|The Nursery Book of Bible Stories|
|by Amy Steedman|
|Ideal introduction to the stories of the Bible for young children, including as it does those stories best suited for the youngest listeners, retold with rare literary skill. Dozens of attractive illustrations complement the text. Ages 5-9 |
GIDEON, THE SOLDIER
THE people of Israel were in sore distress. Their smiling land, that
land "flowing with milk and honey," was laid waste, they were robbed
of their harvests, and they went in terror of their lives. The fierce
Midianite robbers had come swarming from the east like a cloud of
locusts, and just as locusts devour the green, good land, so these
Midianites had overrun the country and devoured everything which their greedy
eyes desired and their powerful hands could grasp.
 The people who lived in the quiet valleys and plains had fled to the
hills for safety, leaving their cornfields and vineyards, and seeking shelter
in caves and rocky dens. They dared not try to fight the robbers, for the
Midianites far outnumbered them. It was a reign of red terror, as if
hungry wolves had come to menace the peaceful land.
There was one man, however, who had not fled before the enemy
and who kept on steadily at his work, reaping his corn and gathering in
his grapes. This was Gideon, a young landowner who looked after
his father's land. He was the youngest of a family of brothers, all of
them so tall and straight and strong and good to look at that they might
have been the sons of a king.
But of all these brothers Gideon alone was now left. The others
had all been killed by the fierce robbers who had invaded the land, and it
was his part now to defend the home and carry on the work. He never
dreamed of running away and leaving his fair cornfields and terraced
vineyards to fall into the greedy, grasping hands of the wolfish enemy.
The Midianite robbers would not find him an easy prey when they came.
Still he worked cautiously, and when the harvest was gathered in he hid
it in a secret cave which he had prepared.
It was a bitter thing to live always in fear of the enemy, and Gideon
almost felt as if God had forsaken His people. He knew what
wonderful things God had done in the past years, when the people of Israel
had escaped from Egyptian slavery: how He had made a passage for
them through the Red Sea, and broken down the walls of Jericho before
them, and led them into the flowery land of peace and plenty. But why,
then, did He work no wonders now, and free them from this dreadful
He was thinking these thoughts one day as he toiled near the grove of
trees which grew just above his vineyard, when he looked up and saw
some one there, sitting under an oak tree. It was a friend and not a foe,
for the greeting fell gently on his ear, "The Lord is with thee, thou
mighty man of valour."
Was it a message from God? Perhaps this was an angel messenger,
but Gideon answered bitterly, for he did not think that God was with
"If the Lord be with us, why then is all this befallen us? "he asked.
"Where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not
the Lord bring us up from Egypt? But now the Lord hath forsaken
us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites."
 Quickly then the angel's answer came. It was he, Gideon, who was
to show the people that God could still work miracles and that He had
not forsaken His people. It was he who should lead them to victory
and drive forth the robbers out of the land.
It was a splendid call to arms, and Gideon answered it at once as a
soldier obeys the call of his king.
THE CALL OF GIDEON
But before fighting the foe there was evil at home to be battled with.
The people had been worshipping a false god, and Gideon's first act was
to sweep away all that belonged to that false worship. The indignant
people talked of punishment, but even while they spoke news came that
more of the robber nations were on their way to harry the land, and this
was Gideon's opportunity. Splendid in his youth and strength, king-
like in his daring, he stood out before the people and blew a great blast
upon his trumpet, calling upon the people to gather themselves together
for the defence of their land and to follow him, their captain.
It was a bold thing to think of withstanding that great army which
was coming thundering upon its relentless way. Gideon himself knew
that it was a forlorn hope unless God was surely on their side. He
must make quite certain of that before setting out, so he humbly prayed
that God would give him a sign. He would put a fleece of wool out on
the ground at night, and if in the morning the fleece was wet with dew
while the ground around was dry, then he would know that God had
indeed chosen him to lead His people to victory.
The fleece was laid out, and when Gideon came in the morning he
found it all soaked with dew, while not a drop had fallen upon the dry
hard ground around. Still he wanted to be even more sure, and so again
he prayed to God, and asked that this time the fleece might be dry and
the dew fall only upon the ground. If this happened he would ask for
no other sign, but would believe with all his heart.
Again God listened patiently to His soldier servant, and again He
granted his prayer. This time, when in the early morning Gideon went
out to find his fleece, it was lying there quite dry, while everything around
was heavy with dew.
