Judges 7:19: The Context of Gideon's Assault

Verse 19:[1] So Gideon, and the hundred men that were with him, came unto the outside of the camp in the beginning of the middle watch; and they had but newly set the watch: and they blew the trumpets, and brake the pitchers that were in their hands.

[With the watches of the middle of the night beginning,רֹ֚אשׁ הָאַשְׁמֹ֣רֶת הַתִּֽיכוֹנָ֔ה] Verbatim: the head (at the head [Malvenda], upon the head [Drusius], on the head [Pagnine], at the beginning [Septuagint, Junius and Tremellius, Drusius, Vatablus]) of the middle watch, or vigil (Montanus, Septuagint, Junius and Tremellius). About the middle of the night, when vigils are wont to be changed according to military custom (Junius). The third watch is called the middle, because it was taking its beginning from the middle of the night (Lapide). All divide the night into twelve equal hours, and into four watches; in such a way that there are three hours in each of these: and so the watch of the middle of the night is not the second, but the third: and thus expressly in Silius’ The Second Punic War[2] 7, …when the bugle divided the middle of the night of sleep, and when the Third, having been allotted the unwelcome watch, were roused from their repose to arms (Serarius). There are indeed four watches; but the first of these is omitted, because in the first three hours of the night all are wont yet to remain awake, to converse, or to do other things (Montanus’ Commentary). But this is not able to be confirmed by any suitable authority. For, although those things were done, nevertheless watches were kept; which also was done by day (Serarius). Others otherwise: The watch of the night was divided into three intervals, and the end of the first was the beginning of the middle (Munster). There were three vigils, and each was containing four hours. A latter age instituted four (Drusius). Among the ancient Hebrews there were only three. The first is called רֹאשׁ אַשְׁמֻרוֹת, the beginning of the watches, Lamentations 2:19; the second, הַתִּיכוֹנָה, the middle, as in this place; and the third, אַשְׁמֹרֶת הַבֹּקֶר, the morning watch, Exodus 14:24. Thus Rabbi Salomon. But eventually in Roman times four began to be established. Hence there is mention of a fourth watch in Matthew 14:25; Mark 6:48. But Luke, in the ancient manner, appears to hold the third watch as the last, Luke 12:38 (Bochart’s Sacred Catalogue of Animals 1:2:40:396).


[And with the watchmen roused, אַ֛ךְ הָקֵ֥ם הֵקִ֖ימוּ אֶת־הַשֹּֽׁמְרִ֑ים] [They vary.] By rousing they just roused (or, and they awakened [Septuagint, Munster]; by they roused [Pagnine]) the watchmen (Montanus); suddenly awakening the sentries (Tigurinus). Others thus: when now, or, and now, they only just set the watchmen (English, Dutch, similarly Junius and Tremellius, Piscator). Some refer it to Gidean and his soldiers. Thus the Septuagint, Jonathan, and the Syriac. It does not signify that the watchmen at that time (that is, in the beginning of the watch) were overcome with sleep; but it indicates that that was taken care of by Gideon and his men, that the first watchmen, having been addressed (perhaps with a formula of this sort, הַשֹּׁמְרִים/HASHOMRIM, O watchmen, repeated with frequency) and responding, might hear a warning of calamity; having been disturbed thereby, they might also rouse the rest (Montanus’ Commentary). Others refer it to the Midianites (thus Vatablus, Serarius, Bonfrerius). But by awakening they awakened; that is, Those to whom it belonged to awaken the watchmen now awakened them: which is to say, with the watches now awakened that were in charge of the second (or third, as others have it) vigil (Vatablus). And so it was an opportune time, with the second watch retiring, and the third not yet set in its position and station, to cast the entire camp into confusion (Bonfrerius).


[And to strike their pitchers together, וְנָפ֥וֹץ הַכַּדִּ֖ים] And by dashing together (or, by shattering at the same time [Junius and Tremellius]; they broke [Septuagint, Jonathan, Syriac, Arabic, Pagnine, Munster]; and dashing together [Tigurinus]) the pots (Montanus, Pagnine, Junius and Tremellius), or, pitchers (Munster). Hebrew: and to break, etc. The Hebrew word signifies to shatter by dashing against, and to scatter and disperse into bits (Piscator).


Of the middle watch, that is, of the second watch; for though afterwards the night was divided into four watches by the Romans, Matthew 14:25, yet in more ancient times, and in the eastern parts, it was divided into three. He chose the dark and dead of the night to increase their terror by the trumpets, whose sound would then be loudest and best heard, and the lamps, whose light would then shine most brightly, and seem biggest, to surprise them at disadvantage, and to conceal the smallness of their numbers.

[1] Hebrew: וַיָּבֹ֣א גִ֠דְעוֹן וּמֵאָה־אִ֙ישׁ אֲשֶׁר־אִתּ֜וֹ בִּקְצֵ֣ה הַֽמַּחֲנֶ֗ה רֹ֚אשׁ הָאַשְׁמֹ֣רֶת הַתִּֽיכוֹנָ֔ה אַ֛ךְ הָקֵ֥ם הֵקִ֖ימוּ אֶת־הַשֹּֽׁמְרִ֑ים וַֽיִּתְקְעוּ֙ בַּשּׁ֣וֹפָר֔וֹת וְנָפ֥וֹץ הַכַּדִּ֖ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר בְּיָדָֽם׃


[2] Silius Italicus de Secundo Bello Punico, in quo ad Codicis Modiani Fidem versus Spurii Ejecti Sunt, ac Legitimi qui Desuerunt hactenus, Substituti. Tiberius Catius Asconius Silius Italicus (c. 25- 101) was a Latin epic poet.

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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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