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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical
Judges 7

 

 

Verses 1-8

Gideon in the field. His numerous army reduced, by divinely prescribed tests, to three hundred men

Judges 7:1-8

1Then [And] Jerubbaal (who is Gideon) and all the people that were with him, rose up early and pitched [encamped] beside the well of Harod [near En-Harod]: so that [and] the host [camp] of the Midianites were [was] on the north side of them by the hill of Moreh, in the valley.[FN1] 2And the Lord [Jehovah] said unto Gideon, The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me 3 Now therefore go to, proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, Whosoever is fearful and afraid, let him return and depart early [turn away] from Mount Gilead. And there returned of the people twenty and two thousand; and there remained ten thousand 4 And the Lord [Jehovah] said unto Gideon, The people are yet too many; bring them down unto the water, and I will try them for thee there; and it shall be that of whom I say unto thee, This [one] shall go with thee, the same shall go with thee; and of whomsoever I say unto thee, This [one] shall not go with thee, the same shall not go 5 So he brought down the people unto the water: and the Lord [Jehovah] said unto Gideon; Every one that lappeth of the water with his tongue as a dog lappeth, him shalt thou set by himself; likewise every one that boweth down upon his knees to drink 6 And the number of them that lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, were three hundred men: but all the rest of the people bowed down upon their knees to drink water 7 And the Lord [Jehovah] said unto Gideon, By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you, and deliver the Midianites into thine hand: and let all the other people go every man unto his place 8 So the people [And they] took [the] victuals [from the people] in their hand, and their trumpets;[FN2] and he sent all the rest of Israel every man unto his tent, and retained those three hundred men. And the host [camp] of Midian was beneath him in the valley.

TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL

1 Judges 7:1.—Dr. Cassel, taking לוֹ in the last clause of this verse (and also in Judges 7:8) as if it were לְפָנָיו, renders thus: “And he had the camp of Midian before him in the valley, to the north of the hill Moreh.” The E. V. is more correct. Literally rendered, the clause says that “the camp of Midian was to him (Gideon) on the north, at (מִן, cf. Ges. Lex. s. v, 3, h) the hill of Moreh, in the valley.”—Tr.]

2 Judges 7:8.—On the rendering of this clause, see the commentary below. Keil translates similarly (“of the people,” instead of “from the people”), and remarks: “הָעָם cannot be subject, partly on account of the sense—for the three hundred who are without doubt the subject, cf. Judges 7:16, cannot be called הָעָם in distinction of כָּל־אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל—partly also on account of the אֶת־צֵדָה, which would then, against the rule, be without the article, cf. Ges. Gram. 117, 2. Rather read אֶת־צֵדת הָעָם, as Sept. and Targum.” So also Bertheau.—Tr.]

EXEGETICAL AND DOCTRINAL

Judges 7:1. And they encamped near En Harod. The great probability that Ophrah is to be sought somewhere to the northwest of Jezreel (the modern Zerîn), has already been indicated above. The battle also must be located in the same region, as appears from the course of the flight, related farther on. The camp of Midian was in the valley, to the north of a hill. Now, since we are told that Gideon’s camp was on a hill ( Judges 7:4), below which, and north of another, Midian was encamped, it is evident that Gideon occupied a position north of Midian, and had that part of the plain of Jezreel in which the enemy lay, below him, towards the south. The height near which the hostile army was posted, is called the Hill Moreh. Moreh (מוֹרֶה, from יָרָה), signifies indicator, pointer, overseer and teacher. The mountain must have commanded a free view of the valley. This applies exactly to the Tell el Mutsellim, described by Robinson (Bibl. Res. iii117). He says: “The prospect from the Tell is a noble one, embracing the whole of the glorious plain, than which there is not a richer upon earth. It was now extensively covered with fields of grain; with many tracts of grass, like meadows; … Zerîn (Jezreel) was distinctly in view, bearing S74° E.” To this must be added that the Arabic Mutsellim has essentially the same meaning as Moreh, namely, overseer, district-governor, etc. The peculiar position of the Tell has probably given it the same kind and degree of importance in all ages. A little north, of Tell Mutsellim, Robinson’s map has a Tell Kîreh, which may mark the position of Gideon; for that must have been very near and not high, since Gideon could descend from it and hurry back in a brief space of the same night. It may be suggested, at least, that Kîreh has some similarity of sound with Charod (Harod).[FN3]

Judges 7:2. The people that are with thee are too many. Victory over Midian, and deliverance from their yoke, would avail Israel nothing, if they did not gain the firm conviction that God is their Helper. The least chance of a natural explanation, so excites the pride of Prayer of Manasseh, that he forgets God. Whatever Gideon had hitherto experienced, his vocation as well as the fulfillment of his petitions, was granted in view of his humility, which would not let him think anything great of himself. The number of warriors with which he conquers must be so small, that the miraculous character of the victory shall be evident to everybody. This belief in divine intervention will make Israel free; for not the winning of a battle, but only obedience toward God can keep it so.

Judges 7:3. Whosoever is fearful and afraid, let him turn back and depart from Mount Gilead.[FN4] The narrative is evidently very condensed; for it connects the result of the proclamation immediately with God’s command to Gideon to make it, without mentioning its execution by him. By reason of this brevity, sundry obscurities arise, both here and farther on, which it is difficult to clear up. The words וְיִעְפֹּר מֵהַר הַגִּלְעָד, “and turn away from Mount Gilead,” have long given offense, and occasioned various unnecessary conjectures. יִצְפֹּר, it is true, occurs only in this passage; but it is manifestly cognate with צְפִירָה, circle, crown. Hence, that the verb means to turn away or about, is certain, especially as the Greek σφαῖρα, ball, sphere, must belong to the same root.[FN5] Gideon, in bidding the timorous depart, after the milder יָשֹׁב, uses the somewhat stronger יִצְפֹּר: “let the fearful take himself off!”[FN6]

But what is meant by turning from “Mount Gilead?”[FN7] For Gilead is beyond the Jordan ( Judges 5:17). It has therefore been proposed to read גִּלְבֹּעַ, Gilboa, instead of גִּלְעָד, Gilead, which would be a very unfortunate substitution. For, in the first place, the battle did not occur at Mount Gilboa; and in the next place, by this reading the peculiar feature of the sentence would be lost. To be sure, Gilead does not here mean the country of that name east of the Jordan. Indeed, it does not seem to indicate a country at all, but rather the character of the militant tribe. Gideon belongs to the tribe of Manasseh. From Manasseh likewise descended Gilead, a son of Machir ( Numbers 26:29); and the sons of Machir took possession of Gilead ( Numbers 32:40). Nevertheless, the Song of Deborah distinguishes between Machir and Gilead. The name Machir there represents the peaceable character of the tribe: Gilead stands for its military spirit. Joshua 17:1 affirms expressly that Gilead was a “man of war.” From Gilead heroes like Jephthah descend. Jehu also is reckoned to it.[FN8] The valor of Jabesh Gilead is well known. In a bad sense, Hosea ( Judges 6:8) speaks of Gilead as the home of wild and savage men. Here, therefore, Gilead stands in very significant contrast with חָרֵד: “let him,” cries the hero, “who is cowardly and fearful depart from the mountain of Gilead, who (as Jephthah said) takes his life in his hand, unterrified before the foe.”[FN9] For the rest, however, the name Gilead was not confined to the east-Jordanic country. This appears from Judges 12:4, where we read that the Ephraimites called the Gileadites fugitives of Ephraim, “for Gilead was between Ephraim and Manasseh.” Now, Ephraim’s territorial possessions were all west of the Jordan. From this, therefore, and from the fact that the western half tribe of Manasseh and the tribe of Ephraim were partly interlocated (cf. Joshua 17:8-10), it is evident that the names of the eastern Gilead were also in vogue on this side the Jordan. He who would be with Gilead, must be no “חָרֵד” (trembler): out of32,000 men, 22,000 perceive this, and retire.

