"Failing Where it Really Matters" explores the story of Gideon, a man who experienced success in the eyes of others but failed where it truly mattered—in his personal life and in his home. This Father's Day message challenges you to examine the disconnect between reputation and character, and encourages you to walk closely with the Lord. This sermon offers valuable insights and lessons for everyone. Join us as we delve into the biography of Gideon and discover the importance of staying true to God's principles, avoiding compromise, and recognizing the warning signs that lead to spiritual downfall.
“Failing Where it Really Matters”
Since this is Father’s Day, I wanted to begin with a story that men might very well appreciate. It seems that little 6 year old Johnny was in trouble again with Mom. As soon as Dad came home from work and walked into the kitchen, his wife was commanding Johnny to do something he didn’t want to do. And right there in the Kitchen, little 6 year old Johnny looked up at his mother and said, “No, I’m not gonna do that.” And he turned on his heel and left the kitchen. She looked at her husband with that look . . . he went up the stairs, knocked on his son’s door, went in and looked down at little Johnny for a moment and then said, “Son, would you teach me how you do that?”
And all the men said, “Amen!”
This is Father’s day, we can get away with this . . . I think.
Next week we officially begin our Summer Series entitled, “Learning to Walk from those who Fell.” You don’t have to look very long in the Bible to find stories of failure . . . they have been given to us for warning; for admonition; for learning and for encouragement to walk closely with our Lord. I know what each speaker has chosen to speak on and I can tell you we will be challenged this summer in an incredible way.
I want to address the same theme on this Father’s Day morning and speak on the biography of a man who failed; a father who fell in the later years of his life.
Take your Bibles and turn to the Book of Judges and the biography of Gideon . . . a man who failed where it mattered the most . . . in his personal life and in his home.
To everyone around him, he was nothing less than a success. But to God, he was a failure.
May I remind you that your reputation and your character may be two entirely different things.
Your reputation is what people think of you; your character is who God knows you are.
Now, when I mention the name Gideon, you probably think of that incredible event, recorded in chapter 7 where Gideon led 300 men into battle, defeating an army of Midianites.
Or perhaps you’re more familiar with his biography and you know that earlier, in chapter 6, Gideon was given a nickname after nearly single-handedly destroying the altar to Baal in his home town.
It was unbelievable courage to do such a thing . . . and because of it he came to be known by his nickname which meant, Baal-fighter; or even, Baal-conqueror.
More than likely, you are familiar with that other significant event, where Gideon took 32,000 men into battle against the Midianites in chapter 7. And God told Gideon he had too many men. And the army was whittled down to a mere 300.
Imagine, going up against an army of at least 150,000 men, trained and armed to the teeth.
But Gideon was following the direction of God and surrounded the army one night, armed with trumpets and crude lanterns. They blew the trumpets, broke the lanterns and as they began to shout, “For the Lord and for Gideon,” the Midianites turned on one another in the confusion and darkness and killed each other.
What happened next, you would almost expect to happen to their fearless leader. Let’s pick up this story at chapter 8 and verse 22. “Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, ‘Rule over us, both you and your son, also your son’s son, for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian.’”
Did you notice their praise, “YOU have delivered us”. The failure of Israel, here, is to acknowledge that God did the delivering.
By the way, in chapter 8, you’ll not find one stitch of thanksgiving. In this entire chapter, you never read of the people stopping and saying, “Oh God, thank you for delivering us from these oppressors and idolaters . . . thank-you!” But they never said it.
It reminds me of Romans, chapter 1 (I had to mention the Book at least once) and verse 21 where it talks about the unbeliever who does not honor God, or give thanks.
One of chief characteristics of not only the unbeliever, but the wayward believer is a lack of gratitude toward God.
So here they are, instead of thanking God, they thank Gideon.
At the same time, now, they tempt him with a very exciting proposition. “Rule over us, both you and your son, and also you son’s son.” In other words, start a dynasty of kings and Gideon, you can be the first to rule over us.
Isn’t that the way it works . . . isn’t that success? This is the natural perk of power . . . Gideon was brave and fearless and faithful and obedient to God . . . what better person to rule as king than he?
