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Deeper Commentary


Jdg 7:1 Then Jerubbaal, who is Gideon-
"Gideon" is the word used for the command to cut down the idols of the land (Dt. 7:5; 12:3). It seems Gideon was named this after he cut down the pagan grove on his family property, and his father then also called him "Jerubbaal", 'let Baal content [for himself]'. We see here how men came to be called by various names which reflected their life experiences. This is why often people have a number of different names in the Hebrew Bible.

And all the people who were with him rose up early-
There is a much repeated characteristic of God's servants: that they 'rose up early in the morning' and did God's work. In each of the following passages, this phrase is clearly not an idiom; rather does it have an evidently literal meaning: Abraham (Gen. 19:27; 21:14; 22:3); Jacob (Gen. 28:18); Job (1:5); Moses (Ex. 8:20; 9:13; 24:4; 34:4); Joshua (Josh. 3:1; 6:12; 7:16; 8:10); Gideon (Jud. 6:38; 7:1). This is quite an impressive list, numerically. This can be a figure for being zealous (Ps. 127:2; Pr. 27:14; Song 7:12; Is. 5:11; Zeph. 3:7). God Himself rises up early in His zeal to save and bring back His wayward people (Jer. 7:13,25; 11:7; 25:3,4; 26:5; 29:19; 32:33; 35:14,15; 44:4). Yet the above examples all show that men literally rose up early in their service to God; this was an expression of their zeal for God, in response to His zeal for us. I'm not suggesting that zeal for God is reflected by rising early rather than staying up late; but it wouldn't be too much to suggest that if we are men of mission, we won't waste our hours in bed. Get up when you wake up.

And encamped beside the spring of Harod-
"Harod" means trembling, and may have been named after the trembling of Gideon and the people (:3). Constantly he is portrayed as weak in faith and fearful, and yet not giving up and going forward in the path given to him.

And the camp of Midian was on the north side of them by the hill of Moreh, in the valley-
Moreh was the name of a Canaanite, so the continuing place name reflects how it had not been conquered by the Israelites and renamed as it should have been. We have the persistent impression of strength despite an environment of such weakness, and this we respect about Gideon.

Jdg 7:2 Yahweh said to Gideon, The people who are with you are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast against Me saying, ‘My own hand has saved me’-
In all Israel's great military victories, there was some element of God's hand (e.g. hailstones, earthquake) to stop them thinking that their own strength alone had saved them. And this is major theme in God's working with us. Gideon had earlier argued that his "thousand" in Manasseh was diminished or reduced (see on Jud. 6:15). But he was to learn that this was the kind of "strength" which he was to go against the Midianites with. And when he does, he finds that his strength is greatly diminished again, twice; from 32,000 to 10,000, and then from 10,000 to 300. But this theme of diminishing his strength had begun when his "thousand" was diminished.

This passage is alluded to in 1 Cor. 1:26-29, where Paul explains that for this same reason God has chosen "not many" to bring about His way of salvation, through a small remnant of weak people bringing to nothing the mighty things. This would equate Gideon's 300 with the true believers of both natural and spiritual Israel.

Jdg 7:3 Now therefore announce to the people, ‘Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return and depart from Mount Gilead’. Twenty-two thousand of the people returned and ten thousand remained-
This was strictly according to the law of Moses, which required commanders to invite their fearful soldiers to leave before conflict (Dt. 20:8). "Thousand" may refer to a military unit; see on Jud. 6:15. 32,000 were reduced to 10,000, and 10,000 to 300. The proportion of reduction the second time was far greater than the first time; about two thirds of the men returned, i.e. about 30% remained. But then just 3% remained. And overall, only about 1 % of the force was required by God. There would have been thousands of troops moving away from the front, rather embarrassed to tell the villages they passed through that they had moved away from the front because they were fearful. To turn their backs before their enemies was one of Israel's curses for disobedience to the covenant. So the whole thing was set up to show them that indeed they had been disobedient to the covenant, and God was gently punishing them for this.

"Mount Gilead" is hard to understand. There may have been a Mount Gilead on the western side of Jordan, but it is not mentioned anywhere else. "Gilead" and "Gilboa" differ by one letter in Hebrew. Perhaps Gideon was to undo Saul's defeat, and was encamped on Mount Gilboa. Or we could read maher, 'in haste', for mehar, "from the mount", giving the sense "let him return in haste to Gilead" i.e. go home.

