God allowed Israel’s enemies to dominate them. When they cried out to God for deliverance, He sent judges to deliver them from oppression. The record of Gideon’s leadership in Judges 6-8 demonstrates that God was reigning over the events in Israel. Since God was the ultimate Deliverer of His people, He was unwilling to share His glory with any of the judges, Gideon included.
Gideon was called to deliver Israel from Midian, a nation related to Israel through Abraham (see Gen 25:1-3). They had ruled God’s people for seven years (Judg 6:1). Israel’s situation was so bad that they had been reduced to cave-dwellers and “became poverty-stricken” (Judg 6:2-6). God reminded the people that their situation was not His intent but rather the result of their disobedience (Judg 6:7-10). In this situation the Angel of the Lord called Gideon (Judg 6:11-14), and Gideon responded by asking, “How can I deliver Israel? Look, my family is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father’s house” (Judg 6:15). Gideon was so weak in faith that he asked for signs to affirm that God was speaking with him (Judg 6:17-24) and that God would indeed deliver Israel through him (Judg 6:33-40). Gideon’s tepid spirit caused him to destroy his father’s altar to Baal only under the cover of the night (Judg 6:25-32).
To deliver His people from Midian, God employed a feeble Judge, an undersized army, and awkward battle strategy. While Gideon and company were camped just south of Midian, “the LORD said to Gideon, ‘You have too many people for Me to hand the Midianites over to you, or else Israel might brag: ‘I did it myself’” (Judg 7:2). After thinning the troops of Israel at the spring of Harod (Judg 7:4-8), the Lord fortified Gideon’s feeble heart as he and Purah heard the Midianites’ fearful confession that God had given Midian into the hands of His people (Judg 7:9-14). Indeed, Gideon’s saber was left spotless as “the LORD set the swords of each man in the (Midianite) army against each other” (Judg 7:22) when the pitchers were shattered and the Israelites blew their 300 trumpets (Judg 7:15-23).
The remainder of the story of Gideon shows what happens to a man who, although nothing in-and-of himself, takes credit for God’s work through him. Gideon’s descent began when Gideon compared his success with that of others, falsely praising their efforts beyond his own (Judg 7:24-8:3). Gideon even used his allies for his own glory (Judg 8:4-21). Gideon gave lip service to God while building a golden altar to himself and placing it in his hometown of Ophrah where Israel would come to prostitute themselves before it (Judg 8:22-27). “It became a snare to Gideon and his household,” the author wrote (Judg 8:27).
In the end, Israel resembled Gideon. Just as Gideon had used people for his own ends, likewise, “They did not show kindness to the house of Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) for all the good he had done for Israel” (Judg 8:35). Despite the unfaithfulness of Gideon’s later days, the author of Hebrews set forth Gideon as an example of faith for his audience. Gideon was the first of four Judges listed as heroes of faith in Hebrews 11. But the author of Hebrews had more in mind in Heb 11:32 than recalling his audience to the sublime story of Gideon’s leadership, or the stories of Barak (Judges 4-5), Samson (Judges 13-16), and Jephthah (Judges 11-12). The author of Hebrews wished to make clear that Gideon’s ministry took place before the days of perfection, before the promises were fulfilled, before God provided better things in Christ. In Hebrews 11, like so many places in the New Testament, the argument is from the lesser to the greater. If God used Gideon—of the weakest family in his tribe and least in his father’s house (Judg 6:15)—to accomplish so much, what might God have for those who live in the days of fulfillment? Hebrews 11 concludes, “All these (Gideon and the Old Testament saints) were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be perfect without us” (Heb 11:39-40).