How tempting! How flattering and alluring!
In fact, I think it was so tempting that the high point of Gideon’s walk with God occurs in the very next verse.
Look at verse 23, “Gideon said to them, ‘I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the Lord shall rule over you.’” Fantastic answer. He’s right on because God was the King in this theocracy. The nation would be ruled by God through prophet, priest and judge, not a King.
Gideon is basically saying, “God, alone, should be the King of Israel.”
If we could close the book here, end of chapter, end of story, end of biography, it would be wonderful ending. Gideon would have run his race well and he would have finished well.
But from this point on, it goes downhill.
In a strange twist, the very next verse begins what will be a downward spiral in the life of this man.
Look at the next verse, verse 24, “Yet Gideon said to them, ‘I would request of you, that each of you give me an earring from his spoil.’ (For they had gold earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.)” – verse 25 – “And they said, ‘We will surely give them.’” – in other words, ‘listen, this is the least that we can do for you, Gideon.’ – “So they spread out a garment, and every one of them threw an earring there from his spoil. 26. And the weight of the gold earrings that he requested was 1,700 shekels of gold, besides the crescent ornaments and the pendants and the purple robes which were on the kings of Midian, and besides the neck bands that were on their camels’ necks.”
Now most scholars believe that this loot is valued, in today’s market, somewhere between $350,000 and $400,000.
Now, when I read that verse, the first thought that came to my mind is, probably what just came to yours, “Uh-oh, Gideon, like so many others, has gotten greedy.” But that isn’t the case. In fact, the next verse gives us the motive for him requesting this gold. Verse 27, “And Gideon made it into an ephod, and placed it in his city, Ophrah, and all Israel played the harlot with it there, so that it became a snare to Gideon and his household.” The word “snare,” means “to ruin or to trap.” This ephod will ruin, it will destroy Gideon’s family.
You need to understand that the ephod was spiritually significant to Israelite worship. It was fashioned like an apron and was worn by the High Priest.
So what we have here is Gideon making an imitation ephod. In fact, it seems that he assumes the role that God never intended him to play, that is, of high priest.
Gideon will beak three commands, according to Exodus chapter 28.
First, Gideon was not qualified to wear the ephod. God had specifically said that only the descendants of Aaron could wear the ephod, only the high priest, not Gideon. He has no right to assume a priestly office.
Secondly, the ephod was constructed with the wrong material. According to the Pentateuch, the ephod was to be constructed of blue cloth, not gold. Perhaps the people, and Gideon himself, were impressed by constructing an ephod out of this precious and rare metal. But they, and we, should learn that God is not impressed by beauty, He is impressed by obedience.
Beauty is related to your reputation; obedience is related to your character.
Number three, the most significant error was this, perhaps, the ephod was in the wrong location. Worship was to occur in Shiloh, not Gideon’s hometown of Ophrah. So Gideon actually instituted a rival form of priesthood, a rival form of worship, and a rival location for worship.
And would you notice the result – verse 27b, “and all Israel played the harlot with it there”. The words translated “play the harlot,” always refer to spiritual failure or unfaithfulness in the Old Testament.
What the people praised in Gideon, no doubt, as spiritual attentiveness, God considered to be spiritual adultery.
So what did God do about it? Verse 28. “So Midian was subdued before the sons of Israel, and they did not lift up their heads anymore. And the land was undisturbed for forty years in the days of Gideon.”
Wait a minute, all these things have happened, where’s the thunder from heaven, the bolt of lightning, immediate judgment on a man who has so presumed in his attempt to institute a rival form of worship and led the nation astray?
No thunder? God must not be that bothered. Evidently Gideon thought the same thing.
If Gideon’s downward spiral teaches us anything, it is the truth that just because the heavens are silent when we sin, doesn’t mean that God didn’t notice.
I have had many people over the years say to me, “Stephen, you say I’m in sin, but God isn’t doing anything about it . . . He must not think it’s that bad . . . I don’t hear any thunder!
