The Period Of The Judges

  Chapter 23: The Direction God Gave Gideon for the Modeling of the Army
Judges 7.1-7.8

Scripture

1 Then Jerubbaal, who is Gideon, and all the people that were with him, rose up early, and pitched beside the well of Harod: so that the host of the Midianites were on the north side of them, by the hill of Moreh, in the valley.
2 And the LORD 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 from mount Gilead. And there returned of the people twenty and two thousand; and there remained ten thousand.
4 And the LORD 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 shall go with thee, the same shall go with thee; and of whomsoever I say unto thee, This shall not go with thee, the same shall not go.
5 So he brought down the people unto the water: and the LORD 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 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 took victuals in their hand, and their trumpets: and he sent all the rest of Israel every man unto his tent, and retained those three hundred men: and the host of Midian was beneath him in the valley.


Introduction to JUDGES 7

Imagine 32,000 Israelites facing 135,000 Midianites—“Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor, and their hosts with them, about fifteen thousand men, all that were left of all the hosts of the children of the east: for there fell an hundred and twenty thousand men that drew sword.” (Judges 8:10; KJV); but it was the kind of situation that the Lord uses to glorify His name. When God is on your side, the size of the enemy is of no great concern, so keep your eyes on Him.

The really dangerous enemies were within the hearts of Gideon’s soldiers. Fear was one of them (vv. 1–3), and he sent 22,000 men home.

Article 7.1: Tests

We never know when God is using the everyday things of life to test our faith. The men in Gideon’s army were tested by the way they drank water. Lot was tested by a disagreement over land (Gen. 13:6). Israel was tested by thirst (Exod. 15:22–27), and Moses was tested by the complaining of the people (Num. 20:1–13). We must constantly be on guard because sometimes we do not know what the lesson was until we have failed the test!

This passage does not mention that a priest was present with the Army of God; but it is very likely that there was a priest there, if for no other reason, he would accompany the army for political reasons, since Divine assistance would be expected in wars which were undertaken by the Divine command. The priest on these occasions was the representative of that God whose servant he was, and whose worship he conducted. It is remarkable that almost all ancient nations took their priests with them to battle, as they did not expect success without having the object of their adoration with them, and they supposed they secured his presence by having his representative with them.

Moses, who wrote the book of Deuteronomy including 20.1-9, which refers chiefly to the battles they were to have with the Canaanites in order to get possession of the Promised Land; for it cannot be considered to apply to any wars which they might have with the surrounding nations for political reasons, as the Divine assistance could not be expected in wars fought for strictly political reasons.

Here we have the priest's exhortation to encourage the people to battle those who inhabited the Promised Land. 1 When thou goest out to battle against thine enemies, and seest horses, and chariots, and a people more than thou, be not afraid of them: for the LORD thy God is with thee, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. 2 And it shall be, when ye are come nigh unto the battle, that the priest shall approach and speak unto the people, 3 And shall say unto them, Hear, O Israel, ye approach this day unto battle against your enemies: let not your hearts faint, fear not, and do not tremble, neither be ye terrified because of them; 4 For the LORD your God is he that goeth with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you. 5 And the officers shall speak unto the people, saying, What man is there that hath built a new house, and hath not dedicated it? let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man dedicate it. 6 And what man is he that hath planted a vineyard, and hath not yet eaten of it? let him also go and return unto his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man eat of it. 7 And what man is there that hath betrothed a wife, and hath not taken her? let him go and return unto his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man take her. 8 And the officers shall speak further unto the people, and they shall say, What man is there that is fearful and fainthearted? let him go and return unto his house, lest his brethren's heart faint as well as his heart. 9 And it shall be, when the officers have made an end of speaking unto the people, that they shall make captains of the armies to lead the people.—Deut 20:1-9 (KJV)

Commentary

This chapter presents us with Gideon in the field, commanding the army of Israel, and routing the army of the Midianites, which was the great exploit we found in the former chapter; how he was prepared by his conversations with God and his conquest of Baal. We are here told,

I. What direction God gave to Gideon for the modeling of his army, by which it was reduced to 300 men (v. 1—8).

II. What encouragement God gave to Gideon to attack the enemy, by sending him secretly into their camp to hear a Midianite tell his dream (v. 9–15).

III. How he formed his attack upon the enemy’s camp with his 300 men, not to fight them, but to frighten them (v. 16–20).

IV. The success of this attack; it put them to flight, and gave them a total rout, the disbanded forces, and their other neighbors, then coming in to his assistance (v. 21–25). It is a story that shines very brightly in the book of the wars of the Lord.

The Lord commands Gideon to make a selection of a small number of his men to go against the Midianites. Three hundred only are selected; and into the hands of these men God promises to deliver the whole Midianitish host, and we are told by what means this was done,

1 Then Jerubbaal, who is Gideon, and all the people that were with him, rose up early, and pitched beside the well of Harod: so that the host of the Midianites were on the north side of them, by the hill of Moreh, in the valley.--Judges 7.1 (KJV) 

1 Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the troops with him got up early and camped above En Harod. Midian's camp was north of him at the hill of Moreh in the valley.--Judges 7:1(GW)

Then Jerubbaal (means "the enemy of Baal"), who is Gideon. That is the surname his father had recently given him, “Therefore on that day he called him Jerubbaal, saying, Let Baal plead against him, because he hath thrown down his altar” (Judges 6:32), (Also see [1]Judges 8:35). He is mentioned by Sanchoniathon, and quoted by Eusebius, who lived during the reign of Ithobal, king of Tyre, and consequently a little after the time of Gideon, by the name of Jerombalus, a priest of Jeuo or Jao.

and all the people that were with him, rose up early. Encouraged by the signs and miracles, by which he was assured of success; he was eager to be about his work of being a good general and leading the hosts of Israel against the Midianites, and therefore rose early in the morning as one whose heart was upon his business, and who was afraid of losing time, and got his army together, and marched to engage the enemy. Genesis 22:3 tells about another man that had a very difficult assignment; God had ordered him to kill his son and then sacrifice him on an alter, he would prepare himself. “And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him.”

