By Daniel Whitley
The Scripture states that the things which were written in the Old Testament were written for our learning. Allow me to tell you one thing that I have learned from an Old Testament account which I read in the Book of Judges. This is the story upon which this book will be based. It is found in Judges, chapters six and seven. For the purposes of this book, I will begin halfway through the story.
Israel was surrounded by the Midianites and under siege; the Midianites were descendants of the children of Abraham which had been sent away into the wilderness with Ishmael. They were marauding, nomadic people who roamed the wilderness of Arabia in a very loosely knit civilization. They were the first people to learn to domesticate camels, which gave them great mobility in the desert and considerable strategic advantage. They had laid siege on Israel, supply lines had been severed, crops and other provisions had been destroyed.
God finally persuaded a reluctant leader, whose name was Gideon, to at least attempt retaliation before they all starved to death. This is the point at which we pick up the story.
Gideon began to organize an army. Inspired by his leadership and required by necessity, thirty-two thousand men assembled themselves for the defense of their nation. I guess that was a pretty good start; however, the only thing worse than being afraid in battle is being afraid before the battle ever begins, which most of them were. God said to Gideon, “Send them home if they are afraid.” Twenty-two thousand of them, convinced of their own defeat, were gone before He had a chance to change His mind.
It might interest you to know that the Midianites numbered in the tens of thousands. Actually, it was a number that the Israelites could not calculate. They were described in the Book of Judges as resembling a plague of grasshoppers. This was due to their sheer numbers as well as the efficiency with which they destroyed the crops of the Israelites.
God, however, did not even want the Israelites to have ten thousand soldiers. So they went to the water. There they underwent a rather peculiar test; they went to the river for a drink and were vetted based on the method by which they drank. Those who drank with their faces down in the water were dismissed. Those remaining upright, who scooped the water with their hands, passed the test and were retained. The bad news was that there were only three hundred of them. Only three hundred of them passed the test.
God had whittled a thirty-two-thousand-member army down to a militia of a paltry three hundred men. Then He took away their weapons. Okay, I understand. He didn’t want anybody thinking that their eventual victory would be won because of numbers or weaponry or skill or any of the elements by which conventional battles are won. So I guess in that light it makes a little sense to me. . . . Maybe.
I will tell you, however, that I am a practical guy, and beyond the fact that God wanted a victory so amazing that no man would be able to take the credit for it, certainly methods and strategies were alive and well in the madness of this scheme.
See, the truth is that God did not have a workable plan for thirty-two thousand men. He had no plan that would work for ten thousand men. His plan was one that would require stealth and silence. He needed a small, specialized force to move quickly and quietly through the night into very strategic positions without being detected by the enemy. Jehovah introduced the world for the first time to what we know today as “special forces.” We are familiar with this term in our day, small groups of specially equipped and trained soldiers which do the work of giant armies, only they do it in silence and stealth instead of doing it with massive numbers and overwhelming force.
If you have ever tried to move a Sunday school class of kindergarteners from one side of your church to the other with disturbing anyone, you can only imagine how impossible it would be to move thirty-two thousand clanging, clattering brass shields, several tons of armor, thirty-two thousand swords slapping as many thighs, sixty-four thousand combat shoes stumbling through the darkness without being detected by the enemy. From a practical standpoint, this was not doable. We have always heard that God has a plan, and you know God loves plans. In my mind, I suppose that the most important aspect of a plan is that it works. God was less interested in impressing us with the degree of difficulty or scoring style points with Gideon than He was in executing a doable plan which would actually bring victory. A plan must work, and this particular plan would not work until silence and stealth became possible.
Three hundred vetted soldiers and a plan, this is what these three hundred brave men were given. In lieu of weapons they were given some rather peculiar items. Each man was given a trumpet, each man was given a lamp, and each man was given a pitcher. The plan went like this: Each was to light his lamp. Once lit, it was to be placed inside the clay pitcher and carried with the left hand. Each man would take a trumpet in his right hand. Then they were to spread out and surround the Midianites on three sides. Once the three hundred were in triangle formation around the enemy below, the signal was to be given, at which point they were to break their pitchers, making the light of the lamps visible to the Midianite camp in the valley. Then they were to blow the trumpets, signifying an advancing army, and to shout something about the sword of the Lord and of Gideon.