Let me read the words of an author who lived two centuries ago. God has two ways of testing men. One, in the furnace of affliction. The other, in the refining pot of prosperity. And this is the much harder test of the two. Affliction tends to humble and soften and subdue. But in prosperity, self-esteem, self-reliance, self-satisfaction, self-will and pride are prone to spring up with a rank luxuriousness. The scriptures teach us the inability of the human heart to drink a full cup of success without becoming intoxicated by success.”
Gideon would enjoy 40 years of prosperity – and his heart would become intoxicated with himself.
You might think that the greatest danger in a wayward believer’s life would be God thundering out His judgment – bringing down misery and discipline . . . bankruptcy, or disease or something.
But listen, it may actually be a greater judgment to the wayward one for God to not speak at all.
Let me give you several things that happened as Gideon lived out his life, unaccountable to God and the scriptures.
1) First, Gideon’s rival form of worship opened the door for national idolatry. Skip ahead to verse 33, “Then it came about, as soon as Gideon was dead, that the sons of Israel again played the harlot with the Baals, and made Baal-berith their god.” It’s as if the Israelites were waiting for this old judge to die and, as soon as he died, “We’re already used to worshiping something other than God prescribed or allowed . . . we’re already on our way toward idolatry . . . why not go all the way?”
Why not? Baal was already in their blood.
Like sons and daughters today who follow a father who is outwardly paying lip service to God, as Gideon did; but as soon as they’re old enough and out of the home, they run after Baal! They never saw the reality of faith in their father!
There are sons within Christian families today who are struggling with pornography – who have confided that they were introduced to it by their fathers . . . unwittingly . . . either they saw their fathers watching it or they came across computer files. And their fathers do not even know it!
Like Gideon’s 70 sons – they are paying lip service to God – but they have already decided in their hearts, “As soon as that old hypocrite is dead and buried, as soon as I can move to another state; as soon as I get out on my own and far enough away, I’m going after Baal.”
As soon as Gideon died, the nation turned his compromise into corruption.
2) Secondly, Gideon’s refusal to obey scripture opened the door to personal sin.
Look back at verse 29, “Then Jerubbaal” – there’s that nickname again, “The Baal Conqueror” – “the son of Joash went and lived in his own house.” – and it must have been some house because verse 30 says – “Now Gideon had seventy sons who were his direct descendants, (why?) for he had many wives.” He, the famous leader, you know leaders should have more so, he had more. This was a typical Canaanite perk of power. But it was a direct violation of Deuteronomy, chapter 17, which Gideon knew, “You shall not “multiply wives”.
Ah, who says . . . it’s the thing men do. It’s the pagan perks of power.
Was Gideon satisfied with his 70 sons and many wives? No! Look at verse 31, “And his concubine who was in Shechem also bore him a son” – concubine is the social euphemism for mistress. He has fifty to sixty wives. Is he satisfied with his life? No. He’s got someone on the side down there in Shechem, which, by the way, is a Canaanite city. She’s a Canaanite girl. She’s openly pagan and idolatrous. And she bears him a son, as well.
The thunder clouds of God are beginning to gather.
I came across a parable that they say is an original Russian parable. A hunter was hunting in the woods for bear and a bear came around the corner and pinned him to the ground. And the bear said, “Just what are you looking for?” And the hunter said, “Well, I’m looking for a bear to kill so that I can make a warm fur coat.” And the bear said, “I see . . . well, I’m hungry . . . perhaps we can negotiate a compromise.” Thirty minutes later, the bear ambles away and on the ground is the hunter’s cap and gun. And you’re left to put the pieces together, which you already have. The bear got his full stomach by eating the hunter. And the hunter got his warm fur coat.
Let me talk frankly with men today – young and old alike.
Perhaps you have been running well. But, maybe just recently, you have stopped to talk to some bear. It may be in the form of flirtation at the office or on the campus. Maybe it’s a married woman . . . perhaps it’s a girl who doesn’t believe in Christ.
Maybe the bear you’re negotiating with comes in the form of business accounts or practices. You’re stretching the truth – you’re cutting corners. It may come in the form of padding your expenses . . . just a little, here and there.
