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Verses 1-8

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

Judges 7:1-8

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


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

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


Judges 7:1. And they encamped near En Harod. The great probability that Ophrah is to be sought somewhere to the northwest of Jezreel (the modern Zerîn), has already been indicated above. The battle also must be located in the same region, as appears from the course of the flight, related farther on. The camp of Midian was in the valley, to the north of a hill. Now, since we are told that Gideon’s camp was on a hill (Judges 7:4), below which, and north of another, Midian was encamped, it is evident that Gideon occupied a position north of Midian, and had that part of the plain of Jezreel in which the enemy lay, below him, towards the south. The height near which the hostile army was posted, is called the Hill Moreh. Moreh (מוֹרֶה, from יָרָה), signifies indicator, pointer, overseer and teacher. The mountain must have commanded a free view of the valley. This applies exactly to the Tell el Mutsellim, described by Robinson (Bibl. Res. iii. 117). He says: “The prospect from the Tell is a noble one, embracing the whole of the glorious plain, than which there is not a richer upon earth. It was now extensively covered with fields of grain; with many tracts of grass, like meadows; … Zerîn (Jezreel) was distinctly in view, bearing S. 74° E.” To this must be added that the Arabic Mutsellim has essentially the same meaning as Moreh, namely, overseer, district-governor, etc. The peculiar position of the Tell has probably given it the same kind and degree of importance in all ages. A little north, of Tell Mutsellim, Robinson’s map has a Tell Kîreh, which may mark the position of Gideon; for that must have been very near and not high, since Gideon could descend from it and hurry back in a brief space of the same night. It may be suggested, at least, that Kîreh has some similarity of sound with Charod (Harod).3

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

Judges 7:3. Whosoever is fearful and afraid, let him turn back and depart from Mount Gilead.4 The narrative is evidently very condensed; for it connects the result of the proclamation immediately with God’s command to Gideon to make it, without mentioning its execution by him. By reason of this brevity, sundry obscurities arise, both here and farther on, which it is difficult to clear up. The words וְיִעְפֹּר מֵהַר הַגִּלְעָד, “and turn away from Mount Gilead,” have long given offense, and occasioned various unnecessary conjectures. יִצְפֹּר, it is true, occurs only in this passage; but it is manifestly cognate with צְפִירָה, circle, crown. Hence, that the verb means to turn away or about, is certain, especially as the Greek σφαῖρα, ball, sphere, must belong to the same root.5 Gideon, in bidding the timorous depart, after the milder יָשֹׁב, uses the somewhat stronger יִצְפֹּר: “let the fearful take himself off!”6

But what is meant by turning from “Mount Gilead?”7 For Gilead is beyond the Jordan (Judges 5:17). It has therefore been proposed to read גִּלְבֹּעַ, Gilboa, instead of גִּלְעָד, Gilead, which would be a very unfortunate substitution. For, in the first place, the battle did not occur at Mount Gilboa; and in the next place, by this reading the peculiar feature of the sentence would be lost. To be sure, Gilead does not here mean the country of that name east of the Jordan. Indeed, it does not seem to indicate a country at all, but rather the character of the militant tribe. Gideon belongs to the tribe of Manasseh. From Manasseh likewise descended Gilead, a son of Machir (Numbers 26:29); and the sons of Machir took possession of Gilead (Numbers 32:40). Nevertheless, the Song of Deborah distinguishes between Machir and Gilead. The name Machir there represents the peaceable character of the tribe: Gilead stands for its military spirit. Joshua 17:1 affirms expressly that Gilead was a “man of war.” From Gilead heroes like Jephthah descend. Jehu also is reckoned to it.8 The valor of Jabesh Gilead is well known. In a bad sense, Hosea (Judges 6:8) speaks of Gilead as the home of wild and savage men. Here, therefore, Gilead stands in very significant contrast with חָרֵד: “let him,” cries the hero, “who is cowardly and fearful depart from the mountain of Gilead, who (as Jephthah said) takes his life in his hand, unterrified before the foe.”9 For the rest, however, the name Gilead was not confined to the east-Jordanic country. This appears from Judges 12:4, where we read that the Ephraimites called the Gileadites fugitives of Ephraim, “for Gilead was between Ephraim and Manasseh.” Now, Ephraim’s territorial possessions were all west of the Jordan. From this, therefore, and from the fact that the western half tribe of Manasseh and the tribe of Ephraim were partly interlocated (cf. Joshua 17:8-10), it is evident that the names of the eastern Gilead were also in vogue on this side the Jordan. He who would be with Gilead, must be no “חָרֵד” (trembler): out of 32,000 men, 22,000 perceive this, and retire.

