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The End of Gideon

May 5, 2024 Preacher: Kevin Godin Series: Judges (Broken People, Unbroken Promises)

Scripture: Judges 8:22–35

Sermon Transcript:

We saw last week that although Gideon is a hero of the faith, he is a hero with significant flaws. That is the case in some way or another with every redeemed sinner but the story of Judges is a story of decline. As we progress through the book the light, though it never goes out, gets dimmer. We see this pattern also in the life of Gideon himself. He began quiet and humble and the more success he had the more outlandish his behavior became. He is like the Dennis Rodman of Judges. 

 

This morning we will take a look at the end of Gideon and the main lesson for us is that we are called not only to proclaim God's word, but to live by it. We all need that reminder and encouragement. Having been led into the truth, we are to walk in the truth. We are called not only to proclaim God's word, but to live by it.

 

Last week, we left off after Gideon killed two captured kings of Midian who had oppressed the people and killed his brothers. This morning we pick up in verse 22 which says,

22 Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also, for you have saved us from the hand of Midian.”

Before the battle several of the towns wouldn’t support him but now that he is victorious the people of Israel offer him the crown. This is significant both for the story of the book of Judges and the overall story of the Bible. Remember, the theme of Judges is that there was no king in Israel and the entire book is setting the stage for God establishing the throne of David a few generations later which leads to the Messiah. 

Gideon is so powerful and influential that he is one of the few people that could potentially unite the various tribes. After defeating Midian his popularity is so high the people volunteer to submit to Gideon as king and establish his house as a hereditary monarchy. But Gideon refuses. Verse 23, 

23 Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you.” 

Here is another great victory for Gideon. He refuses the crown, rebukes them for their intentions, and points them to the Lord. God has not chosen Gideon to be king and Gideon is faithful in refusing the honor. The impulse to make Gideon a king did not come from obedience to God. Israel was not to be like other nations, she was not to trust in the strength of men. This is a temptation to be like the world and put their trust in political leaders rather than in God.

A few generations later when the pressure to appoint a king becomes even greater God says the following about what a desire for a king meant in 1 Samuel 10:18–19,

 

18 … “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I brought up Israel out of Egypt, and I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all the kingdoms that were oppressing you.’ 19 But today you have rejected your God, who saves you from all your calamities and your distresses, and you have said to him, ‘Set a king over us.’ …”

Gideon understands that it was sinful to elevate a man in the place of God, to put their confidence in a king and earthly power rather than God. He rightfully refuses the crown and gives the glory to God. They should not seek any man to lead them, but trust in God. Gideon has good theology here and he tells them the truth. He speaks well.

“I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you.” 

Gideon proclaims the word of God and it appears that Israel at last may have a man with a heart for the glory of God to lead them but the truth is a bit more complicated. As we have seen, Gideon is a hero of the faith, but he is a deeply flawed hero.

Gideon does well in speaking the truth to the people. He knows the truth and speaks the truth but he is far less consistent in living it. Brothers and sisters, do you know anything about that? Do you ever struggle to make your practice as good as your theology? I know I do. As New Testament believers, we have the indwelling blessing of the Holy Spirit and yet we also stumble in many ways.

That is why we need to frequently come together to point each other to the word. Did you ever notice how you have certain kinds of conversations with certain friends? With some people you always end up talking about sports, with others maybe it is family or some other common interest. Brothers and sisters find yourselves friends whose conversations will lead you always to the truth of the word and the love of Christ and even more, be that friend for someone. 

Gideon reminds us we need constant encouragement to live what we learn. It is an ever present danger in the Christian life that we speak words of truth but act fleshly. We often experience the power of the Spirit yet lack His wisdom. Knowledge is not the goal, it is a means of equipping us and transforming us. I like the way puritan Thomas Watson says it,

“Some bless themselves that they have a stock of knowledge, but what is knowledge good for without repentance? It is better to mortify [put to death] one sin than to understand all mysteries.”

Gideon had a proper understanding of the truth that we should be led by God and trust him and his word to guide us. Sadly, his love for that truth and desire to live according to it was not as strong as his words suggested.

What did it mean that God would rule over them? That meant that they would follow the word of God. They would follow what God revealed to them and trust God to guide them and protect them. There were 3 ways this was done in those days. Number 1, the first books of the Bible were already written. Moses had given them the law. The ignorance of God and his word throughout this book reflects a decline in the heart of the people for the word. The seeds of everything we have in our Bible were already there in the first 5 books Moses gave them.

