Gideon, Politics, and Turning a Nation to the Lord (Judges 8)

Judges 8:22-24, 27, 33-34 (ESV)

22 Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also, for you have saved us from the hand of Midian.” 23 Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you.” 24 And Gideon said to them, “Let me make a request of you: every one of you give me the earrings from his spoil.” (For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.)

27 And Gideon made an ephod of it and put it in his city, in Ophrah. And all Israel whored after it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family.


33 As soon as Gideon died, the people of Israel turned again and whored after the Baals and made Baal-berith their god. 34 And the people of Israel did not remember the Lord their God, who had delivered them from the hand of all their enemies on every side,


            Have you ever been tempted to believe that a little political reform will set our nation back on the right track? Have you ever thought that what our nation needs is a good, Christian leader to turn us back to the ways of God? I cannot disagree that I would very much like to see us have some political leadership that would direct the nation away from evil and toward good. But, I also know that one leader, even one season of good government, will not change the heart of any nation.


            In Judges 8, we see what happened in Israel when they were given great deliverance by God through Gideon. Now, I do not want anybody to be confused about Gideon. He was not a greatly godly man. We see him doubt God, demand proof from God of things he already knew to be true, seek vengeance, and set himself up as a sort of ruler over the people like a Canaanite king. Yet, it was through Gideon, with his weaknesses, that God subdued the Midianites and made Israel safe.


            Notice what happened after the battle was won. It looks so good at first. In verses 22-23 of Judges 8, Gideon refuses to be called the ruler or king over Israel. Instead, Gideon tells the people that they should be ruled by the Lord. This is right and good if Gideon is sincere. But he seems easily corruptible. Gideon asks the people to give him a little treasure, just their earrings, and the people eagerly oblige.


            Next, look what happens after Gideon allows himself to receive tribute like a monarch. First, he takes the treasure given him by Israel, and he makes an ephod out of it. This was an instrument of worship and of seeking the will of a deity. This was not, however, a tool for worshipping the Lord, as the ephod that God had commanded be made was in the hands of the Levitical priesthood. Gideon made himself into his own little priest, and dishonored God. He also led his family astray.


            It is not only Gideon who is corrupted by his new found power. The people of Israel are clearly not ready to follow the Lord either. In verses 33-34, we find that, as soon as Gideon is no longer exercising influence over the nation, the people begin to worship another false deity. Just as they had been worshipping Baal before Gideon’s rise to power, they return to Baal worship after Gideon is gone.


            I’m certainly not trying to argue that we do not want a godly leader to direct our nation. Nor am I assuming that Gideon was a particularly godly leader for Israel. But what I still notice is that, no matter the religious direction of the leadership of the nation, nothing that the king or president could ever do will change the hearts of people in order to make them follow the Lord. Gideon began his leadership with a proclamation that the nation would be led by the Lord. He could not even let the Lord lead him, much less the people. And, as soon as his influence was gone, the people returned to all the idolatry that they had been guilty of before.


            How, then, will we see the nation changed? How can we hope that our nation will follow the Lord? The answer is not in influential political leadership. Instead, the answer is found in the gospel of Christ. As individual Christians and churches take the gospel to individuals all across our land, God himself will change individual hearts. Only as we see more and more people come to trust in the Lord and have their very hearts changed will we see the fabric of our society changed. Only in the change brought about by the New Covenant in Christ’s blood will we find a nation where the people, in their very hearts, follow the Lord.


            So, do you want to change the world? If you do, follow Christ yourself. Take the gospel to your family, neighbors, and coworkers. Pray for other Christians to do the same. Help others to have open doors for evangelism. Only through that kind of living out the gospel, making disciples as we go, can we see a turning of a confused and misled culture into that which will honor the Lord our God.