That numbers do not decide in battle, is a fact abundantly established by the history of ancient nations; nor has modern warfare, though it deals in the life and blood of the masses, brought discredit upon it. It is a fine remark which Tacitus (Annal. xiv36, 3) puts into the mouth of Suetonius: Etiam in multis legionibus, paucos esse qui prœlia profligarent—“even with many legions, it is always the few who win the battle.” The instance adduced by Serarius from Livy (xxix1), has no proper relation to that before us. It would be more suitable to instance Leonidas, if it be true, as Herodotus (vii220) intimates, that at the battle of Thermopylæ he dismissed his confederates because he knew them to be deficient in bravery; in relation to which, however, Plutarch’s vehement criticism is to be considered (cf. Kaltwasser, in Plut. Moral. Abhandl., vi732). Noteworthy is the imitation of Gideon’s history in a North-German legend (Müllenhoff, Sagen, etc. p426). In that as in many other legends, magic takes the place of God.

Judges 7:4. Bring them down unto the water, and I will try them for thee there. There is no lack of water in this region. Ponds, wells, and bodies of standing water, are described by Robinson (Bibl. Res. iii115, 116). Beside these, Gideon had the Kishon behind him, which in the rainy season is full of water.

Judges 7:5-7. Every one that lappeth of the water. The meaning of this test, the second which Gideon was to apply, is obscured by the brevity of the narrative. The question Isaiah, What characteristic did it show in the300 men, that they did not drink water kneeling, but lapped it with their tongues, like dogs. Bertheau has followed the view of Josephus (Ant. v6, 3), which makes those who drink after the manner of dogs to be the faint-hearted. According to this view, the victory is the more wonderful, because it was gained by the timid and fearful. But this explanation does not accord with the traditional exegesis of the Jews, as handed down by others. Moreover, it contradicts the spirit of the whole narrative. When Gideon was chosen, it was for the very reason that he was a “valiant hero” ( Judges 6:12). All those who were deficient in courage were sent home by the proclamation ( Judges 7:3). If faint-heartedness were demanded, the brave should have been dismissed. Finally, God saves by few, indeed, if they trust in Him, but not by cravens. Cowardice is a negative quality, unable even to trust. To do wonders with cowards, is a contradiction in adjecto; for if they fight, they are no longer cowards. Cowardice is a condition of soul which cannot become the medium of divine deeds; for even the valiant few, when they attack the many and conquer, are strong only because of their divine confidence. Besides, it is plainly implied that all those who now went with Gideon, were resolute for war. The Jewish interpretation, communicated by Raschi, is evidently far more profound. Gideon, it says, can ascertain the religious antecedents of his men from the way in which they prepare to drink. Idolaters were accustomed to pray kneeling before their idols. On this account, kneeling, even as a mere bodily posture, had become unpopular and ominous in Israel, and was avoided as much as possible. Hence, he who in order to drink throws himself on his knees, shows thereby, in a perfectly free and natural manner, that this posture is nothing unusual to him; whereas those who have never been accustomed to kneel, feel no need of doing it now, and as naturally refrain from it. It would have been difficult for Gideon to have ascertained, in any other way, what had been the attitude of his men towards idolatry. While quenching their eager thirst, all deliberation being forgotten, they freely and unrestrainedly indicate to what posture they were habituated. It is a principle pervading the legendary lore of all nations, that who and what a person Isaiah, can only be ascertained by observing him when under no constraint of any kind.[FN10] The queen of a Northern legend exchanges dresses with her maid; but she who is not the queen, is recognized by her drinking (cf. Simrock, Quellen des Shaksp. iii171). That which is here in Scripture accepted with reference to religious life and its recognition, popular literature applies to the keen discriminating observance of social life.—This view of the mark afforded by the act of kneeling, is not opposed by the fact that in the temple the worshipper bowed himself before God. It is announced to Elijah ( 1 Kings 19:18), that only7,000 shall be left: “All the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.” To bow the knee is an honor due to God alone. Hence, Mordecai refuses to kneel to a man ( Esther 3:5). Hence, God proclaims by the prophet ( Isaiah 45:23): “Unto me every knee shall bow.” The three hundred—this is what God makes Gideon to know—have never kneeled before Baal; they are clean men; and with clean vessels, men, and animals, God is accustomed to do wonderful things. Midian’s idolatrous people shall be smitten only by such as have always been free from their idols.

However satisfactory and in harmony with the Biblical spirit this explanation may be as it stands, let something nevertheless be added to it. Verse5 says: יָלקֹ הַכֶּלֶב תַּצִּינ אוֹתוֹ לְבָד כֹּל אֲשֶׁר־יָלקֹ בִּלְשׁוֹנוֹ מִו־הַמַּים כַּאֲשֶׁרIn verse6 the phraseology changes; it speaks of those who הַמְלַקְקִים בְּיָדָם אֶל־פִּיהֶם. Now, as they would naturally use the hollow hand to take up the water and carry it to the mouth, thus making it answer to the concave tongue of a dog, it is evident that we must so understand the words quoted from Judges 7:5, as if it read: כַאֲשֶׁר יָלקֹ הַכֶּלֶב בִּלְשׁוֹנוֹ כֹּל אֲשֶׁר יָלקֹ בְּיָדוֹ מִו־הַמַּיִם, “all who sip water with their hands, as the dog with his tongue.” However that may be, the circumstance must not be overlooked that a comparison with the sipping of a dog is here instituted; for if the comparison had no special significance, it would have suffi‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎ced to distinguish between those who drank standing and those who drank kneeling. It was the perception of this, doubtless, which induced the common reference to what Ælian (Hist. Anim., vi53) says of the dogs of Egypt, that for fear of crocodiles they drink quickly, while running. And from this arose the view, already confuted, that the three hundred who imitated the lapping of dogs, were spiritless and cowardly. But the comparison must be viewed more profoundly. Those Egyptian dogs are the type, not of cowardice, but of caution. It is known that the crocodiles of the Nile were not the only ones of their kind eager to seize on dogs; those of Central America (the Cayman alligator) are not less so. In Cuba, likewise, dogs will not drink from rivers, lest their greedy foe might suddenly spring on them (cf. Oken. Naturgesch., vi666). The crocodile is the image of the adversary; against whom they are on their guard, who do not so drink, that from eagerness to quench their thirst, they fall into his hands.[FN11] Sensual haste would forget the threatening danger. To these considerations, add the following:[FN12] The heroic achievement of the three hundred is a surprise, in which they throw themselves, as it were, into the jaws of the sleeping foe. Now, the ancients tell of an animal, “similar to a dog,” which, hostile to the crocodile, throws itself into the jaws of the reptile when asleep, and kills it internally. This animal, called Hydrus, or אנדריון (cf. Phys. Syrus, ed. Tychsen, cap. xxxi. p170), has been rightly considered to be the Ichneumon, the crocodile’s worst enemy. Its name signifies, “Tracker.” Tracking, ἰχνεν́ειν, is the special gift of dogs. Among five animals before whom the strong must fear, the Talmud (Sabbat, 77, b) names the כִלְבִית,[FN13] from כֶלֶב, dog, as being a terror of the לְוִיָתָן, crocodile. The band who drink like the Egyptian dog, perform a deed similar to that which the dog-like animal has ascribed to it. They throw themselves upon the sleeper; and, courageous though few, become the terror of the mighty foe. If it may be assumed that for the sake of such hints the similitude of the sipping dog was chosen for the three hundred companions of Gideon, the whole passage, it must be allowed, becomes beautiful and clear. He who has never inclined to idolatry, who has exercised caution against hostile blandishments and mastered his own desires,— Hebrews, like the animal before alluded to, will be fitted, notwithstanding his weakness, to surprise and overcome the enemy, how strong soever he be. The similitude, in this view, is analogous to various other significant psychological propositions, expressive of fundamental moral principles.[FN14]

