Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Mustering of the Army that Gideon had Collected. - Jdg 7:1. When Gideon had been assured of the help of God by this double sign, he went to the battle early the next morning with the people that he had gathered around him. The Israelites encamped above the fountain of Harod, i.e., upon a height at the foot of which this fountain sprang; but the camp of Midian was to him (Gideon) to the north of the hill Moreh in the valley (of Jezreel: see Jdg 6:33). The geographical situation of these two places cannot be determined with certainty. The fountain of Harod is never mentioned again, though there is a place of that name referred to in Sa2 23:25 as the home of two of David's heroes; and it was from this, no doubt, that the fountain was named. The hill Moreh is also unknown. As it was by the valley (of Jezreel), we cannot possibly think of the grove of Moreh at Shechem (Gen 12:6; Deu 11:30).
(Note: Bertheau endeavours to settle the position of the place from our knowledge of the country, which is for the most part definite enough. Starting with the assumption that the fountain of Harod cannot be any other than the "fountain in Jezreel" mentioned in Sa1 29:1, where Saul and the Israelites encamped at Gilboa (Sa1 28:4) to fight against the Philistines who were posted at Shunem, a place on the western slope of the so-called Little Hermon, he concludes that the fountain of Harod must be the present Ain Jalud, and the hill of Moreh the Little Hermon itself. These combinations are certainly possible, for we have nothing definite to oppose to them; still they are very uncertain, as they simply rest upon the very doubtful assumption that the only fountain in the plain of Jezreel was the celebrated fountain called Ain Jalud, and are hardly reconcilable with the account given of the route which was taken by the defeated Midianites (Jdg 7:25. and Jdg 8:4).)
The army of the Israelites amounted to 32,000 men (Jdg 7:4), but that of the Midianites and their allies was about 135,000 (Jdg 8:10), so that they were greatly superior to the Israelites in numbers. Nevertheless the Lord said to Gideon, "The people that are with thee are too many for me to give Midian into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, My hand hath helped me." רב followed by מן is to be understood as a comparative. Gideon was therefore to have a proclamation made before all the people: "Whosoever is fearful and despondent, let him turn and go back from Mount Gilead." The ἁπ. λεγ. צפר, judging from the Arabic, which signifies to plait, viz., hair, ropes, etc., and the noun צפירה, a circle or circuitous orbit, probably signifies to twist one's self round; hence in this instance to return in windings, to slink away in bypaths. The expression "from Mount Gilead," however, is very obscure. The mountain (or the mountains) of Gilead was on the eastern side of the Jordan; but the Israelitish army was encamped in or near the plain of Jezreel, in the country to the west of the Jordan, and had been gathered from the western tribes alone; so that even the inadmissible rendering, Let him turn and go home to the mountains of Gilead, would not give any appropriate sense. The only course left therefore is either to pronounce it an error of the text, as Clericus and Bertheau have done, and to regard "Gilead" as a mistake for "Gilboa," or to conclude that there was also a mountain or mountain range named Gilead by the plain of Jezreel in western Palestine, just as, according to Jos 15:10, there was a mountain, or range of mountains, called Seir, in the territory of Judah, of which nothing further is known. The appeal which Gideon is here directed to make to the army was prescribed in the law (Deu 20:8) for every war in which the Israelites should be engaged, and its general object was to fortify the spirit of the army be removing the cowardly and desponding. But in the case before us the intention of the Lord was to deprive His people of all ground for self-glorification. Hence the result of the appeal was one which Gideon himself certainly did not expect, - namely, that more than two-thirds of the soldiers gathered round him - 22,000 men of the people - turned back, and only 10,000 remained.
But even this number was regarded by the Lord as still too great, so that He gave to Gideon the still further command, "Bring them (the 10,000 men) down to the water," i.e., the waters formed from the fountain of Harod, "and I will purify them for thee there (צרף, separate those appointed for the battle from the rest of the army; the singular suffix refers to העם), and say to thee, This shall go with thee, and that," i.e., show thee each individual who is to go with thee to the battle, and who not.
