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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary

Judges 7

 

 

Verses 1-14

THE ARMY OF THE LORD'S DELIVERANCE

I. The Diminution of its Numbers

Jud

CRITICAL NOTES.— Jud . Then Jerubbaal.] The name is given as the challenger of Baal, the man who, for the honour of God, was not afraid to enter the lists with Baal. This name was putting a mark of honour on Gideon, the same as if a star were put on his breast.

Rose up early and pitched beside the well of Harod.] The first flush of enthusiasm was still upon them, and they did not hesitate at once to approach the enemy. Gideon himself was decided by many proofs given that God was with him; or if any doubts were left, these had become dissipated by the sign of the dew and the fleece of wool. And the people were decided by the victory gained over Baal, and the several evidences that God had raised up Gideon to deliver Israel. Whether there was any depth in this decision was soon to be tried. "The well" means the spring. הַרַד̇ trembling—so called, probably, because it was the spot where the volunteer warriors first began to tremble and lose heart in the great cause they had taken in band. A good spring of water was an important spot in such a country, and especially on the eve of battle.

The host—the camp—was on the north side of them, etc.] Some would render it—"he had the camp of Midian before him in the valley, to the north of the hill Moreh" (Cassel). This would make Gideon to be to the north of Midian, for he had that camp between him and Moreh. But Manasseh, from which Gideon came, was, both in its hills and plains, to the south of the valley of Jezreel, so that when Gideon approached that valley it must have been from the south. We therefore read it—"the camp was to him in the north, at the hill of Moreh, in the valley." מוֹרֵה—pointer, so called because it commanded a good view of the valley.

Jud . The Lord said unto Gideon.] This was to be Jehovah's own battle, and He therefore makes a disposition of the forces. The people with thee are too many.] This would sound strange in the hearing of all the people. Not a man of them but thought their numbers were all too few for the hazardous task before them, and to be abruptly told they were too many, was the very thing which was fitted to dishearten them for the fight altogether. They were but 32,000 all told, while the enemy was 135,000 at the very least (Ch. Jud 8:10), and perhaps more. Now, too, being on the rising ground (at the foot of which was the spring of Harod), and which overlooked the valley, they could see the long, interminable spreading of tents which overshadowed the whole valley. Many a one, who at first was courageous enough, would begin to feel as Peter did "when he saw the wind boisterous, he began to sink." According to ordinary calculation, the odds were all against Israel had the numbers not been reduced (Luk 14:30). But when the army of deliverance was cut down from 32,000 to 10,000, and finally to 300 men, the last vestige of hope to save the nation by human prowess was taken away.

This, however, was the battle of the church of God, and it must be made clear to all, that His hand was at work in bringing about the result. It was the age in which Divine Providence was made visible in protecting the church, and it was no unwarrantable thing to expect then what we cannot expect now—a visible shield thrown around those whom God loved. It might be a great trial of faith, yet faith had much to support it in the fact that God's own honour had to be vindicated in the sight of the heathen, and the covenant engagements to His own people had to be fulfilled. All the church's battles, properly speaking, were gained by her God (Psa ; Zec 3:6; Deu 8:10-18).

Jud . Whosoever is fearful and afraid.] Deu 20:1-8. The presence of the faint-hearted in an army was a source of weakness, not of strength. Mount Gilead. The well-known Mount Gilead was on the east side of Jordan, whereas Gideon was now on the west side. There may have been a place of that name on the west side also, though unimportant. Or it may have been a phrase customary among the Manassites, meaning Gilead, the rallying point where the people were summoned to assemble for battle. Early. Depart at once. There was a tone of decision in this call. There was indeed no time to be lost.

There returned twenty and two thousand.] More than two-thirds proved craven-hearted when real danger was faced, How many at first stand forward on the Lord's side who are soon discovered not to have counted the cost! The trial was upon their fears, and they cowardly confessed it (Hos ). But what a stern test of the courage of those who remained true to their colours! צָפַר originally signifies to twist hair or ropes; hence it means here to return in windings, i.e., to slink away in by-paths. [Keil.] This melancholy spectacle might well have filled the hearts of the already too small army of Gideon with dismay. But the chief purpose was not to blow away the chaff, though that was done. Rather the design was to make it manifest that the sole arm that gains victories in the Lord's battles, is that of the Lord Himself. No arm of flesh must divide the glory with Him. The proneness of the human heart to boast of its own resources must be effectually checked. Hence, even the 10,000 are too many, though scarcely a proportion of one man to thirteen of the enemy. God meant to teach the lesson where the real strength of His church lay.

Jud . Bring them down to the water and I will try them there.] The dross was already removed for all the 10,000 seemed prepared to enter the battlefield. But even of those who stood the first test, some were more, and others were less, eligible—the difference between iron and steel. "The water" refers to the purling brook that was formed of such waters as flowed down from the Harod spring. צָרַף Separate, or elect some from the others—not the idea of purging away refuse. God himself selects every man.

Jud . Brought down the people to the water.] As if to quench their thirst well before commencing the battle. The great mass of them knelt down and drank of the stream, regardless of the danger of being in the immediate proximity of the enemy. A few were more wakeful, and only bending (without lying) down, they lapped the water with their hand, as a dog when using his tongue, but ready at a moment's notice to start to their feet, and face the foe. Sometimes little things, the very fringes of manner, indicate the sterling qualities of a man's character—his self-discipline, his wariness, his manliness and heroism. So it may have been now; and thus this simple incident furnished a test sufficient to determine the selection. Comp the self-restraint of David in 2Sa 23:16. The Jewish interpretation is worthy of consideration. Idolaters were accustomed to pray kneeling before their idols. Kneeling bad thus become unpopular in Israel, and was studiously avoided on all occasions by the worshippers of the true God. On this occasion all the men were thrown off their guard, and each man would instinctively act according to what was customary for him to do. The kneelers would presumptively have been idolaters in the past the lappers would have been those, who through long opposition to idolatry, never bowed the knee (comp. 1Ki 19:18). To bow the knee was the sign of religious worship, and was an honour due to God alone. Mordecai refused to kneel to a man (Est 3:5; Isa 45:23). [Cassel.]

Jud . By the three hundred men … will I save you.] The marshalling of the little army under Gideon was entirely God's own work, for he was the real commander. Gideon was in fact but a sub-lieutenant. God now designates the 300 as a fit instrumentality for Him to use, and requires the others to return to their homes. A distinct promise is made to give victory to this small handful—one man to four hundred and fifty (1Sa 14:6; 2Ch 14:11; also Act 18:9-10; Act 22:18-21). The board was now clear. By means of Israel's little finger a signal victory was to be gained over the proud hosts of the vaunting foe. To count on this was a great act of faith. There was nothing of sense to support it. All stood the other way. Hence Gideon's name stands high on the roll of fame, because of his great faith (Heb 11:32.)

Jud . The people took victuals in their hand, etc.] The 300 did. The 9700, though willing to fight, submitted to the arrangement made as being from God, and went (perhaps reluctantly) to their homes. But they willingly supplied the small detachment who were to give battle to the foe with such provisions out of the common store, and such instruments as were needed. Thus each man of the 300 had a trumpet, a pitcher, and a lamp. The word "retained" seems to be significant. As a man would cling to a small boat amid a world of great waters. They were a sacred gift put into his hand by his God—the forlorn hope of Israel—a solitary star in a sky black with clouds—"a little flock of kids while the Midianites filled the country!" He would address them in words few, but from the heart. "We few—we chosen few—we band of brothers!"

II. Confidence given in the midst of weakness

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Jud . Arise, get thee down unto the host, etc.] God orders everything—the time of action, as well as the means. The call now given meant—"the hour is come—go, and do as I have commanded you." The phrase, "unto the camp" means against.

Jud . But if thou fear to go down.] The fluttering state of Gideon's heart was seen by his God, and with the tender consideration of a father for a child in peril, he opens his eyes for a moment to what is going on behind the scenes. God's band is already at work. one of the sleepers in the enemy's camp is made to dream; his fellow interprets the dream—Gideon learns from this that his name is already a terror to the invaders, and that God has begun to smite them with a spirit of trembling. Phurah, thy servant.] A young man. Even a mere stripling is some consolation to a hero like Gideon, under so great a pressure of responsibility. Here is a touch of the weakness of our humanity! The Saviour Himself felt it as a man, for "He was in all points tried like as we are." "Could ye not watch with me for one hour?" Small consolation could such comforters give. Like straws in withstanding a torrent. But they were the only objects at hand.

Jud . Then he went down with Phurah.] In like manner, Diomed, according to Homer, entered into the camp of the Trojans; and Alfred of England, according to Hume, ventured into the camp of the Danes as a harper—the outside of the armed men. This implies that besides the families, the servants, the camp-followers, and others, there was a special guard for the whole camp, consisting of well-trained and well-equipped fighting men. The word chamushim means those who acted both as van and rear guards, especially the former (Jos 1:14; Exo 13:18). Some make it the foremost of the outposts. [Keil)]. Others, to the outermost of the ranks by five. [Bush]. Others, to those who were girded for the fight. [P. Com.]. Others, as far as the line of the van-guard. [Cassel]. Yet others, those who stood in battle array. [Lias]. It meant the outer rim of the encampment, and that portion of the hostile army, where their strength lay. The invaders were not absolutely a rabble, but were so far organized as that, while one section did the plundering, and another attended to the tents, the families, the baggage, and the flocks, there was another whose special work it was to fight in defence of the whole.

