by T. Austin-Sparks
Reading: Judges 6:11-14, 33-34; 7:1-25; 8:4,22-23.
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed-always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus' sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death is working in us, but life in you. And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, "I believed and therefore I spoke," we also believe and therefore speak, knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Cor. 4:7-18).
There is little doubt that the thought of Gideon flashed into the mind of the Apostle at the time of writing his second letter to the Corinthians, and his brief allusion to him is left as a deposit which is in the nature of a clue to a spiritual principle. As we take up these passages, we shall find that they all constitute another aspect of the revelation of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. In this connection we shall see Christ as the power for the new warfare.
While we shall be dwelling in mind in the times of Gideon, a very great deal has to be left untouched, and we must be content just to get the main lines of instruction. For instance, we cannot give the time to any particular and detailed explanation of the meaning of "the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the children of the East". They have their meaning, and their meaning is very illuminating, but we simply have to leave all that detail and content ourselves with the observation that they represent the forces which are set against the pure testimony of the Lord. They are the enemies which have the ascendancy when the Lord's people sink on to a lower level of spiritual life. So it was in the days of the Judges. Because of the low spiritual level, various antagonistic forces gained the upper hand, and brought the Lord's people into subjection. Amongst those forces there were "the Midianites and the Amalekites, and all the children of the East".
The Corruption of the Testimony
There is this one thing we may observe about them, that they speak of a mixture of what is positively evil and wrong, and having no association with the Lord whatever, and elements which have had some kind of relationship with the things of God. The Amalekites, for instance, had no natural connection whatever with Israel, but the Midianites had their rise from the relationship of Abraham and Keturah, so that there you have some kind of historic connection with the things of God. These two things, that which has a background of connection with Divine things in association with something that is positively and altogether outside of God, constituted a combined force to destroy the pure testimony, to hold it in captivity.
It is generally like that. It is not often that the enemy openly gains that dominion over the people of God. It is usually by alliance with some historic or traditional thing, by means of something which somewhere has a background relationship with the things of God, that he gains his advantage. It is the historic and traditional association, not a pure hundred-percent fellowship with God.
You will notice that one of the characteristics or features of these combined forces is that they were all the time depriving the people of God of their food. Gideon was threshing wheat behind the wall to hide it from them. These forces were against the very sustenance and nourishment of the people of God, and that itself has a significance which we cannot stay to pursue at the moment; but let the wise learn.
Thus the conflict here is for a true and pure testimony in the Lord's people. That is what arises as the issue. The whole question and issue here is that of the Lord's testimony in purity and fulness being found in the lives of His people, and expressed through them, or ministered by them, and it is against this that these forces are set. The Lord moves in the matter, and what we have to note is how the power of God is put forth in relation to a full and pure testimony to His glory, or, in other words, how the light of the knowledge of the glory of God is recovered in a day of spiritual declension; by what means, and in what way, the power of God is displayed unto the showing of the knowledge of His glory.
The Choice and Preparation of an Instrument of Recovery
Seeing what the issue is, what is in view, we are able to analyse that to which allusion is made, namely, Gideon as God's instrument. First of all we note what Gideon's conception of himself was, what he himself as in nature is set forth as being: "I am the least in my father's house". That is enough - the least, but faithful. If you are faithful, though you may be the least, God has His eye on you, and that in relation to a very precious purpose for Himself. Faithfulness is that which makes a man great in the sight of God, not what man is in himself. The Lord on His part is heard saying to such a one, "The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour". It is not because of what the man is in himself, it is the estimate given to him by reason of his faithfulness to God's thoughts, God's testimony; his faithful, though hidden and secret, exercise in relation to what God wants for His people.
Next we look at Gideon's army. First of all, from thirty two thousand it is reduced at one sweep to ten thousand, and then with one more stroke of the hand reduced from ten thousand to three hundred.
