Precarious Gideon and the Faithful God


Sermon Text: Judges 8:1-28
Sermon Series: “Judges” (#12)

Click to Watch Sermon Video:

Main Points:
I. Precarious Gideon
II. The faithful God

The story of Gideon in this Book of Judges is surprisingly long. It’s a three-chapter long story. Compared to Shamgar who is introduced in only one verse at the end of ch. 3, Gideon’s story seems to be abnormally long with great details. Today’s sermon is the fifth one on Gideon, Israel’s fifth judge, and if I wanted to dig in an inch deeper, I could’ve preached a few more sermons from the account of Gideon.

A question arises – Why is Gideon’s story longer than that of others? Why did God decide to record Gideon’s story in much greater details from his calling and taking leadership, including his battle strategies, victory and, finally, post-war settlement? God could’ve recorded Gideon’s achievement in a verse like the case of Shamgar, the third judge, saying something like this: ‘Gideon the son of Joash of the tribe of Manasseh went out with 300 men of Israel and defeated the Midianites, and saved Israel.’ Gideon achieved what his predecessors had achieved – they and Gideon alike saved Israel from their enemies’ oppression. But God tells us Gideon’s story in much detail. Why?

I believe that God wants us to know who Gideon truly was; and by knowing who he was and what he did, to understand how sinful man is and how vulnerable we are to sin and how prone we all are to satisfy our sinful nature. You might wonder and think, ‘What is this Gideon’s great story of victory to do with that heavy subject of man’s sinfulness?’ But unfortunately, this story is our story as Gideon represents who we truly are.

God’s message through Gideon’s story is that we ought not to put our trust in any man, neither oneself nor any other who seems to be great to our eyes, but trust in the One God sent, ordained and set as the King and Lord and Saviour, that is, Jesus Christ, and in Him alone we must hope.

So, our aim for this morning with our text passage is to see, firstly, man’s fallenness in sin, thus, how vulnerable we are to sin, how prone we are to quickly plunge into sin, thus, how precarious and unstable and unreliable man is. Then, secondly, we need to see how faithful God is, how unchanging and sincere He is. Most of all, how gracious and merciful He is toward us, His beloved children! All men are unfaithful, but God is faithful; all men change, but God never forgets His promise. So we ought to trust Him by believing in His only Son, our Saviour and Lord.

Now, let us begin and think about how precarious Gideon was. Let me remind you of what Gideon did in this story. God broke the brunt of the Midianites and their allies, then, Gideon and all Israel thrashed the rest by the end of ch. 7. Then, in the beginning of ch. 8, Israelites gathered together around Gideon. It was like a battlefield tactical operations meeting. And Gideon faced the grumpy Ephraimites. Mind you that the tribe of Ephraim was the second largest after the tribe of Judah, and they had helped a couple of previous judges of Israel, such as Ehud and Deborah and Barak. They had always been a proud people and their complaint against Gideon was serious. Yet, fortunately, Gideon was able to calm them down.

Then, Gideon and his 300 men chased after the Midianite kings. On their pursuit, they were tired and exhausted, but they were rejected by the fellow Israelites of Succoth and Penuel. But Gideon and his 300 men continued their chase and finally captured the enemy kings. On their way back, they revisited those unfriendly cities of Danites, and humiliated one city and destroyed the other. Gideon also executed the captured enemy kings.

Then, the men of Israel came and requested Gideon to be their king. This is the very first record in Israel’s history of mentioning a human king for Israel. But Gideon refused, telling them that God would be their ruler. Then, when he turned them down, he requested people to give him earrings from their spoils. With the collected gold, he made a gold ephod and kept it at his home.

In this story, Gideon was rather capricious, wayward, than consistent or unswerving in his attitudes and actions. Let me point this out to you that Gideon was never a mighty man, nor a general, nor a brilliant leader; he was a mere man, one of the many ordinary Israelites. Moreover, he was a doubter – a great doubter – than a humble and genuine believer. He was never a hero that we should look up to. No! He dangerously lacked in security and stability; he was a precarious man. Occasionally he seemed humble like in the case of the Ephraimites complaining against him, but he was not at all a man of humility.

