Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. Fountain. The same also called Areth, as the copies of the Septuagint and of St. Jerome vary. (Bonfrere) — Harad, or “of trouble,” either because the Madianites were filled with terror at the approach of Gedeon, or because so many of his soldiers returned home through fear. (Menochius) — Perhaps it may be the same which is called the fountain of Jezrael, near which Saul encamped, 1 Kings xxix. 1. (Calmet) — Adrichomius places it on the south of Gelboe, which is called the high hill. (Menochius) — Hebrew, “on the north side of them, by the hill of More, in the vale.” (Haydock) — Jezrael was between Gelboe to the south, and Hermon to the north. (Calmet)
Ver. 2. Lest Israel, &c. By this we see that God will not choose for his instruments in great achievements, which depend purely on his grace, such as, through pride and self-conceit, will take the glory to themselves. (Challoner) — Yet Gedeon had only 32,000 to encounter 135,000 fighting men; so that if all had remained with him, they would each had to engage above four men, ver. 3., and chap. viii. 10. (Menochius)
Ver. 3. Return, agreeably to the law of Moses, Deuteronomy xx. 8. If God had not enforced this order, it would perhaps have been neglected in the hurry, particularly as all seemed to have joined the army with such alacrity. (Menochius) — Scipio going to destroy Carthage, was informed that some Sicilian knights went on this expedition with extreme reluctance and fear; whereupon he gave 300 leave to depart. (Livy xxix.) — Galaad perhaps may have been substituted for Gelboe, as there seems to have been none from the Galaad, on the other side of the Jordan, in the army of Gedeon. (Calmet) — Abulensis thinks that some little mountain of this name might be in the vicinity of Jezrael. — Home. They were terrified at the sight of the enemy’s camp. (Menochius)
Ver. 5. Tongues. Some Latin copies add, “and hand,” as it is expressed in Hebrew, &c., in the following verse. They resembled dogs more in the hurry than in the method of taking water. An old proverb says, “the dog drinks and flees away,” (Calmet) alluding to the dogs of Egypt, who, through fear of the crocodiles which infest the banks of the Nile, lap the water with all expedition, “like a dog from the Nile.” (Erasmus; Haydock; Macrob. ii. 2.) — Hence we might infer, that these 300 men were the most cowardly in the army, as Josephus, ([Antiquities?] v. 8,) Theodoret, (q. 15,) have done; (Calmet) and thus the glory of the victory would belong more incontrovertibly to God. (Haydock) — But as these 300, on this supposition, ought to have been disbanded, as well as the rest, we may rather conclude that they shewed greater courage and temperance by their posture, and were therefore retained (Calmet) to accompany their heroic leader in his perilous expedition. We must, nevertheless remark, that only those who preferred to acknowledge their fear, were disbanded according to the law; and as, among those who were not quite so cowardly, (Haydock) there would be some less courageous than others, (Amama) these might be selected by God, that no flesh should glory in his sight, 1 Corinthians i. 29. (Haydock)
Ver. 7. That lapped water. These were preferred that took the water up in their hands, and so lapped it, before them who laid themselves quite down to the waters to drink; which argued a more eager and sensual disposition. (Challoner) — It is thought that the former would be more capable of supporting the fatigues of war. (Menochius) — The Jews suppose that those who knelt, had been accustomed to do so in honour of Baal. Lyranus concludes that they were extremely fatigued and thirsty, while the 300 underwent the labours of war with less inconvenience. Josephus observes that this experiment was made in the heat of the day; yet, if Providence had not interfered, it seems very improbable that 10,000 men should all be so eager for water. (Haydock)
Ver. 8. Victuals. It appears that they did not take sufficient, (Calmet) not expecting that they would have to pursue the enemy so far, chap. viii. 5, 8.
Ver. 11. Servant. Thus he confessed that he was not entirely free from fear himself, ver. 5, 10. (Haydock) — The most courageous feel less alarm, when they have a companion, (Menochius) as Diomede observed, when he desired that one or two might accompany him in the attempt to explore the enemy’s camp. (Homer, Iliad x.) — Arms. The greatest part of this immense crowd of people, who came to plunder, neglected the laws of war; as the Israelites had not dared, for a long time, to oppose them. A select number of 135,000 men in arms was destined to keep them in order, and to protect them. Among these Gedeon insinuated himself, to know how they were encamped, and what sentiments they entertained. (Calmet)
Ver. 13. A dream. Observation of dreams is commonly superstitious, and as such is condemned by the word of God; but in some extraordinary cases, as we here see, God is pleased by dreams to foretel what he is about to do. (Challoner) — See Genesis xl., Leviticus xix. 26., and Deuteronomy xviii. 10. (Worthington) — The small company of Gedeon stood in need of every sort of encouragement. (Haydock)
Ver. 14. Sword and loaf are both derived from the same Hebrew word, which signifies “to make war.” See Numbers xiv. 9. But if there had been no connection or reason in the discourse of the soldier, (which was not the case, as Providence put it into his mouth,) the end would be equally obtained, which was to encourage Gedeon, and to inform him that the enemy was not without some apprehensions. (Calmet) — Gedeon was not of the richest family, but came with great expedition, as the rolling of the barley-loaf might designate. (Menochius) — He was also encamped upon an eminence, and presently threw the affairs of Madian into confusion. (Haydock) — He understands the language of the Madianites, as it was not very different from the Hebrew.