Judges 7:8. They took the victuals from the people in their hands. The words of the original are: וַיִּקְתוּ אֶת־צֵדָה הָעָם בְּיָדָם. Offense has naturally been taken at עֵדָה: instead of which צֵדַת, in the stat. constr., was to be expected. The older Jewish expositors endeavored to support the unusual form by a similar one in Psalm 45:5, צֶדֶקוְעַנְוָה; but the two are not exactly parallel, either in sense or form, to say nothing of Olshausen’s proposal to emend the latter passage also. On the other hand, it is certainly surprising that צֵדַת is not found in a single manuscript, although it was so natural to substitute it in effect, as was done by the ancient versions. Nor is it clear that צֵדַת can be read.[FN15] It is not to be assumed that the three hundred men took all the provisions of the other thousands. It would be quite impossible to comprehend how the former were benefited by such super-abundance, or how the latter could dispense with all means of subsistence. The sense can only be that the three hundred took their provisions out of the supplies for the whole army. As the great body of the army was about to leave them, this little troop took from the common stores as much as they needed. We are not therefore to correct צֵדָה into צֵדַת, but to supply מִן before הָעָם. The matter is further explained by the addition בְּיָדָם. From the common stores of the supply-train, they look what they needed for themselves in their own hands, for the others were going away. The case was not much different with the trumpets. The three hundred needed one each; so many had therefore to be taken from the people. There is nothing to show, nor is it to be assumed, that the other thousands kept none at all, or that at the outset the whole ten thousand had only three hundred trumpets. The three hundred took from the body of the army what, according to their Numbers, they needed to venture the battle.—The others Gideon dismissed, “every one to his tent.’ To be dismissed, or to go to the tents, is the standing formula by which the cessation of the mobile condition of the army is indicated. The people are free from military duty; but they do not appear to have entirely disbanded.

He retained the three hundred. With these he intended to give battle; and the conflict was near at hand, for the hostile army lay before him in the valley below.

HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL

Starke: Christianity requires manliness; away, therefore, with those who always plead the weakness of the flesh.—The same: It matters little how insignificant we are considered, if we only conquer.—The same: We should regard, not the means which God uses for our physical and spiritual deliverance, but the God who uses them.—The same: Though men do nothing, but only stand in the order appointed, God by his omnipotence can effect more than when they work their busiest.—Gerlach: God’s genuine soldiers never seek their strength in Numbers, nor ever weaken their ranks by the reception of half-hearted, slothful, and timorous persons. In times of peace, they may for love’s sake hold fellowship with many; but when battle is to be waged for the Lord, it is necessary to get rid of all those who could only weaken the host.

[Bp. Hall: Gideon’s army must be lessened Who are so fit to be cashiered as the fearful? God bids him, therefore, proclaim license for all faint hearts to leave the field. An ill instrument may shame a good work. God will not glorify himself by cowards. As the timorous shall be without the gates of heaven, so shall they be without the lists of God’s field. Although it was not their courage that should save Israel, yet without their courage God would not serve Himself of them. Christianity requires men; for if our spiritual difficulties meet not with high spirits, instead of whetting our fortitude, they quell it.—The same: But now, who can but bless himself to find of two and thirty thousand Israelites, two and twenty thousand cowards? Yet all these in Gideon’s march, made as fair a flourish of courage as the boldest. Who can trust the faces of men, that sees in the army of Israel above two for one timorous?—Scott: Many who have real faith and grace are unfit for special services, and unable to bear peculiar trials, from which therefore the Lord will exempt them; and to which He will appoint those to whom He has given superior hardiness, boldness, and firmness of spirit; and very trivial incidents will sometimes make a discovery of men’s capacities and dispositions, and show who are and who are not to be depended on in arduous undertakings.—Tr.]

Footnotes:

FN#1 - Judges 7:1.—Dr. Cassel, taking לוֹ in the last clause of this verse (and also in Judges 7:8) as if it were לְפָנָיו, renders thus: “And he had the camp of Midian before him in the valley, to the north of the hill Moreh.” The E. V. is more correct. Literally rendered, the clause says that “the camp of Midian was to him (Gideon) on the north, at (מִן, cf. Ges. Lex. s. v, 3, h) the hill of Moreh, in the valley.”—Tr.]

FN#2 - Judges 7:8.—On the rendering of this clause, see the commentary below. Keil translates similarly (“of the people,” instead of “from the people”), and remarks: “הָעָם cannot be subject, partly on account of the sense—for the three hundred who are without doubt the subject, cf. Judges 7:16, cannot be called הָעָם in distinction of כָּל־אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל—partly also on account of the אֶת־צֵדָה, which would then, against the rule, be without the article, cf. Ges. Gram. 117, 2. Rather read אֶת־צֵדת הָעָם, as Sept. and Targum.” So also Bertheau.—Tr.]

FN#3 - Bertheau assumes that En Charod is the same fountain as the modern Ain Jâlûd, flowing from the base of Gilboa, see Rob. Bibl. Res. 2:323. Accordingly, Gilboa would be the mountain on which Gideon was encamped, and Little Hermon (on which see Rob. ii:326) would answer to Moreh. On this combination Keil remarks, that “although possible, it is very uncertain, and scarcely reconcilable with the statements of Judges 7:23 ff. and Judges 8:4, as to the road taken by the defeated Midianites.”—Tr.]

FN#4 - Epaminondas, when advancing against the Spartans at Leuctra, observed the unreliable character of some confederates. To prevent being endangered by them, he caused it to be proclaimed, that “Whoever of the Bœotians wished to withdraw, were at liberty to do so.” Polyænus, ii3

FN#5 - Under this view, the conjectures adopted by Benfey (Gr. Gr. 1:579; 2:367) fall away of themselves.