Let me elaborate this point. When Gideon confronted the angry Ephraimites, he seemed to be humble and gentle. He said in this nuance: ‘What am I? Am I not nobody? You captured the two princes of Midian. You’ve done a greater work and you’re greater than I, are you not?’ He sounded godly like he preached God’s word, especially of Phil. 2:3 which says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves,” or Rom. 12:18 that says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Also, when he dealt with the two Midian kings he captured, he seemed a God’s agent who carried out God’s vengeance for the enemy of Israel.

But the words we read from 1 Jn. 3:18 proves that Gideon was not at all humble, nor were his words genuine. Listen to what 1 Jn. 3:18 says: “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” Gideon’s deeds toward the men of Succoth and Penuel prove that he was precarious, evil in sin. He firstly lashed the elders of Succoth with thorns and briers, humiliating them very severely in public. Although we could see why he did it to them, it was too much – he could’ve taught them a good lesson in a less offensive and destructive way.

Unlike the case of Succoth, Gideon’s punishment upon those of Penuel was too evil to consider as a brotherly censure. No, it was a definite sin. Those of Penuel were members of Israel; they belonged to the tribe of Dan. This means, Gideon slaughtered his own people, shed his own blood, which was clearly prohibited by God and described as sinful in the eyes of God. Yet, Gideon did kill the men of Penuel. In rage, he committed such an evil; he acted like he had the power to do whatever he wished. And to whom such a power belongs? God alone! So, simply put, Gideon played God there at Penuel, a Danite city.

Then, in vs. 22 and following, you read that the men of Israel came to Gideon and asked him to be their king. If you have regarded Gideon as a humble hero with full and unshakeable faith and undefeatable godly courage in the Lord God, I think you’ve misunderstood him. I believe that the men of Israel requested Gideon to become their king and ruler because of fear of him. They had seen him murdering their fellow Israelites. They were threatened by his merciless evil deeds.

I feel bad if I’ve broken the image of Gideon some of you might’ve had since your Sunday School years. But this is what I read from our text passage. And that’s why God elaborated Gideon’s life in great detail. Our human mind tends to consider a man like Gideon, such a heroic figure of the Bible, a model for us to be and his achievements as goals of our life. But God’s message with Gideon is that we must give up looking up to a mere man, give up hoping in any man. But we must trust God alone and hope in Him alone! Do you remember what God said to Gideon, commenting on the number of Israelite men who were with Gideon? “[They’re] too many,” He said, “lest Israel boast over Me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’” So, God left only 300 men which was less than one percent of the original number, 32,000 men. ‘Lest people boast over Me,’ said God and the same is His message for us through this story of Gideon. Gideon is not a hero nor a man of faith; he is a type or example of sinful men; he’s simply a sinner like us whom God chose to save in His grace. We must not depend on any man, not even Gideon!

None, but Christ must we trust. None but Him alone who came in flesh, lived a perfect life without sin, met all the requirements of the law to be our righteousness. The Saviour Jesus who forgave us and reconciled us to the Father through His death on the cross, Him alone must we trust. In the Lord who rose from the dead to be the firstfruits among the righteous, we must hope.

What follows after this in Gideon’s story proves my point further. Gideon declined the people’s invitation to be their king. In his decline, the same sinful disguise recurs. He reasoned that God would rule over them. It sounds wonderful and true. But, again, his word is not proved by his deed. He asked people to give him earrings from their spoils and, out of the collected gold earrings, he made a golden ephod. As you know, an ephod is a special garment the OT high priest wore in leading worship and giving sacrifices to God. If Gideon had handed it over to the high priest of his time, whoever that was, it would’ve been a great and blessed ending of his story – I mean, a beautiful story of a penitent sinner showing his love and commitment to his God. But, that was not the case. He kept it in his own home and all Israel whored after it – in other words, paid their homage to, if not worshipped, that golden ephod instead of the living God!

I feel bad once again to be critical all this morning on everything of Gideon. But I pray that you’d be able to grasp the weight of God’s message for us, that is, we must not hope in man but in God and His Son our Saviour and Lord Jesus alone!

Gideon’s intention of making a golden ephod was clearly not for God, but for his own name. He was not a Levite; he was from the tribe of Manasseh who had nothing to do with keeping an ephod, let alone taking in any part of worship to God in the OT setting, other than giving sacrifices to God like everyone else of Israel. But he made an ephod for himself. It means that he regarded himself as a ‘better’ high priest of Israel. And all Israel whored after it! That means that they regarded either that ephod was a visible representative, if not a substitute, of God or Gideon as the one who mediated Israel in the presence of God – or both!

