We’ve probably all watched or heard the fables of the movie “300”. A story coined from a war that history remembers for the valor of the Spartan’s heroic loss. However, unlike the movie depicts, there were 700 Thespians, 400 Thebans, and perhaps a few hundred others there too. Today, I came across another historical tale every Christian has probably heard of, and this actually involved just 300 people and I said to myself, ‘This story needs a retelling.’
The words differed, but the intent was the same. We were tired of hiding. Tired of being hungry and watching our hard earned livestock and crops all pillaged before our very eyes. We were tired of living like slaves. In a nutshell, we were tired. Tired and desperate.
And all it took was a determined man from Manasseh. No one cared that he was from the least of tribes or that he was the youngest of his house. Everyone was too tired to consider such trivialities. He’d seen an angel, he claimed. Who cares? To us, he could even be our angel. ‘Return to the God of your fathers’, He warned and proceeded to burn all the altars of Baal. When some tried to protest, someone calmly asked if Baal couldn’t protect himself, (or us for that matter, I wondered)? Fair point. So before anyone could say ‘rock, paper, scissors,’ he became our commander in chief. God knows we needed one of those.
Most of us didn’t really care if he was truthful about his divine encounter. All we knew is we needed a leader. We needed motivation. We needed to do something. And this man from Manasseh seemed to balance all those equations. So when he made his outcry, we dropped our shovels, pots and whatever we were previously holding, took up our swords and knives and arrows and whatever looked able to kill. And on we marched. To take back our lands, and our pride. They had plagued us for seven full years now. They appeared one time. The Midianites and Amelikites and other eastern tribes. An army larger than anyone could possibly number. We fled before such massive force, into woods and caves. And they settled down on our lands, feeding on our cattle and grains. We had been in siege ever since, locked in hiding in caves, encompassed roundabout.
Some of us were chided at for taking up arms. People like me, who were more familiarly known with flutes and sheep, were jeered upon incessantly by the ‘warrior breed’. One might have wondered if they were so tough, how did our nation get to this state? But such wonderings were wisely left unsaid. One of the jeerers, a neighbour’s son, seemed to derive extra pleasure in singling me out for spectacle. He was much larger than me, body wise, and I had peeped him train with his sword a couple of times- so I largely tolerated his insolence.
Besides the soldiers chiding the peasant-turn-soldiers, we also had murmuring as we progressed. It seemed as if the fervour of our commander’s conviction was beginning to wear out in some people. Reality began setting in. How did he plan to defeat that multitude? We ourselves were a mere thirty thousand or so at most. How does a thousand defeat a million? Even if each person killed a hundred enemies…
So it came as a deep shock to everyone when our newly crowned commander announced that whoever felt scared was free to turn back and return to hiding.
I thought it was a sarcastic speech meant to motivate us. I thought no one would take up the offer.
I was wrong.
It started with two brothers, then a whole family, then hundreds joined in, then thousands. At a point it seemed everyone was turning back, like cowards, running back to slavery. Me? My mind had been sealed the moment I picked up a sword and followed him. A wise man once told me that everyone always has the choice to be free. The choice might be chains or freedom through death, but the choice is always there. I had made my choice. Even if it meant my demise, which seemed almost certain now. Even if everyone decided to turn back.
But everyone didn’t.
We had lost over two thirds of our force, but a few thousand stood their ground. I noticed my neighbour’s son staring at me. I think he expected me to turn back.
So we marched on.
We took a detour along the way. To refresh ourselves, our commander said. To a river nearby.
I had heard stories of wars that raged on for days. I had heard of how water could become an extremely scarce commodity in the battlefront. So I understood why our men rushed at the opportunity to quench their thirst. Most of them fell to their knees and sank their mouth into the stream. My neighbour’s son and a couple others even swam. I was too scared that if I knelt down, that if I let my legs give way, I would lose my strong resolve to fight. Keep walking, people often say, don’t stop. So I took a squat and used my hand to lap water into my mouth. Our commander wasn’t drinking, I observed. Instead he was intently monitoring us all as we drank.
At my third sip, I raised my head and saw our commander. He was staring directly at me.
That night we were sent to bed early. We were close to the enemies’ camp. Big day tomorrow. Tomorrow we fight… at last.
Around midnight, I don’t know the exact time, a quiet hand shook me out of my slumber. A man I might or might not have seen around. All around me, my fellow insurgents were asleep. Come with me, he motioned quietly. And I did.
He took me to a place were a few hundred people were silently gathered. The commander was in the middle, exhorting quietly. He looked up and saw me approach, and he smiled. We are now complete, he announced. And then he launched into a tirade of worship and psalms with such fervour that it infected us all and we all joined in, even the less pious of us, like me.
Then he prayed. And by then, we were all intoxicated, by either divinity or insanity. That is why when he laid out his plan, we instead of doubting, cheered on.
Faith, it is said is the opposite of doubt. Our faith was strong.
The Lord would deliver our enemies to us this night, our commander declared. With just us, we will be victorious.
How many were we? 300. 300 against maybe a million… Do the maths.
Divinity or insanity?
He divided us into three groups. A hundred would converge on the enemies from the south, a hundred from the north, and the last hundred due east.
And then our weapons were shared. The weapons that would grant us victory. What were they?
A trumpet and a lamp in a jar.
A war or a peaceful protest?
But we were so faith filled that we had no doubt in our minds.
Divinity or insanity?
The plan was simple. We crept up on our sleeping besiegers. From the north and from the south and from the east. And waited for the signal.
A trumpet blown. When he blew it, we all in unison blew ours, as loud as we could. And then we smashed the jars and lifted up the burning lamps in our left hands. And then we screamed…
A sword for the Lord and a sword for Gideon.
And then we held our ground.
Watched as our enemies hastily awoke, confused and terrified. Our sound from the three cardinal points, ricocheting through the night in terrifying echoes.
They panicked. The adrenaline hormone took over were brains would have been better.
Fight or flight?
They chose both. But fight whom? Our trumpets echoing created illusions throughout the camp. Friends could not be differentiated from foe.
Fight or flight?
To flight, they had to fight.
So they fought. Against each other. Every man swinging his sword roundabout trying to carve a way out for himself. A way out from this madness.
We stood and watched as they slaughtered each other. And then, it was no longer bearable to watch. We ditched our trumpets and lamps, picked up weapons of war, and helped accelerate the slaughter.
Call out to the other tribes, our commander proclaimed, get them out of hiding.
So we did.
Multitudes crawled out from caves and rocks, holding stones and machetes and axes and knives. Our remaining troops who we had left sleeping joined in, a bit shocked and confused as to what had happened.
The Medianites, and the Amalekites, and the men from the east. They ran. And we pursued, and we captured many, and killed them.
How did 300 men accomplish such a feat?
I’ve never felt more divine.
The Holy Bible, The book of Judges Chapters 6 and 7.