The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Judges 7

Jdg 7:1

Vv 1-8: Purging of Gideon's army: typ of judgment of responsible in preparation for great day of battle.

AT: Prob "over" or "above": that is, up the hillside from the spring and brook.

HAROD: At southeast end of valley of Jezreel. Cp Jdg 6:33. Below Mount Gilboa. Sig "trembling" or "afraid" (see v 3 here). In 1Sa 28:5; 29:1 Harod was again a spring of trembling.

THE CAMP OF MIDIAN: The Jews, 32,000 strong (v 3), saw to the north, in the valley, the Midianites, 135,000 strong (Jdg 8:10). Outnumbered more than 4 to 1.

Jdg 7:2

Numbers mean nothing in God's battles: Lev 26:3,7,15,37; 1Sa 14:6; 17:47; Psa 33:6. "Many are called, but few are chosen" (Mat 20:16). "Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few" (1Sa 14:6).

Jdg 7:3

"Lest his brother's hearts faint also" (Deu 20:8). We must "stand fast" in our faith (Phi 1:27,28).

ANYONE WHO TREMBLES WITH FEAR: Why were so many afraid, Jews as well as Midianites (vv 13,14)? Had the whole host of them, Jews as well as Midianites, seen a revelation of the glorious fiery Cherubim of Glory? Notice the refs to "sword" -- ie, the sword of the LORD -- and cp with Gen 3:24; Eze 1; Num 22:31; Deu 32:41; Josh 5:13. Gideon's victory was won by a display of bright flashing lights and loud noises -- as though to suggest the Cherubim again! Cp 2Ki 6:17; 7:6.

TURN BACK AND LEAVE: "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life -- he cannot be my disciple" (Luk 14:25,26).

MOUNT GILEAD: "It should perhaps be read as an allusion to the sunrise over mount Gilead, ie, next morning.

"But why the mention of mount Gilead, since Gilead is certainly on the other side of Jordan? A favourite guess is that by a scribal error 'Gilead' has come to be read for 'Gilboa'. This would certainly make very good sense, inasmuch as Gideon's army was encamped on the northern slopes of mount Gilboa. But there is no textual evidence for this emendation. Another possibility is that this reading anticipates the naming of the high land between Harod and Jordan, as mount Gilead, in honour of Gileadite Gideon and his victory. The twentieth century Arab name Jalud suggests a derivation from 'Gilead' " (WJR).

Jdg 7:4

Gideon's army was relatively safe while on the mountain, but to get to the water they would have to go down into the valley, where they would be exposed to the enemy.

I WILL SIFT THEM: Or "try them", as metal is refined.

Jdg 7:5

Those who lap would be keeping an eye on the enemy, who were nearby.

Or, alternatively: "There is available an explanation which is simple, historical and which fits the context splendidly.

"Archaeologists have remarked on the accumulation of evidence to show that it was customary among the pagan tribes of Palestine and neighbouring countries to regard wells and springs as the haunts of nature gods and demons. Traces have been found of images and idolatrous sanctuaries close by many of these important places.

"So it is highly probably that there was by the spring Harod, the image of some Canaanite deity, so placed that anyone stooping to drink from the water would by that very action be bowing down before the idol. Thus Gideon's test becomes full of meaning.

"Those who put their faces down to the water were men dominated more by thoughts of thirst that by scruples of conscience. On the other hand, the minority was made up of men who supported to the full Gideon's onslaught on Baal, and who showed this by their choice of a highly inconvenient mode of drinking in order not to countenance in the slightest the ascription of honour to that which was 'not God' (Prov 13:14)" (WJR).

Jdg 7:6

300: Less than 1% of total in v 3.

Jdg 7:8

This would convince the enemy that the Israelites were retiring from the field. The element of surprise.

Jdg 7:9

Vv 9-14: God gives Gideon a further chance to bolster his faith.

Jdg 7:11

LISTEN TO WHAT THEY ARE SAYING: 'There was no language difficulty, for (as Mesha's Moabite stone has clearly shown) the tongue of these people was virtually identical with Hebrew" (WJR).

Jdg 7:13

BARLEY: The only grain left, due to the depredations of the Midianites (Jdg 6:11n; LB 449). Barley ripened before wheat (Exo 9:31). Used in Passover (Lev 23:10-12). Thus sym Christ our passover (1Co 5:7), in sincerity and truth. Lowest form of food (2Ki 7:1), used for horses (1Ki 4:28). Sym Gideon's humble beginnings. Barley here repr Gideon and his 300, lowly and feeble and despised, but able to win a victory with God's help.

Thus also sym Christ, despised of men (Isa 53:3), but nevertheless the bread of life (Joh 6:48-58).

Jdg 7:14

THIS CAN BE NOTHING OTHER THAN THE SWORD OF GIDEON: "Gideon immediately perceived that the enemy were ripe for panic, and that his fame amongst them as a leader had already been inflated by wild rumour far beyond anything that his natural skill or courage warranted. But what would surely impress him most of all was that this Midianite told the same story as the angel of the Lord: 'I will deliver the Midianites into thy hand' " (WJR).

Jdg 7:15

Vv 15-24: "From now on everything Gideon did was marked by the most complete confidence in God. So he well deserves to be included in Heb 11 with those who wrought 'by faith'. But -- it should be especially noted -- this was a faith maturing from personal experience of the ways of God.

