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Today’s podcast meditation and retelling comes from Judges 6-7.
In Judges 6, Israel was overrun with the neighboring Midianites. These were the descendants of Abraham’s second wife, Keturah (Genesis 25:1-2), after Sarah passed away.
Gideon must have been a young man, since he was still living in his father’s household—though many of the Israelites were dwelling in caves at the time to hide from the Midianites, so it’s unclear to me whether he too was living in a cave. In the retelling, I assumed so.
The story opens with Gideon threshing wheat in a winepress to hide from the Midianites. Winepresses were dug out of the ground, and threshing is the removal of the kernel of grain from its stalk. This can be done by beating it by hand, or using animals to tread over the grain. Once the kernel has been separated, it is separated from the chaff (the part you don’t eat) by throwing it up in the air and letting the wind blow it away. If Gideon had done this above ground, the Midianites would come and steal what little he had. So this opening scene is rather pitiful. A winepress is also used elsewhere in scripture to symbolize God’s wrath and judgment (Isaiah 63:3-6, Lamentations 1:15, Joel 3:12-13), which makes sense: the Israelites are in this predicament of servitude in the first place because they have disobeyed the Lord, and they’re on the wrong side of the covenant (Deuteronomy 28). God told them exactly what would happen if they disobeyed Him and ran after other gods.
But God is merciful, and every time Israel disobeys Him and suffers the consequences, they cry out to Him for deliverance. Gideon is God’s answer to their prayers, only he doesn’t know it yet. He doesn’t much want to be God’s answer, either: he’s very much a reluctant hero, which makes me wonder if he was just the best God had to choose from among the Israelites of that time. He’s certainly no David.
It’s interesting to me that before God delivers the Israelites, the first thing He has Gideon do is destroy the idol to Baal. It’s like He’s reminding the people, You want me to help you? Remember the First Commandment? Remember why you’re in this situation in the first place? A covenant is a covenant, and they’ve disobeyed their side of it. God is just, and He’s not going to simply ignore the fact that the Israelites are in violation. He needs to get them back on the right side of the covenant before He can fulfill His end of the bargain. Praise God, Jesus did this for us, and now we are always on the right side of the covenant—Jesus became a curse for us and so redeemed us forever from the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13).
Gideon wasn’t thrilled about pulling down Baal’s altar; he knew that the worthless men of Israel would come against him and might even threaten to kill him for it. So he does it at night, when no one is awake to see it. It doesn’t matter—by the next morning, somehow everyone knows it was him anyway, and they come knocking at his family home/cave and demanding of his father Joash that he give up Gideon so they can kill him for it. Even though Joash had worshipped Baal too, he surprisingly defends Gideon with words that echo the wisdom of Gamaliel in the New Testament: when Peter and John are standing trial before the Sanhedrin, Gamaliel advises the Pharisees to let them go on the grounds that if what they are teaching is not from God, it will dissipate anyway. But if it is from God, they will only find themselves fighting against God (Acts 5:38-39). Similarly, Joash tells the people who want to kill his son, if Baal is a god, he can contend with Gideon himself! They accept this logic, give Gideon a new name (Jerubbaal, meaning ‘let Baal contend,’) and go away.
Now that God has His people back on the right side of the covenant, He sends Gideon into battle against the Midianites. Gideon then asks for his infamous fleece sign, to verify to him that he indeed heard God speak: that in the morning, the fleece will be wet and all the ground dry. Gideon knows he heard God; the request implies that he’s struggling to believe what He said. This becomes especially true when Gideon gets his request, and then thinks, What if that was coincidence? So he asks again, and this time reverses the request. This time, he wants the fleece dry and the ground wet! Meanwhile, all the armies of Israel are assembling to fight. I wonder what he planned to do if his fleece sign didn’t work as he expected! Tell them all to go home, I guess? I’m kind of amazed at how patient the Lord was with Gideon through all this. Perhaps that is because Gideon has never seen a miracle before (as he says at the beginning of Judges 6)—he’s only heard the stories of his ancestors. It’s not like the Israelites coming out of Egypt who saw God’s power literally every day. One of God’s principles is, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48). Paul even says in 1 Timothy 1:13, “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.”
