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Ophrah, and it may be, also hearing some rumors of the wonderful vision which he had seen, began to suspect that he and his countrymen were about taking measures to regain their independence. It was deemed important, therefore, that such an effort should be immediately crushed; and, for this purpose, the Midianites, and the other nations that were leagued with them, collected their forces into a vast army, which crossed the Jordan, and encamped in the valley of Jezreel. This was in the tribe of Issachar, afterwards called the plain of Esdraelon, and extending from Scythopolis to Mount Carmel. Gideon was ready for the emergency. The Spirit of the Lord came upon him, in a superna tural way, endowing him with all needed wisdom, valor, strength, and influence. He caused the summoning trumpets to be sounded in all directions. He gathered round him his own kindred. He despatched messengers throughout the whole tribe of Manasseh, and to the tribes of Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali; calling upon them to join him immediately with all the forces which they could raise. In the meanwhile, either from the temporary fears which arose in his mind, in view of the immense hosts of the enemy, or because he wished to inspire the Israelites with an unwavering confidence in their cause, Gideon ventured to ask of the Lord a miraculous token of success in leading his countrymen to the conflict. “If thou wilt save Israel by my hand, as thou hast said, Behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth besides, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by my hand, as thou hast said.” Jehovah condescended to grant this additional confirmation of his promises to Gideon. The latter, rising up early the next morning, found his request exactly complied with. For while there was no moisture on the ground, the fleece was so full of dew, that, squeezing it in his hands, he wrung from it a bowl-full of water. He wished now to have the miracle reversed, to prove the hand of the Almighty in it in such a way as to satisfy the most incredulous. “Let not thine anger be hot against me,” said he, addressing Jehovah, “ and I will speak but this once. Let me prove, I pray thee, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew.” The next morning brought the result for which he asked, and Gideon forthwith marshalled his forces for the war. They encamped near a well, called the well of Harod, not far from the mountains of Gilboa, on the borders of Manasseh. The army of the Midianites and their allies lay north of them, by the hill of Moreh, in the valley of Esdraelon. Of the Israelites there were only 32,000 men; while the number of their enemies was more than four times that amount, not less than 135,000. But even this disproportion must become vastly greater. “The people that are with thee,” said the Lord to Gideon, “are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me.” The glory of the victory must all be given to Jehovah, and he meant to show, beyond the possibility of a doubt, that his arm alone had achieved it. Gideon was then directed to proclaim throughout the camp, that whosoever was afraid to encounter the enemy might return. Twenty-two thousand, gladly availing themselves of the offer, withdrew, leaving only ten thousand behind. But even these were yet too many, and must be greatly diminished in number. The mode by which this was accomplished was a singular one. In making a selection it was important to take those who were capable of enduring great fatigue, and who were men of prompt and alert courage. These traits of character would be indicated by the manner of their drinking from a stream or pond of water, when on a march,-a practice to which travelers in the East often resort. The self-indulgent, slow-moving man, will kneel or lie down on the bank, and putting his mouth to the water take a long and leisurely draught. But he who has the great object of his journey fully in view, and is fearful of being left behind by his party, satisfied with the least quantity of refreshment, will quickly and dexterously dip the water from the stream with his hand, made hollow for the purpose, and throw it into his mouth. Tra7elers tell us that this custom still prevails, and that it is surprising to see with what rapidity these motions of the hand from the water towards the mouth will be repeated by those who are quick in their movements, and have acquired the necessary tact. “The people are yet too many,” said the Lord again to Gideon; “bring them down unto the water, and I will try them for thee there;” (to satisfy thee on whom thou canst finally rely as men of undaunted bravery ;) “ and it shall be that of whom I say unto thee,” (or make known by the result,) This shall go with thee, the same shall go with thee; and of whomsoever I say unto thee, This shall not go with thee, the same shall not go.” In obedience to the command, the ten thousand were marched down to the water, and the Lord gave the promised test to Gideon. “Every one,” said he, “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.” There were but three hundred who, in drink ing the water, belonged to the former class. These remained, and undoubtedly with great alacrity, to compose the little band of heroes that under Gideon, and in the strength of the Almighty, was to meet the immense host of the Midianites. By these three hundred, who now took the necessary provisions and their trumpets, the Lord told Gideon he would save the nation; while the rest, being so directed, returned to their tents, to go where they pleased. The following night, Gideon received a divine command to attack the Midianites, with the assurance that they should be delivered into his hands. He was told, however, if he had any fears remaining, to go down to their encampment with his servant, and to approach near enough to hear what some of them might say. The result would remove his fears, and encourage him to go forward to battle. So condescending, still, was Jehovah to his servant; willing to bear with the misgivings that we should think
* The quick and repeated motion of the hand towards the mouth, and the accompanying motion of the tongue when the water is thrown into the mouth, is compared to the lapping of water by a dog.