“Gideon Part Two: The Snare and the Thornbush King”
Downward Spiral: The Message of Judges
July 15, 2012 :: Judges 8:1-9:57
It would be great if Gideon’s story ended with chapter 7.
If you remember the story so far, Israel (because of her idolatry) had been overrun by the Midianites like a swarm of human locusts. And the LORD had sent a “Mighty Warrior” the chicken–I mean the man–Gideon.
Gideon did not just hesitate. He fretted and required sign after sign before he would head into battle. But God was patient with Gideon, and he did go to battle with just 300 men, and they won! God gave him the victory.
And it would be nice to end the story right there at the end of chapter 7.
But Gideon’s story doesn’t end with him being a mighty warrior. It ends with him being ensnared, trapped, caught in a snare.
And the effects of that snare run into the next generation. That’s the story in chapter 9. Chapter 9 is the story of Gideon’s son, who I’ll call, “The Thornbush King.”
So today’s title is “Gideon Part Two: ‘The Snare and the Thornbush King.’”
And it is a depressing story.
A real downer.
Why does God include such depressing stories in His Bible?
Before we read this set of depressing stories, it would be good to think together briefly about what are some of God’s purposes for including to stories like this in His Holy Word.
Because I don’t know about you, but I’m often tempted to just skip over this stuff to get to the good stuff.
But if we do that, we miss a lot of what God has included in His book.
In fact, we’d skip most of the rest of Judges. The book is on a downward spiral–it’s only going to get worse.
So, why read it? Why does God include it?
Here are three quick thoughts to chew on.
God is keep’ it real. It would be great if there were no depressing stories in the world. If there was no sin, no death, no war, no offensive things, no strife, no trouble.
But that’s not how it is. Not since Genesis 3.
Any aside from Jesus, every human character in the Bible is fallible.
I actually love that about the Bible. It tells it like it is.
It doesn’t make the good guys all lily white.
It shows the dirt on the good guys!
And that actually gives me hope. Because I’ve got dirt on me.
Judges is here to keep us from going down the downward spiral ourselves.
If we see where other people have failed, and are given a new choice ourselves, their story serves as a warning.
Gideon is going to get in over his head.
Do you want that yourself? No?
Learn from Gideon’s fall not to fall yourself.
If we see how dark is the darkness, how much more we can appreciate the light!
These dark Old Testament stories aren’t meant to just depress us, even if they do. They are meant to show us how good God is and how bright God’s glory is as it shines in the deepest darkness.
It stands out in contrast.
Does that make sense?
We’ll need that reminder that this is reality, warning, and contrast for the rest of the book.
We’re actually picking up right in the middle of two battles.
In chapter 7, Gideon and his 300 men saw the Midianites defeated and chased.
In chapter 8, the Ephraimites (one of the Joseph tribes) get offended with Gideon that he didn’t include them in the battle until it was time to capture and kill the leaders, Oreb and Zeeb. Chapter 8, verse 1.
“Now the Ephraimites asked Gideon, ‘Why have you treated us like this? Why didn't you call us when you went to fight Midian?’ And they criticized him sharply. But he answered them, ‘What have I accomplished compared to you? Aren't the gleanings of Ephraim's grapes better than the full grape harvest of Abiezer [his family]? God gave Oreb and Zeeb, the Midianite leaders, into your hands. What was I able to do compared to you?’ At this, their resentment against him subsided.”
And Gideon presses on. V.4
“Gideon and his three hundred men, exhausted yet keeping up the pursuit, came to the Jordan and crossed it. He said to the men of Succoth, ‘Give my troops some bread; they are worn out, and I am still pursuing Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian.’ But the officials of Succoth said, ‘Do you already have the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna in your possession? Why should we give bread to your troops?’ Then Gideon replied, ‘Just for that, when the LORD has given Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, I will tear your flesh with desert thorns and briers.’ From there he went up to Peniel and made the same request of them, but they answered as the men of Succoth had. So he said to the men of Peniel, ‘When I return in triumph, I will tear down this tower.’”