Jud . Lay along in the valley like grasshoppers.] (See on Jud 6:5). The relative numbers of the two armies are again mentioned to show how completely the salvation now to be wrought was of God. But great numbers sometimes lead to a false security. There was no rampart, or protecting wall round about the encampment; so that Gideon and his attendant found no obstruction, as they crept stealthily into one of the tents. The whole multitude had gone to sleep, and lay along, prostrate, as if taking their night's rest. They felt secure, for there were clouds on clouds of warriors, and dromedaries, countless as the sand by the sea-shore.

Jud . I dreamed a dream, etc.] This was something sent by the God of Providence, equally as in the case of Pharaoh, or Nebuchadnezzar. It was no sword to wound the flesh. God has a variety of instruments to use. It was something to touch the spirit and arouse the fears. A cake of barley-bread]. Circular. "A round barley-loaf rolled itself." Barley-bread was reckoned a vile food, suited only for horses and dromedaries, or the lowest menials among men. It stands in opposition to wheat or fine flour. The point of the dream was that something came rolling down from the high ground in among their tents—not a stone but a mere cake of bread, and yet when it struck one of the tents it turned it completely over. It was the humblest of all cakes, yet it sufficed to crush the tent, the tent of the chief captain of the whole host too (as many read it), and it lay in ruins.

Jud . This is nothing else save the sword of Gideon.] How could such a dream have been dreamed, and such an interpretation have been given, had not God specially ordered it! Nothing could have been more opportune to show Gideon that God was beginning to fill the minds of the enemy with fears for the issue of the impending conflict. And if these fears were but to increase far enough, it was easy to see how victory could be obtained. But that by which his faith was specially confirmed was the fact, that the existence of these fears proved that God was already at work on the minds of the enemy for their destruction, and if so, would assuredly complete His work. This corresponded well too, with the assurance which his God had given him when the call came to arise and go down to attack the enemy's camp. "For," says Jehovah, "I have delivered it into thine hand." It is already doomed, and my hand is already at work. The incident of the dream was a striking proof of this. God was touching the hearts of the enemy, and making them to quake for fear. This instilling of a spirit of terror into their minds was parallel to the terror with which the Canaanites were inspired, when they heard of the coming of Joshua and the Divinely-shielded people whom he led (Exo 23:27; Deu 2:25; Deu 11:25; Jos 2:9-11).

"The tent was an expressive emblem of the Midianites as nomads. It was their all in all. Their wives and children, their cattle and goods, their vesture and treasure were all collected in it and about it."—(Wordsworth). It contained their "altar and their home." Here the question is—what led the dreamer's comrade to interpret the dream as he did! Was it an evil conscience! And was it felt that the time had come for Israel's God to arise and avenge Himself, as He had so often done before, on those who had dared to tread down His people as the mire! We cannot tell the exact measure of the knowledge of Israel's God which prevailed among these heathen invaders. But there seemed to be a rumour afloat that the God of Israel was about to arise for the redemption of His people, and that a special messenger had been sent to commission Gideon to act under Him as the captain of His host. Doubtless it was of God's overruling providence that such an interpretation, as we here find, was given of the dream.

MAIN HOMILETICS—Jud

In the battle now to be fought, God Himself was the chief actor. In all that is said and done He takes the initiative. "The people are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hand." It was indeed the Battle of the Lord's deliverance, and all the arrangements must be regarded in this light; while means are used, they must be disposed in such a way as to reveal the fact, that He is the great actor.

I. The objects of the Battle.

These were—

1. To reveal the Lord's presence on the earth. This was the characteristic of the heathen world everywhere. "They did not like to retain God in their knowledge," and so they soon lost sight of Him altogether. Hence they are spoken of as those that know Him not (Exo , with Jud 7:5; Jud 8:20; Jud 14:4; Jud 14:18; 1Sa 17:4; 1Sa 17:6; 2Ki 5:15; 2Ki 19:19; 2Ki 17:26; Psa 79:6; Psa 83:18). These passages speak of God's revealing Himself in the way of judgment, among those that know him not. Israel too practically showed the same tendency of heart to "depart from the living God," when they forsook the Lord, and served other gods (Jud 2:10; Jud 2:12; 1Ki 18:37; 1Ki 18:39; Jer 2:32, also Jeremiah 11; Jer 4:22; Jer 5:4; Jer 8:7; Hos 2:8; Hos 2:20; Joe 2:27; Eze 36:11; Eze 36:23; Eze 36:36; Eze 36:38). In the book of Ezekiel, the expression—"that ye may know that I am the Lord"—occurs more than fifty times. It is always by what He does that this becomes known. Men strangely forget God's presence in His own world, and therefore sometimes He rises up and proves emphatically who is at the helm (Psa 9:17; Psa 44:7; Psa 10:11; Isa 5:12; 2Ki 1:3).

2. To vindicate His superiority to all who would usurp His place. (Dan ). He has but to show Himself, and His enemies are scattered (Psa 68:1, etc., Jud 9:20; Exo 12:12; 1 Samuel 5; Psa 115:3-4; Isa 2:18). God's jealousy for the glory of His name, as being alone Jehovah, is seen in His making this the first commandment of the Decalogue. Yet to go after other gods was the besetting sin of all the nations, and Israel but too readily followed the example set.

The heathen would hardly allow that such an one as the God of Israel existed at all; therefore He takes means to show that He not only exists, but is the great "I am," and that "there is none besides Him" (Isa ; Isa 42:8; Isa 44:6; Isa 44:8). His superiority to the nations and their gods is emphatically asserted in the current language of Scripture. "He beheld and drove asunder the nations." "The nations before Him are as a drop of a bucket, etc., less than nothing and vanity" (Hab 3:6; Isa 40:15; Isa 40:17). He is the "King of nations" (Jer 10:7). He is "terrible to the kings of the earth." "They cannot stand before Him." (Jer 10:10; Jeremiah 11-16; Deu 32:39-43). He deals with them as responsible to Him (Jer 25:31, etc.). He disposes of their lot, putting down one and setting up another (Jer 27:7, etc.). He employs them as His instruments (Isa 10:5, etc.; Isa 45:1, etc.; Isa 44:28; Jer 51:20). He is angry with the heathen for their evil treatment of His people (Zec 1:14-15).

3. To show the sacred estimate He puts on the people who are called by His name. That they should wear His name with His permission, alone makes them sacred; not to speak of the many sacred purposes for which as a people they existed. His peculiar love for them, and the right of possession He had in them. He had also bound Himself by a solemn covenant to be their God, and to do everything for them which a God might be expected to do for His people. All this sacred relationship still existed notwithstanding of their sins, for they had not yet been cast off. "Israel was not forsaken, nor Judah of his God, though their land was full of sin against the Holy One of Israel." It was still the church of the living God on earth—the one people who were called by His name (Jer ; Isa 43:10-12; Isa 43:21, also 4, 7; Jer 12:17; Jer 46:28; Jer 50:17-20; Jer 50:33-34).

By these marauders of the desert the people of Israel were utterly despised, and exposed to the most cruel treatment. They were regarded as fit only to be trampled in the mire. They were not allowed the dignity of being counted as one of the nations. They came up without bidding as ruthless robbers, with no pity or remorse, to serve themselves, in the most wanton manner, of the fat pastures of God's heritage, little dreaming of the awful danger they were incurring by tampering lightly with the interests of so sacred a people. These Israelites were God's redeemed ones, sprinkled with the sacred blood, and, amid all the vicissitudes of their history, were owned and jealously guarded by Him. As one wounded in the apple of his eye, Jehovah now appears in opposition to these enemies of His people, and in a little time they were to become as the "whirling dust" in the wind of His indignation (Psa R. V).

The great truth, which as yet lay unrevealed, that these children of the covenant were the people of the Messiah, and, were intimately related to Him, threw a wonderful colouring of interest around their history, and accounted for all that was so tender and jealous, so patient and forgiving, so altogether peculiar in God's ways of dealing with them. A Messianic current of truth runs underneath the whole of this book, and gives to it actually a far more sacred character than appears on the surface.

II. God's choice of an army.

Gideon is but a sub-lieutenant. It is God Himself who inspects the forces and determines the strength of the army. The plan of the battle is His, and He issues all the directions. Israel had little more to do than to stand still and see the salvation of the Lord. Notice two things:—

I. The principle on which the choice is made. The army must be reduced in number, not increased. It was already small compared with the numbers of the enemy. Yet in God's estimation it is too large to gain the ends which He has in view. Had the Israelites been as numerous, man for man, as the Midianites, there would have been no need of any special Divine intervention on their behalf, and all the story of thrilling interest to after ages which this chapter contains would have been unwritten.

When men war with each other it is the dictate of wisdom to oppose a force on the one side equal to that which stands on the other. The resources of even the ablest commander are so limited that, when contending with a disciplined and brave enemy, he must rely on the numbers as well as the valour of his troops (Luk ). Some cases there are in history where a general has proved victorious when fighting with only one-tenth or even a smaller proportion to the numbers of his opponent, as in the case of Miltiades at Marathon, Themistocles at Salamis, Clive in India, and some English generals, in both North and South Africa, at the present day. But the circumstances in these cases were exceptional, and do not invalidate the maxim, that a successful issue is not to be looked for by employing a very small force against one that is very large. Leonidas with his 300 Spartans were all cut to pieces at Thermopylœ, notwithstanding their deeds of incredible bravery.