So now with every doubt at rest Gideon set to work to prepare for
battle. The people had answered his trumpet call and had gathered
together in thousands; but many of them had come in fear and trembling,
and Gideon wanted no cowards or half-hearted men in his army. God
was able to save by many or by few, and He meant to show that it was by
His arm that the victory would be won. So He bade Gideon tell all
 the faint-hearted and frightened men to return to their hiding-places,
and all the unfit ones to go home, and at last the army melted away
until only three hundred picked men were left to fight the great armies
of the Midianites and the Amalekites.
The little army took up its position secretly upon a hill which over-
looked the plain where the enemy was encamped; and when night came
down and wrapped hill and plain in darkness, God's message came to
Gideon and bade him go down secretly, taking his servant with him, to
find out what was happening in the camp below.
The vast plain was covered with tents; thousands and thousands of
camels, on which the robbers had come riding so proudly, were resting
there now like a great gray sea stretched out towards the horizon. It
seemed as hopeless to think of turning back this great swarm of people
as of stopping the incoming tide. But there was no doubt or fear in
Very silently in the darkness of the night he stole down the hill and
crept closer and closer to the enemy camp. Like two gray shadows
he and his faithful servant drew nearer and nearer, until at last they could
hear the voices of two men who were talking in one of the dark tents
set at the outer edge of the great camp.
The men had both been asleep, and one had been dreaming, but the
dreamer had awakened his companion to listen to the frightening dream
which had disturbed him. Gideon could distinctly hear his terror
stricken voice telling how he had seen a cake of barley bread come rolling
down the hill into the camp, where nothing could stop it, until it even
reached the royal tent and laid it flat. The man who listened to the
dream was terrified too, and declared that it meant the overthrow of
their people by the sword of Gideon, that man of Israel who dwelt on the
hillside and had defied them.
Gideon had heard enough; and so, as silently as they had come, the
two shadows flitted back and climbed up the hill to their camp. There
was no time to be lost. Before the enemy could regain confidence the
blow must be struck. Gideon had everything planned for the attack,
and now he explained to his men exactly what they were to do.
Each man was to carry in one hand his trumpet, and in the other an
empty earthen pitcher with a lighted torch inside. They were to carry
these pitchers so that no gleam of light should show, and were to creep
quietly down to the edge of the enemies' camp below. Then, when they
were all come close to the camp Gideon would blow his trumpet, and at
 that signal all those three hundred men were to blow their trumpets
too and break the pitchers which they held in their hands, so that the
light of the torches should suddenly blaze out. There was only one more
order to give, and that was to tell them the battle cry which was to
carry them on to victory—
"The sword of the Lord and of Gideon."
Swiftly, then, those three hundred picked men crept down the hill.
No mountain mist rolling into the valley could have moved more silently,
and not a gleam from the hidden torches lit up the darkness.
There was silence in the great camp below. Sentries had just been
changed, and the rest of the army was peacefully sleeping—when
suddenly one long clear trumpet call shattered the stillness like the thrust
of a spear piercing a solid wall of blackness. Instantly a wild blare of
answering trumpets broke in from every side, and the darkness was lit
up by hundreds of flaring torches, while a mighty shout rose up to heaven
"The sword of the Lord and of Gideon."
"THEY BLEW THE TRUMPETS, AND BRAKE THE PITCHERS THAT WERE IN THEIR HANDS."
No wonder the enemy in their surprise and terror thought that a
great army was upon them. It seemed as if the very night itself was
full of fire and crashing sound. They rushed from their tents, they fled
this way and that, not knowing friend from foe, but madly hacking their
way with their swords in blind terror.
It was a great victory for the Israelites. Both the robber kings were
taken and slain, and the people who survived that terrible stampede
were driven back into their own land.
Who now in all the land was as great a hero as the brave young
captain, the victorious Gideon? The people in their gratitude and
devotion were ready to pay him any honour, even to making him
"Rule thou over us," they shouted, "both thou, and thy son, and thy
son's son also: for thou hast delivered us from the hand of Midian."
But Gideon would have none of this. It was to God that the glory
was due, and God was their King.
"I will not rule over you," he declared, "neither shall my son rule
And then, like the trumpet call in the great battle, his voice rang out
"The Lord, He shall rule over you."
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