“As soon as Gideon died, the people of Israel turned again and whored after the Baals and made Baal-berith their god (Judges 8:33).”
Have you ever wondered what mark you will leave behind when you leave this world; what lasting impact you will have in the lives of the people you influenced?
Some of us have had the privilege of knowing, if not being directly influenced, by truly gifted, charismatic leaders—people whose presence motivates, commands respect, and spurs change. While they’re truly gifts from God and serve an indispensable purpose, they’re often very much a part of the culture from which they sprung. While they may accomplish spectacular feats, they don’t effect permanent change. If Gideon teaches us anything, he teaches us that.
We read in Judges 8:33 the proof: “As soon as Gideon died, the people turned again…”. Why does that happen? While the blame certainly rests with the people who turned from God, part of the reason was likely the leader himself. So often his flaws go unnoticed while he inspires change, but the truth eventually comes out. As the man is in his heart of hearts, so will his legacy be.
Gideon, though a true child of God, was like a ship full of holes slowly taking on water. While a man of faith who heard from and obeyed God, he was also a man given to great anger and misguided motivation. A few places in Judges 8 illustrate this well and remind us that, above all things, faithfulness to God is of the utmost importance.
In v.16, having been insulted, rebuffed, and denied needed food by the men of Succoth (as he was pursuing a common enemy), he returned with briars and thorns and “flailed their flesh (v.7).” Not quite finished, we read in v.17 he moved on to the next city that had also refused to feed his tired, hungry army, and “broke down the tower of Penuel and killed the men of the city.” Sure, he had reasons to be upset and there should have been consequences, but he reminds us that unbridled motivation in service to God’s people can just as quickly be turned against them.
As the battles against Midian ended, Gideon had the same opportunity other successful, well-known military men had: a career in politics (v.22). Gideon showed amazing restraint and even a little humility, as he declined to be their leader: “…the Lord will rule over you (v.23).” I’ve always smiled at what came next. While he didn’t want the power, he was happy to take the gold (v.24: “everyone of you give me earrings from his spoil”). But lest we think he was planning on building a retirement home on the Mediterranean, what he did next fits the same mold of a zealous, spiritually-minded, yet deeply flawed leader.
“Gideon made an ephod of it and put it in his city… (v.27).” This is one of many clues to a deeper problem in his life. Gideon, though zealous in seeking God, was going beyond what God’s law allowed. Ephod’s were worn by one type of person: priests. And being from the tribe of Manasseh (6:15), he was not called to such a career. But it didn’t appear to matter to him. It also didn’t appear to matter to him that he had taken “many wives” and had “seventy sons” by them. (v.29). For a man who didn’t want to be their king, he sure was acting like one.
What’s the common link in all of these scenes? While Gideon was zealous and clearly motivated, those desires often strayed from God’s law. Let that be a sober warning to you—whether you think you’re zealous or not—that human might and power never accomplish the purposes of God. They also, at least in this situation, don’t accomplish lasting changes, for we read, “As soon as Gideon died,” Israel turned back to their gods (v.33).”
While there’s much to learn here about leadership, apply this first to your own personal life. Don’t aim at being the biggest, the brightest, or the best. Simply set your sights on daily, faithful living. You’ll find that the simple and faithful are the ones who leave a lasting impact.
–– Pastor Harrington