Gideon’s Legacy

No sooner had Gideon died than the Israelites again prostituted themselves to the Baals. They set up Baal-Berith as their god and did not remember the Lord their God who had rescued them from the hands of all their enemies on every side. (Judges 8:33-34)

Finishing well may be toughest part of life. Adrenalin and zeal can often set us off on a very high trajectory but if we come crashing back down, it is only the end that people are going to remember. So it is for Gideon. Despite his hesitant start, he served the purposes of Yahweh and gave Israel forty years of peace. The armies of Midian were turned back and the people, including Gideon, were able to settle in and raise families under the watchful eye of the Lord. We’re not told of the religious environment during this time but we can surmise that holiness may not have been an emphasis in the land.

What we read is yet another vignette of God’s amazing grace. Despite the Ephod and its distracting effect on the people, God granted them forty years of shalom when they deserved just the opposite. Should we bank on this as normative? Unlikely. Reading the remaining cycles in Judges shows Yahweh’s grace being constrained to shorter and shorter periods. Applying this to our own lives, we should not raise an expectation of continual grace based on our early efforts for God. Holiness is an ongoing effort that requires our continued attention; without it we risk turning our focus back to our idols and off of God. For His leaders, the emphasis is even greater because the legacy that you leave affects many more people than just yourself.

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The Two Sides of Gideon II

imageNo sooner did we admire Gideon’s faithfulness to the covenant in turning down the monarchy then he seems to forget it in whole. The author of Judges writes in great detail now, hinting at the trouble to come as Gideon strikes an off-the-cuff request. “Give me an earring out of your spoils.” So, he’s trying to enrich himself as their leader. We aren’t shocked by this because of our modern perspective of those who govern us. The Israelites, acting out of their gratitude for being freed from the Midians, quickly respond, spreading out a cloak and filling it with golden ornaments and jewelry.

In yet another unexpected turn, Gideon takes the gold and fashions an ephod out of it. Whether we read this as a part of the high priest’s garments or a pagan idol, the effect is the same. Gideon has created an item of worship that draws the immediate adoration of the Israelites. We read that they prostituted themselves to the idol and, for at least a moment, the covenant was forgotten. The downward spiral  gains speed quickly.

The Two Sides of Gideon I

In a Judges cycle that has definitely taken an unexpected turn for the worse, we catch a glimmer of hope.

The Israelites said to Gideon, “Rule over us—you, your son and your grandson—because you have saved us out of the hand of Midian.”

But Gideon told them, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The Lord will rule over you.”

At the inappropriate request, Gideon flashes his devotion to the Covenant. “The Lord will rule over you!” The tribes had pledged their absolute allegiance to Yahweh as their king at the base of Mt. Sinai and this near history should not have been lost on the people raising this cry. Certainly, it must have at least crossed someone’s mind that to take Gideon and his sons as a dynasty would have broken their covenant agreement?

Gideon does, and emphatically demonstrates his loyalty to the agreement. This catches our eye so quickly after he has acted impetuously out of his own anger in Succoth and Pineil. For a man with such respect for the covenant and Yahweh’s lordship, he did not hesitate to act in vengeance of his own volition. Maybe the reason this catches our interest is that it all sounds so familiar. We’ve been there. We recognize the struggle to make our actions match our theology. It’s harder than it looks.

The Shock of Gideon’s Turn

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Reading the Gideon cycle in Judges we find ourselves at an unexpected turn after his victory in war. Rather than the hero we are led to expect who transcends his fearfulness and forges forward in trust, we find instead a normal person.

Maybe, a person more like ourselves than we are willing to admit.

What catches us off guard is how quickly Gideon forgets his Yahweh ordained purpose. God did not call on him to destroy parts of Pineil or administer the whipping that the men of Succoth endured; he performed both of these actions out of his own desire for revenge. The Israelites will respond in much the same way as we turn the page. Rather than turning to the Lord in their desire for leadership, they cry out for Gideon to lead them as their ruler. Is there hope for Gideon?

