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Gideon's Ephod & Death

Treaties, Compromise & Deliverance  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  38:35
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Even subtle compromise betrays the goodness of God and endangers our legacy

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There was a television series that began the year after I was born and ran for 7 seasons. I don’t recall ever seeing the originals, but this line from the reruns and the subsequent movies may identify it for you.
Play 10 second video clip
For those born after ipods and MP3s, before CDs and before cassettes and 8-tracks was something called reel-to-reel tape. As a young boy, I was amazed at how a tape could self-destruct. What is more amazing than an audiotape self-destructing, is when a reputation self-destructs and a legacy implodes.
In today’s text we will watch right before our eyes as Gideon allows his significance erode into nothingness.

Only God Saves His People (v.22)

Judges 8:22 ESV:2016
22 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.”

Explanation

1. God had made clear that HE was the one to save the Israelites 6x before the victory with the 300 (6:14-15, 6:31, 6:36, 6:37, 7:2, 7:7).
2. A subtle, but significant shift happens between 7:15 & 7:18. Gideon takes to heart the dream interpretation in 7:14 – God had provided the victory, but Gideon makes sure his name is attached to that win.
This week was Ash Wednesday. I ran across some social media posts that simply asked, “Do you observe Lent”? And some comments quickly became accusatory. They had a self-righteous tone because they inferred that people who observe Lent believe that their self-sacrifice for a few weeks merits God’s grace.
Next week we will look more closely at Romans 14 and consider the role of special days of remembrance in our salvation & discipleship.
3. Gideon blurred the lines between what God did for Israel (end of v.23) and what he did for Israel (v.24). Now the word “save” [hosha’t] (same root as hosanna or the Hebrew version of Jesus) appears for the first time since the overnight miracle and the Israelites are attributing salvation to Gideon.
4. There is no human being (whether he be a prophet, priest or politician) who can give you salvation! Only God does that.
5. There is no human act (whether it be confession, walking an aisle, a prayer, baptism, communion, or any other symbol of devotion) that can ever earn salvation. Only Jesus’ death & resurrection does that.

Application

· Gideon knew that he did not save the people, so he had no right to rule the people.
Transition: Yet Gideon seizes the opportunity to get a little something for himself…
Although the narrator has emphasized repeatedly that God, not Gideon, nor Israel, is the one who saves, the people have either failed to recognize the hand of God at all or the image of the latter heroism of Gideon has eclipsed the memory of Yahweh’s involvement[i]

A King by Any Other Name (vv.23-32)

Judges 8:23–32 ESV:2016
23 Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you.” 24 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.) 25 And they answered, “We will willingly give them.” And they spread a cloak, and every man threw in it the earrings of his spoil. 26 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. 27 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. 28 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. 29 Jerubbaal the son of Joash went and lived in his own house. 30 Now Gideon had seventy sons, his own offspring, for he had many wives. 31 And his concubine who was in Shechem also bore him a son, and he called his name Abimelech. 32 And Gideon the son of Joash died in a good old age and was buried in the tomb of Joash his father, at Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

Gideons Words (v.23)

1. Gideon’s words are theologically correct, but his personal decisions don’t back them up.
2. Since Gideon launched his pursuit of Zebah and Zalmunna in 8:4, his behavior has followed the typical pattern of oriental kings:
(1) he treated his subjects/countrymen ruthlessly (vv. 5–9, 13–17);
(2) his actions were driven by a personal agenda rather than theological or national ideals;
(3) he reacted to the death of his brothers as if they were royal assassinations requiring blood vengeance;
(4) he made ridiculous demands on his people (v. 20);
(5) he claimed for himself the symbols of royalty taken from the enemy.[ii]

Gideon’s Actions (vv.24-32)

1. Earrings were more than jewelry. (v.24-26)
a. Just as a slave in Biblical times would allow his master to pierce his ear as an indication that “this is the one I listen to and gives my orders”, ancient religions would wear earrings indicating who their gods were. It was a sign of devotion.
b. The pieces of spoil that Gideon requests are the indications of devotion (v.24), and the robes/ornaments of royalty (v.26).
2. A Fortune (26a) - 1700 shekels is about 43 lbs. (at yesterday’s price of $1570/oz. it is $1,080,160 in today’s value) if it is anywhere close to 14k pure.
When God has done a mighty act on our behalf, the glory belongs to him. No other judge before or after him receives a donation of the plunder. Gideon has no right to make this request[iii]
3. Robes (26b) – anything that resembled royalty went to Gideon
4. An Ephod (27) – Between Aaron’s robe and the breastplate with the 12 stones was some religious garment (a sleeveless vest?) with a pocket that contained the Urim & Thummim. These 2 special stones were used to discern the will of God. Aaron’s ephod was a symbol of the ability to commune with God. Some historians believe Gideon constructed a mannequin draped in the robes & gold of v.26 that went back to the gods that his father had in Ophrah (6:25-28).
Gideon’s ephod (item of worship) is reminiscent of Aaron’s golden calf made from Egyptian earrings. While the true God of the Bible desires to directly lead His people, they compromise by making a poor substitute.
a. Israel worshipped/consulted this idol.
b. Gideon’s family would charge people to consult it.
c. What started as God’s Spirit clothing Himself with Gideon has now degraded into Gideon clothing an idol with the bounty of the Midianite kings.
5. A harem (v.30)
a. Before the people ever entered the promise land, they were warned about the potential pitfall of leaders with many wives or much wealth.
Deuteronomy 17:17 ESV:2016
17 And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold.
b. The many wives are probably an indication of the statement in 1:24 that described vassal treaties.
6. A son named Abimelech (v.31)
a. Son of a (foreign) concubine 25-30 miles away
b. Son’s name is “my father is king”
o Ab = father; melek = king

