And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon (Gideon) ... who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness ... escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens ... These all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not ... (verses 32-39).
What greater commendation than this?
Faith. What is faith? Scripturally faith is the basis which God has chosen as that upon which He can work His will with man. Also it is the means through which man can come into relationship with God. In the list of heroes in Hebrews 11 who walked by faith and obtained a good report, each one in his measure was the bearer of one facet of the glorious faithfulness of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Author and Perfecter of faith, Who in His Person and with a fulness that pertains to Him alone, bore them all. It is an office of faith to give present existence to future things, and vital reality to things unseen. Those men and women rested on promises, the fulfilment of which they did not then receive, but which, nonetheless, by faith had for them a very present existence, and the unseen things were to them, by faith, vitally real.
While still a young man, Gideon had risked his life by destroying the images of Baal and Ashtoreth at Ophrah in accordance with the commandment of the Lord. Here were revealed his courage and his loyalty to Jehovah. Because of his faithfulness in this mission God came to him, accepting his offering, and changing his name to Jerubbaal -- 'Baal's antagonist'. Then against the one hundred and thirty-five thousand which was the number of the army of the enemy he was told to destroy, God gradually reduced his own force until but three hundred men remained, so proving to the nation that it was the arm of the Lord that prevailed that day on behalf of the children of Israel. A tremendous victory is recorded, and Gideon remains today as a glorious example of Paul's word to the church at Corinth. In his first letter, chapter 1:25-31 we read:
Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men ... But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty ... That no flesh should glory in His presence ... He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.
Let us now turn to verse 22 of this chapter 8.
Under the energetic leadership of Gideon, the armies of the Midianites, the Amalekites, and the children of the east were routed and slain by the Israelites. He pursued them across the Jordan, and his faith, resolution and firmness were finally crowned with success. He became the hero of the hour. His victory proved to the tribes of Israel the advantage of united action under one leader. The princes of all the tribes, therefore, came to him, and we read their words in this verse 22:
Then the men of Israel said unto Gideon, Rule thou over us, both thou, and thy son, and thy son's son also: for thou hast delivered us from the hand of Midian.
These people should have known better. This request was not in accordance with the command of the Lord given to Moses. The Lord had said, 'When you come into the land I will appoint you a king' (Deut. 17:14,15). How splendid to read, therefore, in verse 23:
And Gideon said unto them, I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: the Lord shall rule over you.
Gideon refused the great temptation of an hereditary crown. We read here of the greatness of this man. There is humility and nobleness mingled with his courage, something of the attributes of Moses and Joshua -- 'The Lord shall be king over you'. You would have said he has learned his lesson well. Here is a man who wholly follows the Lord. Alas this was not the case, as the magnanimity which had just stood firm under a great trial, a testing temptation, succumbed to a weaker one.
And Gideon said unto them, I would desire a request of you, that ye would give me every man the earrings of his prey. (For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites). And they answered, We will willingly give them. And they spread a garment, and did cast therein every man the earrings of his prey.
And the weight of the golden earrings that he requested was a thousand and seven hundred shekels of gold; beside ornaments, and collars, and purple raiment that was on the kings of Midian, and beside the chains that were about their camels' necks.
And Gideon made an ephod thereof, and put it in his city, even in Ophrah: and all Israel went thither a whoring after it: which thing became a snare unto Gideon, and to his house' (verses 24-27).
The golden earrings of the Ishmaelites, the booty of war, were given to Gideon. Ishmael and Midian were half brothers -- sons of Abraham by Hagar and Keturah. In order to distinguish between the two, the Ishmaelites always wore golden earrings. These ornaments were not heavy, yet the weight given to Gideon was seventeen hundred shekels, which it has been estimated amounts to about seventy pounds -- a colossal number of earrings. 'And Gideon made an ephod thereof, and put it in his city, even in Ophrah'.