The 300 men that followed Gideon were not more brave than these Spartans, and, but for an unseen power at work, they must have shared a similar fate. The mighty God of Jacob had now placed Himself on the side of His people, and, in order to give room for the display of His inexhaustible resources, as one who has all hearts in His hands, and all events at His disposal, human prowess must disappear. To glorify the infinite wisdom, and absolute control of all circumstances possessed by Israel's God, weakness must be employed to conquer strength. Israel's little finger must be made use of to break the right arm of the powerful invader; and, through the weakest instrumentality, an army, numerous as the sand on the sea-shore, who vaunted themselves against the God of Israel, must be scattered before Him as the chaff of the summer threshing-floor. Thus the character of Jehovah is vindicated in the sight of the heathen as "above all gods, strong and mighty in battle," able to "give power to the faint, and to them that have no might to increase strength." Also from Israel all grounds of boasting are taken away, so that no one can lift up his voice and say, "Mine own hand hath saved me!"

This principle of employing weakness against strength was not meant merely to clear the way for some exercise of supernatural power. Such power was indeed often exercised for the salvation of Israel; for, being the people of the Messiah, they were of such supreme importance in God's sight, that He would make every law of His natural world to give way, when necessary, for the preservation of His "peculiar people." But that He should accomplish this great end, without any disturbance of natural laws, and merely through His absolute command of all natural agencies and circumstances, so as to make them work out the purposes of His will, is a still more wonderful exhibition of His character as the Supreme Governor of the world than could have been given by the putting forth of miraculous power. To use such a disparity of force, as the placing of one Israelite against 450 of the enemy, made it clear that salvation could not in this case come from "an arm of flesh," but from the infinite control which Jehovah exercised over all persons and events in the course of His providential rule. He could bring out 1000 issues where men could not accomplish one. He has but to touch man's heart and it is filled with fears, or suspicions, or disquieting thoughts, and a whole army is made to flee before the creations of their own affrighted imaginations (2 Kings 7; 2Sa ). He can paralyse a man's faculties so far as to "make the diviners mad, and turn the wise men backward." The counsel of the most astute He can turn to foolishness, as in the case of Ahithophel, and the heart of the most courageous He can cause to melt as water. He can introduce confusion into the counsels of those who bear rule, and produce the phenomenon of a "house divided against itself" at the very moment of assurance of victory. Or He can awaken any element in nature to serve His purpose, from "the stars in their courses," down to the dewdrop and the rain. A man's own mind too He can distract by filling him with fearful apprehensions by day and scaring him with dreams by night.

It was to glorify the inexhaustible resources of the God of Israel, that He employed a mere handful of men to put to the rout, and utterly consume an army of the enemy, numerous as the sand on the sea shore.

2. The character of the army chosen. Though forcibly taught by this history, that success does not depend on the extent or measure of the instrumentality employed, yet regard is had, as a rule, to the fitness of the instrumentality. The use of natural means to accomplish Divine ends is an arrangement which God Himself has established; and the greater fitness there is in the means employed, we are warranted to expect a larger success in the result. God has respect to His own arrangement. Even in the preaching of the Gospel, while "it is ever God that gives the increase," He blesses most those means that are in themselves best adapted to produce the result (Act ; Act 14:1). We may expect therefore, that God's army would be chosen according to the personal fitness of the men to occupy the post of peril.

(1.) They were picked men. They were chosen out from others as being superior to those with whom they were associated. They were men of sterling character, of rock-like intrepidity in the presence of danger, every man a hero, and all "of the stuff of which patriots are made." They all justified the choice that was made of them at this eventful crisis, by following their captain into the breach, at the call of duty, resolved to do or die for their country and their God. In physical features they were men of Spartan courage, of the lion-heart, and of stalwart frame. No weak hands or feeble knees appeared among them, but all seemed trustworthy to meet the great emergency that had arisen.

This class of men are specially needed at any crisis of the church's history. It is not numbers that form the real strength of the Church of God, but men of the right stamp. Men are needed who are "rooted in the faith," "grounded" in love, and "established" in the hope of the gospel—who have profound convictions and strong decision of character. A large number of professing Christians scarcely rise above the line of reproach for being insincere. They wear the good name. Charity supposes them to be on the right side of the line, but is not free from doubts. Tried by a low standard they pass for Christians, but they have little of the shining lustre which indicates the genuine seal of heaven.

The men that really do good, however, are those whose piety does not flicker in the socket, but burns with a bright and steady flame—those who have fixed principles as the basis of their characters, whose eye rests not below the horizon of time, but is fixed on the grand realities of eternity, and whose hearts "rejoice daily in the hope of the glory of God." Such men do honour to the cause they espouse by their character and conduct; and they are the men who, like lightning rods, are fitted to draw down the blessing from above.

(2.) They had faith in their cause. The test applied to their character was so severe, that nothing but true belief in Israel's God and conscientious attachment to His cause, could have so entirely stood it, as these men did. They were the faithful "remnant" of Gideon's days; men who, in other circumstances, would have suffered as martyrs at the stake, or, for the sake of their principles, would have "wandered about in sheep-skins, and goat-skins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented." They believed in Jehovah as sustaining to Israel the relation of a covenant God, who had made many gracious promises; and they counted "Him faithful who had promised." They had hope therefore in Israel's future, and believed, from the signs before them, that God was to arise even now, and vindicate His own honour in the eyes of the heathen nations that knew Him not. No other explanation will account for their staunchness. (Comp. pp. 279, 280).

Such men make a church strong, because on them the Divine smile can rest, and like true Israelites they have influence at the throne of grace. Men of great faith, when they set themselves to pray importunately for the blessing, as these men doubtless would do, "moved the hand that moved the universe." This has much to do with the success of the church of God in overcoming all opposition to her cause in the world. When she reflects most brightly the Divine image, and is filled in greatest abundance with the Divine Spirit, then is she most likely to be made an efficient instrument in blessing the world around her. (Psa ).

(3.) They were careful in the use of means. It was not by direct miraculous agency that the result was gained, but through the instrumentality of Gideon's band. God's blessing rested on the means they used, and rendered them effectual, so that the enemy was routed. They made the fullest use of the means at their disposal, and left the issue with God. There were no idle men in that army, just as there were no cowards. There were no supernumeraries, none that could be spared from their post. Every man was required to form a line long enough, in each of the three crescents, in order to produce the impression intended. Had but a few of the trumpets remained unblown, a smaller number of lights been kindled, and only a half of the pitchers been broken, less consternation and dismay had been spread in the camp of the enemy. There was no reserve, and there was no fighting by proxy. Every man was so sternly required at his post that he had to stand firm, as if on him depended the entire success of the hour.

Thus it is in the Christian army. None can plead exemption from want of capacity, obscurity of station, or insignificance of personal resources. None dare to fold his arms and refuse to fight because he cannot bring down a Goliath, or turn the tide of battle by his single prowess. None dare to leave the battle ground, because he is only a private soldier, and not a general. None dare to sleep at his post, because he sees not any great good that can be accomplished by all that he can do. All must act, and act simultaneously, each in his place, if complete success is to be attained in any field of the Christian warfare.

(4.) They were loyal to their Leader. They knew that Gideon did not occupy this position of himself, but that God had specially called him to it, and as they would be found faithful to God Himself, they now cleave fast to him whom God had chosen to become the Liberator of their country. There was no jealousy or envy. Whoever might be the Lord's anointed, him they would follow for the Lord's sake. The story of the angel's visit to Gideon, they had heard of, and the promise made, "I will be with thee" (Jud ); they had witnessed Gideon as the successful challenger of Baal; the sign of the fleece and the dew they had heard of; and now at last came the story of the singular dream about the "cake overturning the tent." By all these evidences they were confirmed in the thought, that Gideon was a man called of God, and to him as the one that God had sent, they became ardently attached as their leader. Neither the numbers of the enemy, nor the falling away of so many cowards, wrought with them for a moment to make them swerve. We hear of no murmurs, no sinkings of heart, no thoughts of flight, nor laying down of arms in pure despondency at the hopeless character of the issue. But, fully confident of the result, they were all eye and ear on Gideon to announce the line of duty they should take. Hence there was nothing but prompt and silent obedience throughout the whole camp; and when it is thus in the Christian camp, success will be rapid and complete. (Comp. pp. 272-286).

III. The strong man's time of weakness, and the comforts of his God.

It appears from Jud that Gideon had still some lingering apprehensions in this great extremity, and his God, in tender mercy, supplies him with another additional comfort (see pp. 353-4). All, even the strongest, have such periods of weakness in the hour of great trial. As it is human to err, so it is human to be spiritually weak.

1. Spiritual strength is not inherent in pious men. It is not native, but given, and given as an act of grace. Though never entirely taken away, it is given in a greater or less degree according to the manner in which it has been improved, or according to the measure of their trust in their God, their conscientiousness in prayer, or their leading a consistent, God-fearing life.

The Christian's strength differs from natural courage. It consists in the upholding grace of his Master. He is "strong in the Lord" (Eph ). So while personally weak, he may yet be strong (2Co 12:10). As sustaining grace is given or withheld he is strong or weak (2Co 12:9). Each day anew this grace is needed.