Ver. 15. Interpretation. Hebrew, “the breaking,” in allusion to a loaf or nut which must be broken. (Calmet) — Adored God, in thanksgiving. (Menochius)
Ver. 16. Lamps, or flambeaux, (Calmet) made of wood, full of turpentine. (Haydock) — The soldiers held one end in their hand, and when they had thrown down their pitchers, the sudden light, the sound of trumpets and of men on three sides of the camp, threw the various nations into the utmost consternation, as they very naturally supposed that they were surrounded with a great army. God also sent among them the spirit of confusion, so that they knew not one another. An ancient author, under the name of Tertullian, asserts that the 300 men were on horseback, and conquered by virtue of the cross, as the letter T, in Greek, stands for 300; (Calmet) and St. Augustine (q. 37,) follows up this idea, saying that, as the Greeks are put by the apostle for all the Gentiles, this letter was to insinuate, that the Gentiles chiefly would believe in Christ. Some of the Fathers have given a like mysterious explanation of the 318 servants of Abraham, as the two first letter of the name of Jesus denote 18. (Eucher. Gen. xiv. 14.) (St. Ambrose, de Abr. i. 3.) — We can never conquer our spiritual enemies, without a lively faith in our crucified Saviour. If Amama, and other enemies of the cross of Christ, ridicule these pious meditations of the Fathers, we need not wonder. See Apocalypse xiii. 18. (Haydock)
Ver. 17. Camp. The three divisions stopt at the entrance, ver. 21. (Calmet)
Ver. 18. Camp, and shout together to the Lord and to Gedeon: or rather “the sword of, &c., ver. 20. The war is the Lord’s, victory to or by the hand of Gedeon,” Chaldean. He is the minister of God’s justice to punish Madian. (Menochius) — It is no derogation to God (Calmet) that honour is given to his servants. (Worthington) — Protestants supply the word which seems to be wanting. The sword of the Lord, &c. (Haydock)
Ver. 19. Watch. This was the second of the three watches known to the ancient Hebrews: in the New Testament, they followed the Roman discipline, and admitted four, Matthew xiv. 25. (Calmet) — Menochius thinks they did the same at this time. (Haydock) — Alarmed. They were not asleep. (Menochius) — We read of similar stratagems in the Roman history. The Falisci threw the Romans into consternation, by appearing among them in mourning weeds; (Calmet) others read in priestly attire, (Haydock) with flambeaux and serpents; as those of Veii did by means of burning torches. (Grotius; Fontin., Strat, ii. 4, &c.) (Calmet) — Trumpets. In a mystical sense, the preachers of the gospel, in order to spiritual conquests, must not only sound with the trumpet of the word of God, but must also break the earthen pitchers, by the mortification of the flesh and its passions, and carry lamps in their hands by the light of their virtues. (Challoner) — These lamps denote the virtues and miracles of the martyrs. (Ven. Bede, c. 5.) The things which would seem ridiculous, fill the enemy with terror and dismay. (ibid.[Ven. Bede, c. 5.]) (Worthington)
Ver. 21. Camp. Hence the Madianites made no doubt but a great army was in the midst of the camp, and began to cut in pieces all whom they met. (Calmet)
Ver. 23. Bethsetta. These cities seem to have been near Bethsan. — And the border. Hebrew, “in Zererath,” (Haydock) which Junius takes to be Sarthan. — Abelmehula gave birth to Eliseus, and was 12 miles from Scythopolis. (St. Jerome) — Tebbath occurs no where else. But we read of Thebes, three miles from the last mentioned city, famous for the death of Abimelech, chap. xi. 50. — Men. Probably those who had been sent home the preceding night. Upon hearing of the success which attended Gedeon, all the tribes began to be in motion.
Ver. 24. Bethbera, “the house of corn.” (Serarius) — Many take it to be Bethabera, “the house of passage,” or the ford of the Jordan. The river was fordable on camels at any time. But in summer, people might cross the Jordan in many places on foot. (Calmet)
Ver. 25. Two men. That is, two of their chiefs. (Challoner) — Press. Hebrew yekeb, denotes a cistern fit to contain wine, Isaias v. 2., and Proverbs iii. 10. — Zeb had concealed himself in it. — Jordan. They afterwards took occasion from this exploit to extol their own valour, and to quarrel with Gedeon. (Calmet)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
Gedeon with three hundred men, by stratagem, defeats the Madianites.
