Judges Lesson 8 - Failure . . . In the Final Lap
Faithfulness in the past doesn't always guarantee faithfulness in the future. Gideon started out as a model leader, but he soon became a victim of his own popularity and prosperity. What happened to make him stumble? What caused this once godly man to fall? His story is a warning to all of us today.
"Failure. . . in the Final Lap"
It has become life as usual these days to read a story of someone's moral/ethical fall. The stories seem all too common - reading the news of some leader caught in an indiscretion is like reading old mail - we barely stop to catch our breath - much less to stop and weep.
I was reading the Sunday paper and read along with the rest of the world the most recent political indiscretion - check kiting by our congressmen. The very men who are supposed to be handling the finances of our nation were caught purposefully bouncing checks. An activity if done by an American citizen would mean a jail sentence! One Congressman bounced 996 checks and his overdrafts exceeded his entire paycheck for the next year!
Tragically, in the same paper, the headlines of one the subsections revealed the heartless actions of two preachers who schemed away more than $900,000 from a paraplegic widow.
A high school student seemed to sum it up: "What I think is the most evil type of man in the world is the greedy and corrupt people who are supposed to be doing the world good like preachers and politicians."
It's true, the world no longer knows where to look for models of integrity - the church? Far too many men of the cloth have soiled their names and their calling; political figures seem impeccable until they run for office and the dirt begins to surface - granted, investigative reporters and rival politicians can make felonies out of misdemeanors; but what about Daniel; here is a man who is both a preacher and politician, who was subjected to scrutiny that covered 75 years of public service, and the crooked men who tried to uncover. . . finally say - "We could find no ground of accusation or evidence of corruption" (6:4)
Where are the men and women, like Daniel, who have gone the distance and have retained their testimony and integrity?!
I have had the privilege of leading you through the biography of Gideon. An ordinary man used by God in an extraordinary way. I've been thrilled with this man's life, especially his total dependance upon God for success.
It hurts, to come to the end of this man's life and suddenly realize - he ended a dismal failure. . . it hurts to see a man of faith join ranks with those who in the later years of their life - failed God and the people around them. Tripped up in the last lap!
What was it Gideon, that tripped you up - so that God must reveal for our warning and instruction - the story of your spiritual and moral faith, and the story of your spiritual and moral failure?
What happened to Gideon can happen to you and to me. It can come later in life; or can come soon after your first spiritual victory.
It is my unfortunate responsibility to show you this morning a man who tragically failed so soon after triumphantly succeeding.
And as a result of our study we will, by God's grace, avoid the convicting words of Paul as he cried out to the Galatians, "You were running a good race. . . who hindered you from obeying the truth?"
I invite your attention to the last chapter in the biography of an ordinary believer - Judges 8:22 (you remember from our last study...)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.
Before looking at Gideons answer - stop long enough to observe Israel - they didn't smell too good either.
Notice "you have delivered. . ." - the failure of Israel to acknowledge God as the deliverer. In fact, you never read anywhere in chapter 8 of any type of thanksgiving or thankfulness to God for delivering them from the Midianites.
A lack of gratitude, by the way, is one of the chief characteristic of an unbeliever. Romans 1:21 speaks of the unbeliever who sounds just like the Israelite here, "For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks."
So instead of thanking God, they thank Gideon! And at the same time tempt him with an exciting proposition!
"Gideon. . . we want you to be king. . . in fact, start a dynasty"
Let's look together at his answer. . . verse 23 - a verse that marks the high point in Gideon's career - from here on, it goes downhill!
23. But 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. Israel is a theocracy - God is the king - administering the nation through prophet and judge!
But what a tempting offer! The timid farmer from Ophrah beginning a powerful dynasty as the first King of Israel! What a promotion!!!!
Gideon never blinked - "No, God is your king"! Oh, if only we could stop the story here - end of chapter, end of book. . . but no.
The next verse begins the spiral of Gideon's downward fall 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."
25. And they said, "We will surely give them (it's the least we can do!) 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.
The value of this look would, in today economy, be valued somewhere between $300-400,000.
