As this is our final segment within the book of Judges regarding the life of Gideon and his rise to the status of a military legend, we finally come to the wrap up of Gideon’s story. The beginning of things always has an end and thus we have come to Gideon’s end. How does his story of fear to faith and farm-boy to warlord conclude? Let’s find out! We’ll be in Judges 8:18-35 this week and that’s where we will pick up starting at verse 18.
“Then he said to Zebah and Zalmunna, “What kind of men were they whom you killed at Tabor?” And they said, “They were like you, each one resembling the son of a king.” He said, “They were my brothers, the sons of my mother. As the LORD lives, if only you had let them live, I would not kill you.” So he said to Jether his firstborn, “Rise, kill them.” But the youth did not draw his sword, for he was afraid, because he was still a youth. Then Zebah and Zalmunna said, “Rise up yourself, and fall on us; for as the man, so is his strength.” So Gideon arose and killed Zebah and Zalmunna, and took the crescent ornaments which were on their camels’ necks. Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, both you and your son, also your son’s son, for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian.” But Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the LORD shall rule over you.” Yet Gideon said to them, “I would request of you, that each of you give me an earring from his spoil.” (For they had gold earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.) They said, “We will surely give them.” So they spread out a garment, and every one of them threw an earring there from his spoil. The weight of the gold earrings that he requested was 1,700 shekels of gold, besides the crescent ornaments and the pendants and the purple robes which were on the kings of Midian, and besides the neck bands that were on their camels’ necks. Gideon made it into an ephod, and placed it in his city, Ophrah, and all Israel played the harlot with it there, so that it became a snare to Gideon and his household. So Midian was subdued before the sons of Israel, and they did not lift up their heads anymore. And the land was undisturbed for forty years in the days of Gideon. Then Jerubbaal the son of Joash went and lived in his own house. Now Gideon had seventy sons who were his direct descendants, for he had many wives. His concubine who was in Shechem also bore him a son, and he named him Abimelech. And Gideon the son of Joash died at a ripe old age and was buried in the tomb of his father Joash, in Ophrah of the Abiezrites. Then it came about, as soon as Gideon was dead, that the sons of Israel again played the harlot with the Baals, and made Baal-berith their god. Thus the sons of Israel did not remember the LORD their God, who had delivered them from the hands of all their enemies on every side; nor did they show kindness to the household of Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) in accord with all the good that he had done to Israel.” (NASB Judges 8:18-35)
Sad isn’t? In fact, it’s a bitter-sweet ending. That the thing Gideon was trying to destroy ended up destroying him. Just as Two-Face said in the The Dark Knight, “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” As we can observe here, in Gideon’s early years he rose from a nobody to a somebody, but then took a turn for the worse as he transformed into something ugly by the end of his life. Succumbing to his inward sinful desires as he fell victim to adultery (v30), which tarnished his reputation as a man of God. Instead, he ends up as a man of man and based off of the text before us, it would seem that his poor example in his latter years was the fuel for a future rebellion against God. A rebellion that would draw the people of Israel back to idolatry (v33) and who were cruel towards the house of Jerubbaal (v35).
Now let’s reign back a bit and look at how the initial war ends against the Midianites. At the beginning of this passage we see Gideon is speaking to the two kings of Midian, Zebah and Zalmunna, and this happens directly after he punished the men of both Penuel and Succoth (v16-17). He reminds them of a previous battle where the two kings barbarously slaughtered Gideon’s extended family at Mt. Tabor, which geographically is a mountain near modern-day Nazareth. A sin not soon to be forgiven on Gideon’s part. But before Gideon goes off on these two kings, he allows his son, Jether, to strike them down (v20).
What is interesting about this certain part of the passage this week is that this is the first mention of one of Gideon’s children by name, that is Jether. What this passage reveals is that Jether was alongside Gideon during the war or Gideon was reunited with his family including Jether when he and the kosher 300 returned home. Either way, Jether is shown here in a rock and a hard place. His father has just told him to slay the two kings, but he hesitates out of fear.
It is hard to blame Jether for his actions. I mean, was Gideon asking too much from this young man? Based off the text and basic logic, I concur that Jether was anywhere in between 13 to 18 years old. This is based off of how Joseph, David, and other notable Biblical, figures are described when they are in their youth. Also, he bears a sword which begs the question: why would a child have a sword? Not likely. He had to have been in his teens.
Gideon thus commands his son to kill these two kings, so the kings taunt Gideon to kill them (v21a). Well Gideon does just that and kills them, then takes the crescent ornaments from their camel’s necks. Crescent moons are a very prevalent symbol in the Middle East even to this day and are mostly associated with Islam, so for Gideon to take those was a statement that his Triune God was greater than their gods.
Once the final sword is swung of this long war, the people of Israel ask Gideon to be their king and for Jether to rule over Israel alongside his father (v22). Surprisingly, yet wisely Gideon declines their offer and states that God is their king, not him or his son. In fact, he says that God will rule over them. Gideon is humbly letting God lead and giving Him all the glory.
What fathoms me about this whole situation is that Gideon could potentially have become the first king of Israel, but says no to the offer. Just imagine how much history would change if Gideon was king of Israel. Would Saul become king? Would David? The timeline of history would have looked far more different from today’s present timeline.
Instead of becoming king, Gideon takes a percentage of the spoils of the war and constructs an ephod (a portable idol that was clothed usually) in the city of Ophrah (v27). This is the mistake that will tarnish Gideon’s life and reputation as it would become a “snare to Gideon” and those of his family lineage. Sad to think that after his entire arc is completed, his hero’s journey, he falls into such an idolatrous lifestyle. After this whole span of time he gives into a stupid, sinful desire: misguided worship.
Although God kept His Word and spared the Israelites from any trouble for the next 40 years as the Midianites were subdued. But that does not mean all was well for Gideon. In fact, far from it for he falls into another sin: adultery.
Another stab at Gideon’s reputation as a man of God. If that was not enough, after Gideon passes away after living a long life that the people of Israel turned back to the gods of Baal, turning their backs on God (v33). Hence, the cycle of dependency and independence in relation to God continues to spin over and over again. A cycle many of us find ourselves in a lot of the time. The cycle of sin continues to spin.
Gideon’s story is over, yet is legacy will always live on in a positive light despite the sour note that it ended on. Next week we will examine just what exactly Gideon’s legacy is and how he is known today in further detail. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless!