Judges 7:13
And when Gideon was come, behold, there was a man that told a dream to his fellow, and said, Behold, I dreamed a dream, and, see, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the host of Midian, and came to a tent, and smote it that it fell, and overturned it, that the tent lay along.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(13) Behold, I dreamed a dream.—Since dreams, no less than the Bath Kol, were recognised channels for Divine intimations (Genesis 41:12; Numbers 12:6; 1Samuel 28:6; Joel 2:28, &c.), Gideon would feel doubly assured.

A cake.—The Hebrew word tsalol (or tselil in the Keri, or margin) is a word which occurs nowhere else. Rabbis Kimchi and Tanchun derive it from tsalal, “he tinkled” (as in tselselim and other names for musical instruments), or “he overshadowed.” Neither derivation yields any sense. The Chaldee, Syriac, and Rashi render it “a cake baked on coals,” and so, too, the LXX. (since such is the meaning of magie), the Vulgate (panis subcinericius), and Josephus (maza krithinē); this seems to be the true sense. Ewald makes it mean “a dry rattling crust.” Niebuhr tells us that the desert Arabs thrust a round lump of dough into hot ashes, then take it out and eat it. (Arab., p. 52.)

Of barley bread.—Josephus helps us to see the significance of the symbol by adding, “which men can (hardly) eat for its coarseness.” It must be remembered that the Israelites had been reduced to such poverty by these raids that the mass of them would have nothing to subsist on but common barley bread such as that used to this day, with bitter complaints, by the Fellahîn of Palestine. Among the Greeks also barley bread” was proverbial as a kind of food hardly fit to be eaten, although such was the poverty which the Saviour bore for our sakes that it seems to have been the ordinary food of Him and His apostles (John 6:9). “A cake of barley bread” would, therefore, naturally recall the thought of the Israelites, who were no doubt taunted by their enemies with being reduced to this food; just as Dr. Johnson defined oats as “food for horses in England, and for men in Scotland.” Thus, in 1Kings 4:28, the “barley” is only for the horses and dromedaries. “If the Midianites were accustomed to call Gideon and his band ‘eaters of barley bread,’ as their successors, the haughty Bedouins, often do to ridicule their enemies, the application would be the more natural” (Thomson, Land and Book, p. 447). Josephus makes the soldier say that, as barley is the vilest of all seed, so the Israelites were the vilest of all the people of Asia.

Tumbled.—Rather, was rolling itself.

Unto a tent.—Rather, into the tent, which doubtless means (as Josephus says) the tent-royal—the tent of Zebah and Salmanah.

Smote it.—Perhaps the dream involved that it also (as Josephus says) “threw down the tents of all the soldiers.”

Overturned it, that the tent lay along.—The latter words are involved in the first verb, and are only added for emphasis in accordance with the full picturesque Hebrew style. (Comp. “A bullock that hath horns and hoofs;” “I am a widow woman, and my husband is dead,” &c.) This leisurely stateliness of description is found again and again in the Bible. (See my Origin of Language, p. 168, and Brief Greek Syntax, p. 200.)

Judges

A BATTLE WITHOUT A SWORD

Jdg 7:13 - Jdg 7:23
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To reduce thirty-two thousand to three hundred was a strange way of preparing for a fight; and, no doubt, the handful left felt some sinking of their courage when they looked on their own small number and then on the widespread Midianite host. Gideon, too, would need heartening. So the first thing to be noted is the encouragement given him. God strengthens faith when it needs strengthening, and He has many ways of doing so. Note that Gideon’s visit to the Midianite camp was on ‘the same night’ on which his little band was left alone after the ordeal by water. How punctually to meet our need, when it begins to be felt, does God’s help come! It was by God’s command that he undertook the daring adventure of stealing down to the camp. We can fancy how silently he and Phurah crept down the hillside, and, with hushed breath and wary steps, lest they should stumble on and wake some sleeper, or even rouse some tethered camel, picked their way among the tents. But they had God’s command and promise, and these make men brave, and turn what would else be foolhardy into prudence. Ho put his ear to the black camel’s-hair wall of one tent, and heard what his faith could not but recognise as God’s message to him.