So God grants Gideon his two fleece signs. Then Gideon presumably is feeling pretty confident with his 32,000 fighting men, even though the Midianites are described as “numberless.” Then God told him, no. He knew that if Gideon took that many men into battle, being a faithless people for the most part (that’s how they got in this predicament in the first place), they would forget God and glorify themselves for the victory (Deuteronomy 8:17). God didn’t want them to be able to boast (1 Corinthians 1:26-29); He wanted to make sure they knew this was all Him. So He whittled the army down to three hundred.
Now, Gideon freaks out again. Can’t say I really blame him. God realizes He needs to give Gideon yet another sign, but this time God makes it up: He tells Gideon to take his servant and go down to the Midianite camp (which is kind of funny in itself: you’re afraid to go with your army of 300, so how about you go to the enemy camp alone! That sounds less nerve-wracking.) We’re told over and over again that the Midianites are numberless, like locusts, so how does Gideon know where to go? God takes care of that part. He takes Gideon right where he needs to go, and then gives one of the Midianites a dream, and his buddy the interpretation of the dream: that Gideon is going to defeat them all! God presumably could have given that dream to one of the Israelites, but then it could have been written off as wishful thinking. Not so when the same dream and interpretation comes out of the mouths of Gideon’s enemies, and God supernaturally leads Gideon right where he needs to go to hear it.
Now, at last, Gideon is ready. There’s nothing in the story to indicate that God gave him a battle strategy—it seems that Gideon came up with the trumpets, pitchers, and lanterns idea on his own. But it makes sense: obviously 300 swords against a numberless army isn’t going to work! Gideon separates his army into three groups of one hundred, and sends each group to a different quadrant of the Midianite army. It was at night, which was key to the deception: the Midianites could not actually see how few of them there were. All they heard was smashing of pitchers, blowing of trumpets, and shouts all around them, and they saw lanterns that looked like they were surrounded. We can also gather, by the dream and its interpretation, that God had already struck fear into the hearts of the Midianites—so this was no more than what they expected. Panicked people don’t behave rationally, so they assumed that Gideon’s army was already upon them, and they started fighting each other! They defeated themselves by the power of deception. Then, as in many other disproportionate battles in scripture, the other Israelites who had been sent home saw the Midianites as they fled and joined in the battle.
After the battle, Gideon was honored as the next Judge of Israel for 40 years. Unfortunately, he did not end well. Despite God’s amazing deliverance, once they had peace, Gideon led the people into worshipping other gods. It must have broken the Lord’s heart: no matter how spectacular His deliverance, no matter how He provided for his people, once they were no longer in crisis they continually forgot Him. All He wanted was their love and worship! But Israel knew only God’s deeds; they did not know His ways (Psalm 103:7). They missed His Father heart for them. God’s kindness was always meant to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4).
This retelling is, of course, through Gideon’s eyes.
My father Joash used to tell me that I was born old. I’d never truly been a carefree child. I was serious, responsible, and prone to worry. This had only intensified in the last seven years, spanning my late childhood and early adulthood. Israel had been oppressed for those long years by the Midianites—ironically also descendants of Abraham, though by his second wife Keturah, rather than by our Princess of a Multitude, Sarah. The blood we shared created no kinship between us, however: the innumerable Midianites had decimated our land. Any food we planted and harvested, they took for themselves. Any animals they confiscated. They had reduced us to hiding in mountain caves and strongholds, pitiful and starving. Many of us died of starvation, though the rains were plentiful and the land bountiful: it did not matter. Ours was a manmade famine.
