The Downfall of Gideon – Judges 8
Throughout the Scripture, we can take note that, at times, God will utilize men who may not be of the greatest of character.
– Abraham lied to Pharaoh about his wife and he took matters into his own hands with attempting to obtain a heir.
– Jacob acted deceitfully, stealing the birth-right from his brother, Esau, and father, Isaac.
– David, the king described as a man after God’s own heart, committed adultery and had faithful men killed to cover over his sin.
– Solomon multiplied wives and entertained idols for them..
– Peter denied Christ.
God raises up men, but it is by His grace and in spite of their flaws that they may do good work. They are still subject to the former sins of their flesh, prone to temptation and often giving into compromise and disobedience.
We see that with Gideon. The Angel of the Lord calls him to lead Israel against the Midianites. God gathers around him 300 men and they route 135,000 Midianites. The Lord set every man’s sword against his neighbor so that by the time the Midianites crossed back into their territory, only 15,000 or so remained. 120,000 had perished!
Coming to Judges 8, we regrettably see the downfall of Gideon as he eventually succumbs to the pagan culture that had engulfed the thinking of the Israelites.
We can see four sad steps that brought Gideon to a spiritual downfall.
Ruthless Behavior –
When we pick up Gideon’s story in chapter 8, he is in pursuit of the kings Zebah and Zalmunna. They had crossed the Jordan with what was left of their armies. Gideon comes to Succoth and asks the people for nourishment. The men refused to help. Their reason was simple: The kings Gideon was pursuing had not be captured. If they were to discover the people of Succoth helped Gideon, they would retaliate against them.
Their response may have been cowardly, but given the circumstances, it was certainly reasonable. Rather than taking their response in consideration, Gideon promises to return and punish them. He travels to another town, Penuel, and there he is met with the same response. He promises to return to them and knock down their tower.
He does just that. Once he attacked the two Midianite kings and their remaining army, he leads his men back to Succoth and Penuel, where he proceeded to beat the elders of Succoth and executed the men of Penuel. Mass murder is a bit of an over reaction for refusing to help him.
Once Gideon exacts his wrath upon the men of Israel, he turns his attention toward the two Midianite kings. It just so happens that Gideon had a grudge against those two kings. In 8:18,19, he holds them personally responsible for killing his brothers. Rather than fighting the LORD’s battle to save Israel as the Angel of the LORD called him to do, Gideon turn to revenge upon the men who killed his brothers.
Getting his revenge was not what he was called to do. It was to deliver Israel from their enemies. Once he killed them, he took their kingly ornaments off their camels as trophies.
After the defeat of Zebah and Zalmunna and the entire Midianite forces, the people are moved to establish Gideon as king and his family as a dynasty in Israel. To his credit, Gideon declined. HOWEVER, his piety was a bit hypocritical.
First, he requests a piece of gold from each man who had raided the Midianite spoil. From those pieces, he constructs an ephod. It is not like the high priestly ephod at all, but it became an idol, meant to represent something similar to the high priest. He erects it in Ophrah and the Bible says that all Israel whored after it there. His deliverance of Israel began with him tearing down the images of his hometown. Now, Gideon establishes a new idol, one of his own making that drew the heart of the people away from God.
Gideon may have refused to be king, but he pretended to live like one. He multiplied wives and concubines. The concluding remembrances of Gideon implies he lived in opulence. Additionally, his polygamy brings his family trouble that extends beyond them out to the other people of Israel. As will be seen in Chapter 9, Abimelech, Gideon’s son, will be the main instigator of those problems. Abimelech means, “Son of the king.”
Two concluding thoughts about Gideon.
First, Israel did consider his defeat of the Midianites a major deal. So much so that Gideon and his battle against the Midianites is remembered in Psalm 83:11. Secondly, Gideon is listed in Hebrews 11 in the “hall of faith” as it were. Though he lived a morally checkered life that was marked with skepticism, unbelief, and eventually sinful choices, God used him in a mighty way, thus demonstrating that it is the God behind the messenger that makes the messenger great.