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Gideon & The Tower

April 28, 2024 Preacher: Kevin Godin Series: Judges (Broken People, Unbroken Promises)

Scripture: Judges 8:1–21

Sermon Transcript:

I am thankful to pastor Chris for his message last week. I was able to listen to it while I was traveling and was encouraged by it. In chapter 7 Gideon is an example of bold faithfulness.

But as we get into chapter 8, we will see that despite his bold faithfulness in chapter 7, Gideon is not without significant flaws. Gideon’s story began with him hiding by a winepress, but because God has worked through him he has gained a reputation as a great warrior.

 

As we work our way through this passage today we are going to see something in Gideon that is a temptation we all must be on guard against. Gideon is a great warrior, but only by the grace of God. Rather than recognize himself as a humble servant he begins to think the gifts he has been given and the influence he has been given are his, rather than blessings to be used to glorify God. This sets him on a path that will eventually lead to ruin for the people.

 

To become proud of the blessings and circumstances that God has given to each of us as though they are ours or we have a right to them leads to ruin. Another way to say it is that everything we are and everything we have, even the circumstances and experiences of our lives, are there to be used to display the glory of God. When we place “self” where God should be or pursue our glory rather than his, we hurt both ourselves and eventually those around us.

 

Brothers and sisters we stumble in this constantly even as believers. God’s people often fail in this and the leaders of God’s people often fail in this. In fact, it is a particularly strong and dangerous temptation for those who are leaders or have been given many gifts. Lucifer was of the rank of the highest angels, king Saul was the most impressive man in Israel, and Judas, who betrayed Jesus, was the treasurer-one of the most trusted apostles. Pride is the match that lights the fire of hell.

 

This morning I hope you see the destructive power of pride in the people and in Gideon, but also be reminded that our ultimate hope and salvation rest not in the strength or righteousness of fallen people, including ourselves, but in the unwavering grace and love of God in Jesus Christ. Chapter 8 begins near the end of the major victory we read about in chapter 7. Midian is retreating from the 300 and Gideon calls in reinforcements to cut off the retreat and seal their defeat. Then we read in verse 1,

 

1 Then the men of Ephraim said to him, “What is this that you have done to us, not to call us when you went to fight against Midian?” And they accused him fiercely.

Can you believe this? After 7 years of brutal oppression, oppressors you couldn’t shake, Gideon has the enemy on the ropes and you are upset you aren’t going to get credit? There are some people, if you give them a bag of gold, they'll complain it's too heavy. Gideon has risked his life by faith to rescue them but they didn’t get enough glory. They weren’t made to feel important enough. It says they accused him fiercely. Not just, “would have been cool to be there”, they’re mad.

 

God’s people are sometimes very difficult to deal with. Pride, immaturity, and the pursuit of self-glory are particularly stubborn when found in someone who has convinced themselves they are on God’s side. That is why so many people get hurt in churches. There are many people in church every Sunday who are not actually believers and all the true believers there are sinners who at some point or another are very likely to disappoint you or say or do something thoughtless. Ironically, that is why we need each other and why we need the word to teach us how to love each other.

 

The best of saints are not perfect and many people who say they are Christians are not. Do not let the sins of others keep you from heaven. Jesus didn’t say follow them, he said follow me. Ephraim were upset because they wanted glory. In response Gideon says,

2 And he said to them, “What have I done now in comparison with you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the grape harvest of Abiezer? 3 God has given into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. What have I been able to do in comparison with you?” Then their anger against him subsided when he said this.

Gideon isn’t just a soldier, he can be a smooth politician as well. He appeals to their pride and flatters them. He reminds them God has given them the princess Oreb and Zeeb. It was they who captured the leaders, which he says is where the real glory is. This works, their anger subsides but in this we see a glimpse of Gideon’s character that is a red flag.

 

It is not inherently sinful to be diplomatic. Proverbs 15 says “a soft answer turns away wrath” and that is what happens here but it is what Gideon doesn’t say that is interesting. His speech is smooth and soothing but he never mentions God’s promise or his divine call. In fact, the word he uses for God in verse 3 is the generic word for God rather than the personal name Yahweh.

 

Rather than share God’s truth, he appeals to their flesh. This is a temptation for gifted leaders and effective communicators. They know how to use words to move people so it is a temptation for them to rely on their skillful words rather than the Spirit of God. This happens all the time in ministry. Churches hire the best communicator or a charismatic leader rather than the man who seeks to plainly and simply share what God says and trust him for the results.

