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Gideon’s 300

In Judges chapter 7, Gideon masses an army to fight the much larger Midianite army. God tells Gideon that the army is too large, so He sends the fighters who were afraid back to their place. Because the size of Gideon’s army was still too large, God further reduced the size so He would get the glory by the work of His hand, and not that of the army. God used what many consider to be an unusual way to reduce Gideon’s army; by having them drink from (a stream of) water.

Here is the KJV, verses 5, 6 and 7:

So he brought down the people unto the water: and the LORD said unto Gideon, Every one that lappeth of the water with his tongue, as a dog lappeth, him shalt thou set by himself; likewise every one that boweth down upon his knees to drink. And the number of them that lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, were three hundred men: but all the rest of the people bowed down upon their knees to drink water. And the LORD said unto Gideon, By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you, and deliver the Midianites into thine hand: and let all the other people go every man unto his place.

Judges 7:5-7

It seems that God chose the 300 that lapped like a dog from their hand for a few reasons:

  1. Looking at the meaning of the word dog from the original language, you see from the Gesenius Lexicon that further meaning of this word can be to persecute one’s enemies. It can also have the meaning of being fierce or cruel… see the prophesy of the Messiah’s lament in Psalm 22:16 and 20.
  2. Look at the meaning of the word hand… it can figuratively have the meaning of strength and power.  Strong’s definition of the word from the original language indicates power and direction especially when regarded as an open hand. And, of course, it was with an open, cupped hand that the 300 accepted warriors lapped the water.
  3. The word tongue in the original language is the word lashown, from which the word lap is related to its syllable las.
  4. The word mouth from the original language can be defined as a means of blowing, and comes from its root wording meaning to blow away or scatter. This is significant since it relates to the battle means by which God used the 300 to defeat the Midianites, which was to blow the trumpets to scare the enemy away.

Collectively, these word meanings give us a better understanding as to why God selected the people He did to become Gideon’s army, and the way He made the selection.

As with many parts of the Bible, not every translation comes across as being the same and it’s no different here. The Message translation, the New English Translation (NET), and the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) all confuse the story by either leaving out certain words or phrases, or by making the sequence of events disjointed. Look at this example in the NRSV:

So he brought the troops down to the water; and the Lord said to Gideon, “All those who lap the water with their tongues, as a dog laps, you shall put to one side; all those who kneel down to drink, putting their hands to their mouths, you shall put to the other side.” The number of those that lapped was three hundred; but all the rest of the troops knelt down to drink water. Then the Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred that lapped I will deliver you, and give the Midianites into your hand. Let all the others go to their homes.”

Notice here the NRSV has the kneelers using their hands, instead of the lappers. Thinking of it logically, in this translation how are the lappers supposed to get the water into their mouths without either bowing down OR using their hands? Which translations are correct? Without being a Hebrew scholar, I can only assume the likes of the (N)KJV, NASB, and the majority of the rest of the translations that have the lappers using their hand are correct. These read most logically as well.

Finally, many scholars site the ‘situational awareness’ of the single-handed lappers as the reason that God chose them over the kneelers… the lappers remained upright and only basically quenched their thirst, while the kneelers put caution to the wind with their faces down at the water for a big drink. While this may be the case, it appears there are plenty of reasons why God chose the 300 when we consider additional meaning behind key words of these passages.