That numbers do not decide in battle, is a fact abundantly established by the history of ancient nations; nor has modern warfare, though it deals in the life and blood of the masses, brought discredit upon it. It is a fine remark which Tacitus (Annal. xiv. 36, 3) puts into the mouth of Suetonius: Etiam in multis legionibus, paucos esse qui prœlia profligarent—“even with many legions, it is always the few who win the battle.” The instance adduced by Serarius from Livy (xxix. 1), has no proper relation to that before us. It would be more suitable to instance Leonidas, if it be true, as Herodotus (vii. 220) intimates, that at the battle of Thermopylæ he dismissed his confederates because he knew them to be deficient in bravery; in relation to which, however, Plutarch’s vehement criticism is to be considered (cf. Kaltwasser, in Plut. Moral. Abhandl., vi. 732). Noteworthy is the imitation of Gideon’s history in a North-German legend (Müllenhoff, Sagen, etc. p. 426). In that as in many other legends, magic takes the place of God.

Judges 7:4. Bring them down unto the water, and I will try them for thee there. There is no lack of water in this region. Ponds, wells, and bodies of standing water, are described by Robinson (Bibl. Res. iii. 115, 116). Beside these, Gideon had the Kishon behind him, which in the rainy season is full of water.

Judges 7:5-7. Every one that lappeth of the water. The meaning of this test, the second which Gideon was to apply, is obscured by the brevity of the narrative. The question is, What characteristic did it show in the 300 men, that they did not drink water kneeling, but lapped it with their tongues, like dogs. Bertheau has followed the view of Josephus (Ant. v. 6, 3), which makes those who drink after the manner of dogs to be the faint-hearted. According to this view, the victory is the more wonderful, because it was gained by the timid and fearful. But this explanation does not accord with the traditional exegesis of the Jews, as handed down by others. Moreover, it contradicts the spirit of the whole narrative. When Gideon was chosen, it was for the very reason that he was a “valiant hero” (Judges 6:12). All those who were deficient in courage were sent home by the proclamation (Judges 7:3). If faint-heartedness were demanded, the brave should have been dismissed. Finally, God saves by few, indeed, if they trust in Him, but not by cravens. Cowardice is a negative quality, unable even to trust. To do wonders with cowards, is a contradiction in adjecto; for if they fight, they are no longer cowards. Cowardice is a condition of soul which cannot become the medium of divine deeds; for even the valiant few, when they attack the many and conquer, are strong only because of their divine confidence. Besides, it is plainly implied that all those who now went with Gideon, were resolute for war. The Jewish interpretation, communicated by Raschi, is evidently far more profound. Gideon, it says, can ascertain the religious antecedents of his men from the way in which they prepare to drink. Idolaters were accustomed to pray kneeling before their idols. On this account, kneeling, even as a mere bodily posture, had become unpopular and ominous in Israel, and was avoided as much as possible. Hence, he who in order to drink throws himself on his knees, shows thereby, in a perfectly free and natural manner, that this posture is nothing unusual to him; whereas those who have never been accustomed to kneel, feel no need of doing it now, and as naturally refrain from it. It would have been difficult for Gideon to have ascertained, in any other way, what had been the attitude of his men towards idolatry. While quenching their eager thirst, all deliberation being forgotten, they freely and unrestrainedly indicate to what posture they were habituated. It is a principle pervading the legendary lore of all nations, that who and what a person is, can only be ascertained by observing him when under no constraint of any kind.10 The queen of a Northern legend exchanges dresses with her maid; but she who is not the queen, is recognized by her drinking (cf. Simrock, Quellen des Shaksp. iii. 171). That which is here in Scripture accepted with reference to religious life and its recognition, popular literature applies to the keen discriminating observance of social life.—This view of the mark afforded by the act of kneeling, is not opposed by the fact that in the temple the worshipper bowed himself before God. It is announced to Elijah (1 Kings 19:18), that only 7,000 shall be left: “All the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.” To bow the knee is an honor due to God alone. Hence, Mordecai refuses to kneel to a man (Esther 3:5). Hence, God proclaims by the prophet (Isaiah 45:23): “Unto me every knee shall bow.” The three hundred—this is what God makes Gideon to know—have never kneeled before Baal; they are clean men; and with clean vessels, men, and animals, God is accustomed to do wonderful things. Midian’s idolatrous people shall be smitten only by such as have always been free from their idols.