I, for one, was furious—but not just with the Midianites. I was also furious with my fellow Israelites, who persisted in their worship of Baal. I knew enough of the scriptures to strongly suspect that our oppression had been permitted by the Lord, because we were on the wrong side of the Mosaic covenant. We had forsaken Him, so He forsook us. Yet even in our oppression, the Israelites continued to worship false gods! I could not comprehend how they failed to make the connection, particularly after a prophet came to us and told us that our oppression was due to our disobedience. Were the old stories so distant to them that they regarded them as nothing more than fairy tales? Did they not remember Moses and the plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, Joshua and the battle of Jericho?
If I were completely honest, I was also angry with the Lord. We were His chosen people, yet we were reduced to this! I knew it was unfair of me to feel this way. The Lord had told us clearly in the Torah what would happen if we did not follow after Him wholeheartedly. We had not upheld our end of the covenant. Our misery was no more than we deserved. He had not broken His word. Yet here I was, skulking in caves and threshing wheat in a winepress so that the Midianites would not see and confiscate what little I had to live on. It was pathetic.
I wiped the sweat from my brow when I’d come to a stopping place, and climbed out of the winepress. Nearby was a terebinth tree, one of the few living things that still survived in Israel. Presumably that was because the tree produced nothing edible. I startled to see a man sitting beneath the tree, watching me. My heart went to my throat: at first I assumed he was one of the Midianites. But they did not travel alone: they swooped down en masse like a swarm of locusts. The man sat patiently, his robes new and clean, the lines of his face smooth and unconcerned.
“The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor!” was his surprising greeting.
My mind did quick math. The man’s robes were too clean, almost glowing. He face seemed radiant with an inner glory. These things combined with his strange greeting, as if he knew me and had been waiting for me, told me this was no ordinary man. I might have thought his epithet for me was sarcastic, but there was no sarcasm in his tone. Rather, the words had almost the effect of a spell. I felt emboldened by them.
Something about the man’s countenance invited confidence, too. So, in response to his greeting, I spilled out all my pent up emotions. “Please, sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.”
The man listened to my outburst, unperturbed. Then he said with ringing authority, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?”
I blinked, inspecting the man once again. Was it possible? I had thought perhaps this might be an angel. But could it be the Lord Homself? Hope, fear, and doubt mingled in my breast as I said, “Please, Lord,” I tested him with this title, “how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” This was true: I was the youngest of my father’s sons, and the weakest in physical might. Of all the men of Israel that the Lord might have picked as his champion, I seemed the unlikeliest choice.
The man answered, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.”
I took this in for a moment, uncertain. Finally I said, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, then show me a sign that it is you who speak with me.” He knew what I meant. In the old stories, when people spoke to the Lord or to angels, they always knew it. This man was not so remarkable as all that. At least, I still felt like there was room for doubt. “Please do not depart from here until I come to you and bring out my present and set it before you.”
He inclined his head. “I will stay till you return.”
I went into the cave that served as my family home, where we hid our stores of food and our flocks. I prepared a young goat, and placed the meat in a basket and the broth in a pot. As these were cooking, I took an ephah of flour to prepare unleavened cakes. Then I took all of it back to the terebinth tree and presented them to the man.
“Take the meat and the unleavened cakes and put them on this rock,” he said, indicating a large flat stone, “and pour the broth over them.”
I obeyed and stepped back. Then the man took the staff he carried, and reached out its tip to touch the offering. Fire sprang up from the rock, and consumed the meal, The the man vanished, right before my eyes.
I gasped, suddenly trembling all over. “Alas, O Lord God! For now I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!”
A word came to my spirit then. I knew it was not of myself, because it felt Other and carried with it a balm to my soul. “Peace be to you. Do not fear; you shall not die.”
I needed to do something. I needed to respond to this great thing that had happened. My ancestors all seemed to respond in the same way, by building an altar and naming it according to their experience of the Lord in that place, so I did the same. I assembled stones to build an altar, placing the flat one that had just served as the platter for my offering at its pinnacle, now scorched by the angel’s fire. I named the altar The Lord is Peace, for the word He had spoken to my soul.
I spent the rest of that day ruminating on what the angel had said to me, though. Save Israel from the hand of Midian? How was I supposed to do that? Where should I even begin?
