3rd September 2006
The importance of dying well.
John Wesley’s Methodists were complimented for the fact that they died well. This was a backhanded compliment from a sceptic. By his own observations the man discovered that the Methodists were not afraid of dying. But to die well is more complex than just coping well at the point of death. To truly die well is to leave behind a lasting legacy for those who follow on. Gideon as we saw last week was not a good example in all that he did. He was guilty of a false understanding of the things of God, of a false humility and of arrogant pride. Gideon did not die well because he left behind him a false form of religion that encouraged his descendants to rapidly revert to Baal worship; he also left behind a dysfunctional family. There are many examples of leaders that did die well e.g. Abraham, Moses and Joseph. Gideon amongst others lost his way and left a legacy of apostasy and a divided family.
Gideon’s life ended with a:
Which in turn led to:
Israel’s tenuous security.
An uncaring people.
A good leader needs to make his practice as good as his understanding. In the church a leader needs to make his lifestyle as good as his theology. His understanding of who God is should affect his lifestyle for the good of all that he comes into contact with. By Gideon’s failure in this department we can learn where not to go wrong.
Gideon had done particularly well whilst God was closely directing his path. It is true that Gideon had questioned his suitability before God and that he needed supernatural evidence before he could fully trust God at His word but when he did; he obeyed God as directed. We can learn much from what some might term as Gideon’s blind obedience; but what was in fact a complete trust in the God who had revealed Himself to him and had told him of His plan to save Israel by Gideon’s hand. This is not blind obedience it is an example of what faith is all about. In this Gideon is commended and is a great role model. The problems come in the passage that we considered last week and the end of Gideon’s leadership of Israel.
Gideon made his home back in Ophrah. The leadership of the people should always have been closely related to the worship of God. Whenever the Israelites wandered from true worship the mention of the tabernacle and arc are scarce in the text. The arc was at the time of the Judges mostly in Shiloh and sometimes in Bethel but it was never in Ophrah. The very location of Ophrah (out on the borders) made it an unsuitable place for worship to take place. Gideon as we saw last week substituted a linen ephod (the authentication of the High priest) with a grand golden version that the people worshipped in his hometown. Gideon was rather disappointingly declaring himself not only king of Israel but as priest also. God had historically spoken to the nation through the Priesthood and I suppose because God had spoken to Gideon and had used him greatly Gideon in his display of arrogant pride had decided that he could devise a new way of approach to God. He had obeyed God’s specific revelation to him but had totally ignored God’s word, which came through Moses. In His revelation God had already set up the mode of worship through the Levitical priesthood of which the man from Manasseh (the least of tribes according to his own estimation!) had decided was now superseded.
Gideon simply chose to ignore theology in order that he might lead and direct God’s people in the way that was most convenient to him. He went back home to the farm instead of taking God’s (and the people’s) appointment of leadership seriously! This is a great temptation for those who are in any leadership capacity. It is human nature to try to do things that are convenient or easy but it is not always wise or prudent to do so! It is never right when it flies in the face of God’s revealed will. Gideon had the priesthood in his day and they had the Law of Moses to refer to but Gideon chose to ignore God’s word. The result of Gideon’s pragmatic leadership was the people’s eventual return to Baal worship. This did not happen until after Gideon’s death. In actual fact the land experienced rest and peace for 40 years under Gideon’s leadership. (This is the last recorded peace in the book of Judges.) There is a lesson that we must learn from the peace that was experienced. It clearly does not relate to their faithfulness during that time but it is clearly a fulfilment of God’s promise made to the people in answer to their desperate prayer. This speaks more of God’s amazing grace than it ever does of His people’s faithfulness. Gideon’s leadership led to anarchy and mass murder within his own family.
As Christians we have God’s declared word (the bible and the Lord Jesus Christ) it is our guidebook and we have no right to change God’s plan. We cannot worship God just as we please there are guidelines and they must be obeyed. Leaders cannot lead just as we please we must be faithful to what God has laid down in the scripture. Gideon was guilty of doing his own thing; we must not! When we do our own thing there is always a “knock-on” effect that will have dire consequences eventually. Peace and apparent blessing is not always what it might seem!
While Gideon was the leader of Israel the people experienced a:
As we have said Israel enjoyed 40 years of peace under Gideon’s leadership. This was a time of false security and also a time when the people wrote their own destiny. If they had remained faithful; God’s promise is that He will always faithfully bless them BUT they did not! God kept His promise of their freedom from external oppression but they were not a people who were blessed of God even though they might think that they were! It all seemed well to them but they were in a very precarious situation. They were living on past blessings and every day they were offending God himself by the false worship of the ephod in Ophrah!
