The depths of moral bankruptcy seem to know no bottom, do they? We are inundated with opinion pieces masquerading as news in which a victim is portrayed as the aggressor in the Israeli-Gazan conflict. The newsreaders display their lack of principles as they attempt to portray some measure of moral equivalence between the culture of death which rules in Gaza and the democratic, peace-seeking culture of Israel. Will we soon see sympathetic portraits of the Somali pirates?
Sarah Palin was savaged mercilessly during her ninety days in the public spotlight. Her rise through public service was belittled and searched for scandal. The Palin family was trashed and portrayed as ‘Deliverance’ extras, pregnant in their mukluks with questions about lineage paraded across the front page. All this because she proudly stands up for her conservative principles. While all this was happening, the media at large happily avoided any difficult questions of the principles or beliefs of the next president that they so gleefully carried into office. Obfuscations dismissed, questionable relationships ignored, morality murdered.
Perhaps the most disturbing trend that has been developing for some time but is now reaching its zenith is the ascendance of the ‘celebrity pastor.’ These men (and women) have become consumed with self-aggrandizement and promotion. It is especially apparent in the blogosphere where their posts are couched in introductions in which they are “humbled” to have preached at four distant churches on one Sunday as they remind us of how great they have become. Shouldn’t people who have been redeemed and gifted through no aspect of their own character seek out a true humility? True achievement is recognized by others, not ourselves.
Is there anything left in the till for a bailout here?
Psalm 20 reminds us of an often neglected responsibility for disciples of the Savior, to pray for our leaders (1 Tim 2:1-4). Whether you may have voted for a leader or find yourself in opposition, the Christian is called to exercise his or her intercessory moments and seek wisdom, guidance, and protection for the authorities recognizing all the while that God’s providence directs the course of history. This psalm was used to seek these God given tools for the king before he went out to war and can offer the same things to a current leader who faces an immensely complex world.
May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
May he send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion.
May he remember all your sacrifices and accept your burnt offerings. (vv 1-3)
The psalmist takes an interesting turn in his form in verse six. In exuberance, a liturgist proclaims loudly the truth of the psalm’s words, bursting forth with a proclamation of assurance for the effectual nature of the believers prayer. Our modern prayers can lead us to the same confidence if we approach them fervently and humbly, confident in God’s course and not insistent on our own ways.
Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed; he answers him from his holy heaven with the saving power of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm. (vv 6-8)
No sooner had Gideon died than the Israelites again prostituted themselves to the Baals. They set up Baal-Berith 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. (Judges 8:33-34)
Finishing well may be toughest part of life. Adrenalin and zeal can often set us off on a very high trajectory but if we come crashing back down, it is only the end that people are going to remember. So it is for Gideon. Despite his hesitant start, he served the purposes of Yahweh and gave Israel forty years of peace. The armies of Midian were turned back and the people, including Gideon, were able to settle in and raise families under the watchful eye of the Lord. We’re not told of the religious environment during this time but we can surmise that holiness may not have been an emphasis in the land.
What we read is yet another vignette of God’s amazing grace. Despite the Ephod and its distracting effect on the people, God granted them forty years of shalom when they deserved just the opposite. Should we bank on this as normative? Unlikely. Reading the remaining cycles in Judges shows Yahweh’s grace being constrained to shorter and shorter periods. Applying this to our own lives, we should not raise an expectation of continual grace based on our early efforts for God. Holiness is an ongoing effort that requires our continued attention; without it we risk turning our focus back to our idols and off of God. For His leaders, the emphasis is even greater because the legacy that you leave affects many more people than just yourself.
No sooner did we admire Gideon’s faithfulness to the covenant in turning down the monarchy then he seems to forget it in whole. The author of Judges writes in great detail now, hinting at the trouble to come as Gideon strikes an off-the-cuff request. “Give me an earring out of your spoils.” So, he’s trying to enrich himself as their leader. We aren’t shocked by this because of our modern perspective of those who govern us. The Israelites, acting out of their gratitude for being freed from the Midians, quickly respond, spreading out a cloak and filling it with golden ornaments and jewelry.
In yet another unexpected turn, Gideon takes the gold and fashions an ephod out of it. Whether we read this as a part of the high priest’s garments or a pagan idol, the effect is the same. Gideon has created an item of worship that draws the immediate adoration of the Israelites. We read that they prostituted themselves to the idol and, for at least a moment, the covenant was forgotten. The downward spiral gains speed quickly.
In a Judges cycle that has definitely taken an unexpected turn for the worse, we catch a glimmer of hope.
The Israelites said to Gideon, “Rule over us—you, your son and your grandson—because you have saved us out of the hand of Midian.”
But Gideon told them, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The Lord will rule over you.”
At the inappropriate request, Gideon flashes his devotion to the Covenant. “The Lord will rule over you!” The tribes had pledged their absolute allegiance to Yahweh as their king at the base of Mt. Sinai and this near history should not have been lost on the people raising this cry. Certainly, it must have at least crossed someone’s mind that to take Gideon and his sons as a dynasty would have broken their covenant agreement?
Gideon does, and emphatically demonstrates his loyalty to the agreement. This catches our eye so quickly after he has acted impetuously out of his own anger in Succoth and Pineil. For a man with such respect for the covenant and Yahweh’s lordship, he did not hesitate to act in vengeance of his own volition. Maybe the reason this catches our interest is that it all sounds so familiar. We’ve been there. We recognize the struggle to make our actions match our theology. It’s harder than it looks.
After Gideon and his army had routed the entire army of the Midianites and began marching their kings Zebah and Zalmunna back toward the Jordan, he must have been wondering why his Israelite brothers had refused to support him. Angrily he must have decided that they remained turned against Yahweh, unwilling to trust the mission that he had been given. Given the distance of time, do we see the irony in Gideon’s rage against them. They were bypassed by the Midian army but would suffer humiliation and destruction at the hands of God’s judge.
Perhaps the irony is masked by the change we see in Gideon himself. Starting out as hesitant and fearful, he slowly obeys God’s commands and embarks on the restorative mission. Obedience marks this Judges’ cycle until ego and the need for revenge transforms the man. Does he feel that God’s mission gives him permission to act independently to punish Piniel and Succoth? He crosses ‘over the line’ in crossing over the Jordan. Are we at similar risk?
Christian leaders are all tempted by ego and the human desire to get ‘even.’ It’s easy to even momentarily forget that we serve at the pleasure of God and it is His glory alone that should be the result of our service. Obstacles may come, we may have to face struggles that prick our every nerve ending and exhaust the limits of our patience, we may even find ourselves sidelined for a season when we feel as though we should be in the middle of the action but we must maintain our trust in God and the purpose he calls us to.