However satisfactory and in harmony with the Biblical spirit this explanation may be as it stands, let something nevertheless be added to it. Verse 5 says: יָלקֹ הַכֶּלֶב תַּצִּינ אוֹתוֹ לְבָד כֹּל אֲשֶׁר־יָלקֹ בִּלְשׁוֹנוֹ מִו־הַמַּים כַּאֲשֶׁרIn verse 6 the phraseology changes; it speaks of those who הַמְלַקְקִים בְּיָדָם אֶל־פִּיהֶם. Now, as they would naturally use the hollow hand to take up the water and carry it to the mouth, thus making it answer to the concave tongue of a dog, it is evident that we must so understand the words quoted from Judges 7:5, as if it read: כַאֲשֶׁר יָלקֹ הַכֶּלֶב בִּלְשׁוֹנוֹ כֹּל אֲשֶׁר יָלקֹ בְּיָדוֹ מִו־הַמַּיִם, “all who sip water with their hands, as the dog with his tongue.” However that may be, the circumstance must not be overlooked that a comparison with the sipping of a dog is here instituted; for if the comparison had no special significance, it would have suffi‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎‎ced to distinguish between those who drank standing and those who drank kneeling. It was the perception of this, doubtless, which induced the common reference to what Ælian (Hist. Anim., vi. 53) says of the dogs of Egypt, that for fear of crocodiles they drink quickly, while running. And from this arose the view, already confuted, that the three hundred who imitated the lapping of dogs, were spiritless and cowardly. But the comparison must be viewed more profoundly. Those Egyptian dogs are the type, not of cowardice, but of caution. It is known that the crocodiles of the Nile were not the only ones of their kind eager to seize on dogs; those of Central America (the Cayman alligator) are not less so. In Cuba, likewise, dogs will not drink from rivers, lest their greedy foe might suddenly spring on them (cf. Oken. Naturgesch., vi. 666). The crocodile is the image of the adversary; against whom they are on their guard, who do not so drink, that from eagerness to quench their thirst, they fall into his hands.11 Sensual haste would forget the threatening danger. To these considerations, add the following:12 The heroic achievement of the three hundred is a surprise, in which they throw themselves, as it were, into the jaws of the sleeping foe. Now, the ancients tell of an animal, “similar to a dog,” which, hostile to the crocodile, throws itself into the jaws of the reptile when asleep, and kills it internally. This animal, called Hydrus, or אנדריון (cf. Phys. Syrus, ed. Tychsen, cap. xxxi. p. 170), has been rightly considered to be the Ichneumon, the crocodile’s worst enemy. Its name signifies, “Tracker.” Tracking, ἰχνεν́ειν, is the special gift of dogs. Among five animals before whom the strong must fear, the Talmud (Sabbat, 77, b) names the כִלְבִית,13 from כֶלֶב, dog, as being a terror of the לְוִיָתָן, crocodile. The band who drink like the Egyptian dog, perform a deed similar to that which the dog-like animal has ascribed to it. They throw themselves upon the sleeper; and, courageous though few, become the terror of the mighty foe. If it may be assumed that for the sake of such hints the similitude of the sipping dog was chosen for the three hundred companions of Gideon, the whole passage, it must be allowed, becomes beautiful and clear. He who has never inclined to idolatry, who has exercised caution against hostile blandishments and mastered his own desires,—he, like the animal before alluded to, will be fitted, notwithstanding his weakness, to surprise and overcome the enemy, how strong soever he be. The similitude, in this view, is analogous to various other significant psychological propositions, expressive of fundamental moral principles.14

