JUDGES 8:22-35

APRIL 15, 2012




            Slip slidin’ away, slip slidin’ away,

            You know the nearer your destination, the more you’re slip, slidin’ away.


            Paul Simon could have written that song for the Book of Judges.  In fact, that song could be the theme song of the book: “Slip, slidin’ away.”   We see the same story repeated time after time in the book.  The Israelites drift from God, then God raises a judge to get them back on track, and then the Judge dies and they slip, they slide away. They get to where they are supposed to be with God and then they slip, slide away.  Today’s story is a case in point.  The one big difference today, however, is they don’t even wait for the Judge to die.

            As we look at the last days of Gideon, an old hidden camera episode of Candid Camera comes to mind.  It began with a unsuspecting man waiting for an elevator with other potential passengers.  Everything appeared normal until the elevator arrived, the door opened, and the man boarded the elevator.  To the unsuspecting man’s surprise, the other passengers who got on the elevator with him, all faced the back of the elevator rather than the door of the elevator.  The camera zoomed in on the victim as he peered quizzically at the other passengers with their back to the door.  He fidgeted nervously for a moment or two and then turned around and faced the back of the elevator as well.

            In the eighth chapter of Judges we witness another turn around, but it’s much less enjoyable to watch.  In fact, after spending four Sundays with Gideon prior to our Lenten break, and getting to know him and appreciate him, it hurts to see him go out like this.  The final chapter of Gideon’s life is a distinct anticlimax to the heroic action of his earlier days.

            Let’s look a little closer at his disappointing end.  Interestingly, the best thing Gideon ever did and the worst thing he ever did came within moments of one another. 

            The best thing he did was turning down the Israeli offer to be crowned king.  It’s not clear how many Israeli’s made the offer, though it sounded like a groundswell of support, and it’s hard to imagine the powerful and full of themselves tribe of Ephraim accepting a king from any other tribe but their own, but no matter how small or large the representation the sentiment was there.  Apparently, Gideon had become a national hero, and like the prophet Samuel years later, he knew that the only true king of Israel was God.  Gideon held to a pure theocracy rather than a monarchy, and the told the people so.  It was a noble move, and when you consider all the trouble Israel would have with kings in the future - when they finally got them - it showed amazing foresight and wisdom.

            And then, came the mistake.  Being caught up in the moment, and not wanting to completely disappoint the people, he offers an alternative.  Note verses twenty-three and twenty-four,


            “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you.”  Then Gideon said to them, “Let me make a request of you; each of you give me an earring he has taken as booty.”  (For the enemy had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.)


            In other words, they were Arabs, not Israeli’s, and it seem’s all the Arab boys were wearing gold earrings that season, and when Gideon asked the Israeli’s to contribute them to the cause, they cheerfully agreed.  Somebody then laid a coat on the ground and as soon as all the earrings were collected as well as some other trinkets, including pendants and golden collars from camels, Gideon had close to what today would have been a quarter of a million dollars worth of goodies at his feet.

            Then from the glittering pile of loot, depending on your translation Gideon shaped one of two things.  Our translation says Gideon shaped a knock your socks off ephod, which was a priestly garment, in fact it was the vestment worn by the high priest, sort of like a apron.  In other words, he wouldn’t be king, but he would be the new high priest for the people.

            Other translations read that Gideon fashioned an idol out of all the gold, not an ephod.  If so, he apparently forgot about the Second Commandment.  Do you see it there on the wall?  It reads “You shall make no graven images,” and there was a reason that commandment was so high on the list because as soon as you have a golden god you can shine up and deck out and push around like a doll in a baby carriage, it’s a small step to begin thinking that you can push around God as well. 

            Anyway, whether he fashioned an ephod or an idol, all this led to Israel’s abandoning Shiloh, the place Joshua had set up for the Israelites to worship God, the place where the tabernacle was located, and the place where the priests offered sacrifices.  Instead the people flocked to Ophrah to see the national hero and to be blessed by him, and started kowtowing to Gideon and the idol and hardly gave God the time of day.