Just a second here.
These are Israelites. And they are in sharp dispute.
It’s one thing to fight God’s enemies the Canaanites and the Midianites, but something else is brewing here. V.10
“Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor with a force of about fifteen thousand men, all that were left of the armies of the eastern peoples; a hundred and twenty thousand swordsmen had fallen. [God did that!] Gideon went up by the route of the nomads east of Nobah and Jogbehah and fell upon the unsuspecting army. [Now, he’s a mighty warrior!]
Zebah and Zalmunna, the two kings of Midian, fled, but he pursued them and captured them, routing their entire army.
[But notice, God is not mentioned here. God is startlingly silent at this point and through most of this chapter and the next.]
Gideon son of Joash then returned from the battle by the Pass of Heres. He caught a young man of Succoth and questioned him, and the young man wrote down for him the names of the seventy-seven officials of Succoth, the elders of the town.
Then Gideon came and said to the men of Succoth, ‘Here are Zebah and Zalmunna, about whom you taunted me by saying, 'Do you already have the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna in your possession? Why should we give bread to your exhausted men?'’ He took the elders of the town and taught the men of Succoth a lesson by punishing them with desert thorns and briers. He also pulled down the tower of Peniel and killed the men of the town.
Then he asked Zebah and Zalmunna, ‘What kind of men did you kill at Tabor?’ ‘Men like you,’ they answered, ‘each one with the bearing of a prince.’ Gideon replied, ‘Those were my brothers, the sons of my own mother. As surely as the LORD lives, if you had spared their lives, I would not kill you.’
Turning to Jether, his oldest son, he said, ‘Kill them!’ But Jether [much like his father had been] did not draw his sword, because he was only a boy and was afraid.
Zebah and Zalmunna said, ‘Come, do it yourself. 'As is the man, so is his strength.'’ So Gideon stepped forward and killed them, and took the ornaments off their camels' necks.”
Notice that Gideon has slipped into personal revenge as his motive.
Gideon’s main problem, his overarching struggle is:
He says one thing and then does another.
He handles something really well (like the Ephraimites) but then handles something incredibly poorly like Succoth and Peniel, and I think Zebah and Zalmunna.
The Bible calls Gideon a man of faith. He makes it into Hebrews 11.
But, as we’ve seen, and as we will see, he was not always a man of faith.
Take for instance, his stance towards kingship.
Gideon was a judge. Should he become the king? V.22
“The Israelites said to Gideon, ‘Rule over us–you, your son and your grandson [a dynasty]– because you have saved us out of the hand of Midian.’”
[Well, uhm, actually it was the LORD who did that saving. V.23]
But Gideon told them, ‘I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The LORD will rule over you.’”
Sounds good, huh?
Way, to go, Gideon! That’s the guy who cut down Baal’s altar.
Jerub-Baal! Let Baal contend with him!
“And he said, ‘I do have one request, that each of you give me an earring from your share of the plunder.’ (It was the custom of the Ishmaelites to wear gold earrings.) They answered, ‘We'll be glad to give them.’ So they spread out a garment, and each man threw a ring from his plunder onto it. The weight of the gold rings he asked for came to seventeen hundred shekels [42 pounds?], not counting the ornaments, the pendants and the purple garments worn by the kings of Midian or the chains that were on their camels' necks.
Gideon made the gold into an ephod, which he placed in Ophrah, his town. All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family.”
We are all inconsistent to some degree.
None of us is what we want to be or what we will be.
So the question is which direction are we headed in?
Are we growing in consistency or in inconsistency?
Are you the same person at church as you are at work?
Are you the same person you are work as you are at church?
Are you concerned about finishing well?
The apostle Paul was concerned that he finish as well as he started.
“I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
I feel that way, too. I don’t want to be disqualified by inconsistency.
