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The Snare of Success

Judges  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  43:10
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Infinite Fun at Boondocks

Went to Boondocks with youth group. Got these bracelets which gave us infinite rides for three hours. We could go anywhere, do anything. Go carts? Yup, bracelet. Ropes course, bam! LASER tag, mini gold, bowling, all the things, just flash the bracelet and you’re good to go.
Where is my version of that for life? I’m a good guy, and I follow a good God. Why doesn’t God give me a bracelet where I just get infinite blessings?
Perfect job? Bracelet. Need a parking space? Bracelet. Faced by trial or tribulation or heartbreak, or any challenge? Bracelet and the heavens open up and miracles upon miracles descend and… I just win.
Why doesn’t God make it so we just win?
Why doesn’t God just give us all fantastic success? Infinite blessing? Free rides everywhere we go?
Now you are all brilliant theologians and I bet you have already come up with some answers. But stop that for a moment, and just dream with me. Wouldn’t that be kind of awesome. Maybe for one day, one year? Limited time offer, but I could make some things happen!
Here’s a guy who won.

The Legacy of Gideon

Heroic Leader

A Gentle Word

Judges 8:1–3 ESV
Then the men of Ephraim said to him, “What is this that you have done to us, not to call us when you went to fight against Midian?” And they accused him fiercely. And he said to them, “What have I done now in comparison with you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the grape harvest of Abiezer? God has given into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. What have I been able to do in comparison with you?” Then their anger against him subsided when he said this.
Crisis: the men of Ephraim, the most powerful tribe at this time, are upset that Gideon has won the victory without him. But with a gentle word, Gideon implies that the hardest part is yet to come and Ephraim will be key in mopping up the Midianites.
Judges 8:1
Crisis solved.

Revenge

Skipping down to verse 18, we get another little victory for Gideon. He pursues and captures Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of the Midianites. He captures them and...
Judges 8:18–21 ESV
Then he said to Zebah and Zalmunna, “Where are the men whom you killed at Tabor?” They answered, “As you are, so were they. Every one of them resembled the son of a king.” And he said, “They were my brothers, the sons of my mother. As the Lord lives, if you had saved them alive, I would not kill you.” So he said to Jether his firstborn, “Rise and kill them!” But the young man did not draw his sword, for he was afraid, because he was still a young man. Then Zebah and Zalmunna said, “Rise yourself and fall upon us, for as the man is, so is his strength.” And Gideon arose and killed Zebah and Zalmunna, and he took the crescent ornaments that were on the necks of their camels.
Here we hear that his brothers were killed.
Judges 8:18
Here we hear that his brothers were killed.
But we also see the contrast between the coward he was, now represented by his son Jether, and the mighty man of valor he is now.

Gideon - H

He has achieved peace among the tribes, he has achieved the peace of victory of his enemies, and then we see again the pattern of shalom, the pattern of peace we see for each judge.

Peace for a season

Judges 8:28 ESV
So Midian was subdued before the people of Israel, and they raised their heads no more. And the land had rest forty years in the days of Gideon.
Gideon was successful and the land had rest. In this he fulfilled the promise and prophecy spoken over him by the angel of God: the Lord is with you, o mighty man of valor. Israel will be delivered by your hand.
He showed himself as a wise leader, he got revenge for his family, and he obtained victory over the enemy and peace for his people for forty years.
All is well, and you can’t really argue with success, right? Why doesn’t God just give us all such fantastic success?
Why can’t we all be like Gideon?
Because we might all end up being like Gideon.

Infinite Ice Cream

I shop at Costco and about 4 trips in a row I bought there pack of vanilla ice cream. I kept forgetting I had some and oooh.... ice cream sound good. So at one point I had half a dozen tubs of vanilla ice cream in my freezer. I had the good stuff.
What is the solution to that?
All right kids, gather round… Ice cream sundaes and root beard (please don’t correct, keeping Dylan going on “root beard” as long as possible) root beard floats for days. Let’s just eat all the ice cream in one sitting.
It’s good stuff. And I want to give good gifts. Why not give it all to my children?
Why don’t I give my kids endless desserts? Because it would be bad for them. It would make the sick. It would make the unhealthy. It would hurt and harm them and so I have to be careful with how I give them those blessings…
Because they can’t handle it. All the goodness at once would damage them.
A Good Father knows a Good Gift and not to tempt me too far with
Every gift and every victory carries with it the temptation of self. Self-glorification, self-sufficiency, and self-righteousness.
My body couldn’t handle infinite ice cream. It would destroy me, and the process would be gross and painful.
Wrapped within the victory, wrapped within the blessing, inherent in any gift is this temptation: I am going to focus on the Gift rather than the Giver. I am going to see the Blessing as my due. I am going to see the Victory as my accomplishment.
Gideon sees fantastic
I am going to grab the glory.