In the night, the Lord answered me… sort of. “Take your father’s bull, and the second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal that your father has, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it and build an altar to the Lord your God on the top of the stronghold here, with stones laid in due order. Then take the second bull and offer it as a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah that you shall cut down.”
This made sense, I thought. The reason why Israel had been oppressed was because of our disobedience. So the very first step would be to turn their hearts back to the Lord; then they would be on the right side of the covenant, and then the Lord would be just in routing our enemies. But even this lesser command caused me to tremble in fear of the men of Israel who worshipped Baal and Asherah, not to mention of my own family. They would take it as a great offense if I were to do this thing. They would no doubt even seek my life for it. Of course, I had to obey a direct command from the Lord, though. He’d spoken to me in the night for a reason, though, surely? Perhaps he meant for me to do the deed in the cover of darkness, so that no one would know it was me?
I approached ten of my servants that night, and shook them awake. “The Lord has commanded me to tear down the altar of Baal and cut down the Asherah pole, and rebuild the altar of the Lord,” I explained when I had assembled them together. “Then we are to offer a bull as a sacrifice for the many sins of Israel, and use the Asherah pole for wood.” I saw my own trepidation reflected in their faces, though to a lesser degree—after all, I would be held responsible for the act if anyone found out who had done it, not they. But they did as I commanded. We worked until the darkest part of the early hours, and retired to our beds before dawn. I couldn’t sleep, though. I lay awake, heart pounding, waiting for someone to discover the deed and demand my blood in payment.
Sure enough, by morning, the men of Israel had seen, had inquired, and had determined that I was responsible.
“Bring out your son, that he may die!” I heard angry voices demand of my father Joash. “For he has broken down the altar of Baal and cut down the Asherah beside it!” Many clamors of agreement echoed the sentiment. I was seized with fear, and hid in the interior of the cave, imagining what it might be like to die by stoning. Somewhere in the back of my mind, as I cowered, the angel’s words came back to me.
Mighty man of valor, indeed.
“Will you contend for Baal?” my father’s surprising answer echoed back to me. “Or will you save him? Whoever contends for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been broken down.”
I was stunned. Then, I felt a rush of gratitude toward my father. I had half expected him to hand me over to the mob, rather than defend me. After all, he too had worshipped Baal! Yet here he was, threatening those who came against me with death! Grumbles of the men reached my ears, and I heard the term “Jerubbaal” used to refer to myself, as in “let Baal contend against him.” But they said this as they left our household, obeying the demand of my father. When they had gone, I emerged from the depths of the cave, afraid to meet my father’s eyes and see his disapproval. But he surprised me yet again. He nodded when he saw me, a look of respect on his face.
“You did what I should have done long ago, son,” he said. “It took great courage, and reminded us all of Whom we truly serve. I am proud of you.”
I blinked, unable to reply due to the lump in my throat. Instead I nodded back, and my father clapped me on the shoulder.
I pondered his words, replaying them over and over again in my mind, along with the angel’s greeting. The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor!
What was true? Who was I: Gideon who hid in a cave and in a winepress, Gideon who obeyed the word of the Lord only by night and in cover of darkness, and then quailed in fear of discovery? Or Gideon, mighty man of valor, pride of his father?
Who did I want to be?
In the following days, the Midianites and the Amalekites joined forces and crossed the Jordan, camping on our land in the Valley of Jezreel. Already a change had begun in me after the incident with the altar and the words from my father. Until then, fear had prevailed. Now, a righteous anger from the Lord took its place, consuming all fear, and all at once, I grew bold. What would a mighty man of valor do? I thought. The Lord had told me to go up against the Midianites, had he not? I needed an army for this, did I not? So I sounded my trumpet, and sent out messengers to the nearby tribes to join me in fighting against our enemies. Nevermind that these were the very men who sought to kill me for dismantling their altar not long ago. They would come, because the Lord willed it.
