The famous story in the book of Judges about Gideon is a yarn well spun as Biblical accounts go. There is a reluctant, cowardly leader who is goaded along at every step toward his destiny by God, there are people who want to kill him and then end up asking him to lead their nation for at least two generation, and there is one of the most unique battle scenes in all of the Bible. The idea that 300 men could route an entire army using trumpets and pottery is memorable to say the least. But Gideon’s story doesn’t end there.
There is a bizarre account at the end of the story of Gideon about a gold ephod that seems to serve absolutely no purpose to anyone (for good anyway). An ephod, for those that may not know, is really just a ceremonial garment that God commanded the priests to wear in some of the Temple protocol. In my understanding of the Old Testament texts it was a symbolic thing that meant “it’s time for business”. Like a military man would wear armor when going into battle, but really no other time, the priests would pull out the ephod when the moment called for it – and God had been very specific about those moments, if you read Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy you will find that God has a gift for detail.
So, Gideon, formerly the unassuming coward, currently the abdicating general, asks for gold jewelry as the people’s gift to him for delivering them out of the control of the Midianites. After they give it to him he melts all the pieces of jewelry down and make a solid gold ephod – which doesn’t sound like something a humble coward would do, but more like something a west coast gangsta rapper would do. Gideon made this symbol of worship duty only to set it up on a stand in his home town for reasons that we can not completely know. Here’s what we do know though:
And Gideon made an ephod of it and put it in his city, Ophrah. And all Israel whored after it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family.
First of all, we should not overlook too quickly the fact that Gideon’s city, the place that became the Mecca for Israelite idolatry at that time, is eerily familiar to our own Oprah. Coincidence? 🙂
More importantly, this is an incident that offers us a very simple and pointed lesson. We create most of our own problems.
While there are deeper issues that could be exegeted from this text, things about counterfeit worship and the danger of redefining God’s protocols, the most basic issue here is that prior to Gideon acting like an idiot there was no golden ephod for anyone to deal with, to be tempted by, or to be confused by. Gideon, mild-mannered coward, created the catalyst for Israel to move back into full-blown idol worship and thus back into oppression after his death.
Very simply today friends, I wonder how many of our problems are not caused by the devil, or demons around every corner, or militant Islam, or the President who so many are convinced is trying set our nation on fire as he tunes up his fiddle. What if none of those things are our main source of trouble, but our own proclivity for setting up pointless idols and distracting counterfeits that move us away from real life, meaningful focus, and pure worship?
Idolatry is really not good for anyone. Not even the idols.
– John Bach
I tend to believe that this happens far more than we’d like to acknowledge. We always want to extract ourselves from the problems that we face and essentially become victims of whatever force sounds good in that moment. We are bent toward the abdication of our own responsibility in the face of failure. But the truth is, so much of the time, that we spent all night melting and smelting the idol that we will in the morning blame someone else for causing us to fall. We are, in many instances not merely the sufferer of our problems but also the source.
Our minds must be prepared to see what we are doing when we are subtly fashioning blocks to make ourselves stumble, and there is no better way to see those things than by kneeling before the God who can actually bring victory from chaos, who gives strength to the weak, and who is dedicated to helping give us the courage to destroy idols instead of building them.
Man’s mind is like a store of idolatry and superstition; so much so that if a man believes his own mind it is certain that he will forsake God and forge some idol in his own brain.
– John Calvin