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GIDEON'S ARMY THREE COMPANIES - EMPTY PITCHERS - LAMPS, &c

In reply to brother Isaac McCarty, of New London, Iowa, we will give such views as we have upon the figurative import of the text recorded in Judges 7:16, which reads thus: "And he divided the three hundred men into three companies, and he put a trumpet in every man's hand, with empty pitchers, and lamps within the pitchers."

The records of the Old Testament we are informed are given for our instruction, and contain a shadow of good things to come, things in which the saints of the present dispensation have an interest. The people of Israel whom God redeemed from Egypt, and with a strong hand and outstretched arm brought out of the house of bondage and through the sea, and through the wilderness into the promised land, were undisputably typical of the spiritual people which were chosen of God in Christ, and redeemed from the bondage of the law, the pollution and guilt of sin, and brought by his almighty arm into the gospel rest which wu prefigured by the land of promise. The propensity of Israel to murmur, fret and rebel, and when not under the chastising hand of God to go into idolatry, clearly portrays the wandering and rebellious propensity of the spiritual tribes of the Lord to depart from his precepts, wax fat and kick, when left to develop their carnal proclivities, for the trial of their faith. As Israel were often chastised for their rebellion and idolatry by being driven before their enemies until thoroughly made sensible of their own weakness and entire dependence on God for deliverance, so the children of God are frequently reduced to the greatest extremities, and with deep contrition to call on God to deliver them from their distress.

The connection of our text shows that Israel had done evil in the sight of the Lord, and had been delivered by the Lord into the hands of Midian for seven years; and when they were sorely oppressed by their enemies, the angel of the Lord appeared unto Gideon, the son of Jonah, and commanded him to demolish the altar of Baal, and cut down the grove; and this exasperated the Midianites and the Amalekites and the children of the east, and they raised a mighty army, and came down upon the people of Israel with a host that was like the sand for number, and encamped against Israel. Israel, now humbled under the chastening hand of God, in their distress called on God for deliverance; and God, by his angel, appeared again unto Gideon, and promised to deliver Israel by his hand; and having strengthened him for the work, gave him special instruction how to proceed. To all human appearance the whole combined forces of all the tribes of Israel could make but a very feeble and fruitless resistance to such a mighty army; but God had determined, instead of augmenting the army of Israel, to reduce the handful which were with Gideon, from thirty-two thousand men to the number of only three hundred, lest Israel should boast that by their power or valor they had achieved the victory. Truly God is jealous for his own glory, which he will not give to another, nor his praise unto graven images. God's method of strengthening the heart and hands of Gideon, and Gideon's misgivings and fearfulness, are well illustrated in his dealings with his children in every age. We all know something of the doubtings, fearing., trembling and slowness of heart to receive and rely upon the kind and gracious promises of our God. But when he strips us for the race, or harnesses us for the battle, then we can, through him, run through a troop or leap over a wall, and do valiantly.

We may trace this subject far, and compare God's dealings with Gideon and Israel with the experience of all the saints in their numerous conflicts with their enemies and their triumph over them; but there appears to us a still deeper and more striking application of the figurative import of the part of the subject presented in the text proposed for our more especial consideration.

From the allusion to this subject, Isa. 9:4-7, we conclude that Gideon, in leading the little band of God's elect or chosen people to triumph over the Midianitish hosts, was a figure of Christ, as the Captain of our salvation. The removing the yoke and burden and staff and rod of oppression of Israel by Gideon, was attended with confused noise in the Midianitish camp, and garments rolled in blood; not by swords of steel or weapons of carnal slaughter used by Gideon and his men, but by confusion in the enemies' camp, which set every man's sword against his fellow; and this confusion and consternation was occasioned by what was to them the confused noise of three hundred trumpets breaking suddenly upon their astonished ears, and simultaneously with the noise, the fearful glare of light from three hundred lamps, which carried dismay and terror to their quaking hearts. so when our spiritual or anti-typical Gideon, the "child born, the Son given, the Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Prince of Peace," should vanquish all the enemies of his cause and people, it shall answer to the figure and be with burning and fuel of fires. When "that wicked shall be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming." - 2 Thess. 2:8.

