Gideon is an interesting judge. The Bible gives us three chapters about key events in his life. Some of what he does inspires us and provides an example to follow. Yet he does other things we should certainly avoid. But aren’t we all like that, with both strengths and weaknesses?
In our first story Gideon is threshing wheat in a winepress. If this seems weird, that’s because it is. But he’s afraid of having his grain stolen by the Midianites, so he’s working in an unlikely place where they may not notice him.
Then God’s angel shows up, addresses him as a mighty warrior, and tells him to go in his own strength to save his people. Gideon questions the angel, and God’s emissary must prove himself to the fearful man.
After doing so, he tells Gideon to destroy his father’s altar to Baal. Gideon does, but he does so at night for fear of the townspeople. When they find out what he did, they want to kill him, but his father intercedes and stops them.
We best know Gideon, however, for putting out a fleece to determine God’s will. Although Gideon has already marshaled an army to attack his enemy, he asks God if he will prevail, even though the Almighty has already promised he will.
Gideon’s test is simple. He’ll lay a ball of wool—a fleece—on the ground. If the morning dew falls only on the wool and not the ground, Gideon will conclude he’ll be victorious. The next morning the wool is dripping wet. The surrounding area is dry.
Yet Gideon doubts. He repeats the test, this time requesting the opposite outcome. The next morning, the wool is dry and the ground, wet. At this second confirmation, he believes God.
Many have followed Gideon’s example of “putting out a fleece” to determine God’s will. Yet we should note that God doesn’t tell us to do this. Instead, the Bible merely describes what Gideon did, without commenting on the wisdom of doing so.
This story shows both Gideon’s lack of confidence in God and the Almighty’s patience with his doubtful servant.
Next, God tells Gideon his army of 32,000 is too big. The people will see the victory and assume they did it on their own. God desires a smaller force to prove his hand in the outcome.
Whittling the army down to three hundred, Gideon moves forward in confident faith to victory, which God orchestrates.
After this, the people want to make Gideon their king. He declines, reminding them that God is their king.
Yet, after this wise response, Gideon foolishly collects a gold earring from each man’s plunder. He uses this to make a golden ephod (a ceremonial garment), which the people worship instead of God.
Though Gideon at times acts with bravery, faith, and wisdom, he also doubts, tests God, and makes a foolish decision, which mark his legacy.
In what ways are we like Gideon? What lessons can we learn from his life?
A lifelong student of the Bible, Peter DeHaan, PhD, wrote the 1,000-page website ABibleADay.com to encourage people to explore the Bible. His main blog and many books urge Christians to push past the status quo and reconsider how they practice their faith in every area of their lives.