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In Judges 7:5

So he took the troops down to the water. Then the Lord said to Gideon, “Set apart all those who lap up the water with their tongues like dogs from all those who get down on their knees to drink.”

we see that there are two different groups of people who get on knees and drink and another group who get into the water and drink with their hands.

My question is why was it is significant for G-d to separate from those who drunk water on their knees?

Why did he choose 300?

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Judges 7:2: The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me.’

God's purpose in this passage is to defeat Midian in such a way that Israel will have no grounds for boasting. He deliberately thinned out the army so that it was so tiny that there would be no way that Israel could say that its strength gave it victory.

Judges 7:4: But the Lord said to Gideon, “There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will thin them out for you there. If I say, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go; but if I say, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.”

So then when God tells Gideon to take his men down to the water he says he will direct Gideon about who should be kept and who should be sent home. Again, the concern is the number of men, not their quality or training.

So I have to disagree with all the other answers saying that those who lapped water were somehow more alert, professional, virtuous, or otherwise better soldiers. Nothing in the text indicates that God picked them because they were better soldiers than the others. And indeed, in the coming battle super soldiers were not needed, because it was not a conventional fight.

I think verse 4 indicates that it was a largely arbitrary distinction. God said that there were too many men, and selecting those who lapped thinned out the army how God wanted. If the majority of the 10,000 soldiers had been more alert and lapped the water, then I think God would have picked the 300 who knelt, in order to remove any opportunity for boasting.

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When these men go down to the stream to drink, they will have to get down on their knees, since it is not possible to drink any other way. The issue is not who kneels and who stands, but who will cup his hands and bring water to his mouth, and who will not. Those who bowed down on their knees to drink, but did not cup their hands to bring the water into their mouth, but put their faces into the water, were sent home. Those who lapped with their tongues as a dog laps, stayed. Thus Gideon was given instruction on how to select men for his special cutting-edge forces. Those who were kept appeared to be the ones who bowed on their knees, but cupped their hands to bring up and drink the water from their hands, showing they were ready for any sudden attack . . .

Those who lifted the water to their mouth with their hands represented the good soldiers who, upon reaching a brook before the battle, did not allow themselves time to fall down and satisfy their thirst in the most convenient manner. These good solders simply knelt, took up some water with their hands as they remained upright in their military armor to strengthen themselves for the battle, and they proceeded without delay against the foe. The remained watchful and prepared for any emergency. - Excerpt from Ariel's Bible Commentary on the Book of Judges

God chose 300 soldiers because those were the men who passed the two tests. The first test reduced Gideon's army from 32,000 to 10,000 (Judges 7:2-3). This disqualified the fearful. The second test reduced the army down to 300 after disqualifying the careless.

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  • Why do you think they all kneeled?
    – user8377
    Jan 7 '16 at 16:10
  • dogs when they drink they dont kneel they enter water and lap!
    – user8377
    Jan 9 '16 at 14:38
  • "The issue is not who kneels and who stands" - don't agree with you. That is your personal conjecture. Jan 13 '16 at 11:51
  • What in the text indicates that they were careless?
    – curiousdannii
    Mar 16 at 22:10
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OP: My question is why was it is significant for G-d to separate from those who drunk water on their knees?

Lange's Commentary - Judg. 7 - pdf p. 320

Lange Comm.

...The question is, What characteristic did it show in the 300 men, that they did not drink water kneeling, but lapped it with their tongues, like dogs. Bertheau has followed the view of Josephus (Ant. v. 6, 3), which makes those who drink after the manner of dogs to be the faint-hearted. According to this view, the victory is the more wonderful, because it was gained by the timid and fearful. But this explanation does not accord withthe traditional exegesis of the Jews, as handed down by others.

Moreover, it contradicts the spirit of the whole narrative. When Gideon was chosen, it ws for the very reason that he was a "valiant hero" (ch. 6:12). All those who were deficient in courage were sent home by the, proclamation (v.3). If faint-heartedness were demanded, the brave should have been dismissed.

Finally, God saves by few, indeed, if they trust in Him, but not by cravens. Cowardice is a negtive quality, unable even to trust. To do wonders with cowards, is a contradiction in adjecto; for if they fight, they are no longer cowards. Cowardice is a condition of soul which cannot become the medium of divine deeds; for even the valiant few, when they attack the many and conquer, are strong only because of their divine confidence....

The Jewish interpretation, communicated by Raschi, is evidently far more profound. Gideon, it says, can ascertain the religious antecedents of his men from the way in which they prepare to drink. Idolators were accustomed to pray kneeling before their idols. On this account, kneeling, even as a mere bodily posture, had become unpopular and ominous in Israel and was avoided as much as possible. Hence, he who in order to drink throws himself on his knees, shows thereby, in a perfectly free and natural manner, that this posture is nothing unusual to him; whereas those who have never been accustomed to kneel, feel no need of doing it now, and as naturally refrain from it....

The three hundred - this is what God makes of Gideon to know - have never kneeled before Baal; they are clean men; and with clean vessels, men, and animals, God is accustomed to do wonderful things. Midian's idolatrous people shall be smitten only by such as have always been free from their idols.....

