In Judges 7:5-7, God tells Gideon to make a test and to decide, based on the test, who will stay with him and who will leave. This is what what we are told from verse 5 about the test:

And the LORD said to Gideon, “You shall separate everyone who laps the water with his tongue as a dog laps, as well as everyone who kneels to drink.” (NASB)

And in verse 7

The LORD said to Gideon, “I will deliver you with the 300 men who lapped and will give the Midianites into your hands; so let all the other people go, each man to his home.”

From this it becomes clear that God chose the ones who lapped over the ones who knelt on the ground to drink. This is very important to keep in mind as some seem to be confused about this. From the verses above it should become clear that god chose the men who lapped and not the men who knelt. So far the test seems pretty straightforward: those who will lap with their tongues like dogs lap with their tongue — they who drink with their mouth without any aid are to be chosen, while those who kneel to the ground (which means that they use their hands to scoop up the waters) are to be left behind.

The problem

The problem arises from verse 6

Now the number of those who lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, was 300 men; but all the rest of the people kneeled to drink water.

From this verse it becomes evident that those who lapped didn't lap the water like dogs at all, they actually used their hands to scoop up the water! But the verse before that seems to suggest that the chosen ones are to drink the water exactly like dogs lap with their tongues: You shall separate everyone who laps the water with his tongue as a dog laps. How do we reconcile this?

In the JPS notes I found an attempt to reconcile this contradiction. In verse 5 they note on the words "laps the water with his tongue as a dog laps"

Actually, using their hands as a dog uses its tongue: see v. 6.

Leaving aside the grammatical difficulties which arise from this approach, it is unsatisfying for the following reason: the Bible seems to contrast the two groups' mannerisms of the drinking:

  1. those who lap like dogs with their tongue
  2. those who don't lap like dogs with their tongues (kneeling in this case is another way of saying that they use their hands instead of their mouths to scoop up the water).

According to the JPS interpretation, that those who lapped also used their hands, the difference between the two groups cannot lay in their lapping with their tongues (since they both drank the same way by bringing their hands to mouth) but in some other mannerism, perhaps in their kneeling to the ground, but in this case why would the Bible mention the lapping of their tongues like dogs at all as it is completely irrelevant to the test. In other words, in which way did the first group of 300 resemble dogs more than the second group? According to the JPS the contrast should be between those who kneel and those who didn't; the 'lapping' in this case is completely misleading as this group didn't resemble dogs at all and neither was it a relevant factor in this test. This is what leads me to reject this interpretation.

Summary of the question

What was the difference between the first and second group in their way of drinking? Verse 5 seems to suggest that one group lapped up the water with their tongues while the other used their hands to scoop up the water. But verse 6 seems to contradict this by saying that those who lapped used their hands as well! A satisfactory solution would also have to explain how the lapping was a relevant factor in this test, and how the group of 300 resembled more the way dogs drink than the other group.

  • 4
    The deciding factor is the kneeling. Those who lapped had crouched down, gathered a handful of water and raised it to their mouth. They were battle-ready, eyeing the horizon as they lapped from their hand. The others had gone down on their knees, faces into the water and were sucking it up, hands flat on the ground. They had no sight of the surrounding environment.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Apr 22, 2018 at 12:58
  • 1
    @NigelJ listen to yourself. What your saying is completely incompatible with what the bible is saying! According to you, the ones who knelt to the ground were actually the ones that lapped like dogs, while the 300 that the bible claims to have lapped weren't lapping like dogs at all but used their hands while lapping! As far as i'm aware dogs don't use their hands, so that would make the ones kneeling on the ground and sucking up the water with their mouths (like dogs do) more similar to dogs and thus the chosen ones to stay with Gideon, but in the end the other group was chosen!
    – bach
    Commented Apr 22, 2018 at 13:12
  • 4
    @NigelJ While being battle ready does make some sense, do note that no such explanation is given in the text, and it would be contrary to the main point which is that God was the one who would deliver Israel. Perhaps God actually choose the 300 who were least battle ready!
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Apr 22, 2018 at 13:33
  • @curiousdannii i agree with Nigel that this may have been the reason for choosing them over the others (i considered it myself while reading the story) as they were more battle ready, my problem is with the inconsistency within the text that remains unresolved.
    – bach
    Commented Apr 22, 2018 at 13:38
  • 1
    @NigelJ you seem to involve two unrelated criteria in this test. 1. lapping vs. sucking. 2. hands down vs. hands to mouth. But this is not how it is portrayed in the bible. it is lapping vs. kneeling. In order for me to consider this interpretation you will have to explain how these two different criteria relate to each other. You will also have to explain how a human being can lap water exactly like a dog laps with his tongue (I understood that they were sucking water with their mouths thus resembling the dogs, but they weren't actually using their tongues like dogs)
    – bach
    Commented Apr 22, 2018 at 14:24

