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Send the Rest Home
July 29, 1979

St. Paul's United Methodist Church


“Send the rest home,” said the Lord. Gideon had called together 32,000 men to attack the Midianites. The Israelites, the Hebrews, were seeking to conquer the promised land. Gideon gathered 32,000 men together, and the Lord had a selection process. Those who didn't qualify were sent home. When there is a task for God to accomplish, God calls and selects. this story gives us an insight into some of the factors that are taken into consideration, some of the factors that are evaluated as one selects. Whatever the great task that God is about—feeding the hungry, conquering the war on hunger, building up the church, building up the people of God, attacking injustice and oppression, God calls you and me to serve, to work, to participate. 

And with the call of God, there is a selection process. Let's look at it this morning. The Lord said to Gideon, “There are too many people.” The Lord's not impressed with numbers. The Lord's not impressed with quantity, but with quality. God said to Gideon, “You've got too many people.” Large does not necessarily mean the best. Quantity and quality are not synonymous. We Americans, especially, think and believe in big numbers. We usually are very impressed with huge crowds and we say, “My, that must be successful. Look at all the people, look at the huge number.” And we think we fail when there's just a small group, or when we're set about on a very important task and there's just 1, 2, 3, 4 of us. But, the Lord's not impressed with large numbers. Quantity does not necessarily mean quality. 

I remember visiting about 10 years ago with some former members who had moved to another community. They were very impressed with a church that was growing by leaps and bounds. This particular church had built several million dollar buildings and they had plans. They built a retirement center. They were going to build a school. They had a hydraulic stage that went up and down. Everyone was flocking to that church and these former Methodists implied that the Methodist Church isn't growing like that. Well, a few years ago, we visited with them again and this time they had their tail between their legs because that church was now bankrupt. They had to get rid of the minister. They were misusing the funds. There was no integrity involved in the use of finances. People gave to some cause and the church spent it for something else. It's a mess! And this time these former Methodists said, “You know, that could not happen in the Methodist denomination. There's too much accountability built in. There are too many rules and procedures.” Of course, I didn't rub it in! 

Largeness does not necessarily mean success. Quantity does not necessarily mean quality. It was a handful of persecuted Quakers in this country that turned the tide against slavery. They led the abolitionist movement and convinced this whole country that slavery was an evil. It was a handful of Quakers. It was a handful of women who brought the right to vote to women. A handful of women sponsored the Women's Liberation Movement, bringing huge changes. We are all impressed with the power and might in the tiny nation of Israel. Largeness does not necessarily mean success. 

The Gideon story shows us the principle of strength through subtraction. There are too many people here! The principle is that a few with the Lord have more power than multitudes without the Lord. Whenever we feel small, whenever you feel unequal to whatever task is set before you, remember that a few with the Lord is more successful than multitudes without the Lord. The Lord said to Gideon, “There are too many people.” There are too many people here because they might claim the credit for themselves. They might have the temptation to say it was my might that conquered the Midianites. If you take 32,000 people and conquer the Midianites, you are apt to say, “Look how great we are, look how powerful we are, look how mighty we are!” And lest that should happen, we must weed out some. 

In the book of Deuteronomy 8:11-20, the author writes, “Make certain that you do not forget the Lord your God. Do not fail to obey any of his laws that I'm giving you today. When you have all you want to eat, and have built good houses to live in, and when your cattle and sheep, your silver and gold and all your other possessions have increased, be sure that you do not become proud and forget the Lord your God who rescued you from Egypt where you were slaves. God led you through that vast and terrifying desert where there were poisonous snakes and scorpions. In that dry waterless land, he made water flow out of solid rock for you. In the desert, he gave you manna to eat, food that your ancestors had never eaten. He sent hardships on you to test you so that in the end, he could bless you with good things. So then, you must never think that you have made yourselves wealthy by your own power and strength. Remember that it is the Lord your God who gives you the power to become rich.”