Wannabe-King

This is the path of Gideon.
Threaded right through this telling of Gideon’s fantastic success and victory we see trouble...

Jealous anger.

Judges 8:5–9 ESV
So he said to the men of Succoth, “Please give loaves of bread to the people who follow me, for they are exhausted, and I am pursuing after Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian.” And the officials of Succoth said, “Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna already in your hand, that we should give bread to your army?” So Gideon said, “Well then, when the Lord has given Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, I will flail your flesh with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers.” And from there he went up to Penuel, and spoke to them in the same way, and the men of Penuel answered him as the men of Succoth had answered. And he said to the men of Penuel, “When I come again in peace, I will break down this tower.”
Judges 8:5-9
Nowhere do we see God telling Gideon to do this. These are his countrymen, probably the tribe of Gad. “I will flail your flesh”… “Do you know who I am???”
And to make it worse, this isn’t an empty threat, Gideon follows through.
Judges 8:16–17 ESV
And he took the elders of the city, and he took thorns of the wilderness and briers and with them taught the men of Succoth a lesson. And he broke down the tower of Penuel and killed the men of the city.
Judges 8:
I’ll teach YOU not to give sandwiches to my men! A little mad with power?

The Spoils

But Gideon has won this great victory and the men of Israel want to make him their king. Probably not all of them, it doesn’t say, but a contingent of men come to Gideon:
Judges 8:22–23 ESV
Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also, for you have saved us from the hand of Midian.” Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you.”
Judges 8:22–24 ESV
Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also, for you have saved us from the hand of Midian.” Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you.” And Gideon said to them, “Let me make a request of you: every one of you give me the earrings from his spoil.” (For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.)
This has the appearance of humility and piety. This is actually what He should say. The lesson of Judges and Samuel and Kings is that God wants to be King of His people and every-time someone else takes that throne, the people suffer. The nation suffers. The relationship suffers. Because right relationship is the King ruling His Kingdom.
Gideon says exactly the right thing, and then...
Judges 8:
Judges 8:22–25 ESV
Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also, for you have saved us from the hand of Midian.” Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you.” And Gideon said to them, “Let me make a request of you: every one of you give me the earrings from his spoil.” (For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.) And they answered, “We will willingly give them.” And they spread a cloak, and every man threw in it the earrings of his spoil.
Judges 8:24–25 ESV
And Gideon said to them, “Let me make a request of you: every one of you give me the earrings from his spoil.” (For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.) And they answered, “We will willingly give them.” And they spread a cloak, and every man threw in it the earrings of his spoil.
Gideon forgoes the name of King but takes all the trappings and power of the King. And then he takes a kingly tribute. “Don’t give me the name, but give me everything a King would get otherwise, the King’s portion of the booty.”
Judges 8:22–27 ESV
Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also, for you have saved us from the hand of Midian.” Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you.” And Gideon said to them, “Let me make a request of you: every one of you give me the earrings from his spoil.” (For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.) And they answered, “We will willingly give them.” And they spread a cloak, and every man threw in it the earrings of his spoil. And the weight of the golden earrings that he requested was 1,700 shekels of gold, besides the crescent ornaments and the pendants and the purple garments worn by the kings of Midian, and besides the collars that were around the necks of their camels. And Gideon made an ephod of it and put it in his city, in Ophrah. And all Israel whored after it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family.
Gideon forgoes the name of King but takes all the trappings and power of the King.
Judges 8:26 ESV
And the weight of the golden earrings that he requested was 1,700 shekels of gold, besides the crescent ornaments and the pendants and the purple garments worn by the kings of Midian, and besides the collars that were around the necks of their camels.
40-60 pounds of gold. Between 700,000 and 1 million dollars today.
Judges 8:
40-60 pounds of gold. Between 700,000 and 1 million dollars today.
That’s a King’s ransom. But it’s okay, he’s going to donate it to charity, right? Right?
Judges 8:27
Judges 8:27 ESV
And Gideon made an ephod of it and put it in his city, in Ophrah. And all Israel whored after it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family.
What is this ephod?
What is an ephod?
The ephod is a part of the high priest’s garment, the breastplate where the Umin and Thumin would sit. But it wasn’t made of 40 pounds of gold, so it is unclear if Gideon had a 40 pound solid gold one made that he could wear (like Flava flave), or if this was a stand-alone statue of one that could be independently worshipped.
Once again, it has kind of the appearance of correctness, it is a thing associated with Yahweh, but no substance. It is not part of the worship of Yahweh and God didn’t ask for it.
In fact, it says right here what the substance was and what the effect was.
Israel “whored” after it. Is that an emotional word? Yes! It’s kind of a vulgar word, isn’t it? But this, I think the word in God’s heart as he sees His people, right after he saved them right again, all over again throwing their hearts, throwing their selves, throwing their love and attention yet again at something and someone unworthy. Whoring themselves out yet again, to an empty idol, a golden ephod.
A snare. A trap (It’s a trap!). A snare, a thing whcih looked innocent and then you stepped in it and BAM! it has trapped Gideon and his family.
God isn’t fooled by any of the smoke and mirrors.
God isn’t fooled by Gideon saying “no, no, no, I don’t need to be King.”
God sees Gideon’s heart and Gideon’s actions.
God sees Gideon take the spoils of the King.
God sees Gideon take many wives and concubines like a king, seventy sons like a King.
God sees Gideon name one of his son Abimelech, which means my Father (Abi) is King (melech). Super subtle.