It takes a life-time to build up a reputation. It can be destroyed in a moment.
“Thus Midian was subdued before the Israelites and did not raise its head again. During Gideon's lifetime, the land enjoyed peace forty years. [That is a significant verse because that’s the last time the land gets rest in the book of Judges.] v.29
Jerub-Baal son of Joash went back home to live. He had seventy sons of his own, for he had many wives. His concubine, who lived in Shechem, also bore him a son, whom he named Abimelech. Gideon son of Joash died at a good old age and was buried in the tomb of his father Joash in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.”
Stop there for a second.
This is what I mean by inconsistency.
Did Gideon refuse kingship or what?
Yes, he did with his words.
But look how he lives.
He lives like a Sultan.
He has many wives, 12-30 wives. He sires 70 sons and who knows how many girls.
He dresses in 40 pounds of gold bling.
And he names he son by his slave girl, “Abimelech.”
What does that mean in Hebrew?
It means “My father is king.”
That is inconsistency.
Is God putting His finger today on some area of your life that is inconsistent with what you have said your life would be about?
God cares about that, obviously, and He wants to help you to be what you say you are.
Gideon’s inconsistency led to His snare which turned out to be idolatry.
The Gideon of verses 24-27 really sounds to me like Aaron with his golden calf.
Doesn’t it remind you of that?
“Give me your gold earrings from the plunder, and I’ll make a high-priest-looking vest called an ephod.”
And what happened? V.27
“All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family.”
It’s possible that Gideon had some good intentions for that golden ephod. Maybe he was trying to imitate what the high priest wore and remind everyone what the high priest does.
But soon everyone was worshipping it, not God.
The man who tore down Baal’s altar! ... Leads Israel back into idolatry.
And our God is a jealous God.
He won’t stand to be second fiddle. Or even first fiddle with other fiddles hanging around.
Here is where the warning comes in.
Don’t follow other gods. Even if a great man of God leads you to them.
False gods will prove to be a snare.
Don’t settle for having cut them down once and then thinking that all is well.
Be vigilant and cut them down every time they raise their ugly heads.
Warning! False gods are very attractive.
They don’t say, “Hey, I’m a false god. Worship me!” Not at first.
They like to sneak in through the back door.
Shut the back door.
V.27 “It became a snare to Gideon and his family.”
V.33 introduces the last main point for today.
#3. INGRATITUDE. V.33
“No sooner had Gideon died than the Israelites again prostituted themselves to the Baals. They set up Baal-Berith [Lord of the Covenant] as their god and did not remember the LORD their God, who had rescued them from the hands of all their enemies on every side. They also failed to show kindness to the family of Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) for all the good things he had done for them.”
They conveniently forgot the LORD, and even his servant Gideon for all the good things he had done for them. A downward spiral, indeed.
They failed to remember. They forgot.
They did not give thanks. Ingratitude.
And that ingratitude even extended down to Gideon’s son, Abimelech.
He hated his father and his father’s sons, and he wanted to be king.
So, he killed them all. Chapter 9.
“The Thornbush King.”
“Abimelech son of Jerub-Baal went to his mother's brothers in Shechem [Canaanites] and said to them and to all his mother's clan, ‘Ask all the citizens of Shechem, 'Which is better for you: to have all seventy of Jerub-Baal's sons rule over you, or just one man?' Remember, I am your flesh and blood.’ [He’s their flesh and blood, too.]
When the brothers repeated all this to the citizens of Shechem, they were inclined to follow Abimelech, for they said, ‘He is our brother.’
They gave him seventy shekels of silver from the temple of Baal-Berith, and Abimelech used it to hire reckless adventurers, who became his followers. He went to his father's home in Ophrah and [this is hard to read] on one stone murdered his seventy brothers, the sons of Jerub-Baal.
But Jotham, the youngest son of Jerub-Baal, escaped by hiding.
Then all the citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo gathered beside the great tree at the pillar in Shechem to crown Abimelech king.
