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Judges 7:5

ESV So he brought the people down to the water. And the LORD said to Gideon, “Every one who laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set by himself. Likewise, every one who kneels down to drink.”
NIV So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the LORD told him, 'Separate those who lap the water with their tongues as a dog laps from those who kneel down to drink.'
NASB So he brought the people down to the water. Then the Lord said to Gideon, 'You shall put everyone who laps the water with his tongue as a dog laps in one group, and everyone who kneels down to drink in another.'
CSB So he brought the troops down to the water, and the Lord said to Gideon, "Separate everyone who laps water with his tongue like a dog. Do the same with everyone who kneels to drink."
NLT When Gideon took his warriors down to the water, the Lord told him, 'Divide the men into two groups. In one group put all those who cup water in their hands and lap it up with their tongues like dogs. In the other group put all those who kneel down and drink with their mouths in the stream.'
KJV 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.

What does Judges 7:5 mean?

God is committed to reducing Gideon's forces, despite being desperately outnumbered (Judges 7:3; 8:10). His intent is to make it clear that any victory was only provided by the work of the Lord, not by special skill or effort by the men themselves. He now tells Gideon to take all the men down to the nearby water to drink from the brook. Gideon is to divide the men into two groups depending on how they drink.

The Hebrew phrasing in this verse is difficult to translate, but not unclear. Between verses 5 and 6, a pattern emerges that explains what distinguishes these groups. In short, one group drinks in a vulnerable position, the other in a position of readiness.

The first group is described as "lapping" water. Mention of how a dog drinks might refer to the way a dog's tongue picks up water—the following verse notes these men brought water to their mouths with their hands (Judges 7:6). This would leave the soldier in a position of awareness and stability. The other group kneels to drink, possibly putting their lips directly to the stream.

On one hand, God's test might be separating diligent men from those who are careless. Some scholars suggest another option: that those who kneeled did so because they were accustomed to doing so during their pagan idol worship. On the other hand, others note that the Midianite army was close, but not so close that a surprise attack was possible. This might well be nothing more than a seemingly random means to separate the men.

Gideon will quickly learn that the number of men in each group is wildly uneven.
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