Gideon was to divide the people by putting all those who should lick the water with their tongue as a dog licketh into one class, and all those who knelt down to drink into another, and so separating the latter from the former. The number of those who licked the water into their mouth with their hand amounted to 300, and all the rest knelt down to drink. "To lick with their hand to their mouth," i.e., to take the water from the brook with the hollow of their hand, and lap it into the mouth with their tongue as a dog does, is only a more distinct expression for "licking with the tongue." The 300 men who quenched their thirst in this manner were certainly not the cowardly or indolent who did not kneel down to drink in the ordinary way, either from indolence or fear, as Josephus, Theodoret, and others supposed, but rather the bravest-namely those who, when they reached a brook before the battle, did not allow themselves time to kneel down and satisfy their thirst in the most convenient manner, but simply took up some water with their hands as they stood in their military accoutrements, to strengthen themselves for the battle, and then proceeded without delay against the foe. By such a sign as this, Bertheau supposes that even an ordinary general might have been able to recognise the bravest of his army. No doubt: but if this account had not been handed down, it is certain that it would never have occurred to an ordinary or even a distinguished general to adopt such a method of putting the bravery of his troops to the test; and even Gideon, the hero of God, would never have thought of diminishing still further through such a trial an army which had already become so small, or of attempting to defeat an army of more than 100,000 men by a few hundred of the bravest men, if the Lord himself had not commanded it.
Whilst the Lord was willing to strengthen the feeble faith of Gideon by the sign with the fleece of wool, and thus to raise him up to full confidence in the divine omnipotence, He also required of him, when thus strengthened, an attestation of his faith, by the purification of his army that he might give the whole glory to Him, and accept the victory over that great multitude from His hand alone.
After his fighting men had been divided into a small handful of 300 men on the one hand, and the large host of 9700 on the other, by the fulfilment of the command of God, the Lord required of him that he should send away the latter, "every man to his place," i.e., to his own home, promising that He would save Israel by the 300 men, and deliver the Midianites into their hand. The promise preceded the command, to render it easier to Gideon to obey it. "All the people," after taking out the 300 men, that is to say, the 9700 that remained.
"So they (the 300 picked men) took the provision of the people in their hand, and their (the people's) trumpets (the suffix points back to העם, the people); and all the men of Israel (the 9700) he had sent away every one to his tents, i.e., to his home (see at Deu 16:7), and the three hundred men he had kept by himself; but the camp of the Midianites was below to him in the valley." These words bring the preparations for the battle to a close, and the last clause introduces the ensuing conflict and victory. In the first clause העם (the people) cannot be the subject, partly because of the actual sense, since the 300 warriors, who are no doubt the persons intended (cf. Jdg 7:16), cannot be called "the people," in distinction from "all the men of Israel," and partly also because of the expression את־צדה, which would be construed in that case without any article in violation of the ordinary rule. We must rather read העם את־צדת, as the lxx and the Chaldee have done. The 300 men took the provision of the people, i.e., provision for the war, from the people who had been sent away, and the war-trumpets; so that every one of the 300 had a trumpet now, and as the provision of the people was also probably kept in vessels or pitchers (caddim: Jdg 7:16), a jug as well. The subject to יקחוּ is to be taken from the first clause of the seventh verse. The sentences which follow from כּל־אישׁ ואת are circumstantial clauses, introduced to bring out distinctly the situation in which Gideon was now placed. בּ החזיק, the opposite of שׁלּח, to send away, signifies to hold fast, to keep back or by himself, as in Exo 9:2. לו, to him, Gideon, who was standing by the fountain of Harod with his 300 men, the situation of Midian was underneath in the valley (see Jdg 7:1, and Jdg 6:33).
