Unfortunately, Gideon did not finish well. It happens often after a great victory of faith. You forget that all your success was God’s doing, and assume some of it, if not all of it, as yours, and start to behave accordingly.
One hundred twenty thousand men died that night in the Valley of Jezreel without Gideon and his 300 lifting a finger, and 15,000 fled, and with them were the two Midianite kings, Zebah and Zalmunna. So Gideon and his 300 pursued them until they left none standing except the two kings, whom they captured. In the process they passed through a couple of towns that had also suffered at the hands of the Midianites, and when Gideon told them of their victory and that they were chasing the two kings and would the town please provide some food for his hungry men, the leaders of the towns replied “Catch Zebah and Zalmunna first, and then we will feed your army.” (Judges 8:6) To which Gideon replied, “After the Lord gives me victory over Zebah and Zalmunna, I will return and tear your flesh with the thorns and briers from the wilderness.” (8:7) Which is exactly what he did, along with killing every man in town.
This is the same Gideon who only days before was hiding in a winepress threshing out wheat. The same Gideon for whom it took four miraculous signs from God to give him enough courage to go up against this great enemy. He is now exacting revenge. A little taste of blood — a huge taste of victory — and it went to his head.
So when Gideon and his men returned home victorious, the people wanted to make him king, to which he replied, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son. The Lord will rule over you! However…” (and you always have to worry about that however) “I do have one request — that each of you give me an earring from the plunder you collected from your fallen enemies.” (8:23-24) And “Gideon made a sacred ephod from the gold and put it in Ophrah, his hometown. But soon all the Israelites prostituted themselves by worshiping it, and it became a trap for Gideon and his family.” (8:27)
Most scholars believe that Gideon was not intentionally creating an idol here. An ephod was a certain vestment priests wore when consulting with the Lord. Gideon thought he was creating a special means by which one aspect of the priesthood could be carried out, but it soon became an idol worshipped in the place of God, which is what commonly happens today with religion in general. We erect something we think will enhance people’s worship of God, but it soon becomes the thing worshipped.
When the Jesus movement got underway in 1970, it was pretty exciting and somewhat scary. We didn’t really know what we were doing, but it didn’t matter because God was doing it; we were just showing up. It wasn’t about us; it was all about Jesus. But it didn’t take long for that focus to change. All it took was for a few things to slip out of God’s hands and into ours.
How long did it take for Jesus music freely played on the street to the end of salvation of the souls of the listeners to turn into music bought and sold in bookstores and concerts to the end of furthering the careers of the artists and all those making a living off the resulting industry? About two years.
When did we cease to trust the Spirit and start trusting in our own organization, replacing spontaneous events and outcomes with planned ones? About 1972.
How long did it take for Jesus to cease to be the issue, replaced by morality and fighting the evils of society? About five more years.
When did the Jesus movement turn into our movement? About the same time.
Remember when Gideon was humbled to learn that he was equated with a little tiny barley loaf of bread that knocked down a whole tent, and he bowed and worshipped God there? It would be good for us to return to that place. Just a little barley loaf — that’s all we are — but we flatten tents with ease when we trust in God.