6 Answers 6


Ri Kara here explains these verses as follows (this may also be the opinion of Rashi):

7:5 presents 2 ways of drinking the water that different groups followed:

  1. Those who lap as a dog laps
  2. Those who kneel (and drink from their hands)

According to Kara, "lapping as a dog laps" implies that they were licking the water while on their (hands and) knees. They were disqualified together with those who just knelt (and drank in some other ways, such as with their hands). This is because those got down on their knees showed that they were (likely) used to kneeling in front of idols. Additionally, the simple reading of this verse is that both of these groups were separated together, not separated from each other.

7:6 discusses a third, "better" group of people, who did not kneel at all, but rather drew water with their hands and lapped from them, group 3. The remark that they lapped from their hands shows that they drew the water without kneeling. (See also Targum Jonathan here and 7:7, contrasted to 7:5 for his translation of "lapping".)

7:7 notes that the "lappers" of the previous verse (i.e. group 3) were the group that was chosen, while all of the other people (groups 1 and 2) were sent home (as stated in 7:5).

The verses would then read as follows (I have copied out the verses and added in commentary in italics):


And the LORD said to Gideon, “You shall separate everyone who laps the water with his tongue as a dog laps on his hands and knees, as well as everyone who kneels to drink even not like a dog, will be separated together with the first group, those who lap like dogs."


Now the number of those who lapped by putting their hand to their mouth a new method, which did not involve kneeling, was 300 men; but all the rest of the people (i.e. the two groups mentioned in the previous verse) kneeled to drink water.


The LORD said to Gideon, “I will deliver you with the 300 men who lapped from their hands and will give the Midianites into your hands; so let all the other people (who kneeled) go, each man to his home.”

Note the parallel between drinking from hands and God giving the Midianites into their hands

Edit: I don't have the time to summarize this properly right now, but this paper provides a number of classic approaches to this problem, including justification of "lapping like a dog" being like "lapping from hands", and a summary of those who suggested textual changes, etc. etc.

