prepare an offering to set before him. The angel of the Lord agreed and announced that he would wait until his return. Upon his arrival, Gideon was instructed to place the meat and bread on a rock, and to then pour the broth over the previous items, and so he did. Then, with the tip of his staff," said Jeremiah as he moved his hand in the air as if he too were holding one, "the angel touched the meat and the unleavened bread. A fire flamed from the rock," exclaimed their father as he clapped his hands together in mock semblance of the consuming flame, "and the angel of the Lord disappeared!" The children stared at their father with unbelieving eyes and inquisitive looks. Elizabeth smiled as she imagined that her husband was simply exaggerating on the behalf of the children, but as she gazed at her husband, she realized that he was not stretching his tale at all. She leaned in closer to better hear his story.

"Shocked, Gideon cried out in fear for he had seen the angel of the Lord face to face, and he feared that he would have to pay the penalty of death for having beheld such a holy wonder. But even as this thought raced through his mind, the Lord said to him, 'Peace! You do not have to worry for you are not going to die. But I want you to tear down the idols and altars to Baal, and in their place, I want you to build an altar to the Lord your God and sacrifice a bull to me there.' Because Gideon feared the others in his own family and those that worshipped Baal, he waited until the cover of darkness to fulfill his task. But that evening, he did as he was told, and in the morning he faced the wrath of the men in the town. They could not believe what had happened, and instead of death for those who worshiped idols, they wanted to kill the one who had destroyed their idol's altar. Fortunately, Gideon's father was quick of tongue, and argued that if Baal were any kind of god at all he could defend himself when his own altar was destroyed. Resolved to the fact that Baal would deal with Gideon how he saw fit, the townsmen departed, leaving Gideon alone."

"It was at this time that some of our greatest foes began to gather in the valley, among them, the Midianites. Called upon by the Spirit of the Lord, Gideon blew a long and clear note on his trumpet, annoucing that it was time for the people of Israel to go to war. It was this call that summoned me," Jeremiah said as he stared into the eyes of his wife who was eagerly staring into his own. "Even with the sign from the angel and a command from the Lord himself, Gideon still wanted more evidence that what he was doing was what the Lord really had in mind. That night Gideon asked the Lord that if Israel was truly to be saved at his hands to let the fleece that he laid outside to be wet with dew and the ground to remain dry. The next morning, it was just as he had requested. I watched as Gideon wrung a bowl's worth of water from the dripping fleece. You would think that by now Gideon would have felt secure in his plan, but not so. Again, Gideon asked for another sign from the Lord, this time the ground being wet and the fleece being dry. And again, it was just as he had asked. Whether he was convinced or merely resigned to his fate, Gideon finally ordered that we move out and make camp at the Spring of Harod."

"As I looked around, I nearly became dejected. There were maybe 30,000 of us at best, not even a fourth of the Midian Army, and even that was a conservative estimate. But the Lord had called Gideon, and Gideon had called us to fight. So fight I would, no matter what the odds may seem. At least, that's what I first thought, and with a strong and courageous heart, I may also add, but all this was before Gideon had spoken to us that day."

"'Any of you who are scared and wish to return home, may now do so,' ordered Gideon in a commanding voice," said Jeremiah as he made grandiose gestures with a certain air of authority. "How many men do you think left?" Jeremiah asked his children. "100? 1000? Maybe even 10,000? Try about 20,000 men. That was about two-thirds of our army!" exclaimed their father as the children stared on in disbelief. "We were now outnumbered approximately 12-1. I stood amazed and almost horrified as man after man turned around and left. I couldn't believe my eyes. What is the Lord up to?, I thought more than once, but it was not my position to question. So I trusted. For what else I could do in the situation."
"The next day, Gideon gathered us once again, this time by the river. We were told to take a drink from the water and then our orders would be given to us. Cautiously, I knelt on the ground, and scooped the water into my cupped hands in order to bring it to my mouth. In this way, I was able to watch all the other men about me. I noticed how they were all on their knees with their faces to the water, lapping it up as if they were dogs," Jeremiah said as he demonstrated the two positions to his children. "When Gideon spoke next, I was so startled by his words that my hands opened, and the water slid through my fingers back into the river. 'Any man, who lowered his face to the water in order to lap it up with their tongues, may return home. If instead, you brought the water to your mouth by using your hands, you will stay will me.'"

