“Now therefore, proclaim in the hearing of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is fearful and afraid, let him turn and depart at once from Mount Gilead. ’ And twenty-two thousand of the people returned, and ten thousand remained.”
God is selecting a team for a specific task. They will be led into hand-to-hand combat against a Midianite army too vast to number. As the people gather for the selection process, the first cut is made. Twenty-two thousand men are sent packing for one simple reason – fear! Gideon may have asked for a show of hands, or for those who were afraid, to take a step backwards. Whatever the case, his army was immediately reduced by 70% and the reason for their departure was fear. They were afraid to be a part of the work of God.
After a second selection process, Gideon’s army was reduced again. Now there are only three hundred men left standing on the eve of battle. Here, just hours before they will step into the fight of their lives, something else very interesting transpires. After giving the battle plan to Gideon, God declares in Judges 7:10-11,
“’But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant, and you shall hear what they say; and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.’ Then he went down with Purah his servant to the outpost of the armed men who were in the camp.”
Did you catch that? After sending ALL those who were afraid packing God says, “If you are afraid go and listen to the talk in the enemies camp.” If all those who were afraid went home, then we should read that Gideon and his servant had no fear, but as the story continues they, filled with fear, sneak into the enemies camp, as the Lord instructed.
I think this passage sheds light on the connection between fear and faith. I have often heard, fear and faith are mutually exclusive. A person cannot be afraid and exercise faith at the same time. I have not found that to be true. I have found, at the times I had to exercise the most faith, I have also been filled with great amounts of fear. Faith is trusting in the Lord, despite the fears which unsettle the soul. Those who allowed fear to win the battle, went home that day, never realizing the power of God. Those who put faith over fear, saw one of the greatest victories in all of Israel’s history.