Now Gideon goes out and looks at his army. He had thirty–two thousand men, and the thought in Gideon’s mind is that this is not enough. The Midianites were like grasshoppers on the hills. They were disorganized, but by sheer numbers they would have overcome the Israelites. Therefore, his men were too few, and I think Gideon was ready to blow the trumpet again. But God said to Gideon, “You have too many men. I cannot give you the victory with thirty–two thousand men because you would boast and say that you did it in your own strength, power, and might.” No flesh is going to glory in God’s presence. That is the reason God has to use weak instruments today. This is the method He continues to follow. He is going to cut down the number of the army. Fearful and trembling, would be a good description of Gideon, who must obey at night under cover of darkness and be constantly reassured by signs and fleeces; now he arrives at the well of trembling. On his behalf it should be remembered that he had never led an army and that the vast majority of his soldiers were untrained and inexperienced.

and pitched beside the well of Harod (also called the "spring of trembling"). He set up camp near a famous well so that his army might not be weakened for want of water, and at the same time gained the higher ground, which possibly might be some advantage to him, since the Midianites were beneath him in the valley. It may be that Gideon was directed to this place by the Spirit of God. Here is where they were to have a trial by water: this well, or fountain, seems to be the same as the one mentioned in [2]1 Samuel 29:1. It signifies fear and trembling, and might have gotten its name either from the fear and trembling of the 22,000 Israelites, whose hearts were distressed at the Midianites, and they were ordered to return home; or from the fear and trembling of the Midianites, who were ill-at-ease here; the former seems to be the true reason, (see Judges 7:3).

The details of the story are significant, in that Gideon and his men encamped beside the well of Harod (spring of trembling), perhaps Ain Jalud near the foot of Mount Gilboa. This well also has some other names: "spring of Harod," that is, "fear, trembling" which may refer to shaking or trembling through fear, the fountain in question may have had its name from the terror and panic with which the Midianitish host was seized with at this place. It is probably the same as the fountain in Jezreel [2](1 Samuel 29:1). It was situated not far from Gilboa, on the confines of Manasseh, and the name "Harod" was bestowed on it with evident reference to the panic which seized the majority of Gideon's troops. It is probably the same well which now bears the name Jalood. 

so that the host of the Midianites were on the north side of them; North of the famous well, in the valley, lay the camp of Midian, 135,000 strong [3](Judges 8:10), whereas the number of Israel amounted to only 32,000.

by the hill of Moreh, in the valley: The Midianites were across the valley to the north, by the hill of Moreh, some four miles away. Gideon, by virtue of his position near the “Well of Herod” held the high ground; from which he could have a view of the Midianitish army, and how the various parts of it were situated by their leaders. 

2 And the LORD 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.--Judges 7:2 (KJV)

2 The LORD said to Gideon, “You have too many men with you for me to hand Midian over to you. Israel might brag and say, ‘We saved ourselves."--Judges 7:2 (GW)

And the Lord said unto Gideon, the people that are with thee are too many. It appears, by what follows, that there were 32,000 of them (or one-sixth of the Midianitish host), which was, by comparison, a small army to engage with one of 135,000. That was the Midianites and their associates (See [3]Judges 8:10), but the people were too many, says the Lord. If he had led a force equal to or greater than the invaders, the great power by which they were defeated might have appeared to be of man and not of God. By the manner in which this whole transaction was conducted, both the Israelites and Midianites must see that the thing was of God. This would inspire the Israelites with confidence and the Midianites with fear; for it was the Lord's purpose to deliver Israel and to teach Israel a memorable lesson of dependence on Him. God must receive all the glory, so that the Israelites will be more strongly obliged to serve Him. This may help us to understand those providences, which sometimes seem to weaken the church of Christ. Its friends are too many, too mighty, and too wise, for God to work deliverance by. God is taking a course to lessen them, that he may be exalted in His own strength.

for me to give the Midianites into their hands. Who would be apt to ascribe the victory to themselves, and not to the Lord; to their number, strength, and valor, and not to the hand of the Lord:

lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, mine own hand hath saved me. Or glory over me, take the glory from me, and ascribe it to themselves, boasting that by their power and prowess they had obtained the victory.

