Gideon: A Tale of Two Men

Like most characters in the Bible, we are afforded to study instances of their faithfulness as well as their sinfulness. I believe recognizing the humanity in the biblical figures helps us to better relate to how God used them for His purposes, just as He does with us today. In Gideon and others, we recognize that all servants of God’s purposes have their flaws; the question though, is whether God should choose to allow those flaws to bear their bitter fruit. Even in these circumstances, God ‘s plan is never thwarted, even by human failure such as that of Gideon.

Gideon was the fifth major judge of Israel, judging for 40 years (Judges 6:11–8:35). Nicknamed Jerubbaal (meaning let Baal contend), Gideon was the son of Joash of the tribe of Manasseh. As was the cycle for the nation of Israel during this period (faithfulness, followed by sinfulness, then repentence, back to faithfulness, repeat), Gideon had moments pleasing to God and moments that were in direct rebellion to God.

And like the prophet Jonah would behave some 400 years later, Gideon was not very accepting to the call of God: twice he laid out fleece in a test of God. God met his conditions both times and then set out the strategy that would guarantee victory for Israel over the plundering Midianites and Amalekites. However, God made sure that any victory gained by Israel could not be attributed to the Israelites themselves. Through two tests (sound familiar?), the number of Gideon’s army was reduced from 32,000 to 300 and then were only given pitchers, torches, and trumpets for battle. Clearly, God wanted Israel to know their success depended upon their devotion to Him.

While Gideon was immortalized in the Heroes of Faith chapter in the book of Hebrews (Hebrews 11:32), his storybook ending was not so triumphant. He did do well in refusing to be crowned king, citing that only God was King (Judges 8:22-23), but he still requested the people give him earrings of gold, spoils from the conquest and then used the gold to fashion a worship symbol that would lead not only his own family, but the nation as well, astray from worshipping God (Judges 8:24-27). Soon after Gideon’s death, the idol worshipping Israelites fell further into decay by worshipping the Canaanite god Baal (Judges 8:33).

While we do not know for certain if Gideon ever changed his ways and returned to the Lord prior to his death, we see his example of how material possessions can quickly replace God in our hearts. Sometimes it is a subtle slide, other times it is unbridled rebellion. Either way, it results in a heart that is far from God and a relationship in need of reconciliation (1 John 2:15-17).

God’s faithfulness was the counterpoint to Gideon’s and Israel’s apostasy. Despite their falling away—multiple times with the case of Israel—God continually delivered His people. This was not due to Israel’s merits or repentance, but to God’s compassion and pity and His promises to Abraham and his descendants.

As inheritors of that same promise, we place our faith in the One who will never forsake us, even though time and time again we fail Him in our journey. And much like Gideon, we are sometimes reluctant to heed God’s call for our lives, instead wishing to follow our own path. When we do this, we stand in opposition to His will. Yet, He remains steadfast in His love for us.

Only through prayer will we recognize our falling away. Perhaps Gideon eventually came to this point, but not likely, based upon the actions of his son, Abimelech, in the ninth chapter of Judges. We should not ever feel we have sinned so grievous that forgiveness is impossible, for we know He will truly adore a repentant heart (Psalm 51:17; 1 John 1:9).

Even a heart like Gideon’s.