FN#6 - The German is: “Wer feige sei, trolle sich vom Berge.” The author then adds: “The German drollen, trollen, has in fact a similar origin. It means “to turn one’s self;” drol is that which is turned, also a “coil.” Sich trollen [English: to pack one’s self], is proverbially equivalent to taking one’s departure, recedere. Cf. Grimm, Wörterbuch, ii1429, etc.”—Tr.]

FN#7 - Dathe proposes to read ad montem, and Michaelis to point מַהֵר, “quickly,” instead of מֵהַר, “from the mountain.” Neither proposition can be entertained (cf. Döderlein, Theol. Biblioth., iii326).

FN#8 - By the ancient Jewish expositors, cf. Dr. Cassel’s article on Jehu in Herzog’s Realencykl. vi466 “In so doing they probably explained son of Nimshi (נִמְשִׁי) as son of a Manassite (מְבַשִׁי), i. e. a son out of the tribe of Manasseh.”—Tr.]

FN#9 - Ewald (Gesch. Israel’s, ii500, note) has the following on this proclamation: “From the unusual words and their rounding, it is easy to perceive that they contain an ancient proverb, which in its literal sense would be especially appropriate to the tribe of Manasseh. “Mount Gilead,” the place of Jacob’s severest struggles ( Genesis 31. etc.), may very well, from patriarchal times, have become a proverbial equivalent for “scene of conflict,” which is manifestly all that the name here means. And Manasseh was the very tribe which had often found that for them also Gilead was a place of battle, of. p891.”—Tr.]

FN#10 - The same popular belief recurs in various forms; in many of which the rudeness and naïveté of the manner conceals the profundity of the thought. Cf. Grimm, Kintermärchen, ii229; Müllenhoff, Sagen, p384.

FN#11 - An image of heathenism and Israel, which from inconsiderate thirst for enjoyment, so often falls into the jaws of sin. The godly rejoice with trembling, and enjoy with watchfulness, that they may not become a prey to the enemy.

FN#12 - The most remarkable confirmation of this narrative, considered in its symbolic import, is found in a German legend, communicated by Birlinger (Volksthümliches aus Schwaben, i116), in which the she-wolf recognizes as genuine only those among her young who drink water, while she regards those who lap like dogs as young wolf-dogs, and her worst enemies. Accordingly, dogs who lap, in the manner which Gideon wishes to see imitated by his faithful ones, are the enemies of the rapacious wolf.

FN#13 - Nomen vermis aquatilis, qui ingreditur aures piscium majorum. Buxtorff, Lex. Talm.—Tr.]

FN#14 - Cf. my Essay on Den armen Heinrich, in the Weim. Jahrbuch fur Deutsche Sprache, i410.

FN#15 - Keil is among those who propose to adopt it.


Verses 9-11

Gideon is directed to advance against the enemy; but to increase his confidence he is authorized to make a previous visit to the hostile encampment

Judges 7:9-11

9And it came to pass the same night, that the Lord [Jehovah] said unto him, Arise, get thee down unto [descend against] the host [camp]; for I have delivered it into thine hand 10 But if thou [yet] fear to go down, go thou [first] with Phurah thy servant down to the host [camp]: 11And thou shalt hear what they say; and afterward shall thine hands be strengthened to go down unto [against] the host [camp]. Then went he down with Phurah his servant unto the outside of the armed men that were in the host [camp].

EXEGETICAL AND DOCTRINAL

Judges 7:9. Arise, descend! The three hundred who are with Gideon are enough. The hero may venture the assault with them. The hosts of Midian, despite their Numbers, will not withstand their enthusiasm of faith. Not fortune, but God, will help the brave. There is no more time for delay. The harvest waits for the reaper; of that Gideon may convince himself. Let him hear what they say, and he will learn that they are more in dread than to be dreaded. The command addressed to Gideon in this verse, bids him make a general assault with all his men (which Bertheau has failed to perceive). It is only when the undertaking still appears too venturesome to him, that he is bidden first to convince himself of the spirit which rules in the camp of Midian. Again and again does the narrative inculcate the lesson that victory results only from full, undivided, unbroken, and enthusiastic confidence. Every shadow of hesitation is removed by God, before the hero advances to his great exploit.

Judges 7:10. Go thou with Phurah thy servant. The case of Diomed, who according to Homer (Il. x220), ventures into the camp of the Trojans, is not altogether analogous.[FN16] Diomed is to find out what the Trojans are doing, and design to do; Gideon is only to learn the spirit of his enemy, as they freely converse together. Diomed also desires a companion, “for two going together better observe what is profitable.” Gideon’s servant goes with him, not for this purpose, but that he also may hear what Gideon hears, and may testify to his fellow soldiers of what Gideon tells them, so that they may follow with the same assured courage with which he leads. The two commands are very clearly distinguished. Gideon with his troop were to advance “against” (בְּ, as in Judges 5:13) the encampment; but Gideon and his servant are to go “unto” (אֶל) it.—The name Phurah (פֻּרָה), does not occur elsewhere. Pere (פֶּרֶא or פֶּרֶה) is a wild ass, onager, an animal much talked of and greatly dreaded among the Orientals. Here, however, the Masorites have pointed the same radicals פֻּרָה; according to which the name of the servant, as signifying “Branch” (פֻּארָה), was not unaptly chosen.—נַעַר means both boy and servant or attendant.

Judges 7:11. As far as the line (limit.) of the vanguard to the camp, אֶל־קְצֵה הַחֲמֻשִׁים. The meaning of חַתֲמֻשִׁים is obscure, although the rendering of the LXX. at Joshua 1:14 affords a hint toward a probable explanation. תֹמֶשׁ is the small of the back, above the hips (lumbus, lumbi quinque inferiores spinœ vertebrœ), about which the girdle, zona, was worn. The chamushim were not, however, simply those who were girdled and equipped, but as the LXX. indicate in the passage referred to, the εν̈ζωνοι, the well-girdled; which term the Greeks also used to designate the light-armed troops, who were everywhere in use as van and rear guards. Among many passages in Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, and others, it will be sufficient to quote the following from the Cyropaedia (v3, 56), as illustrating this use of the Greek word: “Οτι πρὸ παντὸς τον͂ στρατεν́ματος πεζον̀ς ενζώνους ... προν̈πεμπεν. The same position as vanguard Isaiah, according to Joshua 1:14, occupied in the Israelitish host by the two and a half trans-Jordanic tribes: “Ye shall march before your brethren as chamushim.” These tribes had left their families beyond the Jordan, and were therefore freer and lighter, expeditiores. To the same class of soldiery belonged the chamushim, to whom Gideon approached. They formed the outer rim of the encampment, and beyond them Gideon did not venture to proceed, if for no other reason, for want of time. What Bertheau says about135,000 men who constituted this body,[FN17] is like his whole explanation of the passage, a misapprehension.

Footnotes:

FN#16 - In the inn “Zur Hohen Schul” in Ulm, there is still shown a portrait of Gustavus Adolphus, as during the war he appeared, disguised, in that city, as a spy, which is only a legend. In Like manner, it is told of Alfred the Great of England, that in order to inspect for himself the situation of the Danes, he entered their camp as a harper. Hume, Hist. of Eng. i63.