 

What works in the short term is not always what is best but Gideon calms down the Ephraimites by appealing to their pride and continues his pursuit of the enemy. Then verse 4 says,

4 And Gideon came to the Jordan and crossed over, he and the 300 men who were with him, exhausted yet pursuing. 5 So he said to the men of Succoth, “Please give loaves of bread to the people who follow me, for they are exhausted, and I am pursuing after Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian.” 6 And the officials of Succoth said, “Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna already in your hand, that we should give bread to your army?”

His men are pressing the enemy in retreat and have the opportunity to secure a lasting victory but they are exhausted. Napoleon once said that an army marches on its stomach. It doesn’t do you any good to catch up to the enemy if you don’t have the strength to fight so they ask for provisions. Often armies do not ask, they pillage, but being brothers, Gideon asks Succoth and rightfully expects their aid. But yet again, we see another disappointing response from God’s people. They put safety before faithfulness.

 

This is a constant temptation that robs the church of strength. Rather than trust God’s word and have confidence in his promises, we put safety and comfort before our willingness to trust God. Rather than reach out in compassion to the homeless and broken we cross the street or lock our doors until we know it is safe. We are more quick to call the police than pray for them when someone comes into our spaces that makes us uncomfortable.

 

Political and economic issues eclipse the teaching of Christ in our churches because we find more satisfaction and safety in our political freedom and economic prosperity than we do in the promises of God. We are happy to talk about loving our neighbor and following Christ so long as it doesn’t have too much of an impact on our jobs, homes, and bank accounts.

 

Succoth wasn’t taking any chances. Their faith was weak, they weren’t sure how this was all going to turn out so they refused to give their resources. Gideon spoke smoothly to Ephraim, but he responds to Succoth with brutality.

 

7 So Gideon said, “Well then, when the Lord has given Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, I will flail your flesh with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers.”

He will treat them not as brothers, but as those who have been conquered. They are worried about their self-interest rather than God’s glory. Until they know the outcome, they will not give their support. This shows how brutal the oppression of Midian was that they would prefer subjugation than risk it. The next town is the same, and again he responds with power and brutality rather than sharing God’s promise and encouraging them.

8 And from there he went up to Penuel, and spoke to them in the same way, and the men of Penuel answered him as the men of Succoth had answered. 9 And he said to the men of Penuel, “When I come again in peace, I will break down this tower.”

We see disappointing responses in all this from both the people and from Gideon. The people are afraid and hesitant but there is also no record of Gideon sharing with them how he came to be there and of the promise God had made. He does nothing to help them see that the 300 putting the enemy to flight was not the result of his great generalship, but of God’s power. In his pride, he does not point them to God, and in their fear, they refuse to use their resources for the glory of God.

 

Despite the failings of the people and the leaders God gives Gideon victory. Verses 10-12 say,

 

10 Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor with their army, about 15,000 men, all who were left of all the army of the people of the East, for there had fallen 120,000 men who drew the sword. 11 And Gideon went up by the way of the tent dwellers east of Nobah and Jogbehah and attacked the army, for the army felt secure. 12 And Zebah and Zalmunna fled, and he pursued them and captured the two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, and he threw all the army into a panic.

As God had promised him back under the tree near the winepress, Gideon has shattered the power of the oppressors. The name Gideon means to hack or cut to pieces. He chopped down the idol to baal, he has cut Israel’s enemies to pieces, and sadly now instead of hacking the enemy, he will hack his own countrymen. Just as he threatened, after his victory Gideon returns to these towns and exacts ruthless revenge for failing to support him.

13 Then Gideon the son of Joash returned from the battle by the ascent of Heres. 14 And he captured a young man of Succoth and questioned him. And he wrote down for him the officials and elders of Succoth, seventy-seven men. 15 And he came to the men of Succoth and said, “Behold Zebah and Zalmunna, about whom you taunted me, saying, ‘Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna already in your hand, that we should give bread to your men who are exhausted?’ ” 16 And he took the elders of the city, and he took thorns of the wilderness and briers and with them taught the men of Succoth a lesson. 17 And he broke down the tower of Penuel and killed the men of the city.

He gathers the names of all the leaders of Succoth and publicly whips them. He is making an example of them. Then he goes to the next town, Penuel and goes even further. He kills everyone. Rather than acting as a god-empowered liberator, his wrath is greater than the Canaanite oppressor. He doesn’t just set an example, he comes with full judgment. Gideon punishes disloyalty but we never see him explain his divine calling as a reason to demand allegiance from the people.