1 Then *Jerobaal, who is the same as Gedeon, rising up early, and all the people with him, came to the fountain that is called Harad. Now the camp of Madian was in the valley, on the north side of the high hill.
2 And the Lord said to Gedeon: The people that are with thee are many, and Madian shall not be delivered into their hands: lest Israel should glory against me, and say: I was delivered by my own strength.
3 Speak to the people, and proclaim in the hearing of all: *Whosoever is fearful and timorous, let him return. So two and twenty thousand men went away from Mount Galaad and returned home, and only ten thousand remained.
4 And the Lord said to Gedeon: The people are still too many, bring them to the waters, and there I will try them: and of whom I shall say to thee, This shall go with thee, let him go: whom I shall forbid to go, let him return.
5 And when the people were come down to the waters, the Lord said to Gedeon: They that shall lap the water with their tongues, as dogs are wont to lap, thou shalt set apart by themselves: but they that shall drink bowing down their knees, shall be on the other side.
6 And the number of them that had lapped water, casting it with the hand to their mouth, was three hundred men: and all the rest of the multitude had drunk kneeling.
7 And the Lord said to Gedeon: By the three hundred men, that lapped water, I will save you, and deliver Madian into thy hand: but let all the rest of the people return to their place.
8 So taking victuals and trumpets according to their number, he ordered all the rest of the multitude to depart to their tents: and he with the three hundred gave himself to the battle. Now the camp of Madian was beneath him in the valley.
9 The same night the Lord said to him: Arise, and go down into the camp: because I have delivered them into thy hand.
10 But if thou be afraid to go alone, let Phara, thy servant, go down with thee.
11 And when thou shalt hear what they are saying, then shall thy hands be strengthened, and thou shalt go down more secure to the enemies’ camp. And he went down with Phara, his servant, into part of the camp, where was the watch of men in arms.
12 But Madian and Amalec, and all the eastern people, lay scattered in the valley, as a multitude of locusts: their camels also were innumerable, as the sand that lieth on the sea shore.
13 And when Gedeon was come, one told his neighbour a dream: and in this manner related what he had seen: I dreamt a dream, and it seemed to me as if a hearth-cake of barley-bread rolled and came down into the camp of Madian: and when it was come to a tent, it struck it, and beat it down flat to the ground.
14 He to whom he spoke, answered: This is nothing else but the sword of Gedeon, the son of Joas, a man of Israel. For the Lord hath delivered Madian, and all their camp into his hand.
15 And when Gedeon had heard the dream, and the interpretation thereof, he adored: and returned to the camp of Israel, and said: Arise, for the Lord hath delivered the camp of Madian into our hands.
16 And he divided the three hundred men into three parts, and gave them trumpets in their hands, and empty pitchers, and lamps within the pitchers.
17 And he said to them: What you shall see me do, do you the same: I will go into one part of the camp, and do you as I shall do.
18 When the trumpet shall sound in my hand, do you also blow the trumpets on every side of the camp, and shout together to the Lord and to Gedeon.
19 And Gedeon, and the three hundred men that were with him, went into part of the camp, at the beginning of the midnight watch, and the watchmen being alarmed, they began to sound their trumpets, and to clap the pitchers one against another.
20 And when they sounded their trumpets in three places round about the camp, and had broken their pitchers, they held their lamps in their left hands, and with their right hands the trumpets which they blew, and they cried out: The sword of the Lord and of Gedeon:
21 Standing every man in his place round about the enemies’ camp. So all the camp was troubled, and crying out and howling, they fled away:
22 And the three hundred men nevertheless persisted sounding the trumpets. *And the Lord sent the sword into all the camp, and they killed one another,
23 Fleeing as far as Bethsetta, and the border of Abelmehula, in Tebbath. But the men of Israel, shouting from Nephthali, and Aser, and from all Manasses, pursued after Madian.
24 And Gedeon sent messengers into all Mount Ephraim, saying: Come down to meet Madian, and take the waters before them to Bethbera and the Jordan. And all Ephraim shouted, and took the waters before them and the Jordan as far as Bethbera.
25 *And having taken two men of Madian, Oreb and Zeb: Oreb they slew in the rock of Oreb, and Zeb in the wine-press of Zeb. And they pursued Madian, carrying the heads of Oreb and Zeb to Gedeon, beyond the waters of the Jordan.
1: Year of the World 2759.
3: Deuteronomy xx. 8.; 1 Machabees iii. 56.
22: Psalm lxxxii. 10.
25: Psalm lxxxii. 12.; Isaias x. 26.