Judges 8.1-35 {Un}Faithful Zeal

June 24, 2012 Speaker: Christopher Rich Series: Judges | {Un}Faithful (Part 1 of 2)

Topic: Old Testament Passage: Judges 8:1–8:35


Good Morning! Today we’re continuing (un)faithful, our series on the Book of Judges. We have spent the last three weeks looking at God’s call on the life of Gideon to act as a tool to deliver God’s people from idol worship of Baal and the oppression of the swarming Midianite army who had been devouring Israel’s resources like locusts for seven years. Gideon hasn’t always been confident and often questioned (or tested) God. However, Gideon, and God’s people, have remained faithful in each successive mission God has called them to while God had consistently reassured them and given them victory every step of the way. The mission reached a climax last week when Gideon, and 300 men chosen by God, take out 90% of an army of 135,000 Midianites in the middle of the night with only trumpets and torches. This week we will go through all of chapter 8 and close out the story of Gideon. We will see God’s people, including Gideon, go from united to divided and faithful to unfaithful as they turn from zealously pursuing God’s mission and glory to zealously pursing their own, pride, fear, revenge, and ultimately pursuing their failure. We’ll break this mammoth chapter into four parts.

Zealous – Pride (v1-3)

1Then the men of Ephraim said to him, “What is this that you have done to us, not to call us when you went to fight against Midian?” And they accused him fiercely. 2 And he said to them, “What have I done now in comparison with you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the grape harvest of Abiezer? 3 God has given into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. What have I been able to do in comparison with you?” Then their angeragainst him subsided when he said this.

Back in the end of chapter 7, after the rout of the Midianites had started, Gideon called on the tribe of Ephraim to help him capture and occupy land as Midian retreated. The men of Ephraim obeyed and in the process they captured and killed two Midianite princes, Oreb and Zeeb, and delivered their heads to Gideon. While delivering this prize, Ephraim immediately begins to complain to Gideon that they were not consulted before Gideon commenced hostilities with Midian. They’re saying “we did what you asked, but who do you think you are to do something so significant without our approval or input. Don’t you remember who we are? We had Joshua in our tribe!” There is a reason Ephraim wasn’t called to lead or consulted by Gideon, because they were more zealous for their own pride than for God’s glory. God has done something truly amazing through Gideon and the 300 and Ephraim can’t believe they weren’t more personal involved. Ephraim’s own perceived authority is more important to them then the joy of victory.

When God starts moving, there are those who complain they are left behind and left out, but yet if they were allowed to participate they would surely undermine the cause. – George Schwab

Individuals pride hampers the progress of God’s mission, fragments God’s people, and if left unchecked it has the power to kill the unity and vitality of churches and their effectiveness of spreading the gospel. It is as destructive as it is sinful. This happens all in churches of various stages of growth:

In church plants it happens when someone who has been asked by called planter to help in one area of ministry wrongly assumes they have (or should have) authority/input in all other areas of the church. If something happens they don’t agree with these people can work to drum up personal support in opposition to the pastor and even attempt to hijack the church while believe they are “saving” it from a potential threat.In growing/establish churches it happens when people refuse to serve in necessary areas they believe are “beneath” their skillset or status and instead seek positions of influence or leadership not out of a humble desire to serve God, His people and His mission, but because they have tied the their identity to achieving an office or paid position. In older/dying churches it happens when a few founding(or longtime) members who contribute financially begin to act as a de facto elder board vetoing any changes or needed reforms they don’t personally agree with or even begin to roll back former positive changes in favor of their nostalgic preferences. They will kill a church while they believe they are “restoring” it to past glory.

How have you let your pride keep you from being on mission for God or in unity with God’s people?

Rather than addressing their pride as sinful Gideon, the people pleaser, strokes their pride telling them of their great wealth and accomplishments relative to his own. This only serves to let their pride continue to fester and grow. Several generations later, with their pride unchecked, we’ll see Ephraim react the exact same way when a similar situation happens in chapter 12. This time it requires the tribe to be nearly whipped out before their zealous pride is finally subdued.

