Gideon is a well known person from the Bible, not so much for his own exploits, but because of the Gideon’s International. If that name sounds familiar it’s probably because you’ve seen it printed on the front of a Bible inside a hotel nightstand.At the beginning of the 20th century, this group started giving out free Bibles to hotels around America, and it soon spread around the world. They took thier name from a young Israelite whose story is told in Judges chapters 6-8.
This is the reason they give for naming their organization after this judge of Israel: “Gideon was a man who was willing to do exactly what God wanted him to do, regardless of his own judgment as to the plans or results. Humility, faith, and obedience were his great elements of character.”
So let’s take a look at the life of a man whose story inspired this group to translate and distribute God’s Word all around the world.
Israelite Disobedience (Again)
When God gave the Israelites the land, He instructed them to take possession of it and to drive out its pagan inhabitants, or else they’d be corrupted by immorality and paganism. As is the pattern of the entire Old Testament, the people disobeyed, and suffered the consequences.
The first chapter of the Book of Judges details the conquest of the land after the fall of Jericho, or more accurately the partial conquest, because they failed to drive out the Canaanites as they were ordered to do.
Chapter 2 begins with a dire warning from an Angel of the Lord, that would detail the consequences of this failure to fully posses the land:
Now the angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up from Egypt, and brought you into the land which I swore to give to your fathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed my command. What is this you have done? So now I say, I will not drive them out before you; but they shall become adversariesto you, and their gods shall be a snare to you.” When the angel of the LORD spoke these words to all the sons of Israel, the people lifted up their voices and wept. And they called the name of that place Bochim;and they sacrificed there to the LORD.
Looking at this passage through a New Testament lens, we can see parallels to our call as Christians; we have passed through the waters of baptism (the Jordan River), and now must drive out any pagan influences that will keep us from our personal call to holiness (1 Peter 1:16) and fully living our baptismal call of being “priest, prophet, and king” (see CCC 783-786 & 1213)
After the death of Joshua in chapter 2, the warning/prophecy of the angel would be fulfilled:
And the sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Ba’als; and they forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; they went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were round about them, and bowed down to them; and they provoked the LORD to anger. They forsook the LORD, and served the Ba’als and the Ash’taroth. So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them; and he sold them into the power of their enemies round about, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. Whenever they marched out, the hand of the LORD was against them for evil, as the LORD had warned, and as the LORD had sworn to them; and they were in great distress. Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the power of those who plundered them. And yet they did not listen to their judges; for they played the harlot after other gods and bowed down to them; they soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the LORD, and they did not do so. Whenever the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. But whenever the judge died, they turned back and behaved worse than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them; they did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways. So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel; and he said, “Because this people have transgressed my covenant which I commanded their fathers, and have not obeyed my voice, from now on I will not drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died, that by them I may test Israel, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the LORD as their fathers did, or not.” So the LORD left those nations, not driving them out at once, and he did not give them into the power of Joshua.
The same happens to us today. We enter the Church through baptism, and instead of taking full possession of our faith lives, we allow former pagan (non-Christian) practices and beliefs to linger. It could be hatred, lust, anger, envy, greed, superstitions or any other number of sins and sinful attitudes. We have the tools to cleanse our lives of these influences; the Scriptures, the Grace of the Holy Spirit, and the sacraments, but for some reason we sometimes allow them to remain.
We need to heed this lesson from Judges, and root out any attachment to sin in our own lives, or we run the risk of being overwhelmed and subjugated by it like the Israelites were.
After the conquest there was an ebb and flow of oppression and freedom. The oppression was brought on by the peoples that remained in the land, and the freedom came at the hand of righteous men and women that God would raise up to lead the people and call them to repentance.
No sooner would this leader die, than the people would fall into their old ways and go back to worshiping the gods of the people around them that hadn’t been driven out.
Finally we come to another such period of oppression, this time by the Midianites, and the people cried out to God for redemption:
The sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD gave them into the hand of Mid’ian seven years.
When the sons of Israel cried to the LORD on account of the Mid’ianites, the LORD sent a prophet to the sons of Israel; and he said to them, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: I led you up from Egypt, and brought you out of the house of bondage; and I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians, and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you, and gave you their land; and I said to you, ‘I am the LORD your God; you shall not pay reverence to the gods of the Am’orites, in whose land you dwell.’ But you have not given heed to my voice.”