Application

1. The summary description of the time of the Judges is that “everyone did what was right in his own eyes”. That description seems to fit Gideon.
2. Although his words say, “only God rules His people”, Gideon’s choices reveal he is doing whatever he pleases.
Transition: v.28 mentions the last time of peace in the book of Judges because the downward spiral of God’s people picks up in v.33.

Gideon’s Legacy (vv.33-35)

Full-blown Apostasy

1. If Gideon’s ephod was some sort of hybrid-religion halfway between tabernacle worship and idol worship whereby Gideon presumed to commune with YHWH, after his death they revert to full-blown worship of the same idol he destroyed in chapter 6. (v.33b)
o The name Baal-berith means “Baal of the covenant”. Instead of the covenant made with their ancestor Abraham and confirmed by covenant on Sinai, they now cut covenant with another god.
2. V.34 indicates that they don’t only add Baal to their list of gods, they forget YHWH altogether.
When people have many gods, they quickly forget the true God of the Bible. Many Americans today worship a god of a religion that has been tagged Therapeutic Moral Deism. This god is one who only makes people feel good and allows them to shape their own morality.
Unfortunately, I read too often of people on both ends of the political spectrum who worship this god of power and convenience, rather than the God who has revealed Himself on the pages of holy Scripture.
3. V.35 clearly states that they quickly forget the 40 years of peace YHWH granted through Gideon.
o This chapter make is clear that the man Gideon fell far short of what he could have been. But this verse indicates that they failed to give human decency to his memory.
This would be like desecrating Arlington National Cemetery. Each soldier buried there had his own faults, but their sacrifice deserves to be remembered.
The destruction of public memorials in parts of our own country is likened unto v.35. Nobody is claiming that our historical figures were perfect, but their contribution to making us the people that we are deserves remembrance.
4. Ch.9 will show Abimelech killing his half-brothers then dying himself in disgrace in a raid against his own clan.
Transition: Gideon left a legacy of apostasy…

Conclusion:

What is your legacy? What do you want said at your funeral? What will be written on your tombstone? Gideon lived his life in such a way that after his death things were no better than before God called him.
Gideon’s story gives us 2 warnings to heed carefully.
1. Personally – consider your own hypocrisy. Gideon knew that only God saved the people from the Midianites and only God deserved to rule His people. But he refused to correct their error in v.22 and he leveraged it for his own comfort. When we know the right thing to do, but don’t do it or don’t proclaim it, we become hypocrites.
When Gideon asked for earrings, he was treating himself to something he knew he did not deserve.
2. Publicly – consider if you are a stumbling block. The idea of stumbling occurs no less than 17 times in the New Testament. Sometimes the truth of the Gospel causes some to trip. Sometimes our behaviors cause others to stumble or sin.
I recall a phrase my mother quoted often, “What parents do in moderation, their children will do in excess.” The 2 examples were 1) when parents consume alcohol socially then their children may abuse it; or 2) when parents incur small debt, often their children will fall into deep debt.
Could someone look at your life and say, “If she does a,b,c and gets by with it, then it must be okay for me to x,y,z.”?
Jesus used strong language when he said, “if your eye offends you then pluck it out.” Paul, in 1 Cor 8, issues a similar challenge when our behaviors cause a brother to stumble in his obedience.
When Gideon made a golden ephod he distracted people from the prescribed worship of God and lead them one step closer down the path of idolatry.
No, you are not your brother’s keeper, but the ethic of brotherly love says that we must avoid anything that makes it easier for another person to sin.
As you contemplate these two questions (Am I a private hypocrite and Am I a public stumbling block?), I invite you to renew your commitment to Christ as we sing “More Love to Thee”.
[i] Daniel Isaac Block, Judges, Ruth, vol. 6, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 298.
[ii] Daniel Isaac Block, Judges, Ruth, vol. 6, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 299.
[iii] K. Lawson Younger Jr., Judges and Ruth, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 211.
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