When I look at Gideon, a great warrior in the Bible, I ask, “What constitutes great leadership? What propels a person beyond the normal? Why do some people fall from leadership, while others rise above?”
Did Gideon’s father and mother see greatness in their squirmy, newborn son when they chose his name. Gideon means great warrior, great destroyer, one who smites and cuts down, leaving only a stump. He entered the world while Deborah, another magnificent judge, led Israel to victory and renewed worship of God.
How quickly Israel forgot, abandoning their God for lesser things! So God, for a season, abandoned them to their enemies. Hordes of Midianites swarmed upon their land, completely decimating everything in their path.
“Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds.”
While hiding like lizards in the caves, they cried out to God for help. God responded, sending a prophet to confront their idolatry and wickedness.
Every time someone spoke his name, Gideon was reminded of the greatness encrypted on His life. However, the evidence of such greatness hid as illusively as the people within the mountain caves.
God often speaks suddenly when we least expect it.
“When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, ‘The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.'”
“Warrior!?” I can almost imagine Gideon looking around, sure that someone else was hiding with him in the winepress.
Though, God spoke truth about his identity and purpose, Gideon hesitated and resisted. He even quarreled with the LORD. “Look! God isn’t with us! He has absolutely abandoned us!”
Gideon saw only depressing and oppressive circumstances. God looked and saw Gideon, a great warrior. Gideon preferred to settle — to seek whatever shelter, safety, or comfort he could, hoping someone else, anyone else, would correct the situation.
The LORD is With You
God listened to Gideon’s complaint for a while.
“The LORD answered, ‘I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.”
“You, Gideon, a mighty warrior, arise! Strike down all your enemies.”
We may try to debate, hesitate, and procrastinate when God presses us into the impossible. Yet God invites us to situations where only He can see us through.
“The LORD turned to him and said, ‘Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”
God doesn’t pump up Gideon’s ego or remind him of all the wonderful attributes he possesses. God points to Gideon’s inadequacy. The Hebrew word for “strength” used here has a double meaning. First, koah means power or strength, but it also refers a long, slender reptile considered unclean to Israel.
“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not — to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.”
1 Corinthians 1:27-29
What made Gideon a great warrior wasn’t his name, his character, or his stature. God made Gideon a great warrior. May we always remember that it is only through Him and by Him we accomplish anything, big or small.
“I will be with you” should be the only God response we need! Godly leaders know it takes God’s strength to overcome “lizard” tendencies. He brings worth and value to everything He does and everyone He calls. He is enough!
The LORD is Peace
When Gideon acknowledges the littleness of himself and the power of God’s Presence, he swings into action.
“So Gideon built an altar to the LORD there and called it The LORD Is Peace . . .”
Worship shifts us from apathy and self-protection to God direction. The only peace any of us experience comes through following God whole-heartedly. In following Him, we fight. Most of us won’t face the battle Gideon faced, but we all have the same enemy, satan, who seeks to obliterate us, our families, and our nations.
Every step we walk with God into the battle, He fills and surrounds us with His peace. Peace holds the implication of the permanence of wholeness, completeness, soundness, health, safety, and prosperity. But in moving toward peace, we must deal with our unclean, “lizard” nature that operates contrary to God.
Cut it Down
Gideon’s name comes from the Hebrew verb “gada,” also meaning to hew down or cut off, mostly of religious regalia and holy trees. Strikingly, there are no nouns formed from this verb, suggesting that whatever was cut off, was even cut off from speech itself. Gideon, a great warrior, must first become a hacker who hews down familiar idols!
“That same night the LORD said to him . . . ‘Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it. Then build a proper kind of altar to the LORD your God on the top of this height . . .'”
“Cut it down, Gideon! Destroy all foreign worship that you, and your own father, and your own community depended on. Then build Me an altar,” God commands.
Despite fearing the outcome, Gideon obeyed. During the night, Gideon stepped into the beginning of his call. That very night, courage pushed through, little strength proved enough. In dark obscurity, the evidence of his greatness shone.
“Now all the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples joined forces and crossed over the Jordan and camped in the Valley of Jezreel.”
The moment we choose to live for God, we can expect the enemy to push back and the battle to intensify. Godly leaders know when to fight. They refuse to back down.
Gideon sounded the trumpet, calling his people to battle. God immediately thinned Gideon’s army of thousands to three hundred. He wanted everyone to know this was His victory, not man’s. What a victory it was! A hundred and twenty thousand enemy swordsmen fell that day. Only two kings, Zebah and Zalmunna, with fifteen thousand remained.
Gideon kept up the pressure.
“Zebah and Zalmunna, the two kings of Midian, fled, but he pursued them, routing their entire army.”
Gideon’s story didn’t exactly start well. It doesn’t end extremely well either. Gideon followed God after much deliberation and hesitation. He finished the same way.
God instructed Gideon. “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.”
Gideon almost finishes the task. His army annihilated the joint forces of the entire eastern army except for the remaining two kings — Zebah and Zalmunna.
“Turning to Jether, his oldest son, he said, ‘Kill them!’ But Jether did not draw his sword, because he was only a boy and was afraid.”
Gideon passed the sword to his young son, expecting someone else to finish what he had both the power and authority to fulfill. Gideon started his journey by prodding God to choose someone else, anyone else. Now, at the end, he pulls back again. How tragic.
“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 the camels’ necks.”
The word Gideon’s enemies used for “strength” refers to the LORD’s mighty hand that delivers His people.
“Now this I know that the LORD saves His anointed. He will answer him from his holy heaven with the saving strength of His right hand.”
Psalm 20:6 NKJV
Even before Gideon completed his mission, he became distracted by the gold ornaments around the camel’s necks. After asking each of his fighting men for a gold earring from their spoils, he created a new idol, an un-god, to worship, repeating the sins of his fathers and perpetuating it to his sons.
“Gideon made the gold into an ephod, which he placed in Ophrah, his town. All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it here, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family.”
Anger rises in me as I read these verses. Through God, Gideon broke the generational strongholds of idolatry his father committed. Through God, Gideon united Israel to fight and defeat enemy invaders. Gideon even destroyed the leaders who murdered his own brothers (Judges 8:19).
Instead of returning to the altar he built and dedicated to the LORD, Gideon reached for the ornaments of gold. He turned back to his “lizard” ways, worshiping frozen gods made with human hands.
What if? What if Gideon would have walked with God in whole-hearted devotion rather than reluctant obedience. How different his story would end!
We may draw many key principles from Gideon’s wins and losses.
God challenges me through Gideon’s failure in several ways:
- Step into whatever open door God provides without excuses or hesitation.
- Do not shun opportunities, ministries, or leadership roles that He opens.
- Acknowledge and repent of my own “lizard” qualities of fear, insecurity, and misplaced dependence.
- Keep my focus on Him, knowing He is the Source of all things good and great.
- Never quit fighting this war between good and evil — whether before the battle, in the battle, or after the battle.
- Pursue God with wholehearted devotion.
- Do not depend on someone else to finish what God has called me start.
- “Build a proper kind of altar to the LORD (my) God,” returning again, and again, to worship Him.
What about you? What challenges is God speaking to you through Gideon’s wins and losses?