FN#17 - Bertheau says, indeed, that the chamushim numbered135,000 men, cf Judges 8:10; but by the chamushim, Hebrews, like most scholars, understands not the vanguard of the hostile army, but the whole body of fighting men in the army. “The eastern tribes,” he says, “had invaded the land with their herds and tents, i. e. families, Judges 6:5. Among such nomadic tribes, the warriors, called חֲמֻשִׁים, or חֲלוּצִים Joshua 4:12-13, are distinguished from the body of the people. The former, in view of the impending battle, were not scattered among the mass of the people, but were collected together in the camp to the number of135, 000.”—Tr.]


Verses 12-25

Gideon and his attendant secretly visit the hostile camp. The dream of the soldier and its interpretation. The night-surprise, confusion, and pursuit

Judges 7:12-25

12And the Midianites, and the Amalekites, and all the children [sons] of the east, lay along in the valley like grasshoppers [locusts] for multitude; and their camels were without number, as the sand by the sea-side for multitude 13 And when Gideon was come, behold, there was a man that told a dream unto his fellow, and said, Behold, I dreamed a dream, and lo, a [round] cake of barley-bread tumbled into [rolled itself against] the host [camp] of Midian, and came unto a [the] tent [i.e. the tents; the singular, used collectively], and smote it that it fell, and overturned it that the tent [i.e. all the tents] lay along 14 And his fellow answered, and said, This is nothing else save the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a [the] man of Israel: for [omit: for] into his hand hath God delivered Midian, and all the host [camp]. 15And it was so, when Gideon heard the telling of the dream, and the interpretation thereof, that he worshipped, and returned into the host [camp] of Israel, and said, Arise; for the Lord16[Jehovah] hath delivered into your hand the host [camp] of Midian. And he divided the three hundred men into three companies, and he put a trumpet in every man’s hand, with empty pitchers, and lamps [torches] within the pitchers 17 And he said unto them, Look on me, and do likewise: and behold, when I come to the outside of the camp, it shall be that as I do, so shall ye do 18 When I blow with a [the] trumpet, I and all that are with me, then blow ye the trumpets also on every side of all the camp, and say, The sword of the Lord [Jehovah], and of Gideon 19 So Gideon, and the hundred men that were with him, came unto the outside of the camp in the beginning of the middle watch; and they had but newly set the watch: and they blew the trumpets, and brake the pitchers that were in their hands 20 And the three companies blew the trumpets [all at once], and brake the pitchers, and held [took] the lamps [torches] in their left hands, and the trumpets in their right hands to blow withal: and they cried, The sword of the Lord [Jehovah], and of Gideon 21 And they stood every man in his place round about the camp; and all the host [camp] ran [wasthrown into commotion], and cried, and fled 22 And the three hundred blew the trumpets, and [meanwhile] the Lord [Jehovah] set every man’s sword against his fellow, even throughout [and against] all the host [camp]: and the host [camp] fled to Beth-shittah [the House of Acacias] in [toward] Zererath [Zererah], and [omit: and] to the border [edge] of Abel-meholah, unto [near] Tabbath 23 And the men of Israel gathered themselves together out of Naphtali, and out of Asher, and out of all Prayer of Manasseh, and pursued after the Midianites 24 And Gideon sent messengers throughout all Mount Ephraim, saying, Come down against the Midianites, and take [seize] before them the waters unto Beth-barah and [the] Jordan. Then all the men of Ephraim gathered themselves together, and took [seized] the waters unto Beth-barah and [the] Jordan 25 And they took two princes of the Midianites, Oreb and Zeeb [Raven and Wolf]; and they slew Oreb upon [at] the rock Oreb [Raven’s Rock], and Zeeb they slew at the wine-press of Zeeb [Wolfs Press], and pursued Midian, and brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon on [from] the other side [of the] Jordan.

EXEGETICAL AND DOCTRINAL

Judges 7:12. And Midian and Amalek. The pregnant and musing character of the style of our Book, notwithstanding its entire simplicity and artlessness, shows itself especially in the episode concerning Gideon. In order to emphasize the contrast which they present to the scanty means of Israel—the handful of men who followed Gideon—the countless numbers and vast resources of the enemy are once more pointed out. On one side, there are three hundred men, on foot; on the other, a multitude numerous as an army of locusts, riders on camels countless as the sands of the sea-shore (cf. above, on Judges 6:5). This contrast must needs be insisted on here, that so the wonderful help of God may stand out in bold relief; that Israel may learn that victory comes not of Numbers, but is the gift of God, and that in all their conflicts, it is the spirit of God who endows their enemies with victorious courage, that He may chasten his people, or fills them with fear and confusion, notwithstanding their multitude and might, that Israel may be delivered. God governs man’s free will. He turns the hearts of men according to his wisdom. He raises the courage of the few and small to victory, and brings the proud and great to grief. It is his work that Gideon with three hundred men dares attack the enormous multitude; his doing that, as the soldier’s dream and its interpretation indicate, sad forebodings fill the heart of the proud and mighty foe, and cause it to faint before the coming conflict.

Judges 7:13. And as Gideon came, behold, a man told a dream. From the enemy’s dream, Gideon will learn the frame of mind in which they are. For this end he was to go into the encampment, thereby to perfect his own confidence. Jehovah is God of the heathen also. Although they do not believe in Him, they are yet instruments in his hand. It was He who, without their knowing it, raised them up and directed their way. They did not learn to know Him from his works; and yet He shone above them, like the sun concealed by clouds and vapors. The manifest God they fail to see by day; but the Hidden and Unknown they seek in dreams. All heathenism Isaiah, to a certain extent, a great dream; and it is in accordance with its nature, that as all nations dream, so all are disposed to find in dreams the indications of a hidden truth. Their interpreters did not know the God of Truth in himself; but He who turns the nations as water-courses, fills their hearts, when He pleases, with visions and interpretations which have their rise in truth. Hence, when in Scripture, God frequently favors heathen with dreams of truth, He does not thereby sanctify every dream; but only uses dreams to influence the men whom He takes under the guidance of his Wisdom of Solomon,—the Philistine king, for instance, Laban the Aramæan, the Egyptian baker and butler,—because they already look on dreams as such as hiding a divine mystery. Dreams appeared the more significant, when great events were manifestly at hand. And in the condition of mental excitement which under such circumstances seizes on men, they are natural and to be expected. Thus elsewhere also we hear of dreams by generals before battle. Leonidas, Plutarch (on Herodotus) tells us, had a dream before the battle of Thermopylæ, which disclosed to him the future destinies of Greece and Thebes. Xerxes had a dream previous to his Greek campaign; and Gustavus Adolphus is said to have dreamed before the battle of Leipzig, that he was wrestling with Tilly (Joh. Scheffer, Memorab. Suet. Gentis, p23). It was not unknown to the Midianites that Gideon, though but a contemned foe, lay encamped on the mountain. The peculiar dream must therefore the more impress the soldier who dreamed it.