Judges 6:1, 7-10
With all these failings of the Israelites, and there previous rescue from oppression by the other Judges as background, we see Gideon called by God to take action.
Gideon first sees an angel of the Lord under a tree and when told “the Lord is with you,” he seems to take exception with this phrase. He responds with a version of “what has God done for us lately,” and doubts that God will honor the covenants that He made with Abraham and Moses.
And the LORD turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Mid’ian; do not I send you?”
When God calls Gideon, He reminds him of Who is sending him. Gideon himself, recounted some of the past victories that God had handed his people, and by God reminding him that he was being sent in the name of that same God, He was implying that those past victories would be repeated for Gideon in his struggle against the Midianites.
Gideon objects to this call by recounting his lack of qualifications to be a leader. In what a familiar scene throughout the Old Testament- and into the New- God calls those that He chooses, even when that choice makes no sense to us.
And he said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I deliver Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manas’seh, and I am the least in my family.” And the LORD said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Mid’ianites as one man.”
He was the least in his family, whether in stature, age, or strength, we don’t know, but we do know that Gideon didnt consider himself to be a “mighty man of valor” as the angel said to him in verse 11. He was also from the weakest clan, in the not so great tribe of Manasseh.
Gideon was seeing things on a purely human level, and as we have seen so far through the Old Testament, God’s ways are far above ours (Isaiah 55:9).
And this is why God chose Gideon. God wanted an unlikely hero to come along and free Israel so that when the people seen this little man, from a little clan, of a little tribe, they’d know that the only way he could’ve beat such an overwhelming force was through Divine intervention. This reasoning gets more reinforcement toward the end of Gideon’s story.
After tearing down an altar to Baal and the Asherah pole next to it, he rallied his clan, and all the tribe of Manasseh, along with several other tribes, to fight for the God of their ancestors and against the religious oppression that they lived under.
Several times, Gideon asked God for a sign, and every time he received one. Gideon knew he was doing what was right in the sight of the Lord, and his men knew this too.
The LORD said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Mid’ianites into their hand, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, ‘My own hand has delivered me.’
Gideon gathered such a force to fight with him, that God told him that he had too many men. When it comes to warfare, one of the things that decides victory is overwhelming force; and by that metric, especially in the ancient world, there is no such thing as “too many men” in your army.
But God is not concerned with traditional military tactics, God had another goal in mind. Just like He hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that the only thing to convince him to let the Hebrews go had to be God. And just like He led them to the Red Sea, and made it part down the middle, that was also only possible with God. And another example being the siege of Jericho; only by the hand of God could the fortified walls of a city crumble after being blasted by nothing more than trumpets and shouts.
All those victories came by the hand of God, and the Israelites knew this. They would constantly call back to the times that God had delivered them from their enemies, and this time would be like those too. Even Gideon himself, recalled the past victories of God and wondered where He was now (Judges 6:13).
Now therefore proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home.'” And Gideon tested them;twenty-two thousand returned, and ten thousand remained. And the LORD said to Gideon, “The people are still too many; take them down to the water and I will test them for you there; and he of whom I say to you, ‘This man shall go with you,’ shall go with you; and any of whom I say to you, ‘This man shall not go with you,’ shall not go.” So he brought the people down to the water; and the LORD said to Gideon, “Every one that laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set by himself; likewise every one that kneels down to drink.” And the number of those that lapped, putting their hands to their mouths, was three hundred men; but all the rest of the people knelt down to drink water. And the LORD said to Gideon, “With the three hundred men that lapped I will deliver you and give the Mid’ianites into your hand; and let all the others go every man to his home.” So he took the jars of the people from their hands,and their trumpets; and he sent all the rest of Israel every man to his tent, but retained the three hundred men; and the camp of Mid’ian was below him in the valley. That same night the LORD said to him, “Arise, go down against the camp; for I have given it into your hand.
Gideon is victorious in the ensuing battle and chases the Midianites out of the land and across the river, but because of the measures that God forced Gideon to take, in whittling down his forces to the bare minimum, He ensured that Gideon, and all Israel, would know from where the victory came. They would know that it was by the hand of God that they were delivered from the Midianites. Surely this knowledge of divine deliverance would keep the, from turning away from God again?