It’s a dangerous, hungry bear and you are in the process of negotiating a compromise.
Some time ago I was speaking with the president of a Bible College and he was commenting to me that they were struggling with students cheating on exams. Can you imagine a Bible student at a Bible college taking a test related to a biblical subject and cheating on it?
I have an older brother in the ministry who told me about an incident in seminary. He attended a seminary in Minnesota and while a student, one day during an exam, observed a friend of his cheating on a Greek exam. After class, he confronted him about it, and this student admitted that he had been cheating. In fact, he had been cheating for some time and he confessed to him. On his own volition, he went to the professor, confessed, and made amends. But something, my brother told me, still didn’t seem right. They went through four years of seminary together and, on graduation day, everything came to light. It seems this guy had been living with a young lady who was an unbeliever. He had told her he was a student in law school. They lived together during his four years in seminary, or, so she thought, law school. But the they had had such a fight that she decided to kick him out. He was away at the time and, as she was packing his things, she came to his books and, for the first time noticed that they were strange, they weren’t law books, they were theology books. And stamped inside most of them, at least the ones he had checked out from the library, was the name of the seminary he attended. She called the seminary and asked, “Why does my boyfriend have all of these books from your school?” And they said, “Because he’s a student here and he’s about to graduate.” Two of the professors went out to that apartment and met with her and unraveled all the lies and then waited for him to return home. On the day of graduation, God decided to thunder from heaven. And this young man was caught.
All his years of study went down the drain . . . the charade was over.
As tragic as that story is, the greater tragedy is the one who never gets caught, but simply deteriorates into self-absorption and pride and a wasted life.
We call that self-destructing.
I want you to notice a third thing that happened in Gideon’s failure to distinctively follow after God. Number three, Gideon’s lifestyle eventually manifested open pride and ingratitude toward God.
Look again at verse 31, And his concubine who was in Shechem also bore him a son, and he named him Abimelech.
The name, Abimelech, means “my father is a king.” Do you remember verse 23, the people said, “Gideon, ‘Rule over us . . . become our king . . . ’”. And he said, “I will not rule over you . . . the Lord shall rule over you.” And, forty years later, we read that he has developed, because of his sensual lifestyle and his compromise and his utter disregard for the law of God . . . he finally comes to the point where he takes off the mask and announces what he has become.
I shall name my son Abimelech . . . because his father is a king! Every time someone call his son’s name, it will announce the fact that Abimelech’s father is a king.
Everyone will lose.
This will become the last period, in the book of Judges, where there is peace.
You will never read again of the nation Israel worshiping as a unified people. The future judges will be tainted with sin. A future one, that you all know, Samson, will follow hard after Gideon.
The very next chapter of the book of Judges, will literally drip with the blood of Gideon’s seventy sons who will be killed by Abimelech, the son of his pagan girlfriend.
The heavens will thunder. God will speak.
C. H. Macintosh wrote, a century ago, in his commentary, Genesis Notes,
Many a vessel has sailed out of harbor in gallant style with all its sails spread; amid cheering and shouting, and with many a promise of a first-rate passage; but alas! Storms, waves, rocks and quicksands have changed things; and the vessel that began so well has ended in disaster.
What can we learn from this man who fell?
Here’s the first lesson:
Number 1: The descent of any believer into a lifestyle of sin never occurs without warning.
In other words, spiritual collapse never happens overnight and it never happens without God’s word saying, “I told you so!”
Last night my family and I were in the van, heading for the concert here at church - and what a concert it was! The van was on empty and as I turned out of our subdivision, the light went on in the dashboard that reads, “Low fuel.” Imagine, I could have stopped, gotten the crow bar from the back, come up to the front and proceed to smash that little light until it went out and then say to my wife, “There, that fixed that!”
I may have removed the warning, but I would eventually discover the unchangeable truth that you cannot drive your car without gasoline!
The spiritual truth is the same. You never fall into a life of sin without ample warning. You can throw away the warning sign of scripture – you can ignore the beeping of the warning sounds, but you are warned.