The soldier’s dream was just such as such a man would dream in such circumstances. A round loaf of barley {the commonest kind of bread} was dreamed of as rolling down from a height and upsetting ‘the tent.’ The use of the definite article seems to point to some particular tent, perhaps simply the one in which the dreamer lay, or perhaps the general’s; but the noun may be used as a collective, and what is meant may be that the loaf went through the camp, overturning all the tents in its way. The interpretation needed no Daniel, but the immediate explanation given, shows not only the transparency of the symbol, but the dread in the Midianite ranks of Gideon’s prowess. A nameless awe, which goes far to produce the defeat it dreads, was beginning to creep over them. It finds utterance both in the dream and in its translation. The tiny loaf worked effects disproportioned to its size. A rock thundering down the hillside might have mass and momentum enough to level a line of tents, but one poor loaf to do it! Some mightier than human hand must have set it going on its career. So the soldier interprets that God had delivered the army into Gideon’s hand.

This dream suggests two or three considerations. In several instances we find God speaking to those outside Israel by dreams; for example, to Pharaoh and his two officers, Nebuchadnezzar, Pilate’s wife. It is the lowest form of divine communication, and, like other lower forms, is not to be looked for when the higher teaching of the Spirit of Christ is open to us all.

Again, while both dream and interpretation might be accounted for on simply natural grounds, a deeper insight into the so-called ‘natural’ brings us to see it as all penetrated by the operations of the ever-present God. And the coincidences which brought Gideon to just that tent among the thousands along the valley at just the moment when the two startled sleepers were talking, might well strike Gideon, as they did, as being God’s own fulfilment of the promise that ‘what they say’ would strengthen his hands for the attack {Jdg 7:11}.

Further, Gideon had already had the sign of the fleece and the dew; but God does not disdain to let him have an additional encouragement, and to let him draw confirmation of his own token from the talk of two Midianites. Faith may be buttressed by men’s words, albeit its only foundation is God’s.

Gideon has a place in the muster-roll of heroes of faith in Hebrews 11:32, and his whole conduct in this incident proves his right to stand there. ‘He worshipped,’ for his soul went out in trust to God, whose voice he heard through the two Midianites, and bowed in thankfulness and submissive obedience. There could be no outward worship there, with an army of sleepers close by, but the silent uplifting of confidence and desire reaches God and strengthens the man. So he went back with new assurance of victory, and roused his sleeping band.

Mark his words as another token of his faith. The Midianite interpreter had said, ‘God has delivered’; Gideon says, ‘The Lord has delivered.’ The former name is the more general, and is natural on the lips of a heathen; the latter is the covenant name, and to use it implies reliance on the Jehovah revealed by His acts to Israel. The Midianite had said that the host was delivered into Gideon’s hand; he says that it is delivered into the hands of the three hundred, suppressing himself and honouring them. God’s soldiers must be willing to ‘esteem others better than themselves,’ and to fight for God’s glory, not their own. The Midianite had said, ‘This is . . . the sword of Gideon’; he bid his men cry ‘the sword of the Lord, and of Gideon.’ It was God’s cause for which they were contending, not his; and yet it was his, inasmuch as he was God’s instrument. ‘Excellent mixture,’ says Thomas Fuller, ‘both joined together; admirable method, God put in the first place. Where divine blessing leads up the van, and man’s valour brings up the battle, must not victory needs follow in the rear?’

Gideon does not seem to have been divinely directed to the stratagem by which the Midianites were thrown into panic. He had been promised victory, but that does not lead him to idle waiting for fulfilment of the promise. ‘To wait for God’s performance in doing nothing is to abuse that divine providence, which will so work that it will not allow us to idle’ {Bishop Hall}. True faith will wisely adopt means to reach promised ends, and, having used brain and hand as if all depended on ourselves, will look to Him, as if nothing depended on us, but all on Him.

There was strong faith as well as daring and skilful generalship in leading down the three hundred, with no weapons but trumpets and pitchers, to close quarters with an armed enemy so superior in numbers. And did it not need some faith, too, not only in Gideon but in God, on the part of his band, to plunge down the hill on such an errand, each man with both his hands full, and so unable to strike a blow? The other three hundred at Thermopylae have been wept over and sung; were not these three hundred as true heroes? Let us not count heads when we are called on to take God’s side. His soldiers are always in the minority, but, if He is reckoned in, the minority becomes the majority. ‘They that be with us are more than they that be with them.’

