The seventh chapter of Judges records a great victory given by the Lord against the Midianites with only 300 men. The Midianites are set to flight. Gideon calls for other tribes to help capture some of the princes who were escaping. This should be the end of the account. We expect to read that the land had peace for some amount of time, like we have read with the previous deliverances God provided. Instead, we are going to read about the spiritual fall of God’s people. As we look at what Gideon and the people do, we must consider what caused these people to fall after God had brought them a great salvation against Midian.
The first problem comes from the men of Ephraim. They are upset that they were not called to go help fight against the Midianites. As we look at a map of the tribes we notice that Ephraim was not a tribe that was directly impacted by the Midianite invasion. So it is not surprising that Gideon did not call for some of the southern tribes to come to the northern area to fight. I think we must also consider it interesting that once the fight is over and the battle is won that they come in and say that they wanted to help. I find it humorous how often people will do this. Once a work is done or a project is completely they will say that you should have told them and they would have done it. It is not like no one knew about the Midianite invasion. The people of Israel had been suffering for seven years. Ephraim could have come up at any time to help. But now that the job is done they say that they would have helped.
But the real issue that we are observing with the men of Ephraim is pride. They are not joyful for the other tribes that they have victory. They are not praising God for the salvation that God gave through Gideon. They are not marveling over how God gave them victory with only 300 men. They are upset because they were not included. “You should have consulted us! We should have a say! We did not get to have input!” This kind of language is pride. Godly people fall when they stop looking to the Lord and start looking to themselves. Godly people fall when we are more concerned about our input rather than the work of the Lord that is being accomplished through others. This would be like me being upset at you for having a Bible study with someone because you did not consult me first about it. This would be totally ridiculous! My joy should be in you teaching others, not that I was not consulted first! Yet the work of the Lord and the work in the kingdom can be frequently quenched because someone feels like they should be giving input first. This is the danger of men’s business meetings. People think they must give their input before the church can make a decision or do a work. This is a danger with elderships. I have seen elders prevents others in the church from doing a work because they were not consulted first. We know what work must be done. You do not need anyone’s approval to do the work of the Lord. Such attitudes represent selfish pride. It is not surprise that pride is a critical flaw that leads to the fall of God’s people.
Laziness and Selfishness (8:4-9)
By contrast, while Gideon and his 300 men are pursuing the escaping Midianites, Gideon asks for help from the men of Succoth and Penuel. His men are exhausted from the pursuit and they ask for loaves of bread (8:5). But the people of both cities say no. They do not want to help. They do not want to make any sacrifices. They seem to be afraid that if Gideon is unsuccessful in capturing the kings of Midian, then they will experience retribution from those kings. But the Lord is with Gideon. The victory has already been given by the Lord. But laziness and selfishness keep them from helping Gideon with the work. God’s people fall when we cave into laziness and selfishness. We must make sure that we are not making spiritual decisions based on the fact that we just want to sit on the couch and relax. We are merely thinking about what we want physically rather than what God desires, or the church needs, or what we can do for the kingdom of God.
Power Gone Awry (8:10-28)
Gideon says that after he captures these kings he is going to come back to these cities and punish them. When Gideon returns to Succoth, he whips the elders with thorns and briars from the wilderness. When he returns to Penuel, he tears down their tower and killed the men of the city. With the victory and show of vengeance, the people of Israel ask Gideon to rule over them, including his son and grandson. They are asking for a new monarchy to begin with Gideon and his descendants. Gideon gives a wise answer in verse 23. He will not rule over them nor his son, but the Lord will rule over them.
But then he makes a strange request. He asks for the earrings of the spoils of victory. So the people give him the gold earrings, makes an ephod to, and put it in his city, Ophrah. This leads the people of Israel, along with Gideon and his family, into idolatry. This monument turns into idolatry. One person becomes elevated over the many. The people’s appreciation of him led to blind acceptance of idolatry.
I want us to think about how the scriptures warn about the difficulty of finishing life well. It is not easy to finish strong in the Lord. With all that God does for Gideon, the end of Gideon’s life is mired in idolatry. For all that God did for Solomon, Solomon’s life ends in idolatry and a heart turned away from the Lord. For all that God did for David, we see the end of David’s life end in weakness rather than the strength of the Lord we read about earlier in his life. There is repeated warning in the scriptures about not finishing strong in the Lord. We do not retire from God. We do not retire from seeking and displaying God’s glory. It is a frightening thing to think about living one’s life for the Lord only to spend one’s final years differently than the zeal earlier in life. Faith grows cold. Our joy and success in the Lord can cause us to forget the grace of God. I want to challenge our older people in the faith to finish strong in the Lord. While you may not be able to physically do all that you could before, we must make sure that the issue is truly the body and not the desire of the heart. We must want to end strong and must plan to end strong so that we do not succumb to our idolatry later in life.
Gideon also exhibits a great display of hypocrisy. Remember that he says that the Lord will rule over them, not he or his sons. But notice verse 30. Gideon has 70 sons because he has many wives. Does it sound like the Lord is ruling over his life? God expressly condemned this behavior (Deuteronomy 17:17). Gideon is acting like a king even though he claims that he will not be their king.
We see this hypocrisy all the more in verse 31. Gideon also has a son by one of his concubines and names him Abimelech. Abimelech’s name means, “My father is king.” So Gideon tells everyone that he is not king, but he certainly does not act that way. Rather, he acts just like a king, having many wives and children and even naming his son in a way that indicates he is the king.
The final way we see God’s people fall in this chapter is through forgetfulness. Verses 33-35 tell an awful story. As soon as Gideon died, the people turned back to the Baals for worship. The sermon the prophet preached before Gideon delivered the people has fallen on deaf ears. Further, the people forgot the Lord their God who had delivered them and they did not show faithfulness to the family of Gideon in return for all the good he had done for Israel. Though sinful and flawed, Gideon had saved Israel by God’s power. Yet the people reject the Lord and return to their idolatry and they do not care for Gideon’s family after all he had done for them. Israel had 40 years of rest through the judging of Gideon (8:28). As soon as we forget all that our Lord has done for us, we quickly move back into our sinful ways and back into our idolatrous habits.
The Lord patiently developed the faith of Gideon. But God’s purposes were compromised when Gideon lost focus of who he was and the mission God gave him. Gideon was a nobody with no strength hiding in a winepress from the Midianites. God chose him as an instrument of salvation for the nation. But pride, selfishness, power, hypocrisy, and forgetfulness were tools of Satan used to bring about the fall of Gideon and the people of Israel after God had saved them. Is Satan using some of these tools in our lives today to bring about our fall? We must be ready to carry out God’s will even in spiritually dark times. God is building faith and calling us to obedience. Let us run the race that is set before us and not let up until we are home with the Lord.