Second, there were prophets God would send to proclaim his word and to be guardians of the covenant, reminding and instructing the people of God’s promises and warning them about actions that would bring judgment.

Finally, there were priests who studied the word and who could be consulted on what should be done. The priests also had special stones called Urim and Thummim that they could use to determine God’s will in various matters. Remember, at this time the Holy Spirit did not permanently indwell the people. The Bible doesn’t tell us many details about these stones or how they were used, but they were kept in the breastplate of the high priest, who at this time was probably in Bethel, about 11 miles north of Jerusalem.

Later all these are coordinated with and connected to the kings of Israel. At some point, God would provide a king and in Deuteronomy 17:18-20 kings are required to write out their own copy of the law by hand and to read it every day so they may rule according to it. Prophets and priests often advised the kings and accompanied them. To refuse the crown is to refuse to put yourself in the center of God’s ruling over the people, but this isn’t what Gideon does. Verse 24,

24 And Gideon said to them, “Let me make a request of you: every one of you give me the earrings from his spoil.” (For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.) 25 And they answered, “We will willingly give them.” And they spread a cloak, and every man threw in it the earrings of his spoil. 26 And the weight of the golden earrings that he requested was 1,700 shekels of gold, besides the crescent ornaments and the pendants and the purple garments worn by the kings of Midian, and besides the collars that were around the necks of their camels. 27 And Gideon made an ephod of it and put it in his city, in Ophrah. And all Israel whored after it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family.

Gideon collects all the gold that was captured in the battle and together it is 1700 shekels, which is around 43 pounds of gold. He adds that with several other trophies and he makes an ephod. An ephod is a garment that includes a front and back breastplate and is used for divination, to determine God’s will. The most famous ephod is one I alluded to earlier that was worn by the High Priest of Israel. It was made from fine linen and embroidered with gold, blue, purple, and scarlet yarns. It was adorned with precious stones set in gold and engraved with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. It was used to carry the Urim and Thummim. This ephod was a distinctive part of the attire for the high priest and symbolized his role as a mediator between God and the people.

Gideon says he doesn’t want to be king but then he elevates himself or at least his house to a position only the King of Kings would hold. We will see the disastrous effects of this temptation for kings to also want to be priests several more times in the Bible. This is actually what will cost the first king, Saul, his crown. The keys to the kingdom and the authority to mediate the revelation of God is given only to the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the only man who God calls to serve as prophet, priest, and king.

Every other king is to be in submission to the spiritual authorities God has established and those who exercise spiritual authority are under the magisterial authority of the political leaders God has established. Both have their own sphere of influence and none but Christ has been given authority both in this world and the one to come. The two realms should be in harmony but it is not from God when one usurps the other. The headlines of the past couple months prove again that the hearts of sinful men have not changed and the eternal word of God is just as relevant today as it was in the time of the judges.

Gideon says, let God rule over you, but he is apparently not content to hear what God says in his word and through his prophets and priests, he wants his own direct line. This theme could also be pulled from the headlines in our own day. There are so many people who want to hear from God. They proclaim they want to be led by God but then they disregard what God has plainly said to them about how he will lead them. They say they want to serve God but then insist on serving him their way instead of how he calls them to serve. They don’t want to submit patiently to the teaching of the word, they want their own direct line. 

They want revelation and instruction and this makes them gullible because it opens them up to those who claim to have an inside track. False teachers will say they want people to be led by God but they always ensure the pathway to God goes through them. In Gideon’s time the revelation scripture was not yet complete and the Spirit had not yet been poured out as a gift of the new covenant but we have the Spirt and the fullness of the promises. We have a completed Bible and the gift of the Holy Spirit, enabling us to understand, believe, and obey the perfect, complete revelation of the will of God. If you want to know the will of God, it is the purpose of every preacher and minister to point you to his holy, infallible, and inerrant word. Whatever gifts I may have as a preacher and teacher are God’s gifts to you, but you are not dependent upon me. Anytime I tell you that God has said something, you can and should look it up for yourself.

