Gideon: Man in his Spirit
Until the days of Noah, the “Spirit of God” was constantly with man, but man’s tendency to sin, ended that relationship. “Then the Lord said, ‘My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh’” (Genesis 6:3). Hereinafter, the “Spirit of God” came to those whom the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob adopted as his servants and as his children. The “Spirit of God” is on the side of those who do right and on those who do better than his own chosen people. God blessed Pharaoh when he did what was right with Joseph. God was against Pharaoh when he did wrong with Abraham’s children. God does not interfere with the will of man. Yet, God always will be on the side of those who do what is right. We must not be surprised to see is that the lesser of the two evils will succeed. It is a lesson, which man continues to ignore.
The “Spirit of God” is first noticed by Pharaoh of Egypt in Joseph. Joseph correctly interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams that warned Pharaoh of a famine. That famine would starve God’s people without preparation. Joseph was sold to Egypt with God’s intent to save his chosen people (Genesis 41:38; 45:4-11). The next person with a special endowment of the “Spirit of God” was Bezalel, a craftsman to make the utensils for the tent of sacrifices (Exodus 31:1-11; 35:30-35). Moses had the “Spirit of God” to such a degree that God passed it on to seventy elders to help him govern the people (Numbers 11:16-17). Regarding Moses’ successor, the Lord said to Moses, “Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay your hands on him, cause him to stand before Eleazar the priest and all the congregation, and you shall commission him in their sight. You shall invest him with some of your authority, that all the congregation of the people of Israel may obey” (Numbers 27:18-20). Balaam was not a member of Jacob’s family; he was hired to curse Israel, but the “Spirit of God” came upon Balaam and he blessed Israel. Balaam predicted great things for Jacob’s offspring (Numbers 24).
Jacob’s descendants did not walk in the footprints of Moses or Joshua. Their descendants strayed after pagan gods and after pagan morality. And they ended up being oppressed by the people that were to be their servants. Whenever the people even briefly repented and cried out to God, God endowed a number of Judges with “His Spirit” to govern and free the people. Othniel, brother of Caleb, was the first God endowed with “His Spirit” to function as a judge. Othniel defeated the Mesopotamians, and Israel lived in peace for forty years. The next leaders were Ehud, Shamgar, and Deborah who were ready to defend Israel without a special call from the Spirit of God (Judges 3-5). They continued what Othniel had started without waiting on the Lord for an additional portion of “His Spirit.” And God delivered their enemies into their hands. After their demise, Israel returned to the way of her neighbors and fell prey to Midian. This time, the Lord sent a nameless prophet to remind Israel what God had done for them in the past, and a messenger (angel) was sent to Gideon (Judges 6-9). Gideon was unprepared. Gideon did not regard himself as worthy to be a messenger of God. At that time, Gideon was not even close to God, and he was surprised by the angel’s greeting, “The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor.”
The God of Israel had set His mind on Gideon, as He had set His mind on Moses. Nothing could change God’s determination. Gideon, too, regarded himself as one of the least in Manasseh (Joseph’s descendant) and in his family. Gideon was secretly hiding and threshing wheat. He was no hero and he needed convincing with some small miracles like Moses. The angel burned up two meat sacrifices before Gideon, the angel obeyed Gideon’s message, and the angel destroyed the Baal altar with the Asherah pole. Like Moses, Gideon had to bring back the people to the God of their fathers before deliverance from Midian could take place. The Baal followers demanded that Joash, Gideon’s father, to hand Gideon over his son and to be killed, but Joash told the people that Baal should not need defending if he was a real god. Baal did not show up and Gideon was filled with the “Spirit of God” ready to blow his trumpet. Gideon sent messengers to the tribes of Israel to join him against the Midianites and against their allies. Thirty thousand instantly responded; yet, Gideon still doubted that God was personally with him. Gideon asked the angel to put dew on a dry wool fleece, and then he asked the angel to put dew on the dry threshing floor. The request was granted and Gideon appeared ready, but the Lord was not finished with Gideon.
