Judges 8:22-35 (ESV) “Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also, for you have saved us from the hand of Midian.” 23 Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the LORD will rule over you.” 24 And Gideon said to them, “Let me make a request of you: every one of you give me the earrings from his spoil.” (For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.) 25 And they answered, “We will willingly give them.” And they spread a cloak, and every man threw in it the earrings of his spoil. 26 And the weight of the golden earrings that he requested was 1,700 shekels of gold, besides the crescent ornaments and the pendants and the purple garments worn by the kings of Midian, and besides the collars that were around the necks of their camels. 27 And Gideon made an ephod of it and put it in his city, in Ophrah. And all Israel whored after it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family. 28 So Midian was subdued before the people of Israel, and they raised their heads no more. And the land had rest forty years in the days of Gideon. 29 Jerubbaal the son of Joash went and lived in his own house. 30 Now Gideon had seventy sons, his own offspring, for he had many wives. 31 And his concubine who was in Shechem also bore him a son, and he called his name Abimelech. 32 And Gideon the son of Joash died in a good old age and was buried in the tomb of Joash his father, at Ophrah of the Abiezrites. 33 As soon as Gideon died, the people of Israel turned again and whored after the Baals and made Baal-berith their god. 34 And the people of Israel did not remember the LORD their God, who had delivered them from the hand of all their enemies on every side, 35 and they did not show steadfast love to the family of Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) in return for all the good that he had done to Israel.”
This is perhaps one of the saddest eras in the history of Israel. Gideon (also called Jerubbaal - which means “let Baal contend with him”) had followed the command of the LORD to destroy his father’s idol, Baal, which he did. Then men of his town were so angry at what Gideon had done that they undertook to kill Gideon for his blatant defacement of their god, the god of the people around them, named Baal (which literally means “master”, “lord”, and figuratively “owner”). This false god named Baal was the “master”, the “lord”, the “owner” of the people of Canaan, and the people of Israel had set up this false god to worship it. They were so committed to worshiping the god of the Canaanites, that when the living God, the true God of Israel commanded Gideon to destroy and cut down this idol, and the command was carried out, the Israelite leaders of that town wanted to kill Gideon. This is how far off the worship of the true God Israel had come.
But Gideon was contending with this false god, and thus he was named Jerubbaal, which means “let Baal contend with him.” Gideon’s father said to those who wanted to kill his son, effectively, “if Baal is truly a god, let Baal contend with him”, meaning, let Baal defend himself against my son Gideon. And thus the men of the city were dissuaded from killing Gideon.
Gideon went on to deliver Israel from the oppression they were suffering under the Midianites (again because Israel had turned away from the LORD and were not following the LORD and obeying his Word). There was a huge victory, and the people wanted to make Gideon their king. But Gideon rightfully said that he would not rule over them, but that the LORD would rule over them. All Gideon wanted was for them to give him some of the gold they had taken as plunder from the victory over their oppressors. The people willingly gave him what he asked for, and Gideon made a golden ephod out of it. An ephod is something like a vest, which the priests of the LORD would wear over their garments when they were ministering in the tabernacle. So it definitely had a religious connatation, and it may have been Gideon’s way of trying to honor the Lord and set up a monument or trophy to thank and honor the Lord for the victory God had given to the Israelites under Gideon’s leadership.
The problem is that somehow that meaning and that purpose seems to have been lost. It was not clear what the purpose of the golden ephod was, and it became in itself something of an idol. Gideon’s golden ephod became an object to which the nation of Israel prostituted itself, and became a snare to Gideon and his family. We don’t know exactly what form that prostitution took, or specifically how it became a snare to Gideon and his family, but we are told that it did.
It appears that Gideon did not want to rule over Israel, he rightly said that the Lord should rule over Israel, but what did Gideon do to use his influence and his position of honor to turn the people of Israel back to the Lord? It appears that he may have had some vague, unclear desire to point people to the Lord by making a golden ephod (remember, an ephod was something that was worn by the priests in their service in the tabernacle), but it seems to have been very unclear, uncertain, undefined exactly what was meant by it. Perhaps if someone had asked Gideon personally why he made the golden ephod, he may have gone into either a short or a long explanation about how he wanted to honor the Lord for the victory that God gave to Gideon and all Israel in their deliverance from the Midianites. Maybe he would have even said something about how God can work through ordinary people who make themselves available to God’s service.
But somehow none of that is clearly known or recorded, and the bottom line is that the people of Israel were not turned more to the Lord because of the golden ephod, they were turned away from the Lord and prostituted themselves to it. And even Gideon himself and his family found it to be a snare. It became a hindrance to Gideon and his family, and a snare, something that tripped and captured, ensared them, enslaved them.
As ministers of the Gospel, we must be very careful that we do not build a monument to our past victory and fool ourselves that we are honoring God by doing so. If we truly want to honor God, we must be very clear and deliberate about pointing others to His ways, living out his ways and his Word.