Monday 8th May 2023

JUDGES 8 and 9

It is a sad fact of human history that the real pioneers do not get the credit they deserve.  When no-one else has the courage and the selflessness to step up to the mark, they do it.  Others are often content to spectate safely from the sidelines and then criticize their leadership methods because they are less than perfect.  People hide away when the going gets tough, and then complain that they had been left out of the excitement and the most important tasks.  Only when these great pioneers die, do they at last seem to be recognized for the immense good that they did in difficult circumstances, and the personal sacrifices they made. 

The Ephraimites were the critics in this case – Judges 8 – and were only placated after Gideon had to flatter them by ranking Ephraim’s belated contribution as the most vital aspect of the battle against Midian.  Proverbs 15:1 tells us that “A gentle answer turns away wrath”.

The pursuit continued: Gideon’s 300 men chasing and catching by surprise the remaining 15,000 of the remaining Midianite Kings.  (120,000 of the enemy had already fallen in battle!).  On the way, a couple of Transjordan towns doubted that Gideon was going to victorious again and worried that there would be reprisals from the Midianites afterwards if these towns were known to have assisted Gideon’s men; so they refused.  Unfortunately, they had ‘backed the wrong horse’ and paid the penalty when Gideon’s victorious army returned in triumph.  Learning that the captured Midianite kings had killed his brothers in battle, he executed them without pity.

Every great leader has his/her flaws, and Gideon made a key blunder when he went home to be greeted as a hero.  He correctly refused to be made Israel’s king, since that was God’s place to rule, but then he unwisely collected a gold contribution from each Israelite and fashioned it into an idol that Israel later worshiped.  Very silly!

The foolishness didn’t end there; after Gideon’s death – and during a time of well-earned peace – the sons of Gideon (a mere seventy!) were murdered by Abimelek, the son of Gideon’s concubine in his struggle for ultimate power.  Israel once again turned back to the Baals and forgot about Gideon and his God.  One true son remained – Jotham – who wisely fled the scene quickly.  Before long a civil war had broken out and Abimelek committed several large-scale atrocities in and around Shechem.

But God is not mocked: in attacking yet another city, Abimelek stood too close to the bottom of a tower and received a millstone to the head for his trouble.  There was a huge degree of shame in being killed – not in glorious battle but by a woman with a domestic implement.  The shame was only slightly mitigated by him screaming for his armour-bearer to kill him quickly with his sword.  The curse of Jotham (9:20) was therefore fulfilled.  So, we see also that the God of Justice had his retribution in the end – and by a punishment that absolutely suited the crime: the seventy innocent sons of Gideon were killed by Abimelek on top of a large stone, and so Abimelek was killed underneath a large stone!  We can be certain that God will repay those offences that are directed towards him, and towards the innocent.

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