The writer of Hebrews demonstrated faith in action by highlighting the life of faithful men and women throughout biblical history. The famous “faith hall of fame,” otherwise known as chapter 11, is full of great faith stories like Abraham and Moses. But it also includes a list of names, stories that the author didn’t have the time to tell. One of those un-expounded faith stories is the story of Gideon.
Gideon’s story is found in Judges 6-8. He was the unlikely man chosen by God to deliver Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Though he was the least in his father’s house, the angel of the Lord told him to “go in this might of yours and save Israel.” In faith, Gideon destroyed his own father’s altar to Baal. The Spirit of the lord clothed Gideon, he rallied Israel around him, and gathered for battle. He famously sought confirmation from the Lord through the fleece, twice. And he trusted in God’s plan, even though the Lord whittled his fighting force down to a paltry 300 men and gave him a battle plan about a silly as Joshua’s: torches, trumpets, and clay jars. But “through faith,” Gideon “conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, and obtained promises” (see Hebrews 11.33).
So great was his victory, that the people wanted to make him king, but Gideon boldly refused. “I will not rule over you. The Lord will rule over you” (Judges 8.23). A great man with great faith. And as long as Gideon was alive, the land had rest.
But there was one small “but”…
After the least of his family turned into the mighty warrior, after the oppressed farmer turned into a cultural icon, after the man who had seen none of God’s wonderful deeds had seen too many wonderful deeds to count, after all that, Gideon stumbled. After refusing to become king, he asked each soldier to give to him a portion of the spoils in war. And with this gold and purple garments,
Gideon made an ephod of it and put it in his city, in Ophrah. And all Israel whored after it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family. (Judges 8.27)
In the words of Keith Jackson, “Whoa Nellie!” The ephod was the priestly garment worn by the descendants of Aaron (see Exodus 28.1-5). Gideon committee two major errors. First, he took upon himself a role that was given to the priests. He was of the tribe of Mannasseh, not a descendant of Aaron. He was called by God to be a judge, not a priest. He assumed that success in one role gave him the freedom to step into any role he wanted.
Second, he enabled the people to violate the second commandment. He made an image, and whether he intended for it to happen or not, the people worshipped it. The word translated “whored after it” is a word used to describe the adultery and immorality of worshipping pagan gods. Because Gideon didn’t stop the people from doing the very thing that got them in the mess in the first place, it became a snare to him, his family, and ultimately, the nation as a whole.
What we see in Gideon is a very powerful principle of faith, one that we would be wise to heed: failure often follows success. When God does great things through people, pride often rises up and leads them into great failure. Consider David’s success and subsequent failure with Bathsheba. Consider Hezekiah’s deliverance and subsequent prideful display of wealth. Consider Elijah’s triumphant stand on Mount Carmel and subsequent fearful foot race. What once made us useable for God’s great work, our humility, now makes us dangerous to our own future: our pride.
The faith story of Gideon challenges us to work hard to not allow whatever form of success we might experience to lead us onto the prideful path of failure.