How Gideon failed at success

Gideon and the angel

The Angel Puts Fire on the Altar of Gideon / James Tissot

Everyone wants to succeed at what they try. The alternative is failure. Successful people know failure. They have learned from it, worked out problems, and tried again until they succeed. That’s the way the world works. Unfortunately, the world also has pitfalls that can ultimately destroy the successful if they’re not vigilant. The Bible has many examples. Let’s look at Gideon.

Anyone who knows a little about Gideon can remember this much:

  • When God called him, he was afraid to do as he was told.
  • Not once, but twice he put out a fleece to receive a sign from God.
  • Eventually he won a great victory with a tactic no military planner would ever approve.

From failure to success

When we first meet Gideon in Judges 6, he’s the very picture of failure. He was threshing wheat in a wine press. Normally, one threshed wheat out in the open, where the wind would carry off the chaff. If Gideon had done that, the Midianite overlords would have seen him and stolen all his wheat. So he worked in a most unsuitable place.

The Bible doesn’t tell us much about anyone’s feelings, but I don’t think we’d be too far wrong guessing that Gideon felt a mixture of fear, anger, defiance, and impotence.

At that moment, the angel of the Lord (that is, God himself) appeared to Gideon, called him a valiant man, and appointed him as the leader who would regain Israel’s independence from Midian.

Gideon basically responded, “Who? Me? You’re talking to the wrong person. You made a mistake. Go away and find someone else.” But then he decided, just in case, he ought at least to give this person some food and see if he’d offer proof he really was God.

Gideon Chooses the Three Hundred / James Tissot

He came back with a really big pot of goat soup and some bread. God told him to put the meat and bread on a rock and pour the broth over it. When Gideon complied, God touched the bread with a stick. Fire instantly consumed everything, and God instantly disappeared.

So Gideon figured out that he had really talked to God himself and was afraid. The Bible doesn’t say that God reappeared again, but it does say he told Gideon not to be afraid. He also told Gideon to destroy his father’s idols. Gideon obeyed, but valiant man that he thought himself, he did it secretly, at night.

When the Midianites showed up, the Spirit of God took control of Gideon and caused him to blow a trumpet and call an army. But God doesn’t really like to take control of people. Gideon was soon back to controlling himself and asked God for a sign: that a piece of wool laid on the ground over night would be wet with dew and the ground around it be dry.

He got his sign. Still not seeing himself as the Lord saw him, as a valiant man, he set a piece of wool out the next night and asked God to make it dry in the morning and the ground around it wet. He got that sign, too. He was out of excuses. 32,000 troops had answered his call and he’d have to lead them into battle.

“Not so fast,” said God. “You’ll get all the credit if I let you lead that many people.” Gideon said that anyone who was afraid could go home. He lost two thirds of his army, but God thought the remainder was still too many.

He led 300 basically unarmed men into the Midianite camp one night. They each had a trumpet (that is, an animal horn with a mouthpiece cut at the narrow end) and a clay pot with fire in it. On signal, they all blew the trumpets, then smashed the pots with them, and started shouting, “A sword for the Lord and Gideon.”

Remember, Gideon’s men had no swords. Only the Midianites had swords, but roused from a deep sleep, they didn’t know that. They grabbed their swords and ran, killing each other in the dark as they fled.

Failing at success

Gideon's snare

Gold rings: a snare for Gideon

Gideon had become a winner, widely respected by all. He was acknowledged as the leader of Israel and gave the land peace for 40 years. They wanted to make him king, but God himself was supposed to be king of Israel, Gideon refused.

But here is where his success became a snare. He refused to be king, but he asked to be paid for his heroism. He asked everyone to give him one gold ring from the plunder. Then he made an idol of it.

Think of it: the entire reason why Israel suffered periodic oppression from their pagan neighbors is that they abandoned the living God to worship pagan idols. Gideon’s first heroic act was to destroy his father’s altar to Baal and Asherah pole.

The First Commandment is that the children of Israel should not worship any god but God alone. And Gideon’s own father operated a center of worship of evil, demonic gods and goddesses that demanded human sacrifice and sexual debauchery.

Gideon was a pious man. He made an ephod, a ceremonial garment worn by priests of God, from the gold. He must have intended it as a tribute to God, but it was a direct violation of one of God’s most basic commandments. People must not worship any visual representation of God.

Of course, the people worshiped Gideon’s golden ephod, just as they had worshiped at his father’s idols and altar. What else did he expect? And if it took him by surprise, why didn’t he melt the thing and turn it back into rings or something?

So yes, the land had peace for the remaining 40 years of his life. Gideon was a respected and trusted leader among the people as long as he lived. But they went back to their pagan ways almost immediately after being liberated from the Midianites.

Gideon became successful, but after he succeeded, he failed to consider the obligations his success conferred on him. He became complacent and failed to offer continued bold leadership. As a result, his society continued its path to moral decay. When Gideon died, Israel fell into worse oppression than before.

Are you successful? What are you going to do to stay right with God and not fall into a worldly trap? If you have fallen, what are you going to do to allow God to restore you again?

The Tissot paintings are public domain. The source of the picture of gold rings is unknown.


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