Alas. Once the messengers had been sent, the boldness of the Lord left me, and my old friend Fear returned. I replayed my encounter with the angel who had burned up my offering with fire and vanished before my eyes. I rehearsed his words to me, trying to beat back the fear and recapture the boldness that I had felt just hours before.
It was no use. The fear was winning. I felt a little sick to my stomach that night, as I thought of the sea of the Midianite and Amalekite armies. No matter how many of the Israelites responded to my call—thousands, perhaps—we would still be hideously outnumbered. And I had never even seen battle before. What did I know of commanding an army, or the strategy of war? Images of my own slow death played on repeat in my mind, gored by a Midianite sword… I just wanted to be sure the Lord hadn’t changed His mind about me, or that I hadn’t somehow misunderstood.
“O Lord,” I murmured, “If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said, behold, I am laying a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said.”
When I arose the next morning, the fleece was not just damp; it was so wet, I wrung out enough dew to fill a bowl with water. The surrounding ground was dry.
But, what if I hadn’t made my test hard enough? Perhaps the dew fell in the night, collected in the fleece and was trapped in its fibers, but there was enough time for it to evaporate from the rest of the ground! I should have done it the other way around, I thought; this sign could have just been coincidence.
I thought about this all day, as the men of Israel began to arrive in companies and camped all around, awaiting my orders. I now had two signs, I reminded myself: the angel, and the fleece filled with dew. But what if the angel had been… something else? I had no idea what else, since I’d never seen any creature conjure fire or vanish like that before, but he’d sure looked like an ordinary man. Perhaps my eyes had played tricks on me, or perhaps he was a magician, like those in the household of Pharaoh in the days of Moses. As for the fleece: I’d really almost explained that away. I felt convinced now that the same would happen every night, if I laid out the same fleece, because that was just the way of things.
So I prayed that night, as the armies assembled around me, “O Lord, let not your anger burn against me; let me speak just once more. Please let it be dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground let there be dew.”
When I awoke the next morning, I was almost afraid to set my feet upon the fleece. If it were damp, what would I tell all the assembled men, after my bold proclamations? And I was sure it would be damp…
But no. It was bone dry, while the surrounding ground was slick with moisture. I closed my eyes in a prayer of thanks. I had not assembled my armies in vain. The Lord was with me. The Lord would deliver us by my hand. I was a mighty man of valor. I chanted these words in my mind, that I might come to believe them. Mighty man of valor. Mighty man of valor.
That morning, I assembled all those with me, 33,000 men in all, and we marched to camp beside the spring called Harod. The camp of the Midianites was north of us, by the hill of Moreh, in the valley. When we arrived, I sought the Lord for battle strategy.
I wished I hadn’t.
“The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’ Now therefore proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home and hurry away from Mount Gilead.'”
Can I be one of those? I thought but did not say, though of course the Lord knew I was thinking it. But, I was on the hook now. The Lord had given me all my requested signs; how could I not obey? So I made the announcement to the men of Israel, and 22,000 of my troops responded and went home, much to my dismay. I had only 10,000 men left.
The Lord spoke to me again. “The people are still too many.”
Are you kidding me? I thought. I was already in a panic over ten thousand, versus an army without number.
The Lord went on, “Take them down to the water, and I will test them for you there, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ shall go with you, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ shall not go.”
I did as the Lord commanded, taking my remaining meager ten thousand men down to the spring. Each of them naturally approached the water for a drink. The Lord spoke to me and said, “Everyone who laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set by himself. Likewise, everyone who kneels down to drink.”
I thought I knew where this was going, and I didn’t like it one bit. But I did as the Lord commanded. Of course, the vast majority knelt down to drink and cupped the water in their hands, or else placed their faces directly in the water. Lapping was highly inefficient, so of the ten thousand, only three hundred men chose it. I was surprised it was even that many.
I knew what the Lord would tell me even before the word came.
“With the 300 men who lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hand, and let all the others go every man to his home.”
My voice was hoarse, and it might have squeaked once or twice when I made this announcement to the men. I wondered what the result might be if I asked those remaining 300 now which of them was afraid.
