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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 16–22
Verses 16–22

Here is, I. The alarm which Gideon gave to the hosts of Midian in the dead time of the night; for it was intended that those who had so long been a terror to Israel, and had so often frightened them, should themselves be routed and ruined purely by terror.

1. The attack here made was, in many circumstances, like that which Abraham made upon the army that had taken Lot captive. The number of men was much the same: Abraham had 318, Gideon 300; they both divided their forces, both made their attack by night, and were both victorious under great disadvantages (Gen. 14:14, 15); and Gideon is not only a son of Abraham (so were the Midianites by Keturah) but an heir of his faith. Gideon, (1.) Divided his army, small as it was, into three battalions (Jdg. 7:16), one of which he himself commanded (Jdg. 7:19), because great armies (and such a one he would make a show of) were usually divided into the right wing, and left wing, and the body of the army. (2.) He ordered them all to do as he did, Jdg. 7:17. He told them now, it is very likely, what they must do, else the thing was so strange that they would scarcely have done it of a sudden, but he would, by doing it first, give notice to them when to do it, as officers exercise their soldiers with the word of command or by beat of drum: Look on me, and do likewise. Such is the word of command which our Lord Jesus, the captain of our salvation, gives his soldiers; for he has left us an example, with a charge to follow it: As I do, so shall you do. (3.) He made his descent in the night, when they were secure and least expected it, which would put them into great consternation, and when the smallness of his army would not be discovered. In the night all frights are most frightful, especially in the dead of the night, as this was, a little after midnight, when the middle watch began, and the alarm would wake them out of their sleep. We read of terror by night as very terrible (Ps. 91:5), and fear in the night, Song 3:8. (4.) That which Gideon aimed at was to frighten this huge host, to give them not only a fatal rout, but a very shameful one. He accoutred his army with every man a trumpet in his right hand, and an earthen pitcher, with a torch in it, in his left, and he himself thought it no disparagement to him to march before them thus armed. He would make but a jest of conquering this army, and goes out against them rather as against a company of children than against a host of soldiers. The virgin, the daughter of Zion, hath despised thee, and laughed thee to scorn, Isa. 37:22. The fewness of his men favoured his design; for, being so few, they marched to the camp with the greater secresy and expedition, so that they were not discovered till they were close by the camp; and he contrived to give the alarm when they had just mounted the guards (Jdg. 7:19), that the sentinels, being then wakeful, might the sooner disperse the alarm through the camp, which was the best service they could do him. Three ways Gideon contrived to strike a terror upon this army, and so put them into confusion. [1.] With a great noise. Every man must blow his trumpet in the most terrible manner he could and clatter an earthen pitcher to pieces at the same time; probably each dashed his pitcher to his next man’s, and so they were broken both together, which would not only make a great crash, but was a figure of what would be the effects of the fright, even the Midianites’ killing one another. [2.] With a great blaze. The lighted torches were hid in the pitchers, like a candle under a bushel, until they came to the camp, and then, being taken out all together of a sudden, would make a glaring show, and run through the camp like a flash of lightning. Perhaps with these they set some of the tents on the outside of the camp on fire, which would very much increase the confusion. [3.] With a great shout. Every man must cry, For the Lord, and for Gideon, so some think it should be read in Jdg. 7:18; for there the sword is not in the original, but it is in Jdg. 7:20; The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon. It should seem, he borrowed the word from the Midianite’s dream (Jdg. 7:14): it is the sword of Gideon. Finding his name was a terror to them, he thus improves it against them, but prefixes the name of Jehovah, as the figure without which his own was but an insignificant cypher. This would put life into his own men, who might well take courage when they had such a God as Jehovah, and such a man as Gideon, both to fight for, and to fight for them; well might those follow who had such leaders. It would likewise put their enemies into a fright, who had of old heard of Jehovah’s great name, and of late of Gideon’s. The sword of the Lord is all in all to the success of the sword of Gideon, yet the sword of Gideon must be employed. Men the instruments, and God the principal agent, must both be considered in their places, but men, the greatest and best, always in subserviency and subordination to God. This army was to be defeated purely by terrors, and these are especially the sword of the 2a14 Lord. These soldiers, if they had swords by their sides, that was all, they had none in their hands, but they gained the victory by shouting “The sword.” So the church’s enemies are routed by a sword out of the mouth, Rev. 19:21. 2. These soldiers, if they had swords by their sides, that was all, they had none in their hands, but they gained the victory by shouting “The sword.” So the church’s enemies are routed by a sword out of the mouth, Rev. 19:21.