Zealous – Fear (v4-9)

4And Gideon came to the Jordan and crossed over, he and the 300 men who were with him, exhausted yet pursuing. 5So he said to the men of Succoth, “Please give loaves of bread to the people who follow me, for they are exhausted, and I am pursuing after Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian.” 6And the officials of Succoth said, “Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna already in your hand,that we should give bread to your army?” 7So Gideon said, “Well then, when the Lord has given Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand,I will flail your flesh with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers.” 8And from there he went up to Penuel, and spoke to them in the same way, and the men of Penuel answered him as the men of Succoth had answered. 9And he said to the men of Penuel, “When I come again in peace, I will break down this tower.”

With Ephraim quieted, for the moment, Gideon’s 300 are back to the mission at hand. They cross the Jordan “exhausted yet pursing” the Kings of Midian and their remaining 15,000 men army. Gideon stops in two different towns to ask for bread. He lets them know his needs and his mission, to pursue the Midianite kings. He doesn’t ask them to join the mission or come fight on the frontlines, all he is asking is for these cities to tangibly support men who are risking their lives for a mission that will ultimately deliver these same cities from constant oppression. They both deny his request on the grounds that Gideon hasn’t yet achieved total victory.

You can understand the reluctance of Succoth and Peneul to support Gideon’s mission because each year they’ve tried to defend themselves and cleans their cities of this verminous evil and oppression. Succoth and Peneul are border towns on the eastside of the Jordan close to major Midianite encampments in the nearby hills. Each year the Midianite hordes would roll down the hills and Succoth and Peneul were the first cities hit on their annual pillaging tour of Israel. They’re like El Paso and Laredo in Texas that have been centers of violence for the Mexican Drug Cartels for the past decade.

In their eyes they are being prudent, waiting for the outcome before picking sides, when in reality they are being faithless and distrusting what God has already said He would accomplish through Gideon. They’ve live in a constant state of fear so long that they’ve become comfortable in their fear. They were more comfortable with certain oppression that the possibility of freedom. They feared a nearly defeated, disjointed enemy on the run more than they feared the God who was actively defeating that same enemy.

What major or consistent areas of sin or oppression are you failing to address because you are more comfortably with the sin you know than the freedom you’ve yet to experience?

What are you waiting for be removed or happen to for you to support and participate in God’s mission?

With a major battle to be won these cities would rather be zealous in their own fear than zealous participate in the victory God has already prepared. Ironically by trembling on the sidelines hoping to avoid Midian’s wrath they end up receiving vengeful wrath from Gideon. The most dangerous thing you can do is faithless pursuing your own safety apart from God’s will for your life.

Zealous – Revenge (v10-21)

10 Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor with their army, about 15,000 men, all who were left of all the army of the people of the East, for there had fallen 120,000 men who drew the sword. 11 And Gideon went up by the way of the tent dwellers east of Nobah and Jogbehah and attacked the army, for the army felt secure. 12 And Zebah and Zalmunna fled, and he pursued them and captured the two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, and he threw all the army into a panic.

13 Then Gideon the son of Joash returned from the battle by the ascent of Heres. 14 And he captured a young man of Succoth and questioned him. And he wrote down for him the officials and elders of Succoth, seventy-seven men. 15 And he came to the men of Succoth and said, “Behold Zebah and Zalmunna, about whom you taunted me, saying, ‘Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna already in your hand, that we should give bread to your men who are exhausted?’” 16 And he took the elders of the city, and he took thorns of the wilderness and briers and with them taught the men of Succoth a lesson. 17 And he broke down the tower of Penuel and killed the men of the city.

18 Then he said to Zebah and Zalmunna, “Where are the men whom you killed at Tabor?” They answered, “As you are, so were they. Every one of them resembled the son of a king.” 19 And he said, “They were my brothers, the sons of my mother. As the Lord lives, if you had saved them alive, I would not kill you.” 20 So he said to Jether his firstborn, “Rise and kill them!” But the young man did not draw his sword, for he was afraid, because he was still a young man. 21 Then Zebah and Zalmunna said, “Rise yourself and fall upon us, for as the man is, so is his strength.” And Gideon arose and killed Zebah and Zalmunna, and he took the crescent ornaments that were on the necks of their camels.

Despite the zealous pride of Ephriam and the zealous fear of Succoth and Penuel destroying the cohesion of God’s people, God, through Gideon, still accomplishes what he promised he would all the way back in chapter 6. Midian is defeated and Israel is delivered from their oppression, but all is not well. Things are going get dark as we see Gideon zealous in revenge.

