Harry Whittaker
Judges And Ruth

10. Gideon’s Ephod (8:22-27)

There follows an episode which many in their bewilderment would almost be glad not to find written in their Bibles. It says: “And Gideon made an ephod thereof (that is,of the gold of the plunder), and put it in his city, even Ophrah. And all Israel went thither a whoring after it, which thing became a snare unto Gideon and to his house.” This word ‘whoring’ is not to be taken in its worst sense, for godly Gideon would never tolerate foul Canaanite practices of this sort. But other facts tell a different story. Gideon had begun as a violent enemy of the Canaanite idolatry. Was not his name Jerubaal? Further, his name stands written for all time in Hebrews 11, among the Lord’s men of faith. The conclusion that Gideon turned idolater must be accepted — can only be accepted — if no other explanation offers itself. Inquiry naturally centres around the word ephod. The ephod was the characteristic garment of the High Priest. And with it was associated an outstanding High Priestly function: that of enquiring of the Lord on behalf of the people, by means of Urim and Thummim.

Here was Gideon, suddenly exalted to the honorable position of judge among his people. He had ever shown a natural inclination to seek plain unequibocal divine guidance in the execution of his duty. Witness for example, his craving a sign from the angel who bade him destroy the altar of Baal. And the double sign which he sought, as some would think needlessly, of the dew on the fleece and on the ground. Consider also how he must needs be given a providential sign from the lips of his enemies before he could bring himself to go out against the Midianites. Could such a man rule an entire people in utter reliance on his own powers and his own wisdom, even if he were disposed so to do? Manifestly, Gideon would have need of constant recourse to explicit divine direction through the Urim and Thummim of the High Priest. But this would mean residence in Shiloh where was the tabernacle of the Lord. Or, at least, it would mean frequent journeys thither.

The problem of Ephraim

Unhappily however, from Gideon’s point of view, Shiloh lay right in the heart of the territory of Ephraim, the tribe with which he had already had trouble. As he considered their hectoring, domineering disposition and their evident lack of respect for him as a God-given leader, Gideon might well hesitate about committing himself to reliance overmuch on Shiloh.

Strange, that men of outstanding faith, in some respects, should be so markedly lacking in faith when faced with problems of a different kind. Similar inconsistency has bee observed in some of the finest servants of the Lord. Such is human nature. And such was Gideon. His human solution of the problem was to make another ephod; to appoint another priest, and presumably to erect another sanctuary in Ophrah of the Abiezrites, at the altar Jehovah-Shalom, which was already consecrated there. Thus he avoided the unhappy difficulty of association with recalcitrant Ephraimites. And from this day forward, men have followed his example, choosing to separate themselves from other people of God’s choice rather than muster the moral courage to trust in God and do what is right.

That Gideon’s motives in this matter were of the highest, can hardly be questioned. But good motives have never been adequate excuse for ignoring divine commandment; and years before this the Holy Spirit had guided Joshua to indicate Shiloh as “the place which the Lord thy God shall choose”. In extenuation of Gideon’s action, it should be urged that fair evidence exists to show that both before and after his time sanctuaries other than Shiloh were in use by the tribes of Israel (see Chapter 26), so that he was only extending an arrangement with which the people were already familiar.

Nevertheless, as the inspired narrative makes plain, he was causing them to err. His misguided example brought an evil harvest in later days, as the later story of Micah the Ephraimite, and his private priest, demonstrated only too clearly. Besides, in this shirking of difficulty, Gideon threw away a magnificent opportunity of welding into one coherent God-fearing nation, the now discrete tribes of Israel. None was better fitted for the task than he. But he allowed himself to be daunted by Ephraim’s cold shoulder, and in consequence, many, many more years were to elapse before there appeared a man after God’s own heart fitted to do that which should have been done by Gideon.

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