Lessons from Gideon Week 5: The Downfall

So today we end our series on Gideon. And I hate to say, we don’t end it on a good note. If you remember from the last message, Gideon finally led the Israelites into battle and God fulfilled His promise to give them the victory (if you don’t remember the story, please go read Judges 7:15-23 to refresh your memory).  We pick back up at the end of the battle, after God has set the swords of the enemy against themselves and they killed each other; there were a remnant of the enemy, however, and these fled towards the desert, trying to make it back to their countries. Please join me in reading Judges 7:24-25:

23 And the men of Israel were called out from Naphtali and from Asher and from all Manasseh, and they pursued after Midian. 24 Gideon sent messengers throughout all the hill country of Ephraim, saying, “Come down against the Midianites and capture the waters against them, as far as Beth-barah, and also the Jordan.” So all the men of Ephraim were called out, and they captured the waters as far as Beth-barah, and also the Jordan. 25 And they captured the two princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. They killed Oreb at the rock of Oreb, and Zeeb they killed at the winepress of Zeeb. Then they pursued Midian, and they brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon across the Jordan.

As I said before, the few remaining enemy combatants fled in the confusion of the battle. Instead of letting God handle the rest though, Gideon called out the men of Naphtali, Asher, Manasseh and pursued Midian (v23). Do you remember them 31,000 men that came out at Gideon’s call and God sent home(7:2-8)? These were the exact same men. Essentially Gideon negated everything God previously did by calling upon these men to chase down the remaining Midianites. Then, not only did he call upon those previously sent home, he called upon the tribes of Ephraim to join the fray.

God used Gideon to deliver Israel from the Midianites and their allies. But. As we have seen, Gideon is far from perfect. Gideon listened to God long enough for God to win the battle; but Gideon didn’t leave it there. From that moment, he strays from God’s battle plan and takes it into his own hands.

The last time we see God’s active presence in the narrative is in v22, when the LORD set every man’s sword against his comrade and against all the army. L. R. Klein put it this way, “The coward has become confident; he directs far-flung mopping up operations which are effectively carried out. But the voice of the LORD is stilled, not to be heard for the balance of Gideon’s narrative. And the spirit of the LORD, which brought the courage to fight a far greater military force, seems to slip from Gideon’s shoulders in the process (Triumph of Irony, 57-58).” We can start to see Gideon’s downfall as early as v18, when he prompts the men to shout, “For the LORD and for Gideon.” It only takes one minute of confidence given by the Holy Spirit, for Gideon to twist it into self-glorification.

Every spiritual gift God gives us can be used for His glorification or can be twisted into self-glorification.  He allows us to choose how we use it and He doesn’t take our gifts away when we choose to use them unrighteously. But, when we do use it unrighteously, we will have to answer for it and will have to face the consequences that arise. Courage and self-confidence turns quickly into pride and arrogance. And pride is the enemy of ministry. You cannot be prideful and be successful in ministry of any kind. When you start relying on yourself out of your arrogance, God quickly lets you do it by yourself and you quickly learn that you can achieve nothing of worth on your own. Gideon had but a second of courage from the Holy Spirit, and he began to believe that he himself was the answer to the plight of the Israelites – he forgot that he was simply a tool being wielded by God. So let’s see where it goes from there as we read Judges 8:1-21:

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. 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? 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.

And Gideon came to the Jordan and crossed over, he and the 300 men who were with him, exhausted yet pursuing. 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.” 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?” 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.” 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. And he said to the men of Penuel, “When I come again in peace, I will break down this tower.”

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.

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.

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.” 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.” 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. 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.

