Read Judges 7:1-8
1 Early in the morning, Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) and all his men camped at the spring of Harod. The camp of Midian was north of them in the valley near the hill of Moreh. 2 The LORD said to Gideon, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me.’ 3 Now announce to the army, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’ ” So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained.
4 But the LORD said to Gideon, “There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will sift them for you there. If I say, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go; but if I say, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.”
5 So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the LORD told him, “Separate those who lap the water with their tongues like a dog from those who kneel down to drink.” 6 Three hundred of them lapped with their hands to their mouths. All the rest got down on their knees to drink.
7 The LORD said to Gideon, “With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the others go, each to his own place.” 8 So Gideon sent the rest of the Israelites to their tents but kept the three hundred, who took over the provisions and trumpets of the others. (NIV)
Gideon is one of the numerous biblical figures who has been plucked out of obscurity by God and given a seemingly impossible task to do. In this case, deliver the people of God from the attacks of the Midianites, who happened to be the neighbourhood bullies. After early hesitation and the matter of putting out fleeces, Gideon gets to work raising an army to do God’s bidding. Just as he is starting to get some sort of security from all his allies, God comes in and seems to spoil the party.
He gets Gideon to reduce his army drastically. First by sending any who were afraid home, and then by sending home any who showed lack of military alertness in the way they drank. Lapping water from the hand meant you could still keep an eye out for danger, bending bodily over the stream meant you were more vulnerable. And so Gideon’s big job is made even bigger.
God shows Gideon why this is so. He wants the battle fought and won in such a way that it has to be seen as a miracle of divine intervention. If the Israelites thought their own army won the battle, they would get swelled heads and their constant simmering rebellion against God would get even worse. God wants to strip them of their own resources to such an extent that they utterly depend on his resources.
We are worlds away from Gideon and his fleeces and his water-drinking tests. But God still seems to do the same sort of thing. Gives us something to do that can only be done in his power, and takes more of our own power away so that that the power he gives is more evident. Now, as then, the Lord gives and the Lord takes away.