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As seen in the life of Jephthah, pride is dangerous. Kill pride before it kills you! Submit yourself to Jesus Christ in humility, letting Him help you through your pride.

The Foolishness of Pride

Posted: January 14, 2021 in Judges

Judges 11:12-12:15, “The Foolishness of Pride”

Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before a fall.” Wise words from the pen of Solomon! It is too bad that Solomon himself did not pay attention. Although he began his life seeking the wisdom of God, he went awry getting caught up in the trappings of riches and women, with his rule and legacy ultimately suffering because of his pride.

How often we fight the same battle! It ranges from things as minor as boasting in our physical abilities, only to trip and fall on our faces in embarrassment, to far more important matters when we refuse to back down in an argument and things blow up with our family members. A refusal to humble ourselves when we are wrong can lead to dire consequences – not only in our relationship with each other, but also in our relationship with God. For those of us who know Jesus as Lord, it hinders our walks with Him as we kick against the proverbial “goads” and experience His discipline. For those who have not yet trusted Jesus, pride keeps them from surrendering to Him in faith which leads to judgment and eternal death. Pride is downright dangerous.

Pride was a problem for Israel, too. Israel was in a sad state of affairs and getting worse. Through their repeated cycles of apostasy, oppression, repentance, and deliverance, the nation kept degrading. Although they would enjoy their God-given deliverance for a time, they never would get back to the level of spiritual maturity from which they fell. Like a paper that has been copied too many times, each repetition was a little worse than the one before it.

This was seen in the failures of Gideon’s judgeship. Despite his initial exploits of faith, he enriched himself as a king would do, with his own riches and prizes becoming idolatrous traps for the people. Moreover, his illegitimate son Abimelech brutally murdered his 70 half-brothers, claiming for himself the royal title of “king,” (usurping what belonged solely to God). Abimelech oppressed his own people of Israel until he was killed by a woman in an act of divine retribution.

That left Israel without a ruler and again subject to foreign oppression, which came in the forms of Ammon on the east and the Philistines on the west. The eastern enemies are addressed first in the narrative, through the people of Gilead in Transjordan Manasseh as they called Jephthah to be their leader. Jephthah had previously been rejected by his brothers and countrymen (himself being an illegitimate son) and found his home among violent Gentiles where he became an accomplished warrior. Now that the Gileadites required a man of war, they tracked him down and made amends. Jephthah ensured that their commitment was witnessed by the Lord God Himself and he became the newest judge.

What he did with that role is seen in the remainder of Judges 11-12. Jephthah was a man of faith but also a man of pride, surrounded by people of pride. And pride is dangerous! Pride (as will be seen) leads to death, be it figuratively in our relationships, or literally (as with Jephthah) with true physical harm. When left unchecked, pride is one of the most dangerous things we deal with every day. What to do? We need to kill pride before it kills us! We need to humbly submit ourselves to Jesus and let Him deal with the pride in our lives.

This is illustrated in three different scenarios in Jephthah’s life, which can all be described as various wars. (1) The war against Ammon, where God delivered against the pride of an enemy, (2) Jephthah’s war against himself, where his own pride brought destruction in his family, and (3) the war against Ephraim, where unfounded envy and pride led to a civil war among God’s own people.

Beware pride! It always goes before a fall.

Judges 11:12–12:15

  • War with Ammon (11:12-33). False claims.

12 Now Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the people of Ammon, saying, “What do you have against me, that you have come to fight against me in my land?” 13 And the king of the people of Ammon answered the messengers of Jephthah, “Because Israel took away my land when they came up out of Egypt, from the Arnon as far as the Jabbok, and to the Jordan. Now therefore, restore those lands peaceably.”

  1. Remember that Jephthah had been chosen by the elders of Gilead specifically because of their problem with the Ammonites. Yet before Jephthah rushes off to war, he wisely engages in diplomacy. If the problem could be solved through words, it was far better than using weapons. Thus, Jephthah sent his first message to the king of Ammon. Notice the clear claim by Jephthah to the land that was in question. Although it is not mentioned until verse 13, it is evident that one of Ammon’s purported reasons for their oppression was that they believed that the land of Gilead was rightfully theirs. Jephthah’s message was likely very intentional in its wording, as he asks why they had “come to fight against me in my” From the beginning, Jephthah is unwilling to cede even the possibility that Ammon might have a claim to the land. This is not pride on Jephthah’s part; this is faith. God had given the land to Israel and it was not even Israel’s to give away. 
  2. That said, the claim was immediately contested by Ammon, saying, “Israel took away my” They said all the lands from the Arnon river (on the south) to the Jabbok river (on the north), all the way west to the Jordan river belonged to them. Basically, they claimed everything north of Moab as their own. At the time, they exercised control over Moab at this time, so they saw these lands as their right, taking on Moab’s own purported historical claims for their own. Of course, the problem was that Moab had no historical claim to these lands, nor had Israel ever taken anything that had rightly belonged to Ammon. Jephthah was about to give the king of Ammon a bit of history lesson along these lines.
    1. As an aside, this is still a summary of the conflict between the Palestinians and the modern Israeli government. The Palestinians claim a historical right to the land which they never had. Historically speaking, there are no Palestinian people. The term “Palestine” is a corruption of the word “Philistine,” which was the term the Roman empire imposed on the land of Judea to punish it for its repeated rebellion against the empire (naming them after their historical enemies). The Palestinians, as they are known today, are actually Jordanians, who only claimed the land of Israel after it was recognized by the United Nations as belonging to the Jews. Ultimately, the land was not given to the Jews by the United Nations; it was given them by God – just as He had given it to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joshua in centuries past.

14 So Jephthah again sent messengers to the king of the people of Ammon, 15 and said to him, “Thus says Jephthah: ‘Israel did not take away the land of Moab, nor the land of the people of Ammon;

  1. This was Jephthah’s 2nd attempt at diplomacy. The first had failed to impress the king of Ammon, so Jephthah gave a history lesson refuting Ammon’s claim, showing that Israel was innocent of the charge against them. They hadn’t taken away anything from Ammon and the record was clear on this point.

16 for when Israel came up from Egypt, they walked through the wilderness as far as the Red Sea and came to Kadesh. 17 Then Israel sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, “Please let me pass through your land.” But the king of Edom would not heed. And in like manner they sent to the king of Moab, but he would not consent. So Israel remained in Kadesh. 18 And they went along through the wilderness and bypassed the land of Edom and the land of Moab, came to the east side of the land of Moab, and encamped on the other side of the Arnon. But they did not enter the border of Moab, for the Arnon was the border of Moab.

  1. Reminder of the exodus journey. After spending a year at Mt. Sinai when leaving Egypt, Israel came to Kadesh Barnea where they rebelled against the Lord and refused to enter the Promised Land. That set them on a 40 year death march in the desert as God punished the rebellious generation and allowed their children to take their place. Once the time was fulfilled, God moved the people away from the previous entry point of Kadesh Barnea, moving them to the north.
  2. Although it would have been far quicker for Israel to travel through Edom and Moab, each nation refused entry to Israel and the Hebrews had to go the long way around. They skirted Edom and Moab both, eventually camping in the plains north of Moab.
  3. Why didn’t Israel fight Edom and Moab? They were family. They each shared common ancestry through the patriarchs. Edom was descended from Esau, the twin brother of Jacob/Israel. Moab (as well as Ammon) had a line even further back, being descended through Lot, the nephew of Abraham. Because of their family ties, God did not permit Israel to fight against them during the Exodus. It was one thing for them to defend themselves if attacked; it was another for Israel to provoke war between them. (The implication being, if Israel hadn’t done it with one son of Lot, Moab, then they wouldn’t have done it with the other son of Lot, Ammon, either.)

19 Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, king of Heshbon; and Israel said to him, “Please let us pass through your land into our place.” 20 But Sihon did not trust Israel to pass through his territory. So Sihon gathered all his people together, encamped in Jahaz, and fought against Israel. 21 And the LORD God of Israel delivered Sihon and all his people into the hand of Israel, and they defeated them. Thus Israel gained possession of all the land of the Amorites, who inhabited that country. 22 They took possession of all the territory of the Amorites, from the Arnon to the Jabbok and from the wilderness to the Jordan.

  1. Israel was allowed to fight the Amorites. Only Sihon king of Heshbon is mentioned here (probably due to his specific claim over the disputed lands) but Israel also fought Og of Bashan further north. These were nations under the ban of God and God used Moses and Israel to bring judgment upon them. Thus He did, and thus Israel inherited the lands now belonging to Gad and Reuben.
  2. What was the point of reviewing all of this? Jephthah is demonstrating that Sihon of the Amorites was the previous king of the disputed lands; not the king of Ammon. Because Israel fought Sihon and won (by the miraculous work of YHWH God), the land became Israel’s through the right of conquest. This was the global standard of the day. This was just as certain a claim to land rights as was a deed of purchase. Ammon grew its own kingdom through conquest, so it ought to have been expected for Israel to do the same.
    1. The same logic ought to be applied to the disputed land of the Golan Heights and West Bank today. Israel won these lands in warfare (defensive warfare, at that) and they have the legal right to them.

23 ‘And now the LORD God of Israel has dispossessed the Amorites from before His people Israel; should you then possess it? 24 Will you not possess whatever Chemosh your god gives you to possess? So whatever the LORD our God takes possession of before us, we will possess.

  1. The gods were often thought of as dwelling in the lands they were worshipped. When nations fought, it was believed that the gods fought. In this case, the living God of Israel was victorious. This emphasizes two points. (1) The land was God’s gift to Israel. It was His alone and He distributes it as He sees fit with no earthly power having any say on the matter. (2) If the Ammonites’ god had any power at all, they ought to ask him for help. Historically, the Ammonites worshiped the false god of Milcom while the Moabites worshiped Chemosh, but considering Ammon’s appropriation of Moab it makes sense that they appropriated its god, too. In any case, if Chemosh really held any power over the land, why wouldn’t Ammon ask Chemosh to give it to them. Was he really that impotent? (Yes!)
  2. This shows the futility of idolatry and false worship. If you’re going to worship a god, why worship a god who can’t do anything? Why worship a god who fits in your back pocket as an idol but nothing more? Whether it looks like the ancient idol Chemosh or the modern US dollar, an idol that is made out of “stuff” is powerless in the things that really matter. A god who is made cannot give life. A god who is imagined has imaginary powers. Only the God who is real can really offer life. Beloved, our God is real. He testifies of Himself in creation and declares His revealed identity in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. We have proof that we worship the Living God…who is the only God worthy of worship!

25 And now, are you any better than Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he ever strive against Israel? Did he ever fight against them?

  1. Interesting argument considering that Balak did strive against Israel, although he was unsuccessful. Granted, when Balak of Moab opposed Israel, he did not do so through outright war. First, he attempted theological sabotage; second, he attempted (and succeeded) with sexual sabotage.
  2. Jephthah’s point to the king of Ammon perhaps hearkens back to their ancestral family ties. If the old king of Moab did not raise arms against Israel in battle, why would Ammon do so? This was foolishness on their part, and it was something from which they could still back down if they were willing to admit their own wrong. (This was a warning that would go unheeded.)

26 While Israel dwelt in Heshbon and its villages, in Aroer and its villages, and in all the cities along the banks of the Arnon, for three hundred years, why did you not recover them within that time? 27 Therefore I have not sinned against you, but you wronged me by fighting against me. May the LORD, the Judge, render judgment this day between the children of Israel and the people of Ammon.’ ” 28 However, the king of the people of Ammon did not heed the words which Jephthah sent him.

  1. Jephthah’s final argument: too much time had elapsed. We might think of this today as a kind of statute of limitations. 300 years (roughly) had passed since Israel assumed the lands of Sihon of the Amorites. Why hadn’t Ammon said anything before? Why wait till now? The obvious answer: they didn’t have any historical claim; they were lying through their teeth, proudly boasting against Israel.
  2. To whom did Jephthah appeal? “The LORD, the Judge.” YHWH is the Judge, the righteous judge who will adjudicate rightly. He is the Judge of judges. He is the Supreme Judge shown in the entirety of the book, even over all the various human judges of Israel.
    1. Our God will always judge what is right. We might not see justice in this world but we can be assured that we will see justice in the next. In fact, we will see God’s righteous judgment in the next phase of human existence, after the coming Great Tribulation and the establishment of Jesus’ millennial kingdom on earth. At that time, the Son of God will rule the nations and all those who attempt injustice will answer directly to Him!
    2. As an aside, this should be our focus during these turbulent times in our nation. Political debates and battles will come and go as leaders rise and fall. Whatever happens with our country, we need to remember that our primary citizenship is in Jesus’ kingdom. We need to point people to Him, that they might see Him as their King, too.
  3. Sadly (but not unexpectedly), Ammon did not listen to diplomacy. At this point, the gears of war were set in motion and people would die. Keep in mind, this is all due to pride. The king of Ammon made a false claim to land, and when confronted with his falsity, refused to back down. He would rather go to war than to be proven wrong.

29 Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh, and passed through Mizpah of Gilead; and from Mizpah of Gilead he advanced toward the people of Ammon.

  1. When the Bible says that “the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah,” we need to be careful to understand this from the context of the Old Testament, rather than the New. This not the same as New Testament believers being indwelt by God the Spirit and empowered for ministry and evangelism. For Jephthah, this was a temporary empowerment, given for a specific purpose of military leadership. As will become clear, Jephthah’s life is wildly inconsistent. On one hand, he walks by faith while on the other, he is clearly in his flesh. As for us, although we still experience inconsistencies ourselves, we have the assurance that the indwelling and seal of the Spirit never leaves us. Although we do not always walk according to filling and empowerment of the Spirit, we do always walk as those sealed by the Spirit as belonging to God.
  2. Here, the overall point is that Jephthah was now divinely empowered to serve in his capacity as Israel’s military judge and leader. With God’s help, he engaged on his march to war, gathering the army of Gilead and Manasseh for battle.

30 And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD, and said, “If You will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands, 31 then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.”

  1. Vows were not uncommon but neither were they necessary. A Hebrew might make a vow to serve the Lord in a certain way, or to dedicate a particular few weeks to prayer and service. The apostle Paul even took a vow in Cenchrea, temporarily serving the Lord as a Nazirite (Acts 18:18). It was supposed be an act of devotion and worship. Not this time. In this case, Jephthah’s “vow” was more of an attempted bribe. Notice the conditional clause: “If You will indeed deliver…then it will be…” This is Jephthah saying, “If You scratch my back, I’ll scratch Yours. I’ll give you something extra special if You give me victory.” That isn’t worship; that’s bribery and it ought not to be done among believers. True worship is given in sincerity, as is true fasting and prayer. It isn’t performed as a way of getting your will done; it is performed that we might better know God’s (Be careful that your worship does not become all about you, when it needs to be all about God.)
  2. Question: This is often labeled as Jephthah’s “foolish” vow. Was it really foolish? Was there anything about his words that inherently invited trouble? (1) If Jephthah wanted only to offer a traditional animal sacrifice, he could have either done so without the vow or specified the kind of sacrifice he would give. I.e., he could have said, “I will give you the best of all my livestock.” (2) It was needless negotiation at best and attempted bribery at worst. If battle was what God had called Jephthah to do, Jephthah could be assured that God would give the victory without any “special” enticements. (3) To leave his vow open-ended truly invited trouble. Who/what else would come to “meet” him upon his return, other than a loved one? Families commonly scanned the horizon when they expected someone to return, especially from battle. Surely Jephthah could have put 2+2 together and realized that a person would likely meet him long before any animal would.

32 So Jephthah advanced toward the people of Ammon to fight against them, and the LORD delivered them into his hands. 33 And he defeated them from Aroer as far as Minnith—twenty cities—and to Abel Keramim, with a very great slaughter. Thus the people of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.

  1. God gave a massive victory. If there was any question about which God controlled which land, all those questions were silenced. The God of Israel had all the land and all the power…period.
  2. Notice the result of the foolish pride of Ammon: they lost cities and land instead of gaining them. The king of Ammon insisted that Israel had “stolen” land from them that had (in truth) been won in conquest. Now the Ammonites fell victim to the same conquest. 20 cities were lost and countless lives.

Ammon made a false claim and pridefully refused to back down. As a result, they suffered tremendous defeat (which was Israel’s gain). What do we lose when we do likewise? When we buck up, puffing out our chest for a fight – do we honestly expect the other to back away, or are we prepared to suffer the consequences?

Obviously, Ammon was the enemy of Israel, which is why we can cheer Jephthah’s victory. This ultimately led to Israel’s deliverance from their enemy to the east, which was good for the nation. Even so, we can see the danger of pride. Jephthah gave Ammon a way to back down safely; the king didn’t take it. When God gives us a chance to back off the edge of a cliff, we need to take it! Why go over the edge simply because we’re too proud to admit our fault?

This is exactly the reason so many people will face eternal destruction in hell. They were too proud to admit their faults and sin. They were too proud to admit that they had wronged God (the righteous Judge) and could not bear to humble themselves before Him. God graciously gave them the opportunity to be saved but they refused to take it. They could have humbly surrendered themselves to Jesus; instead, they chose to ‘go down with the ship.’

