Bible Commentaries
Judges 7

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-15

Planning and Spying (7:1-15)

Gideon encamped beside the spring of Harod at the foot of Mount Gilboa. The Midianites were across the valley to the north, by the hill of Moreh. The Israelite army numbered 32,000. God intimated to Gideon that this was too large a number if Israel was not to vaunt itself on its own prowess in the hour of victory. In the campaigns of this period, it was God who fought for his people, and his was the victory. Hence there must not be sufficient strength in the Israelite band to detract from God’s triumph. This is, in some sense, a prefiguring of the deeper and more spiritual truth that we have no power to save ourselves from the tyranny of sin but are wholly dependent upon God’s grace. In the deeps of religion we have to learn that God’s strength is made perfect through our weakness (see 2 Corinthians 12:9).

Gideon, under divine guidance, dismissed the fearful and timorous warriors, but there were still too many. Then came the water test as a means of eliminating the slothful and of retaining only the alert and watchful. At last a small but compact band of 300 remained. The reference to jars and trumpets in verse 8 is a preparation for Gideon’s stratagem described later.

Gideon now began to lay his plans. In a spying expedition he was able to enter the Midianite encampment and to overhear the telling of a dream. The extent of the invasion is indicated by the description of the host as like locusts and of their camels as without number. The dream itself is somewhat obscure. The tent portrayed in it apparently symbolizes the Midianite host, and the cake of barley bread may indicate the agricultural and peasant nature of the Israelite defenders. The interpretation given to the Midianite dreamer by his companion confirmed Gideon’s conviction that the Lord was with him. We are told that Gideon worshiped, praising God for this fresh sign of his favor. Thus undergirded, Gideon turned to his task with confidence.

The Rout of Midian (7:16-8:3)

Gideon divided his 300 men into three companies and planned a night surprise attack in which he intended to rout the enemy by fear and panic rather than by armed force. He equipped each of his men with a trumpet and with a jar in which a torch could burn. The point of the strategy was the element of surprise and the psychological effect of the sudden noise of the trumpets and the blaze of light from the torches.

The Hebrew division of the night was into three watches of four hours each. Gideon and his men arrived at the beginning of the middle watch and, at the given signal, carried out their strategy. The panic that ensued was made worse by the thick darkness. Unable to distinguish friend from foe, the Midianites turned on one another and fled in confusion. The three places mentioned in their line of flight are not easily identifiable, but apparently two lay to the east and one to the west of the Jordan. The rout was complete, and at this point the men of Naphtali and Asher appear to have joined the forces of Manasseh. Ephraim came also at the summons of Gideon, sealing up the Jordan crossings and killing two Midianite leaders, Oreb ("raven") and Zeeb ("wolf") whose heads were brought to Gideon beyond Jordan.

The resentment of the Ephraimites at being summoned so late is a reminder of the prominent position occupied by Ephraim in the tribal and political structure. Belonging to the Josephite group, they occupied a strategic position in the hill country, were prominent in the original invasion, and possessed the central shrine at Shiloh. To political and religious prestige we must add the point that later arrival on the battle scene could only mean lesser spoils of war. By diplomatically minimizing his own efforts and magnifying the contribution of the Ephraimites, Gideon managed to appease the disaffected tribe. He pointed out the fact that to them belonged the glory of capturing the Midianite chieftains, and either quoted or formulated a proverb in amelioration of their resentment — "Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abiezer?", a saying which magnified them at the expense of his own tribe.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Judges 7". "Layman's Bible Commentary".