 

When God calls Gideon he needed three signs before he would go, but he demands his brothers respond immediately to his call. Are we not often like this? We expect others to immediately respond with faith that it took years for God to build in us. Those of us who put so much emphasis on the grace we have been shown should be the first to show grace to others.

 

By grace, God has raised up Gideon and rather than this grace flowing from him, he is setting himself up to be a king to whom unquestioned allegiance is owed. Remember, Gideon is a smooth politician. He isn’t going to say he is a king, but his actions show he has begun to think of himself in this way. He has gone from hiding in the shadows out of fear to a desire to display his own glory. We actually saw a glimpse of this as far back as Judges 7:18. After worshiping God, Gideon says,

 

18 When I blow the trumpet, I and all who are with me, then blow the trumpets also on every side of all the camp and shout, ‘For the Lord and for Gideon.’”

 

For the Lord AND for Gideon? Our deceitful hearts are very good at dressing up our personal agendas in the clothes of God’s work. The “for Gideon” part is what leads to the problems we see here in chapter 8. God blesses the work for his glory and Gideon sees that as confirmation of his own greatness. We can shake our head at Gideon but we must be constantly on guard against this same error in our own lives.

 

Do I prepare and preach because I love your souls or because I love your recognition? What about you? Are you passionate about your ministry because of a love for God and others or is it that you are not quite satisfied with Jesus so you desire the approval of others? There is no poison more deadly to a believer than the praise of others. No man when he does a job expects to be paid twice. You cannot receive a reward from the world and expect another one from God.

 

We all need encouragement, but we must be careful we don’t convince ourselves that feeding our own desire for importance is God’s work. I have seen brothers and sisters leave faithful churches because they couldn’t serve in the way they wanted to do it or in the role they wanted. It wasn’t for the Lord, it was for the Lord… and for. I have seen men I respected become so addicted to the power and influence of success that, like Gideon, the lines were no longer drawn around the gospel, but around personal allegiance to them and their glory.

 

This is why we value the New Testament pattern of having multiple elders, who truly exercise shepherding oversight and engaged membership where the members are equipped and expected to exercise their God given responsibility for the ministry of the church. You need this protection and I need this protection because Satan prowls around like a lion looking to see who he can devour.

 

Gideon is taking no prisoners. He is fulfilling God’s calling but in doing so he is also seeking to advance his own agenda. In verse 18 we zoom in from Gideon’s dealings with his people to his dealings with the kings he captures.

 

18 Then he said to Zebah and Zalmunna, “Where are the men whom you killed at Tabor?” They answered, “As you are, so were they. Every one of them resembled the son of a king.”

We learn that in addition to ravaging the land the Midianites were murderers. Gideon is asking them the whereabouts of men who they killed. We will see later this refers to a specific incident and is a mocking question because there is no way for them to deliver to Gideon those they have killed.

 

Their response is interesting and significant. First, there is an element of flattery involved. They say that Gideon and the others they killed were like royalty. Every one of them, like you, Gideon was like the son of a king. Impressive men. But there is also an aspect of putting him in his place. Verse 5 says that Zebah and Zalmunna were kings of Midian. Sons of the king, while having royal dignity, were not on the same level as a king. These guys are saying, Gideon, they were just like you. They were impressive… but they were not kings as we are.

 

This is significant because it is the first specific reference to any specific person in relation to Israelite kingship. Remember, the theme of the book of judges is there was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in their own eyes. Perhaps they see this impulse in Gideon and their flattery is dripping with sarcasm.

19 And he said, “They were my brothers, the sons of my mother. As the Lord lives, if you had saved them alive, I would not kill you.”

It turns out the men they killed were his brothers. That may explain why he was so afraid of the Midianites when God first came to him. Gideon tells them he would not have killed them had they not killed his brothers and he strengthens it with an oath, saying “as the Lord lives”. Similar to how today people might say, “as God is my witness.” He is likely saying this for emphasis, as people do today, but it is a form of using the Lord’s name in vain. Again, entangling God’s name with his personal agenda.

 

This revelation about his brothers shifts the emphasis from obedience to God in delivering the people to a personal vendetta in pursuing these kings so fiercely. Whatever his motivation to serve God and free his people might have been in the past, at this point he is simply executing vengeance.

20 So he said to Jether his firstborn, “Rise and kill them!” But the young man did not draw his sword, for he was afraid, because he was still a young man.

