JUDGES 7:23 - 8:3

FEBRUARY 26, 2012





             I grew up watching The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, starring the real life Nelson family.  The sitcom ran from 1952 to 1966, the year I graduated from high school.

            The show made the Nelsons' youngest son, Rick, into a music teen idol.  Ozzie realized the impact his musically gifted son could bring to the series, and went on to write story lines featuring Rick singing.  Rick first sang in the April 10, 1957, episode, "Ricky the Drummer."  He performed a version of the Fats Domino hit, "I'm Walkin", and later signed a recording contract with Domino's label, Imperial Records. 

            After the show went off the air in 1966, Rick Nelson continued his musical career.  Over his career he recorded twenty top ten hits, and in 1987 Rick Nelson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  In 1972, Nelson reached the Top 40 for the last time with Garden Party a song he wrote in disgust after a Madison Square Garden audience booed him, because, in his mind, he was playing new songs instead of just his old hits. You might remember the chorus ...


            But it's all right now, I've learned my lesson well

            You see, you can't please everyone, so you've got to please yourself.


            Gideon, from the book of Judges, would have appreciated that song. 

            Last Sunday we left Gideon at the height of his career as a judge.  Following God’s orders to the letter, Gideon routed the feared Midianites, those camel-riding, nomadic bullies who rode into town each fall and raided Israelite pantries.  Today we continue the story with Gideon’s mop-up action against the Midianites.  As we read through the account we will witness a curious and disappointing exchange Gideon has with the tribe of Ephraim, one of the twelve tribes of Israel.  Let’s turn to our passage now.  Judges 7:23.


            And the men of Israel were called out from Naphtali and from Asher and from all Manasseh, and they pursued after the Midianites. 


            In all likelihood, these three tribes - Asher, Naphtali, and Manasseh - would have been a part of the 32,000 men who had originally signed up to fight the Midianites, but whom God had systematically weeded out for the midnight raid.  These men would have still been close by and Gideon calls upon them to pursue the fleeing Midianties.  Let’s continue on, verse 24.


            Then Gideon sent messengers throughout all the hill country of Ephraim, saying, “Come down against the Midianites and seize the waters against them, as far as Beth-barah, and also the Jordan.”


            Note how Gideon calls upon a fourth tribe, the Ephraimites, to set up a roadblock.  Gideon asks the tribe of Ephraim to cut off the fleeing Midianties by setting up a defense between two rivers, the Jordan and the Beth-barah.  Let’s press on.


            So all the men of Ephraim were called out, and they seized the waters as far as Beth-barah, and also the Jordan.  They captured the two captains of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb; they killed Oreb at the rock of Oreb, and Zeeb they killed at the wine press of Zeeb, as they pursued the Midianites.  They brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon beyond the Jordan. 

            Then the Ephraimites said to him, “What have you done to us, not to call us when you went to fight against the Midianites?”  And they upbraided him violently. 


            With the chorus of Ricky Nelson’s hit Garden Party playing in the background, let me tell you a little about the tribe of Ephraim.  The tribe of Ephraim, at this particular time in history, was the largest and most important of the twelve tribes of Israel, and they would have been the first to tell you how important they were.  The great Joshua had come from their tribe, and the tabernacle, the center of Israeli worship was located at Shiloh, a city within their territory.  They were the Israeli hot shots, and they came to Gideon with a complaint ... “Why didn’t you initially call us to fight the Midianites?  Why weren’t we on the select list?” 

            It’s a valid question.  Gideon had called on three other tribes to fight the Midianites, three of the lesser tribes of Israel: his own tribe of Manasseh, and the tribes of Naphtali and Asher.  Why weren’t the Ephraimites invited?  It probably had to do with what we looked at last week.  The Ephraimites already thought they were the best, and if they had been a part of the initial raid the big-headed Ephraimites would have, no doubt, hogged the glory instead of giving the glory to God, so God told Gideon to leave the Ephraimites off the list.

            And I love what comes next.  I love how Gideon handles the heated criticism.  And maybe, one hundred years later, the author of Proverbs had Gideon’s response to the Ephraimites in mind when he penned Proverbs 15:1.  The proverb?  “A soft answer turns away wrath.”

            Note how graciously Gideon handles the hot-under-the-collar Ephraimites.  Instead of defending himself, he says ...