  • War with self (11:34-40). Foolish vow.

34 When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, there was his daughter, coming out to meet him with timbrels and dancing; and she was his only child. Besides her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he tore his clothes, and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low! You are among those who trouble me! For I have given my word to the LORD, and I cannot go back on it.”

  1. For all of Jephthah’s surprise at his daughter’s greeting, this was the most natural outcome. She gave her father returning from battle a victory greeting. Why wouldn’t she? She was overjoyed to see her father and praised God for a glorious victory. She rushed out to meet him with song and dance…only to find her father’s face fallen and grieving. His foolish rash vow had come back on his own head.
  2. Amazingly, Jephthah blamed her. Instead of taking any personal responsibility for making promises he couldn’t keep, he said it was all her fault. If only she hadn’t rejoiced to see her father, then all would be well. How ridiculous! How utterly cruel and unloving. This was insult on top of injury. Keep in mind that this whole event was unnecessary. God should have been worshipped because He is God and because God gave victory. Jephthah should have given sacrifices to God for all kinds of reasons. No extra vows were required. This was Jephthah’s own foolish pride and he should have been man enough to take the blame and correct what he did wrong.
  3. Question: Was Jephthah trapped by his own words? Was he correct in saying, “I have given my word to the LORD, and I cannot go back on it”? Although it is true that any vows made unto the Lord are to be honored, there was a bigger problem here than a broken promise: a grossly illegal and perverse human sacrifice. Would God be honored through Jephthah’s sacrifice of his daughter? Certainly not! If a Hebrew could rescue his livestock on the Sabbath day without breaking the law, certainly a father could recant a rash vow to save the life of his God-given daughter. Once more, we see the problem is Jephthah’s pride; not his devotion.
    1. Also, if Jephthah had bothered to look, the Scripture provided relief for his problem. Leviticus 5:4-6 specifically deals with a guilt offering to be brought when a person swore something thoughtlessly, and Leviticus 27:1-8 provides a way to redeem people who had been dedicated to the Lord. Jephthah could neither blame his daughter nor the Lord for this problem; the blame rested solely upon himself. He was just too stubborn to admit it.
  4. For all the responsibilities that Jephthah believed he had from the Lord, one of the most basic was being a father. As a father, he was supposed to protect his daughter from foolish, rash vows (Num 30:3-5). Yet here was Jephthah, allowing a foolish vow to bring literal death to his only child.

36 So she said to him, “My father, if you have given your word to the LORD, do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, because the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the people of Ammon.”

  1. She had more faith than her father! She was willing to submit herself to God, no matter what decision her father made. If only Jephthah had been as willing to submit himself to God’s righteous discipline for his sin!

37 Then she said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me: let me alone for two months, that I may go and wander on the mountains and bewail my virginity, my friends and I.” 38 So he said, “Go.” And he sent her away for two months; and she went with her friends, and bewailed her virginity on the mountains. 39 And it was so at the end of two months that she returned to her father, and he carried out his vow with her which he had vowed. She knew no man. …

  1. After mourning for two months (and likely waiting in futility for her father to come to his senses!), she faithfully returned to the needless tragedy that awaited her.
  2. Scholars debate the outcome, whether Jephthah’s daughter was offered as a human sacrifice, or if she was sworn to perpetual virginity. With respect to those who disagree, the most natural reading of the text is a real sacrifice. Yes, human sacrifices were illegal; yes, Jephthah would have known their illegality. But Jephthah was also bound up in his pride and surrounded by cultures that did practice human sacrifice. It seems far more likely (and tragic) that Jephthah proceeded with the deed exactly as the text says he did.

… And it became a custom in Israel 40 that the daughters of Israel went four days each year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.

  1. A sad conclusion to a sad event. So well known was this tragedy that all young women in Israel commemorated the girl’s death with four days of annual mourning. (Can you imagine the terror that accompanied this, knowing that any one of them might fall to a similar fate if their own father was just as proud and foolish as Jephthah?)

What happened to Jephthah? On one day, he goes to battle empowered by the Holy Spirit and experiences divine blessing and supernatural military victory. God’s hand was plainly upon him as he walked by faith. On the other hand, he returns home from that very same battle to engage in terrible sin, all in the name of “worship.” All of it due to nothing but foolish, false pride!

The only good side to all of this is how the New Testament remembers Jephthah: not for his foolishness, but for his faith. Hebrews 11:32, “And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets:” How could this man be included in the hall of faith? In a word: grace. God gave Jephthah grace he did not deserve (which is what grace is, by definition: undeserved). This man who acted so foolishly was seen not in his foolishness, but as a child of God by the grace of God through the Messiah in which Jephthah surely believed would come in the future.

Who is it that redeems our foolish hearts? Christ! What hope do we have for rescue from ourselves? Jesus! He alone is able to transform us from what we were to men and women who can be used for His glory.

  • War with Ephraim (12:1-7). Foolish anger.

12:1 Then the men of Ephraim gathered together, crossed over toward Zaphon, and said to Jephthah, “Why did you cross over to fight against the people of Ammon, and did not call us to go with you? We will burn your house down on you with fire!”

  1. What is this? From across the Jordan river, the Ephraimites threw an absolute fit over Jephthah’s victory with the men of Gilead. They threatened to treat him as a violent rebel and criminal. Not only did they desire his punishment, but they wanted him and his whole family dead. What was his supposed crime? He allegedly didn’t call Ephraim to help him in battle. This is something Jephthah disputes…

2 And Jephthah said to them, “My people and I were in a great struggle with the people of Ammon; and when I called you, you did not deliver me out of their hands. 3 So when I saw that you would not deliver me, I took my life in my hands and crossed over against the people of Ammon; and the LORD delivered them into my hand. Why then have you come up to me this day to fight against me?”

  1. Jephthah’s defense against Ephraim was much like his defense against the king of Ammon. When accused of lies, he responded with the truth. Or at least he responded with part of the truth. The phrase “my people and I” included a lot more than Gilead and Manasseh. The Ammonites oppressed people on the western side of the Jordan river too, including the people of Ephraim. Ephraim had a claim to help fight for their freedom but they were not included in the battle.
  2. Although there is no mention of Jephthah sending a request for help from Ephraim, apparently one had been sent and Ephraim had not come. The problem for Ephraim was not that they had not been invited to the battle, it was that they refused to come but still wanted the glory of victory.
  3. Ultimately, it was not Jephthah’s victory anyway; it was the Lord’s. This was the work of God and all the glory belonged to Him. This was forgotten by Ephraim in their jealous rage and desire for revenge (for such a foolish reason, at that!).

4 Now Jephthah gathered together all the men of Gilead and fought against Ephraim. And the men of Gilead defeated Ephraim, because they said, “You Gileadites are fugitives of Ephraim among the Ephraimites and among the Manassites.”

  1. This was a civil war saturated with excesses of pride. Ephraim raised accusations against Jephthah because they got jealous of his battle victory. Jephthah & Gilead went to battle primarily because they had been mocked by the Ephraimites. If this had taken place on a schoolyard, everyone would have gotten sent to the principal’s office for foolish fighting. Sadly, when it took place between tribes, civil war was the result and people died.

5 The Gileadites seized the fords of the Jordan before the Ephraimites arrived. And when any Ephraimite who escaped said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead would say to him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he said, “No,” 6 then they would say to him, “Then say, ‘Shibboleth’!” And he would say, “Sibboleth,” for he could not pronounce it right. Then they would take him and kill him at the fords of the Jordan. There fell at that time forty-two thousand Ephraimites.

  1. Not only did Gilead win the war but they also guarded against the escape of their Ephraimite enemies. They even had a test to determine who was/was not from Ephraim: their accent. When given a certain word, Ephraim could not pronounce it correctly. And it meant a death sentence. Sadly, not a small death sentence either. 42,000 Ephraimites died. Every bit of this was needless. This was a war begun in pride, executed in pride, and punished in pride. Instead of extending grace to their fellow Israelites, everyone bucked up and everyone suffered.

7 And Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died and was buried among the cities of Gilead.

  1. Jephthah did much good for Israel but the question needs to be asked if he did more harm than good over his brief six years of judgeship. Yes, God used him to defeat the Ammonites. But how many Israelites died under the Ammonite oppression versus the civil war between Gilead and Ephraim? Jephthah was responsible for 42,000 deaths of his own countrymen. This does not speak well of his legacy.
    1. Which again, makes us grateful for the grace of God through Jesus Christ! If it were not for Jesus, none of us would be remembered well!

Again, we see a problem with pride in the foolish anger of Ephraim. Because they got “less” glory than their brothers, their jealousy caused them to go to war. Beware pride and envy! Jealousy will lead you down dangerous roads. 

  • Appendix: minor judges (12:8-15)

8 After him, Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel. 9 He had thirty sons. And he gave away thirty daughters in marriage, and brought in thirty daughters from elsewhere for his sons. He judged Israel seven years. 10 Then Ibzan died and was buried at Bethlehem.

  1. This was another judge who lived as a king, amassing a large harem who gave him at least 60 children. He lived in opulence, attempting to expand his influence by giving his children in politically beneficial marriages. He did much for himself; it makes us wonder if he did anything for Israel at all.

11 After him, Elon the Zebulunite judged Israel. He judged Israel ten years. 12 And Elon the Zebulunite died and was buried at Aijalon in the country of Zebulun.

  1. Other than his name and tribe, nothing is known of him. This isn’t necessarily bad; he is just unknown.

13 After him, Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite judged Israel. 14 He had forty sons and thirty grandsons, who rode on seventy young donkeys. He judged Israel eight years. 15 Then Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite died and was buried in Pirathon in the land of Ephraim, in the mountains of the Amalekites.

  1. Like Gideon and Ibzan before him, Abdon was yet another judge who lived as if he was a king. His harem and family was not quite as large, but his royal trappings were. That all his sons and grandsons rode about the country on donkeys was to show them all in positions of leadership. (I.e. Jesus’ triumphal entry on a young donkey.) Did this man have any accomplishments? Scripture is silent, so we cannot know. Sadly, all we know of him is what he accomplished for himself. 

Conclusion:

Pride is a dangerous thing! Ammon’s pride led it to a war with Gilead and Jephthah. If they had backed off their false claims to Israel’s land, they would have maintained their own land and they would have lived in relative peace.

Jephthah’s pride led not only to the horrible death of his daughter but also to the destruction of his family line (being that she was his only child and she had no children of her own). If he had only admitted his mistake and redeemed a foolish vow, her life and his lineage would have been saved.

Ephraim’s pride led to their humiliation as well as the death of 42,000 of their countrymen. If they had calmed themselves, civil war/insurrection could have been avoided.

How much do we lose due to foolish pride? What dies needlessly in our lives due to a refusal to submit ourselves in humility, or to admit our fault? Pride costs people jobs, relationships, opportunities, and ministry. Pride can mean the death of much that we hold dear. Moreover, pride can obstruct our relationship with God! Considering that the Scripture declares that God resists the proud, then we can be certain that when we buck up in our pride, God resists us. He does not work with proud people; He works with the humble, giving us grace and helping us in our utter dependence upon Jesus.

Beware of pride! Humble yourself before it is too late. When it comes to human relationships, a simple sincere apology can work wonders. It shows not only wisdom in choosing what is most valuable (love vs. self) but it is also a testimony to our submission to our Lord Jesus, whom we follow as our righteous Judge and King.

Ancient Israel started up her cycle of apostasy again and the only way she would experience God’s mercy was through real repentance.  What they experienced spiritually with God, they would need to experience personally with Jephthah.

Real Repentance

Posted: January 7, 2021 in Judges

Judges 10:1-11:11, “Real Repentance”

You know a person is serious when you see action taking place. We hear the phrases, “Put up or shut up,” or “Put your money where your mouth is,” and understand the meaning. It is one thing to say something; it is quite another to our it into practice. A person might make a new year’s resolution to eat better and exercise, but it doesn’t mean much till he/she puts down the pizza and laces up some running shoes.

We might say something similar about repentance. It is one thing to say that we’re sorry; it is another to humble ourselves and take definite action. It is the difference between worldly sorrow (which does nothing) and godly sorrow (which produces true repentance). It is the difference between merely uttering words and (in the words of John the Baptist) bearing fruits worthy of repentance (Lk 3:8), in which our repentance can be both heard and seen.

This was what God desired for Israel in their ongoing saga with Him. They (like us) had the tendency to quickly speak of repentance while being slow to show it. And it needed to change.

Remember that Israel was in the period of the judges. These were deliverers raised up by God, not only to lead the nation but to deliver them from foreign oppressors. In God’s original intent for the Hebrews, they were not supposed to have to deal with oppression in the land, but that was dependent on the Hebrews actually being obedient to their covenant with the Lord. As it was, this was the consequence for their sin. Their repeated idolatry brought repeated turmoil and unless Israel repented, they would not know deliverance.

The most recent in this series of judges was Gideon. He delivered the nation from the Midianites through the evident and obvious power of God. Although he started out with much hesitancy, Gideon walked in abundant faith when he first started out with God. Sadly, it didn’t last. He did not continue to set a good example for Israel and set the nation on a path to trouble.

That trouble came with one of his sons, Abimelech. This man was not a judge raised up by God; he was a usurper…a self-appointed king. Abimelech took for himself what rightly belonged to God and eventually God brought down his evil upon his own head. (Literally! Abimelech’s skull was crushed when a woman dropped a millstone on it.)

This left Israel in an uncommon situation. Technically, they had been delivered from an oppressor, but not a foreign one. Usually, God raised up a deliverer to save Israel from foreigners, but this time there was neither any foreigner (as Abimelech was a Hebrew), nor a judge (Abimelech died in battle). This left the nation without any unifying leader.

What was the nation to do? Start over. They now needed a judge to lead them and God graciously gave them even as the people continued in their rebellion. Through it all, God showed immeasurable patience. But even the patience of God has its limit! Israel would find this limit and learn an important lesson on confession and repentance.

What was that lesson? To do it! Don’t just speak words about repentance; do it. Put it into practice…put up or shut up. Of course, that applies not only to Old Testament Israel but also the New Testament Church. Praise God that He has so much compassion upon His repentant people, but may we truly be repentant!

We’ll see it in three sections of our text:

1. The quiet years with the minor judges (10:1-5).

2. The sinful years of idolatry (10:6-16).

3. The new opportunity with a new leader (10:17-11:11).

Sadly, God’s people sin and sin often. Even with our gracious forgiving God, may we never take His grace for granted, but may we confess and repent in fruitful sincerity!

Judges 10

– The quiet years (10:1-5).

1 After Abimelech there arose to save Israel Tola the son of Puah, the son of Dodo, a man of Issachar; and he dwelt in Shamir in the mountains of Ephraim. 2 He judged Israel twenty-three years; and he died and was buried in Shamir.

A. “Tola” = either “worm” or “scarlet.” Common name in the tribe of Issachar.

B. Interesting that Tola was of Issachar but lived in Ephraim. We do not have enough information to draw any conclusions about it but it is notable that he lived outside of what should have been his normal tribal area.

C. What did he do? We don’t know. We do know that he “arose to save Israel.” But that begs the question: save Israel from what / from whom? God gave this man as a deliverer but we do not read in Chapter 10 of any foreign enemy from whom Israel required deliverance. This seems to point us back to Chapter 9. Remember, Israel’s last oppressor was not foreign but domestic. Tola was raised for Israel as a deliverer from Israel…or more precisely, from the usurper of Israel. Abimelech was a violent man, a murderer willing to burn women and children to the death. He was as evil as any foreign oppressor who came against Israel.

a. Sometimes we need salvation from ourselves! We can be our own worst enemies.

D. Overall, the years seem to have been relatively quiet. For 23 years Tola judged Israel and virtually nothing is recorded. Nothing good…but certainly nothing bad. Again we need to be careful jumping to conclusions. Just because the Bible records little of Tola does not mean that he was unimportant or insignificant. It just means that the Bible is silent.

a. The Bible is silent on a great number of saints. Our names may not be recorded in any book of history but they are recorded in the Book of Life!

3 After him arose Jair, a Gileadite; and he judged Israel twenty-two years. 4 Now he had thirty sons who rode on thirty donkeys; they also had thirty towns, which are called “Havoth Jair” to this day, which are in the land of Gilead. 5 And Jair died and was buried in Camon.

A. This man also had a common name among Israel, though it seems to have been one he personally promoted. (“Havoth Jair” = “tent villages of Jair.”) His tribe is not identified, with the text only saying he was “a Gileadite,” which is to say that he dwelled on the Transjordan side of the Promised Land. Quite often this was a reference to East Manasseh, though the text at this point does not specify.

B. What we do know is that Jair set up his sons as a kind of ruling class or family. Nothing is written of him that he saved or delivered Israel from anyone; rather that he only “judged” Israel implying a position of civic leadership rather than a military one. He and his sons led the countryside across the Transjordan for 22 years. What was their relationship with God? Did they even have a relationship with God? Nothing is said or known. Again, it is impossible to conclude one way or the other and we need to be careful of our assumptions.

