Okay, so if we’ve established that Gideon is a cautious, cynical guy who doesn’t like taking big leaps up faith without proof first, then I have to conclude that God is messing with him here. He gets 32,000 men from Manasseh, Asher, Zebulon, and Naphtali, which is obviously either an exaggerated number or a misunderstanding of “32 platoons,” and what is the first thing God does? He tells him to start whittling down the number of men. Basically God wants all the credit here, so he has to stack the odds against them so that it’s an obvious miracle.
(By the way, with only four tribes mentioned here, I wonder: are these stories not really a cycle but a collection of different heroic legends from different tribes that got put together in a false chronological order? It seems like a possibility to me.)
First God tells him to send anyone home who is “fearful and trembling,” which weeds out about two thirds of his men. Gideon is probably getting anxious at this point, but hey, ten thousand men is enough, right? God goes nope, and has him send them down to drink, and whoever gets down on their hands and knees to lap it up like dogs (does anyone really do that? was that a common thing three thousand years ago?) gets sent home. Why they go seems arbitrary, but maybe it has to do with battle-readiness? If you stay in a crouch, it’s easier to pick up your sword and run.
Anyway, Gideon is now left with only three hundred men, and he was probably about ready to lose it and run himself. God more or less acknowledges this, telling him ” if you fear to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah; and you shall hear what they say, and afterwards your hands shall be strengthened to attack the camp” (v 10-11). Gideon immediately runs down to camp, of course, and learns that one of the men had a dream, and another interpreted as a sign that Gideon would win in the upcoming battle.
Why does Gideon put immediate stock in this dream? Is it because he believes all dreams are sent by God? How can he know that the other Midianite’s interpretation is valid? But maybe that’s the point – it’s not that one Midianite had a dream, it’s that another would immediately assume they were in trouble. Gideon realizes he has a psychological advantage. The Midianites don’t know that he just sent home 99% of his troops. And so his scheme, which has them spread out, each holding a lantern and blowing a horn in the pitch darkness, makes them believe he still has a large army, and they go into a panic, killing each other as they try to flee.
One thing that’s weird here is that the Gideons International, the one that leaves all those Bibles in hotel rooms, uses a torch in a jar as a symbol for its organization. The only reason their website gives for the name is this incredibly vague history:
Much thought was given to what the name of the association should be, and after special prayer that God might lead them to select the proper name, Mr. Knights arose from his knees and said, “We shall be called Gideons.” He read the sixth and seventh chapters of Judges and showed the reason for adopting that name.
See? Not helpful. I get a kind of spiritual warfare vibe off of it – they’re a small army against a vast tide of evil, carrying beacons of light (the little Bibles they leave). But that doesn’t really work in the actual narrative, where the entire point is how Gideon is using torches as a form of intimidation, not a “light in the darkness,” and where God intentionally whittled their numbers down to make a point. It just… I don’t get it. It’s an odd choice for an organization’s name.
The Japanese: jin wo shiku “to encamp” (v 1), mizube “waterside, waterfront,” eriwakeru “to sort out, to sift through,” tsugeru “to tell, to inform, to signal” (v 4), hiza wo tsuku “to fall to one’s knees” (v 5), sukuu “to scoop,” susuru “to sip, to slurp,” kagamu “to stoop, to bend down, to crouch” (v 6), hikitomeru “to detain” (v 8), korogarikomu “to tumble into, to come live with, to fall in one’s lap” (v 13), kaishaku “interpretation” (v 15), mizugame “water jug,” taimatsu “pine torch, flambeau” (v 16), houi suru “to encircle” (v 18), kou “nighttime subdivision approx. 2 hours long,” hoshou “sentry” (v 19), sorou “to gather, to be present” (v 20), soudachi “standing up in unison” (v 21), doushiuchi “killing each other by mistake” (v 22), sakabune “sake cask/tun” (v 25).
I’d actually guess the meaning of kou since I know from reading period-piece manga that in the past Japan followed the Chinese pattern of having 12 “hours” in a day, corresponding to the 12 animals of the zodiac. The English is “the beginning of the middle watch,” but in Japanese it’s more like “the beginning of the hour of deepest night,” i.e. right around midnight.