One can fancy the sleepers starting up dazed by the sudden bray of the trumpets and the wild shout of that war-cry yelled from every side. As they stumbled out of their tents, without leaders, without knowledge of the numbers of their foe, and saw all around the flaring torches, and heard the trumpet-blasts, which seemed to speak of an immense attacking force, no wonder that panic shook them, and they fled. Huge mobs of undisciplined men, as Eastern armies are, and these eminently were, are especially liable to such infectious alarms; and the larger the force, the faster does panic spread, the more unmanageable does the army become, and the more fatal are the results. Each man reflects, and so increases, his neighbour’s fear. ‘Great armies, once struck with amazement, are like wounded whales. Give them but line enough, and the fishes will be the fishermen to catch themselves.’

So the host broke up in wild disorder, and hurried in fragments towards the Jordan fords, trampling each other down as they raced through the darkness, and each man, as he ran, dreading to feel the enemy’s sword in his back next moment. `The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous is bold as a lion.’ Thus without stroke of weapon was the victory won. The battle was the Lord’s.

And the story is not antiquated in substance, however the form of the contests which God’s soldiers have to-day to fight has changed. Still it is true that we shall only wage war aright when we feel that it is His cause for which we contend, and His sword which wins the victory. If Gideon had put himself first in his warcry, or had put his own name only in it, the issue would have been different.

May we not also venture to apply the peculiar accoutrements of the victorious three hundred to ourselves? Christ’s men have no weapons to wield but the sounding out from them, as from a trumpet, of the word of the Lord, and the light of a Christian life shining through earthen vessels. If we boldly lift up our voices in the ancient war-cry, and let that word peal forth from us, and flash the light of holy lives on a dark world, we may break the sleeper’s slumbers to a glad waking, and win the noblest of victories by leading them to enlist in the army of our Captain, and to become partakers of His conquests by letting Him conquer, and thereby save them.Jdg 7:13-14. And lo, a cake tumbled into the host of Midian — A weak and contemptible thing, and in itself as unable to overthrow a tent as to remove a mountain; but, being thrown by a divine hand, it bore down all before it. His fellow answered, &c. — As there are many examples of significant dreams, given by God to heathen, so some of them had the gift of interpreting dreams; which they sometimes did by divine direction, as in this case. For it is evident that God influenced the mind of this man, to give this interpretation to the dream of his companion, for the encouragement of Gideon; otherwise, considering the numerous host of the Midianites, and the small force which Gideon had, it does not seem probable that a Midianitish soldier should have entertained such a conjecture; and one may observe the soldier speaks as if under some prophetic influence. Into his hand hath God delivered Midian, and all the host — It is certain, at least, that the hand of God was in this affair, that Gideon should be directed to this particular tent, and that the soldier should be telling his dream just at that very moment.7:9-15 The dream seemed to have little meaning in it; but the interpretation evidently proved the whole to be from the Lord, and discovered that the name of Gideon had filled the Midianites with terror. Gideon took this as a sure pledge of success; without delay he worshipped and praised God, and returned with confidence to his three hundred men. Wherever we are, we may speak to God, and worship him. God must have the praise of that which encourages our faith. And his providence must be acknowledged in events, though small and seemingly accidental.A cake of barley bread - i. e. such a cake as could hardly be eaten by men, it was so vile: a term expressive of the contempt of the Midianites for the people of Israel.

A tent - The tent, meaning, probably, the tent of the king of Midian, or of the captain of the host.