Judges 7:20: “And the three companies blew the trumpets, and brake the pitchers, and held the lamps in their left hands, and the trumpets in their right hands to blow withal: and they cried, The sword of the LORD, and of Gideon.”
The idea was this: The Midianites, who were so numerous that the Bible declares they looked like an invasion of insects, would look out of a sleeping stupor and see not three hundred unarmed, hungry soldiers but, rather, three hundred advancing armies. These “armies” were represented by three hundred lights appearing from nowhere. Each was leading a troop toward the unprepared encampment of the Midianites. At this point the Midianites would provide their own sound effects. They, themselves, began to scramble for swords, shields, and armament, which instantly produced the clatter and clang essential for the plan to work. As their innumerable feet pounded the earth in every direction in the darkness, such pounding was indistinguishable in their semi-conscious minds from that of three hundred advancing armies.
The sounds, the swords, the pounding footsteps, three hundred superior positions announced by three hundred burning lamps and blaring trumpets were a convincing illusion. It worked. The
Midianites panicked. Running on sheer adrenaline, Midianite soldier A, persuaded that he was under surprise attack, decapitated the first man who crossed his path, not knowing that it was Midianite soldier B. So the melee began. A couple of hundred thousand men running three different directions in the dark would be dangerous if they were carrying Nerf bats. Add the panic and fear, razor sharp swords and weapons of every kind; they killed each other by the thousands.
Come on now! That was a plan! A master plan! It was great because it worked. The question is: What made it work? What made it so successful? Their success was a result of God’s unmatched military genius, not a result of any miracle. Jehovah, in the Book of Exodus, was called “a man of war.” In this case, He was certainly a master strategist. Too often we refuse to follow His plan, and then inevitably find ourselves needing miracles. Most of the time we don’t need a miracle; rather, we simply need to follow His plan. But beyond all that, this plan was amazing for its efficiency. No wasted movement. It was surgical and clean, perfectly crafted and perfectly executed. It was simply perfect.
We could learn here, by re-examining the seemingly senseless set of instructions which God gave to Gideon, that His every commandment has purpose and a desired effect. His laws are not arbitrary; His commandments are not random. At the outset of the story you might have assumed that God’s three hundred men were a result of arbitration and the elements of warfare were chosen whimsically. Not so! Each had purpose, each had a desired effect. Let’s examine the purpose God had for each of these pieces of the plan.
- There was purpose for God’s insistence on a smaller number of troops. Stealth and silence were critical to the success of the mission. This small force made that goal possible.
- The removal of anyone fearful or prone to panic was necessary, as slipping directly under the noses of a superior enemy required nerves of steel.
- The vetting and removal of anyone so reckless as to bury his face in the water while surrounded by the enemy was also essential, seeing that this operation depended on precision, which in turn depended on alertness, alertness that is not possible with one’s face under water.
- There was purpose for the exact position of each man. The illusion of being utterly surrounded depended on precise positioning.
- There was purpose for the trumpet, which was to offer the audio portion to this grand illusion. These trumpets signaled the advancement of the three hundred nonexistent armies.
- There was a purpose for the lantern, which was to offer the visual effect in tandem with the audio, as to allow the enemy to locate the exact position of each of these bogus armies.
He managed a way to transport the sights and sounds of a massive offensive without transporting the personnel. This was a tremendous feat. It was also an extremely persuasive illusion.
I think we have established design and purpose for all the items and elements contained in God’s plan with the exception of one item.
- The pitcher.
The pitcher had one purpose and one purpose only. It was perfectly suited to carry out this purpose. It was designed to conceal the light of the lamp, allowing these three hundred men to move undetected through the darkness until they reached the most strategic time and position, the place they were called and ordered to; then its only purpose was to break.