A round barley-loaf rolled itself. The narrative, notwithstanding its simplicity and brevity, is very vivid and forcible. The animated הִנֵּה recurs three times. The dream itself also portrays the contrast with which it has to do, with uncommon clearness. The barley-loaf is the symbol of wretchedness and poverty,[FN18] over against the luxury and wealth of Midian. Indigent Bedouins, who have nothing else, at this day still subsist on barley-bread, which they sometimes dip in goat’s fat (Ritter, xiv1003).[FN19] The cake or loaf is here called צְלִיל, a term variously explained. The definition of Gesenius, who derives it from גָּלַל=צָלַל, to roll, seems to be the most likely. The mention of the round form of the loaf was necessary to bring its rolling vividly before the imagination, since all loaves were not round. The Arabs of the desert, according to Niebuhr, take a round lump of dough, and bury it in hot coals, until they think it baked. Then they knock off the ashes, and eat it (Beschreib. Arab. p52). Such a wretched loaf is that which the Midianite sees rolling in his dream. It signifies Gideon and Israel, who, by reason of their enemies, were reduced to poverty and distress ( Judges 6:4). It comes rolling “against” the encampment (בְּמַחֲנֵה), not “in” it, as the expositors have it; for the dream depicts the coming event.

And it came to the tent, עַד הָאֹהֶל. The tent—with the article. It would be an error to think here, with Bertheau, who follows Josephus, of the tent of the king; for there were several kings. The tent of the dream stands collectively for all the tents of the encampment; for the very idea of the dream is that the rolling loaf comes into collision with the tents in general. One tent after another is struck by it, falls, and is turned upside down. וְנָפִל הָאֹהֶל, and “the tent,” all the tents, one after another, lay overturned. By this venaphal, the narrator recapitulates, as it were, the falling of the several tents, which in the vivid dream vision, in which all notions of time and space are forgotten, appeared like the downfall of a single tent.[FN20]

Judges 7:14. And his fellow answered. The fact that a true interpretation is given by one comrade to the other, must be specially noted. The first has not asked, but only related; the other is no sooth-sayer, but only a companion. So much the more significant is the frame of mind in which the interpretation originates. For there exists no visible ground for thinking it possible that, notwithstanding their great power, Midian may be delivered into the hands of a man like Gideon. But what does exist, is an evil conscience. Through seven years Midian had plundered and trodden Israel. This is the first time, in all these years, that resistance is attempted. That in spite of distress and numerical weakness, Israel ventures now to begin a war, must of itself excite attention and make an impression. How long had it been, since Israel had unfurled the banners of its God! Proud tyranny is already startled at the prospect of resistance from a few faithful ones.[FN21] According to Herodotus ( Judges 7:16), Artaban says to Xerxes: “Men are wont to be visited in sleep by images of what they have thought on during the day.” The principle applies in this case to both dreamer and interpreter. Dream and interpretation both reflect the forebodings of an evil conscience, which God is about to judge. The interpreter compares the rolling loaf with the sword of Gideon. (The hithpael of הָפַןְ, here applied to that which symbolized the sword of Gideon ( Judges 7:13), is also used by the sacred writer of the sword which kept the entrance to the garden of Eden. Genesis 3:24.) He it is—continues the interpreter—who rises up against the domination of Midian: does he venture on this, and dreamest thou thus,—be sure that his God (hence the article with Elohim, since without the article it also designates their gods) has delivered Midian into his power.

Judges 7:15. When Gideon heard this. What Gideon hears is not merely the interpretation of a dream which confirms his brightest hopes. The dream is one which his enemies have, and the interpretation is their own. He hears in it an expression of the tone and mood of their minds. He learns that the confidence of the enemy is already broken by the reflection that Israel’s Lord is once more in the field. Astonished and adoring, he and his attendant hear this wonder, as great and real as any other that God has shown him. They feel that God has done this—they see that He is leader and victor—with thanksgiving they bow before Him.[FN22]

Judges 7:16-18. And he divided the three hundred men. Encouraged, Gideon hastens to act. He divides his band into three companies, so as to be able to surround the hostile encampment (cf. Judges 7:21). He bids the two companies who are to take their stations on the other sides, to attend to his signal, and gives them the battle-cry. Now, as to this cry, though Judges 7:18 gives it, “Of Jehovah and of Gideon,” yet, since Judges 7:20 has, “Sword of Jehovah and of Gideon,” it is evident that in the former verse the word “sword” is to be supplied. For the two companies who were to wait for the trumpet-blast of Gideon and those with him, could not understand the words of the distant cry, and yet they also shouted, “Sword of Jehovah and of Gideon” ( Judges 7:20). Moreover, the command must have been executed as it was given; and hence the fact that according to Judges 7:20. Gideon’s own company joined in the longer form, proves that to have been originally given. The cry itself is very expressive. It tells the Midianites that the sword of the God whose people and faith they have oppressed, and of the man whose insignificance they have despised, whose family they have injured, and who through God becomes their conqueror, is about to be swung over their heads.

Judges 7:19-21. And Gideon came to the border line of the camp about the beginning of the middle watch. From the mention of the middle watch, it has been justly inferred that the night must be considered as divided into three watches. It was still deep in the night when Gideon undertook the surprise. The middle watch was just begun; the sentinels, it is added, with good reason, had just (אַןְ) been set—for as the middle watch advanced, the army would begin to stir. Prodigious was the alarm that seized on Midian, when suddenly the trumpets clanged, the pitchers crashed, the thundering battle-cry broke out, the torches[FN23] blazed. … Accounts are not wanting in the history of other nations, of similar stratagems adopted by bold generals. Tacitus expresses himself on this subject after his own manner (Annal. i68, 4): “The clangor of trumpets and the glitter of arms (sonus tubarum, fulgor armorum) easily become destructive to a foe who thinks only of a few, half-armed opponents; the more unexpected the alarm, the greater the loss (cadebant ut rebus secundis avidi, ita adversis incauti).” So the Roman Minucius Rufus terrified the Scordisci, by causing trumpets to be blown from among the mountains round about, the sound of which, echoed by the rocks, spread fear and terror (Frontinus, Stratagematicon, ii3). The ancients named such surprises Panic terrors, because Pan put the enemies of Dionysus to flight with his horns[FN24] (cf Polyænus, Strategem. i. and ii.).

The terror which seized on Midian was in truth a terror from God. This the simple narrative sets forth most classically. Judges 7:16 had already stated that all had trumpets in their hands, and pitchers, with torches, whereby no hand was left free to use the sword. Judges 7:20 says, still more explicitly, “they had the torches in their left, and the trumpets in their right hands.” They did not use the sword, but only cried, “Sword of Jehovah and of Gideon.” (Not, however, as if Gideon were put on a parallel with God: וּלְגִדְעוֹן is to be taken as supplementing the preceding words—“even that committed to Gideon;” for Gideon was the visible bearer of God’s sword.) Hence, also, Judges 7:21 says: “They stood (the troops of Gideon) round about the encampment;” i.e., they stand, not otherwise attacking, but simply blowing their trumpets; yet the enemy takes to “running” (וַיָּרָץ stands contrasted with וַיַּעַמְדוּ). Just as in Joshua’s time the walls of Jericho fell, while the trumpets of Israel sounded, so here it is—“These blew, those fled.” Terror and disorder ruled the hour in the Midianitish camp. In the darkness and confusion, they no longer knew what they did. Hence, Judges 7:22 states that “while the three hundred blew the trumpets”—this is intentionally repeated, and shows that they scarcely needed a sword against Midian—the Midianites thought themselves attacked by enemies, and raged among themselves, for “Jehovah had set every man’s sword against his fellow, and against the whole camp,” or as we say, in cases of great confusion, “All against one, one against all.”