[Gideon had said, “My son will not rule over you.” He was wrong.]
When Jotham was told about this, he climbed up on the top of Mount Gerizim and shouted to them, ‘Listen to me, citizens of Shechem, so that God may listen to you. One day the trees went out to anoint a king for themselves. They said to the olive tree, 'Be our king.' ‘But the olive tree answered, 'Should I give up my oil, by which both gods and men are honored, to hold sway over the trees?' ‘Next, the trees said to the fig tree, 'Come and be our king.' ‘But the fig tree replied, 'Should I give up my fruit, so good and sweet, to hold sway over the trees?'
‘Then the trees said to the vine, 'Come and be our king.' ‘But the vine answered, 'Should I give up my wine, which cheers both gods and men, to hold sway over the trees?'
‘Finally all the trees said to the thornbush, 'Come and be our king.'
The thornbush said to the trees, 'If you really want to anoint me king over you, come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, then let fire come out of the thornbush and consume the cedars of Lebanon!'”
Does a thornbush give shade to the trees?
No, a thornbush is good for just one thing–burning.
And that’s what Abimelech is for. V.16
“‘Now if you have acted honorably and in good faith when you made Abimelech king, and if you have been fair to Jerub-Baal and his family, and if you have treated him as he deserves–and to think that my father fought for you, risked his life to rescue you from the hand of Midian (but today you have revolted against my father's family, murdered his seventy sons on a single stone, and made Abimelech, the son of his slave girl, king over the citizens of Shechem because he is your brother)–if then you have acted honorably and in good faith toward Jerub-Baal and his family today, may Abimelech be your joy, and may you be his, too!
But if you have not, let fire come out from Abimelech and consume you, citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo, and let fire come out from you, citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo, and consume Abimelech!’ Then Jotham fled, escaping to Beer, and he lived there because he was afraid of his brother Abimelech.”
And the rest of the chapter is just the playing out of Jotham’s curse. And Jotham’s curse came from Israel’s ingratitude. If they had thanked God for His deliverance and had acted in appropriate thanksgiving to Gideon, none of this would have happened.
That’s how important gratitude is.
Are you a thankful person?
We are so forgetful of the good things that God has given us.
We should be the most thankful people on Planet Earth. V.22
“After Abimelech had governed Israel three years [that’s all God would allow], God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the citizens of Shechem, who acted treacherously against Abimelech.”
These are the very people who had elected him. They are not betraying him. V.24
“God did this in order that the crime against Jerub-Baal's seventy sons, the shedding of their blood, might be avenged on their brother Abimelech and on the citizens of Shechem, who had helped him murder his brothers.
In opposition to him these citizens of Shechem set men on the hilltops to ambush and rob everyone who passed by, and this was reported to Abimelech. Now Gaal son of Ebed moved with his brothers into Shechem, and its citizens put their confidence in him. After they had gone out into the fields and gathered the grapes and trodden them, they held a festival in the temple of their god. While they were eating and drinking, they cursed Abimelech.
Then Gaal son of Ebed said, ‘Who is Abimelech, and who is Shechem, that we should be subject to him? Isn't he Jerub-Baal's son, and isn't Zebul his deputy? Serve the men of Hamor, Shechem's father! Why should we serve Abimelech? If only this people were under my command! Then I would get rid of him. I would say to Abimelech, 'Call out your whole army!'’
When Zebul the governor of the city heard what Gaal son of Ebed said, he was very angry. Under cover he sent messengers to Abimelech, saying, ‘Gaal son of Ebed and his brothers have come to Shechem and are stirring up the city against you. Now then, during the night you and your men should come and lie in wait in the fields. In the morning at sunrise, advance against the city. When Gaal and his men come out against you, do whatever your hand finds to do.’