"He now pushed forward preparations for the most unorthodox military operation in history. The three hundred elect were equipped with weapons of a unique kind. Trumpets were gathered from among the host, so that each of the three hundred might have one. Torches were fashioned and kindled, and carried in earthenware jars. Weapons they may have had, but not for use in the wild melee that was to ensue in this grotesque operation. Divided into three groups, these men of faith went forth into the night to take up assigned positions on the perimeter of the Midianite camp.

"His last instructions rang in their ears: 'Look on me, and do likewise -- as I do, so shall ye do.' Was the faith of these three hundred any less than that of Gideon himself? They were prepared to give implicit obedience in carrying through the most quixotic scheme ever detailed to a band of soldiers.

"Time passed slowly as they crept stealthily to their appointed stations. There they waited, tense and motionless. Then, suddenly the air was filled with a hideous crashing sound, the smashing of three hundred pitchers. Midianites, Amalekites, Arabians rushed forth in bewilderment and alarm from their tents to see all round the camp hundreds of torches describing vivid circles of fire like so many outsize Catherine wheels; and at that moment their ears were assailed by a deep-throated thunderous shout: 'The Sword of the Lord and of Gideon!'

"Immediately all was panic and chaos indescribable. Camels, plunging violently, broke their tethers and ran amok in the darkness and confusion. The startled Bedouin, already expecting the worst, were convinced that their enemies were in the midst of the camp in large numbers. Thus they fell to fighting furiously among themselves, an error made all the more easy since they were a mixture of at least three different tribes. And all the time there was this startling appearance of fire on the edge of the camp, as though supernatural powers were taking a hand in the bedlam of noise and carnage now rapidly intensifying. Many a son of Ishmael fell in violent bloody struggle that night as 'the Lord set every man's sword against his fellow, even throughout all the host.' At last, crazed with fear by unaccustomed sights and sounds and baffled by the mysterious destruction in their midst, the remnant broke and fled eastward through the night.

"As that night of horror passed, and morning broke over the shattered, mangled remnants of the camp, Gideon rapidly organized for instant pursuit and destruction of the enemy, the rest of his forces -- those out of the thirty-two thousand who had not yet gone back to their homes. Cross-country runners went out to the Ephraimite villages away to the southeast to warn fellow-Israelites there to hold the fords of Jordan. And the drama moved to the last act in the utter destruction of the hated Bedouin oppression" (WJR).

Jdg 7:16

EMPTY JARS: Domestic pots for food or water (1Ki 17:12-16; Gen 24:14-26). We have our treasure in earthen pots (2Co 4:7).

WITH TORCHES INSIDE: Flaming torches, used with glory of cherubim (Eze 1:13). Lamps of fire (Dan 10:6). The treasure is the glory of God!

Jdg 7:18

BLOW... TRUMPETS: To raise the dead (1Co 15:51,52), when 7th angel sounds (Rev 11:15).

Jdg 7:19

MIDDLE WATCH: Approx 10pm to 2am.

AND BROKE THE JARS: Five broken things in the Bible and the results achieved by them: (1) broken pitchers (Jdg 7:18-20), causing the light to shine forth; (2) a broken jar (Mark 14:3), causing the ointment to be poured out; (3) broken bread (Mat 14:20), causing the hungry to be fed; (4) a broken body (1Co 11:24), causing the world to be saved; and (5) a broken will (Psa 51:17), leading the sinner back to God.

Jdg 7:20

SWORD: Heb chereb, or cherub: a simulated vision of the cherubim.

A SWORD FOR THE LORD AND FOR GIDEON: "Remember that the true war-cry of the Church is Gideon's watchword... God must do it, it is His own work. But we are not to be idle; instrumentality is to be used... If we only cry, 'The sword of the Lord!' we shall be guilty of an idle presumption; and if we shout, 'The sword of Gideon!' alone, we shall manifest idolatrous reliance on an arm of flesh: we must blend the two in practical harmony, 'The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon!' We can do nothing of ourselves, but we can do everything by the help of our God; let us, therefore, in His name determine to go out personally and serve with our flaming torch of holy example, and with our trumpet tones of earnest declaration and testimony, and God shall be with us, and Midian shall be put to confusion, and the Lord of hosts shall reign for ever and ever" (CHS).

Jdg 7:21

"Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord": Exo 14:13,14; 2Ch 20:17.

Jdg 7:22

WHEN THREE HUNDRED TRUMPETS SOUNDED: If so many trumpeters, who would be small in proportion to the number of troops -- they must have thought -- then what a great army Gideon must have assembled!

TO TURN ON EACH OTHER: Mutual slaughter: Eze 38:21.

AS FAR AS BETHABARA: They went east to Jordan, then south toward ford of Bethabara.

Jdg 7:24

Fleet messengers might outrun the fleeing army and summon additional help further south.

BETH BARAH: North of the confluence of Jabbok and Jordan, the scene of much work by John the Baptist (John 1:28).

Jdg 7:25

OREB AND ZEEB: Two lesser princes of Midian (cp Jdg 8:5).

OREB: Sig "raven", unclean bird (Lev 11:15), living in desert areas (Isa 34:11).

ZEEB: Sig "wolf", ferocious, nocturnal, attacking helpless sheep. Cp the double meaning in Jer 5:6: "A Zeeb of the Orebs (Arabs) shall slay them."

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