Judges 8b

Judges 8: Part 2

We noted the changes in Gideon in last week’s lesson, these changes will continue to be obvious. Gideon is no longer the least of his family, nor is his family the weakest clan among the weakest tribe of Manasseh. He is becoming quite Ephraim-like in his pride. Pride demands we be recognized for our contributions, our abilities, our talents and skills.  Gideon is no longer lacking confidence- but is his confidence in self or the God who gave him success and confidence?

Let us understand the principle of covenants, so we may see the spiritual truths that lie beneath this historical account.  When we read world history either from secular history books or through the Bible, we see powerful, conquering nations and kingdoms subduing and taking over smaller, weaker nations. For this reason, many smaller nations or kingdoms looked to form alliances with larger, more powerful kingdoms who could provide them with protection.

In Bible history we see the kingdoms of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon (Nebuchadnezzar), Persian, Greek (Alexander) , Ptolemies of Egypt ( Generals who divided Alexander’s kingdom), and the Roman Empire.  So we observe the kingdoms come and pass away. However one of the customs of those eras were covenants. Covenants were sealed agreements signifying relationships between individuals and between nations. Larger nations or kingdoms would cut a covenant with smaller, weaker nations to protect them from enemies with their larger military in return for their allegiance. The larger kingdom who instituted the covenant was called the ‘ suzerain’ and the smaller kingdom was referred to as the ‘ vassal state.’ In this way empires( like the Roman Empire) could bring about peace for long periods of time.

The covenant would spell out the provisions of the larger kingdom to the smaller one:  military protection and financial provision in time of need. In return the vassal state would give a percentage of their annual crop harvest to the suzerain state. The vassal state would also pledge their loyalty to the suzerain state. They could not enter into covenants with other kingdoms. This would be considered treason and there would be dire consequences. Often the larger kingdom would allow a certain amount of freedom for the smaller kingdom to govern themselves and maintain their traditions, but the larger kingdom maintained legal ownership of the vassal’s land and agricultural harvest.

Not unlike a master and a slave. The master was to take care of the slave’s need and in return, the slave was to be loyal to his master. Covenants are offered from the stronger to the weaker, and can be accepted or rejected- but they cannot be altered.

God had made Israel a nation through Abraham. God used something the people of that day clearly understood, God initiated a covenant. His Kingdom would offer this smaller kingdom, Israel, unfailing protection and ongoing provision in exchange for their loyalty to Him. They were not to cut covenants with other countries or gods. They were to have no other suzerains. Their Suzerain would be Almighty God, but He would also not be a visible, physical king like other nations had.

In our story of Judges, we see the vassal state, Israel, continually breaking their covenant agreement with their suzerain state, which is in reality, God. God in His covenant with Israel commanded them to love Him with all their heart, soul and strength. They were to have no other gods before Him.  Here in this era of Judges their behavior is so aptly described by the oft repeated phrase-‘ there was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in their own eyes.’ They committed treason and broke the covenant with God. And God allowed them to be taken captive, for He no longer provided them with protection. Israel showed a tendency from early on- they preferred to have a ‘flesh and blood’ king; a visible king rather than the invisible God.

They also wanted God plus their idols- not God alone.

Let’s pause for a minute to reflect on the prayer, the Lord Jesus taught his disciples and us to pray. A model prayer, but one that takes us back to our Provider, our Suzerain.  “ Our Father,  which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us the day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation , but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever. Amen.”  This is the prayer of the vassal servant to his loving suzerain. We have no other goal but for his kingdom to come and his will to be done in our lives. Our loyalty is to Him and we are dependent upon Him for our daily bread, protection from the evil one. We are as the nation of Israel was commanded – to love Him with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.

When the story of Gideon opened in Judges 6, we see once again the Israelites had broken their covenant with God. As a result, God does not protect them from their enemies, and the Midianites have for seven years oppressed them. The enemies invaded their countries and took their harvest. The Israelites begin to call out for God for help.

First God sent an unnamed prophet who reminded them of what God had done in the past: “ This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. I snatched you from the power of Egypt and form the hand of your oppressors. I drove them from before you and gave them your land . I said to you, I am the Lord your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites in whose land you live. But you have not listened to Me.”

So it was at this point we were introduced to Gideon. He certainly was not a Joshua, or Caleb was he? Afraid of his own shadows, constantly seeking reassurance from God for every step of the way. He was in the beginning in constant conversation it seems with God.  On the very night God came to Gideon, Gideon asked God to wait while he went and prepared an offering. Then to reassure Gideon, He was who He said He was- He consumed the offering with fire .

