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Refreshment in Refuge

    by Gina Burgess

Foolishness Causes Stumbling
Date Posted: March 6, 2016

A soft answer turns away wrath…

This Wisdom of Solomon that had not been written yet, was well proven by Gideon. When he called his tribe’s brother, the tribe of Ephraim, to go get the heads of the kings Oreb and Zeeb. The tribe did so, and then Ephraim reprimanded him sharply for not calling them to help fight against the Midianites and Amalekites.

Gideon says softly, “Didn’t God give into your hands the heads of these two Midianite leaders? What did I do that was better than that?” This wise answer calmed them down so anger did not escalate into sibling rivalry.

How much sisters and brothers could learn from this short passage. The tribes Ephraim and Manasseh were Joseph’s sons. Manasseh was the eldest, but Ephraim received the eldest son’s blessing from Jacob. Joseph tried to switch Jacob’s hands thinking the old man was blind and did not know which was which. Jacob resisted telling him, “I know what I’m doing, Joseph.” That one act could have so easily caused the same rift between brothers that Jacob’s deception and Isaac’s misdirected blessing cause between Jacob and Esau. But it didn’t. I think that is because of Joseph’s fatherly wisdom.

I think the Younger Son Blessing is one reason why Gideon said he was the least of the least. His humility stemmed from his roots. He began his calling sort of fumbling and in trepidation thus asking God several times if this was His will for him to do. God’s will was clear about which tribes to call to battle, and how to thin them down to the core 300 men of valor. Because of the first three verses in Chapter 8, we see precisely why Ephraim was not among those called initially. If they had been sent home, or thinned from the crowd, it would have caused much greater strife and division than calling them to chase down Oreb and Zeeb.

When Gideon asked for sustenance from their brother tribe Gad in Succoth, he was rudely refused. Hospitality is as great a law in the Middle East as life itself thus tradition demands helping strangers. How much stronger the mandate is when family is concerned. In all the time of the Judges so far, Gad had not lifted a finger to help, though his brothers were giving their lives to keep them safe.

The men of Succoth viewed Gideon’s request as a threat from Midian rather than an opportunity to help their brothers. They just didn’t believe in God’s strength. This is why Gideon handled the two situations (Ephraim and Gad) in such opposite ways. The pride of Ephraim was easily handled and forgiven, while the disbelief of Gad was a much deeper transgression. Succoth and Penuel were also aiding the enemy of God’s children at the same time they disbelieved God, that was treason.

God hates pride, but disbelief is sin that leads to the second death. Refusal to help God’s chosen leader was rebellion against God. This was stabbing their savior in the back while he was saving them.

This kind of behavior deserved discipline, but Penuel received discipline a bit more severe than a good spanking. The 70 leaders of Succoth were beaten after they were shown the captives Zebah and Zalmunna.

It seems that Gideon’s discipline for the men of Penuel was harsher than for Succoth. He killed them. But digging a bit deeper, we understand why. The men of Succoth disbelieved, but the men of Penuel not only disbelieved but also had a tower (as in Tower of Babel) that they believed in. The ultimate treason against God is putting another god in His place. Gideon destroyed the tower and killed the men who were leading the others of the town astray. If the people of Penuel did not turn back to God after that, it was by sheer blindness and stupidity.

Then Gideon turned to Zebah and Zalmunna’s punishment for the murder of his own brothers. Gideon asked what kind of men they were that these kings murdered them. It seemed like flattery for them to say, “Like you. Princes.” Gideon didn’t buy it.

Their flattery displayed their crime as the heinous act it was. They not only admitted to the murders, but they killed the hands that were feeding them and their people. Of course, the feeding was not by choice of the Israelites, but so it was by their theft of the crops and the animals they were fed.

We’re not told how they were killed, but the Hebrew word here is hârag meaning to smite with deadly intent. It is different than the other thirteen Hebrew words translated kill. This is the only one that uses “with deadly intent” in the definition. These two kings had a vicious and deadly intent when they murdered the brothers.

Since there was no sheriff, it was up to the family to do it, so Gideon was well within the law when he killed them. According to Numbers 35, family members were to track down and kill anyone who killed one of their own. They were to make certain that the person was indeed guilty before killing him. I wonder if this was a greater deterrent than having a sheriff. After all, you could die by just being an associate, or even mistaken identity.

Then the Israelites begged Gideon to be their king.

The unbelief of the people after all that God had done for them is shocking.

Of course Gideon rejected the suggestion. He knew God was the king, and what they had was a theocracy not a monarchy or democracy. How blind and forgetful the people were. God had just delivered them from their oppressive enemies, and they turned to the popular hero of the day to be their king.

Then Gideon does a very foolish thing. He makes an ephod from the gold earrings and gold camel ornaments of the defeated Ishmaelite’s.

Gideon recognized the wrongness of their request for him to raise himself up to be king, yet he did not recognize how close this request was to rebellion against God into idolatry. The ephod he created led them down that thorny path to outright rejection of God.

Some scholars say that Gideon probably created the ephod so that he could inquire the Lord’s will as he judged Israel. Because he asked so many signs from God to make sure what he was hearing was God’s will, I think this suggestion is probably close to truth. Gideon could have easily made himself king, but he rejected it. However, he did set himself up as a priest.

Yet, Gideon could have called the nation back to worship God and only God. He destroyed his father idol and altar. He could have gone throughout the nation to destroy all the Baals, but he did not. He could have trained all 71 sons (he had 70 by wives and 1 by a concubine, Abimelech) to revere God and to keep all the statues. But he did not.

Gideon forgave and diverted the pride of Ephraim, but pride proved to be his downfall. Celebrity infiltrated and perverted his authority.

How often do Christians feign humility, but have a hidden agenda? Maybe Gideon really did have those humble feelings that perhaps stemmed from knowing how powerful God really is. After Abraham pursued and defeated Lot’s kidnappers, he refused all profits from the defeat. He only made sure that his people were paid for their efforts. Gideon took not only the spoils from Zebah and Zalmunna, but then asked for the gold earrings and camel chains from the others in order to set himself up as priest.

While it is commendable to want to be a minister of God’s word, and to be in ministry, we must make sure we are smack in the middle of God’s will. Usurping another’s job or ministry only wreaks havoc among God’s people. Look how it led the people right back into idolatry.

Remember what Jesus said, “If one causes the least of these to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were tied around his neck and he were tossed into the sea.”

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Biography Information:
Gina Burgess has taught Sunday School and Discipleship Training for almost three decades. (Don't tell her that makes her old.) She earned her Master's in Communication in 2013.

She is the author of several books including: When Christians Hurt Christians, The Crowns of the Believers and others available in online bookstores. She authors several columns, using her God-given talent to shine a light in a dark world. You can browse her blog at Refreshment In Refuge.

If you'd like to take a look at some Christian fiction and Christian non-fiction book reviews before the books hit the book store shelves, check out Gina's book reviews at Upon Reflection

Gina is a partner and COO of Common Sense Marketing Strategies, LLC that owns Authors Community and
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