The Lord spoke to me again as night fell, with the numberless camp of Midian below us in the valley.
“Arise, go down against the camp, for I have given it into your hand. But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant, and you shall hear what they say, and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.”
I almost laughed at the irony.If I’m afraid to go with my meager army, go by myself instead, into the enemy camps. Obviously. But, one thing I was good at, after seven years of occupation: I knew how to hide. I’d been doing it for most of my adult life.
What I did not know, and didn’t realize I didn’t know until I was already in the valley, was that I had no idea where I was going. There were hundreds of thousands of Midianites and Amalekites. Upon whom, exactly, was I supposed to eavesdrop?
I did not have to wonder long. On the periphery of the enemy camp, hidden in shadow, the first two men I came upon talked by a fire. One of them related a dream from the night before to his comrade.
“Behold, I dreamed a dream, and behold, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian and came to the tent and struck it so that it fell and turned it upside down, so that the tent lay flat. It was a very odd dream, to be sure, and it felt different than most usual dreams, is if it were both prophetic and symbolic in some way. What do you suppose it could mean?”
The comrade shook his head and replied with trepidation, “This is no other than the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel; God has given into his hand Midian and all the camp!”
I almost laughed aloud at the ridiculousness of this conversation. The Lord had given a dream to my enemy, and led me straight where I needed to go in order to hear both dream and interpretation from men who should not even know my name, let alone be inclined to predict their own defeat at my hands! How many signs did I need? I had the angel; I had the fleece, twice; and now, this. At long last, I felt what the angel had first pronounced me to be: a mighty man of valor.
Purah and I snuck back up to the Israelite camps. When we arrived, I announced to the men, “Arise, for the Lord has given the host of Midian into your hand!” The battle strategy was suddenly obvious to me, as well. How else could three hundred men come against a vast and numberless army, but by trickery and deception?
I divided the three hundred men in three groups of about one hundred each, distributing trumpets, jars, and torches among them.
“Look at me, and do likewise,” I commanded. “When I come to the outskirts of the camp, do as I do. When I blow the trumpet, I and all who are with me, then blow the trumpets also on every side of all the camp and shout, “For the Lord and for Gideon!”
I and my company of a hundred men gave enough time for the other two companies to get in place around the opposite sides of the Midianite camp. About the middle watch of the night, my company approached the edge of camp. Then I raised the trumpet to my lips, closed my eyes in a silent prayer to the Lord, and blew.
All around me there was a sudden cacophony of trumpets, followed by the shattering of jars, the blaze of torches, and the shouts of a hundred voices, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” Surrounding the Midianite army, the other two companies did the same. The effect in the blackness, I had to admit, was impressive: the noise and the torches made our meager three hundred men seem like a vast army.
The effect was immediate. The Midianites cried out, roused from sleep and caught unawares. Some of them ran. Many of them grabbed their swords, supposing us to be inside their camp, and began to cut one another down. Those who escaped the swords of their fellows fled until morning and long into the day, to Beth-shittah and even as far as the border of Abel-meholah.
As the Midianites fled, men who had abandoned my army at the direction of the Lord came out from their homes and pursued them with us, from the tribes of Naphtali, Asher, and Manasseh. I sent messengers to Ephraim as well, so that they too might help us force the Midianites and Amalekites even as far as the Jordan River.
And so the word of the Lord came true, just as it did in the stories of old: three hundred men routed an army without number, fighting not with swords, but with trumpets, jars, and torches. My only accomplishment in the matter was that I finally believed the Lord, and did as He commanded. I promised myself that if ever I had the chance, I would believe Him much more readily the next time. Before, I had only the stories of my ancestors. Now, I had my own victories as well, which I determined to pass down to my children, and to my children’s children, that they might know and call upon the name of the Lord. He is Jehovah Sabaoth, the Lord of Hosts, who fights or me. He is El Shaddai, who destroys my enemies. He is Jehovah Tsidkenu, the Lord my victory and deliverance. And He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.
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