As I was reading Gideon’s story in Judges 6-8, it suddenly dawned on me how huge the odds were stacked against Gideon’s tiny army of 300 men. According to Judges 8:10, the army of the “people of the East” was made up of 135,000 soldiers. The odds were 450 to 1! Humanly speaking Gideon was insane to attempt a liberation campaign against such an army. But we know the whole story: Gideon actually started with a army of about 32,000, which would have greatly improved his odds. But God had other plans, and trimmed his army to 300. Why? To keep the Israelites from taking credit for the victory. We see this principle of impossible odds throughout the Bible. Abram and his 318 trained servants took on the armies of four kings in order to rescue Lot. It doesn’t say how big their armies were, but these four kings felt they were big enough to start a war against five other kings – undoubtedly their forces numbered in the thousands. Not many details of the battle are given but Melchizedek told Abram that it was “God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand” (Gen. 14:20 NKJV).
Another notable example of this principle was the return of a small group of Israeli exiles mentioned in Ezra 2. They had no big army to protect them as they travelled. Compared to Israel’s glory days this returning number seemed very insignificant and certainly weak, but nevertheless God had a specific plan and purpose in mind for them.
Zechariah and Haggai were prophets sent by God to encourage the Israelites during the difficult reconstruction time. In Zechariah 4:6-7 an angel gave a message to Zechariah for Zerubbabel, who led the first return of exiles: “‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit’ says the LORD of hosts. ‘Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain!’” What an encouraging promise that all obstacles would disappear, not through military might but by the power of the Holy Spirit. Then the Lord further promised this: “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple; his hands shall also finish it. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent Me to you. For who has despised the day of small things?” (4:9-10).
In Haggai 2:3 the Lord spoke to Zerubbabel and to the people: “Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? In comparison with it, is this not in your eyes as nothing?” Is this a mild rebuke? Were Zerubbabel and the people discouraged because their efforts at rebuilding the temple were so inferior to Solomon’s? Some older folks who remembered the original temple were obviously disappointed and shed tears at the sight of the new foundations, but the younger generation was thrilled by what had been accomplished (Ezra 3:13).
The New Testament clearly confirms this principle. Paul wrote this about his “thorny” problems: “I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10). He also earlier declared, “God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things that are mighty” (1 Cor. 1:27). Why? So “that no flesh should glory in His presence” (1:29). God has a dual purpose: to shame the arrogant and prevent His servants from becoming proud.
Of course the ultimate example of this principle is the Lord Himself, especially at His death: “Though He was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God” (2 Cor. 13:4).
Today some of us may be discouraged about our feeble efforts to serve the Lord. Our work may appear insignificant compared to other Christian ministries, but we need to remember that God has called us to a specific service. It’s up to Him whether our ministry grows, stays the same, or declines. Success in Christian service should not be measured by human standards. It’s God’s work, He’s in control, and no service for Him is insignificant to Him.
By Sam O. Hadley
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org