So Abimelech and all his troops set out by night and took up concealed positions near Shechem in four companies. Now Gaal son of Ebed had gone out and was standing at the entrance to the city gate just as Abimelech and his soldiers came out from their hiding place. When Gaal saw them, he said to Zebul [who is NOT his friend], ‘Look, people are coming down from the tops of the mountains!’ Zebul replied, ‘You mistake the shadows of the mountains for men.’
But Gaal spoke up again: ‘Look, people are coming down from the center of the land, and a company is coming from the direction of the soothsayers' tree.’ Then Zebul said to him, ‘Where is your big talk now, you who said, 'Who is Abimelech that we should be subject to him?' Aren't these the men you ridiculed? Go out and fight them!’
So Gaal led out the citizens of Shechem and fought Abimelech.
[You know, there is no one to root for in this story. They are bad guys! They are the bad guys fighting the bad guys. I hate movies like that. The only good part is that they all lose. V.40]
Abimelech chased him, and many fell wounded in the flight–all the way to the entrance to the gate. Abimelech stayed in Arumah, and Zebul drove Gaal and his brothers out of Shechem.
[Abimelech wins round one.]
The next day the people of Shechem went out to the fields, and this was reported to Abimelech. [They are vulnerable there.] So he took his men, divided them into three companies and set an ambush in the fields. When he saw the people coming out of the city, he rose to attack them. Abimelech and the companies with him rushed forward to a position at the entrance to the city gate. Then two companies rushed upon those in the fields and struck them down.
All that day Abimelech pressed his attack against the city until he had captured it and killed its people. Then he destroyed the city and scattered salt over it.
On hearing this, the citizens in the tower of Shechem went into the stronghold of the temple of El-Berith. When Abimelech heard that they had assembled there, he and all his men went up Mount Zalmon. He took an ax and cut off some branches, which he lifted to his shoulders. He ordered the men with him, ‘Quick! Do what you have seen me do!’
So all the men cut branches and followed Abimelech. They piled them against the stronghold and set it on fire over the people inside. So all the people in the tower of Shechem, about a thousand men and women, also died.
[Abimelech wins round number two. And a fire went out from the thornbush king. V.50]
Next Abimelech went to Thebez and besieged it and captured it. Inside the city, however, was a strong tower, to which all the men and women–all the people of the city–fled. They locked themselves in and climbed up on the tower roof.
Abimelech went to the tower and stormed it. But as he approached the entrance to the tower to set it on fire, a woman dropped an upper millstone on his head and cracked his skull. Hurriedly he called to his armor-bearer, ‘Draw your sword and kill me, so that they can't say, 'A woman killed him.'’ So his servant ran him through, and he died. When the Israelites saw that Abimelech was dead, they went home.”
What’s the point?
“Thus God repaid the wickedness that Abimelech had done to his father by murdering his seventy brothers. God also made the men of Shechem pay for all their wickedness. The curse of Jotham son of Jerub-Baal came on them.”
And that is what happens to all of God’s enemies.
They receive the justice they deserve.
Did you know that the Bible says that judgment is coming on sinners for their INGRATITUDE?
We were given life and breath and everything and then spurned it.
Romans 1 says, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
Ingratitude is at the root of sin.
And it earns for us the wrath of God.
The thing I like about the Judges chapter 9 is that justice is done and seen to be done.
What feels like just a personal vendetta is actually (verses 56-57), the LORD working out his perfect justice.
God is just.
If you ever wonder if justice is going to be done on the Earth, worry no more.
Justice will be done and will be seen to be done.
But there is something even better that is also going on.
It isn’t in Judges 9, but it runs throughout the Bible and is centered on Jesus.
And that is grace.
There was a man who could really have the name Abimelech, “My Father is King.”
And He allowed His father to put Him to death for you and me.
“Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
My Father is King, Jesus Said.
And His Father Said, “This Is My Son With Whom I Well Pleased.”
And He gives us grace.
What we do not deserve.
For all who turn from their sins and put their trust in Jesus.
Rejoice in the Salvation of the Lord!
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