What does Judges chapter 7 mean?After giving Gideon several miraculous signs (Judges 6:36–40), God wants the attack on Midian to commence. Gideon has gathered a force of some 32,000 Israelites to follow him into battle. They rise early in the morning and make camp in the hills, just a few miles south from the Midianite camp in the valley below (Judges 7:1).
The Lord then says a surprising thing to Gideon. He wants the number of Israelite troops reduced. When the battle is over, God wants everyone to clearly understand that He gave Israel the victory. There is to be no doubt that the Lord, not the people, has accomplished this victory. The Lord tells Gideon to send home anyone who admits to being too afraid to stay for a fight. This step is not without precedent, as it follows commands about warfare which God gave to Moses (Deuteronomy 20:5–8). Two-thirds of the available men leave (Judges 7:2–3).
Next the Lord tells Gideon the remaining thousands of men are still too many. He has Gideon take the army down to a nearby brook to drink. Gideon is to divide the men into two groups: those who kneel to drink or those who use their hands. Scholars debate whether this was meant to sort out those less aware or those accustomed to kneeling in pagan worship. Or it might simply have been a quick way to reduce the task force to a smaller size. In any case, only 300 pass this test. With those 300 men, God says He will give Gideon the victory. The others are sent away (Judges 9:4–8).
That night, the Lord tells Gideon to attack the Midianite camp. Before any objection can be expressed, God offers Gideon another sign in case he is afraid. The Lord says Gideon should spy on the enemy camp, along with his servant Purah. There, he will hear something to bolster his courage. Gideon and his servant get close enough to the vast encampment of enemy fighters to overhear two men talking. One described a dream about a cake of barley bread rolling into the Midianite camp and smashing a tent flat. The other interprets the dream, saying that it represents the sword of the Israelite Gideon. Despite having no reason to say such a thing, the other soldier says God has given the Midianite camp into Gideon's hand (Judges 9:9–14).
In response to this encouragement, Gideon worships God. He immediately returns to his own camp, awakens his 300 men, and announces that the Lord is going to give Midian into their hands right now. He gives each man a ram's horn trumpet and a clay pitcher with a torch inside of it. He describes what they will do with them, possibly demonstrating so they know exactly how to proceed. The task force descends to the Midianite camp and takes up positions around the perimeter (Judges 7:15–18).
Following Gideon's lead, his men all blow their trumpets and smash their clay jars, holding the torches high. They repeatedly shout out "a sword for the Lord and for Gideon!" while continuing to blow their trumpets. This results in a sudden burst of noise, light, and battle signals from every side. A normal army would not have given a horn and torch to every soldier, so Gideon's army seems massive in the darkness. Further, the attack is timed just after the changing of the guard. At that moment, most Midianites are sleeping, while others are walking back into their camp, armed, and in the dark (Judges 7:19–20).
The response in the camp is chaos. Being surprised by crashing, shouting, sudden lights, and military horns would have been unnerving enough. Worse, in the confusion, Midianites begin to mistake one another for enemy attackers. That probably included the guards just coming back from their duty. Anyone coming across such a skirmish would assume the same and fight back. In this way, the entire Midianite encampment is overcome with a sweeping wave of utter mayhem. The Midianites try to run away, fumbling to reorganize in their panic. Eventually, the survivors gather themselves enough to flee east, trying to cross the Jordan River into friendly territory (Judges 7:21–23).
Gideon calls out to several of the tribes of Israel to join him in chasing the Midianites down. He does this using messengers. A single man running or on an animal could move much faster than a group on foot. Gideon's signal is taken to the men of the tribe of Ephraim, who are closer to the Jordan River. They mostly cut off the Midianites' escape route, chasing down those who managed to get through. The Ephraimites eliminate their targets and kill two princes of Midian. Their heads are brought to Gideon (Judges 7:24–25).
The following chapter details the completion of Gideon's victory. This does not come without resistance, and consequences, from other Israelites (Judges 8:1).