2. Faith is ever apt to fail. Faith has a slender root. It is not a native growth on the soil of the human heart. Hence those who are comparatively strong in faith sometimes give way under the pressure of continued trial, and become weak as other men (e.g. Moses, Num ; Abraham, Gen 15:2; Elijah, 1 Kings 19; the Martyr Church, (Rev 6:10; Luther, and the Reformers on many occasions. See more fully above at pp. 353, 354). It is "by faith that we stand." On this pillar the whole of our spiritual character depends. But when through long continuance of trial, our frail nature yearns for repose from the strain to which it is exposed, faith gives way, and the strong man becomes weak.

3. Divine comforts are opportunely given. "Fear not! I am with thee—I will not fail thee—Be not dismayed, I am thy God, I will strengthen thee, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. Though thou art a ‘worm,' I will make thee thrash the mountains, and beat them small." "As thy days so shall thy strength be" (Jos ; Isa 41:10; Isa 41:14-15; Deu 33:25 : also Isa 40:29-31). When these promises are realised, a great accession of strength is the result.

4. These comforts are given with kind consideration. As in the beautiful expression, "thy gentleness hath made me great" (Psa ). The Divine loving kindness is manifested in God's general dealings with the good man in the hour of peril (See Psa 103:13; "the cords of a man," etc. Hos 11:4; "the Lord being merciful to him" Gen 19:16). Here he shows His finger by what seems a trifling incident. But Gideon is quick to discern it as the finger of God (Psa 32:8).

COMMENTS AND SUGGESTIONS

I. The apparent hopelessness of success for the cause of the Church. The Church of God is the same now that it was in Gideon's days. The great purpose of its existence then was the promotion of God's glory in the world in connection with a Messiah to come. It is the same end that is kept in view now in connection with the Messiah as come. He and we live but at different periods of the same great contest. The weapons used in the conflict are very different; the cause is the same and the principles are all the same.

The most striking feature of the conflict is the apparent hopelessness of the cause that is God's. To re-introduce the love of God into a fallen world, and to make it take deep root everywhere, when every passion and inclination, every thought, disposition, and craving of the human heart, are all dead against it, seems an utterly unattainable object.

Take any of the "dark places" of the earth as an illustration. Select Western Central Africa. In 1845 a mere handful of missionaries had begun to assemble on the shores of that extensive empire of Satan, with the ultimate view of bringing the vast population of 70 millions of human beings, that stretched far and wide over that large part of the continent, to the knowledge and the love of God. To the eye of an observer, how futile the attempt! How preposterous the expectation of success! To hope to Christianise our own land with such an insignificant instrumentality would indeed appear an extravagant dream. And are the difficulties fewer in Western Africa? To say nothing of the difficulties which exist there and do not exist here—to say nothing of its vertical sun, its noxious swamps, its barbarous rites, and strange language—is the master difficulty, the depravity of the human heart more easily conquered in Africa than it is in England? Can any of these Ethiopians easily change their skin, or men accustomed to do evil readily learn to do good! And if in any one individual case this is so difficult, how impossible to expect such a change of character among the myriads on myriads of that teeming population! "If the Lord should open the windows of heaven, might such a thing be?" Were God not to open the windows of heaven, such a thing would not be. On that moral wilderness "nothing but briers and thorns would come up, until the Spirit be poured from on high."

II. The success of the church is not to be estimated according to ordinary rules. The cause of the church is of higher origin than the schemes of men. It is in a peculiar sense God's own cause, and by it He is evolving in a far more illustrious manner than by any other method the moral glory of His all-perfect character. Its success, and the manner of its success, are more slowly and solemnly revealed than those of any other cause. Everything regarding the evolution of its results is more under His own immediate superintendence, and when success is effected it usually comes in such a way as to call forth the exclamation, "Is not the hand of the Lord in all this?" The most magnificent results are accomplished by the feeblest instrumentality. That "Satan should be seen falling as lightning from heaven" before the proclamation of the simple tale of the cross by plain unlettered fishermen—that the Prince of Darkness should be defeated in those fastnesses where he had reckoned himself most secure by a mere detachment of the army of the Prince of Light—affords a far higher display of moral grandeur, than could the employment of means equal to the greatness of the result, or commensurate with the difficulty of its accomplishment, have done.

III. The strength of the Church is not to be estimated by numbers. Had it been so, what would have become of her interests all along? From the beginning until now, the number of her adherents has been small compared with the number of her foes. Under both Dispensations they have been like what the Israelites were to their enemies, in the days of Ahab—"like two little flocks of kids, while the Syrians filled the country." Yet, the standing promise of her Head is—"Fear not, little flock; it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." And though faithful soldiers of the cross do fall, though standard-bearers do faint, though the ranks of the stedfast few are thinned, the strength of the Church is not gone, for her strength does not depend on her numbers.

The Church was small in number at a time when her enemies were gathered together as the sand by the sea-shore, a very great multitude, and when but six hundred men followed the guilty monarch of Israel trembling. But one man was found with sufficient confidence in his God to go forth alone, followed by his armour-bearer, against the armies of the uncircumcised. Trembling seized the mighty host, and victory was declared for Israel. The Church was small in the days of Elijah; yet, at the prayers of that one man, the waters of heaven were stayed, so that it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. Again he prayed and the earth brought forth her fruit. In those days, though small in number, was the Church weak? Let the event answer. He stood forth alone the prophet of the Lord, while the priests of Baal were 450 men. But at his prayer, the fire of heaven fell, the bystanders were struck with awe, and the wicked priests, who had led the people to apostatise from the true God, were put to death as the real cause of the desolation that overspread the land. The Church was small in the days of Hezekiah; but was she weak? At the voice of his prayer the angel of the Lord went forth into the camp of her enemies and slew in one night 185,000 men.

If we come to New Testament times, the church was small in number, when those assembled in the upper room at Jerusalem waiting the day of Pentecost, were but 120 persons. But was she weak? Let the events of that day answer. Through their prayers, at the preaching of a single sermon about Jesus Christ and Him crucified, by an illiterate fisherman, no fewer than 3000 souls were "added to the church of such as should be saved." During the first century of the Christian era, the church was a monument to after ages of the power of that religion which had come fresh from heaven—its power to overthrow and to cast down every thing that might exalt or oppose itself against God, to pluck up and root out every obstacle that might impede its progress.

IV. The true strength of the church lies in the presence of her Great Head.

The great promise is, "I am with you always;" and the first sentence of the church's history reads, "they went forth and preached, the Lord working with them." He gave them "power to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemies." For the good of His church He holds the reins of universal government. For "He is Head over all things to His Church (Eph ; Joh 17:2). From His high seat, His watchful eye commands the entire arena of the contest. His wisdom and resources are equal to the great emergency of this world's history, now that it has become the battle field of the armies of light and darkness; His counsel shall stand, He will do all His pleasure. "Before Him every knee shall yet bow," and "His enemies shall lick the dust." "No weapon formed against His church shall prosper."

It is not a mere imagination, but a matter of history, on His own word of truth, that all power in heaven and earth is given into His hands; and we are sure He will use that power in defending a cause for which He shed His blood. The Lord Jesus is on the throne, therefore let the Church be glad. For His own name's sake He must work, until His Church go forth "fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners."

CHAPTER 7

DIVINE PROVIDENCE OVERRULING THE RESULT. Jud

CRITICAL NOTES.—

Jud . The interpretation thereof.] Heb. The breaking thereof. A metaphor from the breaking of a nut to come at the kernel; or from a fowl's beating the shell with her beak to get out the fish. [Trapp.] Gideon learns that the enemy's confidence is already broken by the belief that Israel's Lord is again in the field. [Cassel.] His mind is ready to believe like that of Nathanael (Joh 1:49). His first act instinctively is to worship his God with thanksgiving, and his next is to bound back to his little camp (not "host") with a resolute purpose to attack the foe. The sky was now clear of all doubts. The victory was as good as gained. Like an electric spark Gideon communicated his own spirit to his followers.

Jud . He divided the three hundred men, etc.] Not a moment is now to be lost. A plan of singular shrewdness, which he had revolved in his mind, suggested probably by his God, who was closely guiding his every movement, he begins at once to put into execution. Instructions are given to all his men as to how they should act. They are arranged in three distinct columns, to have the appearance of three armies in the darkness of night. Their weapons are trumpets, pitchers, and torches or firebrands. These last were concealed within the pitchers till the moment came for their blazing forth. This division of the men was meant to show the enemy that their camp was assailed from three different quarters (comp. 1Sa 11:11; 2Sa 18:2). All were to be bold, prompt, and simultaneous in their action. On one supreme moment the whole issue depended. Gideon himself was to give the signal.

Jud . The middle watch.] The Romans divided the night into four watches, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., three hours on each watch, and the Jews when conquered by the Romans followed the same reckoning (Mat 14:25; Mar 13:35). But originally the Israelites divided the night into three watches, from sunset to 10 p.m. (Lam 2:19); from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. (as here); and from 2 a.m. to sun-rise (Exo 14:24; 1Sa 11:11). It is clear that in this case it is the old reckoning that is referred to, from the expression, "the middle watch" (Psa 63:6; Psa 90:4; Psa 119:148; Psa 130:6).

Came unto the outermost part of the camp.] To the border of the camp. Several instances of this kind of stratagem are found in history. The famous Hannibal once extricated himself in this way when surrounded by Fabius Maximus. Also an Arab chief, during last century, made his escape from a fortress in which he was besieged by a vastly superior force through the same means. [Viebuhr.] By a like stratagem Pompey overcame Mithridates in Asia. [Trapp.]

