God chose Gideon’s 300 warriors via the famous water-drinking test.
No one in popular American pulpits seems to know why, so let’s ask Josephus.
Recruiting In Reverse
In the Book of Judges, Israeli warrior Gideon is about to fight the Midianites. Gideon led a large Israeli military, so large that God reduced it so that God could show his own strength by giving the victory to a weak few.
The LORD said to Gideon , “You have too many men for me to deliver Midian [modern-day Saudi Arabia] into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her, announce now to the people, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.'” So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained. ~ Judges 7:2-8
Even after 22,000 men left, the force was still too large in God’s eyes.
But the LORD said to Gideon , “There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will sift them for you there. If I say, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go; but if I say, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.” ~ Judges 7:4
So far, so good– but here comes the disconnect. Here comes the water-drinking test, and nobody seems able to explain it:
So Gideon took the men down to the water… Three hundred men lapped with their hands to their mouths. All the rest got down on their knees to drink. The LORD said to Gideon , “With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands.” ~ Judges 7:5-7
Why Did God Use The Water-Drinking Test?
In American Christianity, there is much conjecture as to why God chose this method. I have heard many sermons mention this account, but I have never heard an explanation for the water-drinking test. Every sermon seems to end something like this: “we don’t know why God chose the men who lapped the water.” I believe nobody knows because nobody bothers to search for the answer. So much of American Christianity is a closed loop, people reciting teachings they have heard which they assume are true. Many of these teachings are not true, but they are perpetuated because few Christians dare to consult material outside of popular commentaries. The writings of Josephus are an example of this precious unexplored material.
The answer to why God chose the water-drinking test is in a book that I have found to be an untapped mine of Biblical gems– Josephus, The Complete Works. The Jewish historian Josephus lived during the time of Christ. He was an eyewitness to the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and he provides crucial detail about that siege, detail that is ignored in today’s church, detail that shatters the myth that Italian soldiers destroyed the Jewish Temple. Like I said, this book is an untapped mine.
Not only was Josephus a Jew and an historian, he was trained in the ways of all three factions of the Jewish religion: Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. In other words, he was privy to the precious Jewish wisdom passed down through the ages via the spoken and written word. Josephus was an insider’s insider, and probably the greatest historian who ever lived. Josephus fills in the historical details of the Bible, more richly and vividly than any source I have encountered. And again let me emphasize, Josephus was alive while the Bible was yet being written! What a shame that his writings are not consulted more often! Put down the commentaries, and pick up Josephus.
So, what does Josephus say about the water-drinking test?
But God stood by Gideon in his sleep, and told him that mankind were too fond of themselves, and were enemies to such as excelled in virtue. Now that they might not pass God over, but ascribe the victory to him, and might not fancy it obtained by their own power, because they were a great army, and able of themselves to fight their enemies, but might confess that it was owing to his assitance, he adivsed him to bring his army about noon, in the violence of the heat to the river, and to esteem those that bent down on their knees and so drank, to be men of courage [These men put their faces (and therefore their eyes!) right to the water. They were not scared of the enemy attacking while they weren’t looking. God was not interested in these men. They were too courageous.]; but for all those that drank tumultuously that he should esteem them to do it out of fear, and as in dread of their enemies [Gideon understood that the men who drank nervously, refusing to put their eyes to the water, were the ones God was to use. God was going to show his strength through the weakness of these men]. And when Gideon had done as God had suggested to him, there were found three hundred men that took water with their hands tumultuously; so God bid him take these men, and attack the enemy. ~ Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, Chapter 6, Section 5.6.2, Paragraph 3, as printed in Josephus, The Complete Works
There you have it. God chose the 300 because they were scared. These men had enough courage not to walk away with the first 22,000 men who left out of fear. Those 22,000 had nothing of a fighting spirit in them. God wanted men who had something of a fighting spirit, but incomplete courage. God is a God of multiplication. He only asks that we bring the slightest mustard seed of faith to the table, and he will cultivate it. He only asks that we bring whatever meager loaves and fishes we have, so that he might multiply it to feed thousands. Again, God is a God of multiplication, and he loves when we step forward to take his hand in faith. It wasn’t enough for God to dwindle the force down to just 300 men. No, he wanted 300 scared men. Wow!
“…my power is made perfect in weakness.” ~ Jesus Christ, 2 Corinthians 12:9
Ask, Seek, Knock
Not only is the Bible always proven true, but the Bible is always explained to those willing to search out the explanation. Never allow yourself to be satisfied with cliches such as, “oh well, I guess we’ll never know.” I have yet to find the question to which God will not reveal the answer if we are just willing to seek it.
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” ~ Jesus Christ, Luke 11:9-10