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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Judges 7



Verse 13


‘A cake of barley = bread … came unto a tent, and smote it.’

Judges 7:13

I daresay Gideon was far from flattered when he heard Israel likened to a barley cake. But when he heard the interpretation of the dream, and learned how the deep belief had spread through Midian that the hour of victory for Israel had come, Gideon fell on his knees and worshipped God, and then with a new heart climbed the hill again to muster his three hundred for the fight. Then follows the tale of that amazing battle—the strangest combat this world has ever seen. We want no commentary on it. The story lives and speaks. There is no preacher but may rivet his hearers with the pitchers and the torches and the trumpets and the midnight cry “For Jehovah and for Gideon!”

Note three of the lessons of this chapter:—

I. Apparent weakening may be real strengthening.—Had you asked Gideon his thought about his army, he would have told you it could bear a little strengthening. Had you asked him how he would propose to strengthen it, he would have said by recruiting a few more thousands. It is what every general and every government has said when faced in the field by unexpected numbers. But God said, we do not want more men. It is not by numbers that I work My will. He called for reduction, not for recruiting, that morning, and when the army was very weak then was it strong. And the Gospel triumphs have all been won that way. They have begun with a sifting and separating out. Jesus might have had a thousand soldiers to carry the banner of His kingdom through the world. But He knew men’s hearts. He read their motives. He saw the perils of an unstable crowd. So He chose twelve out of the ranks of His followers. Like Gideon’s three hundred, they were to win the day. And all the history of a triumphing Gospel is our pledge of the wisdom and strength of that apparent weakening.

II. Again, our trifling acts reveal our characters.—When Gideon brought his army down to the water, God tested them by the way in which they drank. Thousands went down upon their knees to drink, and God rejected these. Three hundred licked as a dog licks, and it was these three hundred who were chosen. Now, I do not know that we can say with certainty why it was these lappers who were picked, though I am sure of this, that they were not picked (as some have held) for drinking in a cowardly fashion. God never sets a premium upon cowardice. Rather their lapping was a mark of the disciplined soldier, who kept his feet (and his head too) when drinking, and would not kneel for fear of sudden surprise. Or if the Bible means that they flung themselves down, and put their lips to the river for a draught, perhaps that was the sign of deep faith in the Lord their Shepherd, Who “maketh me to lie down in green pastures, He leadeth me beside the still waters.” But the point is, whatever the explanation, God read their character in that trifling act, and in our little deeds and trivial speech we are detected still. We should all like to be judged by our few splendid hours, and now we are loth to accept the estimate of common days. But it is not in our dreams we are ourselves. It is in the playground, in the schoolroom, around the fire, at the dinner-table. What are you there? that is the question. What kind of character is welling over to-day! A thread of gossamer may show how the wind blows. A petty act may unlock all the deeps. Watch, in the common things. Our trifling acts reveal our characters.

III. Then, lastly, let us not fail to note that God wins His battles by unlikely weapons.—Who ever heard of a trumpet and a torch doing the proper work of spear and bow? Ah, well, we have heard of it before, in the blowing of the trumpets around Jericho, and we have heard of it in the long history of Christendom, and in the victories which Jesus Christ has won. For there we have the trumpet of the Gospel, uttering its note in the world’s night of sin; and there we have the flaming of the Light—that Light of the world of which the Gospel tells—and is not that Light carried in earthen vessels when frail and sinful men, encompassed by infirmity, are chosen to be the messengers among the people of the unsearchable riches of the Lord?


(1) ‘Dean Stanley pictures the Arab hordes. “Like the Arab chiefs of modern days, the princes are dressed in gorgeous scarlet robes; on their necks, and the necks of their camels, are crescent-like ornaments, such as were afterwards worn by Jewish ladies of high rank. All of them wore rings, either nose-rings or ear-rings of gold. When these wild tribes, taking advantage perhaps of the weakening of the intervening kingdoms of Ammon and Moab, burst upon the country, their fierce aspect struck consternation wherever they went. They overran the whole country. They were to be seen everywhere, with their innumerable tents and camels, like the sand in the Bay of Acre—like one of those terrible armies of locusts described by the prophet Joel.”’

(2) ‘Mere numbers of combatants have often hindered victory, rather than helped it. Xerxes, e.g., had too big an army to conquer Europe with; he would have sped better with a small, mobile, well-disciplined force, than with unwieldy millions. Gideon had no faith in mere bulk.’

(3) ‘Slight occasions suffice to show just what sort of people we are. Not in the acting of a part, but in the abandon of unconsciousness, we reveal our inmost selves. God gauges us by little things, and we never know when the moment of testing may come. All unawares we are weighed in the balances, and may be found wanting. Are we living for self or for God? As straws serve to show which way the wind blows, so a word, a gesture, a nameless unremembered act, may tell accurately all that we are worth. If we imagine that Gideon made too much of a trifle, we may remember a great man’s words, “Trifles! perfection is made up of trifles, and perfection is not a trifle.”’

(4) ‘“What do you call that place you are making out there?” asked Azimoolah, the Nana’s confidant, of an English lieutenant. “I am sure, I don’t know.” “Call it the Fort of Despair,” said the mocking Hindoo. “No, no,” answered the undaunted Englishman; “we will call it the Fort of Victory.” And the Fort of Victory their courage made it.’


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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Judges 7:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

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