Gideon: Difficulties and Snares in Service

 •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 8
The moment that we set out to walk with God and to bear testimony for Him, we may be sure of finding all sorts of difficulties in our path. In gaining their victory over the Midianites, Gideon and his 300 companions encountered some. After the victory, they found other ways in which they had to suffer.
The men of Ephraim contended with Gideon. In the time of Deborah they had been in the post of honor (Judg. 5:1414Out of Ephraim was there a root of them against Amalek; after thee, Benjamin, among thy people; out of Machir came down governors, and out of Zebulun they that handle the pen of the writer. (Judges 5:14)), but since then there had been declension, and Gideon, taught of God, had not summoned them. This distinction made them envious of the energy of faith and of its results to the others. “Why hast thou served us thus?” (Judg. 8:11And the men of Ephraim said unto him, Why hast thou served us thus, that thou calledst us not, when thou wentest to fight with the Midianites? And they did chide with him sharply. (Judges 8:1)). Ephraim, preoccupied with his own importance, thinks of himself instead of thinking of God. This is a frequent source of strife between brethren, and such contentions are far more painful and trying than conflict with the world. It is precious to see the man of God pass through this difficulty in the power of the Spirit.
When altercations arise among Christians, deep humility is their only resource. Gideon had learned this in the school of God, so that it was not difficult for him to realize on this occasion how to act. God had made him understand that the courage and strength which he had did not emanate from himself and that, in himself, Gideon was worth only a cake of barley bread. And so, in the presence of Ephraim, he took care not to speak of himself. He devoted his attention to what God had done by the hands of his brethren. “What have I done now,” said he, “in comparison of you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abiezer?” He took the lowest place and acknowledged their zeal for God; thus the humility of this servant of God is the means of removing a great difficulty. Let us act in a similar way, and when we speak of our brethren, let us enumerate, not their failures, but what God has wrought in them. Nothing so appeases contention as seeing Christ in others; it is the result of a normal Christian condition in the children of God.
Faint Yet Pursuing
Gideon and his companions encountered a second difficulty far more trying than the previous one. They were “faint yet pursuing” and reached Succoth, a city of Israel which belonged to the tribe of Gad. Succoth rejected them, refusing even to give them bread. There was in the midst of the people of God an entire city, bearing the name of Israel, which had renounced all corporate responsibility with those who bore testimony for Jehovah. They had confidence in the enemy and would not compromise themselves by taking part with Israel. There are many in the present day who bear the name of Christ, and yet seek the friendship of and alliance with the world. Through fear of compromising themselves, they make common cause with our enemies, increasing the difficulties of the way for believers, and hindering them from being overcomers. It need not surprise us that Gideon does not stop in the way to chastise this spirit. Our hearts, like Gideon’s, should be wholly in the conflict. The man of God kept on his way; the infamous conduct of Penuel no more arrests him than that of Succoth. Everything is in its time for God’s witness. Satan seeks to bring in confusion as to this, so as to make obstacles for us. Zebah and Zalmunna must not be allowed to escape; the judgment of the rebellious cities will be executed later. On his return, the man of God exercised discipline in the assembly of Israel and “cut off the wicked,” for God would be dishonored were evil tolerated in the assembly.
Humility and Faith
In all this history, two characteristics, humility and energy of faith, were united in Gideon: energy, to gather and purify the people for battle and for pursuit of the enemy; humility, which delivered from all self-confidence and led to implicit reliance on Jehovah. And yet it was in this very thing that the enemy was about to lay a snare for him.
It does not appear as if Gideon was turned aside from God’s path by this speech, but he seems to have lost a true sense of the power of the enemy and to have despised rather than feared it. This was not the case with Joshua when he made prisoners of the five kings (Josh. 10:22-2722Then said Joshua, Open the mouth of the cave, and bring out those five kings unto me out of the cave. 23And they did so, and brought forth those five kings unto him out of the cave, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, and the king of Eglon. 24And it came to pass, when they brought out those kings unto Joshua, that Joshua called for all the men of Israel, and said unto the captains of the men of war which went with him, Come near, put your feet upon the necks of these kings. And they came near, and put their feet upon the necks of them. 25And Joshua said unto them, Fear not, nor be dismayed, be strong and of good courage: for thus shall the Lord do to all your enemies against whom ye fight. 26And afterward Joshua smote them, and slew them, and hanged them on five trees: and they were hanging upon the trees until the evening. 27And it came to pass at the time of the going down of the sun, that Joshua commanded, and they took them down off the trees, and cast them into the cave wherein they had been hid, and laid great stones in the cave's mouth, which remain until this very day. (Joshua 10:22‑27)). Far from underrating the strength of the enemy, he said to them, “Come near, put your feet upon the necks of these kings.” Then he added, “Fear not, nor be dismayed, be strong and of good courage”—so much did he realize at the same time the power of the world and the strength of Jehovah. Two things become us when we are fighting with the enemy—fear and trembling as to ourselves, and full assurance as to God. Gideon realized these things imperfectly. He entrusted to his son Jether the task of killing these two kings. “But the youth drew not his sword, for he feared” (vs. 20). Previously, Jehovah had separated those who were afraid and withdrawn them from the conflict. Here Gideon, in committing to a child the destruction of an enemy, did not act in keeping with the ways of God. God does not call children in the faith to perform publicly brilliant actions; a child goes to school and not to war.
Then those kings said, “Rise thou, and fall upon us; for as the man is, so is his strength” (vs. 21). This is a fresh flattery, against which Gideon ought to have protested, for he had learned a totally different lesson in the school of God. In reality, his strength was exactly the opposite to that which was of man. Had he not realized it on that solemn night when God had revealed to him that a cake of barley bread was about to overthrow all the tents of Midian? In his better days, Gideon would not have accepted this flattery, nor have allowed the adversary to plant a germ of self-confidence in his heart.
But then we see him exposed to a fresh snare (vss. 22-23). It is no longer the flattery of the world, but that of the people of God. The men of Israel said unto Gideon, “Rule thou over us, both thou and thy son and thy son’s son also, for thou hast delivered us from the hand of Midian.” They put their leader in the place of Jehovah and offer him the scepter. None are more prone to clericalism than the people of God. It is the bane of Christendom, the innate tendency of the natural heart. The fact of ministry being blessed is apt to lead us to make of the servant a “minister” in the human sense, thus losing sight of God. By the grace of God, the faith of Gideon escaped this danger. He said resolutely, “I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: the Lord shall rule over you.” The object of his service was that God should have the pre-eminence and lose nothing of His authority over His people.
H. L. Rossier (adapted)