Judges 6:11-8:35 introduces us to a man with whom most followers of Christ are or at least should be familiar. Gideon is perhaps best known for his call from God to lead Israel against the Midianites, a call which he requested God to validate by means of a sign, a wet fleece surrounded by dry ground and then subsequently a second sign, a dry fleece surrounded by wet ground. This sign was to be evidence that God would be with him in the battle against the Midianites.
Prior to this, and the ensuing battle, God tested Gideon by requiring him to destroy the idols and altars of his family. His obedience, resulting in a name change to Jerubbaal, meaning “let Baal contend against him” nearly cost him his life. However, it is out of this test, that of destroying the idols closest to him, that God called him to lead Israel out of the bondage of the Midianites.
This episode, following the sign of the fleece, is accompanied by the well-known test of Gideon’s army, those who lap water versus those who kneel to drink, a test that narrowed down his army from 10,000 to 300 soldiers (The original size was 22,000 soldiers, which itself was narrowed down to those who were not fearful). In God’s narrowing of the army from 22,000 to 10,000, we are given an explanation why this was necessary, “lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.” This statement provides us with a universal principle which warns us against relying on our own strength, rather than upon God.
It might not be a large army, it might not even be physical strength, but we are prone to self-reliance which in turn robs glory from God and causes us to boast in our own accomplishments rather than in how God has worked. In the case of Gideon, God was not satisfied with merely cutting the army numerically in half, but taking it to such drastically low numbers that it would be humanly impossible to explain the victory.
Finally, Gideon and his small band of 300 soldiers embarked on their famous military campaign against the Midianites where the army gathered with trumpets and torches
16 And he divided the 300 men into three companies and put trumpets into the hands of all of them and empty jars, with torches inside the jars. 17 And he said to them, “Look at me, and do likewise. When I come to the outskirts of the camp, do as I do. 18 When I blow the trumpet, I and all who are with me, then blow the trumpets also on every side of all the camp and shout, ‘For the Lord and for Gideon.’” Judges 7:16-18
Now, perhaps in the statement that Gideon instructed the army to yell out, “…and for Gideon” we’ve got a small indication of a problem. Nevertheless, when Gideon and his army blew the trumpets and smashed the torch jars, God confused the Midianite army such that they began fighting against each other in the chaos. After this battle, Gideon and his men pursued the kings of Midian, though exhausted, captured them when again their army (15,000) was thrown into a panic. Judges 8:10 records for us that in all 120,000 soldiers were killed due to Gideon and his 300 men. Surely such a victory is due solely to the sovereignty of God.
With all of this in mind, the legend of Gideon is a well-known and rehearsed story and there are many more details left out of this brief overview that we could’ve discussed. However, the last chapter in Gideon’s life is lesser known. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard it included in any discussion of Gideon nor have I really paid much attention to it until reading it for myself. The passage is below
“22Then 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.) 25 And they answered, “We will willingly give them.” And they spread a cloak, and every man threw in it the earrings of his spoil. 26 And the weight of the golden earrings that he requested was 1,700 shekels of gold, besides the crescent ornaments and the pendants and the purple garments worn by the kings of Midian, and besides the collars that were around the necks of their camels. 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. 28 So Midian was subdued before the people of Israel, and they raised their heads no more. And the land had rest forty years in the days of Gideon.”
Despite the calling from God, the signs from God, the victories from God, and the favor of God on Gideon among the people of Israel, Gideon did not finish well. One would be hard pressed to determine what exactly the failure of Gideon was, perhaps it was pride as in the instructions to shout his name. Maybe it was the taste of success or simply suppressed but not fully eradicated idolatry that found opportunity to surface. Nevertheless Gideon desired more than what God had given him. He was not content to have rule over the people, but wanted to preside as priest. To lead a body politically is one thing, to lead a body spiritually is an entirely different matter altogether, one that had not been granted to Gideon, particularly as it was exclusively given to the tribe of Levi. As a result, he caused not only himself to fall into idolatry and false worship, but he led all of Israel to whore into idolatry as well. The simple test of faith that he had initially passed in tearing down the personal idols of his family became a snare and a downfall for himself and Israel. it was a failure to destroy the idols closest to him.
This final chapter of Gideon’s life should cause us to reflect on our lives, particularly as we see God’s sovereign grace working in and through us, calling, gifting, perhaps even granting various victories. In this life we are called to persevere and to keep ourselves from idols (1 John 5:21).
If this were all we had to remember of Gideon, perhaps it would be another in a long line of men and women who did not finish well. Yet for Gideon, there was an additional word to be said, that from Hebrews 11 and the so-called “Hall of faith”.
“32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets” Hebrews 11:32
Though his mention is brief, nevertheless, the fact that he is hailed by God alongside other men and women who were wrought with failures, yet extolled for their faithfulness should give us encouragement and hope. This chapter of epitaphs does not mention the failures of God’s people, but rather their faithfulness as a mark of perseverance.
Narratives like Gideon’s serve as patterns and examples, both for the positives and negatives. Our lives, though certainly possessive of failures, should be marked with the constancy of faithfulness and lifelong perseverance to avoid tapering away from God in our final days. Surely, we should long for the day when God says well done good and faithful servant, enter the joy of your master. Until then, let us persevere and strive to finish well.