Judges 7:13, 14: Gideon's Midnight Reconnaissance, Part 2

Verse 13:[1] And when Gideon was come, behold, there was a man that told a dream unto his fellow, and said, Behold, I dreamed a dream, and, lo, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the host of Midian, and came unto a tent, and smote it that it fell, and overturned it, that the tent lay along.


[It appeared to me as if a loaf baked under ashes, צְל֜וּל לֶ֤חֶם] It is written צְלוּל, and is read צְלִיל (Drusius). [They render it variously.] A noise of bread (Tigurinus). צְלִיל signifies the sound and fury that accompanies a thing violently projected; for צָלַל is to ring (Munster). They seem to understand that sound that bread emits under the coals, while it is baking and parching (Malvenda). צְלִיל signifies two things: both the bread baked under coals, and the sound of that. Now, although this loaf consists of barley dough, and so is colder and damper than wheat dough, by the force of its heat it appears to make a loud noise, and at length to burst forth. This bread appears to have been driven by such force received from heat that it, like lightning, ranging with a sudden and incredibly swift motion, reaching the camp, struck; that is, it was excited by heat, and with the fury of its blow cast down the tent (Montanus’ Commentary). Behold the sound of the bread, etc., which sort is wont to be the sound of a thing that is projected with fury (Vatablus). Others translate it, a cake, or toast, of bread (Pagnine, Montanus, Junius, Piscator, Drusius, similarly Vatablus, Rabbi Salomon in Munster); a cake of bread baked under the ashes (Vatablus). From צָלָה, to bake, is formed צְלִיל; just as from הָגָה, to muse, is derived הָגִיג/meditation (Drusius). Moreover, צָלַל is to cover over, which likewise agrees with bread baked under the ashes. The Septuagint has μαγὶς ἄρτου, a cake of bread, which to Suidas and Favorinus is ἐγκρυφίας, bread baked under the ashes (Bonfrerius).


[From barley, שְׂעֹרִים] Of barleys (Montanus, Junius), that is, made of barley (Junius and Tremellius, Piscator, Drusius).


[It appeared to roll, מִתְהַפֵּךְ] Rolling itself, or, rolling itself down (Pagnine, Montanus, similarly the Syriac, Arabic); it was turning itself toward (Junius and Tremellius). They say that it was rounded and circular, so that it was rotating and rolling in the camp of the Midianites (Malvenda). Question: But what is the analogy of the bread and the sword in this dream, so that by bread the sword of Gideon might be signified? Response: It is not necessary that by bread the sword be precisely signified; it is enough if by it Gideon himself and his army with their swords be signified (Bonfrerius). Now, they indicate a similitude both by the words, and by the things (Serarius). 1. By the words. לֶחֶם is ambiguous, and signifies both bread and battle. Therefore, from this conjunction and affinity, not of nature, but of signification, he well concluded that by the bread sword and battle were signified (Lapide out of Montanus’ Commentary, Tostatus). Now, it is to be noted that the dreamer made use of the language of the Canaanites, and so of the Israelites (Montanus’ Commentary). Therefore, this vision signifies that Gideon and the Hebrews, who hitherto had been the bread of the Midianites, inasmuch as they were devoured by them after the likeness of bread, thereafter (as if by some new prodigy [Bonfrerius]) were going to be the swords, the destroyers, of the Midianites (Lapide). 2. By the things. For barley bread is mean in comparison with bread made from fine wheat or siligo (Estius, Menochius, thus Serarius, Bonfrerius, Montanus’ Commentary, Lapide). Gideon is well compared to this, being the lead of the least family[2] (Menochius). Moreover, that bread is quickly prepared and baked (Serarius out of Montanus’ Commentary). Such was the army of Gideon, raised with the greatest swiftness upon a sudden emergency (Bonfrerius). The hasty and hurried expedition is suitably referred to the swift rolling of that bread (Menochius). In a manner suited to Gideon, who for bread was threshing grain on the threshing floor, and liberally offering bread to the Angel, for a recompense of his hospitality God gave bread as an omen and sign of victory (Lapide). Now, burned bread appears to have been signified, either, because the Israelites were hitherto burned, as it were, by the Midianites through their plunderings: or, because Gideon with his men was going to burn, as it were, the army of the Midianites (Piscator).