Newly set the watch.] The first sentries had been relieved, and the second posted. Some little time must have been occupied in Gideon's making a disposition of his men, and giving them instructions; so that now it must have been probably about eleven o'clock, when the whole camp had given itself up to the deep sleep of the night season, and were calculating on enjoying several hours of an unbroken slumber (1Th ). Some little time, too, would be occupied by the other two companies going round, to take up their positions at different places near the camp.

Jud . They blew the trumpets, etc.] It being pitch dark, every man being in his place and knowing what to do, stillness reigning throughout the valley, and the enemy being fast asleep in the vast multitude of his tents, Gideon, committing himself once more to God in prayer, puts the trumpet to his mouth, and with one loud piercing blast gives the appointed signal. Instantly it is followed by the terrific noise of shrill, strong blasts from three hundred other trumpets piercing the night air, and the next moment to that is added the crashing of three hundred pitchers among the rocks close by the camp of the sleepers, as if the whole heights around about had become vocal with fury against the spoilers of Jehovah's heritage. And while terror thus fell on the ear, the moment the eye looked, there were three hundred torches blazing ominously full in view, as if they were avenging deities come to execute the sentence of doom. All this was followed by the terrible cry—The sword of Jehovah and of Gideon!—the two names which, of all others, were most dreaded by the conscience-stricken Midianites.

Jud . All the host ran, etc.] As with the shock of an earthquake the whole camp of the enemy was startled, and awakened from sleep. Alarm filled every breast; consternation took possession of the myriads on myriads that spread themselves for miles along the valley; and an affrighted imagination added tenfold creations of its own to the actual realities of evil around them. Three hundred trumpets were blowing, and 300 torches were blazing, but to the terrified onlookers in the valley they seemed to be thousands. And these thousands of torch bearers seemed to be but lighting the way to a large army behind them. There was running hither and thither as among those who are distracted. The panic was universal. None thought of making a stand against the danger. Terrors swept the whole valley like a whirlwind.

They cried—in terror. Everything was lost. Their cattle, their spoil, their tents and baggage, their wives and children, and dear life itself were in jeopardy. Being in darkness they supposed an avenging army was already among them, and they mistook friends for foes. Suspicion also arose among them, that one part of the camp was treacherous to the other parts—that being of mixed nationalities, the one race began to plot against the others. And so from different causes "the Lord set every man's sword against his fellow." (1Sa ; 2Ch 20:23). Hence arose a dreadful slaughter throughout the whole camp. In blind and helpless confusion they ran on smiting down all that came in their way.

Beth-shittah. J House of acacias. The course of the flight was at first eastward, along the main road to Bethshan, and the Jordan, then southward down the Arabah, towards Jericho, where they might more easily cross the river. But it was a headlong route without thought, or order, or object. The one idea was to save life.

Abel-meholah—the birth-place of Elisha, about 10 miles below Bethshan. The rising sun beheld them turned into a rabble of fugitives, rushing in the wildest terror towards the fords of Jordan.

Jud . Men of Israel were gathered, etc.] The cowards who had turned back, but especially the 9700 who, though not cowardly, had not been accepted by God to form part of His select army. Also all who had any spark of patriotism left in their bosoms among the Northern tribes. Swift messengers too were sent by Gideon to the hill country of Ephraim, that they should come down and intercept the enemy at those parts of the Jordan that were over against their territory. The Midianites doubtless fled in more detachments than one, so that Gideon could not follow them in all the routes they took without help. It was besides highly politic to give the Ephraimites some share of the honours of so memorable a day.

Jud . They slew Oreb on the rock Oreb, etc.] The two princes had taken shelter, one in the cavern of a rock, the other in the vat of a wine-press. Both these places, from this circumstance, were afterwards called by their names respectively. Oreb, signifies a raven, and Zeeb, a wolf, both significant names of the rapacity which characterised these marauding chiefs. "These princes had forced Israel to hide in the rocks, and had robbed them of their provisions, and now the God of Israel makes them see their sin in their punishment" (Jud 1:7). [Trapp.]


Verses 15-25

MAIN HOMILETICS.—Jud

I. The Hand of the Lord visible in this deliverance.

It is quite manifest that the overruling Providence of God was at work in all this to bring out the result. This is seen—

I. In the general effect produced. Victory was gained in a few minutes, and without striking a blow—Israel did not need to lift sword or spear. There was no battle—only a rout, disastrous and complete. Not a single man was lost of Gideon's men—not a wound or scar was given. They did not need to fight, but to stand still and see the salvation of God. In place of swords we see trumpets, pitchers, and torches; and yet through the whole camp of Midian, such was the state of terror, that "none of the men of might did find their hands." There is no such thing possible as fighting against the mighty God of Jacob. There must have been some remarkable influence at work to have produced such a result as this.

II. In the use of the particular means employed. It was by one special cause that the issue was brought about—the rousing of the fears of the enemy to such an extent, as to paralyse all regular or orderly action. This was done in the simplest but most effective manner.

(1.) Gideon was directed to form, a plan fitted to produce the result. In this and all other steps he seems to have been Divinely guided. At this moment, all his movements seem to have been taken in hand by his God, for he was the instrument in God's hand employed to carry out His designs; and though he was left a free agent, as at other times, there was yet an overruling of the workings of his mind, while forming his plans and purposes. There is, indeed, nothing supernatural in the plan itself, however much skill and natural shrewdness it may indicate. There was no violation of natural law.

The time chosen was the dead of night, when all was dark around, and when the whole camp was sunk in slumber. The place occupied was the heights around the camp, especially at three different points. To produce a hideous noise all round the camp at a moment's notice while profound silence reigned, and to keep up that noise with the blare of 300 trumpets, was not only fitted to startle the sleepers, but to strike them with terror. The effect of this too would be vastly increased by the tossing of 300 burning torches in the air, right in view of those who were newly-awaked from their slumbers. To make use of such a moment for a fierce attack on the enemy by a handful of resolute men, was certain to throw them into hopeless confusion.

(2.) Divine support was given in carrying out this plan. The best laid schemes often prove abortive from not being well executed. Nerve is required; precision must be observed; circumstances must be anticipated. Here everything went right. There was unity in Gideon's camp. There was the most perfect discipline. All were zealous for the cause, as the cause of God. All acted on religious principle, and there was more than natural courage. Much of the same spirit that rested on Gideon also rested on his followers. It was the Lord's battle they were fighting, and He "sends none a warfare on their own charges." He gives grace according to the day (Deu ). There was no timidity in the face of a great danger. Not one was feeble in all the ranks of that little brave army. The tone of true courage was everywhere marked, and the Leader could count on every man doing his duty when the moment for action arrived.

(3.) The enemy's feeling of security remained undisturbed. There are so many possibilities of information leaking out before the time, that one great danger of the plan miscarrying lay in the fear, that some hint might be given to the hostile army, that a desperate attempt was to be made to surprise them during the night. But the God of Providence so overruled matters, that no intelligence was carried to the ears of the Midianites of any such design. They would indeed be slow to listen to any such tale, so profound was their contempt for the prowess of the people, whom they had seven times trampled down in the most reckless manner. They did not believe in their capability of showing a formidable front to their oppressors. In this they were more than confirmed, when they saw first, how many thousands flocked to Gideon's standard, and yet, in a few days, the great bulk of them began to return to their homes with as much haste as they had left them.

So do the enemies of the Church often imagine that all is over with the Church of God, when they see her cut down to the very roots, and no means of restoration are at hand. Thus did Ahab and Jezebel feel, when the prophets of the Lord were persecuted out of the land (1Ki ; 1Ki 19:10). Doubtless, too, the chief priests and Pharisees felt sure that they had heard the last of Jesus of Nazareth, and that His cause was for ever extinguished, when they made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone and setting a watch. The Church of Rome felt secure from all that Protestantism could do, when the famous proclamation was made from the Lateran Church, that now at last heresy was everywhere subdued, and that there were none that did even mutter or peep against the power that reigned supreme in the Imperial city.

(4.) A foundation was laid for filling the enemy's mind with fears. The mighty deeds which had been done by Israel's God at different periods, since the remarkable deliverance from Egyptian bondage, had made a profound impression on all the heathen nations, and however much they hated that God, a salutary fear of His hand was cherished by them all. On the present occasion it got rumoured, that that God was again about to appear on behalf of His people, and the Midianites appear to have heard of it. This is clearly implied in the case of the dream and the interpretation given of it, which Gideon heard in the outermost part of the camp of Midian. But as yet they slept securely, because no danger was visible. They felt, however, that danger was in the air, so that they were prepared to be struck with panic, when that dreadful name Jehovah was proclaimed over their heads in the darkness of night. Just as Jehovah looked through the cloud and troubled Pharaoh's host, and took off their chariot wheels, so now He was beginning to produce a ground swell in the Midianitish heart, by the terrible suspicion that He had marked them out as the victims of His strong anger. Hence the power of the motto—The sword of Jehovah and of Gideon! All this was evidently of God.

(5.) The sudden alarm produced distracting thoughts. No instrument sounds so loudly as the trumpet; and here were 300 such instruments blowing from three different sides, making a noise sufficient to startle the heaviest sleeper, and fill him with terror. At the same moment, 300 empty pitchers were broken with clattering noise among the rocks, a noise, coming as it did so unexpectedly, sufficient to shake the firmest nerves. The two noises coming together, making such a volume of sound, and rending the midnight air in the most unaccountable manner, could hardly fail to produce a terrible panic among the vast multitude, who had given themselves over to the quiet and security of sleep. It added greatly to this effect, that there were 300 ominous lights flashing in the dark back ground, in three crescents, on different sides of the camp. All this was fitted to produce not only alarm, but consternation among persons suddenly awakened out of the dead sleep of night.