Jdg 7:4 Yahweh said to Gideon, The people are still too many. Bring them down to the water and I will test them for you there. Those of whom I tell you, ‘This one shall go with you’ shall go, and those of whom I tell you, ‘This one shall not go with you’ shall remain-
"The water" was presumably the spring of Harod, meaning "trembling" (:2,3). Those who apparently weren't trembling were to be tested as to whether they were weak enough to be used for the great salvation God was to achieve. Only Gideon was aware, it seems, of this basis for reducing the people further. It was a very personal move from God to him, to yet further reduce his trust in human strength.

Jdg 7:5 So he brought down the people to the water and Yahweh said to Gideon, Each one who laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, set him by himself; likewise each one who bows down on his knees to drink-
"Laps" is yalok, the very sound a dog makes when drinking. Only Gideon at this point knew the basis upon which he was dividing his men. It would have taken him some time to pass by ten thousand men [although "thousand" may mean a military subdivision rather than 1,000] and pick out the 300 who lapped. At the time, he may have had no idea why this was being made so significant. Perhaps bowing on the knees recalled idol worship, and the more sensitive would not have done this. Those who lapped were acting like despised dogs. And it is by the dogs, like 'Caleb' [= 'dog'] who followed Yahweh faithfully [as a dog does a man], that God would save His people. Those who acted like dogs were the ones used, lapping like a dog laps, rather than drinking from cupped hands as men usually do.  

Jdg 7:6 The number of those who lapped, putting their hands to their mouth, was three hundred men, but all the rest of the people got down on their knees to drink-
Gideon's faith would have been fully stretched. Although the exact number, 300, would have confirmed to him that this indeed was what God intended.

Jdg 7:7 Yahweh said to Gideon, By the three hundred men who lapped I will save you, and deliver the Midianites into your hand. Let all the other people go, each to his own place-
They were not to be kept as some kind of reserve force, they were to be sent home. The demand for faith was total, and we are sometimes put in similar positions, where we have only faith in God and all possibility of human help has been removed.

135000 Midianites had faced Gideon's 300 men (Jud. 8:10). That works out at precisely 450 of the enemy for every one of Gideon's men. And it cannot be coincidence that Elijah describes himself as facing off as one man of God against 450 prophets of Baal on Carmel (1 Kings 18:22). Despite his arrogance and spiritual weakness, Elijah learned the lesson from Gideon's courageous example. This is how the Bible becomes a living word, the history is not dead but alive, because it has been carefully selected by God to show us that man is not alone, God is with us, no circumstance we face is in essence unique; others have trodden this path before.  

Jdg 7:8 So the three hundred men took food and their trumpets, and he sent all the rest of them to their tents; and the camp of Midian was beneath him in the valley-
We expect to read of warriors taking weapons in their hands. But instead they take food and trumpets. Again we see how God's strategy is totally different to human strategy. It would have been a fair test of their faith to continue with an apparently bizarre plan which had no human hope of success. The spiritually minded would have recalled the conquest of Jericho with trumpets. "Their trumpets" would have been those of the 300 trumpeters amongst the 10000 men. They handed over their trumpets, perhaps each platoon of around 33 men had a trumpeter amongst them. Originally, perhaps the 32,000 had 300 trumpeters amongst them. And he handed his trumpet to one of the 300.

AV: "And retained those three hundred men", using the same word as in :11 for "strengthened". Perhaps Gideon strengthened their faith in the intention of God to use them to save Israel from such overwhelming odds.

Jdg 7:9 The same night Yahweh said to him, Arise, go down into the camp; for I have delivered it into your hand-
The Israelite troops were mustered on a hill with a commanding view, so that they would see the vast army of their enemies. And now Gideon was told to go down to them, clinging on to his faith in those words that "I have delivered it into your hand", maybe repeating them over and over.

Jdg 7:10 But if you are afraid to go down, go with Purah your servant down to the camp-
God knows our frame and remembers that we are dust. He sets an ideal standard that He knows we can reach- in Gideon's case, to go down to the camp of the enemies. But He knew Gideon's weakness and so by grace delayed the plan for a day, to allow Gideon to get more support for his weak faith. Rather like He didn't send Israel on the direct route to Canaan, lest they see war and lose heart. We can therefore never complain that we are forced by overpowering circumstance into lack of faith. God knows our levels and will not test us beyond that which we can bear, but will make a way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13). This is a wonderful promise, and it removes any excuse of 'circumstantial ethics' for our lack of response to God's challenges to faith.