The reason was fear. Fear defeats more people than any other weapon. “God’s Spirit” directed Gideon to take his men to the spring of Harod. Then God told Gideon to send everyone who was afraid home. It must have been shocking to Gideon when twenty thousand men deserted him and went home. Shock number two was followed when the angel told Gideon that he still had too many men to face the enemies. Gideon was ordered to take the ten thousand to the water, and only keep those that lapped water with their tongues and to send those home that drank the water on their knees. Only three hundred were left. Like Gideon, these men also could play the trumpet. Can one imagine the tension these three hundred trumpet players were in? They, themselves, had more than cold feet and they were ready run. Gideon and his men needed two more lessons. The first lesson was to use fear to their advantage. Gideon was instructed to take his servant and go at night into the enemy’s camp to observe how “the fear of the Lord” can scare the biggest army. Gideon arrived just in time when a soldier shared a dream that he had, “A round loaf of barley bread rolled into their camp and destroyed their tent.” His friend saw the dream as an act of God, handing them over to Gideon. Now, the Midianites were beginning to fear; Gideon was convinced and thanked God. And the second lesson was to use what they were good at, bow your trumpets and shout, “For the Lord and for Gideon.” Fear drove the Midianites and their allies back to where they came from and the three hundred men were left to share what their enemies had left behind.
Gideon and his followers, that increased in numbers, were not content with a mere victory. They began to exterminate every one that had not joined Gideon. Ephraim, Manasseh’s brother’s offspring, were insulted when Gideon failed to invite them for the hunt and he had to appase them. At the end of the manhunt, one hundred twenty thousand were annihilated. Revenge was sweet in those days; unfortunately, that revenge left a scar, in the world, which never healed; it only enlarged. The revenge had to do with the Midianites, who were the descendants of Ishmael. Gideon had risen in statute to become king over Israel; however, he had sense enough to refuse the offer. The Israelites begged Gideon, “Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also; for you have delivered us out of the hand of Midian.” Gideon replied, “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you.” Then, Gideon asked, “Let me make a request of you; give me every men of you the earrings of his spoil” (For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites). The Israelites agreed, “We will willingly give them” (Judges 8:22-26). They spread a garment and put on all the earrings, crescents, pendants, purple garments of the Midian kings and the collars of their camel’s necks. And the weight of the golden earrings alone was one thousand seven hundred shekels of Gold.
Gideon, the hero for so many, how did he honor God? The Lord was not ruling over Gideon, and that may have been the reason why he could not become a king. Gideon served a god that he made in his own image called an “ephod.” The historian recorded, “And Gideon made an ephod of it (the gold earrings) and put it in his city, in Ophrah; and all Israel played the harlot after the ephod there. And the ephog became a snare to Gideon and his family” (Judges 8:27). The “ephod” may have been an image representing Gideon’s vision of the angel, whom Gideon was afraid of and even feared death. Nevertheless, it was an outright violation of the Second Commandment:
You shall not make yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow to them or serve them; for I am the Lord your God and am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep commandments (Exodus 20:4-6).
Gideon’s sons paid dearly for their father’s graven image. Gideon had fathered seventy sons with many wives. He had one son with a concubine in Shechem, whom Gideon named Abimelech (Judges 8:29-9:57). Abimelech killed all his legitimate brothers, except Jotham, who managed to escape. Jotham cursed his illegitimate half-brother. Abimelech had himself crowned as king by his Shechemites. Abimelech forced his will on those towns and cities, which did not acknowledge him as king. His evil ways proved too much for his own Shechemites and they, too, expressed their disappointments. To protect themselves from Abimelech’s rage, they gathered in the Baal temple. Abimelech set the temple on fire. Then Abimelch took over a town called, Thebez. Some people held out in a strong tower. A woman dropped a millstone and cracked Abimelech’s skull. Abimelech begged his servant to kill him with the sword because it was shameful to die at the hands of a woman. The writer of Judges assigned the fate of Abimelech to the curse of Jotham. But according to the Second Commandment, Gideon had failed to turn the people back to the God of their fathers and he also failed to stay in touch with the “Spirit of God.” It was Gideon’s negligence and self interest, and not his son’s curse that caused the demise and travesty of his family.