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Judges 7:4-7: Gideon's Dismissal of Those Kneeling

Verse 4:[1] And the LORD said unto Gideon, The people are yet too many; bring them down unto the water, and I will try them for thee there: and it shall be, that of whom I say unto thee, This shall go with thee, the same shall go with thee; and of whomsoever I say unto thee, This shall not go with thee, the same shall not go.

Unto the water; either that which ran from the well of Harod, mentioned Judges 7:1, or some other brook.

[And there I will prove them, וְאֶצְרְפֶנּוּ] And I will prove, or will examine, it (Pagnine, Munster, Drusius). I will refine; transferred from metals to men (Junius, Drusius, Bonfrerius). I will purge, just as a smith purges silver by separating the dross from it. Here, the fearful are compared to dross (Piscator). I will prove, that is, I will select the approved (Vatablus). I will separate it to thee (Junius and Tremellius). As previously by public proclamation he separated the fearful, he does the same name by a secret sign: For many of the fearful had not withdranw, because they wanted to be esteemed as brave (Estius).

I will try them for thee; because thy proclamation hath not sufficiently tried them; for many who are fearful indeed will put on the face, and desire the opinion of being valiant persons; I will take another course.

Verse 5:[2] So he brought down the people unto the water: and the LORD said unto Gideon, Every one that lappeth of the water with his tongue, as a dog lappeth, him shalt thou set by himself; likewise every one that boweth down upon his knees to drink.

[Those that will have lapped the waters with the tongue (similarly all interpreters)] Waters, that is, drawn by the hollow of the hand, out of the following verse (Piscator).

[Just as dogs are wont] There is an Egyptian Proverb, A dog drinks, and flees: Macrobius makes mention of it in Saturnalia 2:2 (Grotius). Dogs, fearing the crocodiles in the Nile, drink by rushing down in detached units and then fleeing. See Ælian’s[3] History of Animals[4] 6:53 (Bonfrerius). A dog does not drink by taking a full draught, but only by lapping; which is common to them with other animals καρχαροδοῦσι, that is, that have serrated teeth, as the Philosopher teaches in his History of Animals 8:6:9:48 (Bochart’s Sacred Catalogue of Animals 1:2:55:672). They were drinking in the manner of dogs, not in this, that they were drinking with the water brought by hand to the mouth, for this is not the manner of dogs; but rather in this, that in drinking they were not plunging their mouths in the water, but from the hollow they gently drew with the hand, not with the mouth immersed in the water, in a manner more like unto those lapping than drinking. For dogs are wont to drink with their tongue stretched forth, with no part of their mouth immersed in the waters (Bonfrerius). Now, horses and oxen apply their mouth to the water, so that they might suck up the water (Lapide). It is likely that at evening time Gideon arrived at the fount Harod, verse 1, with the whole army (with the fearful previously dismissed) fatigued and thirsty from the labor of the journey, and there in the midst of the drinking observed the posture of his soldiers (Bonfrerius). Question: What is the reason for this distinction? And why are those that were drinking with bended knees dismissed? Responses: 1. So that thus might remain the fewest possible, because in such heat and at meal-time almost all would be thirsty, and so drink on bended knee (Tostatus). 2. Others maintain that it was an indication of vice, that three hundred men drank with their hand brought to their mouth: either of idleness, as if it were irksome to undertake the labor of bowing themselves; thus Theodoret: or of fear, as if nervously and with alarm they drank in fear of the enemy, after the likeness of Egyptian dogs, as already mentioned; thus Josephus. And they maintain that this was down, so that victory might be ascribed to God, not to human strength; since He had chosen for this the ignoble and fearful (Bonfrerius). But this comment is quite disconnected from the history, since God commanded the fearful to be sent away (Martyr, similarly Serarius, Bonfrerius). 3. To drink prone was showing that they both thirsted with great vehemence, and succumbed to fatigue; to lap the waters standing was indicating the contrary (Estius after Lyra). 4. Others refer it to temperance and tolerance of labor (thus Montanus’ Commentary, Serarius, Bonfrerius, Tirinus, Menochius, Lapide). Those that only lapped the water appeared to assuage, rather than to satiate, thirst; it was to interpret the soul as ready, and as more intent on doing this than on it own satiety or pleasure, and to present one thinking on that victory: it was consistent to think all the contrary things about those drinking on bended knee (Montanus’ Commentary). As previously the fearful, so now the intemperate, were turned away from the battle, as most certain impediments of victory, as plagues of the camp (Tirinus). Temperate men are wont to be least inclined to the pleasures of the sense, more suited to the labors of war, and more courageous in dangers (Menochius). Those that were drinking, etc., were showing themselves to be braver and more temperate, because in weariness and thirst, with which they were vexed no less than others, they were unwilling to indulge themselves even in this little bit of rest or refreshment, that, with bended knees, etc., they might drink more conveniently, and restfully, and abundantly (Tirinus out of Serarius). To drink prone, etc., was an indication of laziness and intemperance (Piscator). But I would prefer to refer what is said here to haste, rather than to fear (certain interpreters). 5. Others say that these bent their knees, since they were accustomed to do this before Baal (Drusius, Hebrews in Munster).

