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Judges 8: Struggles Upon Struggles Print E-mail
Sunday, 26 April 2015

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Many refuse to follow Christ because of what they see from those who do claim to follow Him.  Maybe they were hurt by a pastor or a Sunday School teacher.  Maybe they have family and friends who do not seem that different from themselves and yet claim to be Christians.  Maybe they have just seen too much religious scandal to even think about visiting a Church.  The followers of Christ are the main reason they do not want to follow Christ.

The difficulty of this is that we cannot deny that we have our struggles.  Pastors get caught in sexual sin.  Deacons get angry and speak harsh words.  Church members spread gossip and turn cold shoulders.  Granted, some of this happens because not everyone who claims to follow Christ is a true disciple.  Yet, even so, Christians are not above sinful actions.  Even the faithful can behave in faithless ways at times.

Judges 8 is an example of such behavior.  I have wrestled with how to interpret Gideon's actions in this chapter.  Some see everything he does as evil, but I am not quite convinced by their arguments.  Rather, I see a mixture of both good and evil in the actions of Gideon.  As we have already seen with Israel in the book of Judges, their actions continue to spiral downward.  As Gideon responds to their actions, it seems he gives in to sin as well.  So then, the whole chapter is filled with the struggles of Gideon and the people.  What struggles do we see?

The struggle with pride and flattery (v. 1-3)

The Lord has given the Midianites into the hands of Israel in chapter 7.  The enemy in on the run and Gideon is in pursuit.  Yet, one tribe is not pleased with how things have played out.  Look at verse 1.  The Ephraimites want to know why they were not included in the battle.  They wanted to share in the glory of defeating the Midianites.  And their pride was getting the best of them.  Instead of celebrating with Gideon and Israel, they were grumbling about their lack of involvement.

So how does Gideon respond?  Look at verses 2-3.  Gideon reminds the Ephraimites of two great blessings that they have: their large grape harvest and the capturing of the two princes of Midian.  He points out that his own tribes' grape harvest is far less and that the capturing of the princes is greater than what he has done.  In short, he is flattering them to appease their pride.  They have a great grape harvest and they won a great prize against the Midianites.  They should remember that and be thankful for that instead of complaining about not being involved.  And according to the author of Judges is worked, for he tells us their anger against him subsided.  Gideon's statements to them could be taken in two ways.  First, it could just be really good diplomacy.  He knew how to placate their anger by bragging on them a bit.  Or second, it could be seen as flattery to avoid the conflict.  It is probably a bit of both.  His motive to smooth over the situation is good, but his chosen method of flattery perhaps does not actually address their pride problem.  The situation is resolved and ends without more conflict, but perhaps no real lesson is learned.

The struggle with fear and anger (v. 4-21)

The next situation is a bit more ugly.  Look at verses 4-9.  Gideon goes to Succoth and Penuel looking for food and hospitality as they pursue the two kings of Midian.  Yet, these towns refuse to help because they are afraid that the Midianites might still win the war and then turn and punish them for helping Gideon.  Perhaps they had not heard of the earlier defeat or maybe they did not believe that God would continue to help Gideon, but either way, they refused to help Gideon.  They were still too afraid of the Midianites to take the side of Gideon and his 300.  So how does Gideon respond?  He tells them that after God does give him victory over the kings he will return and teach them a lesson.  It is not hard to see his frustration with the people.

So what happens?  God continues to be with Gideon and they capture the kings.  Look at verses 10-12.  Gideon believed that God would give him victory over them and He did.  And then we read that Gideon keeps his word to the men of Succoth and Penuel.  Look at verses 13-17.  Just as he said, Gideon teaches these men a harsh lesson.  The author of Judges goes on and tells us that he killed the kings as well.  Look at verses 18-21.  Apparently these kings had killed some of Gideon's brothers, so he orders them to be killed.  When his son refuses to carry out the execution due to his fear, Gideon kills them with his own hands. 

