JUDGES 8: HOW CAN WE FINISH WELL?
The Israelites said to Gideon, “Rule over us—you, your son and your grandson—because you have saved us from the hand of Midian.” But Gideon told them, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The Lord will rule over you.” And he said, “I do have one request, that each of you give me an earring from your share of the plunder.” (It was the custom of the Ishmaelites to wear gold earrings.) They answered, “We’ll be glad to give them.” So they spread out a garment, and each of them threw a ring from his plunder onto it. The weight of the gold rings he asked for came to seventeen hundred shekels, not counting the ornaments, the pendants and the purple garments worn by the kings of Midian or the chains that were on their camels’ necks. Gideon made the gold into an ephod, which he placed in Ophrah, his town. All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family (Judges 8:22-27 NIV).
Can you think of someone who reached high levels of success in their career, but ended it poorly? How about former President Richard Nixon who resigned his office in disgrace? How about Lance Armstrong who, after winning seven Tour de France races, was discovered to have been using illegal performance-enhancing drugs throughout his career? How about actor/comedian, Bill Cosby, who was convicted of sexual misconduct?
Sadly, many people start well, but don’t finish well. Such was the case with Gideon. Back in Judges 7:15, when Gideon heard an interpretation of a dream that God would deliver the enemy into his hand, Gideon worshiped. That’s good. And, if the story ended there, Gideon would be considered a great judge in Israel. But that’s not where the story ended.
There is no other mention in Scripture that Gideon ever worshiped God again, or spoke to God again, or sought God’s guidance or blessing again. Judges 7 tells how Gideon trusted God to give victory despite overwhelming odds. That’s why Gideon is listed in Hebrews 11 in the hall of faith. Yet, in stark contrast to chapter 7, Judges 8 describes Gideon’s rapid decline. Time and space do not permit me to tell the gruesome details of the story, so I will summarize.
Some Israelites from other tribes refused to help Gideon and his men when they were exhausted and desperate for food. When their fellow Israelites refused to help them, Gideon became so angry that he tortured the inhabitants of one Israelite town and killed the men in the other town. Gideon’s Jewish brothers refused to help him because they were afraid that if Gideon was unsuccessful in defeating the enemy, their own lives would be at risk. God showed grace to a fearful Gideon when he began his career, but Gideon showed his fellow Jews no grace (for a New Testament parallel read Matthew 18:21-35). Unlike the trust that Gideon showed in God in chapter 7, in chapter 8 Gideon failed to follow God’s guidance, depending, rather, on his own resourcefulness and self-will. He took the law into his own hands. In a personal vendetta, Gideon killed two Midianite kings.
God did not tell Gideon to take revenge—he called him to deliver his people. Taking the spoils of war, Gideon used the gold that had belonged to his conquered enemies and melted it down to make a golden breastplate which he placed in his home town of Ophrah, the very town where he had earlier torn down the altars to Baal and Asherah. Joshua 8:27 is a sad one: “All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family.”
Not everyone who starts well finishes well. Not everyone who does great things in God’s service maintains their faith until they die. Gideon didn’t, and all Israel paid the price, because they went back into idolatry and forgot who had rescued them from their enemies. Gideon’s story is a warning to us. What is the trajectory of your life? How do you want to finish? What do you want engraved on your tombstone? Why not heed the words of John in Revelation 2:10, “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown”?
Father, I know that serving you is a marathon, not a sprint. Help me to run the race of a godly life all the way through the finish line. Daily energize my faith and commitment to serve you so that I might finish strong and never give up. In Jesus' name, Amen!
Dr. Dan Dozier
Dan Dozier preaches for the Rural Hill Church of Christ in Antioch, TN. Dr. Dozier holds degrees from Lipscomb University, Harding School of Theology, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a Doctorate from Abilene Christian University. He has been married to his high school sweetheart, JaneLee, since 1972. They have three married children and eight grandchildren.