Jdg 7:11 and you will hear what they say. After that your hands will be strengthened to go down into the camp. Then he went down with Purah his servant to the outskirts of the armed men who were in the camp-
See on :12. Purah, 'boast of Yah', would have been one of Gideon's servants who bravely helped him cut down the altar of Baal and the Ashtaroth on another night not so long ago. See on :10; the same phrase for strengthening hands is used of how God graciously strengthened the hands of Lot to leave Sodom (Gen. 19:16), when he like Gideon had some faith but not enough to rise up to the simple command to 'go out' as commanded by God. 

Gideon had strengthened the 300 men (see on :8), but clearly his own faith needed strengthening. He would have strengthened them whilst himself doubting. This is absolutely true to real human experience. The record has every psychological and spiritual credibility.

Jdg 7:12 The Midianites, the Amalekites and all the children of the east lay along in the valley like locusts for multitude, and their camels were without number, as the sand which is on the seashore for multitude-
The same description is used of Saul's Philistine enemies in 1 Sam. 13:5. Gideon was Saul's hero-see on 1 Sam. 14:28,31. Saul tried to externally imitate Gideon when he prohibited the men to eat anything while they were pursuing the Philistines (1 Sam. 11:11 = Jud. 7:16; 1 Sam. 13:5 = Jud. 7:12; 1 Sam. 14:24,28,31 = Jud. 8:4,5). 

The enemy were "as the sand by the sea side for multitude", using the words of the Abrahamic promises (Gen. 22:17,18). These people were therefore a pseudo-Israel, having the appearance of being Abraham's true seed. Hagar had been promised "I will multiply your seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude", after the pattern of the promises to Abraham (Gen.16:10). This is confirmed by their description as being "by ranks of five" (Jud. 7:11), using the identical Hebrew phrase as used in Ex. 13:18 and Josh. 4:12 concerning Israel's marching against their enemies. The aptness of this to Israel's present enemies is obvious- their local enemies claim they are the true seed of Abraham.

Jdg 7:13 When Gideon had come, there was a man telling a dream to his fellow. He said, I had a dream: 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-
Gideon is likened to a loaf of barley bread tumbling into Midian, overturning it - pointing forward to Jesus, the barley-bread loaf (Jn. 6:35 cp. :9), falling as the little stone on to the image (Jud. 7:13). Barley bread was despised as the most desperate kind of food a man could eat to stay alive. And this was how Gideon felt- he was God's most desperate plan. His faith was weak, his repentance for idolatry had been secret and nervous, and yet God was going to use him. 

"Tumbled" is used to describe the sword of the cherubim which "turned every way" (Gen.3:24); another hint that Gideon and his men were a replication of the cherubim on earth; see on :20.

"The tent" is the usual word for 'tabernacle'. They had carried the tabernacle of their god with them into battle, and Gideon overturned it. The victory was therefore to be against their gods, and thereby demonstrating the supremacy of Yahweh. Gideon and Purah had overturned the altar of Baal in Abiezer, and as with events in our lives, this was to prepare him for the far greater overturning of the pagan tabernacle of the Midianites. The same phrase is used for the tabernacle of David which "fell", s.w. "lay flat" (Am. 9:11).

Jdg 7:14 His fellow answered, This is none other than the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel. God has delivered Midian into his hand with all the army-
But Gideon's men were not to use swords, only trumpets and earthenware... and to proclaim the sword of Yahweh. Gideon now understood that Yahweh's sword was his sword, Yahweh's sword was men who didn't use swords. If the Midianites believed that they were delivered into Gideon's hand, and God believed it, then Gideon had to believe it.

Jdg 7:15 When Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, he worshipped, and he returned into the camp of Israel. He said, Arise, for Yahweh has delivered the army of Midian into your hand!-
We need to realize that God deals with us as individuals. No matter how functional and holy, or dysfunctional and evil, is our church, we are still treated by the Father as His individual children. So many have struggled with this, tending to see themselves rather as inevitably part of a community, faceless cogs in a machine. And this is actually quite attractive to humanity- hence the popularity of Roman Catholicism. Reflect a while on how God told Gideon: “I will be with thee” [you singular], and yet Gideon responds: “Oh my Lord, if the Lord be with us…” (Jud. 6:12,13). Gideon had to be taught that God saw him as a separate, unique individual, and didn’t deal with him automatically merely as part of a community as a whole. But it was a slow process. When Gideon saw in a dream a man saying that God had delivered Midian into his [singular] hand, Gideon then tells Israel that God had delivered Midian into their hands (Jud. 7:14,15). He still found it so hard to believe that God treated him as so important to Him. Or we could argue that Gideon was not out for personal justification, but for the victory of Israel. 