Yet, but for the overruling Providence of God, it might have proved a complete failure. The enemy's camp did not all consist of women and children. A very large number, probably the majority, were fighting men. We hear of the chamushim (Jud ) men not only armed, but arrayed in divisions, or quinquiped men—marshalled as an army in five divisions, the centre, two wings, the front and rear guard. This is suggestive of order and even discipline. Why should an organised army, that occupied the part of the camp nearest to Gideon, become all at once so penetrated with terror? Did they not know that the many followers, who at first had flocked to Gideon, had become literally scattered among the valleys and caves as before? And they knew of no other army in the field all round. Was it not fairly possible, or even probable, that after the first startling noise, knowing the above fact, their leaders would have sent messengers to ascertain the strength of the army on the heights, for they were themselves an almost innumerable host, and well able to meet in the field any ordinary army. When they had such a contempt for the people who fled before them like sheep, and hid themselves in dens, and caves, and rocky strongholds, why should they all at once become frantic with terror, and run in mad haste to escape the swords of that same people? It does seem as if there were a Divine ordering of the means used to bring out so disastrous an issue.

He who has all hearts in His hand made use of the means which Gideon employed to suggest dreadful thoughts to the minds of the enemy.

(a.) They imagined that a great army was just upon them. How it had been raised they knew not, but their eyes and ears told them it was there. Such an army looked like a dreadful apparition, a thing from the spirit world, a legion of spectres and weird demons, mysteriously raised, mysteriously armed, and possessed of mysterious powers. The effect on superstitious imaginations must have been electric. They fled as men would flee from a company of unearthly forms issuing from the pit of darkness.

(b.) They were afraid of the God of Gideon. That terrible sentence which sounded in their ears—"The sword of Jehovah and of Gideon" filled them with dismay, as they reflected that so great a God was about to repeat His mighty acts of the past, in raising all the elements of nature, and of the spirit world as well, to overwhelm his enemies. As the Egyptians said, "Let us flee from the face of Israel, for Jehovah fighteth for them against us," so did the leaders of that doomed army say to each other; and so they thought of nothing but flight. They believed they were to be a mark for the arrows of the God of Israel.

(c.) The suspicion of treachery rose among them. They were a mixed company, several armies joined in one, the only link of union being their common hatred and contempt for the people of Israel (Psa )—Amalekites, Moabites, Midianites, and Arabs. As no one knew how it was possible that a large army could rise up against them in a moment, the thought must have flashed across the minds of many—"there is treachery in the camp." Some one or two of the races must have laid a plot to massacre all the rest, to secure the whole booty for themselves. Distrust thus arose among them, and we are told, "the Lord set every man's sword against his fellow." A frightful slaughter of each other began. This demoralisation became complete, when they feared also that the supposed large army on the heights was already among them. In the pitch dark, and amid the utter confusion, every man took his neighbour for an enemy, and so smote him down. All the while the panic urged them instinctively to flight. Large numbers would be trodden down, beause they impeded the progress of those who were flying for their lives. Thus thousands on thousands would perish of the mutual slaughter, before the swords of the Israelites were among them.

Who does not see that the hand of the Lord was in all this, stirring up terror in every heart, and leading to a ruinous flight?

(6.) Pursuers sprung up on all sides with the morning light. When God deals with His own people for their sins, it is in chastisement, and He corrects in measure. But when He deals with His enemies for their sins, it is for their destruction. Thus it was now. Means are taken for the utter overthrow of the whole host, that had dared for seven years in succession to come up as spoilers of God's heritage. Besides the 300, the 9700 who had been disbanded, and large numbers of the Israelites, north, west, and south, gather in swift and simultaneous concert to smite the common enemy. And the remarkable fact appears, that, whether it was that their flight was terribly obstructed by their families, their dromedaries, their luggage, and possessions of various sorts, or whether special facilities were furnished to the pursuers for coming up with them, it happened that eight parts out of nine of this multitudinous host perished before they could cross the Jordan! It is expressly stated that 120,000 men out of 135,000, fell on that fatal morning, of those that drew sword (ch. Jud ). How many men of a different class there may have been, those who were purveyors, servants, cattle-drivers, etc., as also how many women and children, we are not informed, but the number must have been much larger. Possibly the entire army of human locusts that settled down on the rich pastures of Israel was not much short of half a million of persons! And now they all perished! "The sword of the Lord was drunk with their blood" (Jer 46:12). Wicked men should fear to offend the great Jehovah (Zec 2:13; Psa 2:12; Psa 10:13; Psa 76:5-10; Job 21:30; Job 22:21; Psa 33:8; Isa 3:10-11).

II. A Picture of the Church's Experience in every Age.

At all periods the church has been a mark for the rage of earth and hell. It is natural that Satan should do his utmost against an institution, whose purpose is to overturn his throne and destroy his kingdom. And it is natural that worldly men should have bitter hatred to that which condemns all their evil desires and cherished lusts, and insists on the practice of self-denial as a leading virtue. The forms of attack may change, the weapons used in the warfare may be greatly different, and the conditions may become greatly modified in different ages, but the warfare itself always goes on, the rancour of the world is still kept up, and the same malicious treatment is given, or is tried to be given, to the church now as was given to it in the days of the Midianitish invasion. He and we live, but at different periods of the same great contest. He fought to keep up the cause of God on the earth then, as we are called on still to propagate and maintain that cause under the form of the gospel of Christ, but with very different weapons.

For what is the picture of the church's experience in these times?

1. She is still surrounded by enemies numerous as the sand on the sea-shore. If, indeed, there is no actual army with sword and spear, as in Gideon's days, there is yet, even in so-called Christian lands, a vast multitude of persons who are inveterately opposed to the essence and spirit of christianity, and whose opposition to it appears in a variety of ways. If carnal weapons are no longer used, and if instruments of torture are laid aside—if Geshem, the Arabian, no longer lives, nor Sanballat, the Horonite, there is yet bitter offence taken at the Cross of Christ, which shows itself either in the open forms of infidelity; in attacks made on the Book of God; in endeavours to secularise the day of God, and to abolish the worship of God, and in sneering at those who profess the truth of God; or which shows itself in the more covert, but still more dangerous, form of perverting and falsifying the truth of God, of inventing a substitute for the gospel of Christ, of mixing it up with the traditions or philosophy of men, and, as far as possible, passing it by altogether. Indeed, every human heart, until regenerated by the Holy Spirit, is characterised by a spirit of enmity against God, and, except in so far as bridled by powerful moral restraints, is disposed to show a bitter Midianitish opposition to the church of God. Except those who have given themselves up to the belief and the sway of Christian truth, all men are more or less natural enemies to the church of God, and its high spiritual purpose.

2. The enemies are a heterogeneous confederation. First comes Science, with her lofty air and many tongues. In a very dogmatic manner she attacks the dogmas of the sacred book, forgetting that science itself consists almost wholly of dogmas. Proud of her acquisitions in useful knowledge, she asserts more peremptorily than ever, that the laws of nature as now discovered, tell a different tale from that which we have in the historical statements of the Scriptures. And in their extreme haste, a host of savans already proclaim, that Christianity has been reasoned off the stage. But the old rock keeps its place amid the lashings of the waves. Next comes Philosophy, boasting that it is in the track of some great discoveries, by which the doctrines of Christianity may be dissipated, and the supernatural element taken out of them, so that they will soon come under the proper control of human reason, and therefore become suited to human liking. Next rises up Criticism, which tells us there are ever so many discrepancies between what is now known outside the Scriptures to be true, philological, archological, antiquarian, and otherwise, and the affirmations of the old volume itself.

Closer at hand we have all the schools of our modern Areopagus clamouring in our ears more insolently, and we might add, more discordantly still, than the groups of learned men on that hill of wisdom in Athens—the schools of Atheism, of Agnosticism, of Positivism, of Deism, Theism, Pantheism, of Rationalism, Naturalism, and Spiritualism, of Broad-Churchism, and Formalism—all of which ardently aim at getting quit, not of the beauties of the Bible, nor its good morality, nor its just, pure and lofty sentiments so much, as first its element of the supernatural; for that is felt to be terribly humbling to man's pride of understanding, and puts him down to the footstool, when he would fain climb to the throne. They wish to get quit too of its inspiration and oracular authority; for that binds man to believe what he is taught by testimony, and makes his reason a subject, not a sovereign. It also suggests the idea of a Lord of the conscience. They wish to get quit too of the doctrine of human responsibility; for that makes conscience a troubled sea in the soul, at the thought that man will be judged for all his thoughts, words, and actions. Especially they wish to get quit of such a doctrine as human depravity; for that is reproachful to man's character as a moral being, and sinks him to shame and contempt in the estimation of the morally pure and holy. They wish above all to blot out from the page of history, and if they could, from the page of human thought, the doctrine of the death of the Son of God being the suffering of a substitute endured to atone for the sins of men; for that is to intensify inconceivably the evil of sin, reveals the alarming condition of man's prospect for the future, and proves his utter powerlessness to help himself in the terrible emergency.

