by Pastor Mark Hudson
We begin chapter 8 with more conflict. Only this time we witness fighting within the tribes. It appears pride is rearing its ugly head as proud Ephraim does not like its role in the battle. “They accused him fiercely.” Gideon is not done fighting and the criticism begins already. In chapter 6, Gideon fought against Baal. In 7, it is the Midianites and in chapter 8, Gideon in fighting off his own people (Dale Ralph Davis, p. 107 in his commentary on Judges). Gideon answers wisely. ‘Oh, Ephraim, you are so great, and I am so very little. You achieved much more than I did.’ Well, Ephraim thought, if that is the way you put it then I guess we are okay. Just do not slight us again.
So, after that crisis is averted Gideon and his 300 men still are on the hunt for the Midianites. They are “exhausted, yet pursuing.” They come to cities within Israel and ask for some food. Both Succoth and Penuel refused. Remember, these two cities are in the tribe of Dan. Gideon is outnumbered fighting a superior army. Gideon lost 22,000 men who were afraid in 7:3. Left with 10,000 God still wants to reduce Gideon’s numbers to weaken him even more. Then in 7:7, God picks 300 men so no one can say that man’s ingenuity and strength won the day.
So here they are at fellow Israelites, exhausted and famished asking for some food. But even though Gideon and his men ask (no one offered them food), Succoth and Penuel were unwilling so Gideon promises that he will return and when he does, they may escape Midian’s revenge but not his. Succoth would be flailed with thorns and Penuel tower that protected them from enemies, Gideon would tear down. With that warning, Gideon leaves with his exhausted and still hungry men.
The army that is left of Midian under the kings Zebah and Zalmunna are about 15,000. Gideon and his 300 men attacked this large army throwing the Midianites into confusion. After his victory, Gideon makes good on his promise. He discovers a young man of Succoth, ascertains the 77 elders of the city and Gideon “taught the men of Succoth a lesson” (8:16). Then he and his men tear down the tower or stronghold of Penuel leaving the city almost defenseless.
As if these events are not hard enough to understand, we have more events that make us wonder about Gideon. As he is getting ready to kill Zebah and Zalmunna, the two kings of Midian, he tells his son to kill them. Is this a way to name Gideon’s heir by having his son kill these kings? In v. 22, the people ask Gideon to be king (and your son and your grandson) for “you have saved us from the hand of Midian” 8:22. Well, in one sense, but according to 7:22, the Lord is responsible for the victory. Gideon’s response seems hopeful, “I will not rule over you . . .” but then he recreates the idolatry that surrounded the giving of the Law in Ex 32:2ff. Gideon asks for earrings from the spoil. Gideon then makes an ephod out of the gold (v. 27) and “all Israel whored after it there.”
Gideon does not end well. On one hand, Gideon seems to retire to his “own house” (8:29). Sounds pastoral, almost leisurely. But he is acting in an ungodly way. He has 70 sons because “he had many wives” even naming one son “my father is king” or Abimelech. In 8:22ff, making an ephod and allowing God’s people to whore after it is another sign that Gideon’s end is not wrapping up nicely. Why does idolatry keep coming up in God’s people? We see the problem of idolatry throughout the Old Testament and in the New Testament in I John 5:21, “Little children, keep yourself from idols.”
While we should not fault Gideon for verses 33ff, we are saddened by the turning away from God and whoring “after the Baals” which is apostasy we witness again and again in Judges and the entire Bible. The people did not remember God or “show steadfast love to the family of Jerubbaal” in vs. 34-35. After all the events that had to happen which God ordained for their freedom and rest, the people of God do not act like grateful, thankful people.
I am afraid this hits close to home as we reflect on our lack of gratitude and our love of sin. As you read and ponder the stories of the Bible, we are faced with their and our sin. Reading the Bible, going to church, joining a church does not make you love sin less. But there is One who can. Christ breaks the power of sin and guilt. Or maybe we should say He decrease the power of sin in our life. This is a process called sanctification. The Larger Catechism of the Westminster Standards defines sanctification as follows, in answer 75, “Sanctification is a work of God’s grace, whereby they whom God hath, before the foundation of the world, chosen to be holy, are in time, through the powerful operation of His Spirit applying the death and resurrection of Christ unto them, renewed in their whole man after the image of God; having the seeds of repentance unto life, and all other saving graces, put into their hearts, and those graces so stirred up, increased, and strengthened, as that they more and more die unto sin, and rise unto newness of life.”
Lord, thank You that we have a Savior who will bring us to heaven. We could never, never get there on our own righteousness. You work in us by Your grace and we see our growth “in time” and we “more and more die unto sin” but certainly not all at once. How You can be so patient with us we will never understand. Draw us to Your Son and apply “the death and resurrection of Christ unto” us. Free us from the bondage of idolatry and help us to end well. In the One who was obedient every second of His life, our Lord Jesus. Amen.