I, Elkanah, am exhausted and thrilled, along with the other two hundred and ninety-nine in Gideon’s band of men. Surely it is time to go home and rest. Those who have oppressed Israel have destroyed each other, and the few survivors of the midnight melee in the vast Midianite army took off eastward. Gideon and his unseen ally, the Lord, have delivered us.
But Gideon is not done. Some Midianites have escaped, including the kings Zeba and Zalmunna. A wild light glows in Gideon’s eyes. He mutters about avenging his brothers’ deaths at the hands of Zeba and Zalmunna. We cross the Jordan and head to the east, into the hills. I stumble wearily after him.
In his anger, Gideon threatens other peoples who don’t help us in our quest. He is so sure we will win! We are three hundred against fifteen thousand. Will the Lord help us overcome even now, far from our homes? Gideon tells us that the Lord gave his word: the Lord said Gideon “will strike down all the Midianites together.” Will the Lord keep his word?
This Lord, this tribal god, again gives us an impossible victory. We capture and kill Zeba and Zalmunna. Then, sucked into the vortex of Gideon’s wrath, we return to punish and kill the peoples who didn’t help us. Our path of destruction sickens me. I return home empty, with no tales to tell.
Gideon is now judge over Israel, under the authority of the Lord, like several who have gone before him. Earlier judges spoke for the Lord, but Gideon can’t seem to discern what the Lord wants him to say.
He makes do: he creates an ephod, a replica of the priestly breastplate used generations ago during the time of Aaron. It asks the Lord for “yes” and “no” answers.
Soon we are all worshiping the ephod, including Gideon’s family. It just seems so right. This ephod fulfills this longing in my heart. It tells me what to do, how to live my life. I am comforted. Forty years slip by, and I am blessed to see my children’s children’s children.
Gideon dies, and the next day we all look for the Baals and Ashtoreth idols that lay hidden all this time. These comfort us as well. We’ve been waiting for the opportunity to draw them out of hiding. Gideon’s seventy sons are leading the way, clearing the hilltops for new altars and setting up one for the ephod.
A question hangs in the air. Who will emerge to lead Israel?
Epilogue: Abimelech, a murderous son of Gideon, proclaimed himself king of Israel, but the Lord struck him down. In his mercy, the Lord sent the godly judge Tola to lead Israel twenty-three years, and then the godly judge Jair twenty-two years. The forty fractured years under Gideon were redeemed.
The sad cycle of the Israelites during the time of the Judges began again. The children of Israel let their hearts be captured by the idols of the peoples around them. The Lord sent oppressors. After a time, the people called out for help to the Lord, and in his mercy, the Lord raised up a judge to call them to repentance and lead them. After a time of peace and prosperity, the judge died, and the people started worshipping the idols again. Like us in the 21st century, these people were desperately in need of grace.
What might have been the connection between the deaths of Gideon’s brothers at the hands of Zeba and Zalmunna and Gideon’s later difficulty communicating with God?
When have you given in to anger in your life? What was the result?
Can you identify idols in your life: created things that bring you comfort, where your heart turns first? Examples: food, money, activities?
Ref. Judges 8 & 9