Remember what Gideon did?  He built an altar and called it: The Lord is Peace.  But when we build an altar to the Lord, we must make sure there are no other altars to any other gods. God instructs Gideon to tear down the altars to Baal his father had erected. He told him to take a 7 year old bull and sacrifice it.

How long had the nation of Israel been under siege by the Midianites? Seven years. This bull would have been a calf when it first occurred.

Two things about idols in one’s life:  they are not neutral, and they are not stagnant. They get bigger, they do not stay small.  Calves and bulls were cult animals of Baal worship. In Exodus 32  we saw what the nation of Israel did early in their covenant relationship with God. Moses is on the Mount Sinai to receive the details of the covenant between God and Israel.  He is there for some time.  The people grew impatient waiting for Moses and ask Aaron to create a god for them of their own choosing. First of all they wanted a flesh and blood leader who was present with them, so they asked Aaron to step in.  They wanted a quick fix.  They wanted a tolerant god, a people-friendly god. We often grow weary in waiting and fearful in hardships- we do not like waiting. Yet waiting is like the tree which endures the drought by its roots growing deeper and it becomes more anchored. Adversity makes us stronger.

Peter tells us ‘… who through faith are shielded by God’s power..”  This is our Mighty Suzerain who pledged to protect us from the enemy.  Peter told us we might have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, is being refined by the fire that is may be proved genuine and may result in praise, honor, and glory to Jesus Christ.

You see what happened to the inanimate gold calf at Mount Sinai a 150 years before became a living, breathing, calf who in seven years had become a living, breathing, bull.

What happened at Mount Sinai was happening again and again in Israel, the people traded the invisible, One and Only True God for a visible substitute, in this case- a golden calf. They also wanted a physical leader who gave them what they wanted.

What has happened to Gideon in this short span of time we read in these three chapters? You notice something that is missing?

Ever since the first battle and the amazing victory God gave to Gideon. We see no prayer between Gideon and God. Gideon is  not constanlyt consulting God on his part as to what to do next. No altar building. No bowing down to worship God. No fellowship with God. No intimacy. No prayer life. No worship.

God has not spoken to Gideon.

Gideon has not asked God to speak to him.

What was one of the things the disciples who lived and spent almost all their time for three plus year with Jesus notice about him?- His prayer life.  In fact, it was this they asked Jesus to teach them, teach us to pray Master. “ Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” ( Mark 1: 35)  If Jesus felt it necessary to spend time in prayer- to make it the priority of his day, starting it with prayer. Why would we, not believe how important it is.

Watch what happens next in the story of Gideon. The people, just like in the days of Exodus 32,ask for a flesh and blood king to rule over them. Someone they can see. A hero,a champion. Someone who can solve their problems and keep them safe. They ask Gideon to be their king and set up a dynasty.  Gideon refuses the crown. “ I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The Lord will rule over you.”

The words are certainly right, aren’t they?  But his actions that follow reveal his heart is not right.

“ May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord.” ( Psalms 19) The words of your mouth should match the meditations of  your heart.

“The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it? I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind to reward a man according to his conduct , according to what his deeds deserve.” Jeremiah 17.

They requested a king- Gideon refused. Looked noble for a moment.

But then- Gideon requested gold.  To the victor belongs the spoils, right?  Okay- but who was the victor?  The victor was the Lord, the victory was the Lord’s. The battle was the Lord’s.  And God made so sure everyone, especially Gideon, realized they had nothing to boast of- for the Lord had used Gideon and 300 soldiers against 135,000. Clearly the Great Suzerain, the Lord God Almighty who had delivered them out of captivity of the greatest power on  earth, Egypt, had defeated the Midianties and Amorities and Eastern nations for He had vowed He would protect them from their enemies. In return God asked them for their loyalty and their pledge to have no other gods before them and love Him with all their hearts, mind, souls and strength.

Gideon asked for gold. He has already taken plunder from the two kings.  Remember Abraham’s victory in Genesis 14?  He was offered the spoils of war, the riches of plunder and refused the offer of the King of Sodom.  Abraham remembered his covenant to the God, His Suzerain.  “ I have raised my hand to the Lord God, Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and have taken an oath that I will accept nothing belong to you, not even a thread or the thong of a sandal, so that you might say I have made Abraham rich.”  Abraham refused to let himself become obligated to anyone but the Lord.  After this the Lord came to Abraham in a vision and said:  “ Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield and your very great reward.”  ( Genesis 14 & 15)

Gideon takes the gold and creates a golden ephod. An ephod was the vestment worn by the Levite priest. I am not sure why Gideon did this. But it became an idol and snare to Gideon and the people of his town Oprah. Gideon, evidently had placed this golden ephod in a place where all of the town could see it. For we read they worshipped it.

