The boasting of man
The Lord said to Gideon, ‘The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands, for Israel would become boastful saying, ‘My own power has delivered me.’ Judges 7.2
This line in Judges is quite famous, yet it is still valuable for us to take a look at it. Judges as a book is complete tragedy. In the historical storyline of Israel, the nation had just entered the land and gotten settled. The book of Joshua illustrates this, but there was something missing. If we were to look at the places conquered and the places not conquered in Joshua, we would notice that Israel had in fact not subdued the whole land. Although Israel’s army had beaten the king of Jerusalem, it seems that they had not fully taken the city of Jerusalem. David needs to re-conquer the city later on. Many of the stronger cities of Canaan were not Israelite. Where the book of Joshua is silent on this, the book of Judges lists explicitly the areas of Canaan that were not taken at the end of chapter 1.
From there on out the book of Judges depicts the downwards spiral of the nation of Israel. So Judges 7.2 is illustrative of Israel’s temptation in that day: to be boastful in themselves of their own strength. Of course most people would be boastful if they won in battle. Think of any sort of match in sports. The team that wins in the Superbowl is going to be jubilant and a little proud of the fact that they could win. In the same way, when someone wins a battle, you can imagine how jubilant and boastful they are in winning. More often than not, they had the better strategy and general and they were able to rout their enemy and proclaim victory and sue for peace. So we cannot so easily condemn Israel when it is typical of every human to boast in victory, even if just a little.
We see this typical human boasting in many other areas of our lives. We boast in our new homes that we have gotten for ourselves; we boast in our new toys we were able to purchase with our own money and effort; we boast in our GPA; we boast in the famous people we know or have met; we boast in our superior life choices. What God is concerned about is that we think we have done these things in our own power. We say, ‘My own power has gotten me this or that.’ Israel was often tempted to say, we have by our own strength taken the land of Canaan for ourselves.
These thoughts make us into a sort of Deist. Deists were a common sort at the founding of America. They said, God made the world but then has left it to itself to run on the rules he set up. It is like a watch wound up and now running perpetually. The problem is that this is not the God described in the Bible. It is the God of science who doesn’t get in our way. Biblically, God created the world, yes, but he also sustains the world by the word of his power. He is upholding every piece of the world. A medieval man named Nicolas wrote a book once meditating on this. We exist because God looks upon us. Think of the psalmist asking God, ‘Let the light of your face shine upon us.’ If God were to cease looking on us we would cease to exist. This is illustrative of God’s sustenance of the world. It isn’t just a one and done sort of thing. It is a persistent upholding. Science observes regularity in the world because God sustains the world regularly. Miracles don’t break the rules of science. They are God working in the world in different ways than we are used to.
So when we boast in our doings, relationships, and possessions, we are saying, I have done it in my own way without recognizing that God has provided and sustained us. We are denying the God of the Bible and replacing him with ourselves. What God showed Gideon in choosing only 300 men to fight against the Midianites is that Yahweh alone is God. Yet Israel did not learn from this episode. After the judge Gideon died, Israel did what was right in their own eyes and rejected Yahweh as their God and pursued other idols.
The lesson for us is that in all things, we must acknowledge that God is at work in our lives, and we do this most evidently by praying unceasingly. When we pray we acknowledge our need and that God is the great giver and sustainer of the world. When we neglect such a thing we reveal we think we are the masters of our own fate. It shows that we have rejected Yahweh as our God. We also acknowledge God in our world in how we worship. We participate in a local church where we deny ourselves and serve one another and worship God in song and sit under the proclamation of the word of God. We make ourselves nothing and make our God everything and give him all the praise honor and glory because it is due to him. May we ever grow in our reliance and trust in God.