There was a man that told a dream unto his fellow, and said, Behold, I dreamed a dream, and, lo, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the host of Midian, and came unto a tent, and smote it that it fell, and overturned it, that the tent lay along (verse 13).The significance of this dream is inherent in the words 'a cake of barley bread'. Josephus adds the explanation, 'which men can hardly eat for its coarseness'. It must be remembered that the Israelites had been reduced to such poverty by the raids of the Midianites and their allies, that the vast majority of them would have nothing to subsist on but common barley bread. In Solomon's day, barley was only for horses and dromedaries. In the time when Greece ruled the world, barley bread was a food hardly fit to be eaten even by the poorest of the poor, yet in Israel when the Lord walked the earth, it was eaten, at any rate by the poor. We are indebted to the apostle John for this information, for in chapter 6 of his Gospel we read that the Lord fed five thousand men, and many women and children beside, from two small fishes and five barley loaves. He would have eaten some Himself, such was the poverty He bore for our sakes, He the creator of the universe.
Just as Dr. Johnson defined oats 'as food for horses in England, and for men in Scotland', so the Midianites and the other enemies of Israel were accustomed to call Gideon and his army 'eaters of barley bread', so taunting them and pouring ridicule upon their puny efforts and their sorry condition. Hence the significance of this dream. It was given by God and it did not need His Spirit to interpret the information that the cake of barley bread referred to Israel. Also it could by now have become common knowledge among the enemy host that it was Gideon, the son of Joash, who had raised the standard of Israel. The last words spoken by the sentry, however, must have been put into his mouth by the Lord -- they were an echo of the Lord's words spoken to Gideon himself in verse 9.
And his fellow answered and said, This is nothing else save the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel: for into his hand hath God delivered Midian, and all the host (verse 14).
When Gideon heard the telling of the dream and the interpretation, he worshipped, 'for the Lord hath delivered into your hand the host of Midian' (verse 15). No wonder Gideon worshipped. The mighty Jehovah had condescended to encourage the heart of His servant, that his faith might be strengthened to go through with the fantastic task he had been commanded to undertake.
He returned to his little insignificant band of men, and doubtless told them all he had heard. His armour-bearer would vouch for it, so with the promise of Divine aid ringing in their ears he prepares them for victory.
And he divided the three hundred men into three companies, and he put a trumpet in every man's hand, with empty pitchers, and lamps within the pitchers (verse 16).
He split his men into three companies, and commanded each man to take a ram's horn, an empty pitcher and a firebrand. Eastern watchmen or police always carried at night a torch or firebrand which smouldered or burnt without a flame, until it was waved through the air, when it suddenly blazed into a flame. The burning end was usually carried in a small pot or jar, these torches being simply strips of wood dipped in pitch. Maybe that is where we have the word 'pitcher' from. It was an earthenware vessel.
This reminds us of those glorious words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:6 & 7:
For God, Who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.
Read now verses 17 and 18 of this chapter 7 of Judges:
And he said unto them, Look on me, and do likewise: and, behold, when I come to the outside of the camp, it shall be that, as I do, so shall ye do. When I blow with a trumpet, I and all that are with me, then blow ye the trumpets also on every side of all the camp, and say, The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon.
Gideon showed all the three hundred the way in which he wished them at a given signal to break the pitchers, wave the torches into life, and shout. The war cry literally was 'For Jehovah, for Gideon'. These were the weirdest battle orders since the capture of the great city of Jericho, when the children of Israel first came into the land of Canaan. We find the reason for this exhibition of the helplessness of Israel in verse 2 of this chapter -- 'lest Israel vaunt themselves against Me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me'. This victory was to be won by the Lord and Israel's part was small. The barley loaf in the dream, the use of trumpets, pitchers and firebrands in place of weapons, three hundred men against one hundred and thirty-five thousand -- 'Who hath despised the day of small things?' asked the prophet Zechariah. God often does His work by means of the weak and the despised, so that the glory due to His name is not given to another. Israel were to learn yet again that it is not by might nor by power, nor by great armies, that God saves, but by the faithful few who put their trust in the Lord. They wrought with God that day.
So Gideon, and the hundred men that were with him, came unto the outside of the camp in the beginning of the middle watch; and they had but newly set the watch: and they blew the trumpets, and brake the pitchers that were in their hands.
And the three companies blew the trumpets, and brake the pitchers, and held the lamps in their left hands, and the trumpets in their right hands to blow withal: and they cried, The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon.
And they stood every man in his place round about the camp: and all the host ran, and cried, and fled. And the three hundred blew the trumpets, and the Lord set every man's sword against his fellow, even throughout all the host: and the host fled to Beth-shittah in Zererath, and to the border of Abel-meholah, unto Tabbath (verses 19-22).
The three companies of the one hundred men reached the outposts of the camps of the enemy under cover of darkness, from three different vantage points overlooking the plain. Gideon chose the time for revealing the presence of his troops just after the changing of the guards. The twelve hours of the night from our 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., were divided at this time into three watches: 6 till 10; 10 till 2; 2 till 6. The Romans later changed this to four watches of three hours each.
The beginning of a watch at night is always difficult for sentries, as their eyes have not become used to the darkness and the vision is limited and uncertain. Men are more jumpy too at noises, until they become accustomed to sounds that, when it is dark, play havoc with the nerves. The effect of the sudden crash of sound and glare of lights and shouts, on both sentries and on those that slept of the vast unwieldy host of Bedouins, was devastating. The camp followers who did the fetching and carrying and cooking and cleaning, and would number hundreds in an army of this size, would panic straight away. Panic, particularly at night, is infectious, fright grips the brain, and the mind refuses to reason and the instinct is to run. Even a well disciplined army is liable to outbursts of panic, and history records many instances.
So here, this great host ran and cried and fled, and the Lord set every man's sword against his fellow. The brave would endeavour to stem the tide streaming away by smiting those nearest to them, they would be trampled upon by those seeking only to save their skins, and the tide once started would not be stemmed. The three hundred of Israel simply stood and blew their trumpets and held their flaming torches high. They stood still and watched the salvation of the Lord.
Paul tells us in Ephesians 6 that it is no use us attempting to fight with the world rulers of this darkness. He writes:
Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand (verses 11,13).
The only offensive weapon in that armoury is the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Clad in the armour provided by Him we are safe. Without it we cannot hope to prevail against the power of Satan.
Here we are surely reminded too of the Day of the Lord, that great day for Israel as a nation foretold by all the prophets in both Old and New Testaments. If those 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 great terror, when the trumpet of the Archangel shall sound, the elements shall be on a flame, the powers of the heavens shall be shaken, and the Lord Himself, in His majestic power, shall descend with a shout!
So the Lord wrought a great victory for Israel that day, and when the rout was complete, Gideon sent messengers to the tribes of Manasseh, Naphtali and Asher to pursue the enemy to the north; and to Ephraim to pursue to the south. Gideon's name became famous over night throughout all the tribes of Israel, and he holds an honoured place among their heroes recorded in Hebrews 11:
And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets:
Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens (verses 32-34).
Above all, this amazing victory speaks to us of the longsuffering, of the mighty power, and of the love of the Lord Who so wondrously took pity on His rebellious people and wrought for them, undeserving as they were, a great victory and deliverance.
This God is our God. What a Saviour!