            As for Gideon, he died a rich and self-indulgent man.  Even though he turned down the kingship, that didn’t stop him from living like one.  He had a harem which only royalty and the rich could afford.  The most telling insight, however, into Gideon’s later life is the name he gave to one of his sons.  Note how the author only mentions one of Gideon’s seventy sons by name.  And speaking of seventy sons, he no doubt also had daughters as well, they just weren’t as significant in that day as sons.  Father’s Day must have been something else in Gideon’s house!

            Anyway, look with me at verse thirty-one,


            His concubine in Shechem also bore him a son, and he named him Abimelech.


            The name means “My father is king.”  Every time that boy stated his name, he claimed for his father what Gideon on one of his better days had renounced.  Whether by naming the boy Abimelech, Gideon was revealing his hankering for the honor he once refused, or whether it’s evidence of how pompous Gideon became later in life, we can’t say.  Suffice it to say, that by including this little detail, the author of Judges wants the readers to know that Gideon goes out as a goat and not as a hero.

            I guess in reflecting on the end of his life we might consider a number of things.  We might point out the danger of ignoring or compromising God’s commandment’s, as Gideon did with the second commandment.  We might point out how ignoring or compromising God’s commandments is just as smart as petting a rhino to see if it’s tame or lighting a match to see if there’s gas in the tank.  We know God gave us the commandments, not because God is a cosmic killjoy, but because God has our best interest at heart, and all the laws and commandments are more for our good than God’s good, and such blatant disregard of God’s law certainly signaled the beginning of the end for Gideon and his family.  Who would have thought - other than God - that a little idol or a stunning ephod would wreak so much havoc in a person’s or a nation’s life, but it did.

            I think of John Trent.  In his book Heartshift Trent tells the story of a NASA engineer he spoke to on a plane that said a two percent deviation on a launch to the moon will result in a 11,121 mile mistake as you approached the moon.  Gideon’s little idol led to a huge deviation in his life and the life of the nation.   

            But I don’t want to mention that.

            Or we could say, after reading this account, make sure to put your faith in God and not other people because everyone else, even the best of them like Gideon, have a way of unraveling at one time or another.  A friend posted this on Facebook on Good Friday.  He posted, “Your friends, family, and minister will fail you. Jesus NEVER will. If you know that, you can live in peace knowing that they like you are sinful, but he is not. He will die for you.”  We could point out that even the most spiritual and mature Christians fail, so keep our eyes focused and our faith centered in Jesus, the only one who will not disappoint us. 

            But, I don’t want to mention that either.  Instead, I want to mention something else from today’s passage.  I want to mention the challenges of adversity and prosperity.  In so doing, I want to quote Chuck Swindoll as he is much more eloquent than I.  Listen to his words.  He says,


            There are two extreme tests that disturb our balance in life.  Each has it’s own set of problems.  On one side is adversity.  Adversity is a good test of our resiliency, our ability to cope, and stand back up to recover from misfortune.  On the other side is prosperity.  In all honesty it’s a tougher test than adversity.


            That was certainly true of Gideon.  He handled the Midianites.  Remember them?  Those camel riding bullies who cruised into town every harvest and raided Israeli pantries?  He handled adversity well, but prosperity was another matter.  Thomas Carlisle, the Scottish essayist put it well.  Hesaid, “Adversity is sometimes hard on a person; but for one person who can stand prosperity, there are a hundred people who will stand adversity.”

            Let me get back to Swindoll.  He continues,


            When adversity strikes life becomes rather simple.  Our need is to survive.  But when prosperity occurs life gets complicated.  Our needs are numerous, often extremely complex.  Invariably, our integrity is put to the test.  And there is about one in a hundred who can dance to the tune of success without paying the piper named Compromise.


            He concludes by saying, and listen to his wonderful metaphor of his,


            That’s why walking on a wire is harder than standing in a storm.  Height has a strange way of disturbing our balance.


            It certainly did for Gideon.  Let’s hope it doesn’t ever do that to us.