JUDGES CHAPTER 7
1 Gideon’s army of two and thirty thousand is brought to three hundred. 9 He is encouraged by the dream and interpretation of the barley cake. 16 His stratagem of trumpets and lambs in pitchers. 24 The Ephraimites take Oreb and Zeeb.
1. Well of Harod. This abundant spring, under another name, still issues from a cave at the foot of a hill along the edge of Mt. Gilboa. A small stream flows from it toward the east. The same fountain is probably alluded to in 1 Sam. 29:1 Harod means “trembling,” and the well may have received its name from the panic and trembling that seized the Midianites when Gideon attacked.
Hill of Moreh. On the opposite side of the valley approximately 4 mi. away. On the north side of this hill was the cave of Endor, where Saul visited the witch. The line of battle was, therefore, the same a at the time Saul and the Hebrews faced the Philistines before that eventful battle of Gilboa many years later (1 Sam. 31).
2. Too many. Gideon had 32,000 men (v. 3), the Midianites, 135,000 (ch. 8:10). Gideon’s faith must have been severely tested when the Lord told him that those who were with him were too many.
3. Proclaim. The proclamation was a part of the announcement Moses had commanded to be made (Deut. 20:5–9), prior to a battle inviting the fearful to leave the ranks lest their desertion in the midst of battle cause others to flee also. Because his army was so small in comparison with that of the Midianites, Gideon had refrained from making the usual proclamation (PP 549). Many of the men had enlisted because of the stirring appeals of Gideon, but in their hearts they were fearful and unbelieving. Lest they flee when the battle began, or take the glory of victory to themselves, the Lord asked that they be sent back. The two thirds who left constitute a sad commentary on the extent to which idolatry had destroyed Israel’s faith in God.
Gilead. Some have taken this to be a misreading of Gilboa, because Gilead was on the east side of Jordan, far from the scene of this battle. However, there may have been a mountain by this name abutting the Valley of Jezreel. A suggestion of the name may be found in the name of a stream in this area, now known as Nahr el–Jālūd.
5. Lappeth of the water. The people, having been led to the brook, evidently expected to cross immediately and advance to the camp of the enemy some distance on the opposite side. A few were eager to begin the engagement, and as they crossed the brook they merely scooped up a little water in their hands and immediately passed forward. Others, fearful of the impending battle and with but little hope in victory, saw here an excuse for tarrying. They knelt down and leisurely drank their fill. Those who hurriedly took a little water in their hand, and sucked it up as they pressed forward toward the camp of the enemy, numbered only 300. With these the Lord promised to bring about the defeat of the Midianites. The sifting had served to remove those who were tainted with idolatry, and to single out those who were men of courage and faith—men whose confidence in God had not been vitiated by idolatrous worship and practices. They had the faith to believe that with God on their side success could be theirs even though their number was small. As Jonathan later reminded his armor-bearer, their number was of small moment in God’s sight (see 1 Sam. 14:6).
9. The same night. Perhaps the test at the brookside took place at evening, and the bulk of the Israelite forces departed for their homes under cover of darkness. At any rate, the Midianites did not seem to know that the major part of the Israelite force had gone away.
10. If thou fear. God was willing to give added reassurance. Because Gideon was afraid to attack, the Lord offered to give him a sign of encouragement if he would stealthily approach the Midianite camp and listen to what the Midianite soldiers were talking about.
11. The outside. That is, to the outposts, or sentries. The Midianite camp probably included women and children. Around the outskirts of the camp the armed men would naturally be posted.
12. Lay along. The valley here was not very wide; consequently, the multitude of people which made up the camp were spread out in a long thin line stretching up and down the valley perhaps for several miles. The narrowness of their campground may have made their number appear even larger than it was, like “the sand by the sea side for multitude.”
13. That told a dream. Inasmuch as Midian was a son of Abraham, these people no doubt spoke a language similar to that of the Hebrews. In any event, God enabled Gideon to understand both the dream and its interpretation. Thus he was inspired with confidence to fulfill the commission entrusted to his care.
A cake. Heb. salil, a word found only here in the Bible. The exact meaning is not certain, but the word seems to come from a verb that means “to bake,” although others equate it with a similar verb that means “to be round,” or “to roll.” Barley bread was the food of the very poor. This may be a veiled reference to the Israelites who were impoverished from the seven consecutive years of Midianite oppression.
A tent. Literally, “the tent.” Either representing the main tent of the encampment in which the leading general or king lived, or perhaps the tent in which the two men were, or symbolic of the whole encampment.
15. Worshipped. Heb. shachah, “to bow down,” “to prostrate,” “to pay adoration.” At the recognition of so signal an evidence of the divine presence in his undertaking, Gideon responded as it is proper to do on all such occasions—he worshiped. No doubt his prayer expressed freely the thankfulness of his heart. So often those who are especially blessed of God forget to return the gratitude due Him. Gideon might have reasoned that, with the urgency of the assignment and the need for immediate action, he could properly put off until after the victory his worship of praise. But such postponements often lead to the utter neglect of praise to God.
Gideon’s worship was probably also a confession of a feeling of deep unworthiness. He had already given evidence of his humility when he spoke of himself as the “least in my father’s house” (ch. 6:15). Here he reaffirmed his attitude. It was this characteristic of his life that, among other attributes, peculiarly qualified him for his assignment. It is such men that God can use in His work. With them He can entrust a large degree of success, for He knows that they will not take the glory to themselves. Pride and self-sufficiency unfit a man for the work of God.
