Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 4/23/2019
So far we have read about the whittling down of Gideon’s army to the Kosher 300 and with them proceeding to take out the Midianites. Where we pick up today we will find an interesting encounter before the great battle with the Midianites. Gideon is about to go to war, but first must see what odds he is up against with my dude Purah and hear a word from God through a stranger. Let’s read the text of Scripture for today’s study starting in verse 9 of Chapter 7:
“Now the same night it came about that the LORD said to him, “Arise, go down against the camp, for I have given it into your hands. But if you are afraid to go down, go with Purah your servant down to the camp, and you will hear what they say; and afterward your hands will be strengthened that you may go down against the camp.” So he went with Purah his servant down to the outposts of the army that was in the camp. Now the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the sons of the east were lying in the valley as numerous as locusts; and their camels were without number, as numerous as the sand on the seashore. When Gideon came, behold, a man was relating a dream to his friend. And he said, “Behold, I had a dream; a loaf of barley bread was tumbling into the camp of Midian, and it came to the tent and struck it so that it fell, and turned it upside down so that the tent lay flat.” His friend replied, “This is nothing less than the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel; God has given Midian and all the camp into his hand.” When Gideon heard the account of the dream and its interpretation, he bowed in worship. He returned to the camp of Israel and said, “Arise, for the LORD has given the camp of Midian into your hands.” He divided the 300 men into three companies, and he put trumpets and empty pitchers into the hands of all of them, with torches inside the pitchers. He said to them, “Look at me and do likewise. And behold, when I come to the outskirts of the camp, do as I do. “When I and all who are with me blow the trumpet, then you also blow the trumpets all around the camp and say, ‘For the LORD and for Gideon.’”” (NASB Judges 7:9-18)
Starting off, we find Gideon at night after the day when Gideon’s forces were divided into a mere 300 soldiers. God then reveals how powerful He is by showing His knowledge of Gideon’s heart, specifically the fear that encroaches it. The LORD tells Gideon that he is to go and take out the camp of the Midianites, yet at the same time offers an alternative way of approaching the Midianite camp down in the valley (v9-11a). One way to understand the two options is that Gideon could either a) immediately go down against the camp with his army of 300 soldiers or b) go with Purah his servant to the border of the camp to hear a word of confirmation, then gather his troops to go against the camp. Basically, God offers an alternative to someone and yet approves of both actions.
The only time I can think of a situation playing out like this is when God told my Mom that she could either marry my Dad or not marry him, but either way God would approve of her decision. As my Mom recalls, God did not favor either option, but instead allowed my Mom the freedom to choose. Whatever she chose, God was going to bless her decision.
Like my Mom’s situation, we know from reading the text which option Gideon chose because he was afraid. It’s Gideon’s most common trait since we started reading about him. He’s a man of great fear, but will one day be known as a man of great faith. He’s about to go to war for the first time and has never fought a day in his life. To even begin to describe what Gideon must have been feeling or thinking in this moment is too hard to articulate as someone who has never faced the fires of war.
The dawn of battle is a very scary thought even to the toughest of soldiers. It’s hard for me, a civilian, to describe to you what those moments feel like on the battlefield, so here is a quote from a former soldier on his experiences in combat:
“Several hours of pure terror, your heart pounding so hard you think it might leap out of your chest, your best friend on fire, running as fast as humanly possible, pure luck, sleeping with one eye open and your hand on your weapon, laser focused on the task before you, the world melting away as the only thing you observe is a heart beating and breath being taken in, then silence. You walk along with the rest of the group. Everyone celebrating that we’re going home, but you just give a fake smile. All you can think about is not having been there 5 minutes earlier, or why didn’t he duck, or why him… And the sound still stays muted even through the great yell being given by everyone as the plane lifts off the ground and heading home, the high fives given are half hearted and unenthusiastic as we stop at several airports on the way to the states. Everything quiet and just as dead as your best friend.”–mherick, Reddit
With this in mind, not only is going to battle a jarring experience of courage conflicting with fear, going to your first battle even more so than most people can describe. From the testimonies of soldiers I have heard from online and in the past face-to-face, it’s an odd combination of a love/hate relationship with war. Love because there is no adrenaline surge on Earth that can match the testosterone high that combat can give to someone, especially men. Hate because of the atrocities and effects that result from combat afterwards: death, destruction, purple hearts, body bags, remorse, regrets, and the like. Again, I can’t do justice to what that moment is like before going to your first battle, but it’s something that every soldier that has gone to combat can understand. Gideon is going through this swell of emotions and thoughts, along with 300 soldiers ready to die for their country.
