Here is, I. Gideon’s laudable modesty, after his great victory, in refusing the government which the people offered him. 1. It was honest in them to offer it: Rule thou over us, for thou hast delivered us, Jdg. 7:22. They thought it very reasonable that he who had gone through the toils and perils of their deliverance should enjoy the honour and power of commanding them ever afterwards, and very desirable that he who in this great and critical juncture had had such manifest tokens of God’s presence with him should ever afterwards preside in their affairs. Let us apply it to the Lord Jesus: he hath delivered us out of the hands of our enemies, our spiritual enemies, the worst and most dangerous, and therefore it is fit he should rule over us; for how can we be better ruled than by one that appears to have so great an interest in heaven and so great a kindness for this earth? We are delivered that we may serve him without fear, Luke 1:74, 75. 2. It was honourable in him to refuse it: I will not rule over you, Jdg. 7:23. What he did was with a design to serve them, not to rule them—to make them safe, easy, and happy, not to make himself great or honourable. And, as he was not ambitious of grandeur himself, so he did not covet to entail it upon his family: “My son shall not rule over you, either while I live or when I am gone, but the Lord shall still rule over you, and constitute your judges by the special designation of his own Spirit, as he has done.” This intimates, (1.) His modesty, and the mean opinion he had of himself and his own merits. He thought the honour of doing good was recompence enough for all his services, which needed not to be rewarded with the honour of bearing sway. He that is greatest, let him be your minister. (2.) His piety, and the great opinion he had of God’s government. Perhaps he discerned in the people a dislike of the theocracy, or divine government, a desire of a king like the nations, and thought they availed themselves of his merits as a colourable pretence to move for this change of government. But Gideon would by no means admit it. No good man can be pleased with any honour done to himself which ought to be peculiar to God. Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 1 Cor. 1:13.
II. Gideon’s irregular zeal to perpetuate the remembrance of this victory by an ephod made of the choicest of the spoils. 1. He asked the men of Israel to give him the ear-rings of their prey; for such ornaments they stripped the slain of in abundance. These he demanded, either because they were the finest gold, and therefore fittest for a religious use, or because they had had as ear-rings some superstitious signification, which he thought too well of. Aaron called for the ear-rings to make the golden calf of, Exod. 32:2. These Gideon begged Jdg. 8:24. And he had reason enough to think that those who offered him a crown, when he declined it, would not deny him their ear-rings, when he begged them, nor did they, Jdg. 8:25. 2. He himself added the spoil he took from the kings of Midian, which, it should seem, had fallen to his share, Jdg. 8:26. The generals had that part of the prey which was most splendid, the prey of divers colours, Jdg. 5:30. 3. Of this he made an ephod, Jdg. 8:27. It was plausible enough, and might be well intended to preserve a memorial of so divine a victory in the judge’s own city. But it was a very unadvised thing to make that memorial to be an ephod, a sacred garment. I would gladly put the best construction that can be upon the actions of good men, and such a one we are sure Gideon was. But we have reason to suspect that this ephod had, as usual, a teraphim annexed to it (Hos. 3:4), and that, having an altar already built by divine appointment (Jdg. 6:26), which he erroneously imagined he might still use for sacrifice, he intended this for an oracle, to be consulted in doubtful cases. So the learned Dr. Spencer supposes. Each tribe having now very much its government within itself, they were too apt to covet their religion among themselves. We read very little of Shiloh, and the ark there, in all the story of the Judges. Sometimes by divine dispensation, and much oftener by the transgression of men, that law which obliged them to worship only at that one altar seems not to have been so religiously observed as one would have expected, any more than afterwards, when in the reigns even of very good kings the high places were not taken away, from which we may infer that that law had a further reach as a type of Christ, by whose mediation alone all our services are accepted. Gideon therefore, through ignorance or inconsideration, sinned in making this ephod, though he had a good intention in it. Shiloh, it is true, was not far off, but it was in Ephraim, and that tribe had lately disobliged him (Jdg. 7:1), which made him perhaps not care to go so often among them as his occasions would lead him to consult the oracle, and therefore he would have one nearer home. However this might be honestly intended, and at first did little hurt, yet in process of time, (1.) Israel went a whoring after it, that is, they deserted God’s altar and priesthood, being fond of change, and prone to idolatry, and having some excuse for paying respect to this ephod, because so good a man as Gideon had set it up, and by degrees their respect to it grew more and more superstitious. Note, Many are led into false ways by one false step of a good man. The beginning of sin, particularly of idolatry and will-worship, is as the letting forth of water, so it has been found in the fatal corruptions of the church of Rome; therefore leave it off before it be meddled with. (2.) It became a snare to Gideon himself, abating his zeal for the house of God in his old age, and much more to his house, who were drawn by it into sin, and it proved the ruin of the family.
III. Gideon’s happy agency for the repose of Israel, Jdg. 8:28. The Midianites that had been so vexatious gave them no more disturbance. Gideon, though he would not assume the honour and power of a king, governed as a judge, and did all the good offices he could for his people; so that the country was in quietness forty years. Hitherto the times of Israel had been reckoned by forties. Othniel judged forty years, Ehud eighty—just two forties, Barak forty, and now Gideon forty, providence so ordering it to bring in mind the forty years of their wandering in the wilderness. Forty years long was I grieved with this generation. And see Eccl. 4:6. After these, Eli ruled forty years (1 Sam. 4:18), Samuel and Saul forty (Acts 13:21), David forty, and Solomon forty. Forty years is about an age.