This is the transcript of the sermon I preached on February 2,2013 at Albemarle Reformed Church.
Chapter 8 of Judges introduces us to two last episodes of Gideon’s life: His final defeat of the Midianite oppressors and his spiritual defeat! Though greatly used of God to deliver Israel and an exhibitor of great faith in the face of immeasurable odds, the last of this man’s life is marked by spiritual decay and idolatry.
The man who had once faced opposition of an entire town by the cutting down of a family shrine raised to Baal was about to create another Baal for the very people he had just delivered. Gideon’s life serves as an important lesson for the church. While God raised up men and women to deliver His people, His intention was to be the sole ruler over them nationally as well as individually. But the people forsook God’s decrees and His covenant in order to be like the nations around them. They starved for an earthly king rather than the Heavenly King; they desired the fleshly gratification of worship with the cultic prostitutes rather than the lasting joy of serving Yahweh; and they exchanged human wisdom for the counsel of the very One that designed and laid out the Heavens in their vast array.
And while the book of Judges reports the continual apostasy of Israel the story of Gideon leaves an even blacker mark during that period—for Gideon is the only judge mentioned to deliver Israel and then lead them back into idolatry before his death!
A Brief Walk Through Chapter 8
The opening of the chapter continues the battle between Israel and Midian and the peoples of the East. Gideon’s victory no doubt came with the three hundred men who accompanied him on the quest, but there was still much to be done. We find Gideon and his band pursuing the enemy all throughout the night (7:22-23). As the enemy flees in the hill country of Ephraim Gideon sends messengers to rally to their aid in capturing the scragglers. Ephraim responds by capturing and killing Oreb and Zeeb, two of the chief princes of Midian (7:25).
vv. 1-3—The men of Ephraim come to Gideon afterwards and are irate over the fact that Gideon waited till the last of the battle before calling them to arms. We are given no real reason why this is so. We are only informed in chapter 6, after his calling from Yahweh, that he summoned the tribes of Manasseh, Zebulun, Asher, and Naphtali. Perhaps it was because Manasseh and Ephraim were considered one tribe as per Jacob’s blessing in Genesis 48. The author has not cared to enlighten us on the details of the reasons of the conflict, but only that tensions between them existed. Whatever the reason, Gideon squelches their anger by reminding them that they played one of the most important parts in the battle by capturing the two princes. This explanation suffices the men and they leave in peace.
vv. 4-9—Gideon and his band continue their pursuit of the remaining army of Midian, focusing on the two kings, Zeeba and Zalmunna. They come to the town of Succoth, and Gideon, seeing that his men are exhausted, ask for provisions so that they may continue their pursuit. The men speak harshly to Gideon, even taunting him and refusing to help. Observing a map we learn that Succoth resides in the territory of Gad. Again, the author is silent as to why they men of Gad respond in this way. Gideon chides them and promises retribution to the town once his mission is complete. He then treks to the town of Penuel, receiving the same kind of greeting. Again, he promises to return with punishment and carries on his way.
vv. 10-21—Gideon finally achieves victory and captures the two kings. He returns to Succoth and Penuel as promised with his captives and reveals them to the men. He is true to his word and whips the men of Succoth with thorns, while tearing down the tower at Penuel and killing the men of that town. He then orders one of his sons to kill the kings and we are told that he was afraid to do it because he was still young. Gideon takes the sword and puts the kings to death, bringing peace to Israel for the next 40 years.
If this was the conclusion of Gideon’s life there would be no cause look further, for he would have done all that God had commanded him. Unfortunately, this is not the case! Verse 22 to the end of the chapter is very candid about the rest of this man’s life. And this is the text that we need to examine this morning.
