Gideon son of Joash then returned from the battle by the Pass of Heres. He caught a young man of Sukkoth and questioned him, and the young man wrote down for him the names of the seventy-seven officials of Sukkoth, the elders of the town. Then Gideon came and said to the men of Sukkoth, “Here are Zebah and Zalmunna, about whom you taunted me by saying, ‘Do you already have the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna in your possession? Why should we give bread to your exhausted men?’” He took the elders of the town and taught the men of Sukkoth a lesson by punishing them with desert thorns and briers. He also pulled down the tower of Peniel and killed the men of the town. Judges 8:13-17
My first introduction to the story of Gideon was in the pages of The Beginner’s Bible. I can vaguely remember a picture of Gideon and the fleece and Gideon’s men surprising the Midianites with torches and jars (Judges 7:19-20). It wasn’t until many years later, during my time in seminary, that I ever learned there was more to the story! And honestly, it’s hard to know what to do with the rest of this story.
This passage is all about Gideon establishing his own authority. He uses flattery and persuasion to get the Ephraimites on his side (vv. 2-3). He tortures the men of Sukkoth with briars and thorns for refusing to give his troops bread. He kills the men of Peniel and tears down a tower for the same reason (v.17). And, he kills the two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, though he hesitates once they flatter and affirm him (vv. 19-21).
The kind of leader Gideon sets himself up as- congenial yet ruthless, full of military might, not taking any kind of disrespect- is what a strong leader of the time would have looked like. Many even today would still look at this as strong leadership. But God was setting Gideon up to be a different kind of leader: humble, trusting, and giving God the glory. Yet Gideon is quick to go his own way, looking for his own glory, and even attacking his own people when his instruction was to attack the Midianites. While Gideon is still saying the right things and using “God” language (v. 3), God doesn’t actually appear in this passage as he was very present in the beginning of the story.
We could look at this last chapter of Gideon’s story and just draw the conclusion, “well don’t be like Gideon then!” But how often are we like Gideon? Gideon starts off, if not perfectly, at least on track with God’s instructions. However, he gets more and more off track as he goes until ultimately he’s claimed power for himself, tortured and killed his countrymen, and later, makes an ephod, a priestly garment, that the people end up worshiping. Our day-to-day decisions and consequences aren’t usually so dramatic, but how easy is it to start off with good intentions, seeking to obey God, and gradually we slip into doing our own thing, with God out of sight and out of mind? Take time this week to examine if there are areas of life where you started out well but may have gotten off track. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal any blind spots or next steps
By Jessica Rust