Let us not be misled by this word 'ephod'. This was not an idol nor some unauthorised symbol of Jehovah. Our thoughts are immediately taken back to that golden calf which was made by Aaron from the golden earrings of the people of Israel in the wilderness. That was an idol. Gideon, however, made an ephod. This was perhaps the most spectacular part of the equipment of the high priest. It is prescribed in Exodus 28 -- how it was to be made, its colours and material, were all laid down by Jehovah, the covenant God of Israel. It was to be the work of a skilled weaver, made of fine twined linen worked in gold, blue, purple and scarlet. It had an embroidered belt of the same material and colours.
Upon the shoulders of the ephod there were sockets of gold that would hold an onyx stone in each that was large enough to have the names of six of the tribes of Israel engraved upon them. The two sockets were fastened by two golden chains. The Lord's words to Moses were, 'thou shalt make holy garments for Aaron thy brother for glory and for beauty ... that he may minister unto Me in the priest's office'. This splendid garment was regarded with extreme reverence by the people of Israel. At this time, together with the rest of the high priest's regalia, it was kept with the Ark at Shiloh. It is difficult to get behind Gideon's reason for usurping the prerogative of the high priest.
Quite obviously the high priest at this time, if he had not abandoned his office and become a worshipper of Baal, was lying very low and not exhorting the people to give up their evil ways. We have no mention of a high priest throughout the Book of Judges. It could be that Gideon having received a visitation by the Lord Himself, and having been commanded to build an altar, looked upon himself not only as the leader of Israel, but also the high priest. Up to this point he had showed himself a great and good man of faith, having conquered any desire for self-glorification when he renounced the nation's offer of making him a king, but he certainly sinned when he ordered this ephod to be made.
Some commentators seek to excuse Gideon by putting forward the suggestion that it was only meant as a memorial of his fantastic victory. We would gladly put the highest motive possible on the actions of such a man as Gideon was. That, however, is stretching things too far. Here in verse 27 we read that Gideon put this phoney imitation of the most venerated garment of Jehovah's ordained minister, in the city in which he lived, Ophrah. Maybe this gives us the clue as to Gideon's motive. Shiloh, the national sanctuary, was in the land of Ephraim. This tribe was jealous of any leader that was not one of them. They were fierce and proud and stiff-necked. Gideon may have decided therefore that he and the men of Manasseh, and the tribes living in the northern half of Canaan, would have their own place of worship, in the city of Ophrah.
The next thing we read is 'and all Israel went thither a whoring after it'. The word 'whoredom' is identical with 'idolatry'. Both were characterized by unfaithfulness, the former to a husband, and the latter to Jehovah, Who was in that relationship to Israel at this time. '... which thing became a snare to Gideon and his family', a 'snare', which implies not only 'a stumbling block', but also 'a cause of ruin'.
How patiently the Lord explained to Moses as He led the children of Israel out from Egypt, through the wilderness towards Canaan -- 'You will make no covenant with the inhabitants of the land, nor with their gods. They must be destroyed. They shall not remain in your land, lest they make you sin against Me. If you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare unto you'. Words such as these are recorded in Exodus 23 -- they are repeated time and time again. Yet God gave Israel respite from her enemies for a space of forty years during the lifetime of the gallant Gideon. What a good thing it is the Lord does not reward us according to our deserts! The priests of Israel were, to say the least, lax in their high duties, and as Gideon had already been permitted to offer a sacrifice to Jehovah, so he ventured to make an ephod, probably with the idea that by its means, he would in future be able to consult the Lord as to His will. It might well have been a case of putting out his arm to stay the ark of God, but unlike Uzzah, who died instantly for his failure to obey the Lord's commands, Gideon lived on.
His folly is here for all to see and note. It is a great temptation in days of failure to make do with substitutes. It is absolutely certain, however, that makeshifts are not in accordance with the will of the Lord. So far as we are concerned, nothing can take the place of the finished work of Christ. It is better to walk in a solitary path than to compromise in matters of worship and service. Any creed that veils the supreme glory of the risen Christ as Head of the Church that is His Body, according to the revelation given to the apostle Paul when the prisoner of Jesus Christ, denies the fulness, the completeness of the Word of God.
Thus was Midian subdued before the children of Israel, so that they lifted up their heads no more. And the country was in quietness forty years in the days of Gideon (verse 28).
This verse closes the second great epoch of Gideon's life.