At first glance you might think Gideon has become greedy. Not so! Verse 27 explains his motive for getting the gold! "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 allure and entrap into ruin; this ephod ruined Gideon and his family.
1) Why was making this ephod alluring to Gideon?
2) Why would it ruin Gideon and his family?
The ephod had special significance to the Israelite. It was a garment that looked more like an apron than a coat and was part of the clothing of the high priest. On the front of the ephod was the linen breastplate that had a little pouch; in the pouch were kept the urim and the thummim - they were the means of revelation from God through the high priest to the nation. We're never told what the urim and thummim were; but we do know that only the high priest had access to them.
What we have is Gideon violating the command of God, assuming a role that God never intended him to play. It seems clear, from the passage, that Gideon actually assumed the role of high priest - with a counterfeit ephod, a counterfeit priesthood and a counterfeit worship center.
Here's where it gets interesting.
Why would Gideon want to play priest & move worship to Ophrah
The truth was, the priesthood was indeed corrupt and the office of High Priest ineffectual. In fact, not once in the book of Judges do we read of the high priest functioning according to the Word of God and providing spiritual leadership for the people.
Furthermore, the tabernacle was located in Shiloh - the Ephraimites who were responsible for it were proud and immature (last study!) They jumped all over Gideon. . .
Perhaps Gideon reasoned - I'm the one God has spoken to; I'm the one God has used - I'm the leader of the people - I'll just play the role of High Priest like it should and bring the worshippers to Ophrah instead of messing with the corrupt priesthood and the Ephraimites at Shiloh! SoGideon institutes a rival form, and a rival place for worship!
Three commands were broken:
1) Gideon was not qualified to wear the ephod. According to Exodus 28, only the priestly line of Aaron could have anything to do with the ephod. Gideon had no right to assume priestly duties!
2) The ephod was constructed from the wrong material. It was made of blue cloth, not gold. Gideon used the wrong material in his construction. . . perhaps, the people felt God would be impressed with the precious metal. The problem is, God prefers obedience to beauty.
3) The most significant error is this: The ephod was in the wrong location. Gideon placed the center of worship in Ophrah, his hometown.
Look back at the result 27b - And all Israel played the harlot with it there" The words "played the harlot" always refer to spiritual unfaithfulness. God refers to Gideon's solution as spiritual adultery! Yet, there is no record that Gideon ever raised his voice or hand as the parade of worshipers approached the ephod. Gideon knew that the people were sinning - but maybe he thought that God had made an exception for him.
And what does God do?! 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 40 years in the days of Gideon.
No thunder from God; no lightening from heaven. . . everything must be okay - God must approve!
When will we ever learn that spiritual leaders do not have spiritual privileges! And God does not bend the rules for leaders who bend the rules!
God does not make exceptions for your lifestyle just because He has used your life! Nor does he condone your lifestyle just because you don't get caught! Getting caught is the best thing that could have happened; a little thunder would have jolted Gideon. . .
Squealing tires - old Buick LeSabre (cousin Mark). Since that afternoon, I've never squealed again.
Kids try to sneak around parents; adults try to sneak around God.
And God doesn't thunder from heaven.
Worse things than thunder occurred:
1) He should have realized that his rival form of worship opened the door for future idolatry.
Notice 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 the old judge to die. . . baal was already in their blood!
2) Gideon's refusal to obey scripture opened the door to further sin.
Three sins are revealed, they also reveal a spiral downward. We've already talked about the first one:
a) Gideon's lifestyle directly ignored the authority of scripture
You have in your life one of two authorities - the Word or your own flesh. If you pull yourself out from underneath the authority of scripture, you must replace it with another authority - your reasoning, your logic, your desires, your impulses, your flesh.
And that's exactly the next step Gideon takes, and the second series of sins he commits: 29. Then Jerubbaal the son of Joash went and lived in his own (it must have been some house) 30. Now Gideon had seventy sons who were his direct descendants, for he had many wives.
b) Gideon lifestyle degenerates into the pursuits of sensuality
He, the famous leader of Israel begins to live like Solomon; directly disobeying Deut. 17:17which forbid the multiplying of wives.