God will not allow any creature to deprive him of his glory. When we are sure God goes before us, then we must get up from our couch and start doing something ourselves: “And let it be, when thou hearest the sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees, that then thou shalt bestir thyself: for then shall the LORD go out before thee, to smite the host of the Philistines” (2 Sa. 5:24). The sounds were not that of wind rustling the leaves, but, as all modern translations have, “the sound of marching.” The Hebrew word means the rhythmic beat of marching troops, the mixed sound of tramping feet and clinking armor. The troops David was to hear were the invisible hosts of Almighty God. As the LORD had commanded. This was the secret of David’s success. He smote the Philistines as God had promised and he knew that victory was always by God’s mighty hand. Here in the Valley of Jezreel God insures that the praise for the intended victory will be reserved wholly for him, by appointing 300 men only to be employed in this service.

1. The army consisted of 32,000 men, a small army in comparison with what the Midianites had now brought into the field; Gideon was ready to think that they were too few and it was foolish to think they could win, but God comes to him, and tells him they are too many.
2. It is true that all those who volunteered for this expedition are to be commended, but God saw fit not to make use of all that came. We often find God bringing great things to pass by a few hands, but this was the only time that he purposely made them fewer. It had not been that long ago that Deborah had blamed those who came not to the help of the Lord, and yet in the next great action many of those who come are turned away.
a) God would show by this that when he employed suitable instruments in his service he did not need them, but could do his work without them, so that he was not indebted to them for their service, but they were indebted to him for employing them.
b) He would soon put those to shame for their cowardice that had tamely submitted to the Midianites, and never made any headway against them, because of their numbers. They now saw that, if they had but made sure of the favor of God, one of them might have chased a thousand.
c) He would hereby silence and exclude boasting. This is the reason here given by him who knows the pride that is in men’s hearts: Lest Israel vaunt themselves against me. Justly were those denied the honor of the success. My own hand hath saved me is a word that must never come out of the mouth of such as shall be saved. He that glories must glory in the Lord, and all flesh must be silent before him.
The famous story of Gideon’s three hundred men follows in these verses. He is told by God that he has too many men with him in order to bring about the kind of victory God intends. Therefore, the total number will have to be cut down

3 Now therefore go to, proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, Whosoever is fearful and afraid, let him return and depart early from mount Gilead. And there returned of the people twenty and two thousand; and there remained ten thousand.--Judges 7:3 (KJV)

3 Announce to the troops, ‘Whoever is scared or frightened should leave Mount Gilead and go back home.'” So 22,000 men went back home, and 10,000 were left.--Judges 7:3 (GW)

Now therefore go to, proclaim in the ears of the people. Such a proclamation as follows, was, according to the established law of God, to be made when Israel went out to battle against their enemies, [4](Deuteronomy 20:8); though it looks as if Gideon would not have made such a proclamation, had he not been directed to do it by the Lord, his army being so small in comparison to the enemy; and perhaps Gideon might understand that law to have respect only to war made for the enlargement of their country, and not for defense against invaders:

saying, whosoever is fearful and afraid; to, engage in battle, because of the number of the enemy. I have often wondered why Gideon did not go home. When he said, “All of you who are fearful and afraid,” he could have said, “Follow me, because I am going home, I am more afraid than anyone here.” He had to stay, however. God had commissioned him.

Whosoever is fearful and afraid, let him returnfrom Mount Gilead—Gideon was certainly not at Mount Gilead at this time, but rather near Mount Gilboa. Gilead was on the other side of Jordan. Calmet thinks there must either have been two Gileads, which does not appear to be the case from the Scriptures, or that here the Hebrew text is corrupted, and that for Gilead we should read Gilboa. This reading, though adopted by Houbigant, is not tolerated by any Bible scholar or by any of the versions. Dr. Hales attempts to reconcile the whole thing, by the supposition that there were in Gideon's army many of the eastern Manassites, who came from Mount Gilead; and that these were probably more afraid of their neighbors, the Midianites, than the western tribes were; and therefore he proposes to read the text thus: Whosoever from Mount Gilead is fearful and afraid, let him return (home) and depart early. So there returned (home) twenty-two thousand of the people. Perhaps this is on the whole the best method of solving this difficulty.

Let him return, and depart early from Mount Gilead; where it seems they were now camped. It was the same as the hill of Moreh, or it was adjoining it; a mountain in the tribe of Manasseh, named for its likeness to Mount Gilead which was on the other side of the Jordan River; or rather it was meant as a memorial to Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, from whom the half tribe sprung, which was on this side, as well as that on the other side. And perhaps this name might have been given to the mount, to show that they were of the same tribe, though separated by the Jordan River: now, the fearful and faint hearted had been given permission to leave by this proclamation.

Since both armies were so close together, it might reasonably be expected that the battle would take place on the next day, so they are directed to leave in the morning, and as early as they could. By leaving early they might not be seen, and be filled with shame themselves, and discourage others. Though some think that what is meant here is Mount Gilead, on the other side of the Jordan, from where, it is supposed, many came to join with Gideon, [5](Judges 6:35) and now those that are fearful are ordered to return there. Kimchi thinks the word we render "depart early" has significance and the gist of it is the general idea of surrounding, like a crown surrounds (or encompasses) the kings head [6](Isaiah 28:5), and so the essence of Gideon’s directive is that they were ordered to go round about Mount Gilead, and return home. But, on the other hand, it may signify their hasty departure and speedy flight, like that of a bird, [7](Psalms 11:1). 22,000 people returned and there remained 10,000; originally there were 32,000 that came and joined Gideon of their own accord, having the full intention and resolution to stand by him and fight the enemy, yet when they saw what a large army opposed them, and how small Gideon’s army was, and that they, no doubt, were well armed and disciplined, and encouraged by a long string of success; whereas the Israelites were downhearted from a long servitude, and many of them unarmed, lost the courage, and they were glad to take advantage of the proclamation. A state of slavery debases the mind of man, and renders it incapable of being influenced by the pure principles of patriotism or religion and so I wonder if men like this would fight for either God or their oppressed country! In behalf of the army of Gideon we may say, if the best armies in Europe, during WW2, had heard the same proclamation from their generals as the Israelites had, at least an equal proportion would return home.

