I used to love the story of Gideon and how he overcame the Midianites with only 300 men. I fully believed that with God on your side 300 men was more than enough to take on the thousands and thousands of enemy soldiers. I also believed that 300 men making as much noise as possible could scare and confuse such an army.
I was also inspired by the story of Gideon laying out the fleeces so that he could be sure God really was talking to him. It’s funny how Christians look upon that now as an example of a lack of faith and that we should never lay fleeces as it’s like testing God. However, God seemed quite happy to prove to Gideon that he existed with signs and wonders (just as he was happy to prove himself against the Baals for Elijah). It’s funny that the God who is supposed to be the same today, tomorrow and yesterday doesn’t like to give signs in this day and age.
Let’s look at the story with critical eyes, after all the word of God should be able to stand up to scrutiny. Without my rose coloured Christian glasses on, I can see quite a few issues.
The numbers of the Midians and the camels they rode on was innumerable. In Verse 5 of Chapter 6 it tells us this. Well we have to be sceptical about this for a start. It may have been a huge army, but not that huge. Ok, let’s give the writer of this story the benefit of the doubt. There were so many it was difficult to count. We can’t criticize the author for not being exact on numbers.
Or can we?
The bible, according to many Christians is the irrefutable, inerrant word of God. He guided the hands of the writers; he made sure everything he wanted in the bible was put there. So why wasn’t God able to give this writer the exact number? After all, he knows the number stars in the sky and has even given them all names:
He determines the number of the stars. He gives to all of them their name and calls them each by name.
So why not the number of Midianites? Something doesn’t add up here, no pun intended.
If you believe the bible is only the inspired word of God and the numbers come from the writers themselves and not God, then that’s fine, but for those Christians who believe otherwise, this is a serious problem for the accuracy of the bible.
When Gideon first met the Angel of God, he wanted some kind of proof he was who he said he was and fair enough too. In verse 20, the Angel then gets him to jump through hoops by getting him to put out meat and bread on a rock and pour broth on them. The Angel then sets it on fire with the end of his staff.
Don't know why an angel would have something so primitive as a staff. Perhaps something more high tech like a laser gun would have proven he was an angel and not just some nut job. That would have also done away with the need for all the silly rigmarole. Don’t forget that back in those times, magicians could do some neat things, so if I were Gideon, I’d expect something much more remarkable than what that angel did especially when we know there are things like chemicals and flammable liquids that could have been used to do what that angel did.
Later in the chapter comes the story of the fleeces. Gideon, not satisfied with the previous sign (and fair enough too) sets out fleeces with conditions on what state they should be in the morning. God graciously does exactly what he wants – in fact, he does it twice, because Gideon still wasn’t convinced with the first fleece. (And once again, I don’t blame him.)
Funny how Gideon is allowed to test God, but it’s so frowned upon for us today.
But finally, Gideon believes God is behind him so agrees to lead an invasion against the Midianites.
In Chapter 7, God complains that Gideon’s army is too large and sends many of the soldiers home, so that they won’t take credit for it when the Israelis overcome the Midianites. God wants them to know without a doubt that he was the one who wiped them out. Of course, there is no explanation as to why God doesn’t just go and smite them dead without Gideon’s army going in, which when you think about it would leave no doubt that God was the one that did it. It also begs the question of why in many other bible stories God doesn’t demand they cut their numbers down to just a handful of soldiers.
God’s certainly lives up to his reputation of working in mysterious ways here with how he goes about selecting the 300 men he wants for this particular battle. Perhaps God was very bored and wanted some entertainment, because it’s almost like he decided to have his own little competition. It’s almost like The Apprentice or Survivor with a series of events to eliminate the excess baggage. One has to wonder why he didn’t just point out the men he wanted.
The most absurd elimination round was to get them all to drink water from a water hole and those who knelt to drink were eliminated, while those who lapped it up like a dog went to the final 300. Perhaps it’s just a cultural thing, or maybe the evolutionist have it right when they say we evolved from animals, but since when did a human being drink water by lapping it up like a dog? I’m still yet to see anyone do that for more than just a laugh. But yet exactly 300 of Gideon’s remaining men drank that way. I can’t help but wonder whether God knew they were a bunch of loonies and figured that if they got wiped out by the Midianites it would be no great loss.
Now comes the most remarkable part of Gideon’s story, where his 300 men surround the Midianite camp armed with only trumpets and pitchers (verse 18 & 21). But before we get to the final act of the story, ask yourself one question. If the number of Midianites and camels were innumerable, how on Earth could 300 men surround the camp? Even if they were spread out about a hundred metres apart, it’s doubtful they would be able to make enough noise to scare such a huge multitude of people.
Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt though. Let’s say that they hoped to make the Midianites think there were three hundred armies coming in at them from every direction. That would certainly scare them enough to create massive confusion.
But the trumpets, smashed pitchers, and raised torches did not cause any confusion at all amongst the Midianites. Not at all. No, because in verse 22, God is the one who sets the sword of one Midianite against the other. So Gideon and his army really had nothing to do with it at all. God caused them to kill each other.
Why didn’t God just do that in the first place? Why not cause an Earthquake or send loud thunder all around the camp or some other act that would be capable of causing confusion. Why involve Gideon and his 300 Israeli Idol finalists?
One may argue that God requires an act of faith from his people before he acts, which seems like a good argument, but in this story he is given full credit for the end result, which means all the blowing of trumpets and smashing of pitchers was in vain.
One could argue that the confusion and the turning of sword against sword were two separate events. God used his top 300 to cause confusion and then he himself took advantage of it and turned the Midianites against each other. But then one would have to ask why God needed that confusion to begin with. Isn’t he all-powerful?
On the other hand, one could argue that back in biblical days God was given credit (and was held responsible) for all the significant things that happened on Earth. In reality (assuming this event really did happen) Gideon’s army were the ones who caused the Midianites to turn on each other, not God.
Probably the biggest issue to come out of this story is that God violates the free-will of the Midianites by making them set sword against one another. As Christians we are taught that God will never force you do anything. This is why he allows evil people to commit atrocities, but doesn’t force them to stop. This story shows a clear case of God breaking his sacredly held rule, so it seems we have a contradiction here in the nature of God once more. Or at the very least he has changed his nature since this event took place.
The entire story is nonsensical. It makes no sense for God to make everyone jump through hoops and play silly games just to decide who gets to go scare the beejebus out of the Midianites. And after all that effort it was still God who did all the work in the end, but only after violating all those Midianite soldier’s free wills.
If we are to take this as a true story we have to believe A – that God is an idiot, B – that God violates free will and C - that the selection of the 300 and the surrounding of the Midianite army was all a pointless exercise.
This is clearly a made-up or severely exaggerated story, written by a mediocre storyteller who was not able to seal up all the plot holes. Thus it should not be taken seriously and should definitely not be considered literal history.