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?

  • @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. :) Commented Sep 8, 2012 at 14:18

5 Answers 5


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.

  • 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! Commented Sep 8, 2012 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.


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.


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: "this can be nothing other than the sword of the Gideon" (Judges 7:14). Here sword speaks of the word of God: 'the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God' (Ephesians 6:17).

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: "for sin shall not be your master, because you are not under the law but under grace" (Romans 6:14). 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!

update Of Barely bread--" Josephus (Jewish historian) helps us to see the significance of the symbol by adding "which men can hardly eat for its coarseness." It must be remembered that the Israelites had been reduced to such poverty by these raids that the mass of them would have nothing to subsist on but common barely bread....

Among the Greeks also "barely bread" was proverbial as a kind of food hardly fit to be eaten....."A cake of barely bread" would therefore, naturally recall the thought of the Israelites, who were no doubt taunted by their enemies with being reduced to this food...."If the Midianites were accustomed to call Gideon and his band 'eater of barely bread' often do to ridicule their enemies, the application would be the more natural" ( these are excerpts from Elliott's commentary for English readers- Bible Hub)

Dreams were recognized as Divine revelation in O.T time. I believe God used this dream to communicate His plan and will regarding the outcome of the battle to encourage Gideon and to warn Midianites. Both Gideon and the Midianites soldier understood the meaning of the dream since God chose the image that they could clearly relate. God's desire to communicate his plan to strength his people as well as warning to those who oppose his will is clearly portrayed here. I personally think that the soldier who had a dream became fearful due to divine revelation he received.

Gideon already accepted God's call to be the deliverer of Isreal and the man who had this dream knew who Gideon was since he spoke about Gideon's background information.

  • 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
    Commented Feb 6, 2016 at 17:43
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    See my updated answer above.
    – Bonnie
    Commented Feb 8, 2016 at 15:47
  • Bonnie - thank you for the update. I added the hyperlinks to verses, so that others can see them. Please take time to see the hyperlinks and see if you can introduce hyperlinks yourself into your own comments. If you need help in hyperlinking, please click on the question mark or search function in order to see how you can include hyperlinks into you responses. Thanks!
    – Joseph
    Commented Feb 8, 2016 at 16:07

Barley is the crop associated with Passover/feast of unleavened bread. The feast is a celebration of the barley harvest. Whenever you see barley in a text you're being told its the season for a passover type experience. Gideon and his men should have died and were face with insurmountable odds numbers wise. So the writer is informing us that this is a divine victory that had it not been for God Israel would have perished. I think the reason for the association with Gideon is because he is the one leading the army of Israel so naturally it wouldn't be his sword bringing judgment on Israel's enemies! As a side note anytime you see wheat which is the crop of Pentecost, there is a supernatural experience following in the text. Using metaphors and symbolism like this is how God can tell an infallible story through fallible men.

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