Now look again at Gideon, a man of no estimation in his own sight, surrounded by thirty two thousand men as his means and instrument. He might have looked upon the thirty two thousand and felt some sense of rising confidence, assurance, strength. As he looked upon that great army there may have been in his heart some feeling that there was something that could be of use, something not too small, not too despised, a worthwhile instrument. Then God with a sweep of His hand took away twenty two thousand. Gideon looked again at the ten thousand. This is a terrible blow, a devastating blow, to take away twenty two thousand in one stroke! Well, ten thousand with the blessing of God may go a long way! Then the Lord moved His hand again, and Gideon was shorn of all but three hundred. But it was the Lord who did it, and Gideon knew it was the Lord. It was not an accident, not a misfortune, not a calamity, it was the Lord; and because Gideon knew that it was the Lord he went on, and did not give up.
The instrument, then, was stripped. In the first place it was stripped of all dividedness of heart, and then of all personal interest. When a man gets down on his knees and takes his fill, he is not in an attitude of eagerness to get on with the business for the glory of God; he is taking his fill, betraying that he has personal interests to satisfy, personal concerns to serve. But here three hundred remained on their feet. They simply took up the water in their hands and lapped, eager to get on. The instrument is stripped of all personal interest. No member of that company would take glory to himself. It is stripped down to the place where there is no ground whatever for glorying in the flesh, no ground upon which any great success could be said to stand, humanly nothing in all the world which could account for triumph. Three hundred against the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the children of the East, like locusts upon the ground for multitude, and their camels like the sand of the sea shore innumerable! Then there is no ground here for anything but the light of the knowledge of the glory of God. Something of God is coming to light here. Here is an opportunity indeed, an excellent occasion. The occasion for the flesh to take any of the glory is set aside: "Lest Israel vaunt themselves against me", that is to say, take My glory from Me. God is securing His glory by this stripping.
The lesson that is clearly brought to us is that the Lord alone was the power. The power was to be of God. The exceeding greatness of the power is "of God and not of ourselves".
The Weapons of our Warfare
This is further seen by the equipment: earthen vessels with lamps inside, a sword, and a trumpet. A vessel, but a vessel of fragile clay: a light within, sustained by the oil of the Spirit, an inward illumination; the Word of God, the sword of the Spirit; the word of their testimony, the trumpet. And one more thing, a barley loaf! What a big place that barley loaf played in this whole drama. It was but a barley loaf, but it upset everything.
Let us come back to the second letter to the Corinthians, and see what Paul says about all this that we have mentioned in connection with Gideon. "But we have this treasure in vessels of fragile clay, that the excellency of the power might be of God and not of ourselves" (2 Cor. 4:7) - treasures in earthen vessels. What are those vessels? "For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day" (2 Cor. 4:16) - the outward man is decaying. "We know that if the earthly house of our tabernacle be dissolved..." (2 Cor. 5:1). Then clearly the vessels of Gideon, spiritually understood, are frail human bodies.
Then the lamp or the light. This is the shining into our hearts by God, who said: "Light shall shine out of darkness, who shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ". The lamp or the light is the shining of God into our hearts by His Spirit.
The sword. Paul makes perfectly clear what that is. "For we are not as many, which corrupt the Word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ" (2 Cor. 2:17) - "But we have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully..." (2 Cor. 4:2). The sword is the Word of God.
The trumpet. We have said that the trumpet represents the word of their testimony. What is that? "For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake". (2 Cor. 4:5) "Blow the trumpet loud and long. Jesus Christ is Lord".
The barley loaf. "But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God, which raiseth the dead" (2 Cor 1:9). - "Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you" (2 Cor. 4:14). The barley loaf is always a type of resurrection, and Christ in the power of resurrection upsets everything. Christ in risen power is enough to solve the whole problem of the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the children of the East. What a place that barley loaf had! It is "God who raiseth the dead", or, in other words, Christ in resurrection life in us that is represented. "If the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you" - the barley loaf, the power of resurrection.
The pursuit. It says that Gideon and his men pursued even though they were faint. What does Paul say of that? "For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day" (2 Cor. 4:16) - inward renewal by Christ in risen life. "Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit" (2 Cor. 5:5).
Paul covers all that ground connected with Gideon, takes up all these elements, carries them over to the Lord Jesus, and says, the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ is for our hearts by revelation.
What was the result of it all with Gideon? Gideon and his three hundred swept the ground, broke the tyranny of the foe, delivered the Lord's people, brought them back into a place of ascendancy, to the place where the glory of God was once more revealed in them.