2. This method here taken of defeating the Midianites may be alluded to, (1.) As typifying the destruction of the devil’s kingdom in the world by the preaching of the everlasting gospel, the sounding of that trumpet, and the holding forth of that light out of earthen vessels, for such the ministers of the gospel are, in whom the treasure of that light is deposited, 2 Cor. 4:6. Thus God chose the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, a barley-cake to overthrow the tents of Midian, that the excellency of the power might be of God only; the gospel is a sword, not in the hand, but in the mouth, the sword of the Lord and of Gideon, of God and Jesus Christ, him that sits on the throne and the Lamb. (2.) As representing the terrors of the great day. So the excellent bishop Hall applies it; if these pitchers, trumpets, and firebrands, did so daunt and dismay the proud troops of Midian and Amalek, who shall be able to stand before the last terror, when the trumpet of the archangel shall sound, the elements shall be on a flame, the heavens pass away with a great noise, and the Lord himself shall descend with a shout!

II. The wonderful success of this alarm. The Midianites were shouted out of their lives, as the walls of Jericho were shouted down, that Gideon might see what he lately despaired of ever seeing, the wonders that their fathers told them of. Gideon’s soldiers observed their orders, and stood every man in his place round about the camp (Jdg. 7:21), sounding his trumpet to excite them to fight one another, and holding out his torch to light them to their ruin. They did not rush into the host of Midian, as greedy either of blood or spoil, but patiently stood still to see the salvation of the Lord, a salvation purely of his own working. Observe how the design took effect. 1. They feared the Israelites. All the host immediately took the alarm; it flew like lightning through all their lines, and they ran, and cried, and fled, Jdg. 7:21. There was something natural in this fright. We may suppose they had not had intelligence of the great diminution of Gideon’s army, but rather concluded that since their last advices it had been growing greater and greater; and therefore they had reason to suspect, knowing how odious and grievous they had made themselves and what bold steps had been taken towards the throwing off of their yoke, that it was a very great army which was to be ushered in with all those trumpeters and torch-bearers. But there was more of a supernatural power impressing this terror upon them. God himself gave it the setting on, to show how that promise should have been fulfilled if they had not forfeited it, One of you shall chase a thousand. See the power of imagination, and how much it may become a terror at some times, as at other times it is a pleasure. 2. They fell foul upon one another: The Lord set every man’s sword against his fellow, Jdg. 7:22. In this confusion, observing the trumpeters and torch-bearers to stand still without their camp, they concluded the body of the army had already entered and was in the midst of them, and therefore every one ran at the next he met, though a friend, supposing him an enemy, and one such mistake as this would occasion many, for then he that slew him would certainly be taken for an enemy, and would be dispatched immediately. It is our interest to preserve such a command of our own spirits as never to be afraid with any amazement, for we cannot conceive what mischiefs we thereby plunge ourselves into. See also how God often makes the enemies of his church instruments to destroy one another; it is a pity the church’s friends should ever be thus infatuated. 3. They fled for their lives. Perhaps when day-light came they were sensible of their mistake in fighting with one another, and concluded that by this fatal error they had so weakened themselves that now it was impossible to make any head against Israel, and therefore made the best of their way towards their own country, though, for aught that appears, the 300 men kept their ground. The wicked flee when none pursueth, Prov. 28:1. Terrors make him afraid on every side, and drive him to his feet, Job 18:11.