16. Three companies. This division was to give an illusion of a large attacking force, so that when the Midianites would see the torches and hear the trumpets at different points around the camp, they would suppose that they were surrounded. The plan of attack was suggested by divine direction (PP 550).
A trumpet. Heb. shophar. The curved horn of a ram.
Pitchers. Cheap earthenware pots that the people of that time used for cooking and as containers.
Lamps. The word is generally used for lighted torches. When inserted within the earthenware pots, they would but smolder or burn dimly; when the pots were broken and the torches were waved in the air, they would flare with a sudden blaze. Simple, unpromising methods under the direction and blessing of God can accomplish more than the most elaborate systems men have ever devised. God is not dependent upon numbers.
19. The middle watch. It is thought that at this time the night was divided into three watches. If so, the middle watch would have begun a little before midnight. Later the Jews adopted the Roman pattern of four watches in the night.
21. They stood. Instead of attacking so great a host, the 300 Hebrews held back on the outskirts of the camp, blowing their horns and waving their torches and shouting. Their plan was to induce a panic in the Midianite camp.
22. Against his fellow. As the multitude rushed down the Valley of Jezreel to escape across the Jordan in the darkness, those in front mistook the ones following for their Hebrew enemies, and turned their weapons upon them.
Beth-shittah. Not definitely identified. It was probably situated in the lower end of the Valley of Jezreel near the Jordan River.
Zererath. Probably the same as Zartanah (1 Kings 4:12). Believed to be in the Jordan valley, at the lower end of the Valley of Jezreel.
The border. Literally, “lip,” “bluff,” or “cliff.”
Abel-meholah. Literally, “meadow of dancing.” The birthplace of Elisha (1 Kings 19:16). Some identify it with Tell el–Hamma, about 9 mi. (14.4 km.) south of Bethshan; others with Tell el–Maqlûb, 7 1/4 mi. (11.6 km.) east of the Jordan on the Wadi Yābis, about 22 mi. (35.4 km.) from the Sea of Galilee. Tell el–Maqlûb was formerly considered to be Jabeshgilead, which is now identified with Tell Abū Kharaz on the same Wadi Yābis, 2 2/3 mi. (4.3 km.) east of the Jordan River.
Tabbath. Possibly, Râs Abū Tābât, east of the Jordan, near Abel-meholah.
23. Men of Israel. Many of those who a few hours earlier had been sent home now rallied to assist their brethren in pursuing the fleeing enemy.
24. Gideon sent messengers. To the south of the scene of battle dwelt the tribe of Manasseh and the populous tribe of Ephraim. The latter had not been called by Gideon when he mustered the Hebrews. When the Midianite hosts began their flight, Gideon sent speedy messengers to the territory of Ephraim, urging the people there to go quickly toward the Jordan River and to get command of the fords toward which the Midianites were headed. The Ephraimites responded promptly, blocking the escape over the southern fords. The river at the time was probably high, forcing the enemy to use a certain ford.
Beth-barah. The site of this place is unknown, but it must have been some distance down the river near Ephraimite territory for Gideon to have asked the Ephraimites to cover that route of escape. Further evidence that the Midianites turned down-river before trying to cross is shown by the fact that Gideon’s pursuit of the enemy across the river took him to Succoth, a town near the Jabbok (ch. 8:5).
25. Oreb and Zeeb. Literally, “the raven and the wolf,” picturesque names for desert chieftains. The quick action of the Ephraimites enabled them to cut off the escape of a large number of Midianites who were trying to cross the Jordan at the lower fords. Pursued from behind by the reassembled forces of Naphtali, Asher, and Manasseh, with the Jordan on one side and the Ephraimites before them, many Midianites were forced to surrender. Among the captives were two princes, Oreb and Zeeb, who were both promptly executed. To commemorate the victory, the sites where these men were slain were named “rock of Oreb,” literally, “raven’s rock,” and “winepress of Zeeb,” literally, “wolf’s wine press,” names which they, apparently, still bore when the book of Judges was written many years later. “Raven’s rock” was still known in Isaiah’s day (Isa. 10:26).
Other side Jordan. On the eastern side, the area now called Transjordan. According to ch. 8:4, Gideon had not yet crossed over the Jordan. Therefore, some have thought that the Ephraimites captured Oreb and Zeeb after they had crossed over to the eastern side of the river, and that they then brought the captives’ heads back to Gideon, who was still pursuing the Midianites in their flight from Jezreel toward the Jordan. The better explanation is that the author of Judges, having introduced the Ephraimites and their part in this battle, wished to complete his narrative concerning them and their dispute with Gideon before giving the long account of Gideon’s pursuit of the Midianites to the east of Jordan. For this reason he interrupted the chronological account of the battle to tell of the jealousy of the Ephraimites and how Gideon appeased them. Then in ch. 8:4 the author resumed the thread of the battle story. Gideon’s meeting with the Ephraimites would actually, then, have taken place after he returned from the total defeat of the Midianites, or at least after he crossed the Jordan.
ELLEN G. WHITE COMMENTS
1–25 PP 548-554
2, 3 PP 548
4–7 PP 549
9–18 PP 550
19–25 PP 553