All these enemies of the Christian Church want, in one word, to get quit of the peculiar doctrines of Christianity, as being most distasteful to man's unspiritual nature, and most humbling to his imperial and stubborn will. They would refit the Bible, or reconstruct it so as to make it speak in quite another tone. Intead of being governed by it, they would govern it, and transform it into a Book that would suit the convenience, and establish the glory of man.

3. The attacks are persistently made. The language used against the Book which contains the doctrines of Christianity was never more bold, we might say, audacious, than it has been during the present century. Formerly, it may have been more coarse, and ribald, when such men as Voltaire, Paine, Rochester, and Hume, poured their vile abuse on the good Book. Yet in this age, far more liberty of opinion is claimed than in any past epoch. Never was public opinion stronger, and never did liberty run so far in the direction of laxity. It has indeed become a rage—a passion. The pendulum has swung from the point of over-strictness, to that of over looseness. The result is, that never has there been such boldness in casting aside old forms of belief, and even the beliefs themselves. After so many failures, the attacks on the old Rock are still kept up, and with renewed confidence, it is defiantly asserted, that not only must Christianity moult, and change its garb, but, in these advancing times, must change in its very substance. Old ships, it is said, do not weather tempestuous seas so well as those of fresher build. So, many have taken to imagining, that the old vessel of Christianity will not hold out much longer amid the tremendous seas that are now lashing over her, but that she must soon go to pieces and become a total wreck. Others, who do not take this extreme view, yet think the time has come when the ship must be laid up in the dock, and undergo much refitting and reconstruction to prepare her for future service.

These attacks have been most numerous, most formidable, and most envenomed. They have come in on every side, and been made with united force. Notwithstanding all the falsification of past predictions respecting the defeat of Christianity, the opposition to it is as persistent to-day as ever it was in any previous age. But one thing is always strangely forgotten, that He who constructed this vessel is the same with the builder of heaven and earth, who holds the waters of human strife in the hollow of his hand, and without whose permission not a single ripple can rise or fall. The raging sea of human opinions may run mountains high, yet the little skiff which carries the Church of God cannot be swallowed up by the threatening element, while the Lord of the Church walks on the crest of the waves, able in a moment to still them at their wildest fury.

4. Every possible advantage is on the side of the enemy. Here the Church fights her battle with 300 against 135,000 men, or one man against 450. In the case of Jonathan, it was two men against many thousands. In the case of Samson, it was one man against several thousands. In the case of Joshua and his followers, it was one nation against many nations, for the Canaanites were really a cluster of separate kingdoms. There is a special purpose to be served by this arrangement. The Church of God, representing the cause of religious truth in this world, is far too mighty for error to stand before her when opposed on equal terms. Error, in such a case, could no more maintain its ground, than darkness could cope with the rays of the noonday sun. There could indeed be no battle at all, and all the moral purposes served by the prolonged opposition of the one to the other would come to an end.

Error needs all possible resources to help her. The subtleties of logic, the splendours of eloquence, powers of reasoning, and charms of literary accomplishment; while plain, unadorned straightforward statement stand on the other side. Erudition, philosophy and science plead her cause, poetry weaves for her a many-coloured robe of beauty, while fame puts a crown of gold on her head, gives a sceptre into her hand, blows the trumpet before her, and calls on the multitude to bend the knee at her name. But truth must stand alone, in humble garb, and mean attire, and with unsophisticated speech must plead her own cause. The world's dread laugh and proud supercilious scorn she meets with showing her native majesty of mien and purity of tone. The cause of truth too is often most injudiciously handled by her defenders, they often fall out among themselves, and do irreparable mischief by their dissensions. But the advocates of error have generally been men of great mental grasp and profound scholarship. Truth in one word is placed at its weakest to contend with error at its strongest, that so a far more illustrious triumph may be gained in the end, than if the advantages enjoyed on either side had borne some proportion of equality to each other.

But there is not only inequality of advantage. Truth has always been exposed to the grossest misrepresentation, while her character and claims are miserably misunderstood. We see Christian truth perverted, parodied, mystified, and falsely accused. The whole treatment of the cross has been measured out anew to the truth of the cross—she has been betrayed and stabbed in secret, and mocked and vilified in open day. A whole army of detractors, scoffers, and calumniators have kept continually dogging her steps, until she might well say in the language of Him whose name is "The Truth,"—"Reproach hath broken my heart!"

5. The inherent power of Bible truth makes victory certain in the end. The little finger of truth is thicker than the loins of error. With that little finger she has gained world-renowned victories. "With the jaw of an ass she has slain a thousand men." With the blowing of rams' horns she has made the fortified cities of the enemy fall down flat. With sling and stone, in the hands of a stripling, she has felled to the earth the proud Goliath in the camp of her opponents. With a shepherd's crook used by a fugitive herdsman, from the backside of the desert, she has routed the proud Pharaoh who opposed her, and found a watery grave in the great ocean for his huge bannered host. When Christian truth went out into the world to fight her way to victory, she was without learning, without caste, without wealth, and without a particle of influence in society. I see Paul and Barnabas, on their first missionary tour, going across the mountains of Pisidia, without armies and without arms, having no fame or prestige, with nothing but a good conscience within, the word of God in their hands, and their exalted Master looking down on them from the throne in the heavens. It was weakness employed to conquer strength, folly to confound wisdom.

I look again, and see the advocate of christianity surrounded by the learning and culture of the world, and treated with derision and scorn. "What will this babbler say?" pitched the key-note of the obloquy which Mars Hill thought fit to pour on the doctrine of the cross! The wise of this world thought it too much honour to give it a hearing at all! Again I see him a prisoner, answering for himself before men who were strangers to pity, and but capriciously acquainted with justice, yet through the simple force of truth, he causes his judge to tremble on the seat of power, and constrains royalty itself to exclaim, "Almost thou persuadest me to be a christian!" Once more, I see him within the gloomy walls of the martyr's dungeon, with life and all that men count dear behind, and with the dreary horrors of a barbarous death before him—alone, unbefriended, unsuccoured, he is yet the happiest man in Rome! Among the millions within her wide walls, not another heart is so buoyant with hope, so lifted up with joy. Nor need we wonder. His prospects at that moment were brighter than those of any other man on earth. That dark and cheerless cell was his last resting-place on earth. Soon his feet should stand within the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem. one of the loftiest seats around the throne should soon be his. one of the sweetest songs in the land of bliss should soon be raised by him. As he thought of this, his afflictions became light, and lighter still, until he felt them not at all. He would not, at that moment, have exchanged his position with that of him who sat on the throne of the world. Nero was wretched! Paul the prisoner was filled with joy unspeakable! Terrors reigned in the soul of the tyrant! A peace passing all understanding possessed the mind of his captive! He that stood on the summit of earthly greatness was afraid of all around him—afraid even of himself! His unprotected prisoner, awaiting a violent death, stood undaunted amid the rage of earth and of hell!

6. Hope for Christian Missions everywhere. This does not admit of doubt for a single moment, when the attitude of Christian Truth to Error is understood. The reason why universal success has not been attained long since, is not because the resources of that Truth are not equal to the occasion. But there has been a holding back of the real power which it possesses. Not the one-hundredth part of its resources has been called forth; and so, many fall into the mistake, that it may yet die out and be overcome. This mistake is all the more easily made, that opposing systems are usually so demonstrative of their apparent successes, and so pretentious and confident as to what they will be able to accomplish in the future. Hence it is inferred, that the two forces are not unequally matched, or that the one at least bears some proportion to the other; so that some doubt must be held to rest over the final result. In reality, Error, whatever form it may assume, has in itself no power at all to contend with Christian Truth, any more than dark clouds have power to prevent the rising of the sun, or than men have power to contend with the silent irresistible strength of a law of nature.

(1.) Christian Truth lays its hand on the supreme powers of a man's nature—his conscience, that mysterious faculty whose volcanic force when awakened creates greater disturbance in the soul than all other causes combined; his will, that kingly faculty which decrees with the force of a Medes and Persians law what the man is to do; his desires and affections, which like a helm turn the soul in whatever direction they are pleased to take. All the secret springs of a man's moral nature are touched by this Truth, and it is too mighty to be shaken off.

(2.) This truth is no product of earth. No soil, East or West, of this barren world could produce such a plant. The Everlasting Father Himself did plant it. Long before the cycles of Time began to revolve, this Mighty Truth was with God, and that which had its birth in Eternity cannot perish among the rocks and the wildernesses of Time.

(3.) This truth is a system of facts. It contains the history of persons that lived, and of events that occurred—"things seen and heard." The theories of philosophers are nebulous; their schemes are fancies or day-dreams, and however beautiful, necessarily pass away. Their propositions are often mere abstractions which cannot be realised in every-day life. No entire system of truth, at once plain, full of substance, and adapted to man's practical needs all round, has ever been presented to the world but Christianity. Hence its power to live. It has life in itself, and it has power to give life to others. Thus it can stand the tear and wear of time for many generations.

(4.) This truth is an instrument in the hand of the Supreme Ruler. This all-important fact must never be forgotten. The power of Christianity does not consist merely in its being what it is, but in its being wielded by Him who has all power in heaven and earth to accomplish the high purposes of His will. "It is mighty through God to the pulling down," etc. (see Joh ; Mar 16:20). He has but to "pour out His Spirit, and the wilderness should become as the fruitful field." Every day would be as the day of Pentecost, until the whole world should spiritually bloom in every part like a second Eden.

