(an outtake from Once More, From the Beginning. This is one of the bits that didn’t make it into the book.)
When Gideon prepared to face the Midianites in battle, God demanded that he pare down his army to a less imposing number. Their victory, he decided, would thereby be all the more impressive.
Gideon blanched. “But these men have all shown themselves to be loyal, willing soldiers,” he pointed out. “How can I choose some and reject the rest? They’d be insulted!” he pleaded, hopefully.
But The Lord was ready with what he decided was a fair plan. “Bring all the men down to the river to refresh themselves,” he demanded. “The ones who kneel to drink are to be sent away. The ones who lap the water from their hands – those will become your army.”
Unhappily for Gideon, there were only three hundred lappers. He had felt a lot more confident when he had an army of thirty-two thousand to work with. The Lord must have noticed the traces of dismay in his demeanour, because he suggested that Gideon might pass the time more pleasantly by sneaking down into the enemy camp to eavesdrop on the chatter of the troops as they prepared for battle.
Gideon barely had time to creep across and hide himself behind a convenient bush before he overheard one Midianite soldier describing to another a dream he’d had the night before.
“I dreamt I was on watch, see, and I saw this big barley cake tumble right into the camp. It gave me quite a fright!”
“A barley cake.”
“Yeah. No kidding, it was huge!”
“A big, scary barley cake.”
“Yeah. You should have seen it! It rolled right into a tent…knocked it flat to the ground!”
Well, the meaning appears to have been clear to the Midianites: that farmer fellow, Gideon, was going to attack them with a handful of hand-lappers! You can imagine how terrified they must have been.
Gideon, feeling much better now that the true strength of his position had been clarified, returned to the Israelite camp, formulating a creative battle plan on the way back. He divided his men into three companies, and issued each man a trumpet and a pitcher with a lamp inside. They snuck down and surrounded the enemy camp; then, at a pre-arranged signal from Gideon, they all smashed their pitchers, held up the lamps in a threatening manner and blew their trumpets savagely. For some reason which may be more obvious to you than it is to me, this caused the Midianites to start fighting fiercely among themselves, decimating their numbers significantly. Finally, the survivors fled with Gideon’s men in hot pursuit, slaughtering every man they were lucky enough to catch.
No sooner was the battle neatly won than the bulk of the Israelites crept down from the mountain dens to which they had retreated on the arrival of the Midianite hordes. Gideon arranged his face in the most modest possible fashion consistent with his dignity as a heroic conqueror, and awaited their thanks.
“Well, thanks for hogging all the glory,” the elders complained, testily. “Couldn’t think of sharing the victory with anyone else, could you?”
Gideon’s carefully prepared visage wavered, and began to crumple. “But you weren’t here,” he protested. “You didn’t even come down to watch!”
“Well, we didn’t feel it was our place to intrude, you know. We would have been glad to fight, of course, and die, and so forth…if only we’d been invited.”
“I’m sorry,” ventured Gideon. “I didn’t think….”
“Oh, yes, we know. You never think.”
“Well, don’t be mad. Look here…I’ve saved the execution of a couple of prime Midianite princes especially for you!”
He further defused their righteous anger by adding a few kind words about the superior quality of their wine, and the land of Israel once again settled down peacefully for the remaining forty years of Gideon’s lifetime.