Put these two judges together, and Israel had some good decades. Some scholars believe that the two judgeships of these men overlapped, although it is just as possible that they were consecutive reigns (implied by the “after him” in verse 3). Either way, these were good years, quiet years in the life of Israel. No enemy is mentioned and no battle is fought. Yet the quiet seemed to be itself a stumbling block for Israel as they didn’t use their time wisely (as will be seen in the next section).

Maybe you’re going through a quiet time right now. What are you doing with it? We can (and should!) praise God for the peaceful seasons of our lives. After all, spiritual battle is stressful and we need the occasional breather! But even those quiet seasons can be productive seasons. In athletics, the off-season isn’t a time to get fat and lazy; it is time to recover, work on fundamentals, and plan for what lies ahead. When we have spiritual “down” time, we need to use it for the same! Yes, recover…but work on those fundamentals of prayer, worship, and study – think ahead to plans that God might have for your future. We can recover yet still stay engaged. When we don’t, that is when we get into danger.

– The sinful years (10:6-18)

6 Then the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served the Baals and the Ashtoreths, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the people of Ammon, and the gods of the Philistines; and they forsook the LORD and did not serve Him. 7 So the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel; and He sold them into the hands of the Philistines and into the hands of the people of Ammon. 8 From that year they harassed and oppressed the children of Israel for eighteen years—all the children of Israel who were on the other side of the Jordan in the land of the Amorites, in Gilead. 9 Moreover the people of Ammon crossed over the Jordan to fight against Judah also, against Benjamin, and against the house of Ephraim, so that Israel was severely distressed.

A. Before we look at the details, take a step back and look at the context. If Tola and Jair did have consecutive terms as judges, it adds to 45 years of relative peace and quiet. The question needs to be asked: How far into those 45 years did the people of Israel wait before they began their descent into idolatry? How much time of their quiet did they actually spend in the quiet (but sincere) worship of God? Did they have any time of true worship?

a. The human heart is a depraved thing! We can be given the world on a platter and still want what we don’t have. In fact, that was precisely the situation with Adam and Eve. They had everything anyone could possibly ask for. Yet the one thing God forbade them to eat, that was what they desired and that was what they ate. And the consequences that came from it came as a flood! We are little different today. Our hearts are deceitful and wicked (Jer 17:9), never satisfied with what is good, always seeking out what is sinful. Who can save us from ourselves? None but Jesus! Praise God that He transforms our hearts! Though we still struggle with our sinful flesh, we have been given new lives and new hope in Christ. But it underscores how utterly dependent on Him. Should we but relax and let down our guard, we would (just like Israel) go straight back to the sins of our past.

B. And sin, they did. It was as if Israel surveyed all the various gods of the land and decided to serve every god except the true God. All of the peoples who they were supposed to conquer (specifically to bring God’s judgment upon them and to eliminate the potential temptation of their idolatrous ways) were the peoples they emulated. They took on the worship practices of all the local pagans. These were gods worshipped through sexual fornication, through child sacrifice, and through multiple kinds of evil. And who worshipped them? The Israelites! They engaged in exactly the same behaviors for which God had judged the original inhabitants of the land. The people of God (supposedly) acted as pagans against God.

C. It is no wonder that “the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel.” How could it be otherwise? God had hotly judged other nations for less than what Israel had done. The Gentiles may have done it longer, but Israel seemed to compress it altogether. It was as if they looked for as ways to practice as much idolatry as possible and do it all at once. Thus, because Israel “forsook” God, God did the same with them. He gave them (or, per the text “sold them” as if they were slaves) into the hands of their enemies to the east and to the west (the Ammonites and the Philistines, respectively). Normally, God raised up judges to redeem/deliver His people out of slavery. This time, He specifically gave/sold them into slavery. And why not? They already prostituted themselves out as slaves to the gods of the pagans. Why not give them over to the hands of the pagans themselves?

D. For 18 long years this oppression took place, all the while the people of Ammon pressing farther and farther into the land of Israel. Ammon was an eastern kingdom, a people on the Transjordan side. It makes sense that Ammon would first oppress those in Gilead, but it didn’t stop there. They “crossed over the Jordan” to go against Judah, Benjamin, and Ephraim as well. The picture is that of the entire nation being oppressed for long years on end. Why? In a word: sin. Sin that is unchecked by God’s people will be checked by God Himself. (With Israel and with us!)

10 And the children of Israel cried out to the LORD, saying, “We have sinned against You, because we have both forsaken our God and served the Baals!”

A. Finally, confession! It took 18 years but eventually the Israelites had their moment of clarity when they realized their position as the prodigal son in the pigpen. They looked around and realized that the suffering they experienced was needless, brought about by their own sinful stupidity. That was when they turned to the Lord, called their sin what it was and confessed their two evils.

B. Evil #1: they forsook God. They had a golden opportunity to serve YHWH God of their covenant and they despised it. Like Esau selling his birthright for a bowl of lentil chili, so did Israel despise their relationship with God and turn away. They denied the God who loved them and redeemed them. They abandoned the God who had adopted them as His own.

C. Evil #2: they served false gods, the Baals. Bad enough that they turned away from YHWH God, yet far worse to serve the imaginary false gods of their pagan enemies. Israel turned away from the truth to purposefully serve the lie. It would be like leaving a real, regular paycheck to choose to get paid in Monopoly money: utterly ridiculous. To know the truth, yet abandon it to intentionally choose a lie? This is an insult to the nth degree!

a. Be careful not to point the finger too quick at Israel. If it is bad for ancient Israel to abandon God for lies, how much worse it is when born-again believing Christians turn aside from Christ to serve the false things of this world? We do know the truth – so much so that we have real relationship with the God who IS the truth. To shut our eyes to Him that we can run to the world is insanity. Yet it is sadly common insanity.

b. This is exactly our need for confession! Israel finally woke up to their sin and confessed it to God; so can we. When we get to the end of ourselves and see our surrounding pigsty, as terrible as it is, it is the perfect opportunity for us to confess our despair and sin to God and ask for His forgiveness in Jesus!

11 So the LORD said to the children of Israel, “Did I not deliver you from the Egyptians and from the Amorites and from the people of Ammon and from the Philistines? 12 Also the Sidonians and Amalekites and Maonites oppressed you; and you cried out to Me, and I delivered you from their hand. 13 Yet you have forsaken Me and served other gods. Therefore I will deliver you no more. 14 “Go and cry out to the gods which you have chosen; let them deliver you in your time of distress.”

A. How exactly this response came from the Lord to Israel is uncertain. There is no prophet of God mentioned at the time. Perhaps this was a word of God that came through the priest serving at the tabernacle. However it was given, it was certain that the Lord God gave it.

B. It was also certainly disappointing and shocking in the ears of the people when it came. They cried out in confession, yet God seemingly responds in coldness. It shouldn’t have been surprising. For decades, God had consistently delivered the people while the people consistently sinned against Him. No matter how many times God delivered them out of the hands of their enemies, Israel always went back to their sins and their false gods. There was perfect symmetry between the two: seven nations from which Israel was delivered and seven false gods that Israel served. It was a one-for-one failure rate for Israel. No wonder God gave them over to their sins. If they wanted to serve those false gods so badly, then Israel should cry out to those same gods for help. Why should YHWH God continually deliver a people who consistently rejects Him?

a. Why should He, indeed? There comes a point when God gives people over to the consequences of their own sinful choices. Paul describes a cycle of such tragedy in Romans 1, where mankind continually sins and God gives them over to the next level of sin. The same thing happens with individual people. The more someone chooses to reject God, the more the person’s heart is hardened against God, and the more likely it is that God hardens that person’s heart (just like what happened with Pharaoh). If someone chooses to reject Jesus, Jesus will respect that choice and allow that person to live with the eternal consequences of that rejection.

b. The key is not to reject Jesus! Don’t harden your heart to His voice. When you know God calls you to repent, do it and do it immediately!

15 And the children of Israel said to the LORD, “We have sinned! Do to us whatever seems best to You; only deliver us this day, we pray.” 16 So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the LORD. …

A. Israel repeated their confession, showing true sorrow and contrition. They did not shy away from the description of “sin.” They didn’t downplay it (as we so often do), saying that “We messed up… We made a mistake… We got distracted… We stumbled a bit…” What did Israel say? “We have sinned!” Sin is sin, and we need to be willing to call it what it is. We need to understand the true sinfulness of our sin (along with the true righteousness of God) if we are to turn away from it.

B. And that was what Israel did. More than acknowledging their sin, they acknowledged God’s right to act however He wished. Whatever judgment God determined, that judgment was right. Granted, they cried out and begged for His deliverance. But in the end, only God can determine what is right and wrong. God knows what is just. Whatever it is man might do, far better to be in the hands of God, appealing to His mercy.

a. Are we willing to place ourselves fully in the hands of God? Sometimes the hands of a doctor might initially cause great damage but bring great healing. It is undoubtedly a traumatic thing for a man to have his chest split open…but if it leads to a successful artery bypass and healing, then it is a good thing. Sometimes, placing ourselves in the hands of God for discipline is harsh and hard, but there is no doubt that for those who are His children, His healing comes on the heels of His discipline. Our God is a good God, even as He is a just God.

C. Finally, the reality of Israel’s repentance was seen in their actions. They demonstrated fruits of repentance. They spoke words of sorrow, but did more than speak; they “put away the foreign gods from among them and served the LORD.” They turned away from their sin and turned back to God. Earlier, they forsook God. Now, they forsook their forsaking, falling upon the mercies and compassion of God.

… And His soul could no longer endure the misery of Israel.

A. The wording here is so interesting in that it uses the language of impatience. Although we might easily say that God earlier lost His patience with Israel’s continued sin, now things have changed. This time, God became impatient/short with their “misery.” He loved His people so much that He could not stand to see them in distress. Though they deserved destruction, God would not give it out of His love for His people. (Praise God for His abounding mercies and everlasting love in Christ Jesus!)

The nation had wandered into terrible sin! And not just “wandered,” but ran, played, and rolled around in repeated unrepentant sin for decades. They abandoned God and it was not until they began to experience the full consequences of their actions did they see their need to repent. Thankfully, God received their repentance, demonstrating His wonderful mercy.

How have you wandered from (or more precisely, sinned against) God? From what do you need to repent? We have a tendency of repeating this same cycle with similar consequences. You don’t need to experience them! The sooner we repent, the better! The more we sincerely throw ourselves on the mercies of God in Christ Jesus, the sooner we too will experience His mercies.

Thankfully, the people had begun finding their way back from their wandering as they turned to God in true repentance. What they had done spiritually with Him, they would illustrate practically with someone else: the new leader raised up by God for the nation for that moment.

17 Then the people of Ammon gathered together and encamped in Gilead. And the children of Israel assembled together and encamped in Mizpah. 18 And the people, the leaders of Gilead, said to one another, “Who is the man who will begin the fight against the people of Ammon? He shall be head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.”

A. Remember it was the 18 years of oppression by the Ammonites that caused Israel to finally confess and truly repent toward God. With God’s renewed compassion for His people, He needed to set the stage for their deliverance and (for the time) that meant a coming battle. The various armies begin to gather together, preparing to fight. But there was a problem: Israel had no commander. At this point, they had no judge – no military leader in Israel. God would have to provide them one…and He would do so from a most unexpected source.

Judges 11

– The new opportunity (11:1-11).

1 Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valor, but he was the son of a harlot; and Gilead begot Jephthah. 2 Gilead’s wife bore sons; and when his wife’s sons grew up, they drove Jephthah out, and said to him, “You shall have no inheritance in our father’s house, for you are the son of another woman.” 3 Then Jephthah fled from his brothers and dwelt in the land of Tob; and worthless men banded together with Jephthah and went out raiding with him.

A. Jephthah was a warrior but one with a poor pedigree. He was known as a “mighty man of valor,” but he was also known as an illegitimate child, the “son of a harlot.” If he had been born of an unloved wife of his father, he would have had rights. If he had been born of a concubine of his father, he would have had at least some respectability. As it was, he was openly despised by his brothers and the rest of his countrymen. It wasn’t right, but it wasn’t unusual for the culture either. Ultimately, he was rejected by his brothers and forced to live in exile.

a. It is not too unlike how Jesus was rejected by His own nation of Israel. People dogged Him with rumors surrounding His birth and although He came into His own, His own did not receive Him.

B. In Jephthah’s exile from Gilead, he dwelt in (what most scholars believe) was Syria “in the land of Tob.” Ironically, the Hebrew word tob/tov means “good.” Why was it ironic? Notice who was with him: “Worthless men.” Those were the only ones willing to be in the presence of a harlot’s son and true to their character, they did bad things. Although the text is not explicit (notice the italics), the inference is that the group went out raiding together. It makes sense…if you’re a warrior, you’re going to find some way to use your skills of war. There will be battles and raids, whether done for good reasons or evil ones.

The whole picture is of a rather unsavory character. This isn’t the kind of guy one would normally seek out as a national leader. Desperate times, however, call out for desperate measures…

4 It came to pass after a time that the people of Ammon made war against Israel. 5 And so it was, when the people of Ammon made war against Israel, that the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob. 6 Then they said to Jephthah, “Come and be our commander, that we may fight against the people of Ammon.”

A. The “war” described is likely the battlefield division seen at the end of Chapter 10. At this point, Israel understood that they had no qualified man among them to lead them (which itself was a poor indictment of the nation), so they put their heads together to try to imagine who might have the skills to lead them to battle. Their conclusion? The rejected bastard Gileadite son Jephthah who lived as a raider and outlaw. Scripture never specifies whom Jephthah conducted raids against (unlikely it was Israel), but this was a man always on the run from someone. This was a man who lived by the sword.

B. He was a man of war; was he a man of faith? At this point in his life, we don’t know. At this point in the story we are not even given any assurance that Jephthah was raised up by God. For all we know, this guy was simply chosen by a committee who was trying to brainstorm names of men who might not get them all killed. Yet what do we know about God’s sovereignty? God always reigns – He is always in control. Nothing we do surprises Him, nor is anything we do unable to be used by God in His plans. And God had a plan for Jephthah…perhaps in a way that Jephthah himself did not even know. Soon, this man would be a man of faith, even to be included in the famed “hall of faith” in the book of Hebrews (Hb 11:32).

a. What we don’t know, God does. The people we might not ever imagined can be used for God’s glory are sometimes the very people that God chooses. That is very good news for some of us: it means that God can even use people like us! For as surprised as we might be by some of the people God chooses, we can be sure they are just as surprised at God’s choice of us!

7 So Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “Did you not hate me, and expel me from my father’s house? Why have you come to me now when you are in distress?”

A. If this sounds familiar, it should. After all, this was exactly what Israel did with God. Just like Jephthah was rejected by his brothers, so was God rejected by His people. Just like his brothers (or countrymen) eventually turned back to Jephthah for help, so did the Israelites turn back to God in confession. And just like Jephthah was less-than inclined to help them, so it seemed that God was ready to turn His people over to their sin. Israel was getting a very practical lesson in true repentance. What they expressed to God on a spiritual level, they now needed to practice person-to-person. It was one thing for them to humble themselves in prayer; it was quite another thing for them to humble themselves to fellow Israelite whom they had to look in the eye.

a. If we think about it, it ought to be the reverse. It ought to be a weightier thing for us to humble ourselves before God than before one another. But it often isn’t. We might expect to assume some posture of humility before God…even while we keep some inner part of our heart in rebellion. But when we have to look at someone in the eye or talk to them directly, it is a hard thing to be humble and truly repentant. That kind of humility is what we need with our heavenly Father! We need to feel it in our gut and do more than mouth some words; we need to be sincere. Sometimes it takes hard, practical lessons with one another for us to learn it.

8 And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “That is why we have turned again to you now, that you may go with us and fight against the people of Ammon, and be our head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.”

A. If the first part of the outreach of the elders of Gilead to Jephthah showed their humility, the second part showed their true repentance. In fact, the Hebrew word for “turned again” is sometimes translated “repentance” in the Bible, indicating a true change of mind as well as a change of direction. Additionally, the elders of Gilead had fruit/action to back up their words. They offered Jephthah not only military command but national (or at least, tribal) leadership. This is seen in the two different words of “commander” (vs. 6) and “head” (vs. 8). The elders of Gilead upped the ante and offer. They were looking for more than a temporary general that they could hire/fire; they were truly submitting themselves into the hand of Jephthah as their judge.

9 So Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “If you take me back home to fight against the people of Ammon, and the LORD delivers them to me, shall I be your head?” 10 And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “The LORD will be a witness between us, if we do not do according to your words.” 11 Then Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them; and Jephthah spoke all his words before the LORD in Mizpah.

A. The confirmation from Jephthah ought to be expected. Israel was a fickle people, after all! They ended up swearing a divine oath, the agreement was struck, and Jephthah confirmed it all in the name of YHWH God, even repeating the commitment before the Lord in a solemn ceremony, showing God as a personal witness.