Judges 7:22. And the host fled to Beth-shittah (the House of Acacias), towards Zererah, to the edge of Abel-meholah, near Tabbath. The direction of the flight, and the situation of the places named, can only be inferred from the connection and from a comparison of other passages. The mention of the places must have had a local significance for the reader who was acquainted with their situation. From Judges 8 we learn that the Midianites did not flee in one body, but in several divisions. This is as might be expected, seeing the army was composed of different tribes—Midianites, Amalekites, and “Sons of the East.” This separation in flight is also indicated by the statement of the places to which they fled. First, they are said to have fled “to Beth-shittah, towards Zererah,” by which one line of flight is given. When it is further said that they fled “to the edge of Abel-meholah, near Tabbath,” the intention cannot be to prolong the first line, which is already terminated by the phrase “towards Zererah,” but a second is indicated. This also explains the measures adopted by Gideon. Being unable to follow both himself, he calls on Ephraim to cut off the other line of flight. The enemy’s effort was to gain the fords of the Jordan. That one through which kings Zebah and Zalmunna must have passed ( Judges 8:5), seeing they had the start of the others, is evidently indicated by צְרֵרָתָה, “towards Zererah.” Many codices have צְרֵדָתָה, “toward Zeredah,” daleth being substituted for resh. Kimchi, however, expressly calls attention to the two r’s. But even in the earliest times Zeredah was read instead of Zererah, as appears from 2 Chronicles 4:17, where we find צְרֵדָתָה. From the same passage compared with 1 Kings 7:46, it is evident that Zeredah was identified with עָרְתָן, Zorthan. From both it appears to have been situated in the vicinity of the Jordan, not very far from Beth-shean (Beisân); and from Joshua 2:15-16, it may be inferred that near it there was a ford through the river. This explains why Midian took this line. They approached the river from the direction of Beth-shittah. Bertheau did well to connect this place with the modern village Shutta, mentioned by Robinson (ii356), and situated in the vicinity of Beth-shean. Keil’s objection that it lies north of Gilboa, is of no force under our view of the localities as above indicated. Zorthan (Zarthan) is mentioned in connection with a Succoth on this side the Jordan ( 1 Kings 7:46). To this day the Jordan is passed near some ruins, not far from Beisân, which are supposed to indicate the site of Succoth (Ritter, xv446). The other line of fugitives took a more southerly direction, “towards the edge of Abel-meholah.” The name of this place, celebrated as the birth-place of the prophet Elisha, has been preserved in the Onomasticon of Eusebius as Αβελμαελαί (ed. Parthey, p8). The fact that a שִׁפַת, edge, or strand, is spoken of, indicates perhaps the presence of a wady. And in fact, coming down from Beisân or Zerîn, the first western tributary of the Jordan met with, is a Wady el-Maleh (cf. Ritter, xviii432–448, in several passages). The fugitives are further said to have come to the edge of Abel-meholah “near Tabbath.” There is still a city Tubâs, not far from Wady Maleh, usually considered to be the Thebez of the history of Abimelech ( Judges 9:50), for which, however, there is no compulsory ground.

Judges 7:23-25. Gideon had a definite plan of pursuit. To carry it out, he required more men than the three hundred who had stood with him in the victory. The troops whom he had collected from Prayer of Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali ( Judges 6:35), though subsequently dismissed, had not yet disbanded. They now returned (Zebulun only is not named), and assisted in the pursuit. But to overtake the Midianites on their fleet camels was not an easy matter. If not intercepted, those of them who were hastening southward, would get as safely over the Jordan as kings Zebah and Zal munna had done near Beisân (at Zorthan). Gideon had foreseen this, and had early sent a message to Ephraim, over whose territory the fugitive host was passing, to “seize the waters as far as Beth-barah and the Jordan.” Ephraim acted promptly, and a part of the Midianites were cut off. The “waters” can only mean some western tributaries of the Jordan; for Gideon’s object is to prevent that body of the enemy which by his pursuit he has thus far kept away from the river, from gaining the lower fords and crossing over. He therefore desires “the waters” to be seized “to Beth-barah.” This name Beth-barah cannot well have originated from Beth-abarah (Ford-house). It does not appear that the letter ע has been dropped out of בֵּית־עֲבָרָה. Besides, if Beth-barah meant “Ford-house,” the direction “to Beth-barah” would have been superfluous; for in that case the seizure of the Jordan would have included that of the “waters” and the ford. On the other hand, it was important to provide for the occupation of the “waters,” or the particular stream intended, along its whole length to its source; lest, while it was guarded below, the enemy should cross it above. Beth-barah is therefore, with Eusebius and Jerome (Onomast., p104), to be explained as “House of the Spring,” “Well-house” (from בְּאֵר or בֹּר), by which the narrative becomes clear and intelligible. Therewith, also fall all attempts to identify this Beth-barah with the Beth-abarah of Origen’s reading at John 1:28; for that lay beyond the Jordan. Origen was, however, led by a right critical feeling. Instead of a Bethany, the people of his day doubtless spoke of a Beth-abarah in that region; and this, philologically and in fact, was one and the same with Bethany. For this trans-Jordanic Bethany—not to be confounded with that near Jerusalem—is to be derived from Beth-ain, as Beth-abarah from Beth-beer, and like the latter signifies “House of the Spring,”—a point to which I formerly directed attention in my “Bericht über Renan (Berlin, 1864).

The Ephraimites, to their great glory, captured the two Midianite princes Oreb and Zeeb. It was the reward of their prompt obedience. Very suggestive are the names, under which these two princes of the desert had perhaps been especially dreaded—“Wolf” and “Raven.” Among other nations also, these animals, frequenters of desolate places, and eager attendants on battle-fields, have furnished surnames for noted warriors. The Arabs, because the raven follows in the wake of caravans, call him Ebul-Mirkal, Father of the Swift Camel, or Ibn-Bersun, Son of the Sumpter-horse. Noteworthy, at all events, is the conjunction of “Raven and Wolf.” Coupled in the same way, we find them sacred to the Scandinavian Odin. Both ravens and wolves were also consecrated to Apollo. In the early Roman legends the woodpecker (picus) takes the place of the raven as companion of the wolf, and both belong to the God of War (cf. my Schamir, Erf1856, p103). The Arabs give to both the bird and the quadruped the common name Ibnol-Erdh, Son of the Earth (Hammer, Namen der Araber, p48).

The fame of the deed perpetuated itself in local designations, and the Raven’s Rock and Wolf’s Wine-press commemorate the disgrace of Midian. The Odyssea likewise speaks of a Raven’s rock in Ithaca (xiii408), which name the scholiast derives from a fallen hunter (cf. Bochart, Hierozoicon, ii203); and the use of the German Rabenstein,[FN25] is undeniably analogous. In the other name, the term jekeb (יֶקֶב, wine-press) is borrowed from the hollow form of the object; hence, the name is here equivalent to Wolf’s-hole. Similar historical allusions are supposed by the German Muse to lie concealed in Worms (from Wurme, slain by Siegfried) and in Drachenfels (cf. Grimm, D. Heldens., pp155, 316).