And there returned of the people twenty and two thousand; and there remained ten thousand. God used two ways to reduce their numbers:—the first is what we have been discussing; he ordered all that were timid and faint-hearted to go home. There was a law for making such an edict as this [4](Deu. 20:8). But perhaps Gideon thought that that law concerned only those wars which were undertaken for the purpose of enlarging of their country, not, as was the situation here; for their defense against an invader; therefore Gideon would not have made this announcement if God, who knew how his forces would be diminished, had not commanded him to say it. Cowards would be just as likely as any, after the victory, to take the honor for the victory from God, and therefore God would not do them the honor of including them in it.

One would have thought there would not be a single Israelite that could be found that against such an enemy as the Midianites, and under such a leader as Gideon, would own up to being afraid; yet more than two out of three Israelites took advantage of this proclamation, and walked away, when they saw the strength of the enemy and their own weakness, and they did not consider the assurances of the divine presence which their general had received from the Lord, and delivered to them. Some think the oppression they had been under for so long had broken their spirits, while others thought that consciousness of their own guilt had deprived them of their courage. Sin stared them in the face, and therefore they dared not look death in the face. Note, Fearful faint-hearted people are not fit to be employed for God; and, among those that are enlisted under the banner of Christ, there are more of this type than we think there are.

This process of elimination may seem strange, until one understands what was actually happening. First, he asked whosoever is fearful and afraid to return home; and twenty-two thousand left, leaving only ten thousand men. Anyone who has ever been in battle will honestly admit that he was afraid. Therefore, it would not be improper to suggest that those who went home were the wisest and the most honest of the entire group.

4 And the LORD 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 shall go with thee, the same shall go with thee; and of whomsoever I say unto thee, This shall not go with thee, the same shall not go.-Judges 7:4(KJV)

4 The LORD said to Gideon, “There are still too many men. Bring them down to the water, and I will test them for you there. If I say to you, ‘This one will go with you,' he must go with you. And if I say to you, ‘This one won't go with you,' he must not go.”--Judges 7:4(GW)

And the Lord said to Gideon, the people are yet too many. Though they were the same number that Barak had with him, when he attacked Sisera's army and got the victory, which was credited to God, whose hand was clearly seen in it. Now Gideon has only ten thousand men, but since those that remained might be supposed to be able men of valor, yet they were too many for God to have that glory he intended to display in this victory. God said to Gideon, “There are still too many men.” God had a plan; two reductions were ordered, the last by the application of a test which was made known to Gideon alone.

bring them down unto the water; from the hill on which they were, to a brook that ran at the bottom of the hill, perhaps it was a stream from the fountain or well of Harod, (see verse 1 ) where God would try them.

and I will try them for thee there, or "purge them", as silver is purged from dross, so the word signifies, as Kimchi observes, dividing the righteous from the wicked.

and it shall be, that of whom I say unto thee, this shall go with thee,
the same shall go with thee; and of whomsoever I say unto thee, this

shall not go with thee, the same shall not go. This army had too many men, according to God; therefore, some would be culled out and the criteria for selection to the army that Gideon would lead into battle would be set by the Lord Himself. That criterion is spelled out in the next verse to be the different manner used by his men to drink water. Gideon did not know who should go with him, and who should not, and he didn’t know that the trial consisted of whether they bowed down to drink, or only lapped the water; this was determined by the Lord, as follows. But this trial was only for the sake of Gideon, to direct him to whom he should take with him, and whom he should not.                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Gideon himself, it is likely, thought they were too few, though they were as many as Barak had with him when he encountered Sisera [8](ch. 4:14); and, had he not forced his way through the discouragement by holding to his faith, he himself would have started back home. But God said, they are too many, and, even after being reduced to a third of their original number, they are still too many, which may help us to understand those providences (the guardianship and control exercised by God) which sometimes seem to weaken the church and its interests: its friends are too many, too mighty, too wise, for God to work deliverance through them: Here God is taking action to lessen them, so that He may be exalted in his own strength.

5 So he brought down the people unto the water: and the LORD 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.--Judges 7:1-8 (KJV)

5 So Gideon took the men down to the water. The LORD said to him, “Separate those who lap water with their tongues like dogs from those who kneel down to drink.”
          Judges 7:1-8 (GW)

So he brought them down to the water; his whole army of 10,000 men. Still, Gideon must have been surprised, when, he found himself left with only 10,000 men. But even these were too many. To "purify them" (as by refining—for such is the meaning of the word), Gideon was now ordered to bring them down to the spring Harod and the stream that ran from it, where those who were to go to battle would be separated from the rest. He or some appointed by him, must observe how they drank. We must suppose they were all thirsty, and were of a mind to drink; it is likely he told them they must prepare for the battle immediately, and therefore must refresh themselves accordingly, not expecting, after this, to drink anything else but the blood of their enemies.