[But those that, etc.] Hebrew: and every one that boweth himself, etc.[5] (Malvenda). There is here הַכְּתוּב קָצֻר, an abbreviated writing, or ellipsis. For it is to be understood that these also ought to be set apart from the rest (Munster). Thus (or similarly [Junius and Tremellius]) whoever shall bow, etc. (Junius and Tremellius).

Lappeth: It is true, there may be natural reasons given why some did only lap of the water, when others bowed down to drink; from the temperance, or fortitude, or patience, or strength, or diligence of the one, and the intemperance, or cowardice, or impatience, or weakness, or slothfulness of the other; but these seem to be mere conjectures: the true reason and design of this course seems to be only this, that God would reduce them to a very small number, which was likely to be done by this means; for the season of the year being hot, and the generality of the soldiers weary, and thirsty, and faint, they would most probably bow down upon their knees, that they might more fully refresh themselves by a liberal draught, as indeed they did; and it could be expected that there would be but few, who either could or would deny themselves in this matter, especially when God concurred in the work, and so disposed of the minds and bodies of them, that all, except three hundred, should lie down to drink.

Verse 6:[6] And the number of them that lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, were three hundred men: but all the rest of the people bowed down upon their knees to drink water.

[Who with their hand to their mouth, etc., הַֽמֲלַקְקִ֤ים בְּיָדָם֙ אֶל־פִּיהֶ֔ם] Of those lapping in their hand (supply, extending [Munster, Tigurinus]) to their mouth (Montanus, Vatablus, similarly the Septuagint, Arabic, Syriac). With their hand putting water to their mouth (Junius and Tremellius).

Putting their hand to their mouth; taking up a little water in the palm of their hands to put into their mouths.

Verse 7:[7] And the LORD said unto Gideon, (1 Sam. 14:6) By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you, and deliver the Midianites into thine hand: and let all the other people go every man unto his place.

[Let him return unto his place] That is, his own house, as in Numbers 24:11, 25. Although it is likely that those did not retreat far that night, and returned unto the battle on that very night, with the camp of the Midianites cast into confusion, since they were equipped with arms, and were nearby (Bonfrerius).

His place: that is, To his own home, as Numbers 24:11.

[1] Hebrew: וַיֹּ֙אמֶר יְהוָ֜ה אֶל־גִּדְע֗וֹן עוֹד֮ הָעָ֣ם רָב֒ הוֹרֵ֤ד אוֹתָם֙ אֶל־הַמַּ֔יִם וְאֶצְרְפֶ֥נּוּ לְךָ֖ שָׁ֑ם וְהָיָ֡ה אֲשֶׁר֩ אֹמַ֙ר אֵלֶ֜יךָ זֶ֣ה׀ יֵלֵ֣ךְ אִתָּ֗ךְ ה֚וּא יֵלֵ֣ךְ אִתָּ֔ךְ וְכֹ֙ל אֲשֶׁר־אֹמַ֜ר אֵלֶ֗יךָ זֶ֚ה לֹא־יֵלֵ֣ךְ עִמָּ֔ךְ ה֖וּא לֹ֥א יֵלֵֽךְ׃

[2] Hebrew: וַיּ֥וֹרֶד אֶת־הָעָ֖ם אֶל־הַמָּ֑יִם ס וַיֹּ֙אמֶר יְהוָ֜ה אֶל־גִּדְע֗וֹן כֹּ֣ל אֲשֶׁר־יָלֹק֩ בִּלְשׁוֹנ֙וֹ מִן־הַמַּ֜יִם כַּאֲשֶׁ֧ר יָלֹ֣ק הַכֶּ֗לֶב תַּצִּ֤יג אוֹתוֹ֙ לְבָ֔ד וְכֹ֛ל אֲשֶׁר־יִכְרַ֥ע עַל־בִּרְכָּ֖יו לִשְׁתּֽוֹת׃

[3] Claudius Ælianus (c. 175-c. 235) was a Roman rhetorician and teacher.

[4] De Natura Animalium.

[5] Hebrew: וְכֹ֛ל אֲשֶׁר־יִכְרַ֥ע עַל־בִּרְכָּ֖יו.

[6] Hebrew: וַיְהִ֗י מִסְפַּ֞ר הַֽמֲלַקְקִ֤ים בְּיָדָם֙ אֶל־פִּיהֶ֔ם שְׁלֹ֥שׁ מֵא֖וֹת אִ֑ישׁ וְכֹל֙ יֶ֣תֶר הָעָ֔ם כָּרְע֥וּ עַל־בִּרְכֵיהֶ֖ם לִשְׁתּ֥וֹת מָֽיִם׃

[7] Hebrew: וַיֹּ֙אמֶר יְהוָ֜ה אֶל־גִּדְע֗וֹן בִּשְׁלֹשׁ֩ מֵא֙וֹת הָאִ֤ישׁ הַֽמֲלַקְקִים֙ אוֹשִׁ֣יעַ אֶתְכֶ֔ם וְנָתַתִּ֥י אֶת־מִדְיָ֖ן בְּיָדֶ֑ךָ וְכָל־הָעָ֔ם יֵלְכ֖וּ אִ֥ישׁ לִמְקֹמֽוֹ׃

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