27th August 2006
Gideon loses his way.
Before the days of communist rule in Bulgaria the communists in the country were kind and helpful in society, an example to all people. It was no surprise when they were elected into power.
Once in power they changed. They were in fact worse than other Communist states around them. Power seemed to change them; or did it simply show them in a true light?
It was a little bit like that with Gideon; power did not go to his head in the same way but once he had the full support of the people he seemed to change somewhat. Again we need to remember his roots. It is always fascinating to watch television programmes tracing the roots of a prominent person, we often see from humble background comes a great man. There could be no more humble circumstances than Gideon came from: an insignificant man from an insignificant family in the least influential tribe of Israel. But now he is leader of Israel and will be called upon to make right decisions. How will he cope?
The insignificant man had with a small army defeated the mighty Midianite army and their allies. That was a great test to Gideon
What came next was an even bigger test: SUCCESS & POPULARITY.
To bring it back into context, Gideon had only defeated Midian by God’s direct intervention, but because he was the man who God had used he had become a national hero.
How would Gideon cope with success and popularity?
Gideon had finally defeated the kings of Midian and had killed them taking as his prize the symbols of their authority from their persons. These articles of gold and silver in themselves would have made Gideon a wealthy man and of course a national hero.
The people want at this point to officially make Gideon their leader, but the request they make is more than that of an ordinary leader, they are looking to set up a dynasty. They asked for Gideon, his son and grandson to rule over them. What they were really asking even though they did not use the word was “be our king.”
The premise for their request was misguided because it was God who had won the battle and He was already their King! Naively they asked for an unacceptable thing from Gideon, and so his refusal to accept their offer on the surface looks to be honourable and good, but as we shall see from the events that followed they prove Gideon to be somewhat ingenuous in his reply!
At this point both Gideon’s refusal and his theology seem to be good. He told the people that God would rule over them and not he; but words come easily. Did Gideon fully believe what he had said? We may never know with absolute surety but I believe we have a good idea of the true heart of Gideon from the rest of the account.
When the officials wanted to have a portrait painted of Oliver Cromwell he insisted that the painting be accurate. Other prominent people then; just as today would have their least attractive feature removed, but Cromwell insisted that the portrait be “warts and all!” The bible is like that; it reveals everything of its characters “warts and all!” That is what 1 Corinthians 10:6 tells us; “the record of the lives of those who have gone before has been recorded “warts and all” so that we can learn from their example.
Gideon’s first mistake.
A wrong perspective: We see in verse 22 that Gideon said the right thing but he did not correct the people’s error. They believed that Gideon had saved them but it was God that had saved them and Gideon did not correct their wrong perspective. He allowed them to give him the glory that really belonged to God. You may say that I am stretching the point a little because God had told Gideon that he would save Israel from Midianite oppression but Gideon knew that he had not really done anything! It was all of God.
It is true that it seems to be a minor issue but great problems arise out of small beginnings. Cancer begins with one single cell going out of control, producing a tumour, which if left unchecked will kill the whole body! All of us as Christians especially those in any leadership capacity are prone to the error of Gideon. God is sovereign in the affairs of the church, it is He who fights and wins our battles against the devil. As Gideon did we easily take the glory due to God to ourselves. A good example is after the service when somebody says to the preacher “great message today” the preacher so easily forgets the sweat and toil and often desperation of his personal preparation and the supply of the Holy Spirit’s wisdom without which the sermon would be “dry old sticks.” When the compliment comes it so easily is taken for his own glory and not God’s. We know how important it is to encourage each other but whenever a difficult task is being undertaken for the glory of the Lord we rely on his help. When the task is completed then the danger of a wrong perspective so easily comes in. Gideon I believe failed here and if we are perfectly honest we have to admit that we have failed similarly and often!
WARNING: Unchecked error soon becomes a major problem both personally and corporately in the church. Error is best dealt with at its inception rather than later when it has become like a tumour in the body!
Gideon’s second mistake.
A false humility: Gideon did not want the people to make him king but he did tax them for a special purpose. It again may seem like a small thing but his refusal to lead was followed by his request of an earring tax from the people. He imposed a “battle tax” in order to glorify himself as the victor! As we have already seen he had become rich and famous from his spoils of war BUT he wanted more! The victorious army were pleased to comply after all they were now much better off than they had been for seven years. An earring per person is a small price to pay for freedom. But to Gideon it was a vast wealth 43pounds or 19.5 kilograms of pure gold. We can imagine the value of such an amount; but of course Gideon did not want the gold for himself but for another purpose, which we will consider in a few minutes.
The point that I am trying to make is that even though he had fine sounding words Gideon’s actions told a very different tale. He was assuming leadership by his actions and demands. He was displaying a false humility and was guilty of duplicity.
Warning: False humility and duplicitous actions must never be a part of the fabric of the church. The church does have its leaders of varying types, elders, deacons, children’s and young people’s etc. but ALL of us must always remember that CHRIST IS THE ONLY HEAD OF THE CHURCH. If we usurp His authority then we like Gideon might have pious sounding words but they are merely a display of our false humility.
Gideon’s third mistake.
An arrogant pride: You may wonder whether I might have got the last point wrong. Gideon it seems put the taxes into a memorial. He made the gold into an ephod (a vest like garment), which he displayed in his hometown of Ophrah.
I suggest that in the making of this ephod Gideon was displaying an arrogant pride the result of which would be to set up idol worship in Ophrah. Remember it was Gideon who had destroyed the idols in his father’s home and now he was replacing them with his own idol.
Why do I say that Gideon displayed an arrogant pride? To understand this we need to go back to Exodus 28 where God had instructed Moses concerning the garments to be worn by the High priest. Part of the uniform of the high priest was an ephod. This garment had great significance; without it the high priest could not enter into the holy of holies; that is the place where God had promised that His presence would be. From the ephod hung the breastplate, which was ornamented with 12 precious stones, which represented the 12 tribes of Israel who were the people of God. The high priests role was to represent the people before Almighty God and then to convey God’s word to the people. What Gideon was doing by making his golden ephod was shortcutting God’s prescribed way for mankind to approach Him. Gideon was in fact saying, “I have devised a new way to God.” That is false religion and only a proud and arrogant man could display such a thing. He was assuming the high priestly function even though there was a high priest appointed by God in Shiloh with the authentic ephod, which displayed his authority before the people. Gideon led his family back into idolatry. We will consider the implications of this next week, but for today we can say that through the making of this ephod Gideon was saying:
- I have a direct line to God. He took on the high priestly function.
- What has gone before (true religion) has been superseded. You can now worship in Ophrah instead of Shiloh and the object of worship is an ephod and not God in heaven.
Warning: Just because God has used a man for a set purpose does not mean that he may change God’s rules for life of for worship. Gideon did that; we must not! God has set before us his way of approach no man however great must tamper with that! Gideon’s arrogant pride caused him to fly in the face of God’s revealed plan and purpose. This passage is in scripture not that we may criticise Gideon but that we might learn a lesson from Gideon’s error. It is important that we read the accounts of the lives of these men in the light of the truth of scripture and that we learn lessons from the good and the bad things that they did!
We as Christians can easily fall into the same errors:
- Unchecked wrong perspectives (or understanding) will lead to problems.
- False humility is one of the greatest dangers in the church. Humility can so easily be false. Jesus tells us to beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing. A wolf can look like a sheep or even the shepherd but they often carry the teeth of false humility.
- Arrogant pride is destroying the church and it is often those who are appointed as shepherds who display this sin the most.