Late Night Musings – Obedient Gideon?
What if we knew when the defining episodes of our lives would come upon us? Would we be ready? Would we respond more faithfully?
The three episodes that define Gideon’s life show us that it isn’t foreknowledge, but trusting God (fear of the Lord, in the Hebrew Scriptures), that prepares us to succeed in times of crisis. Let’s glance at the life of Gideon and see what made him an obedient servant – and what made him “a proverb and a byword.”
Gideon is the fourth judge and the second great hero of the book of Judges. Othniel comes into wealth through his wife’s charm, and rescues Israel through the power of the Lord. Ehud uses his own cunning to defeat the enemies of Israel. Deborah, the first great judge (and only judge presented without fault by the writer), speaks the word of the Lord to Barak, and together they defeat Sisera the Canaanite general.
Gideon, the second great judge, is called to deliver Israel by the Angel of the Lord! Of course, this happens while he is hiding in a winepress threshing grain by hand so the Midianites won’t see him and steal it. After hearing the call of God – and having a Moses moment of self-doubt – Gideon risks his life incurring the wrath of the locals by tearing down their altar to Baal. (chapter 6)
Later, Gideon hears the word of the Lord again, and this time leads 300 of God’s people against thousands of Midianites, trusting God’s promise to deliver victory. At one point, Gideon is alone in the midst of the enemy camp when he hears a Midianite relate a dream where all the Midianite soldiers would be given over to the God of the Israelites. When Gideon hears this, he stops immediately and worships God! (chapter 7)
But like almost all the stories of the judges (Deborah and Samuel personally excluded, although even within their stories we find selfish and weak leaders like Barak and Saul), this one does not end well. God uses the vessels he has, and he gives them many opportunities to grow and participate in his mission. But the story is about HIM. It is his glory – his love – his world. In the story of his calling, Gideon’s weakness manifests as nagging questioning and doubt of the Lord. Later, he fulfills the Lord’s ominous warning (7:2) and claims part of the glory for God’s victory over the Midianites. Remember, that’s the story where Israel had too many soldiers, so God devised some kooky ways to whittle down their numbers until they had only 300. Surely 300 soldiers would never boast that they conquered such a host as the assembled armies of Midian and Amalek! But there’s Gideon (and his soldiers later) with their slogan, “For the Lord and for Gideon!”
As the story nears its conclusion (chapter 8), we find Gideon cruelly abusing the people of Succoth for having the same timidity he exhibited in chapter 6. Perhaps out of fear, the people call upon Gideon to set up a dynasty and rule over them. While he speaks well (8:23), we have another Exodus flashback as this time he imitates Aaron by calling for the people’s gold to craft an idol. Gideon’s legacy plays itself out in chapter 9, where his son Abimelech (“my father king”) slaughters his kinfolk and in the end, Gideon’s own family ends up being worse than the Midianites.
Gideon’s narrative is also a hinge point in the book of Judges. In the Othniel narrative, when the Spirit of the Lord comes, Othniel springs into action! In the Gideon story, the Spirit is met with doubt (6:34-40). In the language of Matthew 21, Gideon seems like the son who said no to his father, but later repented and obeyed. By the end of Judges, the Spirit of the Lord will have no effect on Samson’s obedience to God. Also, Gideon is the last judge to provide rest for Israel. But with the other successful judges, the rest they provide through the power of God is their legacy. Not so Gideon. His legacy of self-assertion and vengeance leaves his own family as much of a burden on his people as the Midianites ever were.
What lessons does the narrator want the people of God to learn from Gideon’s life? Maybe that
- God Himself is all we need in order to be able to do what pleases Him
- Ignoring God, or treating Him shamefully, has dire consequences
- Idolatry and self-assertion are never part of God’s will
What else do you find meaningful from the Gideon story?