  • This approach is novel, in fact i have considered a similar interpretation myself but i came to reject it because of the similar terminology (lapping) applied in verses 5 and 6. This suggests that there were only two groups not three as Kara would have us believe. Furthermore, it is based on the premise that it is the kneeling that god abhorred (as it smacked of idol worship), which i'm not a huge fan of. In any case this is a useful answer and a route worth considering, +1.
    – bach
    Commented Apr 22, 2018 at 21:43
  • @Bach maybe, but it is much stronger in that it appears both of the groups in verse 5 were set aside, and it seems to be the interpretation which the Targum takes. Additionally, it can be that kneeling was used as a test due to the military disadvantages that it would cause (we would not want a soldier to be on his knees during combat when/if he could be standing up). It is definitely not perfect though.
    – user22655
    Commented Apr 22, 2018 at 22:20
  • Another difficulty is that according to Kara's interpretation it is not those who "lapped" that god chose for battle, it is rather the people who didn't kneel that he chose, but verse 7 clearly indicates that it is the "lappers" that god chose. So the fact that they lapped is completely irrelevant to the fact that they were chosen in the end, so why insist on calling them the "lappers"?! I think that if Kara cannot explain this it cannot seriously be considered as a viable interpretation.
    – bach
    Commented Apr 23, 2018 at 0:29
  • @Bach I'll look around and see what I can come up with, but I still think it is a lot better than the standard understanding, especially since it is clear that the Targum understood this way.
    – user22655
    Commented Apr 23, 2018 at 1:29
  • Firstly, here's an answer from the language perspective: "גדעון בחר את המלקקים ולא את הלוקקים; כלומר: הוא בחר את האנשים שהביאו מים אל פיהם בעזרת הידיים, ולא את האנשים ששאבו מים ישירות בעזרת הלשון."
    – user22655
    Commented Apr 23, 2018 at 1:31

One interesting suggestion I found in this paper (much thanks to רבות מחשבות for showing it to me) that is worth considering, is that the term those who lap water as a dog laps is equivalent to those who drink hastily. The paper establishes that a dog drinks hastily compared to the slow drinking of a horse or other animals that drink with their mouth in water. Thus lapping like a dog doesn't really mean that the men lapped with their tongues like a dog, but that they drank hastily.

The paper supports this with the suggestion of Keil and Berthau that the water lappers do not take their time kneeling down at a brook and drinking leisurely; rather they do so while standing, with their armor on, and scoop up the water with their hands and drink from it hastily. They are always ready for battle and more fierce than those who kneel down to the ground to drink leisurely thus losing their guard in the process.

According to this novel interpretation, the contrast between the first group who lapped water like dogs and the second group that knelt to the ground is crystal clear. The lappers drank hastily from their hands (like dogs drink hastily), with their armor on, always on guard and ready for battle, the second group on the other hand knelt down to drink leisurely (not like a dog) exposing their weaknesses and showing a lack of battle-readiness, which made them disqualified to fight in Gideon's guerrilla army.

  • I had also really liked this interpretation, +1 (although I still support mine as the correct reading)
    – user22655
    Commented Apr 23, 2018 at 15:52

People seem to be expecting too much symbolism here. Concepts related to "dogs" and "lapping" really aren't relevant.

Just look at the description:

And the number of them that lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, were three hundred men: but all the rest of the people bowed down upon their knees to drink water. — Judges 7:6

It's simply a matter of distinguishing the people that lowered themselves to drink directly from the river from the people that remained alert while lifting water to their mouths.

Here's an answer I gave elsewhere a few years ago:

During the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln weeded out his weakest generals. He explained his decision to replace Maj. Gen. George McClellan: “After the battle of Antietam, I went up to the field to try to get him to move and came back thinking he would. … I began to fear he was playing false — that he did not want to hurt the enemy. I saw how he could intercept the enemy on the way to Richmond. I determined to make that the test. If he let them get away I would remove him. He did so and I relieved him.” He later expressed this more simply: “He has got the ‘slows’, Mr. Blair.”

In the Bible, Judges 6 and 7 explains how Gideon did something similar. His potential army of 10,000 men was too large and unwieldy, and many of the men also had “the slows”. He took them to a river for water, and his observers noted how they drank. Most lay down and put their faces into the water, but a few, 300, knelt and lifted water to their mouths with their hands. Most men were concerned only with drinking their water, but these 300 stayed on alert, prepared for whatever might happen. These few good men were what Gideon selected as his elite army.


The final (spiritual) purpose of Yahweh's test (exposed in this Bible passage) is clearly indicated on the verse 2 ([...] lest Israel vaunt themselves against Me, saying: mine own hand hath saved me.", Jewish Publication Society [JPS]), the identical concept that Paul of Tarsus, after many centuries, expressed in his Second Letter to the Corinthians (12:9), in other words.