Just as all the animals and everything in the eretz promised to Abraham was 'delivered into the hands' of Noah (s.w. Gen. 9:2), so the nations of that eretz were delivered into the hands of Israel (s.w. Ex. 6:8; 23:31; Dt. 2:24; 3:2,3; 7:24; 21:10; Josh. 2:24; Jud. 1:2). Tragically, like Adam in Eden [perhaps the same eretz promised to Abraham] and Noah in the new, cleansed eretz, Israel didn't realize this potential. What was delivered into the hand of Joshua (Josh. 2:24) actually wasn't delivered into their hand, because they disbelieved (Jud. 2:23); and this looks ahead to the disbelief of so many in the work of the Lord Jesus, who has indeed conquered the Kingdom for us. They considered the promise of the nations being delivered into their hand as somehow open to question, and only a possibility and not at all certain (Jud. 8:7; Num. 21:2 cp. Num. 21:34). Some like Jephthah (s.w. Jud. 11:32; 12:3), Ehud (Jud. 3:10,28), Deborah (Jud. 4:14), Gideon (Jud. 7:15) did, for a brief historical moment; but as individuals, and their victories were not followed up on. Instead they were dominated by the territory. And so instead, they were delivered into the hands of their enemies within the eretz (s.w. Lev. 26:25; Jud. 13:1).   

Jdg 7:16 He divided the three hundred men into three companies and he gave each of them a trumpet and an empty pitcher, with a torch inside the pitcher-
The pitchers would have been used for carrying water, for water supply was critical to the movement and sustenance of an army on the move. To have empty pitchers, they would have had to empty the water out of them. Now they had no water, they had to trust fully in Yahweh. They had to get down from the mountain, destroy the enemy, and then they would again be able to lap of the water. The earthenware pitchers represented men, made of clay, but with the torch of God's Spirit burning within them. And that potential was to be revealed by breaking the pitchers. "Empty" translates the common Hebrew word for vain or worthless. They had no strength of their own.

Jdg 7:17 He said to them, Watch me, and do as I do when I come to the outermost part of the camp-
Gideon and Purah had been to the outermost part of the camp the night before. Israel would only be delivered from the Midianites if they repented, and Gideon's repentance was being treated as symbolic of the nation. And so the people with him had to act as if 'in him'. He was their representative, as the Lord Jesus is for us.

Jdg 7:18 When I blow the trumpet, I and all who are with me, then blow your trumpets too, on every side of the camp, and shout ‘For Yahweh and for Gideon!’-
See on :17. AV "The sword of the Lord and of Gideon". He had learned the lesson from :14, that his sword was that of Yahweh. And yet they were not to use swords, but just to have torches and worthless [s.w. "empty"] pitchers in their hands. Yahweh's sword was not a visible one in the hands of His people. And that is an abiding lesson. 

Jdg 7:19 So Gideon and the hundred men who were with him came to the outskirts of the camp in the beginning of the middle watch, when they had but newly set the watch. They blew the trumpets and broke in pieces the pitchers that were in their hands-
To break an earthenware pitcher was a symbol of death (Ecc. 12:6). Through their human frailty, for the pitchers were "empty" (s.w. vain, worthless), the torch fire of God's Spirit was to be revealed. 

The blowing of trumpets by the 300 points forward to the resurrection. The breaking of the clay to reveal the burning lamps within the pitchers, is clearly at the root of 2 Cor. 4:6-8: "God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness (cp. the sudden appearance of those lights on that night)...we have this treasure in earthen vessels (cp. Jud. 7:19), that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us (cp. Jud. 7:2).  We are troubled on every side" (cp. "on every side", :18 and Jud. 6:2-6). All this would suggest that the 300 men are to be connected with the resurrected of the new Israel, whose "earthen vessels" are broken (by means of resurrection and judgment) at the end of Israel's latter day downtreading and immediately prior to the great destruction of their enemies by them. To break an earthenware pitcher was a symbol of death (Ecc. 12:6).   