A. Gideon’s Piety (vv. 22-26)
After all is said and done the people now hail Gideon as their hero. They ask Gideon and his family, right down to his grandson, to rule over them. In essence, they were asking him to establish a monarchy where the reign would pass down from Father to son. Even after the oppression of all the enemies Israel could not seem to grasp the concept that God did not want them to be like the other nations around them. It was He who was to be their one and sovereign ruler. Further into Israel’s history we learn that the people become so desperate for a king that they nearly force the prophet Samuel to anoint them a king. God complies with their request but with stiff warnings of how their future king(s) would be.
Our souls naturally crave freedom from that which seeming binding to us; and we desire to be like others that we see around us. The world’s delicacies are truly tempting. Never believe for a moment, dear brother and sister, that you cannot be tempted by them; better still, never believe that you will not cast off the loving hand of God in order to indulge your senses in the world! Though we are children of the Most High and heirs with the Son we still battle daily the passions of the flesh (1Pe 2:11). The great reformer, Ulrich Zwingli summed it up best when he said, “The Christian life, then, is a battle, so sharp and full of danger that effort can nowhere be relaxed without loss”
This was the plight of Israel. They looked upon the nations and decided that their customs were much more appealing than the holiness that Yahweh had called them to. They refused to abstain from their own lusts. They put their trust in the rule of men rather than the Living God. Their rejection of a theocracy would be their very downfall.
Yet Gideon was wise in his answer to the people: “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the LORD will rule over you.” Such wise and profound words! Gideon seemed to grasp the fact that Israel was in a covenant with Yahweh. This meant that He would be their King; He would have rule and final authority in the direction of the nation. But Gideon’s wise words are followed by a seeming harmless request. Immediately after, it is revealed that he asks for gold from each man. the men comply and it seems now that Gideon’s former wisdom is racing on a crash-course for disaster. It seems to us an odd request but in that culture is was quite common to divide up the spoils of war, giving a large amount to the leader. And we learn from verse 21 that gold was taken from the dead kings as well as from their camels. Gideon would eventually make an ephod from this gold, but whether his intentions were to use it as a means of monetary sustainment for his family is unclear. Commentators such as Barnes and the Pulpit Commentary certainly agree, both honing in on Gideon’s shift to greed:
Again human weakness breaks out in this great man, and we seem to see the effect of great prosperity in stirring up selfish desires in his heart. It was perhaps not without significance that mention was made in ver. 21 of his taking the ornaments that were on the camels' necks in connection with the slaughter of the kings. Anyhow we have now a second instance of a love of spoil. (Pulpit Commentary)
In this desire for gold Gideon falls to the level of ordinary men, and we may see in it the first decline of his glory, leading to a sad tarnishing of the luster of his bright name. The idolatrous honor paid to Gideon's ephod was probably a source of revenue to his house. (Barnes’ Notes on the Bible)
And so it seems that the allure of the spoils of war override Gideon’s desire to complete what is right.
B. The Nation’s Calamity (vv. 27-35)
We now realize the intention of Gideon for gathering the gold. He takes the gold and fashions it into an ephod. An ephod is something that only priests wore, and particularly the high priest as he bore the names of the tribes of Israel on stones that were set inside the ephod. Doubtful that this was intended to wear for verse 26 tells us that the weight of all the gold came to a grand tally of 17oo shekels, which would be, according to the standard weight, about 45 ½ pounds. Many commentators believe that Gideon intended to set up a place of worship for the people. Perhaps his intentions were good, but no matter it was still a direct violation of what God had commanded His people (Deut 12:4-5). Gideon was not a priest and therefore had no authorization from God to do the work of a priest. We only need to look at Scripture time and again to see the consequences of those who defiled the priesthood by disobeying God’s commands. For example, we see the sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, being burnt up with fire for burning incense in a non-prescribed way (Le 10:1-2). We see again the man Uzzah, though his intentions were to save the arc of God, was careless in touching the forbidden things (2Sam 6:3-7). Holiness is one thing God takes seriously. When He commands that we worship in a prescribed way we ought not to take it lightly. Our culture is very desensitized to God’s holiness. We have profaned His worship over and over without a guilty conscience. We have become laxed in the manner of respect towards God’s holiness and it is only God’s patience and mercy that has kept Him from striking down some of His own people.