            “What have I done now in comparison with you?  Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abiezer?  God has given into your hands the captains of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb; what have I been able to do in comparison with you?”  When he said this, their anger against him subsided.


            Instead of defending himself, he massaged their delicate egos.  He downplayed what he had done and overplayed what the Ephraimites had done.            What a wonderful response!  Gideon sacrificed personal pride for the unity of Israel.  In a modern day culture where we are encouraged to look out for number one, Gideon instead looks out for the welfare of the country. 

            Reflecting on this story, I want to make two observations.  Observation number one:  God’s people are a mixed bag.

            Lloyd Ogilvie, a former Presbyterian pastor and former Chaplain of the United States Senate, has written a wonderful devotional book.  I go back to this book again and again.  It’s titled God’s Best for My Life, and one of his devotions flows out of this story of Gideon and the Ephraimites.  Listen to what he has to say.


            Amazing!  After the worst battle was over, Gideon gave the armies of Ephraim an opportunity to be a part of the mopping up action of completely defeating Midian.  They were given the chance of sharing the victory and glory.  How grateful they should have been!  But not so.  They complained and we are left to wonder what does it take to satisfy some people.

            Ever have the problem - we do our best and we try to be considerate of others, but something is still wrong?  The Ephraimites were not unaware of Gideon’s battle against Midian.  Why did they want to be called?


            Then Ogilvie concludes with this little zinger.


            My experience of human nature wants to read into this account, but true or not, it would be consistent with people throughout the ages who can’t take the heat of battle and find some reasons for complaining when the victory is secure.


            What bothers me the most here is these are God’s people acting like this.  The Ephraimites weren’t pagans.  They were card-carrying Israelis.  They were the people of God. 

            The British playwright, Dorothy Sayers, once said that “God went through three great humiliations in God’s pursuit of humanity.”  The first was the Incarnation, when Jesus took on human flesh and became like us.  The second was the Cross, where he died a shameful and painful death.  And the third, she said, was the church, “when God entrusted his reputation to ordinary — sometimes very ordinary — people.”

            I hate to say it but for all the great things we do in God’s name as God’s people, sometimes we outright give God a bad name.  Sometimes our attitudes and actions stink to high heaven.   When we became petty.  When we do not treat people with respect.  When we forget the poor.  When we hold grudges.  When we insist on our way or the highway.

            Yes, the church is filled with some great people.  And some not so great people.  We, as the church, are a mixed bag.  I wish that were not the case, but it is.  We sometimes act like modern day Ephraimites.

            The other observation I want to make is this:  Criticism often nips at the heals of obedience.

            Anyone here like to be criticized?  We may like to criticize, but do we like to be criticized?  I don’t, but the truth is, and we see it here in our passage, criticism is one of the ways we measure if we are in line with God. 

            Now, don’t misunderstand me.  I am not saying we should not listen to our critics.  I agree with the statement, “If one person calls you a donkey pay him or her no mind, but if two people call you a donkey, get a saddle.”  We need to evaluate criticism to see if it’s valid or invalid, and our text today makes it clear that some criticism is unwarranted and comes purely from obedience on our part.

            Take note.  Gideon had done exactly what God had asked him to do, which resulted in his getting reamed by the Ephraimites.  Of course, Gideon is not the only biblical example of this.  Jesus offended so many folk they nailed him to a cross and the Apostle Paul, well just read through his letters and not how much energy he expends answering his critics.

            And, once again, note who Gideon’s critics happened to be.  I find this very curious, very disappointing, and very consistent with the Scriptures.  It was other saints, other believers who had it in for Gideon, just as it was the the leadership of Judaism who pushed for Jesus’ execution, and it was other Christians who wanted the Apostle Paul defrocked at the Jerusalem Council.

            Now, here’s where the rubber meets the road.  The more obedient we become to Jesus Christ the more some of you are going to get ticked off.  The more obedient we become to Jesus Christ the more we will have a few angry, dissatisfied members.  I hope that doesn’t shock you.  We often think of a church on the move for Jesus as a wonderful abode of sweetness and light where everything is rainbows and roses.  Not so.  If the church is a mixed bag - which it is - and if there is no such thing as a perfect church - which there isn’t this side of heaven - then the more a church does what is right in God’s eyes, the more obedient it becomes, the more the modern day Ephramites in its midst will come out of the closet. 

            Hopefully, we won’t be counted among them ... but you never know.