Gideon's Battle and Victory. - Jdg 7:9-11. The following night the Lord commanded Gideon to go down to the camp of the enemy, as He had given it into his hand (the perfect is used to denote the purpose of God which had already been formed, as in Jdg 4:14). But in order to fill him with confidence for such an enterprise, which to all human appearance was a very rash one, God added, "If thou art afraid to go down, go thou with thine attendant Purah down to the camp, and thou wilt hear what they say, and thy hands will thereby become strong." The meaning of the protasis is not, If thou art afraid to go down into the camp of the enemy alone, or to visit the enemy unarmed, take Purah thine armour-bearer with thee, to make sure that thou hast weapons to use (Bertheau); for, apart from the fact that the addition "unarmed" is perfectly arbitrary, the apodosis "thou wilt see," etc., by no means agrees with this explanation. The meaning is rather this: Go with thy 300 men into (בּ) the hostile camp to smite it, for I have given it into thy hand; but if thou art afraid to do this, go down with thine attendant to (אל) the camp, to ascertain the state and feeling of the foe, and thou wilt hear what they say, i.e., as we gather from what follows, how they are discouraged, have lost all hope of defeating you, and from that thou wilt gather courage and strength for the battle. On the expression "thine hands shall be strengthened," see Sa2 2:7. The expression which follows, בּמּחנה וירדתּ, is not a mere repetition of the command to go down with his attendant to the hostile camp, but describes the result of the stimulus given to his courage: And then thou wilt go fearlessly into the hostile camp to attack the foe. בּמּחנה ירד (Jdg 7:9, Jdg 7:11) is to be distinguished from המּחנה ירד in Jdg 7:10. The former signifies to go down into the camp to smite the foe; the latter, to go down to the camp to reconnoitre it, and is equivalent to the following clause: "he went to the outside of the camp."
But when Gideon came with his attendant to the end of the armed men (chamushim, as in Jos 1:14; Exo 13:18) in the hostile camp, and the enemy were lying spread out with their camels in the valley, an innumerable multitude, he heard one (of the fighting men) relate to his fellow (i.e., to another) a dream which he had had: "Behold a cake of barley bread was rolling into the camp of Midian, and it came to the tent and smote it, so that it fell and turned upwards, and let the tent lay along." Then the other replied, "This is nothing else than the sword of Gideon the son of Joash the Israelite: God hath given Midian and all the camp into his hand." "The end of fighting men" signifies the outermost or foremost of the outposts in the enemy's camp, which contained not only fighting men, but the whole of the baggage of the enemy, who had invaded the land as nomads, with their wives, their children, and their flocks. In Jdg 7:12, the innumerable multitude of the enemy is described once more in the form of a circumstantial clause, as in Jdg 6:5, not so much to distinguish the fighting men from the camp generally, as to bring out more vividly the contents and meaning of the following dream. The comparison of the enemy to the sand by the sea-side recalls Jos 11:4, and is frequently met with (see Gen 22:17; Gen 32:13; Sa1 13:5). With the word ויּבא in Jdg 7:13, the thread of the narrative, which was broken off by the circumstantial clause in Jdg 7:12, is resumed and carried further. The ἁπ. λεγ. צלוּל (Keri, צליל) is rendered cake, placenta, by the early translators: see Ges. Thes. p. 1170. The derivation of the word has been disputed, and is by no means certain, as צלל does not give any suitable meaning, either in the sense of to ring or to be overshadowed, and the meaning to roll (Ges. l.c.) cannot be philologically sustained; whilst צלה, to roast, can hardly be thought of, since this is merely used to denote the roasting of flesh, and קלה was the word commonly applied to the roasting of grains, and even "the roasted of barley bread" would hardly be equivalent to subcinericeus panis ex hordeo (Vulgate). "The tent," with the definite article, is probably the principal tent in the camp, i.e., the tent of the general. למעלה, upwards, so that the bottom came to the top. "The tent lay along," or the tent fell, lay in ruins, is added to give emphasis to the words. "This is nothing if not," i.e., nothing but. The cake of bread which had rolled into the Midianitish camp and overturned the tent, signifies nothing else than the sword of Gideon, i.e., Gideon, who is bursting into the camp with his sword, and utterly destroying it.