[Unto a tent] Either, κατ᾿ ἐξοχὴν, par excellence, to the finest and stoutest of the tents (Serarius, Vatablus); or, κατὰ συνεκδοχὴν, synecdochically, all the tabernacles of all the men (Serarius). One tabernacle is used in the place of many, indeed, in the place of all the communion and community of the one tribe (Montanus’ Commentary). Both others, like Josephus,[3] first the tent of the General indeed, but then of all the rest also. Whichever you choose, it is of no importance (Bonfrerius). Now, although that multitude of Midianites, etc., had been ordered in the valley in such a way that the tents held the middle place, and this, protected first with chariots and wagons, was then surrounded with camels and other impediments in the valley, the dreamer had seen that bread, with nothing hindering, breaking through whatever boundaries, and reaching all the way to the tents with the greatest possible impetus, and casting all things in confusion (Montanus’ Commentary).


[And it brought it completely to the ground, וַיַּהַפְכֵ֥הוּ לְמַ֖עְלָה] And it overturned that from above (Pagnine, Montanus), or, above (Syriac, Piscator), unto on high (Jonathan), in the heights (Munster), from the top (Castalio). Indeed, from on hight, from the highest to the lowest: which is to say, it completely overthrew it (Vatablus). It struck the tents down (Arabic).


A cake of barley bread; a weak and contemptible thing, and in itself as unable to overthrow a tent as to remove a mountain; but being thrown by a Divine hand, bore down all before it; which fitly resembled Gideon’s case, which was mean and despicable, as himself saith, Judges 6:15; yet he was mighty, through God, to destroy the Midianites.


Verse 14:[4] And his fellow answered and said, This is nothing else save the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel: for into his hand hath God delivered Midian, and all the host.


And his fellow answered, etc.: As there are many examples of significant dreams given by God to heathens, as Genesis 41; Daniel 2; 4, so some of them had the gift of interpreting dreams; which they sometimes did by study and art, and sometimes by Divine direction, as in this case.


[This is nothing other than the sword] Hebrew: בִּלְתִּי, except the sword (Munster, Pagnine, Tigurinus, Montanus, Septuagint).


[An Israelite man] The noun אִישׁ/man in this speech is an elegent pleonasm (Drusius).

[1] Hebrew: וַיָּבֹ֣א גִדְע֔וֹן וְהִ֙נֵּה־אִ֔ישׁ מְסַפֵּ֥ר לְרֵעֵ֖הוּ חֲל֑וֹם וַיֹּ֜אמֶר הִנֵּ֧ה חֲל֣וֹם חָלַ֗מְתִּי וְהִנֵּ֙ה צְל֜וּל לֶ֤חֶם שְׂעֹרִים֙ מִתְהַפֵּךְ֙ בְּמַחֲנֵ֣ה מִדְיָ֔ן וַיָּבֹ֣א עַד־הָ֠אֹהֶל וַיַּכֵּ֧הוּ וַיִּפֹּ֛ל וַיַּהַפְכֵ֥הוּ לְמַ֖עְלָה וְנָפַ֥ל הָאֹֽהֶל׃


[2] See Judges 6:15.


[3] Antiquities 5:6.


[4] Hebrew: וַיַּ֙עַן רֵעֵ֤הוּ וַ֙יֹּאמֶר֙ אֵ֣ין זֹ֔את בִּלְתִּ֗י אִם־חֶ֛רֶב גִּדְע֥וֹן בֶּן־יוֹאָ֖שׁ אִ֣ישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל נָתַ֤ן הָֽאֱלֹהִים֙ בְּיָד֔וֹ אֶת־מִדְיָ֖ן וְאֶת־כָּל־הַֽמַּחֲנֶֽה׃

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Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.

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