Despite all these things, the people wanted to give the glory of the victory of the battle to Gideon, and make him their king. Gideon declines their offer to be made king, but he does accept some riches for his efforts.
Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also; for you have delivered us out of 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; give me every man of you the earrings of his spoil.” (For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.)And they answered, “We will willingly give them.” And they spread a garment, and every man cast in it the earrings of his spoil. And the weight of the golden earrings that he requested was one thousand seven hundred shekels of gold; besides the crescents and the pendants and the purple garments worn by the kings of Midian, and besides the collars that were about the necks of their camels.
At this point we have Gideon rejecting the offer to be made a king, and it reminds me of the way that some in America offered to make George Washington king after the American revolution and he gracefully declined their offer and returned instead to his home in Virginia to become just another citizen farmer. This unnatural move to turn down the almost unlimited power of a monarchy goes against human nature, so much so that Washington’s men called him a “modern Cincinnatus” after the ancient Roman consul Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus who left his farm to become the military dictator appointed by the senate durning a wartime emergency, but when the war was over he voluntarily gave up his supreme power to become a humble farmer once again.
So foreign to human nature is this that we can pick and chose from limited examples of men that didn’t seek to seize power, and willingly handed it over to others, while history is filled with examples of those that would kill their own children to gain and to hold onto power.
But not Gideon, he was a righteous man, and he knew that the victory was the Lord’s and not his. He knew it would be wrong to usurp the power and glory that was rightly God’s alone. So what he did next is somewhat perplexing.
And Gideon made an ephod of it and put it in his city, in Ophrah; and all Israel played the harlot after it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family.
He made an ephod. “What’s an ephod?” you may ask. An ephod was a piece of the ceremonial dress of the high priest, in Leviticus it’s described as a linen garment that the priest would put on below the jeweled breastplate. In Samuel King David wears a linen ephod while dancing before the Ark of the Covenant. But Gideon’s ephod is made form the gold that was given to him in the previous verses. Scholars are not sure exactly what the biblical author meant by “Gideon’s ephod” except that we can see the outcome of it.
We also don’t know the motives of Gideon as to why he made this ephod, because the text doesn’t give any details beyond verse 22. Maybe he was trying to bring more national recognition to his hometown and force the hand of the high priests into moving the Tabernacle and Arc from Shilo to Ophrah. If that was his reasoning then it’s no wonder why i5 has a bad outcome, he would’ve been grasping at the prerogative of God just as Adam and Eve had done so long ago. But that is all speculation.
So without knowing exactly what his ephod was, or why he made it, how can we come to any conclusion about the effects of this ephod? Thankfully the author is crystal clear on this point. The fashioning of this ephod cause “all of Israel” to “play the harlot” and it became a snare for Gideon.
The Israelites eventual came to worship this thing that Gideon had created, and they became idolaters with it. Israel is the bride of God, and the Church is the new Israel. We have been betrothed to God, and will join Him in the eternal wedding banquet of the Lamb at the end of all time. But in turning away from God and serving idols, the Israelites made themselves as harlots. Harsh language, but accurate considering how they broke their vows to their betrothed and went off with another.
And this also should teach us to not allow ourselves to be ensnared by things around us and in our lives. The gold that was used wasn’t evil, the shape that it took when crafted into an ephod wasn’t evil, it was the ends that it was employed to that made it evil and a snare. The habit of worshiping the creature instead of the creator (Romans 1:25) was something they learned from the pagans that still lived among them because of their initial failure to drive them out. It was the bad influences in their life that led them to worship a piece of gold, rather than He who created the gold.
Take possession of the land
That’s our challenge. That’s our lesson to learn from Gideon. We can be victorious, we can defeat any enemy with God’s help. But we can also allow ourselves to be ensnared by sinful habits that we failed to drive out of our lives. We have to let go, and actually live the words of the act of contrition, we must “firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin.” That doesn’t mean we’ll never sin again, it just means that we will cooperate with the grace that God gives us, and endeavor to not be ensnared by the cares of this world and by our attachment to sin. We can’t do it without God, but we can do all things with Him.
(To read more on this series go to this link https://nowthatimcatholic.wordpress.com/category/bible/story-of-salvation/ )