Seeking some kind of angle or quick shortcut that detours you around prayerful meditation upon God’s word will lead you astray and put you in danger. We have all we need in Scripture. Listen to what God himself says about the sufficiency of his word. The word of God is life (Philippians 2:16), it is truth (John 17:17), it is power (1 Corinthians 1:18). It is through the word that God creates believers (1 Peter 1:23), it is the word that sustains us (Deuteronomy 8:3), the word renews and transforms us (Romans 12:2), and it is the word that defends us (Ephesians 6:17).

I am not denying that God gives us experiences or even illumination and insight. He often does, but as theologian J.I. Packer once wrote,

“If private revelations agree with Scripture, they are not needed, and if they disagree, they are false." 

Do not be impressed with preachers and teachers that claim to have some inside track that is not available to you and all believers through study and prayer. There is a spiritual cancer at work in the church today. Churches are being infiltrated by con men who deceive souls for personal gain. Some of the most popular so-called ministries are poison packaged as medicine. The New Apostolic Reformation, the Word of Faith Movement, and so-called ministries like Bethel are dangerous snares for the people of God. 

We don’t need new teaching, we need men and women who, like Jude, will contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 4). We need the God-given conviction that the apostle Paul had and shared with young preacher in 2 Timothy 1:12–13 when he said, 

12 … I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me. 13 Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

If you are thirsting for more growth and more strength. If there is a desire burning in you to know God better and to understand his will for you, come to the Bible studies, come to the prayer meetings. Find a brother or sister here who can meet with you and help you learn the word, because revelation and salvation are found in Jesus Christ, and it is the scriptures that speak of him. That is where you will meet him.

So Gideon speaks the truth but then in his actions he heads down a dangerous path that leads to disaster. The text says, 

And Gideon made an ephod of it and put it in his city, in Ophrah. And all Israel whored after it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family.

The good theology Gideon had and whatever intentions he had for serving God and encouraging others to do so, his lack of putting that understanding into practice led to disaster for him and others. He properly refused the crown, but like the Canaanite kings, he made himself a representative of God, or at least one who mediates God’s will to the people. The sin in his heart that drew him to do it his way, even while acknowledging the truth, is like a tiny flame that eventually engulfs all Israel. The fight for freedom from Midian was successful, but the fight against idolatry was not. Verse 28 continues,

 28 So Midian was subdued before the people of Israel, and they raised their heads no more. And the land had rest forty years in the days of Gideon. 29 Jerubbaal the son of Joash went and lived in his own house. 30 Now Gideon had seventy sons, his own offspring, for he had many wives. 

The narrator tells us that the success of Gideon in overthrowing the Midianites was so great that the land had rest for 40 years. There was peace during the days of Gideon, the surrounding nations did not dare attack while he was still alive and he was able to go home and live in his own house. I believe this is the last reference in the book of judges to the land having rest. God greatly blesses Gideon’s faith.

Verse 30 tells us that he had seventy sons and many wives. Again, we see these small glimpses of the ambition of Gideon despite his faithful testimony. It wasn’t uncommon at this time for a man to have more than one wife but Gideon has many wives, enough to produce seventy sons and who knows how many daughters. Gideon refuses the crown, but like the Canaanite kings around him, he establishes a harem.

31 And his concubine who was in Shechem also bore him a son, and he called his name Abimelech. 32 And Gideon the son of Joash died in a good old age and was buried in the tomb of Joash his father, at Ophrah of the Abiezrites. 

Gideon finally dies as an old man and is buried in the tomb of his father. This is an indication of the peace in the land. But before we read about his death we are introduced to one of his seventy sons. Abimelech will be important in the next chapter but there is more going on here than simply introducing the next main character. When the people approach Gideon to be king he rebukes them. He doesn’t want the title king, but we have seen him continuing to act in ways that indicate that although he knows the right answer is that God is the king, he enjoys his newfound power and influence and isn’t looking to give it up. He may not be called the king, but he wants to act like one.

Remember last week we saw Gideon demanding the kind of loyalty and obedience a king would demand. He pressures his son to prove himself worthy as a kind of successor. In verses 24 through 27 he introduces religious innovations that increases his importance as a representative of God. Then in verse 30 we learn that he has a sizable harem. That brings us to Abimelech. The verse makes it clear that Gideon chose the name of this child. It says 

and he called his name Abimelech.

