Thursday, October 25, 2018


(In the Log Church, we are presently studying some of the Judges of the Old Testament book by that name. Earlier this year I spoke on one of these judges in two sermons. These were entitled Gideon and 300. In retrospect, I should have saved them for this series, but at the time, I did not think of this. In case you would like to read these, here are the links)

After such a great victory over the Midianites, the Israelites were understandably appreciative of the leadership of Gideon, and apparently enthralled with his capabilities as a leader.

They said to him, “Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also, for you have saved us from the hand of Midian.”

It is interesting here to note that the people wanted a ruler—someone to “rule over” them. Using pure logic, one would not have expected this request from the people. They had just been rescued from seven years of severe oppression from rule. It was an oppression that was so harsh that the common people had taken to living in caves in the mountains for their own protection. They lived under a regime that was so severe that when they planted any crop, it was quickly taken from them by those who ruled them.

One might think that having finally been delivered from all of this, they would want no ruler at all. At last they were free from a ruler. They could live as they wanted without fear.

As much as we may think that this may seem like an attractive alternative, the plain fact is that a society without rule of law very quickly descends into anarchy. We will see this in the final chapters of the book of Judges. The common theme in those last chapters is that “in those days there was no king in Israel, and everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” 

This situation might sound ideal in some ways—complete freedom. But as we shall see in those chapters, it was a time when those who were strong enough to annihilate the weak did so, and where every form of sexual depravity actually became one of the main driving forces of human activity. Everyone lived in danger and in constant fear. Islands of peace and sanity were difficult to find.

I do not think that the people were foolish in asking Gideon to rule over them. It had become apparent that God had called him to save their nation from the Midianites, so Gideon seemed to be the best alternative for them. I do not know if trying to establish a dynasty by asking that rule even be passed to his children and grandchildren was the best thing, but I believe they were correct in looking for righteous leadership. 

Gideon Refuses the Leadership
Nevertheless, Gideon did not consent to their request to become their king: “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you.”

The words sound humble and even altruistic, and they even have a righteous tone to them—“the Lord will rule over you.” Nevertheless, I am not sure it was the best response from Gideon. Perhaps it was a failure to accept a responsibility that he should have taken upon himself. The people needed a leader, and now they would be left without one.

Whether or not this was the correct response from Gideon, when we see what he says next, one at least wishes that he would have stopped speaking with this refusal to take the responsibility of leadership. One at least wishes that after having led his people to such a great victory, he would have retired to his winepress, and lived out his years in quiet humility.

But Gideon did not stop speaking. He continued to speak to the men of Israel, “Let me make a request of you: every one of you give me the earrings from his spoil.”

Of course they were all happy to do this, for they all had taken much spoil from the Midianites. They were happy to give a small part of their newly acquired wealth in order to show their appreciation. All those earrings amounted to a substantial amount of gold—up to seventy-five pounds.

Since Gideon had continued speaking after we wished that he had stopped, now we wish that he would have simply kept all of that gold as a payment from the men for his leadership in the battle that they had just won and use the gold to live out his years in relative luxury.

Instead, he used it for an entirely different purpose, and one which none of us would guess. He melted and cast the gold into the shape of a piece of clothing—a sleeveless tunic of sorts, a special type of garment that the priests of that day wore. It was called an ephod. 

Sins of Our Old Age
I think you would have to agree that this is a strange thing to do with gold. A tunic made from gold certainly could not be designed for comfort, and indeed, it actually was not made for wearing at all. Gideon instead made the ephod to be put on display in his home town of Ophrah.

It is not explained to us why he did this. In Old Testament temple worship, the ephod (the normal cloth kind) was worn by the priests and carried with it a special ceremonial and even prophetic significance. Perhaps this fact entered into Gideon’s thinking, but it still seemed like a strange and even foolish thing to do

The very next thing that we read about the Ephod was that “all Israel whored after it (prostituted themselves after it; worshiped it), and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family.”

In other words, it became an object of worship. It became an idol for the people. Gideon and his family may not have been worshiping the gods of the Midianites any longer, but they had made a new idol to which they gave their reverence.

In a strange twist of the generations, Gideon’s father at one time had set up an altar to Baal, the very altar that Gideon tore down. Now Gideon himself, in his older years and after having served the Lord God in a mighty way, also sets up an altar. It is not an altar to a false foreign god, but instead to something entirely different. It is an altar to an object. The result was the same, all of Israel whored after it and it became a snare to Gideon and his family.

This altar was not the only failure of Gideon’s post-victorious life. After the defeat of the Midianites, Gideon achieved a rock-star type status among his people, and he succumbed to some of the temptations that are part of having that kind of popularity. He found that he could have women wherever he went, and that is what he seems to have done. The result was that he had many wives besides other additional lovers—at least one that we are told about. The word commonly used in the Bible for these women of non-formal affairs is concubine. We are told that Gideon fathered seventy sons before dying at an old age.

The particular concubine of whom we are told lived in the town of Shechem. The lady gave birth to a son. It seems that this son was not included as one of the seventy sons of Gideon, but was simply another child that he fathered outside of his many wives. The mother named the boy “Abimelech.” 

Filling the Power Gap
Abimelech grew into a young man with ambition. While his father Gideon may have refused to take the responsibility of leadership in Israel when it was offered to him, Abimelech saw no reason why he should not. The people of Israel had even originally requested that Gideon’s sons would become their leader. As Abimelech saw it, there was only one problem standing in the way of his ambition—or rather seventy problems. His seventy half-brothers.

But two factors had changed in the culture of Israel since his father had died. One of these components was in Abimelech’s favor, and the other was not.

The factor that was not in his favor was that since the years of the defeat of the Midianites, the people largely forgot about their desire to make Gideon and his sons and grandsons their rulers. After all, that all had taken place forty years ago.