It must have been tempting to those three hundred men to use the pitchers as some kind of weapon. No, it wouldn’t be the most efficient weapon, but when you are afraid and outnumbered, panic tells you to do some strange things. I don’t know a Midianite anywhere who wants to be slammed over the head with a giant flowerpot! But they had to remain calm. This battle was not going to be won using clay as a weapon. That wasn’t His plan. It wasn’t the purpose for the pitcher. Its purpose, once again, was to discreetly transport the light to the place from which it would shine the brightest, where it would be the most visible, then simply to break and be removed. Therein was the power of the disposable revealed.
Those victorious soldiers emerged from the hills swinging their lamps, waving their trumpets, playing an occasional note of triumph as the remaining Midianites ran for their lives. All the men of Israel, emboldened by this display, joined in pursuit. The victory was total. The spoils were lavish, and the legend of that night is still growing. It is growing as it is delivered across pulpits and pews as preachers of every stripe scream about God, mighty in battle. It grows in Sunday school classes where imaginary battles are fought on flannel boards with paper cut-out soldiers before the eyes of little girls wearing pigtails and shiny white shoes. Little boys sit and imagine themselves warriors in clip-on ties, and they sing, “I may never march in the infantry, ride in the cavalry, and fire the artillery. I may never fly o’er the enemy, but I’m in the Lord’s army. Yes, sir!”
Yes sir, somewhere in the hills lay the shattered remains of three hundred pottery vases which never returned from their assigned positions.
Now look closely at the following verses from the old King James (emphases mine):
II Corinthians 4:5-11: “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 in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus ‘sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.”
Now please read this again slowly, maybe two or three times. It’s okay . . . I’ll wait.
Notice: verse six, God shines His light in our hearts; verse seven, we have this treasure in earthen vessels. What treasure? The light is the treasure; we are the earthen vessels. The treasure (the light) is in the earthen vessels (clay pitchers). The light of God is invested in us. This is precisely what the apostle is teaching in this passage.
He goes further to explain, verse ten, we always bear about in our bodies (pitchers) the dying (breaking) of the Lord Jesus, that the life (light) of Jesus might be made manifest (seen) in our mortal flesh.
We are the pitchers, and our assignment is to transport the light to its most strategic time and the most advantageous position, then to break. That’s right; simply being broken, being disposable is the greatest purpose for the pitcher. It was never designed to be a weapon. Our battle is not with flesh; it is with principalities, powers, spirits that rule darkness, and so on, and our warfare will not be won using flesh. Clay (flesh) is not an effective weapon. This would be a good place to interject that famous verse of Scripture (emphasis mine):
II Corinthians 10:3-4: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal [fleshly, earthen” but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)”
The earthen vessel’s role in the battle is the least glamorous yet most essential to the victory. In the case of these vessels, breaking was their finest moment. There could not be imagined a more meaningful role for a simple clay pitcher. The pitcher was the delivery system for God’s grand victory. It brings light to the hill, then ushers it back down to the enemy. It delivers the fear to the enemy and the victory to the kingdom. That’s the plan, anyway.
Only this great “man of war” could conceive a plan in which a simple pitcher could be so instrumental in a war. I am certain that had you passed through Israel twenty-four hours earlier, these quite ordinary pitchers were sitting on the tables of ordinary homes. Some were filled with water. Some were filled with meal. Some were hanging on hooks from the walls of humble Israelite dwellings. Then came God, mighty in battle, and made each one of them mightier than a thousand armed soldiers. More was accomplished through these ordinary pitchers than thirty-two thousand warriors could accomplish in a bloody battle.
Could anyone argue that there was a more meaningful role for these vessels? I didn’t think so. Still, millions of Christians believe that somehow their lives are better than this and that their potential would be wasted if it were committed to nothing more than breaking and shedding light.
This article “The Plan” written by Daniel E. Whitley, was excerpted from the book A Pitcher’s Purpose. It may be used for study and research purposes only.