When the nomadic people in Asia are on a journey and traveling fast, come to water, they do not carefully stoop down on their knees, but only bend forward as much as is necessary to bring their hands in contact with the stream, and rapidity throw it up to their mouth and gulp down water with very little falling back into the stream. The Israelites, it seems, were acquainted with the practice; and those who adopted it on this occasion were selected as fit for a work that required immediate action. The rest were dismissed according to the divine direction.

and the Lord said unto Gideon, everyone that lappeth of the water with his tongue, as a dog lappeth, him shall thou set by himself; likewise every one that boweth down upon his knees to drink. This has led some, particularly a theologian by the name of Grotius, to think of the Egyptian dogs; of whom Aelianus relates, that they do not rush to their water bowl to drink freely, and drink until they are satisfied, because they are afraid of the crocodiles in the river; but run about the bank instead, and by stealth snatch a little here and a little there, and so they eventually satisfy themselves: but the allusion here is to dogs in general, whose usual way to drink is to lick and lap water with their tongues.

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.--Judges 7:6 (KJV)

6 Three hundred men lapped water with their hands to their mouths. All the rest of the men knelt down to drink water.--Judges 7:6 (GW)

And the number of them that lapped , putting their hand to their mouth; that is, that took up water in the hollow of their hands, which they lifted up to their mouths, and so lapped it, as the Egyptians about the Nile are said to do, who drank not out of pots and cups, but used their hands to drink with.
From this account it appears that there are several theories that have been put forward, for why some drank like a dog while a small number lapped water from cupped hands. Only one of the following theories can be the right one:
1. While most Christian commentators have not followed the old Jewish viewpoint, it does have much to commend itself and certainly brings out the theme of irony that runs throughout the book. Since the enemy was encamped more than four miles away, it hardly seems necessary that the men that lapped needed to be looking about in order to be prepared for battle at any moment. Rather, it seems more likely that these were the men who were afraid of fear itself. When given the opportunity to go home, they were too afraid to leave! When given an opportunity for a refreshing drink, they lapped it up in fear. Most commentators assume that those who lapped were those who drank water while crouching or standing, lapping it from their cupped hands and readily watching for the enemy. You probably watched your pet or someone else’s drink; a dog does not and cannot take water that way; and this lapping was while standing upright, whereas dogs will generally bow themselves, and lap as much water as will satisfy their thirst; and by this these men were distinguished from those that bowed on their knees to drink; for had they not taken up water in their hands, they must have bowed down on their knees to have lapped, as well as those did, to sup it, or take in a large mouth full of it; now all those that lapped were to be set apart by themselves; but whether they were to go with Gideon or not, he did not know, yet: likewise everyone that boweth down on his knee to drink; were to be set by themselves also, but which of those were to go with him is still a secret, which only God knows. 
2. Others, it may be, would not make such a formal business of it, but as a dog laps with his tongue, a lap and away, so they would hastily get down on hands and knees, suck up a little water in their mouths, and be gone.
3. It is not reported here, so it probably did not happen; but it was the custom of some nations, such as the Ichthyophagy, or fish eaters, to cast themselves with their face to the ground, and drink after the manner of oxen.
4. Jewish tradition assigns another and deeper meaning to it. It declares that the practice of kneeling was characteristic of the service of Baal, and hence that kneeling down to drink when exhausted betrayed the habit of idolaters. Thus the three hundred would represent those in the host of Israel—"all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal" (1 Kings 19:18). They who had been selected now "took victuals from the people in their hands, and the trumpets"—the rest were sent away

While the correct interpretation may never be totally settled, the details and context of the story give it great credibility.

were three hundred men; only 300 out of 10,000: but all the rest (9,700) of the people bowed down upon their knees to drink water.

but all the rest of the people bowed down upon their knees to drink water. Now some, and no doubt the most, would kneel down on their knees to drink, and put their mouths in the water as horses do, so they might get a mouthful.

7 And the LORD 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.--Judges 7:7 (GJV)

7 Then the LORD said to Gideon, “With the 300 men who lapped water I will save you and hand Midian over to you. All the other men should go home.”--Judges 7:1-8 (GW)

And the Lord said unto Gideon, by the three hundred men that lapped I will save and deliver the Midianites into thine hand. Only three hundred were now left, and with these God declared He would save, and deliver the Midianites into Gideon's hand. It is hard to say what character this action of the three hundred is expressive of, whether of weakness or of courage. Some think that those who drank upon their knees were faint and weary, and men of overindulgence, and pampered themselves, and were unfit for war, while those that only lapped a little water to refresh themselves appeared to be eager, and ready to engage in a fight; and so Ben Gersom considers those that bowed to be slothful persons, and those that lapped, courageous and mighty men, and so they were ordered to go along with Gideon; and this agrees with the method used first, to dismiss the fearful, and only take those that were men of courage. All who lapped the water with the tongue out of their hands (out of the hollow hand), as a dog laps water, were to go with Gideon, and the rest to return, each to his own place.

It is almost impossible to conceive of a more severe trial than the command to attack the overwhelming forces of the enemy with such a handful of followers. But Gideon's faith in the divine assurance of victory was steadfast, and it is for this he is so highly commended [9](Hebrews 11:32). Overconfidence was another enemy faced by the Midianites, but I can’t imagine that the 300 Israelites and Gideon were in the least bit overconfident, but perhaps they should have been (See [10]Deut 20.1-9; esp. vv. 4–8) . God cut down the ranks from 10,000 to 300 so that the “army” had to trust completely in God. When God strips away your resources, it is not to impoverish your life but to enrich your faith.