In Isaiah 10:13, the prophet Isaiah lambasts the king of Assyria who was arrogant and who said, “I brought this all about by my intelligence and by my own strength.” The prophet Isaiah wrote, “Does the axe claim more credit than the man who wields it, or the saw more strength than the man who handles it?” It is the power of the man who wields the axe, not the axe. It is the power and creativity of God that flows through you and me, and it flows through his church. It is not you and it is not me. Beware, God cannot use groups that get arrogant. For a group, when it becomes arrogant, begins to squabble among itself as to who's the greatest, who should be first and who should be second. A group that forgets to give God the glory, a church that forgets to give God the glory is a church that squabbles over who should have more power than the rest, and who is mighty so that we should give them strokes and not offend them. The group that gets caught in itself as to who is great and who's less has no power, for their energy is expended. It is only groups that give God the glory, that give God the honor, that do things in the name of Jesus Christ that God can use. “Send the rest home,” the Lord said. 

Therefore, Gideon had to test the 32,000 men. The Lord said, “There are too many.” So Gideon had to devise tests, and he had to do it quickly. There was the enemy at hand. He had to decide how he was going to discover the qualified people, how he was going to discover those who were ready, those who were capable of following God as God wanted. He had to devise a test. He didn't have time to administer the Stanford Binet or the Minnesota Multiphasic, or even the Manteca Minimum Proficiency tests. He didn't have time. He didn't have time to go through the records and look at evaluation forms. He didn't have time to write to former employers for references. He had to act quickly and he devised a couple tests. Maybe they're pretty good tests. Perhaps the Nominating Committee could use some of these tests when we select leaders for our church. Maybe President Carter could use these tests to choose his cabinet. Probably do just as well— No, we won't say that. Gideon came up with two tests. 

The first test. He stood up in front of his 32,000 men and said, “All of you who are frightened or afraid, go home.” All of you who are a little squeamish, go home. All of you who think we can't make it, go home. If you have a few doubts about whether we can be victorious in this venture, you are a greater liability than you are an asset. What a risk he took to stand up and say all of you are afraid, go home! Out of 32,000 men, do you know how many went home? How many were listening to the Bible lesson? I thought you were sleeping! 22,000 out of 32,000 went home. 10,000 were left. There was no room for those who were afraid. 

In the New Testament lesson, Matthew 10:16, Jesus gave instructions to his disciples, “This world is not friendly to our cause. I'm sending you out to proclaim the kingdom of God,” to bring the kingdom of God to this earth. And the world is not friendly. He said, “I send you as sheep among the wolves.” He told them to expect to be persecuted, expect to be misunderstood by your friends, expect to be misunderstood even by your family, expect to be misunderstood by the societal structures, expect to be persecuted by the government, expect to be persecuted because what you are doing is not accepted. You are going to cause trouble where there is injustice, where there is wrong, where there is evil. You’re going to cause trouble, you are going to be persecuted. There is no room for you if you are afraid, if you're scared. In Deuteronomy 20:1-8, they gave instructions for warfare as they entered the promised land. “When you go to war, when you face the chariots, don't be afraid. If anyone is afraid, let him go home, lest he make his fellows lose heart also.” When one is afraid, he not only is ineffective himself, but his fear is contagious. It affects the whole group. Let that person go home—those who say, “We can’t do it. We can’t make it.” 

The second test. I like this test. I bet none of you ever thought of choosing employees on the basis of this test, or workers in your group. He said, “Take these 10,000 men who are left down to the stream, have them drink some water and watch how they drink. Those who kneel down and drink the water, send them home. Those who scoop up the water in their hands and lap it like a dog, those are the men we want.” According to my reading, what the scholars think was happening was that they were looking for alertness and awareness. A person in warfare who would lay down, put his head into the stream and drink was not very alert. He could not really watch for the enemy. He was vulnerable. But those who scooped up the water and licked it so they could keep their eyes alert and watch were accepted. 

9,700 men got down on their stomachs and lapped up the water. 300 scooped up the water in their hands. Out of 32,000, Gideon ended up with 300, less than 1%. But, that 1% with the element of surprise, conquered the Midianites in the strength and power of the Lord. A few with God can overcome any enemy. 

Our strength does not lie in numbers. Our strength lies in the power of God. I believe that God has called each one of you and me to tasks. I believe you were created for some reason. Out of all the possible people, God selected you to be born at this particular time and to live where you're living. God chose you, sent you, called you for specific tasks to do. And with that calling are some tests, maybe not drinking water, but probably new tests that you've discovered in your own lives, tests that weed us out, tests that bring to the fore those who are ready to hear the call of God and who will respond in confidence without fear, without squeamishness, who will take the risks and be on the alert. 

The rest are sent home.

© 1979 Douglas I. Norris