This interpretation of the dream was certainly a natural one under the circumstances. Gideon is especially mentioned simply as the leader of the Israelites; whilst the loaf of barley bread, which was the food of the poorer classes, is to be regarded as strictly speaking the symbol of Israel, which was so despised among the nations. The rising of the Israelites under Gideon had not remained a secret to the Midianites, and no doubt filled them with fear; so that in a dream this fear might easily assume the form of the defeat or desolation and destruction of their camp by Gideon. And the peculiar form of the dream is also psychologically conceivable. As the tent is everything to a nomad, he might very naturally picture the cultivator of the soil as a man whose life is all spent in cultivating and baking bread. In this way bread would become almost involuntarily a symbol of the cultivator of the soil, whilst in his own tent he would see a symbol not only of his mode of life, but of his freedom, greatness, and power. If we add to this, that the free pastoral tribes, particularly the Bedouins of Arabia, look down with pride not only upon the poor tillers of the soil, but even upon the inhabitants of towns, and that in Palestine, the land of wheat, none but the poorer classes feed upon barley bread, we have here all the elements out of which the dream of the Midianitish warrior was formed. The Israelites had really been crushed by the Midianites into a poor nation of slaves. But whilst the dream itself admits of being explained in this manner in a perfectly natural way, it acquires the higher supernatural character of a divine inspiration, from the fact that God not only foreknew it, but really caused the Midianite to dream, and to relate the dream to his comrade, just at the time when Gideon had secretly entered the camp, so that he should hear it, and discover therefrom, as God had foretold him, the despondency of the foe. Under these circumstances, Gideon could not fail to regard the dream as a divine inspiration, and to draw the assurance from it, that God had certainly given the Midianites into his hands.
When therefore he had heard the dream related and interpreted, he worshipped, praising the Lord with joy, and returned to the camp to attack the enemy without delay. He then divided the 300 men into three companies, i.e., three attacking columns, and gave them all trumpets and empty pitchers, with torches in the pitchers in their hands. The pitchers were taken that they might hide the burning torches in them during their advance to surround the enemy's camp, and then increase the noise at the time of the attack, by dashing the pitchers to pieces (Jdg 7:20), and thus through the noise, as well as the sudden lighting up of the burning torches, deceive the enemy as to the strength of the army. At the same time he commanded them, "See from me, and do likewise," - a short expression for, As ye see me do, so do ye also (כּן, without the previous כּ, or כּאשׁר as in Jdg 5:15; see Ewald, 260, a.), - "I blow the trumpet, I and all who are with me; ye also blow the trumpets round about the entire camp," which the 300 men divided into three companies were to surround, "and say, To the Lord and Gideon." According to Jdg 7:20, this war-cry ran fully thus: "Sword to (for) the Lord and Gideon." This addition in Jdg 7:20, however, does not warrant us in inserting "chereb" (sword) in the text here, as some of the early translators and MSS have done.
(Note: Similar stratagems to the one adopted by Gideon here are recorded by Polyaenus (Strateg. ii. c. 37) of Dicetas, at the taking of Heraea, and by Plutarch (Fabius Max. c. 6) of Hannibal, when he was surrounded and completely shut in by Fabius Maximus. An example from modern history is given by Niebuhr (Beschr. von Arabien, p. 304). About the middle of the eighteenth century two Arabian chiefs were fighting for the Imamate of Oman. One of them, Bel-Arab, besieged the other, Achmed ben Said, with four or five thousand men, in a small castle on the mountain. But the latter slipped out of the castle, collected together several hundred men, gave every soldier a sign upon his head, that they might be able to distinguish friends from foes, and sent small companies to all the passes. Every one had a trumpet to blow at a given signal, and thus create a noise at the same time on every side. The whole of the opposing army was thrown in this way into disorder, since they found all the passes occupied, and imagined the hostile army to be as great as the noise.)
Gideon then proceeded with the 100 who were with him, i.e., the company which was led by himself personally, to the end of the hostile camp, at the beginning of the middle watch, i.e., at midnight ראשׁ is an accusative defining the time: see Ges. 118, 2, and Ewald, 204, a. The only other watch that is mentioned in the Old Testament beside the middle night-watch, is the morning night-watch (Exo 14:24; Sa1 11:11), from which it has been correctly inferred, that the Israelites divided the night into three night-watches. The division into four watches (Mat 14:25; Mar 6:48) was first adopted by the Jews from the Romans. "They (the Midianites) had only (just) posted the watchmen (of the middle watch)," - a circumstantial clause, introduced to give greater distinctness to the situation. When the first sentries were relieved, and the second posted, so that they thought they might make quite sure of their night's rest once more, Gideon and his host arrived at the end of the camp, and, as we must supply from the context, the other two hosts at two other ends of the camp, who all blew their trumpets, breaking the pitchers in their hands at the same time. The inf. abs. נפוץ, as a continuation of the finite verb יתקעוּ, indicates that the fact was contemporaneous with the previous one (see Ewald, 351, c.).