B. The point? This was a big deal! Gilead submitting itself under the leadership of Jephthah was not something to be taken lightly – it wasn’t a ho-hum “pie crust” promise. Rather, it was true commitment, something done in the presence of, and according to the righteous character of God Himself.

a. This is what real repentance is. It isn’t a ho-hum, off-the-cuff “I’m sorry” with no real thought given to it. If we are not truly surrendering ourselves anew to the Holy God then we have not truly repented. Again, repentance involves not only contrition in our hearts, but a change of mind in the way we think about things and a change of action/direction in the way we do things. It is giving ourselves into the hands of Jesus, knowing that He is God and that He is worthy of our full obedience.

Jephthah put the people to the test. Had they really repented? How far were they willing to go to show it?

Have we? At some point, we need to put our money where our mouth is. We need to act according to the sorrow we claim to have, recommitting ourselves to Christ giving Him whatever it is we need to give Him in the moment. Maybe it is following His command to seek reconciliation with our brother or sister. Maybe it is restoring something that we’ve taken. Maybe it is public repentance for public sin. Whatever it is the word of God says about our situation, that we need to do.

Conclusion:

Israel’s story is our story. As New Testament Christians, we go along our way doing what we do. Things seem quiet for a while…until we wander. And when we wander, we wander bad. Soon, we find ourselves doing the things we swore we’d never do, falling right back into the same sins from which we were saved. Is God patient with us? Yes, incredibly so. But even God’s patience has a limit. If we continue in that unwavering sin, at some point God acts, turning us over to our consequences. He loves us too much to see us continue in destructive paths and He will not hesitate to bring hard, but loving discipline into our lives.

At that point, we have a choice: we can either block out the leading of God and conviction of the Holy Spirit, or we can humbly submit ourselves to His hand and bring forth true fruits of repentance. Need it be said? Repent! Do not wait – do not hesitate. That which God brings to your mind – the actions of which God reveals to your heart – confess those things to Him in truth and surrender yourself anew to our Lord Jesus.

And the promise we have as the Church is so much clearer than what was had by ancient Israel. We have the written guarantee of God’s forgiveness: 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Never forget to whom that promise was written: born-again believing Christians. That promise is to you. Avail yourself of it! Confess your sins to God in Christ, turning away from them, and turning back to Christ in humility and worship.

The promise was written to Christians but the invitation is open to all. Anyone can become a Christian…and it takes exactly the same steps. Confess your sins to God, agreeing with Him that you have rebelled against Him. Humble yourself before Jesus in faith, believing Him to be God in the flesh who died for you at the cross and risen from the grave. Surrender yourself to Him, asking Jesus to be your Lord and Savior.

Israel’s first king was not God’s choice for a king; it was a pretender, a usurper. Beware that you do not usurp what is God’s! He is the rightful God and King and He will not share His throne.

The Not-So-Great Pretender

Posted: December 31, 2020 in Judges

Judges 9, “The Not-So-Great Pretender”

Pretend is great as a child when playing with friends; it is potentially dangerous as adults. It is one thing to play “cops and robbers” or to even act out a play; it is quite another when someone with phony credentials wants to do important work. When going into surgery, you want an experienced and properly trained medical doctor; not a quack who happened to sleep at a Holiday Inn Express!

This is also important when it comes to leadership, particularly among the people of God. Just like a church needs a pastor who truly knows Jesus and the Bible, without false piety or conversion – just like the overall Church needs to follow the true Christ rather than fake versions of Jesus from different cults – so did ancient Israel need to follow the God-anointed and ordained king, rather than a pretender or usurper. For a false man to take the throne was attempted subversion of the plan of God. Not only was it harmful to the people but it was a severe act of rebellion against God Himself.

What makes this even more important is that, in our study of the Old Testament, the time of the kings had not yet begun. This was the time of the judges, as God had not given Israel any kings. God Himself was their King. That makes the evil pretense and usurpation in Judges 9 all the worse.

At the time, Israel had not yet fallen into complete chaos, though it wasn’t far off. With every cycle of apostasy and resulting rescue, things got progressively worse for the nation. It hadn’t begun this way. When Joshua retired, he had given the people every opportunity to walk with the Lord in faith and victory, having modeled it to them during his life and ministry. The nation however, chose the path of laziness and sinfulness, so God allowed their enemies to remain in the land, becoming persistent sources of temptation and oppression.

The most recent enemy was Midian, whose forces overwhelmed the Israelites through ongoing raids. To this threat, God raised up Gideon as Israel’s judge, empowering his tiny band of 300 men to defeat an army that numbered as a locust swarm. Through God’s grace, Gideon prevailed and a relative quiet once more came to Israel.

Sadly, Gideon did not rule with the same faith-filled dependence upon God with which he initially fought. To his credit, Gideon refused the title of king, but still enjoyed the wealth and benefits that came with it. Because of his sinful extravagance, the nation once again fell into idolatrous apostasy as the people no longer remembered the true God of their covenant.

Thus, the cycle would begin again. This time, the dangerous oppression would not come from without, but from within. This time, the oppressor would be an Israelite as he took for himself the throne of Israel, usurping the rightful place of God. This man wanted what God had not given and he was willing to do whatever it took to get it.

It is a fascinating piece of history for Israel. What does it have to do with us? Much! At one point or another, we have all been little Abimelechs, pushing God off His throne. Ever since the Garden of Eden, humans have wanted to usurp the place of God in our lives, declaring for ourselves what is right and wrong. It is only by the transformation that comes from the Holy Spirit that we find contentment in our rightful place as God’s servants and sons.

Beware that you do not usurp what is God’s! He is the rightful God and King and He will not share His throne. (And it only makes God’s grace more wonderful that we get to share in Jesus’ inheritance and sit on His throne with Him!)

Chapter 9 breaks into three main sections: (1) The usurper’s conspiracy, which leads to a false king. (2) A parable of judgment, which proclaims the usurper’s condemnation. (3) The war of the evildoers, which leads to the usurper’s final judgment.

Beware that you don’t pretend to be what you are not. Don’t take the place of God! Jesus belongs on the thrones of our lives – Him, and no other!

Judges 9

  • Conspiracy: A false king (1-6)

1 Then Abimelech the son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem, to his mother’s brothers, and spoke with them and with all the family of the house of his mother’s father, saying, 2 “Please speak in the hearing of all the men of Shechem: ‘Which is better for you, that all seventy of the sons of Jerubbaal reign over you, or that one reign over you?’ Remember that I am your own flesh and bone.”

  1. Abimelech was introduced to us at the end of Chapter 8. He was the son of one of Gideon’s concubines. For the things that Gideon did well early in his life, Gideon was not slow to polygamy, taking many wives for himself and ending up with 70 sons. In addition to those many wives, he apparently also kept other concubines on the side, through whom he fathered even more children…Abimelech being one of the results. It demonstrates how far Gideon fell from a position of humble faith. At first, Gideon saw himself being unworthy of being used by God, even thinking himself and his family to be the least clan in all Israel (6:15). By the end of his life, though he turned down the official title of king, he acted no different from the kings of the ancient near east, collecting a vast harem and engaging in all its lusts. It is no wonder that at least one of his offspring longed for the same notoriety, and it showed itself in Abimelech. His very name means “my father is king,” so although he grew up on the outside of his family, he no doubt thought himself deserving of royal power and riches.
  2. If these things were not given to him by God, Abimelech found a way to grab them for himself. He stirred up strife among the “men of Shechem.” His logic seemed to make sense to his brothers and the people of the land: it was the choice between 70 judges vs. 1 king. Keep in mind that God raised up Gideon as Israel’s judge; God did not ordain Gideon’s sons. That isn’t to say that the sons did not act as if they were judges (Scripture is relatively silent in this case), but they were not put there by God. Even so, Abimelech acted as if his 70 brothers ruled the land and he made the people think that a single ruler was far better and more efficient than a council or committee. In the end, it wasn’t a true reason for a national king; it was a convenient excuse for Abimelech to seize power.

3 And his mother’s brothers spoke all these words concerning him in the hearing of all the men of Shechem; and their heart was inclined to follow Abimelech, for they said, “He is our brother.”

  1. His brothers followed through, serving as his messengers in Shechem. They spread the word and likewise sowed the seed of division. Sadly, people listened to them and joined in the rebellion.
    1. As an aside – the quickest way to stop division is not refuse to engage in it. If less people would give an audience to those who sow rumors and gossip, then far more trouble would be stopped before it even got started. “Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; And where there is no talebearer, strife ceases,” (Pro 26:20).
  2. Interestingly, these men saw themselves as Abimelech’s brothers, when they shared only one parent with him (his mother, vs. Gideon as being his father). Abimelech did not share the same affinity for the other sons of his father. His mother, being a concubine and not an “official” wife, made Abimelech a second-class son, whereas he was on equal footing with his other half-brothers through his mother.
    1. This was not unusual for the culture but it certainly is a sad commentary. It is one more example that God’s original intent for marriage and family is best: one man joined to one woman, mutually submitted unto God for life. Whenever we depart from that standard, we open the door to heartache and trouble.

4 So they gave him seventy shekels of silver from the temple of Baal-Berith, with which Abimelech hired worthless and reckless men; and they followed him. 5 Then he went to his father’s house at Ophrah and killed his brothers, the seventy sons of Jerubbaal, on one stone. But Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left, because he hid himself.

  1. There is all kind of wrong going on here…and that doesn’t even include the horrific crime! 70 shekels are taken from the local idolatrous temple to hire “worthless and reckless” mercenaries. Remember that “Baal-Berith” translates to “lord of the covenant,” showing Israel’s terrible substitution for YHWH God from the pagan deities of the land. Not only was this false god worshipped, but he had a temple and even a treasury. Of course, once they abandoned the true God it only follows that they abandon the morality of God and they embezzle money from the local place of worship (though false worship) to hire mercenaries. 
  2. Ultimately, these mercs were hired to commit a massacre. They corralled the 70 sons of Gideon to one place and murdered them all. What it means that they were killed “on one stone” is uncertain. Perhaps they were slain one-by-one; perhaps they were killed and laid up in a heap; maybe it was a large stone and they killed the group all at once. Whatever the case, the outcome was tragic. Only one son escaped: the youngest, Jotham. He comes into play later in the chapter.

6 And all the men of Shechem gathered together, all of Beth Millo, and they went and made Abimelech king beside the terebinth tree at the pillar that was in Shechem.

  1. Abimelech was declared king. His plan was “successful,” as he got what he always wanted. It didn’t matter that he had to kill almost 6 dozen men (his half-brothers) to make it happen. He didn’t care how much blood he shed as long as he gained power.
    1. Beware the pride and greed that comes with a lust for authority! It was for power that Satan rebelled against God, and it was arguably the same thing that took out Adam (as he and Eve wanted to be “like” God). We see it among politicians in our culture as well as among people in the church. Such lust is ancient and dangerous!
  2. Knowing that Abimelech was declared to be king, it begs the question: king over what? One city (perhaps two different parts of the city) declared Abimelech king, but was he king only over the town? City-states were not unusual at the time – Joshua and the rest of Israel conquered many when they came into the land. But the people of Israel were supposed to be different. They were one nation, spread out over many cities and towns. Was Abimelech supposed to be king over all Israel, or had Shechem splintered itself off in secession? It began in one town but (as becomes apparent later) it soon spread across the land. Sin is sadly contagious. If it isn’t dealt with early, it becomes more and more difficult to put down later.
    1. That said, sin can be stopped in its tracks, but it requires something drastic: confession and repentance towards Christ! We need to be willing to admit that we have wronged God, rebelled against Him, and then humbly submit ourselves to Him in faith through Jesus. It is only when we put “ourselves” aside that God will empower us to kill of the sin in our lives.

Israel found itself with a big problem! For the first time in their history, there was a man declared as king in the land. But this wasn’t a king set up by God. This wasn’t a king according to God’s plan. Remember that God did have a monarchy in mind; it just wasn’t this one. Abimelech was taking something that wasn’t his, subverting the perfect plan of God. Think it through: not only was Abimelech’s covetousness and evil harmful in the short-run, but if he succeeded in the long-term, then how would the dynastic line of the kingdom move to the lineage of David? Abimelech’s rebellion was not only an attack against God’s peace but also His plan of salvation.

We don’t often think about the long-term consequences of our sin. When we sin, we inevitably look to the short-term. We want to feel good right now, right here. We want what we want, when we want it, consequences be darned. (Or pick your word of choice!) But there are always long-term consequences. And even when we don’t know what those things might be, any sin still need to be seen as treason against our Lord and King. It is us usurping the rightful place Jesus has in our lives. Though we asked Jesus to be our Lord, we seize back lordship for the moment and try to pretend everything is okay. It isn’t. And God will deal with us, when necessary.

  • Parable: The usurper condemned (7-21)

7 Now when they told Jotham, he went and stood on top of Mount Gerizim, and lifted his voice and cried out. And he said to them: “Listen to me, you men of Shechem, That God may listen to you!

  1. Recall that the town of Shechem sits in the valley between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, the two mountains from which Moses commanded that the children of Israel recite the blessings and curses in the book of Deuteronomy. This act was fulfilled by Joshua after the nation repented from Achan’s sin of stealing some of the devoted spoil of Jericho (Josh 8:30-35). Out of the two mountains, Mount Gerizim was the mount of blessing. Yet it was used by Jotham to proclaim a curse. This would not have been lost on the people, underscoring what kind of evil had taken place.
  2. Interestingly, the “men of Shechem” could literally be translated “lords of Shechem,” as the word “men” is the plural form of the word baal…the pagan god/lord used among various idols. The same phrase is used throughout Chapter 9, with nearly every instance of “men of Shechem” being literally “baalim/lords of Shechem.” Recall that the Israelites had once again forgotten the true God as they worshipped Baal-Berith, the “lord of the covenant.” So in addition to their outward idolatry, they set themselves up as tiny “lords,” not unlike how Abimelech set himself up as “king.” They thought too much of themselves and too little of YHWH God. In fact, they thought so little of the true God (Elohim, as stated by Jotham), that He no longer listened to them. There was a dire need in the land to repent, so Jotham put out the call.
    1. FYI: This is the first mention of God in the chapter. In fact, apart from a couple of minor references in the parable taught by Jotham, this is one of three mentions of God in the entire chapter (vss. 7, 23, 56-57), none of which are His covenant name YHWH. This is the sad spiritual state of Israel. They had all but completely forgotten the One who gave them their home and freedom.
    2. This is what sin does. It blinds us to the goodness of our God! It deceives us, telling us that we can do better for ourselves than what God has ever done for us. May God open our eyes to the truth!

8 “The trees once went forth to anoint a king over them. And they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us!’ 9 But the olive tree said to them, ‘Should I cease giving my oil, With which they honor God and men, And go to sway over trees?’ 10 “Then the trees said to the fig tree, ‘You come and reign over us!’ 11 But the fig tree said to them, ‘Should I cease my sweetness and my good fruit, And go to sway over trees?’ 12 “Then the trees said to the vine, ‘You come and reign over us!’ 13 But the vine said to them, ‘Should I cease my new wine, Which cheers both God and men, And go to sway over trees?’

  1. The story starts with the olive tree and gradually decreases in size/value. These first three examples are all worthy plants. Olive, figs, and grapes were all considered blessings of the land of Israel, the benefits of their new home. In the story, the generic “trees” ask these various plants to rise up over them. To “sway” is to wave or tremble, which might not make sense regarding leadership. ESV and NIV translate this as “hold sway” to give the idea.
  2. Yet to this request, all the various plants refuse. Each variety understood its place and role, and was content in what God had given it to do. For them to do anything else would be unnatural. In fact, when the plants did what they were meant to do, God Himself was glorified among them.
    1. Want to glorify God in your life? Walk in the calling Jesus has given you! Instead of coveting that which God hasn’t given you (like Abimelech), use what He has
  3. There is an underlying problem under all of this: why exactly did the larger group of trees desire a king in the first place? Obviously, we don’t want to read too much into a parable or fable, but there is a definite parallel between the trees and Shechem/Israel. There was no need for them to set forth and anoint a king yet they did it anyway. If the various plants were satisfied with their callings, the general trees were dissatisfied with God’s provision. Discontent led to rebellion which led to sin.

14 “Then all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come and reign over us!’ 15 And the bramble said to the trees, ‘If in truth you anoint me as king over you, Then come and take shelter in my shade; But if not, let fire come out of the bramble And devour the cedars of Lebanon!’

  1. How low did the trees (the mighty trees, the plants that reached up to heaven) stoop? All the way down to the dust (where Satan crawled as the serpent). They next looked to the bramble, the tumbleweed, the thorns. The bramble/thorns were least worthy, yet they were offered the kingdom.
  2. In response, the bramble gave an honest warning: once the trees took the bramble as king, they would be stuck with it. If the trees later changed their minds, there would be severe consequences. As the old saying goes, “You made your bed; now lie in it.”

