Ed Faltin was in a battle.
It was 1951 and the former Scribner resident was in a place known as Heartbreak Ridge during the Korean War.
American forces were advancing against those of North Korea and China.
An enemy machine gun nest was posted atop a steep, rocky ridge.
The enemy had Ed and other men in his company pinned down.
An officer told Ed to crawl to the side of the enemy’s bunker and take it out with a grenade.
Ed — then just 20 years old — crawled for what seemed like hours to reach it in the inky darkness.
When he was about 8 feet from the bunker, Ed threw the grenade.
Enemy soldiers hurled a grenade at him.
Ed knew the Korean grenades sparkled like a kid’s sparkler so he could see it coming and started to roll away.
The bunker was destroyed, but shrapnel hit Ed in the face.
He survived. The officer who’d ordered him to take out the bunker died a day later. Ed and other soldiers pushed on, however, eventually reaching the top of the ridge.
Ed still lives with a reminder of that night on Heartbreak Ridge.
Years ago, he learned a piece of shrapnel had gone in alongside his nose and lodged below his brain where it remains today.
Many of us — praise God — will never have to be in a battle like Ed.
But we’ve been facing some battles of our own.
We might be in a battle for our health, finances, jobs, marriage or kids, who are going through a rocky time.
Maybe that’s why I love stories in the Bible like the one about Gideon.
This account takes place long after the Israelites have left their lives of slavery in Egypt and then wandered 40 years in the desert before finally reaching their Promised Land.
Yet after they settled into a place their ancestors only dreamed about, generations of Israelites fell into a disturbing cycle.
When things were going well, they’d forget about God and start doing evil.
God would let their enemies oppress them. They’d cry out to God and he would raise up people called judges — leaders who would help them defeat their enemies.
The people would live in peace while the judge lived. But after that person died, they’d return to their evil ways.
It happened repeatedly.
At one point — after they had forsaken God’s ways — he allowed a group of people called the Midianites to oppress the Israelites for seven years.
The Midianites and their allies would devour the Israelites’ crops and livestock leaving the people impoverished. It was so bad the Israelites hid in caves in the mountains.
They cried out to Lord.
And he answered.
At this point, a man named Gideon is threshing grain in a winepress — hiding out from the Midianites — when he gets an unexpected guest.
It’s an angel of the Lord.
“The Lord is with you mighty warrior,” the angel says.
I think I would have dropped my grain, but we don’t read where anything like that happened.
Instead, we hear Gideon’s lament.
“If the Lord is with us, then why has all this happened to us?” he asks. “Where are all the wonderful deeds our fathers told us about?”
Gideon believes the Lord has abandoned them.
And don’t we do that sometimes?
When tough times crash — or seep — into our lives, we ask questions like: “Lord, why did you let this happen?” “When will you answer my prayer?” “Are you even listening?”
The angel doesn’t try to explain anything to Gideon — or even answer his questions.
Instead, the angel just says: “Go in the strength you have and save Israel.”
Poor Gideon. He sees himself as the weakest of the weak.
How can he save anybody?
That’s when the Lord offers reassurance with the words: “But I will be with you.”
Gideon will ask for three signs from God, who provides them.
Then this warrior-in-the-making assembles 32,000 men.
But God isn’t going to have the Israelites claiming they defeated the enemy by themselves so he has Gideon tell all the men who are fearful to go home — and 22,000 leave.
God says the 10,000 left are still too many so he has Gideon tell all but 300 to exit the scene.
If I were Gideon, I think my knees would have been shaking.
Next, we learn the Midianites are camped out in a valley and the Scriptures say those folks are as thick as locusts and their camels were a numerous as sand on a seashore.
That’s quite a crowd of camels.
God tells Gideon that if he’s still afraid to go down into the enemy camp with his servant.
So they do. And while there, Gideon overhears two men talking. One tells of a dream he had, which the other interprets it to mean that God intends for the Israelites to defeat them.
After hearing this, Gideon worships God and heads back to round up his men.
Gideon then implements one of the most unusual battle strategies in the Bible. He gives the men trumpets and empty jars with torches inside.
They go out in the middle of the night. Can you imagine tired enemy soldiers just getting off their shift of guarding the camp, while still groggy ones are just starting theirs?
That’s when Gideon has his men blow their trumpets and smash their jars and yell out: “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!”
When the men blow their trumpets, the Lord has the enemy soldiers turn on each other with their swords and then their army ends up running.
It’s an astounding victory.
And it has me thinking.
If God can use a group of 300 men armed with jars, torches and trumpets to defeat an army of thousands, how much more could he help us?
Stop and think.
This is the same God who created the entire universe — a place of 100 billion galaxies by astronomers’ best estimates.
Our God raises the dead, heals the sick and comforts the weary and grieving.
The Bible is filled with his miracles. He parted the Red Sea and the Jordan River, fed manna to the Israelites in the desert for 40 years, made water come out of a rock and defeated armies.
Old women — like Sarah and Elizabeth — were able to give birth to babies long after the age when women can do that.
God protected Noah and his family from a worldwide flood, had a big fish swallow the runaway Jonah and helped a shepherd named David take down the giant Goliath.
It’s true, we all can face a flood of troubles or problems that seem as huge and scary as Goliath.
And maybe a few of us — like Ed — will actually make a life-threatening climb up a rocky ridge in the dark.
Life can be terrifying, but remember what the Lord told Gideon: “I will be with you.”
Gideon and his men may have been greatly outnumbered — but they didn’t have to be the biggest or toughest guys or outfitted with top-notch weapons.
Why? Because they had the God of the universe in their corner.
He was on their side and had their backs.
And he has ours as we reach out to him. We must trust and obey him, but we can rest in his gentle love and forgiveness and tender compassion.
He is the God who saves, renews, transforms and protects.
Even in the dark.