The Eleventh in a Series of Sermons on the Book of Judges
Like many of you, I recall hearing countless sermons throughout the years which were basically character studies of the great saints from redemptive history. One of those saints was Gideon. If all you had was Judges 6-7 and Hebrews 11, you could reasonably conclude that Gideon was a great man of God, whom God used to save Israel at one of the nation’s darkest hours. That’s why the Gideon Society chose his name when beginning their world-wide ministry of distributing Bibles. In fact, the Gideons tell us that “Gideon was a man who was willing to do exactly what God wanted him to do, regardless of his own judgment as to the plans or results. Humility, faith, and obedience were his great elements of character.” But when you read the rest of the story of Gideon–Judges 8:4-35–it becomes all too clear that Gideon was a sinful man who used his power to take revenge upon his enemies. It was Gideon who made an ephod (a priestly garment) which became a stumbling block for the people of Israel. Therefore, Gideon’s character should be studied by all of us. Why? Is he a role model? No. We study him because we are just like him. We too are sinful from head to toe, and the only truly good things we do stem from the fact that God works in us through the power of the Holy Spirit. When left to ourselves, we’ll do just as Gideon did–we’ll use the good gifts God has given to us for our own personal gain and benefit.
As we continue our study of the Book of Judges, we are in that section of Judges which deals with the fifth in the series of judges (deliverers) whom God sent to rescue his people from a cruel oppressor. In Judges 6:1-8:3 (the first part of Judges’ account of the life of Gideon), we have seen God take this timid man and transform him into a mighty warrior who devised an audacious plan to defeat the Midianites, who were brutally oppressing the Israelites, to the point that many of God’s people were forced to live in caves or hide in the mountains. We have seen that the vacillating Gideon repeatedly sought a sign from the Lord to confirm his call and ensure that YHWH would fight on Israel’s side. When Gideon learned from a Midianite sentry that YHWH was going to give Israel a stunning victory over a huge Midianite army, finally, Gideon was willing to do as the Lord had commanded.
As YHWH commanded, Gideon pared down his army from 32,000 to 300 men. This was to make it crystal clear that YHWH gave Israel the victory when Gideon led his men into the Midianite camp in the middle of the night when Gideon’s men sounded their trumpets, smashed jars, lit torches, and shouted their battle cry. The Midianites were caught completely off-guard and panicked when they thought that an enemy army was in the midst of their camp. As the Midianites fled en masse east toward the Jordan River from whence they had come, Gideon called out the Israelite army who chased the Midianites back toward the Jordan, while the men of Ephraim (a neighboring tribe) were sent ahead of the Midianite army to take and hold the crossing points on the Jordan River. The men of Ephraim managed to capture two Midianite princes Oreb and Zeeb, who, apparently had caused the Israelites much grief during the Midianite oppression. These two princes were beheaded, their heads were given Gideon as the spoils of war. Although Midian had been defeated, soon they will be eliminated as a threat to Israel.
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