Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professors, theologians, and those interested in exegetical analysis of biblical texts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Before attacking the Midianite camp, Gideon does a little spying:

When Gideon came, behold, a man was telling a dream to his comrade. And he said, “Behold, I dreamed a dream, and behold, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian and came to the tent and struck it so that it fell and turned it upside down, so that the tent lay flat.” And his comrade answered, “This is no other than the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel; God has given into his hand Midian and all the camp.”—Judges 7:13-14 (ESV)

I imagined there might be a pun in Hebrew between Gideon (גִּדְעוֹן <H1439>) and barley (שְׂעֹרָה <H8184>), but I don't see it. Lacking a linguistic connection, I don't see how a cake of barley bread would conjure up a connection to Gideon. The best guess I have is that since Gideon was involved in wheat processing (see Judges 6:11) he was somehow associated with baking. Is that the most-likely solution or am I missing something?

share|improve this question
    
@JonEricson +1 Fabulous question. "Gideon ... associated with baking. Is that the most-likely solution" I can't see it as a likely solution. Who would've known his baking skills outside his immediately locality? And I doubt that he owned a multinational baking conglomerate. :) – Monika Michael Sep 8 '12 at 14:18

The barley cake does not have the gluten content of wheat, so it does not stick together like wheat bread. In this case it is not even a proper leavened loaf, an "ugah", just a lowly "tslil', unleavened, roasted dough eaten only by the poorest of the poor. As it rolls towards the camp of Midian it breaks into crumbs, just as Gideon's forces are progressively broken down from 32 thousand to just 300, not even a battalion. Yet the crumbs overturn the tent of Midian, laying it flat like the unleavened cake that the "tslil" was when it started.

[From the Ladino of Jacob Culi's Me-Am Loez, with some embellishments of my own.]

There is also an element "mida c'neged mida" (tit for tat), as the Midianites are earlier mentioned as stealing the harvest and leaving the Israelites destitute, now the crumbs of this harvest return to take their revenge.

The barley continues the symbolism of lowliness, following the seemingly irrational selection of the 300 men who lapped the water like dogs.

share|improve this answer
1  
Very interesting. So it's possible that the Midianites were associating the poverty of Gideon and his people with the substandard barley cake. That makes some sense assuming Gideon had established himself as an adversary. On the other hand, God might have just given the companion the interpretation which he repeated (unknowing in the presence of Gideon). Thanks! – Jon Ericson Sep 8 '12 at 20:18

There isn’t any historical consensus regarding the origins of leavened bread. However, the earliest archaeological evidence that we have happens to be from ancient Egypt:

The development of leavened bread can also probably be traced to prehistoric times. Yeast spores occur everywhere, including the surface of cereal grains, so any dough left to rest will become naturally leavened. Although leavening is likely of prehistoric origin, the earliest archaeological evidence is from ancient Egypt. Scanning electron microscopy has detected yeast cells in some ancient Egyptian loaves (Wikipedia).

Whether or not Egyptians invented the technology of “thick bread,” the Pentateuch suggests that yeast and leavening were strongly associated with Egyptian culture:

17 “Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread, because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt. Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. 18 In the first month you are to eat bread made without yeast, from the evening of the fourteenth day until the evening of the twenty-first day. 19 For seven days no yeast is to be found in your houses. And anyone, whether foreigner or native-born, who eats anything with yeast in it must be cut off from the community of Israel. 20 Eat nothing made with yeast. Wherever you live, you must eat unleavened bread” (NIV Exodus 12:17-20).

One way of understanding the law to have no yeast in one’s house from the 14th to the 21st of the first month, is that Egypt and Egyptian culture was associated with the unique type of bread that they ate which was more thick and airy than the other types of bread eaten in the Middle East at that time. Therefore, the act of eating only non-leavened bread for the holiday of Passover (“the Festival of Unleavened Bread”) was a gesture of completely rejecting Egyptian culture as a whole.

