A good start and past successes do not guarantee a good end. God greatly used Gideon, but Gideon greatly failed God in the end. His life and sad end serve as a warning that we must remain ever diligent in our walk with the Lord and never let our guard down.
Someone once told me that the weather was so cold where he lived that a local politician was caught with his hands in his own pockets. Now I’m not against politicians—I’m praying for them—and frankly, I wouldn’t want their difficult job. But I’m always concerned about political and religious leaders who don’t live the way they should.
Gideon is one of those leaders who started out so well as an amazing judge and leader, but sadly, he’s going to trip up, so to speak, in the final chapter of his life. God gives us the account here in the Bible because He evidently wants to warn us all to stay on track—all the way to the finish line.
We are now in Judges chapter 8, where Gideon and his 300 men have seen God defeat the Midianites. And what happens next is not surprising. The people want to crown Gideon as their king. Verse 22 says:
Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us . . . for you have saved us from the hand of Midian.”
Now wait a second—Gideon didn’t save them. God saved them miraculously. But let me tell you, you will not find one word of thanksgiving to God in this entire chapter. Instead, the people want Gideon to establish the first royal dynasty in Israel. Note their words in verse 22 again: “Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also.”
Gideon’s response, by the way, is outstanding. He says, “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you.” This nation is to be governed by God, not Gideon.
Now if we could close the biography of Gideon with his answer here, it would make a terrific ending. The problem is, Gideon keeps talking—and this marks the beginning of a downward spiral in his life.
And Gideon said to them, “Let me make a request of you: every one of you give me the earrings from his spoil.”. . . And they spread a cloak, and every man threw in it the earrings of his spoil. And the weight of the golden earrings that he requested was 1,700 shekels of gold. (verses 24-26)
That is about 800 ounces of gold, worth well over a million dollars. Gideon is no longer a poor farmer like he was six months earlier; he’s now a rich man.
There’s nothing wrong with being rich, but it’s been shown time and time again throughout history that adversity is spiritually safer than prosperity.
But Gideon’s motive here isn’t greed for gold but for influence. Verse 27 tells us what Gideon did with this gold:
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.
The ephod was very significant in Israelite worship. It was fashioned like an apron, and it was worn over the outer garments of the high priest.
Gideon makes an imitation ephod out of gold and starts playing the role of high priest. But why? Well, we can put some clues together.
First, the priesthood is corrupt and ineffective at this time. Nowhere in the entire book of Judges do you read of a high priest leading the people in worship.
Second, the tabernacle, the central place of worship, is located in Shiloh, in the territory of Ephraim. We saw in our last study that there is a lot of bad blood between Gideon and the tribe of Ephraim.
Third, Gideon evidently assumes that since he is the one God has spoken to in the past, he is the one God will speak through in the future.
Gideon just takes it one step further and begins to play high priest. He moves worship services from Ephraim to his own hometown.
According to God’s Word in Exodus 28, only the descendants of Aaron can wear the ephod and serve as high priest. So, Gideon effectively creates a rival priesthood at a rival location. He might have been sincerely motivated, but he was still sincerely wrong.
People in authority can get tripped up by thinking that they are a special case and can live by a different set of rules. The truth is, leaders do have something special—they have a special responsibility to follow God because of their special influence.
So, what does God do to Gideon here? Verse 28 might surprise you:
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.
God doesn’t do anything. There is no thunder from heaven, no bolt of lightning to judge Gideon and this false worship. Instead, Israel has peace for forty years.
But let me tell you something: just because God is silent when we sin doesn’t mean God is sleeping.
In Gideon’s case, there are no immediate consequences, but they do arrive. For one thing, the door is now open for national idolatry. Skip ahead to verse 33 and note what happens forty years after Gideon started this rival worship: “As soon as Gideon died, the people of Israel turned again and whored after the Baals and made [him] their god.”
They are already worshiping the wrong way, under the wrong high priest, in the wrong place; and as soon as Gideon dies, they just completely abandon God. This is national idolatry.
Second, there is personal compromise. As he grows older, Gideon becomes more and more sinful. We read in verse 30: “Now Gideon had seventy sons . . . for he had many wives.” Gideon is living the lifestyle of a Canaanite king, not an Israelite judge.
What happens when you disobey God’s Word? You follow your own word, your own feelings, reasoning, and desires. You become the authority in your own life. It’s either God or you.
Verse 31 tells us Gideon even has a concubine over in Shechem; a concubine is a mistress. So, Gideon has dozens of wives, but he keeps a woman in Shechem too, and she bears him a son. But this isn’t just any son. The text tells us in verse 31 Gideon “called his name Abimelech.”
Abimelech means “my father is king.” Remember, forty years earlier Gideon answered, “I will not rule over you; I’m not going to start a family dynasty. I’m not the king; God is your king.” Well look at him now forty years later: “I really am the king, and Abimelech will be the start of my royal dynasty.”
With this last entry in his biography, verse 32 tells us Gideon dies. But the consequences of his sin keep rolling in. Along with compromise and idolatry, Judges chapter 9 records the mass murder of Gideon’s seventy sons, killed by—guess who—Abimelech. He is not about to have any rivals to his throne. Chapter 9 informs us that Abimelech will reign as king for three years until he’s killed in battle, and that wipes out the dynasty of Gideon.
Eventually, the heavens did thunder and God did bring judgment. The world today thinks God doesn’t exist or He doesn’t really care because the sun is still shining. Don’t be fooled by clear skies over a life of sin. God will have the last word.
If you’re a believer, let Gideon’s biography warn you to stay on the path. Don’t get sidetracked by power or greed or moral compromise. Just remember that Gideon began wonderfully but ended tragically. Run your race—all the way to the finish line.