When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.” The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.”
…So Gideon sent the rest of the Israelites home but kept the three hundred, who took over the provisions and trumpets of the others (Judges 6. 12 – 16; 7. 8)
When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked. “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Kings 6. 15 – 17)
I have recently observed how often God’s people are outnumbered by their enemies with apparently little hope of survival. It seems to be a common theme throughout scripture.
Take Gideon, for example. The Midianites had raided Israel’s land regularly, ruining their crops and killing their livestock. The Israelites cried out to God for help, and God called Gideon to lead a counter-offensive. Gideon was hardly the ideal man for the task. He was thoroughly scared - hiding in a winepress, threshing wheat where he thought the Midianites wouldn’t find him. He was also the least in his family, and his family was from the weakest tribe. Not a promising start!
Gideon faithfully gathered an army of over thirty thousand men, which the Lord began to whittle down, first down to ten thousand and eventually down to three hundred. To say that Israel was outnumbered was something of an understatement. However, this was all part of God’s plan, so that Israel couldn’t boast in its own strength. They had to rely on God to save them and give him the glory. (You can read the full story in Judges 6 – 8.)
Later on in the history of Israel, the prophet, Elisha, found himself trapped in the city of Dothan, surrounded by the army of the Arameans and again completely outnumbered. His servant was understandably terrified, but Elisha had complete faith in God to deliver them. He had heavenly forces on his side! On this occasion, Elisha prayed that the enemy would be struck with blindness. He led them away from the city into Samaria, where their sight was restored and a peaceful solution was negotiated without any bloodshed. (You can read the full story in 2 Kings 6.8 – 22.)
There’s a temptation to be discouraged by the plight of small rural congregations and how we are going to grow and make a difference to our community. However, God doesn’t play the numbers game that we are so often inclined to join in. He knows our needs and he can be trusted to lead us forward into a good and wholesome place. This is so that we cannot boast in our own strength and effectiveness, but so that we rely on God and give him the glory.
A Prayer Lord Jesus, if when the odds are stacked against us, you are there, and you know exactly what we need. We put our trust in you afresh today. Amen.
A little encouragement out of the mouths of babes:
Be old, be strong, for the Lord your God is with you by Morris Chapman