Though Gideon’s intentions may have been to lead the people towards revival his actions actually led them further into apostasy. In verse 27 we see the fruition of this incident: “all Israel whored after it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family.” The word ‘snare’ gives us a glimpse into this episode. It is used of trapping and controlling something, usually an animal. This is exactly the thing that happened to Gideon! He became trapped with the rest of the nation, thus becoming the first judge appointed by God that lead the nation into apostasy before his death. What a sad ending for a man, who at the very beginning exhibited such faith. What was it that caused his demise? More importantly, is there a lesson for us in this story? I believe so.
I believe there are there is one major thing that factored into Gideon’s demise. But it manifested itself in two separate ways: Gideon took upon himself a God-given role.
First, he attempted to take upon a kingly position. Gideon’s words to the people when approached were most timely. “The LORD will rule over you” ring throughout the chapter. In essence he was rejecting a human monarch for a spiritual theocracy. These words signify his unwavering trust in Yahweh’s authority to lead without man’s ability. But somewhere in between his advice and his need for recognition he lost it. It is not directly stated that he desired to rule over Israel but it is very clear from his actions that he also did not refuse. Verses 30-32 describe Gideon’s plush lifestyle, marrying many wives and it can be assumed was monetarily in good shape. This was also something that was strictly forbidden by God for those who would lead Israel, simply because the two things that lead men astray the most are money and women (Deut 17:17). Gideon gave in to his own cravings. He had a real opportunity to lead Israel into a spiritual revival and his need for that recognition caused his downfall.
Second, he appointed himself in a priestly position. No doubt some would argue the point that the text never states that took on the role of a priest. But when you intentionally fashion an object to resemble priestly clothing, which the people would have certainly recognized, what other conclusion can you come to? Maybe Gideon felt like a big shot because God had used him mightily; or maybe he had just concluded that because God had come to him once the he would just continue the role. In either case, Scripture is clear that it is God who chooses the mediator. The role of high priest was especially sacred. In fact, it was so sacred that when Korah and his band of rebellious riff raff challenged Aaron to the office of the priesthood God opened up the ground and swallowed them whole (Nu 16-17). Can you imagine what a sight that must have been? More still, can you imagine the newfound fear that people had of God?
So what’s the lesson in all this?
1. We need to recover the theocracy of the soul. There are way too many people wandering around who are rejecting God’s theocracy for their own monarchy. Our culture is real good at convincing us that we need it our way and that if we get it our way we’ll be loving it. God does not want a partnership in His peoples’ lives He wants a total and complete theocracy. In Malachi God sums up this idea (Mal 1:6). Even more revealing are those religious people who care not one iota for God’s theocracy over them (Isa 29:13). But not surprisingly this concept is carried over into the New Testament where Jesus expresses the same thing
2. We need to recover the theocracy of the church. This is directly tied with individual theocracy and it cannot be severed. The reason why the individual is forsaking God’s theocracy is because the pastors are forsaking God’s theocracy. The Church has served up a Burger King mentality to their people and duped them into believing that they can have their lives and Jesus too. Pastors have abandoned the sufficiency of Scripture for the popularity of men. They fear man rather than God (Pro 29:25). Because they have become so consumed with church growth and hitting their numbers they made church a cool, relevant, hip place to come and hang out on Sunday morning. Church is no longer about reverent worship but about how you can be satisfied. Throw in a few Christian words and talk the Christian lingo and you’ve got yourself a modern day church. Theocracy is thrown to the wolves and man’s programs and drama and cool music now reign supreme in the church. The church of Laodicea is a prime example of a church with no theocracy. Jesus had a very sobering warning for that church. (Re 3:14-18).
Now, we can say amen and halleluiah all we want. But until we really examine ourselves and begin the process of recovering theocracy for our own souls we will never go any further. This morning, refuse to be like the latter Gideon and be like the former Gideon.