There is no conclusive evidence that demonstrates something special or better about those warriors who knelt down and scooped up the water, while remaining alert. Rather, the limit placed upon the troops reaffirmed that the battle was God’s. God’s power, not human power, would destroy the enemies of His people. The ability of Gideon’s soldiers had no bearing on the victory anyway, since the enemy soldiers killed themselves and fled without engaging Gideon’s army at all. I am of the opinion that those that drank upon their knees were the men of spirit and courage, and those [13]that lapped, drank hastily, and trembled because they feared the enemy, were those ordered to go with Gideon, and not the others: and this was done to display the glory of God to save Israel, and deliver them from the Midianites by a handful of such poor downhearted creatures. Though it seems that all the 10,000 men were men of courage; and this method was taken not to distinguish those that were the most courageous from those that were the least, but only to reduce the number that should be engaged in this battle. Since it was summer time, it may reasonable to suppose that the greater part of the army was very thirsty, and would kneel down to take a large drink of water, when those that were not so thirsty would be fewer in number, and so they would be taken.

Like Joshua, Gideon worshiped God before going to battle [11](Josh. 5:13–15), for he knew the source of his power. God used weak weapons to defeat a great host because Gideon and his men were living by faith: “For nothing restrains the LORD from saving by many or by few” (1 Sam. 14:6).

and let all the other people go every man to his place. All the rest, who bowed on their knees to drink, which were 9,700, were ordered to go home; though perhaps before they got home, they heard about the victory, and they returned and joined in the pursuit, [12](Judges 7:23). It was a great trial to the faith and courage of Gideon, when God ordered him to let all the rest of the people, except for these 300, go every man to his place, that is, go where they pleased, away from his command; strangely Gideon’s army was purged, and reduced, instead of being built up, as one would think the case would be in preparation for such a great battle; it both needed to be and deserved to be.

Article #7.2: Divine Election And Man’s Free Will
Do you know what we have here? It is one of the finest lessons concerning divine election and man’s free will. This is the way they work together. God said to Gideon, “I am going to choose the men that I want to go with you, but the way I will do it is to let them make the choice. Bring them down to the water, and the ones, who lap water like a dog, just going through and throwing it into their mouths, are the ones I have chosen. You can put aside those men who get down on all fours and take their time drinking. I don’t want them.”
Had we been there (ours is a great day for interviewing the man on the street), we could have had interviews with the men in Gideon’s army. For example, let us take the man that is down on all fours. We would go up to him and say, “Brother, why did you get down on all fours?” “Well,” he would reply, “I was just wondering why I didn’t go home with the other crowd. I have been thinking this thing over and I have a wife and family, and I just do not think I ought to be here. I feel like I should have gone home. I have no heart for this.” He made his choice, but God also made His choice. That is divine election and human free will. You see, God elects, but He lets you be the one to make the choice. Then we go to the man that lapped water like a dog, and went to the other side of the stream. “Why did you lap water like that?” we ask him. He says, “Where are the Midianites?” “Wait just a minute,” we reply. “Why did you do that?” He replies, “Because I am with Gideon one hundred percent!” May I say to you that these three hundred men had a heart for battle. If you had said to any one of these three hundred men, “Say, did you know that God has elected you?” he would have replied, “I don’t know what you are talking about. The thing is that I want to go after these Midianites!”
You can argue about divine election and free will all you want to, but it works. You cannot make it work out by arguing, but it sure works out in life, friend. Each one of the ten thousand men in Gideon’s army exercised his free will. God did not interfere with one of them as far as their free wills were concerned. Today God, through His Son Jesus Christ, offers you the free gift of salvation. It is a legitimate offer. It is a sincere offer from God Himself. He says, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37). Now don’t tell me that you can argue about election right now. You cannot. You can come to God if you want to come. If you don’t come, I have news for you—you were not elected. If you do come, I have good news for you—you were elected. That is the way God moves.
Now these three hundred men often have been misunderstood. As a student, I went down to a little church in Georgia. When I got there, a dear little lady wearing a sunbonnet said to me, “Mr. McGee, we have here just a little Gideon’s band.” They didn’t have a Gideon’s band! They had the most discouraged, lazy folk I have ever seen in my life. That is not Gideon’s band. Gideon’s band was a group of dedicated men, willing to die to deliver Israel, men who had their hearts and souls in this matter. May I say to you that these men lapped up water like a dog because they were after the Midianites and not after water. They will drink after the battle is over.
I once watched a football game, and then I listened to the interview of the quarterback of the Arkansas team. Even after the game, he was so excited and so emotional that he took no credit for himself. He gave his team the credit for winning. He said, “We were determined to win.” That is Gideon’s band, friend, and that is the thing that is needed today in the church, if you please. (McGee, Thru The Bible Vol.10 History of Israel (Joshus/Judges))


8 So the people took victuals in their hand, and their trumpets: and he sent all the rest of Israel every man unto his tent, and retained those three hundred men: and the host of Midian was beneath him in the valley.-- Judges 7:8 (KJV)

8 So Gideon sent the other men of Israel home, but the 300 men who stayed kept all the supplies and rams' horns. The camp of Midian was below him in the valley.
          Judges 7:8 (GW)

So the people took victuals (food) in their hands and their trumpets; that is, the three hundred took from the victuals of those that departed, as much as was necessary for them, and also their trumpets. No doubt Gideon directed them to do it, because God’s plan required that every man have a trumpet. And, it appears that these three hundred that were ordered to stay and go with Gideon were unarmed men, at least they could not carry any arms in their hands; for in one hand they carried their victuals, and in the other hand their trumpets, so that the salvation produced by them would most clearly appear to be of the Lord:

and he sent all the rest of Israel every man unto his tent; not to his tent in the army, but to his own house, in the tribe and city to which he belonged: and he retained these three hundred men; those that lapped water, to engage with the Midianites and their associates.

