Summary: Gideon (Inadvertenly) Makes An Idol
Almost a year has gone by since Tiger Woods admitted sharing a bed with women who were not his wife. Since then he’s lost his marriage, millions of dollars in endorsements, and his golf game has been off. What prompted Tiger to make such a gaffe? Let him tell you in his own words: “I knew my actions were wrong, but I convinced myself that normal rules didn’t apply…I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled.”
“Entitled.” You don’t have to be a superstar to feel that way; you just have to be human. We all think that we are deserving of more money, more respect, and more time to do what we want. The consequences of such an entitlement attitude, however, are devastating – not just to ourselves but to everyone around us. Just ask Tiger. Or ask Gideon. That’s what we’ll do this morning as we contemplate Gideon’s gaffe and find out how God’s warrior inadvertently made an idol.
I just called Gideon “God’s warrior” but do you remember what he was like when we first met him a few sermons ago? Gideon was more of a worrier as he didn’t think he was cut out to lead the Israelites in battle when God called him to do so. It took a few miracles to convince Gideon that God was really with him before he willingly led 300 soldiers against 135,000 Midianites. But once Gideon got going, he was all warrior. He pursued the enemy 300 km (an Edmonton-Calgary distance) until he caught up with the Midianite kings and put them to death himself. Gideon then punished the Israelite towns that had refused to feed his army when they had passed through in pursuit of the enemy. Having witnessed these warrior-like acts, Gideon’s followers wanted to make him king. After all hadn’t he just saved them from the Midianites? Well no, God had saved them. Had the Israelites forgotten how the opening attack took place without a single Israelite soldier holding a sword, spear, or even a knife? They had just made a little noise with their rams’ horns and voices, and shone a little light with their torches and God used that to throw the Midianites into confusion so that 22,000 of the enemy killed each other in a matter of minutes. Still, it must have been a temptation for Gideon to take credit for the victory, but he responded like this to the people’s plea to become their king: “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The LORD will rule over you” (Judges 8:23).
Well said, Gideon! And Gideon and the Israelites lived happily ever after. Amen. Not quite. While Gideon did not want to be called “king” he sure acted like one. Before the Israelites dispersed, Gideon asked his soldiers to give him a share of their spoils – just a gold earring each. Like a king exacting tribute from his subjects, Gideon squeezed this treasure from his fellow countrymen even though he didn’t need it because God had blessed him with plenty of riches of his own as a result of the battle. With the gold, Gideon made an ephod, a breastplate normally worn by the high priest. It’s a curious thing for a soldier to make – like a four-star general today commissioning a gold replica of the gown his pastor wears. While we don’t know why Gideon made this ephod, we do know how he used it. Gideon set it up in his hometown like some sort of headless monument – perhaps to remind the Israelites of how he, God’s chosen warrior, had led them in battle against the Midianites and therefore was deserving of their honor. Even if Gideon’s motivation for making the ephod was innocent, the result was disastrous. The people treated the golden breastplate like some sort of idol, bowing down before it. Our text says that the ephod became a “snare” even to Gideon and his family.
And then there was the issue of all the wives Gideon took. Again he was acting like the kings of his day who thought they were entitled to this “pleasure” because they could afford it. And as if the multiple wives were not enough to satisfy him, Gideon also kept a concubine in a neighboring town. She gave birth to a son whom Gideon named “Abimelech.” Do you know what that name means? “My dad is king.” Sure, Gideon had said the right thing about becoming Israel’s king but his actions betrayed his true thoughts on the matter.
Oh that Gideon the warrior would have remained more of a worrier! Are you surprised to hear me say that after three sermons of chiding Gideon for being too much of a worrier? In the face of his promises God wants us to be bold. But when God blesses bold efforts, which have been motivated by his promises, we should not let the success go to our heads. Anything we accomplish is God’s doing. We are just the tools – and imperfect tools at that – like a computer that freezes up just as you’re about to print off reports for that important meeting, or a saw that snaps in two when you’re trying to trim trees. Had the following words of Solomon already been written in Gideon’s day he should have held on to them with all his might: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10a). No, God doesn’t want us to be afraid of him - that is unless we reject his word. He wants us to respect him and to acknowledge that without him we are nothing and can accomplish nothing. That’s what I meant when I said that Gideon the warrior should have remained a bit of a worrier who maintained a healthy respect for God’s honor.