We can benefit today by meditating on the words of a later leader.

Psalm 3

O Lord, how many are my foes!

How many rise up against me!

Many are saying of me,

“God will not deliver him.” Selah

But you are a shield around me, O Lord;

you bestow glory on me and lift up my head.

To the Lord I cry aloud,

and he answers me from his holy hill. Selah

I lie down and sleep;

I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.

I will not fear the tens of thousands

drawn up against me on every side.

Arise, O Lord!

Deliver me, O my God!

Strike all my enemies on the jaw;

break the teeth of the wicked.

From the Lord comes deliverance.

May your blessing be on your people.

Gideon Pursues the Enemy III

image After Gideon and his army had routed the entire army of the Midianites and began marching their kings Zebah and Zalmunna back toward the Jordan, he must have been wondering why his Israelite brothers had refused to support him. Angrily he must have decided that they remained turned against Yahweh, unwilling to trust the mission that he had been given. Given the distance of time, do we see the irony in Gideon’s rage against them. They were bypassed by the Midian army but would suffer humiliation and destruction at the hands of God’s judge.

Perhaps the irony is masked by the change we see in Gideon himself. Starting out as hesitant and fearful, he slowly obeys God’s commands and embarks on the restorative mission. Obedience marks this Judges’ cycle until ego and the need for revenge transforms the man. Does he feel that God’s mission gives him permission to act independently to punish Piniel and Succoth? He crosses ‘over the line’ in crossing over the Jordan. Are we at similar risk?

Christian leaders are all tempted by ego and the human desire to get ‘even.’ It’s easy to even momentarily forget that we serve at the pleasure of God and it is His glory alone that should be the result of our service. Obstacles may come, we may have to face struggles that prick our every nerve ending and exhaust the limits of our patience, we may even find ourselves sidelined for a season when we feel as though we should be in the middle of the action but we must maintain our trust in God and the purpose he calls us to.

Gideon Pursues the Enemy II

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After being denied sustenance in Succoth, Gideon pursues similar support in Peniel, to the same end. A vehement no! from the men of Peniel garners similar threats of retribution from Gideon. When he returns this way on the way back home, he states that the tower he is facing will be torn down. Do the men of Peniel respond in fear? For that matter, did a similar threat to scourge the men of Succoth with briars and thorns cause them to give in? The word tells us no and that the army of God’s purpose moved on under the power of the Lord.

Church leaders can find a second item of interest in this passage. It is sometimes the case that we can misread external signals thinking that they guide our purpose. If Gideon had asked of God for sustenance, relying on the people of Succoth and Peniel to be the answerers of this prayer, he may have been tempted to turn back and question his own interpretation of the mission. Maybe not at the first denial, but perhaps the second. How many times have we, as church leaders, been certain of God’s calling to a specific purpose only to find obstacle after obstacle in our way. What is the magic number of denials that we count before we turn back? Maybe our practice needs to be …one more than that.

Gideon the Diplomat

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image Fresh from living out his purpose in routing the warriors of Midian, Gideon is thrust into the position of diplomat. An intertribal argument awaits him before he has even rested:

Now the Ephraimites asked Gideon, “Why have your treated us like this? Why didn’t you call us when you went to fight Midian?” (Judges 8:1)

The Ephraimites are upset at missing an opportunity to increase their personal glory, indicating perhaps that the troubles that had separated Israel from God in the first place were still in need of attention in this Judges cycle. They had not only lost their perceived glory but a portion of the spoils of war as well. Sharp criticism draws a diplomatic response from Gideon. He placates their anger by alluding to their superior status in the tribal standings. They accept this as an apology and are quieted. We expect the familiar construct “and the land had peace for x years” but God is not finished yet.

Do people who look in on the internecine battles within God’s church see a similar situation? Does denomination A proclaim their superiority over church B, not in God’s glory but in their body count or the size of their fortress? Has God’s hand been forgotten in all things?