We love those neat Bible stories of heroes who stood their ground and by faith won victories. We love seeing David take down a giant, Samson take out the Philistines, Esther boldly denounce Haman, or Ruth bravely approach Boaz. And, if we are not careful, we will see these stories and say that the message of the Bible is a call for us to be brave and faithful just like the heroes on the pages.
For sure, it is good to mimic righteous behavior. It is good to honor the Lord and trust him. It is good to be willing to sacrifice your comfort and even your life for the honor of the name of God. But these stories are often bigger. They often have more to tell us than just be good and strong.
Consider Gideon. There is a mighty man and a powerful tale. He starts off almost cowardly in chapter 6 and through the beginning of chapter 7 of Judges. But then he believes the promise of God. Gideon gathers an army, takes out an enemy, and then brings the rescue of God to Israel.
So, are we supposed to want to be a Gideon? Is he the point of the story? No, he most certainly is not. Yes, Gideon experienced the victory of God when he was willing to trust and obey the Lord. But, for the most part, Gideon was not willing to trust or obey the Lord. I already mentioned how fearful he was at the beginning. The test with the fleece was a sign of a lack of faith, not a sign of trusting the Lord.
But the ending of Gideon is even worse than his beginning. After he has won a victory, seeing the Lord take out an enemy force of 132,000 with a half-battalion of 300 men, Gideon looks like he is going to do well.
Judges 8:22-23 – 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.”
That’s some good stuff! They clamor at Gideon to wear a crown, to sit on the throne, to begin a dynasty. They want him to be the ruler of the land, a king.
But Gideon tells them no. He will not rule them. His son will not rule them. Only the Lord will rule them. That’s the way it’s supposed to be!
But, if you watch what Gideon says and does next you see that he is not someone to imitate. The next words out of Gideon’s mouth are a request. He plays on the good will of the people to ask for a little payment, a little treasure. Since they all have spoils from the battle and the victory, Gideon asks for a little contribution. He requests that the people each give him an earring from their treasures. That turns into a pretty big bundle of gold and jewels.
In an interesting way, Gideon has asked not to be king. Then he turns around and asks for the kind of tribute due to a king. He says he wants God to rule the people. But he turns around and asks for treasure for himself instead of asking the people to sacrifice thank offerings to the Lord. With his words he says, “Don’t look at me.” With his actions, he puts himself center-stage.
And then it gets even worse.
Judges 8:27 – 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.
At the end of the day, Gideon takes his treasure, uses it to make an ephod, and leads the people away from the Lord and toward idol worship. An ephod was, in the priestly service, a garment worn by the high priest. But, in other settings, an ephod was a term for an idol. Perhaps Gideon used his treasure to fashion an idol and then put a garment on it like the priest’s ephod, making that term be the one used here.
Judges 8:30-31 – 30 Now Gideon had seventy sons, his own offspring, for he had many wives. 31 And his concubine who was in Shechem also bore him a son, and he called his name Abimelech.
As we draw to the end of Gideon’s life, we see that he married multiple wives, setting himself up like a king. He even had a concubine whose son he named after the Philistine king, Abimelech. This is not a man whose heart was for the Lord. This was not a man to imitate.
Gideon is no hero. Yes, he had faith to believe that the Lord would give him victory in the battle. Hebrews 11 tells us of that faith; and that faith was good. But Gideon, both before and after the battle does not trust God, does not believe God, will not sacrifice his safety or comfort for God, violates the law of God, and wants to be king instead of God.
Gideon is a lesson in the sovereignty of God and the sinfulness of man. We learn that God can and does use all sorts of people to accomplish his will. God is mighty and powerful. God will not allow us to have his glory. That is why God whittled Gideon’s army down from 32,000 to 300—he would not allow his glory to go to Gideon and the men. God did supernatural good through a man who was not a man of God.
At the same time, the story is one of sadness. Gideon did not believe. He did not obey. He did not finish well. Sure, he had money and fame, but he did not have the Lord. He was willing to dishonor the Lord and turn to idols the moment no battle was in front of him.
Who is like Gideon? I am. You are. We are together. If we do not have the sovereign grace of God over us, we will fear and distrust the Lord. If we do not have the grace of God over us, we will fail when we try to accomplish things for the Lord. If we do not have the sovereign grace of God over us, we will turn from the word of God and make up, for ourselves, little false deities who cannot help us and who can only lead to our destruction. If we do not have the sovereign grace of God over our lives, we will set ourselves up as little kings and queens to rule our little lives until we die.
May this story, may the ugly ending of Gideon, remind us of how desperately we need grace. We cannot and will not obey the rules enough to please God. We must have Jesus, the one who obeyed the rules for us. We must have Jesus, the one who took our punishment for our disobedience. We must have the Holy spirit, who leads us away from making ourselves kings and queens and who shines the light of glory on the Lord. May we have the grace of god planned by the Father, purchased by the Son, and applied by the Spirit so that we do not become little Gideons ourselves.