The Midianite dialog in Judges 7 corroborates this theory: the Israelites took from Egypt the technology and cultural convention of baking large and round loaves of bread and this was distinct from all the surrounding cultures. Therefore, a cake of barley bread which is able to roll would unambiguously evoke the culturally unique Israelite nation and their Egyptian origins.

share|improve this answer

The pun, if one is intended, is that of Gid'on (his name), and the verb gimmel-dalet-ayin, which means "breaking up". The barley loaf, as mentioned above in Eli Rosencruft's comment, ("The barley cake does not have the gluten content of wheat, so it does not stick together like wheat bread.") could break up, both itself, and break up the unity the invaders.

share|improve this answer

I believe Connection between Gideon and barley bread have many spiritual significances.

1) Jesus said I am the Bread of life.(john 6:35) In the bible bread speaks of the word of God which feeds believers.

2) Jesus fed the 5000 men with barely bread and had left over. (John 6) This barely bread represents message of the new covenant,message of grace, message of good news. Jesus came to reveal the grace of God.

3) why barely bread left over? According to Leviticus 5:16 God commands that when you offer the guilt offerings you are to add a fifth of the value in order to make restitution for the the sins you have committed. When Jesus came suffered and died he met the all the requirements of the Leviticus law. He fulfilled all the demands of the law for us. When he suffered and died he made an overpayment for our sins of the past, present, and future. No matter how many sins we commit they are covered by the blood of Jesus. More than enough to cover since he made overpayment. I believe God made this law to assure us that we shouldn't fear that our sins are too many to receive forgiveness. Message of grace reveals God's abundant love and forgiveness, always abundant left over.

4) Barley was harvested early springs(March-April)during the Passover time according to Jewish festival(Ruth 1:22) and Easter time for christian.

5) Leviticus 27:16 God commands here that barely should be measured "fifty shekels of silver to a homer of barely seed" fifty is connected year of the Jubilee and silver is related redemption. God values barley highly because it represents message of redemption and freedom. Barley bread represents the message of redemption and forgiveness.

6) connection between Gideon and barely? Old Testament characters represent Jesus and his ministries. They are illustrations and symbolic of what he does in our lives.

7) "a round loaf of barely"represents the message of grace and God's redemption through Jesus. It is the message of grace that will strike blow on Midianite camp in our lives. Judges 7:14 " this can be nothing other than the sword of the Gideon". Here sword speaks of the word of God. (Ephesians 6:17 'the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God')

8) God is telling us that Midian in our lives will be destroyed and removed by the message of Grace spoken by Jesus. Message of grace, unmerited, unearned, undeserved favor of God has power to destroy sin in our lives. Romans 6:14 "for sin shall not be your master, because you are not under the law but under grace". When we live under grace of God, the Holy Spirit empowers and enables us to overcome our sinful tendency and gives us victory over sin.

I hope this helps!

share|improve this answer
    
Bonnie - thank you for your sincere and heartfelt response. In the absence of any knowledge of the future, how would the Midianites have had any idea that the bread was a sign of something evil for them? (I understand the symbology for us today (which you make very clear) but how and why did the image of this bread strike fear into them with little to no time to consider its meaning? In other words, what was the trigger for these Midianites to correlate the bread with Gideon? The reason we are focused on that is that there may be something very important here. What are your thoughts? – Joseph yesterday

Only livestock, beggars, lepers partook of barley flour. Any self respecting soul would feed his family on the fine flour milled from the finest wheat. But barley bread - who but the lowest would dine on such crude, humble fare?

According to W. Phillips Keller

share|improve this answer

We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

1  
Can you edit this to add a link to where you got this from? – curiousdannii Oct 21 '14 at 6:35
    
Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange! Be sure to take our site tour to learn more about us. We're a little different from other sites. This doesn't show its work, which is a requirement on this site. Don't just tell us what you know, tell us how you know it. Your citation is incomplete, it contains insufficient information to help others find the specific reference. – Dan Oct 21 '14 at 23:11

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.