The one thing which issued was the leadership of the Lord. Israel came to Gideon and said, "Rule thou over us, both thou, and thy son, and thy son's son also". But Gideon replies, "I will not rule over you... the Lord shall rule over you." "We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord", says the Apostle.
Christ the Power of God in the Earthen Vessel
Now all this, as taken up in Christ to be revealed in us, constitutes the power of God for this new warfare of recovering and establishing a full and pure testimony to the Lord Himself in His people. Oh, what a warfare it is! If you are standing for but a part of the testimony you will not meet the same conflict. If you are out on merely a single line of testimony you will not have the same tremendous pressure, though you may have it in measure. But if, in the purpose of God, you are a vessel, individually or collectively, related to His whole testimony, His testimony in fulness and in purity, without mixture, then you are launched into a terrific warfare. The battle will rage. All the mighty host of darkness will concentrate to make that recovery impossible. There is no doubt about it. It always has been so.
Paul is a man who is out for the full testimony. There could be no partial testimony with him. Others may go just so far, may remain on Jewish ground, and not be of those who go right on, but Paul will not remain on any ground lower and less than the full, the utter testimony of the Lord Jesus. The result is that of which you read here in the first chapter: "Our afflictions, which befell us in Asia"; "Pressed out of measure"; "We despaired even of life"; "We had the sentence of death in ourselves"; "The sufferings of Christ abound unto us". The breaking, the stripping, in the spiritual sense, was as utter as that of Gideon, and all because of that for which he was standing; a fulness, a holiness, a purity, an utterness of testimony to the absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ in the Church which is His Body, and in the universe. So the result is conflict.
How will God triumph? For God's triumph in such a situation it is necessary that He should have all the ground to Himself, and so He allowed the sufferings, the stripping. He took away every ground of fleshly glorying, and brought the vessel to a very fragile state. The Apostle saw the meaning of it. Like Gideon he knew it to be the Lord who was doing it, the Lord who was breaking, emptying, weakening, stripping, and he sums it all up in these words: "We have this treasure in vessels of fragile clay". This is the deliberate object on the part of God, this is not an accident, not just something that has happened to us by chance; there is a definite object in God's mind. "We have this treasure in vessels of fragile clay, that the exceeding greatness of the power should be of God and not of ourselves". That is the way in which the light of the knowledge of the glory of God comes. It is a way of suffering, of conflict, but a way in which Christ as the exceeding great power of God comes to be known in His leadership.
We ought to be comforted, encouraged, strengthened, though it is not indeed a prospect in which the flesh can take any pleasure. On that ground we might well be in fear and much trembling, might well shrink from all that is involved. But let us, like Paul, look away from the things which are seen and mark that all this affliction, when viewed in the light of the unseen, the eternal, is light affliction for a passing moment; it is working a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.
As we have said, this is the way in which the ultimate and full glory of God is going to be displayed through us. How are the forces of evil encountering the impact of Christ now? Through people who count for something? Through people who are mighty? Through people on whom you may look and say, This is a great people? No! Never! If they ever were anything in themselves, God has taken pains to see that they have had to abandon that ground and that now in themselves they are as nothing. Take Paul at the time of the writing of this letter, and ask him what natural value can now be set upon his life. He will tell you it is at a discount, ruled out. At the same time he will be heard to say that "our inner man is renewed day by day". I glory in the fact that, although Paul went through such sufferings - and we by no means know of all that overtook him, and how often he was, as we would say, on the brink of death - he was never cut off, he never died; he laid down his life, it was never taken away from him. When the time came for Paul to leave this scene of his service, he said, "I have finished my course..."; "I am now being offered up, and the time of my departure is at hand". He is a man in possession of the offering. Like his Master he could say, "No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself". When you see the background, then you know this to be a revelation of the glory of God, the power of the risen life of the Lord. That is how the enemy is put to flight and destroyed. It is a glorious revelation of what Christ is. It is the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ in our hearts, and in these vessels of fragile clay, when the treasure is in them.
May the Lord make all this true; not a beautiful meditation or contemplation, but something which is laid hold of by our faith, even Christ our life.