Stumbling After Victory

Bible Focus: Judges 6-8

Gideon and the hundred men who were with him went to the outpost of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch after the sentries had been stationed. They blew their ram’s horns and broke the pitchers that were in their hands. The three companies blew their ram’s horns and shattered their pitchers. They held their torches in their left hands and their ram’s horns to blow in their right hands, and they shouted, “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!” Each Israelite took his position around the camp, and the entire Midianite army began to run, and they cried out as they fled. When Gideon’s men blew their three hundred ram’s horns, the LORD caused the men in the whole army to turn on each other with their swords.

Judges 7:19-22a CSB

I doubt that anyone sets out to accomplish anything worthy with the intention of ending it badly. Yet our world is filled with examples of people who have done just that. There have been numerous leaders, teachers, innovators, and practitioners who once made wonderful contributions to our society, before falling tragically for all to see. Some of them have fallen to moral or ethical scandal. Others have fallen to legal or criminal violations. And others seem to have publicly forsaken the principles and beliefs on which their celebrated work was founded.

These tragic failings should be a sobering reminder for those of us who are trying to follow God in front of a watching world. If we follow him faithfully, we may see him do some wonderful things through us. But no matter how many godly successes we experience, we can’t rely on them. Our faith in God must always be exercised in the present. Our past steps of faith are no guarantee that we will end the journey well.

Our past steps of faith are no guarantee that we will end the journey well.

Gideon was an Israelite living in the midst of Midianite oppression. Israel had again forsaken God and followed the gods of the nations around them. So for seven years God let Midian attack Israel and destroy their crops and livestock until they desperately cried out to God.

So God sent his angel to Gideon to make him Israel’s next judge. The angel told Gideon that God would use him to lead Israel to victory over the Midianites. But first he told Gideon to tear down his father’s altar of Baal and his Asherah pole, which were shrines to other gods. When Gideon did so, he made the men of the town angry, and they wanted him killed. But Gideon’s father intervened, arguing that if Baal was really a god, then Baal could handle Gideon himself. So the men let Gideon live.

When the Midianites prepared to attack Israel again, Gideon sent word for an army to assemble. Gideon asked God for two miraculous signs that he would win the battle, and God gave them to Gideon without rebuking him. 32,000 Israelite men showed up to fight. This was a decent-sized army, although it was only a fraction of the 135,000 men in the army of Midian. But God told Gideon his army was too large. God wanted no possibility that the Israelites could take credit for the coming victory. So God reduced Gideon’s army to a mere 300 men, and then God told him to attack.

But God also told Gideon that if he was afraid, he should go down to the enemy camp and listen to what the Midianite soldiers were saying. Gideon went down to listen, and he overheard one soldier telling his friend about a strange dream he had. The soldier’s friend replied, “This is nothing less than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has handed the entire Midianite camp over to him” (Judges 7:14 CSB).

Gideon had heard enough. He worshiped God, went back to his army, and without further delay, he led them to attack the Midianites. God then caused most of the Midian soldiers to fall at the hands of their own comrades. When the rest of the Midianites fled, Gideon pursued them, called in reinforcements, and finished them off. God had produced a miraculous victory. Gideon went back home, and Israel had peace for the next 40 years.

Unfortunately, sometime after his incredible victory over Midian, Gideon made a huge mistake: he used his power and influence to create a shrine of his own.

Then the Israelites said to Gideon, “Rule over us, you as well as your sons and your grandsons, for you delivered us from the power of Midian.” But Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the LORD will rule over you.” Then he said to them, “Let me make a request of you: Everyone give me an earring from his plunder.” Now the enemy had gold earrings because they were Ishmaelites.

They said, “We agree to give them.” So they spread out a cloak, and everyone threw an earring from his plunder on it. The weight of the gold earrings he requested was forty-three pounds of gold, in addition to the crescent ornaments and ear pendants, the purple garments on the kings of Midian, and the chains on the necks of their camels. Gideon made an ephod from all this and put it in Ophrah, his hometown. Then all Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his household.

Judges 8:22-27 CSB

This tragic ending puts a sad stain on all that Gideon was able to accomplish through his faith in God. However, this ending isn’t the Bible’s last word on Gideon. The writer of Hebrews wrote: “And what more can I say? Time is too short for me to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets…All these were approved through their faith” (Hebrews 11:32,39 CSB). Despite his failings, Gideon’s faith in God was real.

Here’s the good news. Once we truly place our faith in God through the good news of Jesus Christ, our faith will never be removed from us. We can stray from God and make mistakes, and we’ll face the consequences of our sin–but God will still recognize us as one of his own. And as long as we draw breath, we can exercise our faith right now. We can repent of our past sin and turn back to God. We can obey God in what he’s asking us to do today. And we can trust God for what he has for us tomorrow.

Featured image from Bruno Glätsch on Pixabay.

This post is #21 in The Truly Good Book series. Subscribe to more posts below.

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