COMMENTS AND SUGGESTIONS.—Jud

I. The great men of the Bible are its good men.

Judged by his deeds, and the spirit in which he performed them, none will refuse to Gideon the epithet of great. Yet on analysing the elements of his character, we do not so much emphasize his great daring, his heroic spirit, his shrewdness and skill, nor even his disinterested devotion to his country. It is rather his zeal for the cause of his God, his sorrow that the Church of God should be trodden down by the unhallowed foot of the alien, and that the name of his God should be every day blasphemed, on the one hand, that form the noblest features of his character, while on the other hand, he holds himself ready at the Divine call to perform a humanly impossible task, at every risk to his own interests, to retrieve the dishonour done to the Divine name, and all on the basis of the trust he has in the God who made Himself over to Israel to be their God. It was by his faith that he became great (Heb ; Heb 11:32, etc.), and that marks him out equally as a man of piety. But for his faith, he never had subdued so effectually the mighty army of the desert and annihilated their numerous hordes. It was not natural courage or skill in disposing his little army, or indomitable patriotism that gained him such signal success, though these were all in exercise, but his faith in his God—trusting in His character and relying on His promises, that earned him his high distinction.

But for the connection, into which true faith brings a man with his God, his deeds, and his very existence, are at the best an ephemeral phantom, an airy nothing, which soon evaporates, not to be heard of more in the ages to come. But the touch of Divinity creates around a man an immortal memory, and His name cannot drop into oblivion. Hence this book of Judges cannot be classed with other records, which relate the deeds of martial prowess performed by the heroes of olden times, for in these, we merely see the natural qualities which belong to the heroes themselves, and are entirely of an inferior category to that faith and love that zeal and self-denial, which link the soul to its God.

II. The great value of a single good man to the age in which he lives.

A single good man placed in the foreground gives a character to the whole generation to which he belongs. When the moon goes down, were all the stars of first magnitude abstracted from the sky of night, what a miserable appearance would that sky present when shorn of its brightest beauties! And how tame would this book read without the four or five names of its men of faith! These redeem it from being a dull heavy record, and throw a splendour over the page which makes it shine with lustre to latest ages. There is something of God about such men, for it is not their own glory that shines, as they freely confess by the fact that they live and do all by faith. It is truest philosophy this faith, as well as the purest piety. It is the unit confessing itself nothing before the Universal, the finite laying hold of the infinite, the drop losing itself in the ocean! It is the little child confessing its feebleness and its foolishness, in the presence of the Possessor of boundless power and unsearchable wisdom. It is the humble heart opening itself out before the fountain to receive promised blessings, with the view of returning these blessings again in songs of gratitude and praise. Thus it is always God that is really glorified, the creature confessing it has nothing but what it receives, and reflecting as a mirror all the glory that falls upon it from the infinite source.

The good man having God with him is ever invincible. The very heavens bend before the prayers of Elijah. He is felt to be a greater power in the land than Ahab and Jezebel. In that heyday of idolatry, a louder protest was uttered against the worship of false gods, through the instrumentality of that single man, than had been known for ages in the history of Israel. But for him, though standing alone, even Carmel would have been submerged by the rising tide of idolatry. Who does not see that but for Barak and Gideon in their respective periods, the whole history of Israel would have come to a miserable termination ere it had half run its expected course. Truly are they called the "saviours" of their people, as God's instruments raised up by Him for this purpose (Neh ).

Over the whole of Old Testament times, if you subtract some twenty names the value of history sinks down by fifty per cent, Not that these were the only actors. But common men could not have taken their place, and these inspired common men with confidence in their power to lead, and their Divine commission to lead others, so that they formed rallying points for large numbers acting in unity. However much a man may excel his fellows in intellect, and fortitude, and general resources, he must always find it wise to have many co-workers with him in doing a great work, unless when specially directed and assisted by his God. The great Napoleon gave it as one of the principles of his tactics, "I have always tried to march so as to have a million of men in sympathy with me." Often however the great men of the Bible were employed by God to do His work with but few followers, for He himself went with them, and His presence counted for a thousand armies.

III. God's severity in the day of reckoning.

This in any barsh sense is more apparent than real. It was a frightful destruction of human life that took place when the whole of that huge host were slaughtered, leaving none, or only a few stragglers, to return to their country to tell the tale. It was very nearly the annihilation of a race from off the earth. Many hold up their hands and utter exclamations of horror at such terrible cruelties being perpetrated in the name of God. Yet they cannot account for it by setting it down to the barbarity of the times. For it was really done by God's own direction. The truth is that, in judging of God's doings, men forget the extremely offensive character of the sin which draws down the punishment, the length of time during which the sin has been going on, and the warnings and expostulations used by God with the wicked to forsake their ways. Were these men, who profess to be so humane and pitiful, while they look on so awful a destruction, to receive themselves one-tenth part of the offence which these heathen nations gave to the true God, they would, without doubt, smite down, and not spare, every man who should dare to act so wicked a part, and would wonder if any should cry out for mercy to their victims.

But the great Jehovah punishes not like man. He is indeed strict to mark iniquity and "every disobedience and transgression receives a due recompense of reward." But it is not from uncontrollable feelings of what men call passion and revenge that He acts in any case. To such feelings the Divine bosom is an absolute stranger. God knows nothing as a Moral Governor but the calm and just administration of law. It is justice alone with which He is concerned when punishing the wicked, not the gratification of any vindictive feelings towards the transgressors. Anything vindictive is an impossibility to the nature of God. If such language is sometimes used in Scripture it is only as a figure of speech, when His acts have the appearance to men's eyes of being vindictive. But nothing more is given to the vilest criminal than the due desert of his sin. Men, however, strangely underrate that desert, and there is all the mystery.

These Midianites had heard of the mighty God of Israel in the past. The deeds which He did on behalf of His people were before the eyes of all the nations, and they ought to have known it was a wicked and dangerous thing to tamper with such a people and their God. If they knew but little, they ought to have made themselves better acquainted with the great Jehovah, for God never rejected heathen inquirers. Yet, knowing the character of this God to be different and immeasurably superior to all gods, they dared to spoil His heritage and to blaspheme His name. Hence their punishments.

IV. God's complete control over all the states and moods of men's minds.

It was He that led these enemies of His people to imagine themselves to be surrounded in a moment with so many unexpected evils—a large army close at hand, the wrath of Jehovah gone out against them in some terrible manner, and treachery sprung up in the midst of their own camp. So true is it, that by the mere force of terrible thoughts, God can bring destructive judgments upon men.

How in a moment, suddenly,

To ruin brought are they!

With fearful terrors utterly,

They are consum'd away.

A similar calamity of terrible imaginations was the means of routing a large army of enemies in one of Israel's evil days (2Ki ). God's access to the world of a man's thoughts is abundantly set forth in the 139th Psalm; for He who made the human mind must know it in the fullest manner, just as the maker of any machine must know intimately all its parts, and all its capabilities of movement.

Millions of thoughts pass through a man's mind almost every day. Yet not one escapes the eye of God! Sometimes the mind feels oppressed with the number of its own thoughts, but cannot reduce the number. Yet there is an antidote. "In the multitude of my thoughts within me thy comforts delight my soul." These thoughts come often unbidden, rushing like a river through the soul.

"Thoughts on thoughts, a countless throng,

Rush, chasing countless thoughts along."

These may be all pleasant and refreshing, filling the heart with joy, and spreading the bow of hope over the horizon of the future, as in the case of the two sweet singers in Psa , and Psa 139:17-18, also Psa 104:34. Or these thoughts may be all gloomy and dreadful, full of foreboding fears and disastrous issues, so that a man may be reduced to the extremity of trouble and be led to cry out, "O save me from my thoughts! for thought kills me." In the midst of peace and plenty God can sometimes make a wicked man feel the beginnings of future woes by causing "terrible thoughts take hold on him as waters," and surround him on every side; as in the case of Nero, of Voltaire, of Paine, of the French Monarch, who ordered the St. Bartholomew massacre, and many others.

God has a mighty army to attack a man from within, as well as many forces to set in array against him from without. He can also give comfort against all grief on every side by the character of the thoughts which He makes to pass through the mind on any and every occasion.

V. God's dealings always end with tender compassion for His own people.

They may have sinned long against much light, and in the face of much solemn warning and expostulation. Yet He cannot cast away His own. They are His blood-bought property—redeemed at a great price. They are sprinkled with the precious blood of atonement, and though He was angry with them, His anger is turned away, and He uses the language of peace and reconciliation; He forgives their iniquities, and their sins He remembers no more. This people, who had sinned so much, and were ever rebelling against Him, He could not forget were the same people whom He had brought out of Egypt with a high hand, and whom He had graciously been pleased to take into covenant with Himself, and to call Himself by the name of their God. Hence it was for the glory of His unchangeableness, that they should always be loved (Jer .) He would show by their history, though it was of a character entirely offensive to His holy nature, that while he might chastise them severely for their manifold backslidings, the mountains were less firm in their places than His pledged love to those whom he had by a fixed agreement taken into tender relations with Himself (Isa 54:10.) Indeed, one great purpose he had in view, when electing this people to be for ever His own, was to show how far His love could go, and how tenderly it could manifest itself under the most testing circumstances. Through His dealings with this people, He takes every opportunity of revealing His glorious perfections, the riches of His mercy, the hidings of His power, the depths of His wisdom, the tenderness of His compassion, and the inviolability of His truth and faithfulness (Eze 36:32; Isa 43:21.)

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Judges 7:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/phc/judges-7.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

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