Picture this scene. This young man standing there, the captured kings before him and his father pressuring him to do the dirty work. Gideon puts his son in a difficult position. He has an opportunity to prove himself to be a man. We also have a continuation of the kingship theme because Jether is the firstborn. Gideon is acting like a Canaanite king expecting his heir to defend the honor of his house. He can make his father proud or he can disobey and prove himself unworthy and weak.

 

Whatever sympathy we had for Gideon, the supposed hero of the story, has shifted now to his son. The boy cannot bring himself to obey, not because of disloyalty or care for the Midianite kings, but because he was young and afraid. In this we have an echo of how we first met him.

 

21 Then Zebah and Zalmunna said, “Rise yourself and fall upon us, for as the man is, so is his strength.” And Gideon arose and killed Zebah and Zalmunna, and he took the crescent ornaments that were on the necks of their camels.    

When Jether is unable to act, the two kings, still defiant, tell Gideon to prove that he is a man and do it himself. He does. The episode is then brought to a quick end with the image of Gideon claiming the trophies of victory. He takes the crescent ornaments from their camels. These are probably items that designated the riders as royalty. Gideon has vanquished the Midianites. He is living up to his name, the one who cuts to pieces.

 

Gideon is a hero, but not an attractive one. In chapters 6 & 7 we Gideon transform from a fearful man hiding to a bold agent of God, willing to take on the enemy against all odds. But in chapter 8 we find that he is also an impatient and ruthless man. If chapter 8 is all we had we would consider Gideon a monster. In Gideon's we are confronted with a paradox. In Hebrews 11:32 Gideon is listed among the heroes of the faith, yet he is a hero with significant flaws.

 

This points us to the need for another deliverer. Gideon, like the other heroes of the Bible, shows us that only God himself could accomplish a perfect deliverance. The hero of Judges 8 is not ultimately Gideon but Jesus Christ. We have all sinned, we have all rebelled against God and broken his law. Each of us were born enslaved to the passions of the flesh and the fallen mind, oppressed and enslaved by the devil. None of us are strong enough to save ourselves so God sent his son Jesus to be a perfect deliverer.

 

Jesus defeated Satan. He lived a perfect life and then offered himself as a perfect sacrifice for the sins of all who will repent and believe. His death satisfies God’s justice against sin. But he didn’t just die. He rose again to impart life and make intercession for all who trust in him as their savior. The salvation Jesus offers never fails. It is eternal life. At his best, Gideon was a mortal man whose accomplishments would fade. At his worst, Gideon was a sinful man who may have defeated the Midianites, but remained enslaved to his pride. In all these things he points us to Christ.

 

Like Gideon, Jesus is a mighty warrior that fights for his people. Isaiah 42:13 says,

 

13 The Lord goes out like a mighty man, like a man of war he stirs up his zeal; he cries out, he shouts aloud, he shows himself mighty against his foes.      

Colossians 2:15 says of God…

15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Jesus)      

 

But unlike Gideon, His strength is expressed in meekness and patience. Matthew 11:28–29 says,

 

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.         

 

2 Peter 3:9

         

9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.        

While Gideon pursued his personal agenda, Jesus surrendered Himself entirely for the sake of others. Philippians 2:5–8 says,   

 

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  

 

Gideon demanded honor and allegiance. Jesus deserves honor and allegiance and yet humbly served and sacrificed Himself for the salvation of those who were his enemies. Imagine Gideon offering up his son Jether so that Zebah and Zalmunna could be set free and inherit the kingdom? That is what God has done in Jesus for you and I.

 

Gideon reminds us that even the most faithful servants of God are flawed. Even so, God works through them as he does all things, together for his glory and the good of those who love him. Praise God for this truth because it is this that gives us hope. I am confident in his promise that I shall be raised with him in glory because he takes what is broken and makes it beautiful. 1 Corinthians 1:27–31 says,

 

27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

 

Are you weak and flawed? If so, then rejoice and run to Christ because he loves to glorify himself by doing great things in those who will admit they are weak and flawed, sinful and in need of him. Like Peter walking on water, don’t look at your circumstances and doubt, look on Christ and believe. Hebrews 12:1–2 says,   

 

1 … let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.         

 

Brothers and sisters, let’s learn from Gideon’s example, both his triumphs and his failures. Let us place our faith not in our own strength or righteousness but in the grace and power of Jesus who has already won the ultimate victory for us. Let us pray to God that the blessings he has poured out into our lives and talents and gifts he gives to us do not make us proud, but draw us closer to him.

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