Judges 7:8. They took the victuals from the people in their hands. The words of the original are: וַיִּקְתוּ אֶת־צֵדָה הָעָם בְּיָדָם. Offense has naturally been taken at עֵדָה: instead of which צֵדַת , in the stat. constr., was to be expected. The older Jewish expositors endeavored to support the unusual form by a similar one in Psalms 45:5, צֶדֶקוְעַנְוָה ; but the two are not exactly parallel, either in sense or form, to say nothing of Olshausen’s proposal to emend the latter passage also. On the other hand, it is certainly surprising that צֵדַת is not found in a single manuscript, although it was so natural to substitute it in effect, as was done by the ancient versions. Nor is it clear that צֵדַת can be read.15 It is not to be assumed that the three hundred men took all the provisions of the other thousands. It would be quite impossible to comprehend how the former were benefited by such super-abundance, or how the latter could dispense with all means of subsistence. The sense can only be that the three hundred took their provisions out of the supplies for the whole army. As the great body of the army was about to leave them, this little troop took from the common stores as much as they needed. We are not therefore to correct צֵדָה into צֵדַת, but to supply מִן before הָעָם. The matter is further explained by the addition בְּיָדָם. From the common stores of the supply-train, they look what they needed for themselves in their own hands, for the others were going away. The case was not much different with the trumpets. The three hundred needed one each; so many had therefore to be taken from the people. There is nothing to show, nor is it to be assumed, that the other thousands kept none at all, or that at the outset the whole ten thousand had only three hundred trumpets. The three hundred took from the body of the army what, according to their numbers, they needed to venture the battle.—The others Gideon dismissed, “every one to his tent.’ To be dismissed, or to go to the tents, is the standing formula by which the cessation of the mobile condition of the army is indicated. The people are free from military duty; but they do not appear to have entirely disbanded.

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


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

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


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

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

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

[4]Epaminondas, when advancing against the Spartans at Leuctra, observed the unreliable character of some confederates. To prevent being endangered by them, he caused it to be proclaimed, that “Whoever of the Bœotians wished to withdraw, were at liberty to do so.” Polyænus, ii.3.

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

[6][The German is: “Wer feige sei, trolle sich vom Berge.” The author then adds: “The German drollen, trollen, has in fact a similar origin. It means “to turn one’s self;” drol is that which is turned, also a “coil.” Sich trollen [English: to pack one’s self], is proverbially equivalent to taking one’s departure, recedere. Cf. Grimm, Wörterbuch, ii.1429, etc.”—Tr.]

[7]Dathe proposes to read ad montem, and Michaelis to point מַהֵר, “quickly,” instead of מֵהַר, “from the mountain.” Neither proposition can be entertained (cf. Döderlein, Theol. Biblioth., iii.326).

[8][By the ancient Jewish expositors, cf. Dr. Cassel’s article on Jehu in Herzog’s Realencykl. vi.466. “In so doing they probably explained son of Nimshi (נִמְשִׁי) as son of a Manassite (מְבַשִׁי), i. e. a son out of the tribe of Manasseh.”—Tr.]

[9][Ewald (Gesch. Israel’s, ii.500, note) has the following on this proclamation: “From the unusual words and their rounding, it is easy to perceive that they contain an ancient proverb, which in its literal sense would be especially appropriate to the tribe of Manasseh. “Mount Gilead,” the place of Jacob’s severest struggles (Genesis 31:0. etc.), may very well, from patriarchal times, have become a proverbial equivalent for “scene of conflict,” which is manifestly all that the name here means. And Manasseh was the very tribe which had often found that for them also Gilead was a place of battle, of. p. 891.”—Tr.]

[10]The same popular belief recurs in various forms; in many of which the rudeness and naïveté of the manner conceals the profundity of the thought. Cf. Grimm, Kintermärchen, ii. 229; Müllenhoff, Sagen, p. 384.

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

[12]The most remarkable confirmation of this narrative, considered in its symbolic import, is found in a German legend, communicated by Birlinger (Volksthümliches aus Schwaben, i. 116), in which the she-wolf recognizes as genuine only those among her young who drink water, while she regards those who lap like dogs as young wolf-dogs, and her worst enemies. Accordingly, dogs who lap, in the manner which Gideon wishes to see imitated by his faithful ones, are the enemies of the rapacious wolf.

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

[14]Cf. my Essay on Den armen Heinrich, in the Weim. Jahrbuch fur Deutsche Sprache, i. 410.

[15]Keil is among those who propose to adopt it.

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