The “King’s” Legacy

If that weren’t clear enough:
Names his son Abimelech, which means my Father (Abi) is King (melech. Super subtle.
And the people, as the story continues, assume one of his sons will follow as King. In fact, nobody is fooled by Gideon’s “righteous refusal.” What remains is the fruit of his unrighteous, self-glorifying heart.
It kills his legacy.
It literally kills his family.
Because he takes on the glory and steps, in substance, into the role of God, onto the throne of God…
Why doesn’t God give us every success like Gideon.
Gideon falls into the trap of success. The pit of success. The snare of success.

How to Avoid the Snare of Success

And he dies. Peace was achieved for a season, but what is about to go down is absolute mayhem and chaos and murder. There is no legacy, only pain and suffering.
And the Bible doesn’t give us a positive directive here. Just the example of a fallen Hero. Fortunately, Jesus talked about the danger of success, the dangers of money and pride, the danger of anything besides God sitting on the throne of our lives.
And Paul, writing to the Ephesians, tells us of the great antidote to the snare of success:
Ephesians 2:8–10 ESV
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
By Grace Alone. Undeserved favor. You don’t deserve it. You don’t ever earn it. And the works we do? They are good. And we are faithful to walk in them. But ‘ware the danger! Should we ever think that they are ours and grasp hold of them, hold them up, wear them like a solid ephod around our necks...
A snare, a trap, to me and to all mine. An idol and, to use the emotional and graphic language of God: whoring myself after glory or wealth or status or reputation or anything other than my Saving God.
Having done one good thing, people are more likely to then do something immoral.
People said they “liked Obama”… then they were okay with being racist.
People who didn’t, less likely to then admit to being racist.

I ate a really healthy dinner, therefore I get dessert. And the dessert I “reward” myself with far outweighs any benefit of the “healthy” thing that I ate. And I just want endless amounts of it.
Why don’t I give my kids endless desserts? Because it would be bad for them. It would make the sick. It would make the unhealthy. It would hurt and harm them and so I have to be careful with how I give them those blessings...
Because they can’t handle it. All the goodness at once would damage them.
A Good Father knows a Good Gift and not to tempt me too far with
Every gift and every victory carries with it the temptation of self. Self-glorification, self-sufficiency, and self-righteousness.

A Community of Victors

This is a room of successful people. Victors. People blessed by God in all sorts of ways.
It is not that we should feel bad or guilty about the ways God has blessed us. We receive with open hands, trusting in our Good Father to give us Good gifts.
Your beautiful house. Your family. Your growing career. The talents upon talents God has given you. Your opportunities. Your education. Your acts of service. Your acts of beautiful love, or even acts of awkward love.
All the best things you have done and all the best things you have! Pile them up, an embarrassment of riches, of treasure and of talent.
You are, objectively, a remarkable group of people. I brag on you all the time. Amazing and loving and successful and talented.
But what will we do with those gifts. Will they be, as with Gideon, a snare for us, our generation and the next? Cloaked in the right words, even in the form of worship...
Gideon would have fooled me. He said the right words and even dressed up his gold in the trappings of religion. He would have fooled me. I bet you could fool me too.
But there is no fooling our God. He sees the snare even as it ensnares you. Will your blessings, your good deeds, your talents and treasure be a snare...
Or truly offered up as a sacrifice to Him? His gifts to my hands right back onto the altar, a cycle for His glory, accomplishing His purposes, His ministry, His victories!
His talents, a stewardship entrusted to me, thrown right back into His service, into the good works He has prepared for me to do.
What if, dream with me now, what if God could trust us with even more blessing, more talent, because we honestly and sacrificially were throwing everything we had at Him?
As far as I can see the only limiting factor in
May God do that work in me.
May God do that work in us.
Every blessing you pour out, oh God, let us turn back in praise.
Every victory you work near me or through me let me, to my very depths, respond in worship.
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