But the other factor that had changed and which would be helpful to Abimelech was that neither did the people remember the Lord God. They had forgotten how the Lord fought for them and rescued them from cruel oppression. This fact was helpful to Abimelech because the rule that he had in mind was not a Godly rule. 

Abimelech’s Plan of Greatness
Abimelech came up with a strategic plan to take the leadership role in Israel. While it was far from ethical, it did turn out to be very successful in gaining the ends to which he was working. The leader-to-be first went to his own relatives—the family not of his father Gideon, but of his mother. He told his relatives to start a campaign by speaking to the leading people of the Shechemites and planting the question in their minds about who they would like to lead the nation of Israel.

“Which is better for you, that all seventy of the sons of Jerubbaal (Gideon) rule over you, or that one rule over you?”

After this question had a moment to sink in, he then added, “Remember also that I am your bone and your flesh.”

It may not have been difficult to see through this scheme, but it was effective. It seemed good to the people, and they said to one another, “It is true that he is our brother.”

But Abimelech needed some money to finance his scheme. His relatives gave him seventy pieces of silver so that he could hire some “worthless and reckless fellows,” as they are called, to follow him to the town of Ophrah where his half-brothers were living.

We are not told how this band of ruffians pulled it off, but they entered the town and killed almost all of the brothers “on one stone.” Only the very youngest brother, a young man named Jotham was able to hide himself and then escape.

When Abimelech and his band of assassins returned to Shechem, the leaders of the city and the area made Abimelech their king. The coronation took place by a renowned oak that grew near the pillar of the city. 

The Allegory Within the Allegory
Standing far above this site, there was a tall hill that the people called Mount Gerizim. When the surviving brother Jotham heard what was taking place in the valley below, he went and stood on top of the mountain. Calling in a loud voice so all could hear, he said to them: 

Listen to me, you leaders of Shechem, that God may listen to you. The trees once went out to anoint a king over them, and they said to the olive tree, “Reign over us.” But the olive tree said to them, “Shall I leave my abundance, by which gods and men are honored, and go hold sway over the trees?”

And the trees said to the fig tree, “You come and reign over us.” But the fig tree said to them, “Shall I leave my sweetness and my good fruit and go hold sway over the trees?’”

And the trees said to the vine, “You come and reign over us.” But the vine said to them, “Shall I leave my wine that cheers God and men and go hold sway over the trees?”

Then all the trees said to the bramble, “You come and reign over us.” And the bramble said to the trees, “If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade, but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.” (Judges 9:7-14 ESV) 

The Application
Jotham’s message to the people of Shechem was one of warning concerning the choosing of a leader. A righteous leader is not one who will only act in favor of those close to him—family or otherwise. Rather, a righteous leader will act in the best interest of all who are under him, even those who have no direct connection to him.

The words of the bramble are actually very revealing. Leadership that is chosen simply because we think that he or she will favor our own particular interests at the cost of others; that leader will in the end turn even against us. But if we anoint someone as our leader because in faith we believe that he or she represents righteousness; then we will find security.

“If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade, but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.”

Interestingly, at the end of the reign of Abimelech, this is literally what happened. Without going into the story of the events that happened and which led up to the final days of Abimelech, when the citizens of Shechem wanted a new leader other than Abimelech, the king turned against his own people.

There was a faction that still did support him, and with these he set up an ambush against the very inhabitants of the city. In the end, as the people who remained alive after the ambush took refuge in the Tower of Shechem, Abimelech and his men gathered bundles of brushwood (bramble) and burned the people, who became trapped inside the tower.

It is intriguing to see that the two things that should have represented the greatest security to the people of Shechem: their leader and their city tower, in the end turned out to combine together to become their tomb. 

Finding Leadership in Our Own Lives
This lesson of leadership for the ancient Israelites can be a lesson of leadership for us in our own day as well. Certainly it can be a lesson for us on the level of our own nation and society, but I am thinking more on a personal level, for we also have those people or those things that lead us even in our everyday decisions.

This is something that we perhaps do not like to admit. When it comes to personal choices that we make and private decisions, we like to think of ourselves as having minds that are completely free. We think we make our choices are based upon what we want to do, and not what someone else tells us that we should do.

But if you think that this is an accurate understanding of your decision-making process, then you are allowing yourself to be deluded. None of us make decisions free from outside influences. We are and always will be subject to someone concerning how we make our moral choices.

At least this is what the Apostle Paul believed. Here is something that he wrote: “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” (Romans 6:16 ESV)

The Apostle Peter also believed this. Peter actually writes quite extensively about the dangers of following the wrong leaders. He writes concerning events in the past and in his day, and which also have present day relevance. His words sounds as though he was writing at a time when he was particularly annoyed and aggravated by the false teachers around him:

False prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep…

These, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction, suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing.

They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you. They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray…

These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.  (2 Peter 2:1-3; 12-15; 17-19 ESV)

Apparently, neither did Jesus believe that it is possible for us to act as entirely free agents without any outside influence. He told the people this: “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34 ESV).

At another time he said this:

The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
(Matthew 6:23-24 ESV) 

A Slavery that Leads to Freedom
So it seems that no matter how we wish to delude ourselves, the plain fact is that we will always be slaves to someone or something. You may think that this is depressing news, but paradoxically, there is a slavery is actually the path to our freedom!

Paul continues from his aforementioned depressing mention of sin which will bring us only death by saying, “Thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness…For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification” (Romans 6:17-19 ESV).

Peter also tells us that “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials” (2 Peter 2:9 ESV).

Most importantly, in the words of Jesus, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:35-36 ESV).

It is paradoxical to our thinking, but the only true freedom in thought and action can only be found in presenting ourselves to Jesus as his slaves, declaring him as our Lord.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.