Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Finishing Well

Gideon, whose story appears in the biblical book of Judges, chapters 6-8, is an interesting character study of someone who lived a life for God and yet didn’t quite finish on the right note.
Gideon is often used in Bible teaching lessons as an example of how God selects insignificant people to do great things. When God first sends an angel to Gideon to inform him that he, Gideon, has been chosen to lead the Israelites into battle against the Midianites, Gideon protests that he is an insignificant person - his family is the least of clans in the tribe of Manasseh, and he is the least, probably the youngest in his family.  Nevertheless, God has decided to use him.
Just to make sure that the angel has really brought a message from God, Gideon decides to put things to the test and asks God confirm his message. Gideon sets out a woollen fleece on the threshing floor and asks God to place dew on the fleece only but not on the floor around it overnight. In the morning, Gideon sees that what he requested has happened.  Notwithstanding that occurrence, Gideon requests that the next night God alternate the process – and the following morning the fleece is dry and the ground around it is covered in dew. I wonder if God was getting a little exasperated with Gideon at this point.
Having been convinced that he really had been singled out for leadership, Gideon takes charge of his army of thirty-two thousand men and prepares to do battle. God reminds Gideon that He, God wants to receive the glory for defeating the enemies of Israel, and therefore will use a small, weak force to do so. Through a series of eliminations, God whittles the Israelite army down from thirty-two thousand to three hundred men, seemingly overwhelming odds. Yet God assures Gideon that He will be with him and will bring him victory over the Midianites, which is exactly what happened.
After his success in leading the army to defeat the Midianites, Gideon is hailed as a hero and invited to become king of Israel. This he refuses, stating that the Lord, not he nor his descendants would rule over the people.
But Gideon just had one little request. One little request that may have been the fly in the custard, so to speak.
The Israelites had captured a lot of booty when defeating their enemies and Gideon requested some of the golden earrings that they had taken. He used the gold to make an ephod, which Biblical scholars consider to be either an idol or a ceremonial robe (or possibly an idol dressed in ceremonial robes). He placed this ephod in his home town of Ophrah and “All Israel prostituted themselves by worshipping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family.” (Judges 8:27)
Gideon more than most had reason to understand the reality of God, the power and protection of God and the sufficiency of God. He knew the absolute dependency upon God that he needed to have. He gave God the glory and refused to become king. Yet he still was tempted by earthly riches. Why did he make the ephod? Was it to commemorate the victories? Was it a status symbol for himself? Was he merely following custom? Whatever the reason, it was detrimental to Gideon’s relationship with God and witness to others and we see how quickly people desire to rally around a hero and his trappings.
There’s a message for all of us here, because many of us at some point in our Christian walk recognise our own inadequacies and dependency on God. He uses broken vessels (or cracked pots as some like to put it).  Yet as we go through life God may achieve things through us and foolishly we can start believing our own publicity rather than acknowledging His power and giving the glory where it’s due. Pride creeps in where humility used to be. Being successful in life can be a stumbling block, as much as facing difficulties. We can still be tempted by the gods of this world – status, power, money, sex, success and others which can become snares to us in the same way that Gideon’s ephod was to him.  
Gideon is listed in chapter 11 of the Biblical book of Hebrews as one of the Israelite heroes of great faith. God worked mightily through him to establish the nation of Israel. Like others mentioned in this “faith” chapter, Gideon was not without his failings and flaws as we all are. From his story and character we can learn much about trusting wholeheartedly in God, and giving God all the glory for what He does. 

“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:10-14)

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