Commentary on this topic carries on for another column, and I found it all interesting. Thanks for the question.

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Who laps and who kneels? Judges 7:5

My question is why was it is significant for G-d to separate from those who drunk water on their knees?

In Judges 7:5

"So he took the troops down to the water. Then the Lord said to Gideon, “Set apart all those who lap up the water with their tongues like dogs from all those who get down on their knees to drink.”

They were chosen because they stayed alert to the surrounding conditions.

The dogs lap water while at the same time keep their eyes open to see if there is any danger from the surrounding areas.

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Water is the the means or the end source to quench these soldiers from their thirst. Their dependency to it and NOT to GOD is the question that matters. Its not being alert or preparedness in battle because its GOD'S battle and therefore requires dependency to God and not directly on the water.

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From my own view of understanding of Judges 7:5: God wanted only few men for the fight; and not only the few but those with nasty behaviors of dogs (non qualified or less in value like dogs, the weakest in traits of God....you know dogs behavior). I believe 300 men chosen were not like other strong men of Israel like David and others. Gideon himself was weak but God strengthen him for the battle.

This is because God don't want us to boost ourselves in our victory, saying because I was strong I won or because I was perfect in my ways (righteous) I won the the battle... We are counted righteous through His righteousness.

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The reason that the lap dogs were chosen over the kneelers is not explicitly given so some detective work and conjecture seem to be required. It seems to me that the answer might be one of these:

  • if kneeling is the more alert position and that is to be recognized as a virtue then they are omitted in favor of the possibly more goofy dogs, seeing that dogs were considered a base animal (because they mate and poop in public without shame). The less capable the army, the more glory goes to Yahveh for the victory and less to man

  • if the lapping is somehow more virtuous then he has a smaller but more lean (none of those darn kneelers) army

Since the story was told we can presume that there was a spiritual lesson so there may be intertextuality at play that has not yet been identified. But since it hasn't been identified I'm inclined to think that the lappers were chosen for their weakness rather than their strength. A small allusion might be seen in the incompetence of the disciples:

NIV 1 Cor 1: 26Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29so that no one may boast before him. 30It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”d

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This is the way I've always heard it interpreted. Sorry I don't have a reference.

When drinking from a stream, most people will naturally lie or kneel and either put their face directly into the water or scoop it up with both hands and pour it into their mouths.

In this situation however, a few people remained upright, perhaps going down onto one knee. They used one hand to lift water to their mouths and drank from that using their tongues and not tipping their heads back.

This second group stayed on the alert. Their heads remained level so they could see what was happening around them. They each had one hand free, perhaps to hold onto their spears to support themselves.

This second group of 300 were the ones that didn't neglect their duty as soldiers. They were the few good men that wanted to be aware of their situation at all times. They demonstrated some very obvious characteristics of the elite forces that Gideon needed.

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The distinction between the groups is simple:

One group hurriedly, without wasting time to take a long, leisurely draft of water, caught a quick sip and were ready and zealous to continue.

The rest took their time, and got good long drinks of water. Perhaps they thought they better get a good drink now, as they didn't know when they might get one again. Perhaps they were simply reminiscing of the cool waters from the spring back home--a little homesick. Perhaps they were simply taking their time because they were having some second-thoughts about going to battle, or were not eager to push on forward. They may have been tired, a little discouraged, or just not feeling so energetic by this time. In any case, all of those in this group felt they had time to take a good, long drink.

All these who lingered at the stream were the ones sent back home. God wants people in His service who giving willing, voluntary service. He has no desire to force anyone against his will. And in this case, He singled out the ones most ready to volunteer.

There is nothing in the text that mentions Baal worship, and any connection which people make to this is purely unbiblical speculation. It was actually a very simple matter: God chose the three hundred who in their haste caught up water in their hands as those through whom He would deliver Israel, while those who felt that there was time to get down on their knees to drink could return to their homes.

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  • "One group hurriedly, without wasting time to take a long, leisurely draft of water, caught a quick sip and were ready and zealous to continue. The rest took their time, and got good long drinks of water." Does the text say this? How do you know your interpretation, that it's about how much time they took, is right?
    – curiousdannii
    Jul 1 at 11:26
  • @curiousdannii Have you ever taken a drink from a stream? How much water do you get by cupping some up to your mouth in your hands? On the other hand, how much would you get by putting your mouth all the way down to the water? A reader familiar with the experience can hardly mistake the difference between these methods.
    – Polyhat
    Jul 1 at 11:28
  • But why does the time they took to drink water matter? The splitting of the army took place in the early morning (verse 1), while the attack took place at night. They weren't rushing immediately to battle after they drank the water. Everyone needs to drink water. If one of the soldiers didn't drink fully now they'd just have to go back for more later. I don't see any reason to think that the hand-drinkers were somehow more eager volunteers. Anyone who was homesick already had the opportunity to leave!
    – curiousdannii
    Jul 1 at 11:32
  • @curiousdannii While I agree that time was not the special concern at this point, the soldiers themselves could not have known this. Good solders must be on the alert at all times.
    – Polyhat
    Jul 1 at 11:34

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