In fact, did you know that there is no such thing as falling into sin; you walk into sin with your eyes wide open. You run toward sin; You embrace sin. You leave your telephone number so sin knows where to reach you; you hand out your business card so sin knows where to write to you.
You take the first step! It might be a small thing . . . certainly no one would think badly of you . . .
just one date with a non-Christian,
just one lunch with a married man,
just one bad check . . . just one sip or snort,
just one magazine,
just one phone call, just one bet
just one look . . . just one shortcut here and another one
For Gideon it was, “I think I’ll have one more wife.”
“I think I’ll worship in my hometown where it’s convenient, rather than travel all the way to Shiloh.”
“I think I’ll look for a girl among the unbelievers . . . they’re not so bad!”
My friend, you can never say, after you are stranded spiritually or bankrupt morally, “I didn’t have a chance.”
Maybe for you, this sermon is just one more way that God is flashing a warning light at you. Do you see it?!
The thunder clouds are forming . . . can you see them?!
The person who falls into sin has been sliding in that direction for some time, ignoring the warning signs all around him.
The second lesson that I believe we can learn from Gideon’s ultimate ruin is this; making a wise decision today does not guarantee a wise decision tomorrow.
“No . . . you can’t follow me . . . God is your king!”
40 years later . . . “God who? I am the king.”
No matter how much you acquire in fame and fortune, in position and power, it will never be enough to satisfy.
Even for the believer, we often forget that God is enough!
I’ve just finished reading the Book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon and Gideon are a lot alike. Wealth, women, power, achievement, reputation . . . and absolutely unsatisfied with life.
They both began well, but ended in ruin.
I find it tragically ironic that in the Book of Ecclesiastes, which I am convinced every man ought to read at least once a year, if not more, Solomon lists all his accomplishments and names them as empty folly. But never, not even once does Solomon ever mention the temple.
Solomon’s temple, remember? His father designed it, but Solomon built it. It was one of the wonders of the ancient world . . . stunning architecture, brilliant design, massive, majestic, most of it covered with gold.
And Solomon never mentions it!
It didn’t matter to him and he never included it in his grand list.
That’s how far he had fallen.
One commentator put David’s life and Solomon’s life on a graph. David’s life looked like a roller coaster; intimacy with God – sin – repentance – walk with God – sin – repentance. But Solomon’s life looked like a sheer cliff. Intimacy – collapse.
Gideon’s life ends in a moral collapse – and the truth is, it doesn’t seem like he even sees it.
His illegitimate son, which he named out of obstinate pride, will soon rise up and kill his family, and the nation will follow after Baal.
A third lesson that shouts from the pages of Gideon’s biography is this, “the time to walk with God is not yesterday, not even tomorrow . . . certainly not, some day; the time to walk with God is today.
Dr. John Walvoord served for 50 years as the president and chancellor of Dallas Theological Seminary. I had the privilege of attending Dallas while he was in leadership; Marsha and I still have the letter he wrote to our newborn sons, as was his custom to babies born to the seminary family. As many of you know, he came for our church’s first anniversary in 1987 and preached to 100 people gathered in our band room. He also dedicated our first campus in a special ceremony . . . he told me once that prayed for our church every day. He was scheduled to dedicate this current campus as well, but his health declined and, within this last year, John Walvoord went home to be with his Lord.
I remember riding in the car with him on his last visit here; I was driving him back to the airport to catch his flight home to Dallas. We were talking about ministry in general when he made the comment, almost, it seemed, talking to himself. I can remember him looking out the window as he said, “You, know, I really want to finish well . . . I want to finish well.” This man was in his 80’s. He wanted to finish well.
He did . . . so can you . . . so can I.
If we learn these lessons . . . not by experience, but by acceptance, which is a far better teacher.
- Realize; the descent of any believer into a lifestyle of sin never occurs without warning;
So be alert to the warning! Maybe today is yet another one from your gracious, patient Lord.
- Recognize; wise decisions today do not guarantee wise decisions tomorrow;
- Remember; the time to walk with God is not yesterday, or tomorrow, but today.