"Again, I was dumbfounded as thousands of men began to grab their packs and leave. I hoped that once the confusion had died down, there would still be a considerable amount of men left, but once order returned to the camp, there were only 300 of us remaining. I could not believe my eyes. In a few days, I had seen a relatively small army of 30,000 be reduced to a mere handful of 300 men, and not at the hand of the enemy either! Still I trusted, but only because I found that if I didn't, I had no hope of survival. There would be no victory at the hands of Gideon's men; the victory would strictly come from the Lord. And although this thought managed to reassure me in the stillness of night when I lay alone, I still felt hopelessly vulnerable whenever I began to consider our odds."

"The next day, we moved our camp closer to the Midian army, and there we waited until nightfall. Just as darkness was settling about us, Gideon left with one of his servants in order to look upon the army that lay in the valley below us. The Lord had told Gideon to listen to the men as he approached, and as he did so, Gideon heard a man recounting with another a dream. 'I dreamt,' began the man, 'that a barley loaf tumbled into camp, struck a tent with such force that the entire thing collapsed.' The man with whom he was sharing his tale then interpreted the dream saying, 'This can mean nothing less than that the Midian army has been given over to the sword of Gideon, an Israelite.' After hearing the dream's meaning, Gideon returned praising the Lord and calling us to battle. He placed, what I at least thought to be very strange weapons, into our hands. We all received a trumpet, an empty jar, and a torch, which we kept hidden under the empty jar."

"After dividing us into three groups of one hundred men each, and explaining what it was that we were supposed to do, we made to encircle the entire camp below us. The darkness was thick, and the night masked our presence. I had been assigned to the group in which Gideon was the leader, and I earnestly strained my eyes in order to follow his lead. Then, with great vigor, Gideon blew his trumpet, and the entire valley seemed to ring with the glorious sound as trumpet upon trumpet came alive. In the next instant, we grabbed our jars and threw them to the ground as we revealed a circle of light around the entire valley. With one voice we shouted, 'A sword for the Lord and for Gideon,' and then once again we sounded our trumpets. The noises reverberated and multiplied in such a way that in the darkness one could have imagined an army a thousand times the size of our feeble one which now stood overlooking the chaos below."

"The valley was filled with an army as vast as the sands on the shore and as vicious as a plague of locusts, but in the darkness, the Lord confused their senses. Without His aid, we would have stood no more a chance of defeating them than a small flock of sheep hoping to overcome a large and fierce pack of wolves. But in the madness, the Midianites turned on their comrades believing that they were fighting the foe, but in actuality, they slaughtered themselves. We chased the fleeing army until not one remained, and it was then that I was able to return to you, victorious and alive," Jeremiah said as he once again embraced each member of his family.

"But what astonishes me most about my story is how God used small people like Gideon and myself. What have I done to be declared a mighty warrior? Did any of my qualities help to earn our success? And even Gideon acknowledged that he was among the least of the weakest. How easy it would have been to forget the Lord if we had marched into the Midian camp with our 30,000 and won a victory! But who now can claim even a small role in the enemy's defeat? Remember, my small ones, that God cares not about your size or your history…he only asks that you go when he commands and do what he asks, no matter how ludicrous or impossible the task may seem. I left this house a proud warrior, and I have returned a humble servant. Remember, it is in our weakness and in our incapability, that God proves his strength and his power. Now go and dream sweetly, for your father has returned and I will guard your slumber, as does our Father above," whispered Jeremiah as he placed his arm about the waist of his wife, and then saw his children to sleep.