What does it say?
The tribe of Ephraim is upset to not be included in the first line of battle against the Midianites (Jud 8). Gideon pacifies them and together they continue neutralizing the enemy. Gideon wisely resists the temptation to become king, pointing to God’s sovereignty. His mistake is making an ephod from the spoils of war. We don’t know the exact nature of the ephod, but it opens the door for idolatry.
Though Gideon refused to be king, his son by a mistress, Abimelech, desires to be king, forms a gang with the Canaanites from his mother’s hometown of Shechem and murders his 70 half-brothers that are legitimate sons of Gideon (Jud 9). Only Jotham escapes, and in response he gives us the first parable (technically a fable) in the Bible promising God’s judgment on Abimelech. Abimelech is the first king mentioned in Israel, but his reign goes no further than the area around Shechem and lasts but for a brief period of terror before Jotham’s curse is fulfilled.
What does it mean?
In just one generation the Israelites have forgotten scripture as the nation spirals downward toward chaos. God pushes forward with his mission, rising up individuals to lead, though they are all flawed. Christian leadership today is no less flawed, but God’s mission moves forward best when flawed individuals submit to live by the authority of scripture and commit to grow toward maturity despite their flaws and learning from mistakes.
One commentator suggests that we go ephod-making today by focusing on seminars, revivals, encounters or by pressing people to “come forward” to rededicate their lives while ignoring the provision God has already given to maintain a state of constant fellowship with man and God – the Lord’s Table.
The story of Abimelech is one of sowing and reaping. The evil spirit in Jud 9:23 that divides Abimelech from his people in Shechem means, in this context, that God allows this to happen. The Hebrew word allows for us to understand this either as a demonic spirit or simply a bad spirit among them in relational sense.
How will I respond?
Am I unwittingly making ephods by trying to solve problems in my own wisdom while forgetting the clear teaching of scripture? What problem or issue can I address today by applying scriptural truth?