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.