The first scene we have is that the Ephraimites came to Gideon, presenting the heads of Orez and Zeeb like trophies; but they came to him steaming mad that they did not get called up from the beginning for the original fight. Gideon then turns diplomatic, and flatters them greatly and acknowledges that God has given them the real trophies by delivering the commanders of the Midianite army, Oreb and Zeeb, into their hands. However, in this speech to calm down the men of Ephraim, did you notice, Gideon said nothing of God’s part? He made no mention of YHWH and that the victory was all His? That Gideon himself was leader only because YHWH called him and gave them the victory? Gideon was at best spiritually immature when God called him and turned him into a leader; as soon as the victory is won, Gideon falls, leaving God in the past, and taking the opportunity to rule of Israel as if it was his right. So then in vv4-21, the main plot of the narrative resumes with Gideon and the 300 men pursuing the remaining Midianite kings, Zebah and Zalmunna. They come to Succoth, a town that was under Israelite control and demands support and provisions, but they are suspicious of him and refuses. Gideon, then answers them with threats to return and beat them with thorns upon his return. He then goes to another town, Penuel with the same request and receives the same answer, upon which he threatens to return and tear down their tower. It is quite obvious that there is division within Israel and many of the towns and tribes were rightfully suspicious of Gideon.

When we turn from God’s path and try to do things on our own – we will fall and fail just as Gideon.

So then in vv13-14, we see that Gideon captures the Midianite kings and returns to Succoth and Penuel to exact the promised threats of vengeance for their refusal of support. And he did. He beat the elders of Succoth with briars and thorns from the wilderness and he tore down the tower of Penuel. These of his countrymen. Then he asked his son to do his dirty work and kill the kings; but the kings taunted him to prove himself a man by doing it himself, and so he does. Let’s read the rest of Gideon’s story and find out how it ends in Judges 8: 22-28.

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.” 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.” 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. 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.

So it appears that the Israelites loved Gideon, because he is the one who saved them from Midian – or that’s what he tells them and has them believe. They ask him to be king over them, but he refuses. Even in his refusal though, he deflects the glory from God and pours it onto himself, using it as an opportunity to get rich. Symbolically, these gifts were gestures of submission; on the practical side, he received enough to amount to a royal treasure. 1700 shekels amounts to 43 pounds of gold. This is a huge amount of gold, which is certainly a treasure fit for a king. And though he officially said that he would not be king, he assumed a king’s role by making an ephod and put it into the city of Orpah. So though Gideon did not officially take the title of king, he effectively took the role and assumed kingship over Israel. So he ruled over Israel the rest of his days and Israel was at peace for 40 years.

God rose Gideon up as a deliverer of Israel. Throughout the OT, God was constantly raising up saviors for Israel in foreshadowing of the one and true Savior, Jesus Christ the Messiah. However, as we see – Gideon was a poor excuse for a deliverer and certainly was not a savior. The story of Gideon is one of God’s unending grace and faithfulness, to a people who were completely unfaithful and undeserved of Him. Gideon himself reflected the character of the Israelites of this time, and proved to be a failure even when God proved victorious. There is no other savior on this planet, none has ever been, nor will there ever be, except the true Savior, Jesus Christ. John 14:6 says, “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” You are given every opportunity to know the one and only Savior, the one who doesn’t let you down, the one who isn’t self-absorbed, who isn’t prideful, the one who isn’t scared, the one who won’t hurt you. Ever. Every teacher, every pastor, every parent, every friend, every family member, every mentor will, at some point in your life, let you down. Every single one. But there is only one who will not ever fail you; who is trustworthy every single time, who will show up every single time: Jesus. If you don’t know him, if you have questions about him, if you want to know more about him, please ask. He loves you desperately and he wants to walk this life with you, he wants to give you victory, and peace and joy that only he can give.

God, how I pray that you have taught us through the study of your Word; I pray that you have revealed yourself in new and incredible ways, and that you have taught us something about ourselves, that we might grown in love and relationship with you. I pray that you call to each person’s heart, whispering your words of love and faithfulness into their ears, and that you place a supernatural love and desire for you in their hearts. You are the victor, You are the mighty one, You are the lover of our souls, and You are the one and only Savior. I praise you, God, for you are worthy to be praise. I love you. In your most holy and precious Name, amen.


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