The Mosaic Law provided for some exemptations from military service. Who was exempted? Who did feel fear to combat, who had just finish to build his house, who did not eat yet from his new-planted vineyard, who was a newlywed. In this latter case, the Law provided for a 1 year-exemptation, the sufficient time to generate a child, and enjoying it for some months (Deu 20:5-8; 24:5).

Those exemptions focused (secondarily) to obtain an army composed of warriors absorbed into the military task to fight God's enemies. Their minds did must be there and not elsewhere. In Italian language, this concept is stated with the idomatic expression 'stare sul pezzo' (literally translated in English, 'to be on the workpiece'). If I (an Israelite warrior) feel terrorized to combat, or if I'm involved to inaugurate my new house, or my new vineyard, or if I'm a newlywed, my mind is - in a rightly and naturally way - elsewhere.

The purpose of this test was focused - maybe in a more hard manner - to select only men who were mission-concentrated, focused, to the maximum permitted level. We know that, in the natural animal 'predators-prey''s cycle, often the big felines take advantage of the preys''water period' to attack them, seeing that since they have their the heads (and eyes) very close the water surface, this fact drastically triggers the unavoidable reduction of the visual ray of the prey itself. In a similar way, the different ways to close the water (in God's test we dissert) caused a different level of concentration, or attention. Drinking from a watercourse (avoiding to use hands) through leaning our knees on the ground, oblige us to lean our body until we may reach the surface of the water with our mouth (like the dogs, or horse do). In this position we lose our guard stand. Instead, drink some water from a watercourse through squatting on our legs, drawing some water with our hand's hollow, permit us to maintain our guard. In case of attack, we (the warriors) are able to spring to our feet to counter-attack our enemy.

Sure, the Judges' text allows some textual ambiguities. But, comparing the text itself with the context we are able to understand the concept behind this test. The problem was not focused to 'lick the water', sic et simpliciter, but to the manner to perform it. Interestingly, the NAB footnote on the verses says: "[…] Those who drank from their hands were alert, standing ready to resist attack, whereas the others were careless and undependable."

Another equivocality is based on the (strange) omission (in some Bible versions) of the translation of the expression פיהם אל בידם, which means, literally: "in their hand, toward their mouth” (verse 6).

So, if we take account of the Bible context, avoiding to omit the translation of this expression, we may reach a more flowing sense. To make a test, I've utilized the Darby Bible - as a testing-ground text - adding some amplifications, or further specifications.

The result is: "And when the people were come down to the waters, the Lord said to Gedeon: They that shall lap the water with their tongues, as dogs are wont to lap, thou shalt set apart by themselves: but they that shall drink bowing down their knees [or, ‘squat themselves down’], shall be on the other side. [6] And the number of them that had lapped water; casting it with the hand to their mouth, was three hundred men: and all the rest of the multitude had drunk kneeling [or, ‘putting their kneels to the ground’]. [7] And the Lord said to Gedeon: By the three hundred men, that lapped water [with their hand], I will save you, and deliver Madian into thy hand: but let all the rest of the people return to their place".

I hope this data will be useful to the readers.


"As a dog lappeth"... not physically how a dog drink but mentally how a dog drinks. People drink water how people drink water... but where is your mind during the drinking? Are you watching and ready for whatever that could pop off - like a dog OR are you drinking leisurely, nonchalantly, carelessly..


I believe the answer is simple — if we stick to the context and what God wanted to demonstrate in this particular battle. God chose those who lapped like dogs because they were the ‘weaker’ ones. Remember the battle belongs to God. So, the main reason He said 'you have still have many men, send some home' is because He wanted the Glory for Himself. This is what this is all about – God did not even need 300 strong men — His strength is made perfect in weakness.
Let us start from the beginning. Gideon replied, "but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family." 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.’ Now announce to the army, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’” So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained. 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.”

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