300 Spartans or 300 Israelis?


The tale of King Leonidas and the 300 Spartans who withstood the Persian horde at Thermopylae is cemented in the consciousness of our society, both with popular literature and the authentic historic narrative.

Yes, the story of bravery to the utmost, finished with total sacrifice, for freedom and motherland Sparta.

Were you aware of another band of 300 soldiers who performed an historic exploit against a foreign horde? It’s a distinctive Jewish narrative (and by extension a Christian one) directed by Jehovah God for the freedom of His chosen people, Israel.

It’s a history waiting for the likes of a Mel Gibson to fund as the next Biblical Hollywood blockbuster…

It is the history of an Israeli by the name of Gideon, from the Old Testament of the Bible in the ‘Book of Judges’, chapters 6 through 8 (written in 1126 B.C. by Samuel the Priest; for the author’s Bio see the ‘First Book of Samuel’ from the Old Testament).

In Gideon’s lifetime he saw freedom for Israel at the hands of the Jewish leaders Deborah and Barak. He also lived while Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord; at which point God delivered Israel into the hands of the Midianite horde for seven years. (Interesting backstory: the Midianites descended from Midian who was the son of Abraham, the progenitor of Israel, and Keturah, his former concubine who had become his wife after the death of Abraham’s first wife, Sarah. Read the ‘Book of Genesis’, chapter 25.)

The horde numbered about 135,000 soldiers (not counting servants, slaves and women). They were ruthless and consumed an abundance of natural resources in Israel, destroying the land, and causing the people to live in great fear. So much so, that a significant amount of the people lived in caves and prepared their livelihoods in secret.

In the 7th year of occupation Israel cried out to God in unison, and an unnamed prophet prophesied of their coming redemption.

The Angel of the Lord called to Gideon [whose name means, ‘Oh, mighty man of valor’] to be that redemption. He was the son of Joash, a leader and landowner from the Israeli tribe of Manasseh.

Gideon, upon hearing the revelation from the Angel of the Lord, both questioned the Angel and admitted his personal weakness.

Upon receiving confirmation through the Angel, Gideon accepted the call to lead Israel to defeat the Midianites.

It was then that the Angel of the Lord commanded Gideon to destroy the alter of Baal (Baal is the Sun-god of Phenicia, and the supreme deity among the Canaanites and various other pagan nations) which was on his dad’s property. Since the city worshiped that image, they wanted Gideon’s death. However, since it was on Joash’s land, and it was his own son that tore it down, Joash stood up for Gideon.

Soon after we read, “The Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon”. He then sent word to his tribe (Manasseh) and three other tribes (Asher, Zebulun, Naphtali) of Israel. He sent word to mobilize an army to fight the Midian horde.

It was at this point that God had mercy on the soul of Gideon and confirmed to him (twice more!) that, yes, Gideon was in the will of God.

So, the Israeli army was gathered at about 32,000 strong; gathered together to fight the 132,000 Midianites.

However, God wanted to make a statement with this particular battle.

He told Gideon that the 32,000 he amassed was too large an army. God said, because of this, Israel will eventually say that it was the strength of the men of Israel rather than God to whom victory was espoused.

So Gideon released those men who were fearful of the fight: 22,000 left the army. God then said the 10,000 remaining were too much.

God then sent the men down to the river and commanded the 10,000 to drink: those who “lapped the water with his tongue, as a dog laps”, were chosen to fight (it would be an interesting study to research the significance of this method of choice).

The size of the army remaining after the water break was 300.

300 strong.

We see yet again, before the battle, that Gideon had fear. God then brought him down to the Midianite encampment and Gideon overheard, in secret, a conversation where one of the Midians was describing a dream he had, to which his compatriot interpreted it as a sign of impending defeat from the hands of Gideon.

Gideon became encouraged and began battle plans.

He separated the 300 into three companies and gave every man a trumpet, a torch hidden in a vase, and had them memorize a battle cry.

At Gideon’s word, for the start of the battle, the three companies blew the trumpets, broke the vases to reveal the torches and yelled out after blowing the instruments “the sword of the Lord and of Gideon!”

Through the massive confusion (and the appearance of an alleged 300 separate companies of Israelite soldiers to the viewing Midianites) and the hand of the Lord, the Midianites began to fight each other and to flee the scene.

At the fleeing of the enemy, we see that other men of Israel (not the 300) began to leave their cities and chase the Midianites.

Gideon contemplated this turn of events then quickly formed a strategy. He sent word to the tribe of Ephraim who were in a perfect position to engage the Midianites.

The tribe of Ephraim caught up with the Midianites, fought bravely and captured two enemy princes: Oreb and Zeeb (what names!).

At which point Ephraim decapitated the two princes and sent the heads to Gideon with a message.

They were offended for not being called to fight from the beginning. Gideon had wisdom and used his power of persuasion to pacify them and cheered their great accomplishment in capturing the princes.

At this point, the fleeing Midianites still numbered 15,000.

Gideon and the 300 pursued them.

During the pursuit, the 300 stopped in two separate cities, Succoth and Penuel, in order to get provisions. Both cities denied Gideon anything.

Gideon then promised on his return, he would bring judgment.

Soon he caught up and cornered the Midianites and with the 300 he slew the 15,000 and captured the kings Zebah and Zalmunna.

There is no record of any deaths among the 300.

Gideon then returned to the cities that did not feed his men: In Succoth, he whipped the elders of the city with thorns and briars. In Penuel he simply just killed those whom he saw fit.

Upon returning home, and questioning the captured kings, Gideon found out that they killed some of his brothers. At which point he gave them a death sentence. He then asked his first born son to kill them. The boy, terrified, refused. So Gideon himself slayed them.

After these exploits, Israel then wanted Gideon to rule over them.

Gideon declined and stated simply:

I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you, the Lord shall rule over you.”

And so you have a brief outline of another band of 300 warriors.

For a more in depth account, pick up the ‘Book of Judges’ in the Old Testament portion of your Bible.

| Daniel Gabriel |