How deceiving situations are, peace is not always the evidence of God’s blessing. In actual fact we see more of blessing in the scriptures in days of difficulty and oppression. The truth of Israel’s experience at this time was that they experienced true blessing when they were most oppressed! Remember that it was oppression that caused them to pray. It was because they prayed earnestly that God heard and answered their prayer. It was also at this time that God was actively bringing about their salvation and all of the time the people did not know the extent of their blessing.
It was during the most cruel and darkest days of Roman oppression in Judea that God was most at work and even the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ did not understand what a blessing those days were. Salvation was being accomplished not for a nation from external oppression BUT for all people from the grip and penalty of sin.
THE WHOLE PLAN WAS UNNOTICED AT THE TIME BY THE PEOPLE!
One of the dangers of the church is that as in Gideon’s day we measure blessing by the ease and comfort of life. If only Gideon had been wise to the end, he would have seen that the ease they were experiencing was a false security. Ease and Gideon’s family situation (he had many wives and 70 sons; a flagrant breaking of the creation code which suggest one man; one wife!) were contributory to Israel’s compounded problems.
During Gideon’s lifetime the land experienced peace but the people were sinking deeper and deeper into error for which after Gideon’s death they would reap the benefits. The bible principle is that “the wages of sin is death” this is highlighted by what happened immediately after Gideon’s death. Abimelech, (which means, “My father is king.” Another evidence of Gideon’s arrogant pride!) gathered support from Shechem (the people of his mother) and they slaughtered all but one of Gideon’s other sons in order that Abimelech might lead Israel! Death and anarchy came into the land as a direct result of spiritual unfaithfulness during Gideon’s lifetime!
We must be careful of misinterpreting peaceful days. They may just be the precursor to difficulties that are related to current sinfulness. God often gives peace as a blessing but it can sometimes be a false security.
False security led to an uncaring attitude!
An uncaring people.
Verse 35 is a very sad verse. We discover Gideon’s leadership was rewarded by the people’s uncaring attitude towards his family.
How hard it is for the family of leaders. Not just leaders in the church but leaders in general! Consider the Queen and her family. It is hard for the media to criticize the Queen herself but there is not a member of her family that have not; and will not be left to the mercy of media scrutiny and unfairness! It is hard for them because of who she is!
We might have grown to expect such treatment in the nation but it should not be part of the people of God. Israel should have known better. They had loved Gideon, they even wanted his leadership to continue through his family but when “push comes to shove” they simply forgot their continuing responsibility to the family! They had forgotten what sacrifices Gideon’s family had made in order that he might serve the nation. A wife whose husband is away fighting the battle does not know that God has intervened and Midian has been defeated she just has to wait and worry until news comes of victory and safety. Children are left behind worrying about whether their father will ever return. This is all compounded by Gideon’s polygamy; and so not just one wife but a multiplicity of wives and 70 children are involved. The families of leaders carry a larger burden than most people will give credit for. Then when criticism of his leadership undoubtedly came; Gideon was probably uncaring about it but it would have been like knives in the heart of wives and children. I wonder how Tony Blair’s children are affected by all of the negative carping about the job that their dad is doing will affect them. I suggest very badly!!!
Gideon largely had been a good leader; his reward for faithfulness was an uncaring attitude towards his family from those he had cared for!
The church appoints a man to be pastor. His family are “innocent by-standers” in the arrangement. They are his responsibility but they do make tremendous sacrifices for the good of the church. They do not always see and understand the issues of leadership but they do release and allow the man to be about his work often to the detriment of his family. They make massive sacrifices of time, earning capacity and privacy. They share a husband and father with the fellowship. They hurt desperately when their loved one is criticized (and they know about it far quicker than you think)! They are often lonely and uncared for. Forgotten in the plans for outings and excursions, often exempt due to stupid philosophies that say that the Pastor must have no friends amongst the people! ABSURD
Israel did not care for Gideon’s family when he had died. Does the church in general look after their leaders families when the man himself has long gone? Remember that generally women live longer than men and therefore wives are left, do they have adequate pension, friendship and care in later life or are they left uncared for as Gideon’s family were?
Gideon did not die well because of the mistakes he made, but he was a valued servant of God who faithfully led the people who in turn rapidly forgot that they had a responsibility before God for Gideon’s family. It is important that we live well in order that we die well. But it is also important that God’s people care well for each other. Remember that the greatest evidence of our gospel message is how we are seen to love and care for each other!