According to the command which they had received (Jdg 7:17), the other two tribes followed his example. "Then the three companies blew the trumpets, broke the pitchers, and held the torches in their left hands, and the trumpets in their right to blow, and cried, Sword to the Lord and Gideon! And they stood every one his place round about the camp," sc., without moving, so that the Midianites necessarily thought that there must be a numerous army advancing behind the torch-bearers. וגו ויּרץ, "and the whole army ran," i.e., there began a running hither and thither in the camp of the enemy, who had been frightened out of their night's rest by the unexpected blast of the trumpets, the noise, and the war-cry of the Israelitish warriors; "and they (the enemy) lifted up a cry (of anguish and alarm), and caused to fly" (carried off), sc., their tents (i.e., their families) and their herds, or all their possessions (cf. Jdg 6:11; Exo 9:20). The Chethibh יניסוּ is the original reading, and the Keri ינוּסוּ a bad emendation.
Whilst the 300 men blew their trumpets, "Jehovah set the sword of one against the other, and against the whole camp," i.e., caused one to turn his sword against the other and against all the camp, that is to say, not merely man against man, but against every one in the camp, so that there arose a terrible slaughter throughout the whole camp. The first clause, "and the three hundred blew the trumpets," simply resumes the statement in Jdg 7:20, "the three companies blew the trumpets," for the purpose of appending to it the further progress of the attack, and the result of the battle. Bertheau inserts in a very arbitrary manner the words, "the second time." His explanation of the next clause ("then the 300 fighting men of Gideon drew the sword at Jehovah's command, every man against his man") is still more erroneous, since it does violence to the constant usage of the expression בּרעהוּ אישׁ (see Sa1 14:20; Ch2 20:23; Isa 3:5; Zac 8:10). "And all the camp of the Midianites fled to Beth-shittah to Zeredah, to the shore of Abel-meholah, over Tabbath." The situation of these places, which are only mentioned here, with the exception of Abel-meholah, the home of Elisha (Kg1 19:16; Kg1 4:12), has not yet been determined. According to the Syriac, the Arabic, and some of the MSS, we should read Zeredathah instead of Zererathah, and Zeredathah is only another form for Zarthan (comp. Kg1 7:46 with Ch2 4:17). This is favoured by the situation of Zarthan in the valley of the Jordan, probably near the modern Kurn Sartabeh (see p. 35), inasmuch as in all probability Beth-shittah and Abel-meholah are to be sought for in the valley of the Jordan; and according to Jdg 7:24, the enemy fled to the Jordan. Beth-shittah, i.e., acacia-house, is not the same place as the village of Shutta mentioned by Robinson (iii. p. 219), since this village, according to Van de Velde's map, was to the north of Gilboa. For although Shutta is favoured by the circumstance, that from a very ancient time there was a road running from Jezreel along the valley, between the so-called Little Hermon (Duhy) and the mountains of Gilboa, and past Beisan to the Jordan; and the valley of Jalud, on the northern side of which Shutta was situated, may be regarded as the opening of the plain of Jezreel into the valley of the Jordan (see v. Raumer, Pal. p. 41, and Rob. iii. p. 176); and v. Raumer conjectures from this, that "the flight of the Midianites was apparently directed to Bethsean, on account of the nature of the ground," - this assumption is rendered very questionable by the fact that the flying foe did not cross the Jordan in the neighbourhood of Beisan, but much farther to the south, viz., according to Jdg 8:4, in the neighbourhood of Succoth, which was on the south side of the Nahr Zerka (Jabbok). From this we are led to conjecture, that they were not encamped in the north-eastern part of the plain of Jezreel, in the neighbourhood of Jezreel (Zerin) and Shunem (Solam), but in the south-eastern part of this plain, and that after they had been beaten there they fled southwards from Gilboa, say from the district of Ginaea (Jenin) to the Jordan. In this case we have to seek for Abel-shittah on the south-east of the mountains of Gilboa, to the north of Zeredathah (Zarthan). From this point they fled on still farther to the "shore of Abel-meholah." שׂפה does not mean boundary, but brink; here the bank of the Jordan, like היּרדּן שׂפת in Kg2 2:13. The bank or strand of Abel-meholah is that portion of the western bank of the Jordan or of the Ghor, above which Abel-meholah was situated. According to the Onom. (s. v. Ἀβελμαελαί, Abelmaula), this place was in the Aulon (or Ghor), ten Roman miles to the south of Scythopolis (Beisan), and was called at that time Βηθμαιελά or Bethaula. According to this statement, Abel-meholah would have to be sought for near Churbet es Shuk, in the neighbourhood of the Wady Maleh (see V. de Velde, Mem. p. 280). And lastly, Tabbath must have been situated somewhere to the south of Abel-meholah.
