Suffering is often a powerful test of who we really are. Suffering exposes our values, our faith and our hearts. When we first meet Gideon he is suffering, facing powerful enemies, hardship and poverty. This suffering exposes the bitterness and unbelief of his heart. Back in 6.13 we learn that Gideon understands what God is doing (judging His disobedient people), but angrily resents it. Sounds like you and me often when we suffer: we do know that God is in charge, but we really don’t trust how He uses His sovereignty when our lives our tough. Suffering often exposes our resentments.
There is another test, which is arguably more effective for exposing who we really are: and that is success. It’s as we experience success that we discover if we really are humble, thankful, and trusting. Success tests us to see if we are proud, and if we will grow proud with our successes. We see how success brings this exposure again and again in the world as well as in the Bible. In the world, we’ve lost count of honourable politicians who’ve worked so hard to enter public office, but who then fail once they’ve achieved the position they’ve sacrificed to win. In the Bible, it’s when the people enter the Promised Land and have initial successes in their conquest, that they soon give into complacency and false religion.
So it is in Judges 8. God has done the impossible, and destroyed an unconquerable force through a little squad of soldiers. Israel is on top of the world! And Gideon’s currency has rocketed, too, as the leader of the nation. So they’ll live godly and happy lives ever after, won’t they? Will they heck!
Success so often brings squabbles, pride and unhappiness. First it’s the Ephraimites (8.1). They’re cross at other people’s success, and bitter that they didn’t have a slice of it for themselves. Wise Gideon turns aside their accusing and angry question with a gentle answer (vv.2-3, cf Prov.15.1), and the situation is diffused. That’s just the beginning, though: next up it’s the men of Succoth, followed by the men of Peniel (vv.6-9). They all give the same sour-feared reaction and refusal to help Gideon and his men in this mop-up operation against the fleeing Midianites. Are they reasonable? No, they’re envious. They envy Gideon’s success, and probably resent what will be Gideon’s increasing power in the nation which will threaten theirs.
After another astonishing success (vv.10-13) Gideon catches up with the men of Succoth, and then of Peniel, and does exactly what he threatened he would; there’s humiliation, and bloodshed (vv.13-17). After putting some of God’s covenant people to the sword, Gideon does the same to God’s enemies (vv.18-21). And this is Gideon’s career. From frightened farmer, he’s shaped into being a man of action, and then with success comes this bloody chapter. What do we make of it?
Firstly, remember that those Israelites who opposed Gideon were wrong. Gideon was God’s leader, so they needed to swallow their pride, and envy, and follow him. But what about Gideon? Was the sword God’s instrument against these albeit stubborn people, or only Gideon’s? Maybe the writer is giving us a clue that he at least doesn’t approve of this judgement: we see Gideon acting alone. No one stands with him as he crushes the disobedient. We find him here at the end where we met him at the beginning, all on his own.
It seems then, that he is another victim of success. Success has many casualties. Success can bring out pride, and selfishness. Success rarely brings us to our knees, at least, not until we’re broken by it. Jesus never trusted success in His earthly life, and never sought it according to the world’s standards. His success was His faith, and His humble service to God in order to redeem lost people.
Success is overrated. Seek God, not success. And if success ever comes your way, never let it capture your heart. Dare not to be a Gideon.