13. I dreamed a dream, and, lo, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the host of Midian—This was a characteristic and very expressive dream for an Arab in the circumstances. The rolling down the hill, striking against the tents, and overturning them, naturally enough connected it in his mind with the position and meditated attack of the Israelitish leader. The circumstance of the cake, too, was very significant. Barley was usually the food of the poor, and of beasts; but most probably, from the widespread destruction of the crops by the invaders, multitudes must have been reduced to poor and scanty fare. A cake of barley bread; a weak and contemptible thing, and in itself as unable to overthrow a tent as to remove a mountain; but being thrown by a Divine hand, bore down all before it; which fitly resembled Gideon’s case, which was mean and despicable, as himself saith, Judges 6:15; yet he was mighty, through God, to destroy the Midianites. And when Gideon was come,.... With his servant, near and within hearing the talk and conversation of the outer guards or sentinels: there was

a man that told a dream unto his fellow; his comrade that stood next him, and was upon guard with him; perhaps it was a dream he had dreamed the night before or this selfsame night, being just called up to take his turn in the watch, and so it was fresh upon his mind:

and said, behold, I dreamed a dream, and, lo; thus it was as I am going to relate; twice he uses the word "behold", or "lo", the dream having rely much struck and impressed his mind, and was what he thought worthy of the attention of his comrade:

a cake of barley bread tumbled into the host of Midian: barley bread, Pliny (z) says, was the most ancient food; the word for "cake" (a) signifies a "shadow", and may design the appearance of a barley loaf; or something like one to him appeared in the dream: or a "noise"; the noise of it rolling and tumbling, so that it seemed to the soldier that he heard a noise, as well as saw something he took for a barley loaf. Jarchi observes, that it signifies a cake baked upon coals, and it seemed to this man as if it came smoking hot from the coals, tumbling down an hill, such an one where Gideon and his army were and rolling into the host of Midian, which lay in a valley:

and came unto a tent; or, "the tent (b)" the largest and most magnificent in the host; and Josephus (c) calls it expressly the king's tent, and the Arabic version the tent of the generals:

and smote it that it fell; which might justly seem strange, that a barley loaf should come with such a force against a tent, perhaps the largest and strongest in the whole camp, which was fastened with cords to stakes and nails driven into the ground, so as to cause it to fall: yea, it is added:

and overturned it, that the tent lay along: turned it topsy-turvy, or turned it "upwards" (d), as the phrase in the Hebrew text is; it fell with the bottom upwards; it was entirely demolished, that there was no raising and setting of it up again.

(z) Nat. Hist. l. 18. c. 7. (a) "umbra", vid. Gussetium, p. 715. "strepitus", Tigurine version; so Kimchi & Ben Gersom; "subcineritius", V. L. "tostus", Junius & Tremellius, Piscator. (b) (c) Antiqu. l. 5. c. 6. sect. 4. (d) "desuper", Pagninus, Montanus; "superne", Tigurine version.

And when Gideon was come, behold, there was a man that told a dream unto his fellow, and said, Behold, I dreamed a dream, and, lo, a {f} cake of barley bread tumbled into the host of Midian, and came unto a tent, and smote it that it fell, and overturned it, that the tent lay along.

(f) Some read, a trembling noise of barley bread: meaning, that one of no reputation would make their great army tremble.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
13. Behold, I dreamed a dream, and, lo] The phraseology recalls Genesis 37:6 f., Genesis 40:9 E. No doubt the two Midianites were lying in their tent: Gideon could listen without being seen.

a cake of barley bread] The word rendered cake occurs only here, and is of doubtful meaning; the context suggests a flat circular cake. Barley bread, the coarse food of the poor, was a symbol of the peasantry; the tent a symbol of the nomad.

tumbled] This same form of the verb is used of the flaming sword which turned in every direction, Genesis 3:24. So the cake turned over and over, this way and that, until it smote the tent which the man saw in his dream, not the tent, i.e. of the king, as Josephus takes it, misunderstanding the idiomatic use of the article; Ant. Jdg 7:6; Jdg 7:4.

and it fell] The words are out of place; the text as it stands makes the tent fall, then be turned upside down, and then fall. At the end of the verse, that the tent lay along ought probably to be rendered and the tent remained fallen. Perhaps some reader wrote the normal form and it fell in the margin, whence it crept into the text after and smote it.Verse 13. - A cake. The Hebrew word occurs nowhere else. Of barley bread. The commonest kind of bread, the food of only the poorer classes, indicating, therefore, the humble origin and station of Gideon. A tent. Rather, the tent; what in a Roman camp would be the pretorium, the general's tent. The words at the end of the verse are heaped up to indicate the total and entire upsetting and overthrow of the tent, symbolic of the rout and destruction of the Midianite host. 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.
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