Pursuit of the Enemy as far as the Jordan. - Jdg 7:23. As soon as the Midianites had been put to flight, the Israelitish men of Naphtali, Asher, and Manasseh, let themselves be convened for the purpose of pursuing them: i.e., the men of these tribes, whom Gideon had sent away before the battle, and who were on their way home, could be summoned back again in a very short time to join in the pursuit of the flying foe. The omission of Zebulun (Jdg 6:35) is, in all probability, simply to be attributed to the brevity of the account.
In order to cut off the retreat of the enemy who was flying to the Jordan, Gideon sent messengers into the whole of the mountains of Ephraim with this appeal to the Ephraimites, "Come down (from your mountains into the lowlands of the Jordan) to meet Midian, and take the waters from them to Bethbarah and the Jordan," sc., by taking possession of this district (see Jdg 3:28). "The waters," mentioned before the Jordan and distinguished from it, must have been streams across which the flying foe would have to cross to reach the Jordan, namely, the different brooks and rivers, such as Wady Maleh, Fyadh, Jamel, Tubs, etc., which flowed down from the eastern side of the mountains of Ephraim into the Jordan, and ran through the Ghor to Bethbarah. The situation of Bethbarah is unknown. Even Eusebius could say nothing definite concerning the place; and the conjecture that it is the same as Bethabara, which has been regarded ever since the time of Origen as the place mentioned in Joh 1:28 where John baptized, throws no light upon the subject, as the situation of Bethabara is also unknown, to say nothing of the fact that the identity of the two names is very questionable. The Ephraimites responded to this appeal and took possession of the waters mentioned, before the Midianites, who could only move slowly with their flocks and herds, were able to reach the Jordan. They then captured two of the princes of the Midianites and put them to death: one of them, Oreb, i.e., the raven, at the rock Oreb; the other, Zeeb, i.e., the wolf, at the wine-press of Zeeb. Nothing further is known about these two places. The rock of Oreb is only mentioned again in Isa 10:26, when the prophet alludes to this celebrated victory. So much, however, is evident from the verse before us, viz., that the Midianites were beaten by the Ephraimites at both places, and that the two princes fell there, and the places received their names from that circumstance. They were not situated in the land to the east of the Jordan, as Gesenius (on Isa 10:26), Rosenmller, and others infer from the fact that the Ephraimites brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon ליּרדּן מעבר (Jdg 7:25), but on the western side of the Jordan, where the Ephraimites had taken possession of the waters and the Jordan in front of the Midianites. ליּרדּן מעבר does not mean "from the other side of the Jordan," but simply "on the other side of (beyond) the Jordan," as in Jos 13:32; Jos 18:7; Kg1 14:15; and the statement here is not that the Ephraimites brought the heads from the other side to Gideon on the west of the river, but that they brought them to Gideon when he was in the land to the east of the Jordan. This explanation of the words is required by the context, as well as by the foregoing remark, "they pursued Midian," according to which the Ephraimites continued the pursuit of the Midianites after slaying these princes, and also by the complaint brought against Gideon by the Ephraimites, which is not mentioned till afterwards (Jdg 8:1.), that he had not summoned them to the war. It is true, this is given before the account of Gideon's crossing over the Jordan (Jdg 8:4), but in order of time it did not take place till afterwards, and, as Bertheau has correctly shown, the historical sequence is somewhat anticipated.