Monday, October 11, 2010

The Snare

And it became a snare to Gideon and his family (Judges 8:27).

I have long loved the story of Gideon. Maybe because I see elements of the story that mean there just might be hope for me. God uses Gideon in a powerful way – but as for Gideon himself, he’s a stew of reluctance and doubt simmering over flames of caution and fear.

You can almost see Gideon looking around for someone else when God’s angel appears and says “The Lord is with you mighty warrior.” He doesn’t recognize himself in that greeting. Mighty warrior? Even we as readers are amused at this. Gideon is found by the angel threshing grain in the confines of a winepress. He’s cowering, guarding what he has from Israel’s enemy, the Midianites. Bent over in the winepress, Gideon hardly seems mighty, more wimp than warrior.

And once Gideon realizes that there’s no one else around to take up the mighty warrior mantle, he doesn’t fall to the ground in awe-struck humility. No, he’s got some questions. Times have been hard for the Israelites, and as far as Gideon is concerned God’s got some explaining to do. He gets right to the point with the angel. “If Gods is with us, why have all these things happened to us?”

Plenty of you woke up today asking the same question. You’d like to have faith and believe; you’ve tried to pray – but if God is really at work in this world why is the world such a mess? And if God cars the slightest bit about you and your life why have these things – whatever they might be – happened to you. I like that Gideon asked such a question, wanting to follow in obedience but needing assurances and then reassurances on top of that.

God bears patiently with Gideon. Giving signs: dry fleece and wet ground, wet ground and dry fleece. And then there’s the battle we’ve anticipated since the story started. God reduces Gideon’s force of 3000 to a mere 300. And then gives victory.

I love that. I need regular reminding that God works in just that way, stepping in with power when we’ve come to the end of our own strength and smarts and connections. This is how God gains glory – and glory is the one thing God refuses to share with other being.

Which brings us to the matter of idols and idolatry, our focus these days.

I had never seen until very recently that the story of Gideon begins and ends in idolatry. The discovery was a let-down for me, a tainting of Gideon’s otherwise ordinary image. But once again, this may be a part of Gideon’s story that tells us something that’s painfully true about all of us.

At the story’s beginning Israel’s neck is under the oppressive boot of Midian. Midian raids Israel at just the right time, waiting until harvest is ready then burning fields and storehouses. But all the while, ironically, Israel is worshipping Midian’s god Baal. And on top of that, Gideon’s father is the local Baal priest. The first thing Gideon has to do is destroy the altar his father has made to a foreign god. Destroy the altar, take the shards of ruined wood and stone and build another altar to Israel’s true God.

Having destroyed his Dad’s Ball altar, Gideon goes on to defeat the Midianites. All seems well. But at the end of the story, when Gideon is on top of his game and the people are ready to follow his leadership, he collects their jewelry and builds – of all things – another idol.

Gideon made the gold into an ephod . . . all Israel prostituted themselves by worshipping it there and it became a snare to Gideon and his family (Judges 8:27). As I said – that bothered me. Maybe it bothers you too. Why would he do that, especially after God had blessed him with a stunning military victory?

He did that for the same reason we do it. Our idols possess a powerful pull on our souls. As we start this journey together we ought to be honest enough to admit that this won’t be easy. Idolatry keeps dogging our heels. We don’t destroy our idols once and forget it. As with Gideon – they come back, even as we seek to live our faith. The idol becomes a snare, trapping us, tripping us.

What idol keeps rearing its head in your life? What has become a snare to you, refusing to leave you alone?

God, help me to do more than simply name my idols; give me the fortitude I need to dismantle them – over and over again. Keep me alert to the persistent lure of idolatry in all its forms. Guard me from that which could so easily become a snare in my life. I ask this in the name of your son Jesus. Amen.

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