Saturday, August 25, 2007


Our "hero" this week is Gideon. He's like so many of us; he starts strong and with a lot of promise, and by the end of the story he's a mess. His story takes three chapters in Judges to tell, so he's clearly an important character. But what I see as I look at other sermons about him is that they tend to tell the first part of the story, the good and strong part, but they ignore the last part, the part about him making a golden ephod and worshipping it.

Gideon's consistent problem seems to be that he doesn't trust God to be God. He's constantly asking for signs, even after God's Spirit takes possession of him. First he wants dew on the fleece and not on the ground, then he wants dew on the ground and not on the fleece. When it's time for him to attack the Midianites, God tells him "if you have any doubts, take Purah your armor bearer with you." He can't quite get it together.

And then, when he has the opportunity to bring his career to a glorious finish, he blows it. After telling the people that he refuses to be king, saying "God will reign over you," he says, "but if you don't mind, each of you could give me an earring out of the plunder you took." And with the 43 pounds of gold he makes an ephod - a sacred garment - and puts it on display. The text says "All Israel prostituted itself there. Gideon and his family, too, were seduced by it."

The analogy with Aaron is unmistakable. The ephod was to be worn only by the priests, priests who followed in the footsteps of Aaron. And like Aaron he makes a golden image - an ephod instead of a calf - but an image nonetheless, and it takes the place of God. The man who had been clothed in the Holy Spirit is seduced by a golden garment that he doesn't have the right to wear.

What happened between Gideon's call and his retirement is not clear. But it seems that from the beginning God was not enough for him. He always needed more. Apparently, what he needed was 43 pounds of gold, because the only thing he accomplished after making the ephod was to sire 71 sons.

Yes, he led Israel in defeating the Midianites. Yes, the land had rest for 40 years, the last time it will have rest in the book of Judges. But it's hard not to think about what he could have been if he had trusted God from the beginning.

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