The best view

From Mt. Gilboa looking at the battlefield where Gideon’s 300 “soldiers” fought the Midianites.
Harod Valley. The Harod Valley is somewhat located between the hill of Moreh and Mt. Gilboa. At the base of Mt. Gilboa is a natural water spring that flows to the Jordan River. Because of the steady supply of water, the valley is ideal for agriculture. In the Old Testament, the Harod Valley was also a strategic pass from Jezreel to Beit She’an.

Judges 6-8 tells the story of Gideon, the most unwilling person to be called by God to serve as a judge in Israel. Gideon’s name means “hewer,” that is, one who cuts down (or a tree feller). Gideon acquired the nickname “Jerub-Ba’al” (“strive with Ba’al”) from the townsfolk. They wanted to kill Gideon because he destroyed (“cut down”) their altar to Ba’al and the surrounding grove that was used promiscuously in the Ba’al ritual (6:25-32). Gideon’s father reasoned with them for his son’s life to let Ba’al fight his own battles.

It is the Sunday School part of Gideon’s life that we remember best. God told Gideon to go to Ein Harod, the water spring at the foot of Mt. Gilboa. I’m not sure why or when “Harod” got its name. In Hebrew the word means “shaking.” Seismic activity in the area is as possible an explanation as the site later becoming known as the place where the “fearful” were released from active military duty under Gideon (7:3). Twenty-two thousand “fearful” soldiers left in a single day. They didn’t leave without good cause. The Midianite warriors numbered 135,000 (8:10).

With still too many soldiers, God instructed Gideon to give his army a test at Ein Harod, “drink the water.” Already outnumbered by the Midianites 4 to 1, God was going to “help” Gideon by reducing his army from 10,000 to 300. Now the ratio would jump from 14 to 1 to 450 to 1. To make matters worse, God told Gideon they would be using unconventional weapons of warfare (ram’s horns, lit torches hidden in empty clay pitchers, 7:16).

From our vista on Mt. Gilboa we could see the battlefield in the Harod Valley where Gideon’s 300 men encircled the Midianites and “attacked.” From their vantage the 300 watched the confused Midianites in fear turn on their comrades. Gideon and his 300 men had no doubt who was really fighting. It may not have been clear to Gideon what God was doing when He reduced the army, issued their weapons, and revealed the strategy of their mission. Throughout his life, Gideon didn’t find it easy to trust the Lord. In this event in his life, Gideon had learned to trust God even though what he was asked to do didn’t make sense.

Maybe David, a mighty warrior in his own right, was thinking about Gideon and the defeat of the Midianites when he wrote many years later, “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the Lord our God” (Psalm 20:7).