A Gift Too Big
Listen to “A Gift Too Big” by Fred Smith
Instead of destroying a weakened Israel, the Midianites chose constant humiliation by periodically crossing into Israel and reducing them to living in fear – hiding in mountains and caves.
And it is in hiding that we first meet Gideon.
We know the story. Reluctant to commit with only questions and doubts this is no born general waiting for the opportunity to lead. But God tells him, “Go in the strength you have. Am I not sending you?” What possible strengths does God see in this man in hiding? There is, however, a consistent theme in his life. He is fearful and full of doubts but he obeys. His strength is not so much courage as it is obedience in spite of second thoughts and hesitations.
Gideon needed a very small force with particular skills: Another strength in that the whole battle plan was reverse logic. He didn’t try to inspire 32,000 men. He could hardly inspire himself.
Everything was unexpected. Everything was an innovation. Everything was a surprise. This was Gideon’s genius he never before realized. Like threshing wheat in the winepress, he found creative solutions to intractable problems. He discovered his ability to do the unexpected and show others how to do the same. And this was the turning point for him as a leader. “Watch me. Follow my lead. Do exactly as I do.”
General Patton used to say, “If you need me you can always find me in the lead tank.” What Gideon learned about himself he taught to others.
It’s a complete reversal of military theory, but it works. And the Midianites are themselves humiliated.
The story should end there for a happy conclusion. It should have been he routs the enemy and retires – like Cincinnatus the Roman General who was called from plowing his field to defend Rome. He defeated the enemy and two weeks later returned to the farm.
Instead, something else happens for Gideon.
After the victory, Israel begs him to rule over them but he declines. However, he asks for something inconsequential – a single earring from each man’s share of the plunder. Gideon took the gold and made it into an ephod – the priest’s way for determining the will of God – which he placed in his home town. “All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family.”
Gideon turned down the offer to rule while preferring something far worse. His choice was not wealth and responsibility but, instead, what men from humble circumstances often desire – stature, influence, recognition, and a good life. Gideon wanted spiritual power and that is more dangerous and seductive than secular power.
It was an easy but disastrous transition from God-given gift to creating a snare.
It would have been obvious for people to look at his life and recognize how many times he had used creative ways to discover the mind of God. He laid out the fleece. He heard the dream of the Midianite. God had time and again showed him what he wanted him to do. It was only natural for the Israelites to think Gideon was a special person with a unique relationship to God – and he was but he turned it into something counterfeit.
Gideon was, in effect, setting up his own center of worship in his hometown. The one least expected to succeed from a backwater town was going to show the nation what God had done through him. It was not enough to have been used by God … and then retire. He needed more than that.
More than a Presidential Library he wanted the people to come to him to hear from God.
He longed for something more grasping than being king. His ambition was to use what God had done for his own purposes. Gideon was seduced by his own success – and took others with him: “Watch what I do. Follow my lead. For the Lord and for Gideon.” Those very strengths led him into a life of prestige, influence and corruption. Not just personal corruption but his family and the whole nation of Israel prostituted themselves there. It’s sadly ironic that the young man who tore down altars to false gods builds his own when he is old.
It’s a story of innovation, discovering unique strength, and being a player for a moment in time when God uses the least likely person. But it is also a warning to those who are tempted by adulation, approval, and the natural desire of people being associated with success.
My father used to say about certain people: “They come to believe they are as big as the gift God has given them.” That is the story and the tragedy of Gideon.
This is an excerpt from “Where The Light Divides“