Looking at his accomplishment and journey, Gideon is no ordinary judge. His rise from anonymity to prominence exhibited excellent leadership skills and talents, and when the Midianites were finally cast out from the land of Israel, the people came to him with a specific proposal.
“Rule over us– you, your son and your grandson– because you have saved us from the hand of Midian.” (Jdg. 8:22 NIV)
This request is a bit unique and out of place. Out of every judge, it is only Gideon who received such an offer. Needless to say, Israel does need a king. During that period, everyone did what they thought was right, and stability was temporal and limited. All judges were only effective as long as they lived. Once they died, the cycle of idolatry and chaos automatically kicked in. If Gideon accepted that offer, he may establish that stability and introduce everlasting peace to Israel. But in the end, the book of Judges is not a manual of how Godly leaders should behave. It is an honest evaluation of how power corrupts even the most faithful and most decisive leader.
Gideon flatly refused that offer. He said, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The LORD will rule over you” (Jdg. 8:23 NIV). His rejection sounds so pious and holy. However, there is a flip side to that.
Firstly, he requests “an earring” from their war plunder. These golden earrings then be turned into an ephod which will be placed in Ophrah, Gideon’s own hometown. Biblically speaking, the Ephod is a garment worn by the priest. It contains the sacred stones Urimm and Tummin, which functioned as “divinatory apparatus,” a tool to know the will of God in life among the Israelites.
Honestly speaking, the creation of Ephod is not necessarily a bad thing. It perfectly fits with Gideon’s life experience. Just as he tested God with the fleece and the dew, he wants the Israelites to have easy access with God through the Ephod so that they can comprehend His will perfectly. However, when you think about it, there is something fishy with Gideon’s decision; particularly the fact that the Ephod is located within his home town not on Shiloh where the tabernacle of God resided. This indicates that there is an ulterior motif of Gideon to place himself as the center of the people’s religious life. The Ephod which is supposed to be a bridge between God and the people will eventually be transformed into a new cultic identity where “it became a snare to Gideon and his family” (Judg. 8:27).
Secondly, despite turning down the kingship’ request, Gideon lived like a king. “He had seventy sons of his own, for he had many wives” (Judges 8:21). And Gideon named one of his sons, Abimelech, which literally means, “my father is king.” Such an irony!
These two examples reveal who Gideon is. Despite rejecting the Israelite offer with such humility, Gideon behaved like a king and aimed to control the Israelite’s religious life. He forgot that it was God who brought him out of nothingness into a life of importance and relevance, but instead of praising God, he took the credit for himself.
Ellen White, in her commentary regarding the life of Gideon, fittingly said the following words:
“Those who stand in the highest positions may lead astray. The wisest err; the strongest may falter and stumble. There is need that light from above should be constantly shed upon our pathway. Our only safety lies in trusting our way implicitly to Him who has said, “Follow Me.” (PP 556.2)
It is easy to follow God when we are nobody, but the truest test of humility and faith is revealed as we become more and more powerful in life. Will you descend into the abyss of vanity and ambition just like Gideon, or will you continue to depend on God in every steps of your life? The decision is yours!