Again, our lesson for today becomes clear with this – that is, we must not trust nor hope in man, but God alone!

If Gideon’s story ended like this, then, it would’ve been a truly sad story. But it ends with God’s grace and mercy toward His own. Although Gideon did evil and all Israel sinned with Gideon’s golden ephod, God subdued Israel’s enemy, the Midian, and granted Israel a rest for forty years. Also, God calls Gideon in v. 29, ‘Jerubbaal,’ a nickname given to him for breaking the altars of Baals and the Asherah statue.

It is surprising to see overflowing mercy of God, instead of His divine anger or uneasy feeling toward Gideon and his fellow men of Israel. Not a word in such a nuance is recorded. Do you see what this means? God seems to be alright with such insults made by Gideon – that is, he murdered his own brothers; he lifted himself up high – in a sense, placing himself to the office of high priest. Then, how could our righteous God say nothing about it all?

This is the core, apex, of our God’s lesson for you and me through the story of Gideon. God teaches us that He is the God of immeasurable grace, of unfathomably rich mercy. In His immeasurable grace, He pardons sinners. In His unfathomably rich mercy, He forbears them until they understand how sinful they are, how horribly they’ve been insulting God in rebellion. Then, He waits for them to realise the depth of His love for each one and they finally prostrate before Him and admit that the Lord alone deserves their thanks and praise!

This merciful and gracious God embraced Gideon the arrogant doubter in His divine heart and forbore him. Likewise, He embraces you and me and all His elect despite our sins before His righteous eyes, despite our daily insult to His sovereign and holy name. Yet, God ENDURES us in His grace and waits for us to repent!

You might question in your heart, ‘When did I insult God? And when has He shown His mercy to me and forborne my evil?’ Well, my dear fellow sinners saved by grace, you and I always insult God the Creator and Ruler of the world. Not only when we break His righteous commands, but also when we disregard His kingship over us, we seriously insult Him. Yet, our gracious God forbears us. Those Danites of Succoth and Penuel were hesitant to share bread rolls with Gideon, and Gideon punished them severely with thorns and brier and sword, but our merciful Lord took the punishment we deserved onto His own head and wore a crown of thorn on the cross! He tore His own flesh and shed His blood to give us healing and rest and peace. The Prophet Isaiah is clear about this in Isa. 53, “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows … was pierced for our transgressions … crushed for our iniquities … and with His wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray [all we like the men of Succoth and Penuel rejected and mocked our God], … the iniquity of us all [was laid on Him].” Surely, God is gracious and merciful toward us sinners, forbearing our insults and rebellion!

Moreover, God not only forbears us, but also works through us to fulfil His will! Take a look at the very last verse of our text passage from 8:28 which reads: “So Midian was subdued before the people of Israel, and they raised their heads no more. And the land had rest for forty years in the days of Gideon.” Do you see this? Despite Gideon’s self-pride in sin, God gave him the Holy Spirit and worked with and through him to subdue their enemy, thus, granted God’s people God’s rest! Although you and I are continually rebellious and disobedient to God, He gives us His Spirit, works with us and through us to complete His promise, His plan, His will in our midst. And He grants us His rest. We’re not engulfed by the haters of God and His church, but enjoy our freedom of worshipping our God in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. The world is keen to dismantle the foundation of Christ’s church and disgrace His name, but God gives us His rest. What a gracious Lord is our God!

Think about this seriously because it is a serious matter! Like a parent waiting for his or her child to grow and become mature, and understand how graciously he has been nurtured and cared for, our God forbears us, waits for us and works with and through us according to His deep and rich mercy and grace!

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, let us wake up from our spiritual slumber; let us now realise how gracious our Heavenly Father is and respond to Him in repentance and faith, with an obedient heart and godly living, with praise and worship!

How do we do that? By not trusting or hoping in any man or anything of the world, but in Jesus Christ alone. One of my favourite hymns is ‘Turn your eyes upon Jesus’ and that hymn speaks about this clearly. Let me read the words of that hymn in order to help you understand what it means to not put our trust in any man but to hope in Jesus alone.

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face,
and the things of earth will grow strangely dim
in the light of His [Christ’s] glory and grace.

Turn your hearts to the Father, rest free in His wonderful love,
and the things of earth will grow strangely dim
in the light of His [the Father’s] power from above.”

May God bless you and me, and, in His grace, lead us to trust Christ alone from now and forever! ***

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