Around 1170 BC, the armies of Midian, Amalek, and the people of the east formed an alliance against Israel and crossed the Jordan, camping in the valley of Jezreel. Then the Spirit of the Lord clothed Gideon with power. He blew a ram’s horn as a call to arms, and the men of the clan of Abiezer (descendant of Joseph the son of Jacob, and head of one of the families of Manasseh that settled West of the Jordan) came to him. He also sent messengers throughout Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, summoning their warriors, and all of them responded.
Gideon a Hebrew leader asked the Lord to give him a sign that He will be with him when the Israelites go into battle against the Midianites. Gideon wanted to be sure it was really God’s voice that he was hearing and that he understood His directions, so he said to God, “If you really expect to deliver Israel by my hand, as you have said, Behold, I will set a fleece of wool on the threshing floor; and if dew falls only on the fleece and all the ground stays dry, I will know that you will deliver Israel through me, as you said you would.” And it was so; for he rose up early the next day and he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew out of the fleece, a bowlful of water.
Gideon’s faith was so weak that he asked God for another sign saying, “Do not be angry with me if I speak just once more. Please let me prove only this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew.” And God did so that night; for it was dry upon the fleece only, and the dew was on all of the ground. Gideon knew that he was treading on dangerous ground and that he might be trying God’s patience by asking for multiple signs. This was not the first time that Gideon had been given a sign from God.
Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press in order to save it from the Midianites, when the angel of the LORD appeared and said, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.” Gideon was quite surprised and he explained that he was the weakest person in the weakest family in the whole tribe. It is as if he was saying, “Lord, you must have the wrong person.” But God said, “I will be with you.” God said these same words to Moses and to Joshua and now He was saying them to Gideon. Gideon was still a bit unsure about this. He might have thought he was dreaming, so he asked God for a sign to be sure it was really the Lord talking to him. Gideon went to prepare an offering to give to God. He cooked a goat and made some soup with it. He also made a large loaf of bread that had no yeast in it. The angel told him to put the bread and the meat on a rock, and pour the soup out. Gideon did it. The angel touched the meat and bread with his staff. Instantly fire came from the rock and burned up the meat and bread. Then the angel disappeared. So, Gideon knew it was the Lord who had spoken to him. Gideon built an altar to God on that spot.
The time for battle finally arrived and Gideon was camped and waiting to do battle with a coalition of more than 135,000 Midianites. Gideon, and all the people that were with him (volunteer army of 32,000), rose up early, and pitched beside the well of Harod, a copious spring of clear cold water that rises in a rocky cave and flows out into a large pool, from where it drains off. The spring of Harod was the only water available for Gideon’s men, and it made getting a drink a rather interesting adventure. This put the host of the Midianites on the north side of them, by the hill of Moreh or ‘hill of the teacher’, in the valley East of Jezreel. Gideon probably thought that he had too few men with him to face so many, but God thought otherwise.
God devised a test for Gideon so he could reduce the size of his army down to 300 warriors which would create an elite fighting force. The Lord said to Gideon, “The people are still too many; bring them down to the water, and I will test them for you there. Then it will be, that of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you’, the same shall go with you; and of whomever I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you’, the same shall not go.” So he brought the people down to the water. And the Lord said to Gideon, “Everyone who laps from the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set apart by himself; likewise everyone who gets down on his knees to drink.” And the number of those who lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, was three hundred men; but all the rest of the people got down on their knees to drink water.
The spring was in plain view of the Midianites, and there was always the possibility of an ambush and Gideon was to watch how the men drank. Some of the people would scoop up water in one hand, holding their spear in the other, and then lap the water. Others would fall flat on their faces, forgetting about everything else and drink to their heart’s content. When these men went down to the spring and lapped water like a dog, they were down on their knees, but the real warriors would lap the water by bringing the water up to their mouths with their cupped hands, staying alert for the enemy. God was not interested in simply giving His people a victory, as He wanted to teach them to trust Him.