“The Sword of the Lord and of Gideon,” Ensign, Apr. 2002, 46
Many of us feel afraid or insecure when asked to serve in the Lord’s kingdom. But the Lord has said: “I call upon the weak things of the world, those that are unlearned and despised. … And their arm shall be my arm, and I will be their shield and their buckler” (D&C 35:13–14). The story of Gideon can help those of us who feel discouraged or intimidated by a sacred call to lead, whether in the home or in church.
Under the inspired leadership of Joshua, the children of Israel conquered their enemies, took possession of their promised land, and set up the tabernacle of Jehovah at Shiloh (see Josh. 18:1). “And Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that overlived Joshua, and which had known all the works of the Lord” (Josh. 24:31).
Tribal loyalties, however, soon replaced the spirit of national unity, leaving Israel vulnerable to its enemies. More damaging than disunity was their failure to consistently keep their covenants with the Lord. They fell into a repeating cycle of apostasy and repentance. From time to time the Lord called judges to deliver His people from earthly oppression and spiritual bondage (see Judg. 2:11–23; Bible Dictionary, “Judges, The,” 719). Gideon was one such judge.
Every year for seven years a powerful confederation of nomadic tribes from southeastern Palestine had overrun the land of Israel. This was done each year at harvesttime, not by armies arrayed for battle, but with people “as grasshoppers for multitude.” They invaded, pitching their tents and grazing their animals as they wandered through the land. So devastating were these migrations that they stripped the land of everything that could sustain life (see Judg. 6:1–5). The Midianites were like unwelcome distant relatives who came each year and stayed too long, eating the Israelites out of house and home.
So impoverished and desperate were the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help. The first thing the Lord did was send a prophet, whose name is unknown, to rebuke Israel for its disobedience (see Judg. 6:7–10). Next He sent an angel to a young man named Gideon as he secretly threshed wheat under an oak tree, hoping to keep the grain from the Midianites. The angel said: “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior. … Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand.”1
Gideon did not think he was a mighty warrior and replied, “Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” The angel replied, “Surely I will be with thee and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man” (Judg. 6:15–16; emphasis added). To smite as one man means that the vast masses of Midianites would be conquered as if they were but a lone man. This seemed unbelievable to Gideon, so he asked the angel for a sign, to prove that he was truly sent from God. Evidence was duly provided, and Gideon bowed in humble submission to the Lord’s call (see Judg. 6:17–24).
The first task the Lord gave Gideon was not to save all Israel from the Midianites but to cleanse the sin of idolatry from his father’s household. This he did bravely, going forth by night with 10 friends and destroying the altar and worship area of the false god Baal used by his father and his community leaders. This made the leaders angry.
When they learned that it was Gideon who had done this act, they demanded that Joash, Gideon’s father, surrender him for punishment by death. To his credit, Joash defended his son before the hostile crowd, saying, “If Baal really is a God, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar.”2 Thus Gideon’s service in his new calling as a “mighty warrior” not only confronted idolatry, it awakened spirituality in his own father. This exploit earned Gideon a new name, Jerubbaal, which means “he that striveth with Baal” (see Bible Dictionary, “Jerubbaal,” 712).
Having established himself in the eyes of the people as a servant of God, Gideon became more confident in doing what the Lord commanded. As harvesttime neared, the Midianites again gathered, this time in the valley of Jezreel (see Bible Dictionary, “Jezreel,” 713). “The Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet,” mustering an army of 32,000 men from throughout Israel (see Judg. 6:34). Gideon then asked for and received a spiritual confirmation that the Lord would save Israel (see Judg. 6:36–40). So off to battle they went, camping at the well of Harod.
“The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands,” the Lord told Gideon (Judg. 7:2). The Lord was concerned that when the battle was won, the Israelites would think that they, not the Lord, had gained the victory. The Lord told Gideon to send home anyone who was “fearful and afraid.” Some 22,000, almost 70 percent, left for home. There were still too many, so the Lord commanded Gideon to have his troops quench their thirst at the nearby spring. Whoever drank water by scooping it into his mouth with his hands was separated from those who knelt at the water’s edge and gulped it directly from the spring. The 300 who drank with their hands were chosen for the battle, and the rest were dismissed (see Judg. 7:1–7).
Gideon was uneasy, worried, and unable to sleep that night. He had only 300 men to drive away the innumerable Midianites. The Lord went to Gideon and told him to immediately go down and eavesdrop on the Midianites. Gideon secreted himself on the edge of camp and overheard two men express fear that the God of Israel would deliver them into the hands of Gideon (see Judg. 7:9–14).
With renewed courage, Gideon awoke his men and organized them into three groups. He equipped each man with a trumpet (ram’s horn) and a clay pottery jar with a burning lamp inside. He told them to take positions on the hillside above the Midianites and at his signal blow their horns and break their jars. Normally only a comparatively small number of men in an army carry trumpets. As the Midianites lay sound asleep, the sound of 300 trumpets blaring and jars breaking jolted them to their feet to see the blazing lamps nearby. The battle cry “The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon” reverberated through the valley (see Judg. 7:20).
Believing they were under attack from thousands of Israelites, the Midianites, in their confusion and terror, began killing each other. They fled southward in disarray. Gideon called out men from the tribe of Ephraim to cut them off in their retreat and force them east across the Jordan River and out of Israelite territory. Thus the Lord had vanquished Israel’s enemies without a single Israelite casualty (see Judg. 7:21–25). Truly the Lord had kept His promise to Gideon: “Thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man.”
So often the Lord calls inexperienced people to His service and gives them important and decisive assignments. At first, like Gideon, they may be fearful of the task. “If any brother or sister feels unprepared—even incapable—of responding to a call to serve, to sacrifice, to bless the lives of others, remember this truth: ‘Whom God calls, God qualifies.’ He who notes the sparrow’s fall will not abandon the servant’s need.”3 As we read the stories of those whom the Lord has called out of their weakness, we can have the assurance that we will receive the strength to fulfill callings. “God does not begin by asking us about our ability, but only about our availability, and if we then prove our dependability, he will increase our capability.”4
The Lord calls missionaries, Primary teachers, quorum leaders, fathers and mothers out of their weakness to become His powerful servants. He does not ask that they become strong first, then serve; He does not wait until they become fully trained and skillful. Like Gideon, He often calls them from obscurity and weakness. He tells them to “go in the strength you have” and then make them mighty warriors. The first assignments are often smaller yet truly significant and assist those called in strengthening their own families.
The companionship of the Holy Ghost strengthens our faith as we serve. Our assignments enable us to prove our faithfulness in small things. We will then be ready for greater things.
“The Lord has a great work for each of us to do. You may wonder how this can be. You may feel that there is nothing special or superior about you or your ability. … The Lord can do remarkable miracles with a person of ordinary ability who is humble, faithful, and diligent in serving the Lord and seeks to improve himself. This is because God is the ultimate source of power.”5
The Lord showed great patience and understanding with Gideon as he sought to realize his place in the work of the Lord. So will the Lord do with each of us if we will follow His counsel: “Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me” (D&C 19:23).
More on this topic: Bruce D. Porter, “Building the Kingdom,”Ensign, May 2001, 80–81; Jan U. Pinborough, “The Value of Every Calling,”Ensign, Mar. 2001, 41–47; Boyd K. Packer, “Called to Serve,”Ensign, Nov. 1997, 6–8; Monte J. Brough, “A Holy Calling,”Ensign, May 1997, 27–28.