Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, Rule you over us, both you, and your son, and your son's son also…
Many a man does well in times of difficulty and danger who fails entirely in prosperity. It remains for us to see whether Gideon yielded to this greatest of temptations. Did he now allow selfishness instead of faith and duty to become the ruling principle of his life? That question had to be practically answered at the great assembly that was held on his return. He stood there on the pinnacle of glory. He was at once the Wallace and the Bruce of his native land. And his very modesty in claiming so little for himself made his glory greater. Vanquished by his generosity as much as Penuel and Succoth had been vanquished by his arms, Ephraim probably took the lead in the offer of kingly authority that was made to him. That offer was the climax of his natural glory. His rejection of it was the climax of his moral and spiritual glory. Now, were not the proposal and the reason for it good alike? Gideon had undoubtedly displayed every kingly quality — skill in war, wisdom in council, prudent reserve, patient determination, and superiority to every petty motive and desire. There can be no doubt that had it been right for any man to become king then, he was the very man to fill the place. There can be no doubt that the proposal was in many respects prompted by right feeling, and in some respects a wise one. But the leaders of Israel did not fully understand the wants of their age. Looked at either spiritually or politically, kingly rule would then have been premature. It was needful that God should still manifest His presence at times in direct and striking ways. The nation had not learnt the truth of His continual presence. They had not learnt this truth sufficiently to warrant its being even partially obscured by the intervention of a single human ruler. Neither, considering the question in its lower, its political, aspect, was there yet enough cohesion or common feeling among the tribes to enable them to work permanently together as a united people. Now, I do not say that such reasons for rejecting the offer made to him were distinctly present to the mind of Gideon; but we can see them now, and he was guided aright by the instinctive entering into the mind of God, the instinctive comprehension of the Divine plan, which is one of the choicest gifts that God confers on those who live in close communion with Him. The very fault of Israel in not recognising the hand of God, and in offering the crown on that account to Gideon, was made the occasion of setting emphatically before them the very truth they needed — the occasion of gathering up for them the spiritual meaning of the whole of this portion of their history. Thus, by his faithfulness and self-denial, Gideon became the means of bringing spiritual benefits to his people as real and more enduring than the political and social ones that his sword had won. And so the time came at last when God's immediate presence got to be recognised in some such real though confused, imperfect way as truths do get recognised among men. The time arrived for Jehovah retiring, so to speak, somewhat into the background when He appointed David, the man after His own heart, to take His place visibly. And this brings us to the point at which Gideon is no longer a guiding light, but a beacon to warn us of our danger. Very rightly had he read in all that had occurred the lesson that it was Jehovah, and in the meantime Jehovah only and immediately, that must govern Israel. Very nobly had he refused power in which he would have delighted, in order that he might get this lesson impressed upon his people. But at this point he grew impatient at the people's dulness, and at the slowness of the evolution of the scheme of Providence. He had done much to make Israel feel the nearness of the God whom he trusted in and loved so fervently. Might he not now take a further and more influential step? Might not means be devised by which this wonderful deliverance could be effectually commemorated, and coming generations be made really to feel that it was Jehovah alone that had delivered or that could deliver? Thus he would help on God's plan by his own shrewd contrivance. With this object he took advantage of the enthusiasm that prevailed — an enthusiasm of admiration for himself that was only heightened by his refusal of the crown, unwelcome though that refusal was. He asked for a certain portion of the spoil, and it was placed at once at his disposal. With this he made an ephod and placed it in his own city, Ophrah. In all this Gideon greatly erred. His natural fondness for devices and his skill in shrewd contrivance, kept in check till now, and made useful by his living faith and strict obedience, had led him at last astray. Forming plans of his own without being in direct communion with the God who had guided him till now, he failed to meet the wants of his time; nay, he pandered to its most dangerous vices. That happened here which happens so continually in the Church's tangled story. Excessive reverence for the past was made a substitute for walking with the personal God in the living present. It is sad that one who had believed so steadfastly, one who had served so well and done so much, should thus, through impatience and self-will, have stumbled at the end. Yet even this bears its lesson with it — the lesson that even in the noblest of God's servants we cannot find a perfect model; that in communion with the present Spirit we must learn for ourselves to judge concerning what is to be admired and what to be only shunned in the very best and greatest of mankind. One perfect example there is, but only one: He who is man, but also more than man, and who is our pattern most of all in this — that, Son of God and head of humanity as He was, He yet did in each particular, not His own will, but the will of the Father that had sent Him.
(W. Miller, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Then the men of Israel said unto Gideon, Rule thou over us, both thou, and thy son, and thy son's son also: for thou hast delivered us from the hand of Midian.