Hitherto Gideon had been marvellously preserved amidst dangers and snares. His heart was still full of good intentions; but a subtle poison had been doing its work in his heart, and we are about to witness the ruin of the career of the judge, as formerly we have seen the ruin of the people.
"And Gideon said unto them, I would desire a request of you, that ye would give me every man the earrings of his prey;" a request with which the people willingly complied. Gideon did not covet these things as Achan did, when he brought judgment upon Israel. He was noble‑hearted and disinterested, and wished to make a good use of the gold. Aaron, of old, had asked for their ornaments to make therewith the calf of gold. Jerubbaal, who had cast down the idols, in no wise sought to set them up again; but, impressed with the sense of his own importance, he wished to erect a memorial of his victory at Ophrah, his native town. This memorial was to be an ephod, an article of divine appointment. It formed part of the vestments which the sacrificing priest wore when representing the people before God. It was indeed a beautiful object, yet in Jehovah's eyes it was worthless, apart from the high priest who wore it. Alas! all Israel looked upon this ephod as a means of approach to God, and went and prostrated themselves before it. Even Gideon and his house fell into the snare.
Christendom is no stranger to ephods. Many are the things of divine appointment which it has apart from Christ and by which it imagines that it can approach God. The church, ministry, baptism, the Lord's supper, and even prayer, separated from their source, become ephods before which people prostrate themselves. Form takes the place of God, and souls thereby fall again into idolatry. Ah! do they not even make an idol of Christ on the cross! The brasen serpent had been kept and the people had made a false god of it. Like the faithful Hezekiah, the true witness of the present day cannot put up with that. The king brake in pieces this idol, and called it Nehushtan, i. e., a piece of brass (2 Kings 18: 4).
What a humbling fact, that the leaders of the people should be the instruments to lead them back into idolatry! Frequently, after an auspicious beginning, the heart, allowing itself to be acted upon by the flattery of the world, is influenced thereby, and the desire gradually gains ground to be of some importance in, as well as recognized by, it. A monument is thus erected which can only add material to the increase of the ruin; thus their Ophrah became a gathering centre, and the ephod became a centre of Ophrah, to the displacement of the divine sanctuary at Shiloh, the true centre of gathering for Israel. Gideon was not a proud man, but, his heart being deceived, he was no longer upright before God. He dwelt in his own house (v. 29), and rested from his glorious labours. He was surrounded by a numerous family, but he had set up a "serpent" which was eventually to accomplish the destruction of his race. No sooner had he closed his eyes in death, thanIsrael returned to unmixed idolatry, and made Baal‑berith their god (v. 33), thus making a demon their chief and "Lord of the covenant."
But there is one consolation in the midst of all the ruin which will be seen in chap. 9: God never leaves Himself without a testimony in this scene. Let us then be His witnesses, holding fast this word of Gideon to the people: "Jehovah shall rule over you."