16 “Now therefore, if you have acted in truth and sincerity in making Abimelech king, and if you have dealt well with Jerubbaal and his house, and have done to him as he deserves—17 for my father fought for you, risked his life, and delivered you out of the hand of Midian; 18 but you have risen up against my father’s house this day, and killed his seventy sons on one stone, and made Abimelech, the son of his female servant, king over the men of Shechem, because he is your brother—

  1. The “if” was sarcasm. Obviously, the men/baalim of Shechem had not “acted in truth and sincerity in making Abimelech king.” There was deception and violence and blood when they took the bramble Abimelech to be their king. They had not “dealt well” with the house of Gideon/Jerubbaal – they had not done to him as he deserved. What did Gideon deserve from the people? Honor! He freed them from the oppression of Midian. Granted, Gideon wasn’t perfect, but he was the man raised up by God for the time. Yet the people of Shechem repaid Gideon by murdering all but 2 of his sons: Abimelech and Jotham. It was terrible sin, known by God and exposed by Jotham.

19 if then you have acted in truth and sincerity with Jerubbaal and with his house this day, then rejoice in Abimelech, and let him also rejoice in you. 20 But if not, let fire come from Abimelech and devour the men of Shechem and Beth Millo; and let fire come from the men of Shechem and from Beth Millo and devour Abimelech!”

  1. Picks up again where verse 16 left off. If this was the right thing to do, then Shechem had every reason to rejoice. Go ahead and party in the streets. If this was right, then celebrate like it was right without fear of the judgment of God. Yet if not (and it wasn’t!), let the people be cursed!
  2. Notice the detail of the curse: fire was to come from each party and destroy the other. Both Abimelech and the men of Shechem had acted in wicked violence towards others; now that wicked violence would be turned against themselves. The old cliché says that “there is no honor among thieves,” and such was prophetically proclaimed to be true of Abimelech and Shechem. Although they began in a unified conspiracy, their alliance would break apart and they would devour one another to the death.

21 And Jotham ran away and fled; and he went to Beer and dwelt there, for fear of Abimelech his brother.

  1. Jotham was brave in his message but soon fled…and for good reason! Abimelech did not hesitate to murder dozens of his brothers. What would stop Abimelech from murdering him as well?
  2. Jotham’s escape does not speak poorly of his courage; on the contrary, he was brave enough to say what needed to be said and wise enough to do what was necessary to preserve his life. He had no idea how long or how far his half-brother or his murderous allies would search for him. For all Jotham knew, he would live in hiding for the rest of his life. Even so, he still spoke the truth. 

Jotham called out the evil usurper, prophetically condemning him for his sins. Abimelech was nothing but bramble, taking on for himself what didn’t belong to him. Worse yet was the response of the people of Shechem, going along with it, endorsing it. They were all guilty of great sin. They may not have been willing to admit it, but Jotham called it for what it was.

Sin needs to be called out, even when it is among ourselves. Sin thrives in darkness when what it needs to be exterminated is the light. This is the wonderful aspect about confession. As difficult as it may be to our pride to confess sin, it sheds light on that for which we are (or ought to be) ashamed. But once it is seen, then it can be addressed. We never address what we never see. It’s like the stuff we throw in our closets, always procrastinating when we happen to open the door. As long as it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind. But sin that remains out of sight still causes problem. It still interrupts our fellowship with God. It still causes difficulties in our relationship with others. It must be exposed, confessed, and addressed…then it can be forgiven and cleansed, according to God’s promise! (1 Jn 1:9)

  • War: The usurper judged (22-57).

22 After Abimelech had reigned over Israel three years, 23 God sent a spirit of ill will between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech, 24 that the crime done to the seventy sons of Jerubbaal might be settled and their blood be laid on Abimelech their brother, who killed them, and on the men of Shechem, who aided him in the killing of his brothers.

  1. Note the timeline. Things did not happen immediately. Abimelech “reigned over Israel three years” (eventually assuming far more command than over the city of Shechem alone). Three years passed before God moved, though God did move.
    1. Question: Is this justice? The catchphrase today says, “Justice delayed is justice denied.” If true, that condemns God Himself. After all, there are some acts of injustice that take place on earth that will have no answer until the final day of judgment at God’s great white throne. No; justice need not happen according to our own timeline for justice to be done. When God moves, justice is God alone determines what is/is not just for He is the very definition of justice. Whatever God does is right and just – even if that means injustice is not answered till the end of the age. But even knowing that, justice will be done in every instance, of that we can be sure!
  2. How did God move in this case? “God sent a spirit of ill will,” or perhaps a better translation, “God sent an evil spirit” to cause trouble “between Abimelech and the men of Shechem.” Question: Can/would the Holy Righteous God send an “evil spirit” to anyone? He did so here and he did it again with Saul (1 Sam 16) and also with Ahab (1 Kings 22). God is not evil, nor is He the author of evil, but He can use evil things for His own glory and purposes. How could He not? If this were impossible for God, then God would not be truly sovereign. If this were impossible for God then there would be some things outside of His control. God would be forced to react to circumstances, not really knowing the future. Perish the thought! The Bible teaches that God is absolutely sovereign, that there is nothing outside His ultimate control and no future of which He is unaware. – This does not mean that God actively desires or plans evil. Not at all. This is the difference between God’s perfect will and His permissive will. His perfect will is that which He directs and commands. He permissive will is that which He allows. His perfect will for Adam and Eve was for them to refrain from eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil; His permissive will was to allow them to freely eat in rebellion. God’s perfect will is seen accomplished in Jesus, who only did what the Father commanded. God’s permissive will is seen in the suffering of Job, who was attacked relentlessly by Satan (and even then, Satan had certain restrictions placed on him by God). How does this relate to the evil spirit sent by God? God’s perfect will was for justice to be done on Abimelech and Shechem for their acts of rebellion. His permissive will was to allow an evil spirit to work so much division and evil within them that they were brought to God’s perfect justice.
    1. We do not always understand why God allows the things He does. We can understand God’s goodness and perfect character. To put it another way, we cannot always answer the question “why,” but we can always answer the question “who”. And the “who” is good!

25 And the men of Shechem set men in ambush against him on the tops of the mountains, and they robbed all who passed by them along that way; and it was told Abimelech.

  1. The men/baalim of Shechem were as worthless as ever! This is simply a preliminary statement overviewing the conflict that will happen between the parties in the rest of the chapter.

26 Now Gaal the son of Ebed came with his brothers and went over to Shechem; and the men of Shechem put their confidence in him. 27 So they went out into the fields, and gathered grapes from their vineyards and trod them, and made merry. And they went into the house of their god, and ate and drank, and cursed Abimelech.

  1. Who was “Gaal?” His name is interesting, in that it is comes from the word for “abhor / loathe.” Combine that with his father’s name which translates as “servant,” and it could refer to “loathsome one, son of a servant.” (NET) “This individual’s very name (which may be the narrator’s nickname for him, not his actual name) seems to hint at his immoral character and lowly social status.” Whoever this man was, he gained a following for himself. He gathered a bunch of people together, got drunk on idolatrous wine and conspired against Abimelech.

28 Then Gaal the son of Ebed said, “Who is Abimelech, and who is Shechem, that we should serve him? Is he not the son of Jerubbaal, and is not Zebul his officer? Serve the men of Hamor the father of Shechem; but why should we serve him? 29 If only this people were under my authority! Then I would remove Abimelech.” So he said to Abimelech, “Increase your army and come out!”

  1. Gaal boasted in himself, basically following the example of Abimelech before him. Basically said, “Who is this nobody who’s never around? Why follow the son of the man who didn’t want to be king? Make me king instead!” In the end (and likely, in his drunkenness), Gaal called out Abimelech. Talked a big game when drinking with his friends. (It would prove different when he later had to face Abimelech head-on!)

30 When Zebul, the ruler of the city, heard the words of Gaal the son of Ebed, his anger was aroused. 31 And he sent messengers to Abimelech secretly, saying, “Take note! Gaal the son of Ebed and his brothers have come to Shechem; and here they are, fortifying the city against you. 32 Now therefore, get up by night, you and the people who are with you, and lie in wait in the field. 33 And it shall be, as soon as the sun is up in the morning, that you shall rise early and rush upon the city; and when he and the people who are with him come out against you, you may then do to them as you find opportunity.”

  1. Abimelech’s representative in the city (“the ruler,” or the “chief” – the one assigned by Abimelech as the governor/mayor) got wind of the drunken boasting and sent word to his king. He turned the tables on Gaal. Although Gaal boasting in his strength, Zebul counseled Abimelech to show up in his own strength. Once the king showed up with his armies, then all Israel would see who was really strong.

34 So Abimelech and all the people who were with him rose by night, and lay in wait against Shechem in four companies. 35 When Gaal the son of Ebed went out and stood in the entrance to the city gate, Abimelech and the people who were with him rose from lying in wait. 36 And when Gaal saw the people, he said to Zebul, “Look, people are coming down from the tops of the mountains!” But Zebul said to him, “You see the shadows of the mountains as if they were men.”

  1. Abimelech took a page from his father’s playbook, dividing his army into several companies and travelling by night for a sneak attack. They got all the way to the gates of Shechem before they were seen, and Gaal panicked. He saw at least a portion of Abimelech’s forces and got scared. In response, Zebul lied to him, trying to buy more time for Abimelech’s forces to arrive.

37 So Gaal spoke again and said, “See, people are coming down from the center of the land, and another company is coming from the Diviners’ Terebinth Tree.” 38 Then Zebul said to him, “Where indeed is your mouth now, with which you said, ‘Who is Abimelech, that we should serve him?’ Are not these the people whom you despised? Go out, if you will, and fight with them now.”

  1. Once the size of Abimelech’s army was undeniable, Zebul called Gaal’s bluff. Time to put up or shut up.

39 So Gaal went out, leading the men of Shechem, and fought with Abimelech. 40 And Abimelech chased him, and he fled from him; and many fell wounded, to the very entrance of the gate. 41 Then Abimelech dwelt at Arumah, and Zebul drove out Gaal and his brothers, so that they would not dwell in Shechem.

  1. Gaal was roundly defeated. He was whipped like a dog and fled with his tail between his legs.

42 And it came about on the next day that the people went out into the field, and they told Abimelech. 43 So he took his people, divided them into three companies, and lay in wait in the field. And he looked, and there were the people, coming out of the city; and he rose against them and attacked them. 44 Then Abimelech and the company that was with him rushed forward and stood at the entrance of the gate of the city; and the other two companies rushed upon all who were in the fields and killed them. 45 So Abimelech fought against the city all that day; he took the city and killed the people who were in it; and he demolished the city and sowed it with salt.

  1. Abimelech destroyed the rest of the city. Conducted total warfare against it, willing to not only destroy every building in town but also to sow the fields with salt, making the land uninhabitable for anyone to follow.
  2. Abimelech acted far more like an oppressor of Israel than its king! And that was the problem. For all the other cycles of apostasy in Israel that left the Hebrews in the hands of their foreign enemies, this time their enemy was not foreign. He came from within their own ranks as one of their own. 
  3. Notice how this fulfills the first part of Jotham’s curse (9:20a). Symbolic fire had come from Abimelech and devoured the men of Shechem. Sadly, Abimelech wasn’t done. More destruction would soon follow with even a more literal fulfillment of the curse.

46 Now when all the men of the tower of Shechem had heard that, they entered the stronghold of the temple of the god Berith. 47 And it was told Abimelech that all the men of the tower of Shechem were gathered together.

  1. If Shechem was destroyed, what was “the tower of Shechem”? There are different thoughts, but it seems most likely to be another name for Beth Millo (“house of filling” could refer to a raised place, which would be suitable for a tower). This would be a subset area of Shechem not initially burned and salted by Abimelech.
  2. Notice where the people sought refuge: in the idolatrous temple. Of course, synagogues did not yet exist at the time and the tabernacle was likely in far-off Shiloh. Even so, for all the places for the people to flee, they go to the place of worship for Baal-Berith, their imposter god. 

48 Then Abimelech went up to Mount Zalmon, he and all the people who were with him. And Abimelech took an ax in his hand and cut down a bough from the trees, and took it and laid it on his shoulder; then he said to the people who were with him, “What you have seen me do, make haste and do as I have done.” 49 So each of the people likewise cut down his own bough and followed Abimelech, put them against the stronghold, and set the stronghold on fire above them, so that all the people of the tower of Shechem died, about a thousand men and women.

  1. In an incredible act of cruelty, Abimelech instructed his army to join him in burning the people of Beth Millo/the tower of Shechem to death. Here, we see the awful literal fulfillment of fire coming from Abimelech to devour the men of Shechem and Beth Millo (9:20a).
    1. Sadly, acts like this are not unusual even in modern history. On March 22, 1943, the entire village of Khatyn, Belarus was rounded up by Nazis into a barn and burned. Human evil has been unchanged for centuries. (Which makes the gospel even more important!)
  2. Does this sound like a king of Israel or an imposter and oppressor? Someone might make the argument of making an example out of Gaal and his followers, but this act shows a different level of evil altogether.

50 Then Abimelech went to Thebez, and he encamped against Thebez and took it. 51 But there was a strong tower in the city, and all the men and women—all the people of the city—fled there and shut themselves in; then they went up to the top of the tower. 52 So Abimelech came as far as the tower and fought against it; and he drew near the door of the tower to burn it with fire.

  1. Things are set up for another murderous tragedy. What Abimelech did at the tower of Shechem, he tried to do at the tower in Thebez. This guy was on a rampage with no apparent end in sight. God had different plans…

53 But a certain woman dropped an upper millstone on Abimelech’s head and crushed his skull. 54 Then he called quickly to the young man, his armorbearer, and said to him, “Draw your sword and kill me, lest men say of me, ‘A woman killed him.’ ” So his young man thrust him through, and he died. 55 And when the men of Israel saw that Abimelech was dead, they departed, every man to his place.

  1. Finally, justice! Abimelech was killed, ignominiously by a woman despite his attempts to show otherwise. The “upper millstone” was perhaps a circular disc over a foot in diameter with a hole drilled through the center. The woman had God-given aim for it to land so precisely on the head of Abimelech and the weight of it made his death certain. As he lay wounded with his crushed skull, he begged his young armorbearer to put him out of his misery and hopefully regain some dignity. Abimelech may have technically died by the sword but his disgrace remained.
  2. This fulfills the second part of the prophetic curse (9:20b). Although it was not literal fire, Abimelech was finally devoured by his own violence.

56 Thus God repaid the wickedness of Abimelech, which he had done to his father by killing his seventy brothers. 57 And all the evil of the men of Shechem God returned on their own heads, and on them came the curse of Jotham the son of Jerubbaal.

  1. With all the evil and conniving and violence taking place, we get a peek behind the curtain and see that it was anything but random. All of this was brought about by God, as God sovereignly used the wickedness of Abimelech and Shechem to judge their wickedness. This was not justice delayed; this was justice fulfilled – even brought about through their own evil hands as God worked all things for His own good and glory.

Conclusion:

Such a sad chapter in the history of Israel! When Abimelech stole the title of king to himself, he committed terrible sin: not only in the murder of his brothers and oppression of his people, but also in usurpation and rebellion against Almighty God. But Abimelech was not ignored by God. Although no judge was raised up, God worked behind the scenes to bring down the rebellious traitor. This act of evil was condemned as evil and judged according to its evil.

What does this account mean for us today? It might seem so remote and almost irrelevant to us as 21st century New Testament Christians. What does the historical account of a false, almost-forgotten usurper king in Israel have to do with us as the New Testament church? Abimelech provides a sober warning to us of what it is like to usurp the place of God and try to push through our own will, rather than submit ourselves to His rule and reign in our lives. It shows that the wages of sin is death and that there is no escape from it through human manipulation.

Our one hope is Jesus! Through Him, we are set free from death. Through Him, we are set free from ourselves, or at least the evil we otherwise bring to ourselves. It is only because of Jesus that we are transformed, able to live lives glorifying to God rather than according to our sinful passions and lusts. Left to ourselves, we are all Abimelechs – we are all our own false gods and baalim: wicked, worthless, and reckless. But in Christ? In Christ, we are new creations! We are transformed – we are the sons and daughters of God!

For all that Gideon did right, following God in faith, he sadly didn’t finish well. We want to finish well with Christ!

Finish Well!

Posted: December 17, 2020 in Judges

Judges 8, “Gideon’s Rule”

The things we start, we want to finish. No one wants to begin a construction project only to abandon it prior to completion. Neither do athletes want to be pulled from their contests before the end. In running, this failure is known by three dreaded letters: DNF – Did Not Finish. Although the designation is fairly common (especially in longer races), no one wants it. I have one DNF to my name and I do not want another! For every race I run – for every challenge I begin, I desire to finish well.

Christianity is no small challenge while living in a world of sin. It is no short journey. It is something that once begun, we want to finish well. Not only do we shudder at even the possibility of a spiritual DNF, we certainly want to finish well. Who among us does not want to hear the words from Jesus, “Well done, good and faithful servant,”? Truly, to hear those words from Christ is to know we finished well.