The 9,700 did not go to their homes, but instead, they stayed close by, just in case they were needed. During the battle they joined the 300 in the route of the Mideanites; chasing and killing all but 15,000.

and the host of Midian was beneath him in the valley; in the valley of Jezreel; for it seems as if Gideon, after he had brought down his men to the water to be tried, went up to the hill again with his three hundred men only, to wait the divine orders, when he should attack the army of Midian below him.
Special attention should be given to the relative position of the parties because that is of the greatest importance to an understanding of what follows.

Now, let us see how this little despicable regiment, on which the stress and anxiety over the coming action must lie, was equipped for battle. If these 300 men were accompanied by servants and attendants, and armed with swords and spears, we would have thought better of them; that they were more likely to accomplish something. But, instead of making them more functional by their equipment, they are made less effective. For:

1. Every soldier becomes a butler: They took victuals in their hands, left their bag and baggage behind, and every man burdened himself with his own foodstuffs, which was a trial of their faith, whether they could trust God when they had no more provisions with them than they could carry, and a trial of their diligence, whether they would carry as much as they would need—it depended on whether the fight would be a long one or victory would be swift. This was indeed living from hand to mouth.
2. Every soldier turns trumpeter. The regiments that were sent home left their trumpets behind them for the use of these 300 men, who were furnished with these instead of weapons of war, as if they had been going to a game rather than to a battle. Actually, each one of the 300 had a torch, a trumpet, and a jar—strange weapons indeed for fighting a war.

THUS, THE SCENE IS SET FOR THE FAMOUS INCIDENT THAT FOLLOWS.

More to think about!

The words of Winston Churchill concerning the RAF in World War II certainly apply to Gideon’s 300: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed to so few, by so many.”

Victories won because of faith bring glory to God, because nobody can explain how they happened.

Pride after the battle robs God of glory and fear during the battle robs God’s soldiers of courage and power.

We never know when God is testing us in some ordinary experience in life.

Moses assured the Jews that if they would obey the Lord, one soldier could chase a thousand and two would “put ten thousand to flight” (Deut. 32.30). All Gideon needed was 27 soldiers to defeat the whole Midianite army of 135,000 men (Jg. 8.10)3, but God gave him 300.

God gains the glory by making the outcome conspicuously His act and, thus, no sinful pride is cultivated.  

 

    __________________________Special Notes____________________________  

[1](Jg. 8.35) “Neither shewed they kindness to the house of Jerubbaal, namely, Gideon, according to all the goodness which he had shewed unto Israel.”

[2](1 Sam. 29.1; GW) “The Philistines assembled their whole army at Aphek, and Israel camped at the spring in Jezreel.” To be near a fountain, or copious spring of water, was a point of great importance to an army in countries such as these, where water was so very scarce. It is supposed, as William of Tyre says, that it was at this same fountain that Saladin pitched his camp, while Baldwin, king of Jerusalem, pitched his by another fountain between Nazareth and Sephoris; each being anxious to secure that without which it was impossible for their armies to subsist—Adam Clarke's Commentary

[3](Judges 8:10) “Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor, and their hosts with them, about fifteen thousand men, all that were left of all the hosts of the children of the east: for there fell an hundred and twenty thousand men that drew sword.” Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of the Midianites had escaped to Karkor (site unknown) with about fifteen thousand men. This was all that was left of the invasion force since the text indicates that one hundred twenty thousand of them were slain in the initial skirmish. They apparently assumed they were in safety at this unknown desert hideout.

[4](Deuteronomy 20:8) “And the officers shall speak further unto the people, and they shall say, What man is there that is fearful and fainthearted? let him go and return unto his house, lest his brethren’s heart faint as well as his heart.” There might be a man who very frankly says, “I am a coward. I am afraid to fight, and I don’t want to fight.” So here are four good reasons for a man not to go to war. I could not have used the first three reasons, but that last one I could have used. If a man was afraid, faint–hearted, fearful, he was not to go. I believe I would have turned and gone home.

This law was applied to Gideon’s army. You may remember that Gideon started out with quite an army—32,000 men who rallied to him to free their nation from the oppression of the Midianites who had actually impoverished them. Then the Lord told him he had too many soldiers, and that whoever was fearful and afraid could go home! When that word went out, 22,000 men picked up their gear and went home! Then God told Gideon that he still had too many men. How were they separated? They came to a stream and some of the men got down on all fours to drink. There were others who lapped up the water like a dog and were all set to go. They were eager to get to the enemy and get the job done. They wanted to free and save their nation. So they were the ones who went to battle, and the others were sent home.