The Hebrew word for king is malak. Abi-malak means “my father is the king”. Furthermore, we will see in the next chapter that the assumption was that rule would pass from Gideon to his sons. Gideon refuses the crown but in the end he pursues the influence of a king, enjoys the pleasures of a king, and seeks the glory and legacy of a king.

He is such an interesting figure because in him we see flashes of bold faith and deeply troubling weaknesses. He acknowledges Yahweh but often shows a profound lack of godly wisdom or discipline. We should see in Gideon both a warning and hope. It is a warning because God is holy, Christ is coming soon, and we who live in the last days have more light than our Old Testament brothers and sisters. But it should also give us hope because we see in these examples the patience of God and his hand moving all of history toward the salvation he provides in our lord Jesus Christ.

Listen to how the apostle Paul talks about the honesty of the Old Testament in recording the failures of those in the past in 1 Corinthians 10:11-13,

11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 

We are instructed and warned by Gideon and the other Old Testament records of sin, judgment, and failure. These truths help us to recognize that apart from grace we are just like them and so we need the grace of God. We need him to work in our heart to give us both the knowledge and the power to persevere in faith. These truths also help us to realize that God is a patient, merciful, and forgiving God. That he can be trusted even when we do not understand everything he is doing. That when he is with us, we can endure in the hope of salvation. That is why Paul in Romans 15:4 says of books like Judges,

4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

Gideon should give us hope. In him we see an arrow pointing us to the hope that can only be found in God. That hope is found in Jesus. Jesus is the King in whom there is no sin, no weakness, no stumbling. Gideon wasn’t a king but wanted to live like one, Jesus is the king of heaven and yet gave up all the glory of heaven to come as a man and do what you and I could not and would not do. The mighty God and king of the universe came into the world naked and weak so you and I could inherit heaven and receive robes of righteousness.

He became like us, so that we could be made like him. Every one of us was born a sinner. The same seeds of selfishness and pride we see in Gideon at his worst are found in our hearts as well. But we have received a grace that Gideon could only wish for. God has sent his own son into the world to die for the sins of anyone who will repent and put their faith in him alone as their savior and righteousness before God. Jesus died as a substitute. He died in the place of every believer, so that he receives the penalty for our sinful life and we receive the reward for his perfect life.

He was abused and tortured and killed. The wrath of God against sin was poured out on him so that it need not be poured out on you. Every sin cast upon him in faith was removed and blotted out by his blood. He paid it all. Every drop, every ounce, so that no matter what you have done or failed to do, he is ready to receive you into his arms and bring you clean and pure to the father. He promises that if you come by faith, he will not reject you. If we have sinned greatly like Peter, then let us also with Peter repent greatly and cling to Jesus. 

He died to pay the price for the sins and purchase new life for all who will ever put their faith in him and after three days, he rose again proving that the Father had accepted the sacrifice. If you receive him by faith, there is nothing that can separate you from his love, not even death.

I hear preachers tell you to give your life to Christ. No. If you put your faith in Jesus, then he has nailed your sinful, wretched, worthless old life to the cross. It is buried and dead and he offers you new life, his own life, paid for with his own precious blood. 

God worked through Gideon, with all his flaws, to deliver Israel from the oppression of Midian and give them rest for 40 years. Through Jesus, who has no flaws, he has delivered us from the oppression of Satan, and gives us rest for all of eternity. He calls us not only to proclaim this truth, but to live it. We cannot serve the King if we are trying to be the king. 

If we give up our glory and trust Jesus, we will gain the glory of heaven. If we pursue our own, we end up with ashes. Trust in God’s word and it will lead to life, trust in ourselves and it leads to death. That is not only a message for conversion, it is a truth that we need to live by every day as believers. In the last few verses we have the end of the Gideon narrative.

33 As soon as Gideon died, the people of Israel turned again and whored after the Baals and made Baal-berith their god. 34 And the people of Israel did not remember the Lord their God, who had delivered them from the hand of all their enemies on every side, 35 and they did not show steadfast love to the family of Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) in return for all the good that he had done to Israel. 

When Gideon dies, the people return to their idolatrous ways. The cycle begins again. That is a sad end to the story, but the story isn’t over because God will continue to unfold his ancient promise and protect the faithful until the perfect deliverer arrives. Gideon dies and the people are lost but Jesus is an eternal prophet, priest, and king. Hebrews 7:25 says of Jesus,

25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

 

 

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