After the battle is over, even before dealing with the kings of Midian, Gideon turns his attention to settling the score with Succoth and Penuel. Like the movie Braveheart when the Scottish lords turn their back on Mel Gibson during a battle with the England, Gideon its taking names (literally) and is systematically going on a payback rampage. Succoth and Penuel not only failed to support Gideon but v15 alludes to the fact that they openly mocked Gideon and his mission making it clear they opposed his efforts. Gideon is personally offended and becomes consumed with brutally “teaching them a lesson” with thorns and briars. While Succoth and Penuel were both sinful and stupid in their opposition to Gideon, he is hoping to humiliate them. Gideon had been raised up by God as a deliver to fight Baal, fight Midian, is now fighting two Israelite towns and treating them harsher than he treat the Kings of Midian he doesn’t want reconciliation, he doesn’t want justice, he wants revenge.

This is the first case of Israelite-on-Israelite violence in the book of Judges and shows just how broken by sin and fragmented the relationships within God’s people are as this violence continues throughout the remainder of the book.

After dealing with the unfaithful cities Gideon’s zealous revenge turns to Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian…only this time it’s personal! If this was in a movie he would have taken them to an abandon warehouse and would be interrogating the under one light. Gideon is less concerned that these men have orchestrated 7 years of violence and oppression on God’s people and more concerned that they attacked his family. He makes it about him and not God, even alluding that he would have spared them if they hadn’t wronged his family when God has ordered them to be wiped out. After hearing the Z guys killed his brothers when they could have spared them Gideon orders their execution at the hands of a henchman, in this case his young son, and like all henchmen in movies he fails to get the job done. The Z guys challenge Gideon’s manhood and Gideon responds by finally executing them.

When have you desired revenge beyond justice or reconciliation for those who have sinned against you? When have you wanted grace from someone when you’ve wronged them and they responded with wrath?

The war with Midian is over, but both Gideon and the people zealous fail to give God the glory for the victory.

Zealous – Failure (v22-35)

Gideon’s Ephod

22 Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also, for you have saved us from the hand of Midian.” 23 Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you.”24 And Gideon said to them, “Let me make a request of you: every one of you give me the earrings from his spoil.” (For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.) 25 And they answered, “We will willingly give them.” And they spread a cloak, and every man threw in it the earrings of his spoil. 26 And the weight of the golden earrings that he requested was 1,700 shekels of gold, besides the crescent ornaments and the pendants and the purple garments worn by the kings of Midian, and besides the collars that were around the necks of their camels. 27 And Gideon made an ephod of it and put it in his city, in Ophrah. And all Israelwhored after it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family. 28 So Midian was subdued before the people of Israel, and they raised their heads no more. And the land had rest forty years in the days of Gideon.

Gideon’s Death

28Jerubbaal the son of Joash went and lived in his own house. 30 Now Gideon had seventy sons, his own offspring, for he had many wives. 31 And his concubine who was in Shechem also bore him a son, and he called his name Abimelech. 32 And Gideon the son of Joash died in a good old age and was buried in the tomb of Joash his father, at Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

33 As soon as Gideon died, the people of Israel turned again and whored after the Baals and made Baal-berith their god. 34 And the people of Israel did not remember the Lord their God, who had delivered them from the hand of all their enemies on every side, 35 and they did not show steadfast love to the family of Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) in return for all the good that he had done to Israel.

The people zealously fail to worship the God who delivered them from oppression and instead decide to worship the servant that God decided to work through. It started subtly back in chapter 7 when the first battle started and the 300 cheered “For the Lord and for Gideon” by the end of the campaign the people wanted to make him a king and his decedents a dynasty because they gave him, not God, all the credit for the victory. We often make the same mistake as these people. We need to be carefully as Christians not to confuse where power, truth, and salvation come from. We often make idols out of celebrity pastors/authors/speakers or even people who have directly impacted us when we forget they are simply tools God is using for specific times, purposes, and people. This doesn’t mean we don’t respect or appreciate them but it does me we don’t rely on them or worship them in place of God. When we do, we will always be disappointed because even the best instruments God uses are still imperfect people who will fail us. Here Gideon, for all the good he was able to accomplish will fail the people in a big way in how he responds to success and the peoples call to make him king.

