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Sefer Shoftim Chapter 7

Chapter 7 describes the battle with Midian, Amalek and the people of the East. Initially, Gidon had 32,000 soldiers to fight against 135,000 Midianites. Whilst this placed the Jewish people as the underdogs, it meant victory was a possibility. However, God desired the victory to be an uncontested miracle. First, He told Gidon to announce that anyone who was scared should go back home. This left Gidon with 10,000 men to fight. God still felt that this was too many soldiers. Next, He ordered Gidon to take the men to a river to drink. Anyone who prostrated himself or knelt to drink should also be sent home. The medieval commentator Rashi explains that the actions of kneeling or prostrating indicates a habit of idol worship, thus they were not worthy of fighting in an army of God.

Gidon was now left with only 300 soldiers. As we know from our previous articles, the people often forgot to attribute their victories to God. With only 300 soldiers, it was going to be hard to claim it was their success. Rather, there would be a clear Divine source to the victory. However, Gidon is feeling unsure once more and requires another sign from God (his fourth so far). He overheard a man telling his fellow about a dream, which is quickly interpreted as a sign that God has given the camp of Midian into Gidon’s hand. This reassurance leads Gidon to act.

 

Gidon divided up his soldiers into three groups to spread around the enemy camp. He gave them empty jugs with torches inside and shofars. Simultaneously, the soldiers blew their shofars and broke their jugs to reveal the torches within them. Not only did this make a massive noise, but this also scared the enemy soldiers who believed there was a huge army about to charge them. Normally, each platoon has one torch bearer and one bugler. Hearing so many shofar blasts and seeing so many torches made them think there were many more than 300 soldiers encircling them!

 

The enemy soldiers fled from their camp. Gidon sent messengers to the tribe of Efraim to come and block the Midanites. They successfully defeated the army and captured the two leaders, Orev and Zeev.

Gidon as a Representative of the People

 

In our last article we discussed that Gidon now represented a lower calibre of Shofet ruling over the people. This is expressed once more in Chapter 7 as we see his reliance on yet another miraculous sign from God (Shofetim 6:27, 6:37, 6:39 and 7:9). Gidon’s challenges are no greater than those faced by Ehud or Devora, yet none of the earlier Shofetim requested signs from God. More importantly, no one else received them. The very fact that God is willing to indulge in Gidon’s need for reassurance is significant. God intervenes to prevent Gidon from losing faith both in God and in himself.

 

However, criticising Gidon here is only relevant when considered in its context. A leader reflects the people being led. The judges appointed in this era are a response to the needs of the generation. Therefore, the decreasing calibre of the shofetim is not just a comment on the state of the leaders, but an indication of the moral and spiritual state of the Jewish people. When God decreases the size of the army to 300 to make the victory an obvious miracle, this is emphasised. Without an open miracle, the generation of Gidon were not able to see the hand of God in their lives.

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