Sadly, not everyone does. Christianity is filled with the stories of those who started well but did not finish in the same way. Even setting aside the theological debate of eternal security, there is the issue of the born-again Christian finishing his/her journey with Christ on earth with the same fervency with which it began. The Bible is filled with such example. Solomon famously began as a young man seeking nothing but the wisdom of God, yet ended as a man willing to compromise any godly principle for his own pleasure. Uzziah attempted to offer incense in the temple, falling from faithfulness to presumption and leprosy. Hezekiah saw revival in the land yet boasted to the Babylonians about his wealth. These men (and others) started well but did not finish well.

Such was the case with Gideon. Gideon was the latest in a succession of judges raised by God, helping to lead Israel and deliver them out of the hands of their enemies. Of course, Israel never had to go into the hands of their enemies. This was a consequence allowed by God in response to their persistent idolatry…something that would only worsen as time progressed.

The latest oppressor was Midian, assisted by the Amalekites and various peoples of the East. They brought violent raids to Israel, taking whatever crops and livestock they desired while leaving the Hebrews scared, hungry, and destitute. It was in this situation that God raised up Gideon from the family of Abiezer in the tribe of Manasseh. Gideon did not seem as the most likely candidate to be a judge, considering that he was hiding in his father’s winepress when called by God as a mighty man of valor. Nor did he initially have much faith, as he repeatedly tested God with requests for supernatural signs even after God plainly called him. Even so, God used him mightily, despite his weaknesses.

In fact, the way God used Gideon showed far more of the might of the Lord than of Gideon himself. God wanted it to be perfectly obvious that salvation form the Midianites was a divine gift of grace rather than the work of men. This was why God slashed the size of Gideon’s army from 32,000 to 300. Without even a sword drawn among them, these 300 men surprised the Midianite hordes with nothing but trumpets, torches, and (most importantly) the Lord. God sent confusion among the soldiers and they went to battle against themselves, soon fleeing the scene with Israel in hot pursuit.

It was an incredible supernatural victor, a demonstration of the power of God on behalf of His people. Yet it was not appreciated to the extent it should have been. Sinful Israelites kept acting like sinful Israelites, with Gideon being little different. Why/ Because people are sinful, period. Unless we who start in God’s grace continue in God’s grace, we soon find ourselves deep in sinful muck. We get caught up in ourselves and the stuff of this world, missing out on faithfulness.

We who start with Jesus need to continue. We need to finish well!

We’ll see it throughout Chapter 8 in three sections:

  1. The battle’s aftermath (1-27)
  2. Gideon’s attitude (22-32)
  3. Israel’s apostasy (33-35)

Judges 8

  • The battle’s aftermath (1-27).

1 Now the men of Ephraim said to him, “Why have you done this to us by not calling us when you went to fight with the Midianites?” And they reprimanded him sharply.

  1. One would think that Ephraim would have been thrilled at the defeat of Midian. The Midianites hadn’t oppressed only a few cities of Manasseh, but had caused trouble for men and women all over Israel. And although Ephraim had not joined in the original battle, they weren’t the only ones. In fact, very few of those who did initially go with Gideon were actually chosen by God to be used. 31,700 soldiers left the battlefield before the fighting began. And out of the 300 that were left, not even they did any fighting; it was all the work of God. Ephraim was like the vast majority of the rest of the tribes of Israel in this regard. Yet they assumed themselves better and had their feelings hurt.
  2. Accused Gideon of the sin of neglect. They were jealous of battle glory (which not even Gideon had earned). The only thing Gideon called Ephraim to do was cleanup, and that was not good enough in their eyes. It wasn’t important enough – it was too small a thing for such a “great” tribe as Ephraim. IOW: Ephraim was arrogant. Their ego was too big for them to take on a duty so small as to merely track down the princes of Midian and execute them after-the-fact, when the battle was already won.
  3. Question: Had Gideon neglected them? Perhaps, although we cannot say for certain. Ephraim was not among the tribes to whom Gideon initially sent messengers in his original attempt to call up an army (6:35). Was it neglect? Not necessarily. Perhaps he thought no one from Ephraim would answer the call. Maybe he thought that the other closer, neighboring tribes would provide him enough men. Maybe he only had enough messengers willing to go to the neighboring tribes and didn’t have an opportunity to send word to Ephraim. There could be several possible explanations. The problem with Ephraim was that they assumed the worst. Their pride was so inflated that they couldn’t conceive of any reasonable explanation for their exclusion and they believed the job that Gideon did give them to do was beneath them.
    1. Sadly, that is the way some Christians look at ministry. Although there is work to be done, it isn’t the work they want to do. They want to lead a Bible study; not clean the church building. They want to be a missionary overseas; not share Jesus with someone across the street. They want a position that gives them prestige and glory, not realizing that no Christian ought to receive any glory for anything. All the glory goes to God. And because God gives the work, any work God gives is good. No task should be too small. If the president of the United States personally asked for a favor, no one would think about denying him. How much more should we be willing to fulfill the requests and commands of God? If God gives you something, it cannot be too small because the infinitely massive God gave it to you. Don’t despise the days of small things; praise God for whatever He gives!

2 So 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 vintage of Abiezer? 3 God has delivered into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. And what was I able to do in comparison with you?” Then their anger toward him subsided when he said that.

  1. Gideon (perhaps for the only time in his life) answers gently and wisely. “A soft answer turns away wrath,” (Prov 15:1) and that was exactly what Gideon gave. He was incredibly diplomatic, noting (correctly) that Ephraim had a far better reputation than him. Besides that, Ephraim was huge! Gideon’s family was tiny. The “little” that Ephraim did still dwarfed the “much” work done by Abiezer. Think of it like comparing population sizes. 10% of the population of New York City is still vastly bigger than the entire population of Tyler. Anything Gideon could have done on his own paled in comparison to the work of this much larger tribe. In pursuing Oreb and Zeeb to capture and execution, Ephraim had a true military victory; Gideon had only a surprise with trumpets and torches. Gideon had no military glory to claim, thus, he left Ephraim out of nothing.
  2. Don’t miss Who it was that actually did the work: God. And God worked through both Gideon and Ephraim. “God has delivered into your hands…” Was the work of God through Ephraim not enough? Again, anything that God gives is a blessing. Any work that God does through us is work He could have done through someone else. God never has to use us; He chooses to use us. For God to have worked through Ephraim was a glorious thing and should not be despised.

4 When Gideon came to the Jordan, he and the three hundred men who were with him crossed over, exhausted but still in pursuit. 5 Then 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 Zebah and Zalmunna, kings of Midian.”

  1. This was a reasonable request. Gideon had 300 men who had neither food nor rest as they pursued the kings of Midian to the point of exhaustion. These men were fighting for the future and freedom of all Israel. The least the towns could do would be to give them some food and supplies along the way. It was a common practice in the ancient near east for chieftains and generals to ask such a thing. David famously asked for food for his men from Nabal, who (true to his name) foolishly refused, endangering his entire household (1 Sam 25). This was all Gideon was doing and he should have been received favorably. He wasn’t…

6 And the leaders of Succoth said, “Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in your hand, that we should give bread to your army?” 7 So Gideon said, “For this cause, when the LORD has delivered Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, then I will tear your flesh with the thorns of the wilderness and with briers!”

  1. Gideon was met with mockery. “Where is the proof of your work that you deserve ‘wages’?” If Gideon claimed to be pursuing the Midianite kings than he ought to show up with the evidence that the kings had been captured. The leaders of Succoth treated him and his men like hired servants, only eligible to be paid at the end of the day after the service was rendered, rather than men who (like policemen today) were in the very process of rendering that service by keeping them safe. It was absolutely wrong on the part of the Succoth elders and Gideon rightly calls them on it, promising harsh discipline upon his return. (And lest we think Gideon is being overdramatic with symbolism, these were literal sentiments for him. Later in the chapter, we find that this was exactly what Gideon did!)
  2. Note Gideon does not doubt that he will return with the Midianite kings. He has faith that YHWH will act. This was not an “if the LORD delivers them,” but “when the LORD has delivered” them. God had started this battle and God would see it through to the end. Back when God first called Gideon, raising him up as a judge, God promised that Gideon would “defeat the Midianites as one man,” (6:16) and that Gideon would “save Israel from the hands of the Midianites,” (6:14). This was the declaration and promise of God, and God doesn’t leave things half-done. The work He began, He would see to completion (just like He does with our salvation! – Phil 1:6). Gideon remembers that promise, believes it, and bases his actions upon it.
    1. And why not? That is what we do when we truly believe the word of God. If we really believe a promise, we base our actions and decisions upon it. If we really believed that a long-lost rich uncle wanted to meet us in the town square on Christmas Day with a bucketload of cash, we’d be sitting in the square bright and early. Yet if we stayed home all day long, it wouldn’t matter what we said we believed…our actions proved otherwise. Likewise with the very real promises of God. If we really believe His word, we will act upon them. If we don’t, we won’t.
  3. Interestingly, this is the first of only four direct references to the Lord in Chapter 8. Although the Lord is prominently featured in Chapter 7, there is very little reliance upon Him in Chapter 8, and thus, very little acknowledgement of Him. Sadly, Gideon’s character and attitudes reflect this absence (as will all of us when we push the Lord to the back).

8 Then he went up from there to Penuel and spoke to them in the same way. And the men of Penuel answered him as the men of Succoth had answered. 9 So he also spoke to the men of Penuel, saying, “When I come back in peace, I will tear down this tower!”

  1. Penuel wasn’t far away, which makes sense. Gideon’s men were hungry and tired and couldn’t afford to wait too long to get provisions. After all, the Midianite kings were on the run – the Hebrews didn’t have much time to waste trying to round up supplies. Once they were denied at Succoth, they went to the next closest town…only to find exactly the same sinful reaction. There were towns and two mockeries, which led to two threats from Gideon. What was the threat? When Gideon returns in “peace,” his return will be anything but He promised to destroy the tower for which Penuel was known.
  2. Ironically, Penuel is the location where Jacob had a great moment of faith, wrestling the Lord God till the break of day, refusing to let go of him (Gen 32:22-32). This was the place Jacob finally understood his utter dependence on the Lord, where God renamed him “Israel,” for he had struggled with God. Yet it became the city that denied the judge raised up by God, instead fighting against God’s will for Israel.

10 Now Zebah and Zalmunna were at Karkor, and their armies with them, about fifteen thousand, all who were left of all the army of the people of the East; for one hundred and twenty thousand men who drew the sword had fallen. 11 Then Gideon went up by the road of those who dwell in tents on the east of Nobah and Jogbehah; and he attacked the army while the camp felt secure. 12 When Zebah and Zalmunna fled, he pursued them; and he took the two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, and routed the whole army.

  1. Remember how 120,000 of the Midianites had died – how it was that out of those who fled, only 15,000 of the Midianite soldiers were left. It was all because of the miraculous work of the Lord, how God caused Gideon’s surprise “attack” to so disorient the Midianites that they all fought each other.
  2. Now at Karkor, Gideon initiated another surprise attack. This time, actual swords were used by the Hebrews but God still obviously empowered them for the battle and the victory. After all, Gideon still had only the 300 men with them, and those 300 were enough to defeat 15,000 of their enemies. Though outnumbered 50:1, through the power of God, the Hebrews were able to route/turn aside “the whole army” and capture the enemy kings. This may have been a lesser battle, but it was no “less” miraculous! This was obviously the power of God, ensuring that at no point could Gideon stop and take credit for himself. This should have stuck with him the rest of his life, knowing that any and every victory he experienced was handed him by the Lord God. Sadly, it was something he seemed to forget.
    1. May we never forget! How much can we do for Jesus without Jesus? Nothing! Jesus made this clear to His disciples on the night prior to His crucifixion. John 15:4–5, “(4) Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. (5) “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” Whether we speak of eternal life or simply daily life, there is not a thing we can do for God without the power of the Son of God within us. We cannot please Jesus without Jesus. We cannot accomplish the work of God without the power and Spirit of God. We need Him for everything. Think about it: we cannot even get out of bed in the morning without God granting us merciful health. How much less are we able to do anything of spiritual value? We need Him for everything! We are dependent on Jesus for all.

13 Then Gideon the son of Joash returned from battle, from the Ascent of Heres. 14 And he caught a young man of the men of Succoth and interrogated him; and he wrote down for him the leaders of Succoth and its elders, seventy-seven men.

  1. Succoth was the first town that had mocked Gideon. As Gideon returned from this miraculous victory, he came across a youth of the town and “interrogated him.” What exactly that included, is unsaid. It’s doubtful that Gideon tortured the boy, but there was surely much pressure brought to bear. He likely intimidated the young man to get the names of the city leaders out of him. Why? Because Gideon was going to be good to his word. He was about to teach those elders a hard lesson.

15 Then he came to the men of Succoth and said, “Here are Zebah and Zalmunna, about whom you ridiculed me, saying, ‘Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in your hand, that we should give bread to your weary men?’ ” 16 And he took the elders of the city, and thorns of the wilderness and briers, and with them he taught the men of Succoth. 17 Then he tore down the tower of Penuel and killed the men of the city.

  1. Gideon kept his word with both cities. He took the elders of Succoth and whipped them with briers and thorns. And likewise, he tore down the tower in Penuel, just as he promised. With the leaders of Succoth, the punishment was harsh, yet earned. They mocked the God-given judge in Israel, and not only him, but all the 300 men serving with him. When the town leadership despised the ongoing provision of God through these men, they taught the rest of the city to do the same. Their terrible example earned a terrible judgment, which they received. But that was Succoth. Penuel was different. With Penuel, Gideon’s actions seem excessive. Not only did he destroy the tower, but he destroyed the men. He actually slaughtered the men of the city. 
  2. What made the difference? It’s impossible to say as the Bible is silent to Gideon’s motivations though it records his actions. Perhaps there was a direct mockery of God in addition to the ridicule of Gideon. Or perhaps Gideon was simply cruel. Either way, it was a truly harsh punishment and it darkened what should have been a glorious day of victory. It also shows a progression in Gideon’s character that isn’t good. Those who spend time with the Lord show a conformity to the character of the Lord. We might say, the more time we spend with God, the greater we grow in godliness. The less time we spend with Him, the less of Him we see in our lives. Gideon was no different. In Chapters 6-7 when Gideon had much communion with the Lord, his faith grew by leaps and bounds. In Chapter 8, when God became much more an afterthought in Gideon’s life, Gideon’s character looked far more like sinful man in response. The same thing happens with us…which underscores our need not only to start with Christ but to finish with Him!

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

  1. At this point we see the personal interest Gideon took in this pursuit. Why had Gideon gone after Zebah and Zalmunna the way he did? Because apparently his brothers were killed by them in some past battle. Perhaps that was why Gideon was in the winepress threshing the grain: it was the only safe spot left after the massacre of his brothers at Tabor. Gideon had skin in the game (so to speak) and he had a personal score to settle with these two kings.
  2. With Zebah and Zalmunnah captured, Gideon pressured his son to kill them. According to the general culture, it would have been an honor to give to his son, allowing the youth to strike down the kings – not to mention a great disgrace to the kings, denying them a battlefield death and allowing them to be struck down by a youth. However, Gideon’s son was understandably afraid and unresponsive. No matter how much he pressured the boy, his son didn’t follow through. At this, the two kings taunted Gideon accusing him of a lack of manliness. Not being one to back down from a dare, Gideon rose to the challenge and killed the men.
  3. Question: Was this an execution or a murder? It depends on whether this was commanded by God or if this was some crusade of personal vengeance. If Gideon was just on a personal vendetta, then this was wrong as justice should have been administered by another warrior within the Hebrew ranks. If it was commanded by God, being administered by the judge ordained by God, then it was right as this was justice towards the Midianite oppressors. Unfortunately, the questioning by Gideon regarding his brothers taints the whole process. What could have been the righteousness of God through His judge gets mixed with the carnal acts of a Hebrew warlord.
    1. How careful we need to be to let God be God and to get “us” out of the way! The more people see Jesus, and the less people see us, the better.

Thus ends the major battle of Gideon. What originally took place with the 300 was only the beginning; the aftermath finally ends with the death of both the Midianite kings (which was perhaps justified) and the massacre of the men of Penuel (which does not seem justified). What is going on with Gideon? What is at the root of his confusion? We find Gideon walking with two minds: there is part of him that follows the Lord, and part of him that does whatever he wants. He started out walking with the Lord, but kept inserting his own will along the way. 

  • Gideon’s attitude (22-32).

22 Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, both you and your son, and your grandson also; for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian.” 23 But Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the LORD shall rule over you.”

