The Eleventh in a Series of Sermons on the Book of Judges
Like the rest of Israel’s judges, Gideon was a mixed bag. When we first met Gideon, he was a timid man, hiding his grain in a winepress. Although double-minded, and constantly seeking signs from God to confirm his call, Gideon was given God’s Spirit, and then led his band of three hundred men to a stunning victory over a huge Midianite army. Since Gideon appears in Hebrews 11:32 (the “hall of faith”), along with several key figures from this period of Israel’s history, we can assume that he is a believer in the promise. But there is another side to Gideon. After chasing the fleeing Midianites across the Jordan, and wiping them out, Gideon then took revenge upon the men of two Israelite cities who refused to help him during the chase. Gideon personally killed the two Midianite kings (Zebah and Zalmmuna) who had killed his own brothers, but only after the two kings insulted Gideon to his face. Although Gideon vehemently refused to become king over Israel, nevertheless, he functioned as a king, established a royal dynasty, and even named his son by a Canaanite concubine, Abimelech, which means “my father is a king.” Finally, Gideon took the gold his men had taken as the spoil of battle, melted it down, and created an “ephod” (a garment worn only by the high priest). We learn that the people of Israel worshiped it, and then turned on Gideon’s family–his seventy sons by a number of wives. Yes, Gideon is a mixed bag. But his son Abimelech isn’t. This man is among the most despicable characters in all the Bible, and serves as an Antichrist figure, seeking to thwart God’s redemptive purposes by wiping out Gideon’s “royal” descendants, and then ruling as a Canaanite, over much of Israel.
We return to our series on Judges, as we take up the story of Abimelech in Judges chapter 9. Although Gideon secured forty years of peace for Israel, and the Midianites had been completely eliminated as a threat to Israel, Gideon also established a royal dynasty with his many wives and seventy sons in his home town of Ophrah, where the people of Israel came to worship the ephod he had made. Sadly, this had become a snare to Gideon’s family, as well as to all of Israel. Chapter nine of Judges describes this rather deplorable state of affairs, depicting an era of violence, deceit and paganism, that one commentator describes as reading “like a page out of a Canaanite history book.” Throughout this series so far, we have been speaking of the Canaanization of Israel, with the account of Abimelech, we’ll see exactly what that means. The people of Israel forgot about YHWH, and all that he had done for Israel. Sadly, everyone did what was right in their own eyes.
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