So what do we do with this? I think we can conclude that the men of Succoth and Penuel were wrong to refuse to help Gideon.  They let their fear control them and refused hospitality to other Israelites.  And this is not just about refusing to feed them.  In their attempt to remain neutral, they were actually siding with the enemies of God.  Yet, did their actions deserve the punishment of death? Again, this is a tough question.  In those days, to side with Midian was treason and was therefore punishable by death.  Yet, for Gideon to show these men no mercy seems to contradict the mercy that he was repeatedly shown by Yahweh.  He had doubts and fears that led him to question God and the Lord showed him mercy.  Yet, he shows none here.  Again, I hesitate to be too hard on Gideon but I think his response is perhaps too harsh at this point.

The struggle with doubts and authority (v. 22-28)

After Gideon's great victory over the Midianites, the people want to make him king.  Look at verse 22.  But Gideon refuses their request.  Look at verse 23.  The people want him to be their ruler but Gideon wants them to see that God is the only ruler that they need.  Some think that Gideon's refusal is fake due to some of the actions that he later takes (making the ephod, having a harem of wives, naming his son 'Abimelech' which means 'son of the king').  Yet, it seems best to take his statement as straightforward.  Gideon knew that he could not have won the battle without the help the Lord.  I think at this point we are seeing the right response to their doubts, which is a reminder that the Lord will lead them.

Yet, the next few verses reveal that Gideon was not above abusing his authority.  Look at verses 24-28.  Gideon collects gold from the men and makes an ephod, which was an item of clothing worn by priests when they were seeking the Lord's counsel.  The author tells us that Israel whored after it and that it became a snare to Gideon's family.  Clearly, the making of the ephod was a mistake.  In verses 22-23 Gideon does the right thing by refusing to be the ruler and he follows that up with a huge mistake in verses 24-28.  What do we do with this?  Davis comments: "This shadow of inconsistency and disappointment frequently hangs over God's servants. Gideon was hardly a rare exception. This is not to excuse the sins or errors of the leaders of God's people. But let it temper our expectations, let it cushion our despair, and let it lift our gaze to the Leader of God's elect...We will never find perfection of office except in our Lord Jesus Christ. Realizing this can save us from cynicism that may come from disappointing servants of Christ" (Davis, p. 113).  There is a mixture of good and evil in the actions of Gideon, which should help us process and respond to the actions of others.

The struggle with idolatry and forgetfulness (v. 29-35)

Unfortunately the story ends in a way that we have come to expect in the book of Judges.  First we are told of the death of the judge.  Look at verses 29-32.  Gideon died in a good old age after having many wives and many children, including Abimelech.  Again, this description leads some to believe that Gideon actually lived as a ruler in Israel.  I don't think that their arguments are convincing because such a description does not necessitate that he was a king.  Either way, we know that he did not prepare Israel for his death.  Instead, just like all of the judges before, as soon as Gideon dies, the people return to idolatry.  Look at verses 33-35.  The forgetfulness is tragic, yet expected.  The judge dies and the people return to Baal.  Could Gideon or any of the other judges have prevented this?  Perhaps, but it is hard to be sure.  Either way, Israel continues to forget all that God has done for them and returns repeatedly to idolatry.  It seems like they would have learned by now, but they did not.  We keep seeing the downward spiral.

So then, what can we learn from all of these struggles in Judges 8?  The struggles of Gideon and Israel teach us that even God's people and God's leaders will not always be faithful.  Gideon led 300 men over 135,000 through the help of God, but he struggled to consistently point people to the One who gave him the victory.  Pride and flattery, fear and anger, doubts, idolatry, and forgetfulness are all struggles that God's people and God's leaders continue to battle.  Let me close with two lessons from Judges 8 that I think can help us in our continuing battle.  First, know the truth about all people.  Do not put your faith in a pastor or a deacon or a Sunday School teacher or a family member.  Do not set yourself up for disappointment when they fail you.  Do not judge Christ simply upon the actions of His people. They will fail you at times, but He will not, which leads to my second lesson.  Second, look to Christ as the only perfect Deliverer.  He is the One who lived the perfect life.  He is the One who gave His life as the perfect sacrifice.  And He is the perfect Redeemer that you need.  Repentance of sin and belief in Him should always be your focus.  Put your faith in the Rock that will never change and it will not be shaken by the faults and failures of feeble men.  They will fail you, but He will not.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~


Last Updated ( Monday, 11 May 2015 )

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