Is Gideon fulfilled in his luxuriant, sensual lifestyle - NO! Look at verse 31. And his concubine who was in Shechem also bore him a son. . . Concubine is the social euphemism of mistress! He's got another gal on the side - in Shechem - a Canaanite city!
This was a typical perk of power. A little disobedience leads to overt sensuality. . . Gideon's compromise destroyed him.
Russian parable -
A hunter was out in the woods when he met a bear. Pinning the man down, the bear asked, "And just what do you want?" The hunter said, "I want a warm fur coat." The bear said, "Why that's fair enough. I, on the other hand, want a full stomach. Can't we talk about it and negotiate; perhaps we can reach some compromise?" Half an hour later, the bear got up and ambled away. On the ground was the hunter's gun. You're left to realize what happened. There was a compromise of sorts. . . the bear got his full stomach by eating the hunter, and the hunter got his warm fur coat!
Perhaps you've been running the race well, and you've just recently stopped to talk with a bear. Perhaps the bear is in the form of a business compromise; in the flirtation of someone at the office; the pressure of some exam that you need to pass; expense accounts that must be shifted. . . I was in the office of the president of a Bible College this past week, he said that a rash of cheating had just broken out among several students. Imagine a Christian student studying in a Bible college, taking a test on a Biblical subject and cheating! That makes a lot of sense! That's like breaking into a Christian Book Store and stealing the Bible you've always wanted.
c) Gideon's lifestyle develops into the practice & pride of a king
Notice verse 31. And his concubine who was in Shechem also bore him a son, and he named him Abimelech.
The word "named him" Abimelech - literally mean, "appointed him". This is very significant to understand Gideon's degeneration into pride and a king like image!
In ancient days, fathers often appointed names to their grown sons; you remember that Gideon was nicknamed "Jerubaal" by his father - "The Baal Fighter". Gideon picked up the habit and now nicknamed his grown son - it seems his favorite son, a nickname that revealed the depth of Gideon's sin and pride - Abimelech means - my father is King!
So Gideon has had a Kings lifestyle; a King's harem; a King's authority, now he names his son - "My father is King."
REMEMBER verse 23: -"I won't rule over you, God must be the king!" How far Gideon has fallen! And everyone loses as a result. This will become the last period of peace in the Book of Judges - never unify in worship again - future judges are tainted with sin - Gideon has lowered the standard; paved the way for idolatry, and destroyed his family in an attempt to begin a dynasty.
The next chapter will drip with the blood of his 70 sons, murdered by the hand of Abimelech.
Let's summarize this biography of an ordinary believers:
1) Faithlessness in the present may become failure in the future
No matter how faithful you've been in the past - sin and spiritual faithlessness are always possible.
(that's how Gideon's story ended)
A book in my library that is nearly 150 years old; composed of writings by many different men - "God has two ways of trying men, one in the furnace of affliction, the other refining pot of prosperity, and this is much the harder trial of the two. Affliction tends to humble and soften and subdue; but in prosperity, self-esteem, self-reliance, self-satisfaction, self-will, pride, and security are prone to spring up with a rank luxuriance. . . the scriptures teach us the danger of prosperity, and the inability of the human heart to drink a full cup of success without becoming intoxicated by success.
And at the end of his race - you see him stagger over the finish it isn't so much how the race begins as how it ends that speaks volumes. Oh may we echo like Paul, "I have finished my course - I've fought a good fight. . . now there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness. . . not the gift of heaven; not eternal life, but a special reward for having pursued the character of God - for having gone the distance!
Not for being a perfect person, but a progressing person - a person whose life has been marked by integrity and faithfulness- oh may the final chapter of our lives close like Paul's.
When God so chooses to write the last few words, may we have ended well! When His hand puts down the pen and He closes the biographies of ordinary believers - like you and like me. . . may we have ended well!
May we end well!
By the way, if God finished writing your biography today, how would it end? Maybe you need to submit today to His authority and allow Him to close the present chapter entitled faithlessness and begin a new one called faith.
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