And the LORD said to Gideon, The people that are with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands…
One of the first objects of a general's anxiety is to see that he has a sufficient number of men under his command. But Gideon is made to understand that he has too many, and must reduce his hosts before going to battle with the sanction and assistance of God. In Christian work the tendency is to rely on external appearances of strength manifested by a great array of workers rather than on the inconspicuous spiritual sources of real power. While remembering the need of more labourers of the right kind for God's field (Matthew 9:37, 38), we must also understand that the work may be suffering through excess in numbers of those labourers, whose character and method of work are not of the highest order.
I. THE POWER OF GOD IS FAR MORE IMPORTANT THAN ANY HUMAN AGENCY. In all Divine work the real energy is centred in God. We are but the instruments in his hands. The temptation is to forget that the true power and blessing come wholly from him (Deuteronomy 8:17), and to think so much of our labour in planting and watering as to ignore the one most important thing, God giving the increase (1 Corinthians 3:7). A gardener can only minister to the spontaneous life of nature; and if he becomes so infatuated with his skill as to attempt to manufacture a plant, his total reliance on his own resources will, of course, only reveal folly. So anything which leads us to magnify human agencies at the expense of Divine power will as surely produce failure.
1. The imposing appearance of too great numbers may lead us to neglect the aid of God. When we are few we feel our helplessness, and so learn to turn to God for strength; when we are many we imagine ourselves strong, and thus while we are (apparently) strong in ourselves we are really most weak. Presumption takes the place of faith, and human agency is relied on instead of Divine energy. The numbers of the Church, the elaborate organisation of her societies, the gifts and genius of individual men are all snares if they tempt us to neglect the one supreme source of success. The danger of the Church in the present day is to rely too much on the machinery of her institutions, instead of seeking the vital power which can alone inspire the energy of spiritual work.
2. The character of too great numbers may be such as to hinder the bestowal of the help of God. God cannot bestow his spiritual gifts on a people who are not spiritually-minded. If we gain numbers at the expense of spirituality, we do this also at the expense of Divine aid. Better be few, and constituting such a worthy temple that the Holy Ghost can dwell and work in us, than numerous, but possessed by a worldly spirit which degrades the temple into a house of merchandise.
II. THE QUALITY OF ANY HUMAN AGENCY IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE SIZE OF IT. It has been well said that it would be better for the cause of Christianity in the world "if there were fewer Christians and better ones." Xerxes found the vast numbers of his Asiatic hordes a hindrance to effective warfare with the disciplined Greeks. The great want of the Church is not more labourers, but better ones - better ministers, missionaries, teachers; not more sermons, but more able preaching; not a more ponderous library of Christian literature to meet the attacks of unbelief, but a few more powerful works (one book, 'Butler's Analogy was probably more effective in counteracting the influence of Deism than all the rest of the voluminous apologetic writing of the eighteenth century). It would be well if Church discipline were a reality, and Christian workers selected with conscientious care. The workers should be sifted by tests applied to their character and abilities.
1. Tests of courage and zeal are useful; so Gideon dismissed the timid, and only willing men were retained. The only valuable soldiers in Christ's army are the volunteers who delight in his service.
2. Slight incidents will often reveal character, and serve as tests of the quality of God's servants (ver. 7). - A.
Parallel VersesKJV: And the LORD said unto Gideon, The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me.