Keep his ways, unswerving

Reading of Gideon, the biblical judge (Judges 6-9), is inspiring because of his faithful obedience to God at a time of repeated, gross idolatry in Israel.

At the same time Gideon had serious flaws. But it is not his failings that attract us. The Bible distributors Gideons International (founded 1899) took his name as theirs because “Gideon was a man who was willing to do exactly what God wanted him to do, regardless of his own judgment as to the plans or results.” From 1951-1970, the Reformed journal Torch and Trumpet alluded to Gideon’s courageous faith. And today, Trumpet and Torch Ministry is “devoted to encouraging believers to return, with all their heart, to their first love, Jesus Christ.”

The best known part of Gideon’s story is his rout of the pagan Midianites after God whittled down his army of 10,000 to a mere 300 men – 300 who approached the battlefield with trumpets, and torches in jars (jars which they broke to reveal the torches at the moment of attack). He exhibited deep, decisive faith in that instance. He did so also when he tore down his own father’s altar to Baal and built one for the true God. That took courage; the townspeople wanted to kill him!

But then Gideon’s self-interest vied with his faith. He refused to allow his fellows to make him king over Israel, yet he acted increasingly like a king. He allowed his 70 sons to act like princes; he even named his one illegitimate son “Abimelech,” meaning “my father is king”!

Alternative worship
Gideon made his own private ephod in blatant disobedience to God. The original ephod, a beautifully embroidered vestment worn by the high priest as part of his priestly duties, contained the Urim and Thummim stones used to get yes and no answers from God. Gideon’s self-made ephod may have been a kind of image he formed from gold jewelry given him by grateful Israelites. He essentially set up an alternative worship site at his home and wanted the people to come to him for guidance. While he had just won a spectacular battle by wholly trusting the true God, and even built that altar to God, it seems he hadn’t escaped the spiritual-emotional effects of idolatry in his own father’s house. Indeed, he was in large part to blame when “all Israel prostituted themselves,” by worshiping Gideon’s ephod (Judges 8:27).

Pastor-author Tim Keller concludes in his accessible little book on Judges (Judges for You), “There was a huge and growing gap between what [Gideon] believed about God in his head, and the motives of his heart and the actions of his hands. Gideon’s mistake was a failure to live out what he knew to be true – what Paul in Galatians 2:14 called a failure to (literally) ‘walk in line with the gospel.’”

What we see in Gideon, and what I think can be a comfort if we can recognize it in ourselves, is this (as Keller says): “God does not simply work in spite of our weakness, but because of it. He says that his saving power does not work when we are strong or think we are strong – but rather, when we are weak, and know we are.” In a sense, the good news for us is that Gideon, like so many characters in the Bible, was not wholeheartedly devoted to God at all times. Most of us have the same problem. Yet God used him mightily; and he will use us similarly – despite our failings – “if we but trust in God to guide us.”
If you but trust in God to guide you,
And place your confidence in him,
You’ll find him always there beside you
To give you hope and strength within;
For those who trust God’s changeless love
Build on the Rock that will not move.
Sing, pray and keep his ways unswerving,
Offer your service faithfully,
And trust his word; though undeserving,
You’ll find his promise true to be;
God never will forsake in need
The soul that trusts in him indeed.

Georg Neumark, 1641; tr. CatherineWinkworth, 1863, alt.



  • Marian Van Til is a former CC editor who lived in Canada from 1975-2000. She now freelances for journals and writes books. Marian is also a classical musician and the music director at a Lutheran Church. She and her husband, Ed Cassidy, live in Youngstown, NY.

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