Gideon: Lessons From a Reluctant Warrior

Posted on November 2, 2017

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By David Ettinger

The fascinating Biblical account of Gideon is found in Judges Chapters 6 through 8.

gideonThe story of Gideon is full of great lessons. One is God’s choosing of “lesser” people to serve him. According to Gideon, his clan, or family line – the Abiezrites – was the weakest in the tribe of Manasseh, and Gideon himself was “the least” in his family.[1] Gideon not only accurately identified his standing in Israel, but also displayed his humble attitude. Though Gideon was lowly and obscure, God saw potential in him. God would not only choose him to lead Israel’s army against the dreaded Midianites, but would enable him to win a great victory.

This – the appointing of a modest, lowly person to do his work – is the Lord’s pattern. We see it in his selection of Saul as Israel’s first king. Saul – at least when he was young – was so shy and unassuming that on the day he was to officially be made king, he could not be found. Instead, he had “hidden himself among the supplies” (1 Samuel 10:22). Just the kind of humility God was looking for! (Unfortunately, it didn’t last.) When God rejected Saul as monarch and sought a new one, he chose an unlikely man. David was the youngest of the eight sons of Jesse[2] – the runt of the litter – and a lowly shepherd. But David had something his physically more impressive brothers did not have: he was a man “after [God’s] own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14).

Gideon, though living before the time of Saul and David, met the same requirements as Israel’s first two kings: he was humble, obscure, and willing to serve. Because of this, God used him to do great things.

Following the victory, the people of Israel asked Gideon to rule over them. Gideon refused, his reply humble, insightful, and admirable: “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The LORD will rule over you” (Judges 8:23). Commendable indeed. If only Gideon had left it there.

But he didn’t, and this is where Gideon’s life took a spiritual turn for the worse, and gives us our second lesson: beware of pride following spiritual “success.” Instead of dismissing the people to their homes following his commendable response, he asked each of them to ephodgive him an earring from the plunder.[3] They did, the melted gold weighing 43 pounds. Then we read this ominous verse: “Gideon made the gold into an ephod, which he placed in Ophrah, his town” (8:27). An ephod was a holy garment used by Israel’s priesthood. Why in the world would Gideon do such a thing? The priesthood belonged to the tribe of Levy, not Manasseh. This may have been an expression of pride by Gideon, a symbol of his authority over the people. It is possible he was taking on the function of a priest, seeking to become as much a spiritual leader as civic.

The ephod turned into a religious pitfall for the people as they “prostituted themselves by worshiping it … and it became a snare to Gideon and his family” (Judges 8:27). Idolatry was the reason God punished Israel with oppression by the eastern nations and now Gideon’s pride had unwittingly led the people back into the same sin.

Gideon’s victory ushered Israel into a 40-year stretch of peace from its enemies,[4] an environment which caused Gideon to lose his edge for God. We read that Gideon, “had seventy sons of his own, for he had many wives” (Judges 8:30). Before Gideon’s calling, we know that his father’s house worshiped the fertility gods Baal and Asherah[5]. Such worship usually included abhorrent sexual practices and other immoral behavior. Following his great victory, it appears that Gideon’s newly found fame and prosperity weakened his moral and spiritual resolve as he returned – to some degree – to his prior worship practices, which were an amalgamation of different religions. And though he denied the offer to become Israel’s ruler, he certainly lived as one.

prayBut in the end, Gideon is still – and rightly so – remembered for his lowly beginnings. He was chosen by God because, despite his obscurity, he sought to serve God spiritually. He was humble when called, not allowing vanity to get the better of him when first dubbed as a “mighty warrior” (Judges 6:12). Though he questioned God out of fear and doubt of his own abilities, he still obeyed when it counted most, and God blessed him for it. Though Gideon’s life did not end well spiritually, he nonetheless has stood throughout the centuries as an ideal model of what God can do with humble and “obscure” men and women.

You and I will do well to follow in the spiritual footsteps of Gideon’s early life, and avoid the pitfalls of the latter part.

[1] Judges 6:15

[2] 1 Samuel 16:8-13

[3] Judges 8:24

[4] Judges 8:28

[5] Judges 6:25

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