Text: Judges 8:1-35
“Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”—1 John 5:21
All successful people have had their share of failure. What sets them apart from others who give up is that they learn from their failure. They keep getting back up, seeking to remedy problems, and working toward solutions until they succeed.
One of the many great realities of the Bible is that it not only highlights the successes of those who followed God in faith, but it also reveals their failures and weakest moments as well. The good news here is that God doesn’t seem to have His overarching purposes constrained, intimidated, or thwarted by the missteps of his people. His grace is always redeeming the broken parts of their story—our story—so that we can learn and grow from failure.
As we come to the conclusion of our devotional series in the study of Gideon, we see that one of Israel’s most famed heroes doesn’t finish strong as a leader. The pinnacle of Gideon’s success is surely his ‘overcoming-all-odds’ triumph over the Midianites (Judges 7). But in Judges 8, things become less spiritually romantic about his life.
The end of Gideon’s story is a bit tragic. His brutal destruction of the inhabitants of Succoth and Penuel for refusing to help his men after the battle seems a bit disproportionate to the offense. Almost overnight, Gideon goes from a humble and meek recruit in the Lord’s army (timid farmer to courageous warrior) to violently hacking down anyone who crosses him. Though he refuses to become Israel’s king, he doesn’t stay vigilant in his faith. Let’s remember that it was because of idolatry, the allowance of other things to take the place of God in their lives, that the people needed to be rescued by Gideon’s leadership in the first place. The very thing that Gideon first boldly confronted in his father’s house—misaligned worship—became a pitfall for Gideon. After the greatest missional success of his lifetime, he created an idol and things went downhill from there.
Gideon made an ephod 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.” We see from other references that this was commonly connected with idolatrous worship in ancient Israel (Judges 17:5, Hosea 3:4), likely used for purposes of divination as wayward kings inquired of false gods rather than inquiring of the Lord (2 Kings 1:2, 3).
Regardless of how far Gideon went with this form of idolatry, we do know that it was enough to be a “snare” to himself and to those he was supposed to be leading. The lessons we can learn from his failures are just has important as those we can learn from his successes. The biggest takeaway from the last chapter of his story is that we must stay vigilant in our faith. We like to think of “idolatry” as a stigma of those blood-thirsty pagan kings in the Old Testament, not necessarily as something small and seemingly innocent that might grow to become a snare to us in our daily lives. The ephod was innocent as a fitting garment worn by a priest, but when it became a transportable idol to the people, they became spiritual harlots.
Many little things can become transportable ephods in our lives—the way we view money, ambition left unchecked by a biblical worldview, or the need for social status and acclamation. Pleasure, entertainment, and hobbies can all become transportable ephods once they begin to take something away from our wholehearted devotion to Christ. Worry, fear, or unbelief can become ephods if we don’t worship God in faith, trust, and declaration of His goodness over all of our concerns. Pride can be that ephod when we fail to give God the rightful credit and glory for all of our successes.
Don’t let little ephods become big snares to you or to those in your realm of influence. Guard your heart with all diligence, stay vigilant in your faith, and remain intentional in your worship. Think about that as you seek to abide in Him this week.
Dear Lord, help us to learn from Gideon’s failures just as we have learned from his successes. Even when we find ourselves drifting in our faith, turn our hearts back to You by the work of your grace. Keep us from letting those little ephods become big snares in our lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Questions for personal reflection, small group discussion, or dinner table conversations:
- When have you seen success or popularity change a person in a negative way? Why does success so easily lead to pride?
- How did Gideon respond to those who refused to help Israel? (Judges 8:7-9) Why did Gideon begin to take the battle against the Midianites into his own hands?
- How did Gideon respond to his newfound popularity? (vv23-24) What did Gideon ask the Israelites for and what did he do with it? (v24) In the end, what unfortunate outcome resulted from Gideon’s success? (v27)
- What happened in Israel after Gideon died? (v33) What role did pride play in Gideon’s life? What are some good things that you think can cause Christians to become proud or lose their focus on serving God?
- Where has pride or idolatry crept into your life? Is there a need for humility and repentance?
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