  1. Credit where credit is due: this was a good response to a terrible request! Israel asked for a king, but Gideon rightly points out that YHWH God was their King. Israel’s request was sinful and foolish, asking to be ruled by generations of imperfect men when they had the current opportunity of being ruled by the perfect God. Yet God did not satisfy their worldly cravings and they desired to be just like the rest of the world. It may have been the first time Israel asked this, but it wouldn’t be the last. Generations later, when Samuel serves as the final judge of Israel, the nation again asked for a king and God finally gave them Saul (1 Sam 8). At least at this time, Gideon was able to dissuade them in his personal refusal of the title. (And for all the things Gideon did wrong, this was one thing he did right!)
  2. That Israel asked for a king demonstrates that they missed the most important lesson of the previous battle: it was not a man that delivered them from Midian; it was God. Even though God ensured that the supernatural aspect of the victory was painfully obvious (defeating thousands upon thousands through only 300 men), the Israelites still gave credit to men instead of God. Their sin had made them just that blind.
    1. How many people today do the same thing? Because they are so opposed to the idea of a just Creator God, they give their worship to the creatures rather than the Creator – they exchange the glory of God for the images of beasts and things despite the things that are clearly seen about Him (Rom 1:19-25). They are blinded to the truth of God despite the evidence of God all around them. Thus, they (like Israel) are left without excuse.
    2. Lest we think this is only true of the unbelieving pagans and atheists, it can be similarly true of born-again believers. Sure, we acknowledge the existence of God in our lives, claiming Jesus as our Lord and Savior, but we still blind ourselves to His work in our lives. We forget (or deny) His providence and sovereignty, wanting our rule and our will, rather than submitting ourselves to His will for us. Be careful that you do not blind yourself to the evident work of God all around you!

24 Then Gideon said to them, “I would like to make a request of you, that each of you would give me the earrings from his plunder.” For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites. 25 So they answered, “We will gladly give them.” And they spread out a garment, and each man threw into it the earrings from his plunder. 26 Now the weight of the gold earrings that he requested was one thousand seven hundred shekels of gold, besides the crescent ornaments, pendants, and purple robes which were on the kings of Midian, and besides the chains that were around their camels’ necks.

  1. It was a good thing for Gideon to deny himself the throne…but he did not deny himself much else. Gideon had a weakness in wealth. Like the song says, he “wants to be rich!” and he had a way of ensuring that he would be. He asked for the “golden earrings” of which there were many. 1700 shekels = 43+ pounds of gold. Roughly equivalent to $782,000. And that was only the gold. Gideon took in all other kinds of wealth. He started the day with little-to-nothing; he ended it close to being a millionaire.
  2. Keep in mind that this is not a commendation of Gideon. This is not presented as an example that should be followed (as will be seen in verse 27). For those who might be tempted to read this as “Gideon turned down the title of king and God blessed him with immense riches, so we should do likewise. God wants us to be rich!”…think again. Gideon may have refused the title of “king,” but in his pride, he certainly desired the trappings of it. He wanted the wealth, status, and power of the royals, even if he technically denied himself the responsibilities of it. He wanted to be treated as a king, regardless of what people actually called him.

27 Then Gideon made it into an ephod and set it up in his city, Ophrah. And all Israel played the harlot with it there. It became a snare to Gideon and to his house.

  1. Remember that an “ephod” is a kind of a priestly apron. There was already one ephod, worn by the high priest as a part of his uniform as he ministered in the tabernacle. That Gideon turned his own gold and riches into a type of ephod suggests that he wanted some kind of priestly ministry outside of the tabernacle. He wanted something for himself. Like Uzziah who was unsatisfied with “only” the role of king and wanted to also participate in the priesthood, apparently Gideon wanted something similar. He didn’t want to travel to wherever the tabernacle was for worship; he wanted to go to God on his own terms according to his own conveniences.
    1. Thankfully, we do not worship God in certain locations (temples, mountains, etc.). But we still can only worship God on His terms. We do not dictate to God how we want to worship Him; He tells us how He wants us to worship. He alone gives us the invitation to worship (through faith in Jesus Christ), the power to worship (in Spirit and truth), and the way to worship (as we are instructed in the Scripture). It comes from God to us; not the other way around.
  2. That wasn’t even the worst part for Gideon. Aside from being designated for some personal item of worship, the ephod soon morphed into an idolatrous “snare” for the people. Specifically, this was a trap to his own family: “to Gideon and to his house.” Gideon’s arrogance tripped up his entire family. He stumbled his wives and children through his own lack of respect for God and God’s word.

28 Thus Midian was subdued before the children of Israel, so that they lifted their heads no more. And the country was quiet for forty years in the days of Gideon.

  1. What is translated “quiet” in verse 28 is the same description as what is elsewhere translated “rest” after the works of the previous judges in Israel (3:11, 3:30, 5:31). Interestingly, this word for “rest/quiet” (shaqat) is not the normal word we generally think of regarding the Hebrew concept of peace (shalom). Having a lack of disturbance in terms of warfare is not the same thing as experiencing true peace and wholeness. As long as the Israelites continued to go back to their old sinful ways, they never had shalom-peace. All they had was temporary quiet.
    1. Although quiet from struggle is always welcome, what we really need is something lasting. There will always be another struggle/battle down the line. True peace, lasting peace, real peace, only comes when we surrender ourselves to Jesus Christ, being finally reconciled unto God!

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

  1. Not only did Gideon build up wealth, he built up wives. Technically, this was not illegal, but it was not recommended. It was specifically prohibited for kings (though nearly every king of Judah and Israel ignored this). But it was an extremely common practice for kings in the Ancient Near East.
  2. Along with many wives came many sons…seventy, to be precise. One of them (who was tellingly not born via a wife, but a concubine) was named “” Literally, the name means “My father is king.” Again, Gideon may have officially refused the title, but he didn’t hesitate to act like royalty. Even if Gideon wasn’t thinking of the technical meaning of the name, it was a common title given to the kings of the Philistines (as seen in the days of Abraham and Isaac). There is no doubt Gideon was acting like a king, even while being able to say that he never claimed it for himself.
    1. How many times have we gotten “technical” on God, looking for loopholes? Like lawyers or trial defendants, we parse the definition of certain words trying to paint ourselves in the best light, despite the blatant nature of our sin. Don’t get technical regarding sin; confess it and repent from it! (The sooner, the better!)

Such ends Gideon. Gideon’s attitude went though a steady descent. He hadn’t started with much faith but in His mercy, God increased it mightily. Sadly, it seemingly peaked on the day of battle and went down afterwards. Why? His walk with the Lord was not consistent. Again, he was double-minded serving double-masters: himself and God…and God does not share a throne. Ultimately, Gideon found himself serving himself, with the sad results played out among his family and the rest of the nation.

  • Israel’s apostasy (33-35).

33 So it was, as soon as Gideon was dead, that the children of Israel again played the harlot with the Baals, and made Baal-Berith their god.

  1. Gideon wasn’t gone long before the people started the cycle of apostasy all over again. They went right back to their idolatry, perhaps with the golden ephod of their previous judge paving the way. And why not? If Gideon (or at least his family) would potentially engage in idolatry, why not everyone else? What is good for the leader is surely good for the citizens. Despite the actions of many mayors and governors today, double-standards are no standards at all. What the people see the leaders do, they will naturally imitate. (The solution: YOU be the leader as you follow Christ!)
  2. Notice which false god was among those worshipped by the Israelites. “Baal-Berith” literally means “Baal/lord of the covenant.” Considering that YHWH God was the God who made His covenant with Israel, this was a sad substitution!

34 Thus the children of Israel did not remember the LORD their God, who had delivered them from the hands of all their enemies on every side; 35 nor did they show kindness to the house of Jerubbaal (Gideon) in accordance with the good he had done for Israel.

  1. They forgot all about the salvation of God and the goodness He did for them as a nation.
  2. We have shorter memories than we care to believe. Be careful not to forget! There is a reason that the Bible calls us to “remember!”

Conclusion:

In all of Gideon’s failings, we cannot forget that the Bible labels him as a man of faith. Considering his many requests for supernatural signs as well as his stumbling pride later in life, it seems almost inconceivable that the Bible would have anything to say well of Gideon. But it does. The author of Hebrews includes Gideon with men like Noah, Abraham, Jacob, and Moses in the hall of faith (Heb 11:32). Gideon did have faith…he believed God. He started well, even though he did not finish well.

Praise God for grace! Praise God that because of the work of Jesus for us at the cross and resurrection, that our salvation is not dependent on us finishing well; it is dependent on Jesus alone. And HE finished well! Because He did, the salvation of those who believe upon Him is secure.

That said, we still want to finish well. We need to finish well! We need to walk in faith not only during the obvious times (such as battle, spiritual or otherwise) but also the less-obvious times (such as the aftermath). We need to walk in faith when encountering opposition from both our friends and our enemies, having our attitude reflect our trust in God’s sovereignty. We need to walk in faith always, unto the very end, never leaving Christ for He never leaves us.

Gideon faced down the massive Midianite army with only 300 men. It seemed impossible! But what things are impossible with men are possible with God. In the midst of Gideon’s terrible human weakness and inability, God would show His own ability and His infinite strength.

Gideon’s Weakness; God’s Strength

Posted: December 10, 2020 in Judges

Judges 7, “Gideon’s Weakness; God’s Strength”

When writing to the Corinthians about some unidentified thorn in his flesh, Paul described how he pleaded with the Lord on three different occasions for God to remove this pain/obstacle from him. Not once did God answer the apostle’s prayers according to Paul’s stated desire. Instead, God gave Paul a very specific word in response: 2 Corinthians 12:9–10, “(9) And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (10) Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Earlier, Paul prayed for deliverance from his circumstances, that he might not experience such weakness. When he received this answer from the Lord, he realized something important: weakness was exactly what God desired, that Paul might know the surpassing power and strength of Christ.

We often find ourselves in a similar place as Paul. We want God to make us strong, so that we feel as if we accomplished something in victory. Yet what Gods wants for us is often the opposite. He wants us weak, that we might see His strength. He wants us 100% reliant on Him, as if He is carrying us on His shoulders, that God might receive all the glory and praise. This shouldn’t be a surprise to us. After all, this is how our salvation works: Jesus does 100% of the work in an impossible situation, so that we see that what is impossible with man is possible with God. We get none of the credit; God receives all the glory because God did all the work. If it is that way with our salvation, surely we should expect this to continue in our daily walk with Jesus.

What does this have to do with Gideon and the book of Judges? Everything! Gideon had been called by God and was preparing for battle, but Gideon was preparing his own strength. God wanted him stripped down to virtually nothing so that Gideon and all Israel would see that God did 100% of the work and would receive 100% of the glory. God wanted Gideon to see that what was impossible with man was possible with God – that God’s grace and power was sufficient even for someone like him.

The period of the judges had begun. These were a series of leaders raised up by God to deliver Israel out of national oppression that God allowed whenever Israel fell back into idolatrous sin. To this point, there had been four. Most of the accounts were brief, the longest being that of the woman Deborah, who along with the commander Barak and the wife-turned-assassin Jael, delivered the nation out of the hands of the Canaanites in the north.

Forty years passed and a new national oppressor appeared: Midian (along with the Amalekites and other people of the East). These pagan armies would descend on the land like a swarm of locusts, destroying everything in its wake. To this new threat, God raised up a most unlikely man: Gideon. Gideon was not a man of war, nor a man of particularly great faith and courage (at least, at first). Although he did not run for the hills as did so many of his countrymen, he hid out in a winepress when threshing his wheat. Additionally, although he followed through on the things God gave him to do, he had a constant need for extra validation, repeatedly asking signs from God before committing himself to the task.

That said, God did call Gideon to something huge: the defeat of the Midianite army and its allies. Any army that Gideon could raise would be tiny in comparison. In fact, the odds would be even more overwhelming than Gideon could imagine. Instead of taking an army to battle, Gideon would initially lead only a little band. It would seem impossible! But those impossible odds were exactly what God wanted. In the midst of Gideon’s terrible human weakness and inability, God would show His own ability and His infinite strength!

It’s seen in three main sections throughout the chapter:

  1. God makes Gideon weak.
  2. Gideon sees God’s strength.
  3. God gives Gideon (and Israel) victory.

Judges 7

  • God makes Gideon weak (1-14).

1 Then Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the people who were with him rose early and encamped beside the well of Harod, so that the camp of the Midianites was on the north side of them by the hill of Moreh in the valley.

  1. Gideon’s nickname hearkens back to Chapter 6. “Jerubbaal” means “let Baal plead,” referring to what Gideon’s father said in Gideon’s defense after he tore down the very public altar to Baal on his father’s property. The townspeople initially wanted to kill Gideon but his father questioned why anyone would want to plead for the false god Baal. If Baal lived, why would Baal plead for himself? The nickname followed Gideon throughout his life, as a testimony to his initial act of obedience unto the Lord.
  2. Following that initial act of faithfulness, Gideon had called an army as the Spirit of the Lord clothed him with power. (And all before the testing with the fleece took place). This army was likely the thousands that followed him from Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali as they witnessed the power of God on him. At this point, the Israelites are gathered for battle with the Midianite, Amalekites, and the people of the East swarming below them in the valley. Gideon had a relatively large army but it was pitifully small in comparison with the pagan forces below.

2 And the LORD said to Gideon, “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel claim glory for itself against Me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’

  1. It seems incomprehensible that there might be “too many” of anything for God to use. Yet that was the case with the Hebrew soldiers. Normally, we look for as many volunteers as possible. Not God, not this time. For Him, the people were “too many.” God didn’t want tens of thousands, even when they were facing more tens of thousands (perhaps even a hundred thousand). Although the odds were seemingly stacked against Israel, they were not stacked enough.
  2. Why? Because God knew Israel’s pride. He knew the nation would set itself “against” Him if they won a normal military victory. If it looked like the Hebrew warriors were simply assisted by God, or worse yet, able themselves to fight off the forces of Midian, the Hebrews would give themselves the credit. They would “claim glory for itself against” God, patting themselves on the back for saving themselves. No wonder God said the people were too many! As long as there was a chance for Israel to steal glory away from God for God’s work of deliverance, that chance was too much and the people were too numerous.
    1. Will God sometimes refuse to work if we have too much self-strength and self-reliance? That was what happened with Gideon and Israel; it can happen with us, too. When there is a chance that we will steal the glory for ourselves, God will leave us to ourselves. In a sense, it is as if God is saying, “You want to handle it on your own? Fine. Have at it.” If we want to defend ourselves, God will let us. But when we give ourselves over to God – when we place ourselves totally in the hands of Jesus, that is when He will work because that is exactly what He desires for us.
    2. Is this not what we see with our initial salvation? God isn’t going to save anyone who tries to claim glory/credit for his/her own salvation. As long as a person is trying to get to heaven by his/her own merits, that person will fail. In fact, that person will be resisted by God. The Bible declares that God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (Jas 4:6). It is only when our pride is set aside, when we claim no glory for ourselves, when we place our lives and eternities solely in the hands of Jesus for His sufficient work and grace…that is when He saves us. That is when He works.
      1. Perhaps for some of you, this is what you’ve resisted all your lives. You’ve gone to God in your pride. Let your pride be broken and go to Jesus in humility! That is when you will find His salvation and grace.

3 Now therefore, proclaim in the hearing of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is fearful and afraid, let him turn and depart at once from Mount Gilead.’ ” And twenty-two thousand of the people returned, and ten thousand remained.

  1. 1st cutting down of the army: allow those who were fearful to go home. This was actually already allowed within the Mosaic law. In statutes governing warfare, the law of God exhorted those who went to battle to go in faith, knowing that YHWH their God fought for them. No one was commanded to be there who didn’t want to be there. Men who had just build a house or who had just gotten married could leave (Dt 20:5-7). Likewise, men who were afraid could also leave, returning to his own house in safety (Dt. 20:8). This allowed the opportunity for only those who had faith in the Lord’s provision to move forward in battle. There were no distractions from those who feared – no temptation to fall back in faintheartedness. Thus, God invoked this law with Gideon and this army.
  2. The result? This initial move cut the army by over half! Gideon began the day with 22,000; he ended with 10,000. That is still substantial by modern standards but it would have been shocking to witness. Can you imagine standing by watching men leave by the droves? The Hebrews were already vastly outnumbered at the start of this. To watch 1 out of 2 men leave (plus some!) would have underscored the seriousness of their situation.
  3. FYI: There are some questions about the location of Mount Gilead. Some believe (without textual evidence) that the mountain in question is actually Mount Gilboa. Gilboa is perfectly located for the events in Chapter 7, whereas the general area known as Gilead was on the far side of the Jordan river, long away from the battle. Of course, there is the potential that Gilboa was known by another name at some point, or that there is a different Mount Gilead in mind (one unidentified by modern archaeology). Either way, the command from God is clear: whoever was afraid was allowed to leave. And 22,000 took God up on the offer.

4 But the LORD said to Gideon, “The people are still too many; bring them down to the water, and I will test them for you there. Then it will be, that of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ the same shall go with you; and of whomever I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ the same shall not go.”