Jdg 7:20 The three companies blew the trumpets and broke the pitchers and held the torches in their left hands and the trumpets in their right hands with which to blow, and they shouted, The sword of Yahweh and of Gideon!-
Literally, they strengthened the torches in their hands, the very phrase used in :8,11 of God strengthening their hands. But their strength was in gripping on to the torches, not their human weapons.

"The sword of Yahweh", instead of their swords [for they held pitchers and torches, not swords] has been interpreted as a reference to the cherubim; see on :13. The point has been made that this whole scenario of flashing fire and swords was a conscious imitation of the cherubim. From this we can infer that the cherubim will be associated with the latter-day deliverance of Israel- perhaps the enigmatic "sign of the son of man in heaven" (Mt. 24:30).

Jdg 7:21 They each stood in his place around the camp and all the army ran, and they shouted and put them to flight-
The shouting was as in the conquest of Jericho- the victory cry uttered before they had won the victory. This was done in faith, acting as if they had received already that which they had asked for (Mk. 11:24).

Jdg 7:22 They blew the three hundred trumpets, and Yahweh set every man’s sword against his fellow and against all the army, and the army fled as far as Beth Shittah toward Zererah, as far as the border of Abel Meholah by Tabbath-
This is a prototype for how the latter day invasion by Israel's neighbours will be overcome (also 2 Chron. 20:23). Ps. 83 perfectly describes the Islamist unity as they attack Jerusalem in the last days (Ps. 83:3-5, 12), but concludes with the Psalmist praying that God would destroy them as He did Oreb and Zeeb (Ps. 83:11) - who were defeated as a result of God making their troops turn on each other. 

The invaders massacred each other, as in 2 Chron. 20:23. They were a confederacy, and there were likely preexisting tensions and suspicions. This is a theme in the latter-days passages: Zech. 14:13; Jud. 7:22; 1 Sam. 14:22. And the same will happen in the last days. Whilst such confusion is easily possible given modern high-technology warfare, it would seem more likely that a few initial mistakes of this sort could open up old rivalries which are then fought out to the death. Indeed, we could sensibly look for even more rifts to occur between Israel's enemies, e.g. over oil.  

Jdg 7:23 The men of Israel were gathered together out of Naphtali, Asher and all Manasseh, and they pursued Midian-
We recall how Deborah's appeal for support from Asher and some of the leaders of these tribes had been refused. And after God gave the great victory, she taught everyone the song of Deborah in Jud. 5 which lamented their lack of response. So perhaps that had worked, and now they responded. We may fail a call the first time, but then it is repeated, and we accept it. We note that these men of Israel from these areas were probably those who had originally come with Gideon and then been sent back (Jud. 6:35). They would have reflected upon their own weakness of faith, and now would have been grateful to be called out to service again. God doesn't just dismiss people from His service because of their weak faith; He tries to use them again.

Jdg 7:24 Gideon sent messengers throughout all the hill country of Ephraim saying, Come down against Midian and seize the waters of the Jordan ahead of them as far as Beth Barah. So all the men of Ephraim were gathered together and took the waters of the Jordan as far as Beth Barah-
This would have been near to where Israel first entered the land under Joshua. The spiritually minded would have seen the hand of God again at work in the same locality. This was where John the Baptist was to baptize repentant Israelites (Jn. 1:28). And the whole victory was because of repentance.

Jdg 7:25 They took the two princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb and they killed Oreb at the rock of Oreb and Zeeb they killed at the winepress of Zeeb-
Zeeb had presumably tried to hide in a winepress. But he was slain there. And we recall how it was in a winepress, disused because there was no vintage because Israel had broken the covenant, that Gideon was first called whilst threshing wheat in it.

They pursued Midian, and they brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon beyond the Jordan-
The Philistines in 1 Sam. 29:4 recalled how David had carried the head of Goliath to Saul (1 Sam. 17:57). To carry the heads of a king's enemies was a way to get the king's favour, as in Jud. 7:25; 2 Sam. 4:8; 16:9; 20:21; 2 Kings 10:6-8. Again we see the inspired, historical record has consistency. It would have required a clever editor to insert this theme of beheading to curry a leader's favour throughout the entire Biblical record. But the histories were clearly written at different times; a later hand would not have thought of all these realistic touches to sprinkle so consistently throughout it. The internal harmony of the Bible is to me the greatest indication that it is what it claims to be, the Divinely inspired word of God, evidencing His editing throughout.