Painting of a Greek Phalanx
Greek Phalanx: Public domain image courtesy of Wikipedia

 

Two Tales of 300 Warriors: Greeks and Israelites

By Stephen M. Bird. January 2, 2013.   Print this Article

If you had to join an army, would you rather join the 300 Spartans led by King Leonidas or the 300 Israelites led by Gideon? The Spartans were wonderful warriors with superior armor, fighting skills, and weapons. Their shields were the best of their day, and when Greek warriors interlocked their shields they made a powerful wall of shielded men called a phalanx. The Greeks were deadly with their spears and short swords. They used formidable fighting techniques, battle tactics, and strategies. These 300 Spartan warriors and many of the other Greeks that fought with them had endured tortuous training to develop their skills, strength and courage.

King Leonidas’s 300 Spartans and 7,000 Greek Warriors

In 430 B.C. three hundred Spartan warriors fought a massive Persian army to a standstill at the “narrow coastal pass of Thermopylae (‘The Hot Gates’)” (ther-mop-uh-lee). The road through the pass at Thermopylae was just wide enough for two wagons to pass each other. There, at the narrowest point, and with the help of another 7,000 or so Greek warriors, they blocked and fought a much larger invading Persian army to a standstill. The Greeks succeeded in delaying the Persian advance into Greek lands for a full week. This gave Greek city-states time to mobilize armies to defend their homeland. [1]

Ancient estimates of the size of the Persian army, such as Herotodus’ estimate of 2,600,000 and Ctesias estimate of 800,000 gave the battle a mythical status. Still, even modern estimates of the Persian army, which range from 70,000 to 300,000 indicate that the 7,000 or so Greeks must have been outnumbered by at least ten to one and possibly by as many as 43 to one. [2] Since all but two of the 300 Spartans who led the Greeks fought to the death, these 300 Spartan warriors have been immortalized in history.

God's 300 Israelites led by Gideon

But what if you chose to join Gideon's army against the Midianites and Amalakites. Israelite writers have chronicled the story of those 300 men of a different time and place. Gideon was not a king. Like most of the Israelites he was a farmer and shepherd. The scriptures tell us that the Midianites and Amalakites came like “grasshoppers for multitude; for both they and their camels were without number” and they entered the land of Israel “to destroy it” (Judges 6:5). These invaders had impoverished the Israelites who then cried unto the Lord for help. [3]

Gideon was hiding his wheat from the invaders when an angel appeared to him to persuade him to lead the Israelites in battle against their tormentors. Gideon begged off on the assignment, much like Moses, saying, “Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? Behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house” (Judges 6:5). The angel persisted and over time Gideon requested three signs, which the Lord granted.

When Gideon issued a call to arms about 32,000 men showed up and God told Gideon: “The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me” (Judges 7:2). Then He gave instructions that Gideon should send home any who were fearful and 22,000 Israelites left. Although 10,000 men remained, the Lord said, “the people are yet too many” (Judges 7:4). He told Gideon to take them to water and those who brought the water to their mouths with their hand could stay. Only 300 men stayed. God then told Gideon to send home the 9,700 Israeliltes who went to their knees to drink.

During the night, Gideon took his 300 men to “the host of Midian” (Judges 7:15). There he divided them into three companies of 100 men and for weapons he gave them a trumpet, an empty pitcher, and a lamp within the pitcher. Then:

... the three companies blew the trumpets, and brake the pitchers, and held the lamps in their left hands, and the trumpets in their right hands to blow withal: and they cried, The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon.

And they stood every man in his place round about the camp: and all the host ran, and cried, and fled.

“And the three hundred blew the trumpets”

And the three hundred blew the trumpets, and the Lord set every man's sword against his fellow, even throughout all the host: and the host fled ... (Judges 7:20-22).

Before you choose which 300 you would join, compare the results.

The Three Hundred Spartans

All but two of these three hundred Spartans died. Their warrior training had begun at the age of seven. [4] Breastplates, helmets, and other armor as well as their shields protected them. They fought their foes with spears and short swords. [5] They spent their lifetimes training for opportunities to fight in battle. At Thermopylae, they fought an exhausting and ultimately fatal battle for two-and-a-half days. Then other Greek warriors continued fighting until the following year when they defeated the Persians at Plataea. Before that great victory however, “the Persians overran Boeotia and then captured the evacuated Athens.” [6]

The Three Hundred Israelites

Insofar as we know, all of the three hundred Israelites lived. Although they carried trumpets, and lamps in empty pitchers, rather than swords and shields: their real weapon was their faith in God. Rather than fight with sword and shield, they blew their trumpets, broke their pitchers and held up their lamps. They also gave the glory of victory to their God. Then, they enjoyed peace for 40 more years.

Ilike the outcome for the 300 Israelites. All of them lived and they didn't have to fight nearly as long and hard as did the Spartans. They just had to give God the credit. Imagine the faith and courage it must have taken to go with Gideon to the Midianite and Amalakite camp, a numberless host, armed with a trumpet and a lamp in an empty pitcher. Could that have taken more courage than going with King Leonidas trained in war and armed to the hilt with traditional weapons?

I submit that though the Lord's ways are sometimes strange to us, the results are better than any other way of life, both in this temporary life and in our next ultimate life. As Joshua, an Israelite prophet and leader, once said: “Choose ye this day whom ye will serve, ... but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). When we choose God, like Gideon and Joshua, we open ourselves to the world of God's miracles.

Notes:

[1] Wikipedia: Battle of Thermopylae.

[2] Ibid.

[3] The Bible, Judges 6 and 7, King James Version. [Note: All scriptures refer to the King James Version of the Bible, except where another translation is noted.]

[4] Wikipedia: Spartan army, see "Training".

[5] Nick Sekunda, The Spartan Army: Osprey Military Elite Series: 66 The Spartans (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 1998), 25-45.

[6] Wikipedia: Battle of Thermopylae.

 

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