Choosing the alternative option, Gideon goes down to the border of the Midianite camp with his servant Purah and finds two men discussing a dream that one of them had. Just a side note, the name Purah is very similar to the English word “purity” and means “bough” like the central branch of a tree. Some biblical scholars say that Purah was most likely Gideon’s armor-bearer as he is referred to as a servant, which an armor-bearer was a type of servant during battle. When the two arrive at the edge of the battlefield, they stumble upon an army innumerable in size and appeared like a blanket of “locusts” in the valley below (v12).
It must have been humbling to see such a site of human power. Numbers are always impressive, no matter what it is that the numbers signify: a yearly-salary, a sports car’s horsepower, Big Z’s world record log press. It doesn’t matter. To us, numbers are impressive because they always represent power, which leads to pride.
As this immense enemy camp looms over Gideon, he and Purah find two other men by the edge of the enemy camp as one of them is “relating a dream to his friend.” The dream is told as the following:
“Behold, I had a dream; a loaf of barley bread was tumbling into the camp of Midian, and it came to the tent and struck it so that it fell, and turned it upside down so that the tent lay flat.” (NASB Judges 7:13b)
Then once the dream had been proclaimed in the presence of Gideon, Purah, and the interpreter, the latter man responds with an interpretation that reveals some very important truths. Let’s see the interpretation before dissecting it:
“This is nothing less than the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel; God has given Midian and all the camp into his hand.” (NASB Judges 7:14b)
In the dream of the first man there is a loaf of barley bread representing Gideon and his army. The loaf of bread may also signify how the Midianites were known for taking the Israelites resources, only to have it literally come back on their heads. Boy, this is a matter of loaf and death. The tumbling into the Midianite tent and turning it upside down symbolizes the victory that God has promised to Gideon. Thus, Gideon’s fears were finally squashed as he hears the final confirmation that God will deliver the Amalekites and the Midianites into Israel’s hands.
It’s always fascinating to me how God uses dreams in the Bible to confirm or reveal information. Jeffrey Kranz of www.overviewbible.com has found that there are 21 dreams in the Bible, including this one in Judges Chapter 7. He summarizes the dream in Judges Chapter 7 as “a piece of bread rolls* into Midianites’ camp and turns over the tents, foreshadowing Gideon’s victory. *bun intended?” Yes Kranz, the bun is most certainly intended and the victory is now going to happen with this divine word from God through these two men conversing.
After hearing the interpretation, Gideon worships God and then heads back with Purah to gather the kosher 300 to annihilate the enemy. He divides the 300 into groups of 100 and places trumpets in every man’s hands, along with empty pitchers for their torches. Lastly, Gideon gives instruction to his army by telling them to do as he does. He ends with giving his men the battle cry of the night, which will cement his name as one of the greatest warlords in Israel’s history: “For the LORD and for Gideon” (v18b).
Not only does this battle cry ring loudly as to how God will deliver Israel, but to whom God has appointed to unleash His will on those who oppose it: Gideon. A name that will send shudders down the spines of those who stand in opposition against God once His wrath is let loose upon the enemy. Our next study will show how Gideon’s life will become a legend that will forever define his legacy as a man of faith. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless!
- Wallace and Gromit: a Matter of Loaf and Death (2008)