If we are right in taking Gideon in this figure to represent Christ, then the three hundred chosen men, elected by God himself, may represent the chosen people of God under the three dispensations, including patriarchs and prophets under the two former dispensations, and the apostles and saints of the gospel dispensation. This divides the Lord's host into three companies, as they are represented by a multitude of corresponding figures. When Jacob, on his journey, came to the land of the people of the east, he saw a well in the field, and lo, 4here were three flocks of sheep lying by it, for out of that well they watered the flocks. But it was a fountain sealed, a spring shut up, so that they could not be watered until the flocks were gathered, and the stone removed. The stone, or tables of the law, shut up from the flocks the waters of life, until Rachel (the figure of the gospel church) brought up her father's flock, and then the stone was removed and the flocks were watered. Gen. 29. The division of the Lord's chosen people is represented in the three companies, by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; by Noah, Daniel and Job; by Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, in the burning furnace, and the form of the fourth in their midst, whose form was like the Son of God; in the sign of the prophet Jonah, the three days and three nights he was in the whale's belly, and the three days in which Christ said he would build the temple, the three days he was in the heart of the earth; with many other parallel figures, all of which show that the great battle of the Lord, in which the mighty hosts of the worshippers of Baal or other idols shall be vanquished and go to confusion together, and the wicked shall be consumed by the spirit of the mouth of our great Captain, and destroyed by the brightness of his coming, as the Midianites were by the sound of the trumpets blown by the mouth of Gideon, and reiterated by those who were with him, who were "called and chosen and faithful," and whom Gideon commanded to look at him, and do as they saw him do, should agree with this figurative number. "And he put a trumpet in every man's hand." Not in the hand of every man of Midian, or of Amalek, nor even every man of Israel; but every man of the three hundred whom God has chosen for that service. The proclamation of the gospel of the grace of God is often spoken of in the scriptures as the blowing of the trumpet. Two trumpets of silver, of a whole pieces, where made at God's command by Moses, to be blown for the gathering of the people of Israel, and for the journeying of the camp. A jubilee trumpet was sounded to announce the year of release to the captives of Israel. "And it shall come to pass in that day that the great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall worship the Lord in his holy mount at Jerusalem." - Isa. 27:13. "And he shall send his angels with a great sound of trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds from one end of heaven to the other." - Matt. 24:31. The trumpets used by the three hundred chosen men of Gideon did not divide nor scatter Gideon's men when sounded by command of and in harmony with the sounding of the trumpet of their illustrious leader; but it scattered and confused their enemies. So the gospel of the son of God, when sounded at his command, and precisely as the chosen trumpeters witness the sounding of it by their glorious leader and commander, will always gather those who have an ear to hear what the Spirit saith to the churches; but "if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare for the battle?" The gospel is the sharp sword which proceedeth out of the mouth of him who in righteousness doth judge and make war. This is the "sword of the Lord and of Gideon," and it will surely carry confusion into the camp of the enemies, and ultimately set every man's hand against his fellow, as in the days of Midian. The sword of the Lord, as we have said, is not a carnal weapon made of steel, but it is quick (vital) and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword; it is mighty through God, for it divides asunder between joints and marrow, soul and spirit, and it is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Such a sword, a 'Thus saith the Lord God," is put in the hand of every soldier of the cross; but it cannot be used with good effect only at the proper time.

The apostles, after receiving the commission, were commanded to tarry in Jerusalem until they were endued with power from on high. Had some of Gideon's men blown the trumpet before Gideon gave the signal, they might have done mischief; but, "Look on me, and do likewise. When I blow with a trumpet, I and all that are with me, then blow ye the trumpets also on every side of the camp, and say, The sword of the Lord and of Gideon." So says our spiritual leader: Look on me, observe my example, do as ye see me do, obey my commandments, and follow in my footsteps.

Observe, the trumpets were furnished and put in every man's hand by Gideon, as were also the empty pitchers and the lamps. Trumpets have a variety of sounds; some are shrill and piercing, some are smooth and soft, others are harsh and grating in their sound; some are to announce an approaching conflict, calling the people to arms, and some are to proclaim a jubilee of release to prisoners and captives; but for every purpose the trumpet must give a certain sound. Should every man furnish his own trumpet, they would not be likely to harmonize in sound. Some of those that were used by Israel were made of rams' horns, others of silver, and all adapted to the purpose for which they were to be used. The trumpets put in the hands of Gideon's three hundred men fitly represented the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which our spiritual Gideon has bestowed on every, one whom he has called and chosen to grapple with the powers of darkness, and stand in defense of the faith which was once delivered to the saints. And let it also be well observed that the trumpets in the hands of Gideon's men were only understood by the men of Gideon; but made a confused, unintellgible noise in the ears of the Midianitish camp. The same trumpets that cheered and strengthened the hands and hearts of the men of Gideon, carried consternation and death to their enemies. So the same apostolic gifts that are "a savor of life unto life to them that are saved, are a savor of death unto death to them that perish." "Blessed are they that know the joyful sound." "The preaching of Christ is to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, (as were Gideon's men,) Christ the power of God and the Wisdom of God."

The empty pitchers may represent the servants of God, who in themselves are but dust and ashes, moulded by the potter, and formed into vessels of honor or of dishonor, according to the pleasure of the potter; in themselves empty, and having no power to either cheer Israel or confound the enemy; but he who has formed the vessels to honor has committed to them a sacred treasure, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.

