300: Rise of an Empire conquered the box-office over the weekend. The blood-soaked sequel to 300 continues to tell a heavily stylized version of the battles between the Greeks and the Persians.
While many biblical stories are also getting the Hollywood treatment, I doubt one famous Old Testament will get the same. While it shares numerical similarities to the Battle of Thermopylae, the one leading God’s army into battle had a much different perspective and, perhaps not incidentally, won his battle.
In the original film 300, King Leonidas leads a highly-trained and expertly-skilled army of 300 Spartans into battle against King Xerxes and his 300,000 Persian soldiers. Despite holding off attack after attack, the Spartans, trained from birth to be warriors, eventually succumb to the sheer numbers of the Persian army. The Battle of Thermopylae is lost, but the sacrifice of the 300 inspires all of the Greek city-states to unite and defeat the invading Xerxes.
In the book of Judges, God calls Gideon to save the Israelites from oppression by the Midianites. Despite his doubts, Gideon gathers 32,000 Israelite men to form an impromptu army to fend off the Midianites, who have joined forces with the Amalekites and the Qedemites to bring an army so large Gideon and his scouts cannot count the men or the camels. God tells Gideon his undermanned and undertrained army is too large, of all things, and asks him to trim it down. With only 300 men left, Gideon devises a creative strategy using trumpets and lamps, which God uses to completely rout the gigantic army.
We can see the obvious juxtapositions between the two armies and leaders.
- Leonidas was an inspiring warrior king. Gideon was an unqualified, reluctant leader.
- Spartans were trained from birth to fight and kill. Israelites were taught to worship and obey God.
- Leonidas’ army was the best trained military of the day. Gideon’s army was thrown together in about a day.
- The Spartan army trusted in their battle skills and high-tech weaponry. The Israelite army trusted in God to use lamps and trumpets.
- Leonidas and the Spartans were the best army and most feared fighters in the world. Gideon and the Israelites …. were not.
- Eventually, Leonidas and the Spartans lost. Eventually, Gideon and the Israelites won.
How odd is that when we look for heroes or leaders, even within the church, we still look first for men like Leonidas? We want inspiring warrior kings, not ordinary men faithfully serving an extraordinary God. We want men, who by their mere presence, guarantee victory. We want armies of 300 the Spartan way, not 300 God’s way.
But God has said He is pleased to use the weak and foolish to confound the strong and wise (1 Corinthians 1:27). Look who He repeatedly sends to save His people. Moses is a stutterer wanted for murder. Gideon, the youngest of the weakest family in his tribe, is hiding from the enemy. David is the shepherd runt of his family. Ultimately, there is Jesus.
He is born in a barn with animals to a whispered-about couple. Nothing about his appearance strikes you as noteworthy or appealing. He stays his whole life on small strip of conquered land leading a small group of followers to lives of self-sacrifice. His time of significant influence only lasted a few years before He was beaten and killed as a common criminal.
That is the One we claim to follow. This is our history. We are a people of underdogs and overachievers. We are not the most skilled, brilliant, brave or famous. But we are the victors.
Our bloodied Savior became our resurrected Lord. He conquered sin and death on our behalf. We rest in the victory He has already accomplished. Just as Gideon’s army trusted in God to bring salvation through the lamps and trumpets, we trust Him to do the same through the Lamb and the cross.
Three hundred Spartans are remembered in history. All those who find salvation by trusting in Christ will live beyond history.