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HOW THE MIDIANITES AND OTHER NATIONS FOUGHT AGAINST THE ISRAELITES AND BEAT THEM, AND AFFLICTED THEIR COUNTRY FOR SEVEN YEARS, HOW THEY WERE DELIVERED BY GIDEON, WHO RULED OVER THE MULTITUDE FOR FORTY YEARS.
1. NOW when Barak and Deborah were dead, whose deaths happened about the same time, afterwards the Midianites called the Amalekites and Arabians to their assistance, and made war against the Israelites, and were too hard for those that fought against them; and when they had burnt the fruits of the earth, they carried off the prey. Now when they had done this for three years, the multitude of the Israelites retired to the mountains, and forsook the plain country. They also made themselves hollows under ground, and caverns, and preserved therein whatever had escaped their enemies; for the Midianites made expeditions in harvest-time, but permitted them to plough the land in winter, that so, when the others had taken the pains, they might have fruits for them to carry away. Indeed, there pursued a famine and a scarcity of food; upon which they betook themselves to their supplications to God, and besought him to save them.
2. Gideon also, the son of Joash, one of the principal persons of the tribe of Manasseh, brought his sheaves of corn privately, and thrashed them at the wine-press; for he was too fearful of their enemies to thrash them openly in the thrashing-floor. At this time somewhat appeared to him in the shape of a young man, and told him that he was a happy man, and beloved of God. To which he immediately replied, "A mighty indication of God's favor to me, that I am forced to use this wine-press instead of a thrashing- floor!" But the appearance exhorted him to be of good courage, and to make an attempt for the recovery of their liberty. He answered, that it was impossible for him to recover it, because the tribe to which he belonged was by no means numerous; and because he was but young himself, and too inconsiderable to think of such great actions. But the other promised him, that God would supply what he was defective in, and would afford the Israelites victory under his conduct.
3. Now, therefore, as Gideon was relating this to some young men, they believed him, and immediately there was an army of ten thousand men got ready for fighting. But God stood by Gideon in his sleep, and told him that mankind were too fond of themselves, and were enemies to such as excelled in virtue. Now that they might not pass God over, but ascribe the victory to him, and might not fancy it obtained by their own power, because they were a great many, and able of themselves to fight their enemies, but might confess that it was owing to his assistance, he advised him to bring his army about noon, in the violence of the heat, to the river, and to esteem those that bent down on their knees, and so drank, to be men of courage; but for all those that drank tumultuously, that he should esteem them to do it out of fear, and as in dread of their enemies. And when Gideon had done as God had suggested to him, there were found three hundred men that took water with their hands tumultuously; so God bid him take these men, and attack the enemy. Accordingly they pitched their camp at the river Jordan, as ready the next day to pass over it.
4. But Gideon was in great fear, for God had told him beforehand that he should set upon his enemies in the night-time; but God, being willing to free him from his fear, bid him take one of his soldiers, and go near to the Midianites' tents, for that he should from that very place have his courage raised, and grow bold. So he obeyed, and went and took his servant Phurah with him; and as he came near to one of the tents, he discovered that those that were in it were awake, and that one of them was telling to his fellow soldier a dream of his own, and that so plainly that Gideon could hear him. The dream was this: - He thought he saw a barley-cake, such a one as could hardly be eaten by men, it was so vile, rolling through the camp, and overthrowing the royal tent, and the tents of all the soldiers. Now the other soldier explained this vision to mean the destruction of the army; and told them what his reason was which made him so conjecture, viz. That the seed called barley was all of it allowed to be of the vilest sort of seed, and that the Israelites were known to be the vilest of all the people of Asia, agreeably to the seed of barley, and that what seemed to look big among the Israelites was this Gideon and the army that was with him; "and since thou sayest thou didst see the cake overturning our tents, I am afraid lest God hath granted the victory over us to Gideon."
5. When Gideon had heard this dream, good hope and courage came upon him; and he commanded his soldiers to arm themselves, and told them of this vision of their enemies. They also took courage at what was told them, and were ready to perform what he should enjoin them. So Gideon divided his army into three parts, and brought it out about the fourth watch of the night, each part containing a hundred men: they all bare empty pitchers and lighted lamps in their hands, that their onset might not be discovered by their enemies. They had also each of them a ram's horn in his right hand, which he used instead of a trumpet. The enemy's camp took up a large space of ground, for it happened that they had a great many camels; and as they were divided into different nations, so they were all contained in one circle. Now when the Hebrews did as they were ordered beforehand, upon their approach to their enemies, and, on the signal given, sounded with their rams' horns, and brake their pitchers, and set upon their enemies with their lamps, and a great shout, and cried, "Victory to Gideon, by God's assistance," a disorder and a fright seized upon the other men while they were half asleep, for it was night-time, as God would have it; so that a few of them were slain by their enemies, but the greatest part by their own soldiers, on account of the diversity of their language; and when they were once put into disorder, they killed all that they met with, as thinking them to be enemies also. Thus there was a great slaughter made. And as the report of Gideon's victory came to the Israelites, they took their weapons and pursued their enemies, and overtook them in a certain valley encompassed with torrents, a place which these could not get over; so they encompassed them, and slew them all, with their kings, Oreb and Zeeb. But the remaining captains led those soldiers that were left, which were about eighteen thousand, and pitched their camp a great way off the Israelites. However, Gideon did not grudge his pains, but pursued them with all his army, and joining battle with them, cut off the whole enemies' army, and took the other leaders, Zeba and Zalmuna, and made them captives. Now there were slain in this battle of the Midianites, and of their auxiliaries the Arabians, about a hundred and twenty thousand; and the Hebrews took a great prey, gold, and silver, and garments, and camels, and asses. And when Gideon was come to his own country of Ophrah, he slew the kings of the Midianites.
6. However, the tribe of Ephraim was so displeased at the good success of Gideon, that they resolved to make war against him, accusing him because he did not tell them of his expedition against their enemies. But Gideon, as a man of temper, and that excelled in every virtue, pleaded, that it was not the result of his own authority or reasoning, that made him attack the enemy without them; but that it was the command of God, and still the victory belonged to them as well as those in the army. And by this method of cooling their passions, he brought more advantage to the Hebrews, than by the success he had against these enemies, for he thereby delivered them from a sedition which was arising among them; yet did this tribe afterwards suffer the punishment of this their injurious treatment of Gideon, of which we will give an account in due time.
7. Hereupon Gideon would have laid down the government, but was over-persuaded to take it, which he enjoyed forty years, and distributed justice to them, as the people came to him in their differences; and what he determined was esteemed valid by all. And when he died, he was buried in his own country of Ophrah.