The lamps, that were concealed from the view of the enemy by the empty pitchers until the pitchers were broken to let the light shine forth, is clearly illustrated by the apostle, 2 Cor. 4:5-7: "For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure (of light) in earthen vessels, (as Gideon's men had their light in earthen vessels, and for the same purpose, too,) that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us." And as the mighty hosts of Midian, of Amalek and the people of the east were overwhelmed and destroyed when Gideon caused the light to shine out of the darkness of the empty pitchers, even so will the Lord consume anti-christ or that wicked with the spirit of his mouth, and destroy them with the brightness of his coming. - 2 Thess. 2:8. God's chosen ministers, who take forth the precious from the vile, are "as God's mouth." - Jer. 15:19. Of the Spirit of the Lord, it is said unto the Zion of the Lord, whose light is come, and on whom the glory of the Lord has risen, "My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed's seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and forever." - Isa. 59:21. The light in Gideon's pitchers, and the Spirit and words of the Lord, which are a light to our way and a lamp to our feet, God has put in the mouth of Zion's seed, as Gideon put the lamps into the empty pitchers, of his men, and made them to be as his mouth, in declaring his words and in putting forth the precious from the vile.

Although we have extended our remarks to a great length, we cannot well forbear to add a few further reflections on the subject, especially in regard to the useful instruction it presents to the soldiers of the cross of Christ. Neither the pitchers, the lamps or the trumpets, or even the men, had any power to subdue the mighty hosts that were encamped against them. The blowing of the trumpets, the breaking of the pitchers, the shining of the lamps, and the crying, "The sword of the Lord and of Gideon," all would have been ineffectual, had not God himself directed the whole matter. It was at God's appointed time and in his own way that this great army was to be put to flight, pursued and destroyed. How often, when Zion appears to languish, and the enemy is spread out like grasshoppers, filling the whole land, that unbelief suggests, "The Lord has forgotten to be gracious," and scoffers say, "He is slack concerning his promises," and our trembling hearts inquire, "By whom shall Jacob rise, for he is small?" But we forget that the battle is the Lord's; and when we are made to triumph it will always be in such a way as shall constrain us to say, "Thanks be unto God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." See the well-drilled chosen handful of men, receiving from God their instructions through Gideon; how very important that they receive every word of the instruction, and obey to the very letter. "Look on me," said Gideon. Should they for a moment turn their eyes from Gideon, they would be terrified at the sight of their enemies, and if they looked at their own feeble numbers, or to their lamps in empty earthen vessels, the sight would be appalling; but as the eye of the servant is to his master, they were commanded to look alone to their leader, and away from everything else. So we find it enjoined on all the saints to be "Looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith." "Behold, when I come to the outside of the camp it shall be that as I do, so shall ye do. When I blow with a trumpet, I and all that are with me, then blow ye the trumpets on every side of the camp, and say, The sword of the Lord and of Gideon."

To-day hosts of earth and hell are encamped against the little flock of our Immanuel; their number is like the sand for multitude, their implements and munitions of war are cruel and deadly, embracing all that earth and hell can supply, and they defiantly challenge the armies of the living God, saying, Who is like unto the beast? Who is able to make war with him? And their mouth is open in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven. "And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." - Rev. 13. Like "the lily among thorns, and as the apple tree among the trees of the wood," the little flock, unto whom it is the Father's good pleasure to give the kingdom, the church of God is seen. "And I looked, and lo, a Lamb stood on the Mount Zion, and with him a hundred and forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written upon their forehead." "And I saw as it were a sea of glass, mingled with fire; and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God, and they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the lamb, saying, Great and marvelous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints." - Rev. 14:1, and 15:2, 3.

When Gideon required encouragment to allay his fears and inspire him with courage, God sent him to listen to a dream related by a Midianite, and interpreted by his fellow in the camp. But how simple the dream. The dreamer did not relate that he saw in his dream the bright artillery of heaven displayed, and the bolts of vengeance hurled in a storm of awful wrath, no fearful display of superior numbers, or of terrible death-dealing engines of warfare; but a simple, harmless cake of barley bread, which a hungry soldier might welcome with joy; but in the interpretation it was portentous of evil to their hosts; it tumbled into the camp, and came into a tent and smote it that it fell, and overturned it, that it laid along. But the interpreter saw in the ominous cake the sword of Gideon and Midian's discomfiture. The little flock of Jesus are looked upon by their proud and scornful enemies now with as little dread as they would feel at the sight of a barley cake; but God has said, "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts."

The wisdom of men would suppose the army of the Lord should be greatly augmented, so as to be able to vie with the numerous forces of the enemy; but God in his wisdom caused the number, small as it was, to be reduced from thirty-two thousand to three hundred men, lest they should say, "Mine own hand hath saved me," and thus rob him of the glory of their salvation. So men are now beating up for volunteers to make what they call the Lord's army strong enough to evangelize the heathen and convert the world; but all their volunteer recruits will be dismissed and sent home, like the surplus men of Gideon, before the final triumph shall be accomplished, and the naked arm of God, uncovered by human aid or instrumentalities, shall be made bare in the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. - Isa. 53:10.

Elder Gilbert Beebe,
June 1, 1876
Signs of the Times
Republished Volume 150, No. 3 - March 1982