In America we have had problems with our young men dodging the draft and burning their draft cards. I have great sympathy with many of these young men, but I wish instead of trying to blame the government and blame everybody else, they would just come out and say they are afraid to go fight. That is a good reason. That would have kept me out of the battle; I can assure you of that. I don’t mind admitting I’m a coward. For example, because I had to work my way through high school and college, and support my mother, I could never have proven that I was a good enough football player to earn a scholarship. But I played a little and enjoyed it. I remember how I felt just before that kickoff. When the whistle was blown—I played the backfield—standing way back there, my knees would buckle. There were times when I’d actually go down on one knee, I was so scared. But the minute I got the ball and I was hit, from then on I was all right. But I would never have made it in combat on the battlefield, I can assure you!

God says here that He wants His people to know two things before they go to war. First of all, they must be on His side. They must be fighting for what is right and know that God is with them. Secondly, they must be enthusiastic about it. There is a time when one should fight for his country, and there is a place for the flag and for patriotism. The way things are carried out by our politicians actually encourages this motley mob who burn their draft cards. But the way God does it is very wise. He had a marvelous arrangement for His people, even in time of war.—J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible Vol. 9 (Deuteronomy)

[5](Judges 6:35) “And he sent messengers throughout all Manasseh; who also was gathered after him: and he sent messengers unto Asher, and unto Zebulun, and unto Naphtali; and they came up to meet them.”

[6](Isaiah 28:5) “In that day shall the LORD of hosts be for a crown of glory, and for a diadem of beauty, unto the residue of his people” To those who will acknowledge the rulership of Jehovah, there will be the opportunity for God’s blessing.

[7](Psalms 11:1) “In the LORD put I my trust: how say ye to my soul, Flee as a bird to your mountain?” In a time of distress and persecution, David had put his trust in the right place. His friends had given him advice that no one who has put his trust in the Lord could follow. Flee as a bird to your mountain is probably a proverbial expression for seeking shelter and safety. David cannot run away from his problems; he can but trust in the Lord.

[8](Jg. 4.14) “And Deborah said unto Barak, Up; for this is the day in which the LORD hath delivered Sisera into thine hand: is not the LORD gone out before thee? So Barak went down from mount Tabor, and ten thousand men after him.” Is not the LORD gone out before thee? is Deborah’s reminder of God’s promise of victory, it is assumed by the author that the reader understands what happened; but if you have forgotten or never read about this battle, you may be interested in knowing that when the two armies engaged in battle, they were caught in a flash flood brought about by a severe rainstorm. The AV translation discomfited does not fully convey the intensity of the Hebrew verb hamam (routed or destroyed). The 10,000 Israelites, who were lightly armed and highly mobile, engaged in the combat with the cavalry and chariots of Sisera which were caught in the sudden flooding of the swollen river to such a degree that the chariots became mired in the mud, and the drivers were forced to flee on foot. The normally dry wadi was now filled with water, immobilizing the chariots, and giving the advantage to the ground troops.

[9](Hebrews 11:32) “Do I need to give more examples? I do not have time to tell you about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets.”

[10](Deut. 20:1–9) “When thou goest out to battle against thine enemies, and seest horses, and chariots, and a people more than thou, be not afraid of them: for the LORD thy God is with thee, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. 2 And it shall be, when ye are come nigh unto the battle, that the priest shall approach and speak unto the people, 3 And shall say unto them, Hear, O Israel, ye approach this day unto battle against your enemies: let not your hearts faint, fear not, and do not tremble, neither be ye terrified because of them; 4 For the LORD your God is he that goeth with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you. 5 And the officers shall speak unto the people, saying, What man is there that hath built a new house, and hath not dedicated it? let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man dedicate it. 6 And what man is he that hath planted a vineyard, and hath not yet eaten of it? let him also go and return unto his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man eat of it. 7 And what man is there that hath betrothed a wife, and hath not taken her? let him go and return unto his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man take her. 8 And the officers shall speak further unto the people, and they shall say, What man is there that is fearful and fainthearted? let him go and return unto his house, lest his brethren’s heart faint as well as his heart. 9 And it shall be, when the officers have made an end of speaking unto the people, that they shall make captains of the armies to lead  the people.” 

[11](Josh. 5:13–15) “And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold, there stood a man over against him with his sword drawn in his hand: and Joshua went unto him, and said unto him, Art thou for us, or for our adversaries? 14 And he said, Nay; but as captain of the host of the LORD am I now come. And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and did worship, and said unto him, What saith my lord unto his servant? 15 And the captain of the LORD’S host said unto Joshua, Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy. And Joshua did so.”

[12](Jg. 7.23) “Then men of Israel from Naphtali, Asher, and all of Manasseh were called out to chase the Midianites.” The Israelites subsequently pursued after the Midianites and called upon the men of Ephraim to help them. They cut off the escape routes leading toward the Jordan River at Beth-barah, near The Wadi Fara’a. The Israelite army captured Oreb (raven) and Zeeb (wolf) and brought their heads as trophies of victory back to Gideon on the other side of the Jordan (i.e., Transjordan). Bruce notes that these events were actual history, not merely etiological (etiological - of or relating to the philosophical study of causation) explanations, since they are also recounted in Isaiah 9:4; 10:26.

[13]That lapped - Taking up a little water in the palm of their hands.

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