  1. One might have thought that seeing 22,000 men leave the battlefield was enough for God to give His approval to go ahead. After all, the army shrank by over 50% in just a few hours. Not so. From God’s perspective, there were “still too many.” The odds were overwhelming but not yet impossible. Even at this stage it was still likely that Israel would claim credit. God wanted to shrink Israel’s army to such a tiny size that they couldn’t help but recognize God’s miraculous power and intervention. God wanted His work to be so apparent that denying it would be impossible.
    1. This is exactly the case with Jesus’ resurrection. For the original Jews in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, there wasn’t merely a possibility that the apostles might have been telling the truth about Jesus’ resurrection. This was a foregone fact, beyond doubt. There was a reason that 3000 men (not including women and children) were added to the numbers of the original church: Jesus’ resurrection was undeniable. The proof was so evident that Jesus must be risen!
  2. As for shrinking the army even more, God prepared Gideon to see the numbers dwindle to nearly nothing. In fact, for as much as Gideon unwisely tested God in the past through the various signs, God (rightfully) put Gideon to the test by commanding total obedience as to who should stay and who should leave. It wasn’t up to Gideon to decide anyone’s status; Gideon had to leave that decision completely to the Lord God. To Gideon’s credit (and perhaps a sign of his growing faith), that is exactly what he did.
    1. Do you ever find yourself questioning God? As if God requires our approval before we allow Him to instruct us? I remember times when I’ve known God’s command to me and weighed whether or not I wanted to obey and decide what I thought was best for me. That isn’t the way a child of God is supposed to operate. When we surrendered our lives to Jesus as Lord, we made Him Lord. He is our Master and King. He has rule in our lives; not us. When He gives us instruction, we are to obey immediately and faithfully. (And we can trust that His instruction is good! Even if we don’t see it at the time, we can trust that He’s working for good and for His glory.)

5 So he brought the people down to the water. And the LORD said to Gideon, “Everyone who laps from the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set apart by himself; likewise everyone who gets down on his knees to drink.” 6 And the number of those who lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, was three hundred men; but all the rest of the people got down on their knees to drink water.

  1. The test set up by the Lord seemed difficult for the author to describe, although it plainly had to do with the person’s posture when drinking. One has to wonder how a person might lap water like a dog without getting on his knees to drink. Perhaps it indicates how they crouched all the way down without actually setting their knees on the ground. Perhaps it speaks of them lifting up water in their cupped hands only to lap it with their tongues when they got it to their mouths. Whatever the case, it was only a tiny percentage of the men who did it. It was so weird, none but 300 did it. Guess what? Gideon was to keep the weird ones. 😊
    1. It isn’t too much of a stretch to claim that we are the weird ones today! God had no reason to save us through Jesus, but He did. We are the foolish ones of the world yet God has chosen us to shame the wise. And the result? All the glory goes to God!

7 Then the LORD said to Gideon, “By the three hundred men who lapped I will save you, and deliver the Midianites into your hand. Let all the other people go, every man to his place.” 8 So the people took provisions and their trumpets in their hands. And he sent away all the rest of Israel, every man to his tent, and retained those three hundred men. Now the camp of Midian was below him in the valley.

  1. Notice the key issue of the 300 men. It wasn’t the 300 that would deliver Israel; it was God who promised to do the work. “By the three hundred men who lapped I will save you.” With the departure of the rest of the masses, it meant that a total of 31,700 had left the battlefield. But those 31,700 were not needed. Truthfully, not even 300 were needed. The only one that Gideon and Israel was the Lord God. If He was there, victory was guaranteed. If He was not, the only thing guaranteed was failure. But that was exactly what God wanted Gideon and all Israel to know. He wanted them to know that it was God and God alone that saved them. Midian would not be delivered to Israel through the might of Israel; they would be delivered to Israel through the might of the Almighty God.

9 It happened on the same night that the LORD said to him, “Arise, go down against the camp, for I have delivered it into your hand. 10 But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant, 11 and you shall hear what they say; and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.” Then he went down with Purah his servant to the outpost of the armed men who were in the camp.

  1. Don’t miss the use of the past tense in verse 9. God had already “delivered” the camp of the Midianites into the hand of Gideon. The outcome was already certain – so much in fact, that God could refer to it in the prophetic past tense. Gideon was not walking into a battle-undecided; Gideon was walking into the foreordained plan of God. The sovereign God would not allow any other outcome than that which He determined and accomplished.
    1. Beloved, don’t miss the fact that this is the same assurance we can have with all of God’s promises! So often, we find ourselves walking tentatively towards the things we hope that God might Know this: if God has declared it, it is done. There is no question of what God has already determined. That doesn’t mean that we determine the outcome or that we can “speak into existence” the desires of our hearts. It means that what God wills is not in doubt. If a promise is written in His word, it is a promise you can take to the bank. When God promises forgiveness and cleansing in Jesus, God gives it. When He promises the wisdom to those who ask in faith, God imparts it. When God promises the Holy Spirit to all who ask, God gives these good gifts because He is a good Father and good God. He is not a man who lies; God is the faithful God who keeps His word!
  2. Even so, God made provision for Gideon’s fear. How merciful! How gracious! Although Gideon might be rightly chastised for his lack of faith and his repeated requests for signs, God does not rebuke him. Granted, Gideon hadn’t specifically asked for anything at this point but God knew what was in his heart. God knew the doubt that existed, even after the tests with the fleece. God knew Gideon’s weaknesses because God knew Gideon. And God worked with Gideon, anyway.
    1. Aren’t you glad to serve such a gracious God? Our heavenly Father knows all our weaknesses and failings, and He loves us still. He gives us what we don’t deserve and He makes provisions for us that should not be required. God knew that Gideon needed a bit of extra encouragement through a sign and gave it. God knows what we need to help us walk in faith and quite often gives it to us in abundance. Not because God needs it; because we do. And God loves us enough to provide for even our worst weaknesses.

12 Now the Midianites and Amalekites, all the people of the East, were lying in the valley as numerous as locusts; and their camels were without number, as the sand by the seashore in multitude.

  1. Just in case the reader was starting to forget the odds, we’re given a stark reminder. The Midianites and their allies were as numerous as a locust swarm. There were thousands upon thousands. How many was Gideon? Not 300,000; just 300.

13 And when Gideon had come, there was a man telling a dream to his companion. He said, “I have had a dream: To my surprise, a loaf of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian; it came to a tent and struck it so that it fell and overturned, and the tent collapsed.” 14 Then his companion answered and said, “This is nothing else but the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel! Into his hand God has delivered Midian and the whole camp.”

  1. Gotta love the imagery. How weak was Gideon? Like a loaf of bread. (Not exactly awe-inspiring!) Even so, this barley loaf was more than enough to overturn the entire Midianite camp. Stumbling, bumbling, and tumbling, the loaf rolled into a Midianite tent and the whole thing collapsed. Imagine a study Army tent being taken down by a loaf of Mrs. Baird’s, or even a fancier boule made of whole-grain wheat or barley (the cheaper grain for Israel). It would seem ludicrous – impossible. Yet that was the dream and when applied to Gideon and the Israelites, that was the reality. And there was no doubt about the interpretation, as God interpreted it through one of the other Midianites. Gideon could not doubt himself here, as if he made it up in his head and heard the things he wanted to hear. This was exactly the sign that his wavering heart required. God knew his weaknesses and doubts, and God covered over every one!

Gideon began the day with a semi-powerful army; he ended it with just a few hundred soldiers. (And not even the wisest ones at that!) Gideon already felt weak and God ensured that Gideon saw his own weakness. There was nothing about Gideon or his men that would be able to win this battle. There was no credit Israel would be able to claim. And that was exactly what God wanted! It was in Gideon’s weakness that God would show Himself strong…

  • Gideon sees God’s strength (15-22).

15 And so it was, when Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, that he worshiped. He returned to the camp of Israel, and said, “Arise, for the LORD has delivered the camp of Midian into your hand.”

  1. Gideon heard the dream and understood it immediately. And he had the right response: worship! To have his army sliced from 32,000 to 300 ought to have left him shaken. (And it might have, at first!) But upon hearing the dream given by God, his whole attitude changed. Now he could rejoice and worship. God gave assurance of His work of deliverance and salvation. There was only one thing Gideon could now do: bow himself to the ground and give God praise!
    1. What do we do in response to the promise of Jesus’ salvation? Worship! It is right and good to sing and shout our praises. It is good to raise our hands, bow our knees, even lay prostrate before God in thankfulness. He promises to save and His promise is good!
  2. Notice how Gideon’s entire attitude and approach changed. He now had complete confidence in the promise and word of the Lord. Whereas before, Gideon walked in hesitation and fear, admitting his own fear by taking up God’s offer to go down to the Midianite camp (vs. 10), now everything was different. Now he could confidently declare to his 300 men that God had “delivered” (notice the prophetic past tense!) the Midianites into the hand of Israel. This battle was already won. All Gideon and the others needed to do was to walk in the foreordained footsteps of the Lord.

16 Then he divided the three hundred men into three companies, and he put a trumpet into every man’s hand, with empty pitchers, and torches inside the pitchers. 17 And he said to them, “Look at me and do likewise; watch, and when I come to the edge of the camp you shall do as I do: 18 When I blow the trumpet, I and all who are with me, then you also blow the trumpets on every side of the whole camp, and say, ‘The sword of the LORD and of Gideon!’ ”

  1. Gideon equipped his men for the battle, but look carefully at what he placed in their hands. There were trumpets, torches, and pitchers…but no swords. There are no swords mentioned (other than the later battle cry of Gideon); only trumpets, torches, and pitchers with which to hide the light. Yet these items are more significant and powerful than they appear, particularly the trumpets. The trumpets of Gideon were not used for communication, but for intimidation. Usually, only the leaders carried trumpets with just a few needed for adequate communication between many bands of soldiers. For 300 trumpets to be heard all at once was to give an impression of a truly massive army. It would sound like an army far larger than the combined hordes of Midian, Amalek, and the East.
  2. What was his primary instruction? For his soldiers to imitate him. They needed to follow Gideon’s actions and hopefully follow Gideon’s faith. They were not to add nor to subtract. What they saw Gideon do, they were to do likewise. Just as Paul would later tell the Corinthians to imitate him as he imitated Christ (1 Cor 11:1), so were the 300 to imitate Gideon’s own actions. Gideon would walk in faith; the plan was for everyone to walk in faith.
    1. Sometimes a bit of imitation is exactly what we all need to walk in faith! One of the best ways to learn how to share your faith is to be with another brother or sister as they share their faith. You don’t have to say a word but just watch what that person does. Soon enough, you say to yourself, “Hey, I can do that! That’s not so hard.” You imitate that person and soon you’re walking in faith as well.
  3. The battle strategy is reminiscent of Joshua’s battle against Jericho. And the result would be just as miraculous. Only this time, instead of the walls of the city caving in, God would cause the courage of the Midianites to collapse upon themselves.
  4. The battle cry was interesting: “For the LORD and for Gideon!” (ESV, NASB, NIV) – or, as the Hebrews actually cry out in verse 20: “The sword of the LORD and of Gideon!” Yet, the Hebrews did not carry any swords with them. Or did they? The name “Gideon” comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to cut, hew, chop,” and Gideon’s name could potentially be translated “hewer.” For the Israelites to cry out “the sword of YHWH and of Gideon” calls to mind how the Almighty Creator God, the covenant God of Israel YHWH would powerfully use Gideon to hew/chop down the Midianite army.

19 So Gideon and the hundred men who were with him came to the outpost of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just as they had posted the watch; and they blew the trumpets and broke the pitchers that were in their hands. 20 Then the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the pitchers—they held the torches in their left hands and the trumpets in their right hands for blowing—and they cried, “The sword of the LORD and of Gideon!” 21 And every man stood in his place all around the camp; and the whole army ran and cried out and fled. 22 When the three hundred blew the trumpets, the LORD set every man’s sword against his companion throughout the whole camp; and the army fled to Beth Acacia, toward Zererah, as far as the border of Abel Meholah, by Tabbath.

  1. Gideon waited till the middle of the night (10pm – 12am) and that was when they planned their surprise attack. Technically, the Hebrews did not so much “attack” as they did “surprise” the Midianites. The torches were lit but covered somehow with the clay pitchers, held in one hand while they held their trumpets (shofars) in their other hand. At the signal, they blew the trumpets and broke the pitchers and scared the Midianites half-to-death. Did the Hebrews rush to battle? “Every man stood in his place all around the camp.” Instead, they made a lot of noise and shone a lot of light…and God did the rest! God brought fear and confusion among the Midianites and made the Midianites destroy themselves. Those who weren’t killed, fled the scene. It was an impossible situation: 300 Israelites without a sword raised defeated untold thousands of pagan soldiers. All solely attributed to the work of Almighty God.

Did God show Himself strong? Without question! For all of Gideon’s earlier tests and doubts, he could not doubt the Lord when he saw God work with his own eyes. God did the impossible, bringing salvation to Israel despite overwhelming odds. Of course, when God faces down our enemies, God is the overwhelming one! There is no enemy that outnumbers our Father and Rock of Salvation!

  • God gives Israel victory (23-25)

23 And the men of Israel gathered together from Naphtali, Asher, and all Manasseh, and pursued the Midianites.

  1. As pursuit kicks in, the rest of the 31700 men of Israel seemingly return to engage in the chase. These were the men who initially went home. Apparently they didn’t get too terribly far. Once they heard of the Midianite’s collapse, all their initial fear left them and they engaged in the pursuit.

24 Then Gideon sent messengers throughout all the mountains of Ephraim, saying, “Come down against the Midianites, and seize from them the watering places as far as Beth Barah and the Jordan.” Then all the men of Ephraim gathered together and seized the watering places as far as Beth Barah and the Jordan.

  1. Although none from the tribe initially followed Gideon in Chapter 6, Gideon got Ephraim involved at the very end. (This causes a bit of consternation for the tribe. Keep this in mind for chapter 8.)

25 And they captured two princes of the Midianites, Oreb and Zeeb. They killed Oreb at the rock of Oreb, and Zeeb they killed at the winepress of Zeeb. They pursued Midian and brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon on the other side of the Jordan.

  1. In the end, there was total victory. Even the commanders of the Midianite army were killed. The names of these generals are interesting. “Oreb” = raven; “Zeeb” = wolf. These “princes” (lit: “rulers”) had reputations of fierceness and power, but they were easily captured and cut down by God’s empowered people. That these rulers were captured and killed sets the stage for Chapter 8, as Gideon pursues the actual “kings” of Midian. At that point, Gideon takes it from battlefield generals to the heads of state. As for these men, their executions were so noteworthy that the locations of their executions were renamed for the acts that took place there. The initial readers of the book of Judges would have known of these places and been informed of why they had the names they did.
  2. Although these commanders were killed at the named locations, notice where the proof of their executions was brought to Gideon: “on the other side of the Jordan.” The pursuit of the commanders was no quick thing that happened in an afternoon. The Israelites went from the battlefield, cross the Jordan to the eastern side, and finally tracked down these men for justice. Beyond a simple record of the event, it underscores the kind of victory that God gave Gideon and Israel. They had the freedom to move through their land and across the Jordan. They had the power and authority to cross vast distances and to execute justice. Prior to the battle, the people of Israel hid in caves and in the hills, fearing the Midianite raiders. Afterwards, no fear remained. Israel once again had victory and rule in their land…all given them by the power and grace of God.

Conclusion:

As we close, we need to be careful to understand the right lesson from Gideon and his 300. It would be easy to look at this and conclude that it goes right in-line with what Paul wrote to the Philippians that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” and while the words of Philippians 4:13 are absolutely true, that is not the truth illustrated here. The battle of Gideon’s 300 vs. Midian is not the story of how God equipped Gideon for the task; it is how God did the task. The deliverance/salvation of Israel was not due to the actions of 300 Israelites; it was due to the incredible miraculous work of the all-powerful God. The lesson here is what Jesus told the disciples after the disappointment with the rich young ruler: “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” It was an impossible thing for 300 men armed with nothing but trumpets and torches to defeat the massive military might of Midian, Amalek, and the East…but nothing is impossible with God. The salvation of Israel was made possible by the work of the omnipotent God.

That is always the way salvation works. No one goes to heaven because he/she did much of the work on his own, just getting a little assist from God. The only people who go to heaven are those who are placed there by God. It is Jesus’ work, and Jesus’ work alone that saves us. The only thing we do is follow Jesus in faith, just like Gideon followed God in faith. He walked into an impossible situation knowing that his deliverance was solely up to God. If God didn’t save Israel, Israel wouldn’t be saved. Likewise with us. If Jesus doesn’t save you – if Jesus doesn’t forgive you and give you the promise of everlasting life in heaven, then you’re not saved…period. He does 100% of the work. If it is left to us, it is utterly impossible. When it is left to Him, Jesus makes the impossible, possible. Moreover, He makes it guaranteed!

For most of us here, we’ve trusted Jesus for our salvation, being 100% dependent on Him to save us and forgive us. The question for us tonight is if we’re remaining 100% dependent on Him. Do we continually rely on Him? Not only for salvation, but for strength? Evangelical Christians have the tendency to ask Jesus for salvation based on God’s grace through faith, but then tend to try to live out the rest of our lives based on our own strength and work. Beloved, we are just as dependent on the power and deliverance of Jesus for our present-day, as we are for our eternal future. If you’re saved through Jesus’ power based in His grace, then be sure you walk in His power given by His grace, too. You’ve started with Jesus…now continue with Jesus. You realized you had nothing when you first came to Him; understand that you still have nothing when you do things on your own. The good news? Jesus’ power and grace is just as available to we who are born-again believers as it was the day we first came to faith asking to be saved.