Where was the ephod to be worn and by whom?  In the tabernacle by the Levite priests. Where was the tabernacle? In Shiloh in the territory of Ephraim.  It was approximately 35 miles from Oprah. It was probably a day and half journey to Shiloh from Oprah.

Perhaps, this is speculation, Gideon believe after his encounters with God and having heard from God and his success in battle, he, Gideon, could devise his own rules about worship contrary to God’s rule of order.  He was in a way, creating another golden calf. Do we do the same thing?  Do we create our own version of God and our own version of what constitutes worship?

Gideon refused the offer to be king- but he wanted to live like a king.   Watch the fall:

Gideon took the ornaments off their camel’ s necks. ( vs 21)

Gideon requested each give him a gold earring.

Gideon created a golden ephod.

Gideon had 70 sons of his own, he had many wives.

Gideon also had a concubine and son by the concubine. Did you notice all these acts were initiated by Gideon?Guess what Gideon named the son of this concubine?  Abimelech- whose name means ‘my father is king.

I don’t know about you- I liked Gideon when he was the afraid-of-his-own-shadow man who sought God’s reassurance and guidance every step of the way.

Something happened along the way, didn’t it?  His confidence in the Lord which brought him success led to confidence in his own efforts. His faith was very shaky at first. It was ‘ little faith’ that grew into great faith.

How much faith do you believe Martha needed to get Lazarus back from the dead?  It seems apparent from the account, she did not have much faith. For she reminded the Lord, Lazarus had been dead and buried for four days and decay and stench would have set in.

Every evidence in their encounter points to Martha having no faith at all that Lazarus would be resurrected from the dead that day. But she had enough faith to give the orders for the tombstone to be rolled away in spite of the doubts she had.

Faith is our decision to respond to God’s word.

Faith begins with God. God takes the initiative. He came to Gideon, didn’t He? He came to Abraham- and He came to me and to you.

We respond in faith to God’s Word. Although He is an invisible God.

When we respond to God’s initiative we have now entered into a new relationship with Him. God speaks to us through His Word. WE respond in obedience by faith and guess what? A relationship begins and we get to know Him.

Every relationship begins with a conversation. What was true with Abraham was true with Gideon as well as everyone who ever believed and trusted the Lord to save them.

“Without faith it is impossible to please God and those who come to Him must believe that He is and a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. “ ( Hebrews 11: 6)

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” ( Hebrews 11: 1)

What is the focus of faith in this verse:  of things hoped for- and things we do not see.

Faith operates in the area of the unseen, the invisible, and area of unrealized hope.

Our faith is what bridges the gap between our earth- bound bodies bound by time and space into the invisible realm of the eternal.

My faith and your faith has the amazing ability to bridge the gap between our humanity and eternity. It is through our faith in Almighty God, that God can unleash his mighty eternal powers on earth. He can destroy 135,000 of the enemy with only 300 untrained soldiers.  In fact, God did not even need the 300, He could have done it all by Himself, but He wants to use us- so we can learn how to do His Work, His Way on this earth. And in doing so- our faith in Him grows; our relationship  with Him becomes the most important thing in our lives.

I have come to believe strong faith can only grow as we continue to respond to the Word of God in the absence of outward encouragement.

Strong faith grows when responding to God and believing in Him, waiting on Him for years, is the hardest to do.

You know what we want for ourselves and our loved ones:

We want successful careers.

A committed spouse.

A cushion of financial security.

Some good clean fun and relaxing times.

There is nothing wrong with any of these- they are good things. They are things, Jesus said your father knows you have need of. They are things the pagans run after.

But Jesus said we must be careful what we treasure for where our treasure is – our hearts will be also.

Our Almighty Provider, Our Master, Our Powerful Suzerain says- I will provide and supply all your needs. But God says only when I am first.. ‘ seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you.

Do you realize in His Word, His Covenant- He reminds of what He has promised and what our responsibilities to Him are.

This a lifelong pursuit. It is by willing, prayerful, and personal obedience to requirements of the covenant as defined in Scriptures that godly patterns are developed and come to be. This is our part. God works in us both the desire and the will to do His good purpose.

I want to keep Him first until the end of my days.

I want to pursue Him and not just what I can get from Him.

I want to be a mighty warrior.

I want to finish strong.

Copyright © 2010 Linda Benthal
Last modified: 08/12/14