In Haurân, Wetzstein heard the name el-Gurâb, the Raven, applied to a spent volcano (p16); and Castle Kerek, at the south end of the Dead Sea, was called Hisnal-gorab, Raven’s-castle (Ritter, xiv1042).

The important remark in Judges 7:25, that the heads of the two princes were brought to Gideon “from beyond the Jordan,” induces the hope that the name and location of the “Raven’s-rock” may yet be traced. The “waters” which Ephraim occupied, must have been those now known as Wady el-Faria. Below this wady, there is to this day a much used ford (Ritter, xv449); while over against it, on the eastern bank of the Jordan, there is the steep height of Jebel Ajlûn, overlooking the Ghor, and commanding the confluent valleys (Ritter, xv369). On this height there are the ruins of a castle, of which Ibrahim Pasha still availed himself to hold the robber hordes in check, and which (according to the reports of various travellers on this yet but imperfectly known locality) bore the name of Kalaat-er Rabbad, or Rabua. The Ephraimites, charged with the occupation of the Jordan, had crossed over and seized on this important point in order fully to command the Jordan valley. Here they captured the princes “Raven and Wolf.” The “Raven’s-rock” was still known by this name in the time of Isaiah (see Isaiah 10:26); and in the corrupted designation Rabua, a similarity of sound with Oreb or Gorab may be traced. The exploit was swift and fortunate. Gideon in his pursuit was still on this side of the Jordan; while he was making a halt before crossing over, the Ephraimites were already returning in triumph from the opposite shore, bringing with them the heads of the slain princes. All other explanations, as found among others in Bertheau and Keil also, fail to harmonize satisfactorily with the connection. The narrator designedly adds the words “from beyond Jordan,” that the reader may know that Ephraim had gained the great triumph, before Gideon could so much as cross the river. This passing remark helps to prepare the reader for the opening narrative of Judges 8. It foreshadows the pride and selfishness of Ephraim. Finally, that Ephraim was beyond the Jordan, and there captured the hostile chieftains, is evident even from the words ( Judges 7:25), “they pursued Midian;” for as they held the Jordan and “the waters,” they could only pursue those who had passed the river.

HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL

After his first victory over idolatry in his father’s house, Gideon has courage for the second, over enemies in the field. He seeks the few, not the many. He knows that help comes from God, not from the multitude; and because he knows this, he conquers. The countless host of enemies vanishes like dust—not because of his three hundred: the terrors of God dissolve them, and turn them against each other. Doubtless, Gideon was also a hero of the sword; but first God’s deed—then man’s. Therefore he succeeds in everything, from first to last. Gideon is not envious of God, as Ephraim is of him. To God belongs the glory, first and last.

[Bp. Hall: Now, when we would look that Gideon should give charge of whetting their swords, and sharping their spears, and fitting their armor, he only gives order for empty pitchers, and lights, and trumpets. The cracking of these pitchers shall break in pieces this Midianitish clay; the kindling of these lights shall extinguish the light of Midian; these trumpets sound no other than a soul-peal to all the host of Midian: there shall need nothing but noise and light to confound this innumerable army. And if the pitchers, and brands, and trumpets of Gideon, did so daunt and dismay the proud troops of Midian and Amalek, who can we think shall be able to stand before the last terror, wherein the trumpet of the archangel shall sound, and the heavens shall pass away with a noise, and the elements shall be on a flame about our ears?—The same: Those two and twenty thousand Israelites that slipped away for fear, when the fearful Midianites fled, can pursue and kill them, and can follow them at the heels, whom they durst not look at in the face. Our flight gives advantage to the feeblest adversary, whereas our resistance foileth the greatest.—Scott: In this world, the wicked are often left under the power of their own delusions and the fury of their mad passions, to avenge the cause of God on each other: a period is approaching, when we may expect that the persecuting foes of Christianity will destroy one another, whilst the host of Israel shall look on, and have nothing to do but to blow the trumpet of the gospel.—Wordsworth: Gideon has only three hundred men, and Christ’s church is called “a little flock,” and their foes are innumerable; but their countless myriads melt away, dispersed by the breath of God.—The same: The princes of Midian represent the spiritual enemies of the Church. Is it by chance that they were called Oreb, the Raven, and Zeeb, the Wolf? The Raven is contrasted with the Dove in the history of the Flood (see Genesis 8:7) as an unclean bird (cf. Leviticus 11:15); and in the N. T. the Wolf is the emblem of those false teachers who tear and devour the flock of Christ.—Theodoret (as quoted by Wordsworth): Gideon overcame Midian with unarmed soldiers, bearing only trumpets, torches, and pitchers. So Christ overcame the world by unarmed apostles, bearing the trumpet of preaching and the torch of miracle—Tr.]

Footnotes:

FN#18 - Josephus also understands it thus: “ἀνθρώποις ἄβρωτον.” His further interpretation, however, can scarcely be followed.

FN#19 - Cf. Thomson, The Land and the Book, ii166—Tr.]

FN#20 - Wordsworth: “The tent was an expressive emblem of the Midianites, being nomads; their tent was their all in all. Their wives, their children, their cattle, their goods their vesture, their treasure, were all collected in it and about it.”—Tr.]

FN#21 - Æschylus (persœ, 188, etc.) represents poetically the forebodings and dreams of Atossa concerning the impending disaster of Xerxes; but the moral view, that such dreams were inspired by the evil conscience of the conquest-loving tyrant, and that the insignificant people triumphed through God, is wanting.

FN#22 - Our author treats וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ as a plural, and translates: “they worshipped.” The form is undoubtedly singular, cf. Genesis 23:7; Genesis 24:52; etc, and is so regarded by most grammarians, Ges. Gram. 75 Rem18; Green, 176, 1. Fürst, however, both in his Lexicon and in his Hebrew Concordance treats it as plural. In his Lexicon, s. v. שָׁחָה, he says: “יִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה; plural, sometimes יִשְׁתַּחוּ, in pause יִשְׁתָּחוּ, sometimes יִשְׁתַּחְווּ.”—Tr.]

FN#23 - Dr. Thomson remarks (L. & B. ii166): “I have often seen the small oil lamp of the natives carried in a ‘pitcher’ or earthern vessel at night.” But the לַפִּןִים of this history can scarcely be “oil lamps,” for which נֵרוֹת would be more appropriate. A better explanation is suggested by the following note in Smith’s Bible Dict. (Art. Gideon): “It is curious to find ‘lamps and pitchers’ in use for a similar purpose at this very day in the streets of Cairo. The Zabit or Agha of the police carries with him at night, ‘a torch which burns, soon after it is lighted, without a flame, excepting when it is waved through the air, when it suddenly blazes forth; it therefore answers the same purpose as our dark lantern. The burning end is sometimes concealed in a small pot or jar, or covered with something else, when not required to give light (Lane, Mod. Egypt., i. ch. iv.)’ ”—Tr.]

FN#24 - A similar maneuver terrified the inhabitants of Heræum in Achaia, when Diotas besieged them. Polyænus, ii36.

FN#25 - A place of this name occurs in Carinthia as early as the eleventh century (Förstemann, ii768).

 


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Bibliography Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Judges 7:4". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lcc/judges-7.html. 1857-84.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, August 23rd, 2019
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20
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