Gideon zealously fails to have his theology match up with the practice of his life. Simply put He’s a hypocrite. He says “I will not rule over you, the Lord will rule over you.” – Yes and Amen! But his every action betrays his true heart.

He collects all the gold (roughly 40lbs), just as Aaron did to make a golden calf back in Exodus. Gideon, however, uses the gold to make an ephod, which is basically a long ornate apron worn by the High Priest. Gideon ‘turns down’ king but asks instead to be made High Priest the direct connection between God and his people. What he is really doing is making an idol, Israel already had an ephod for the High Priest, this one was is separate and special for Gideon and its location is now a place people go to worship. The ephod is even more dangerous than the golden calf because it closely resembles pure worship making it harder to discern the difference between worship and idolatry. Pastors and leaders usually don’t fail or lead people astray with major doctrinal issues they fail with more subtle changes to doctrine that ‘seem’ right because they don’t ‘seem’ that wrong. In the end lots of little changes/compromises creates big shifts that lead the leader and the people away from the path of God. The people are worshiping falsely and Gideon’s family becomes trapped in the center of a cult of celebrity. Gideon’s father had been an idolater and now his son who started ministry tearing down his father’s idol is now building his own.

Additionally, Gideon, who had been poor beating out wheat in a winepress, takes many wives and a has a concubine in another city (like a wealthy king would have done). He has 70 sons from these women. In a final act of narcissism, to leave no doubt how he sees himself, he names his son from his concubine Abimelech which means “My Father is King”.

There is no question that Gideon ends in zealous failure. Many of us have been hurt by pastors and leaders who have failed, or ended badly. Even men chosen by God for a specific purpose and mission can become faithless and fail miserably and it can cause us to question the validity of what God accomplished through these people. Don’t! Just because people fail doesn’t mean God didn’t accomplish something.

Despite the hypocrisy of Gideon and the idolatry of the people, Verse 28 says “the land had forty years of rest”. God is faithful even when we are not. Even in our sin he grants us “rest” from the pain of our consequences. But we cannot mistake rest as the same as peace, it’s not. Just because we are not currently experiencing consequences for our sin doesn’t mean consequences aren’t coming. God gives us rest to show us His patience, grace, and mercy, which is meant to lead us to repentance.

Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? Romans 2:4

At the end Gideon’s legacy among God’s people is really no legacy at all. Because he failed to finish well the state of the nation is precisely the way it was before “all the good he had done to Israel” Gideon’s deliverance was incomplete and insufficient to fully restore God’s people into peacefully relationship and pure worship of God. This is why Gideon is but a shadow at best of the true savior and deliverer. As Christians we don’t’ look to the “heroes” of the Old Testament as examples of faithfulness because we know none of them are really heroes at all. They are all just like us, broken sinful people who God chose to do amazing thing through. We don’t look for the next conference, the next podcast, the next book, the next blog post, the next revival, or the next church plant like a golden ephod to remind us someone did or said something in God’s name that gave us temporary hope or rest. We look to Jesus to see God Himself come and did EVERYTHING for HIS people to grant everlasting peace and joy. Where Gideon failed to secure lasting salvation for God’s people Jesus gets up on the cross and declares for all His people “It is Finished!”

Where we are unfaithful in zeal for our own pride, fear, revenge, and ultimately our failures, God, in Jesus, is faithfully zealous for His namesake, His glory, and our Joy in Him.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6

If we are in Christ we don’t worry about having to finish well, we know we’ve been granted both grace and the gift of repentance so by the power of the Holy Spirit working in us we will be brought to completion on our last day and Jesus will say “well done good an faithful servant.”

Our remembrance of Christ’s work on our behalf isn’t ornate or grand. It’s simple, it’s communion where we come to not show our faithfulness to the Lord but be reminded of His perfect faithfulness to us on the Cross. It is where in humility, not pride, acknowledge our total reliance on Him for salvation, provision, and joy.

We will also give our tithes and offerings, not fearfully or reluctantly clutching resources like Succoth and Penuel waiting for our victory, but freely and generously giving in response to everything God has already done for us.

We will sing not to a leader who’s legacy is in question, but we will sing songs of victory to our King who’s victory and legacy is assured.

Benediction Colossians 3:12-17

More in Judges | {Un}Faithful (Part 1 of 2)

April 1, 2012

Judges 2.12-3.6 Faithful Anger