May 6, 2001
There is a short passage in the book of Judges concerning the great warrior Gideon that can easily pass notice. Gideon has just won a great victory over the Midianites and the people desire to make him king. Wisely, Gideon refuses the throne which belonged to God. However, he does make an unusual request 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. (For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.) …And Gideon made an ephod thereof, and put it in his city, even in Ophrah. (Judges 8:24,27)
An ephod is a consecrated piece of clothing worn originally by the high priest (Ex. 28:4). It was later used by an ordinary priest (1 Sam. 22:18). Even later still, we find King David wearing one (2 Sam. 6:14).
What was Gideon trying to do making this golden ephod? There is nothing in the narrative to suggest an impure motive. There is nothing to suggest a motive at all. We can suggest that it is likely that Gideon was simply trying to commemorate the fantastic victory that God had wrong through him and his 300 warriors. The ephod probably represented God investing his power in Gideon just as He did with his High Priest.
We are told, though, that "all Israel went thither a whoring after it: which thing became a snare unto Gideon, and to his house."
The word "snare" is very descriptive in this passage as a noose or trap for catching unsuspecting animals. We can in our mind's eye see a trap springing up to catch the leg of a fox to immobilize it. The options are few. The squirming animal either desperately waits for his hunter to arrive for a worse fate or chews off its own leg to set itself free. Gideon's ephod became a trap into which Israel, his family and, in fact, all Israel were caught.
There are several instances where the children of Israel lost themselves in their historical memorabilia. In 2 Kings 18:4, we read of Hezekiah's reforms. "He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan." The children of Israel had taken the brazen serpent of Moses and turned it into an idol which needed to be destroyed. We can even make an argument that God's temple in its various iterations became an idol to the people and was therefore destroyed by God through the use of invading armies.
What is the point of all this? The idea we would like to leave you with is that no matter how well-intentioned we may be, we can inadvertently create idols in our lives. By this definition, an idol is anything that traps us and holds us from keeping our commitment to God's service. It may be a person. It may be a career. It may be a tradition. It may be a form or mode of worship.
Some of these things have such solid historical background or pure motives behind them that we would never think to question them. However, in review, what once seemed like a good idea may be the one thing that is holding us back. It has happened before to better men than you or I.
Perhaps this is the allusion that Christ is making when he says in Matthew 5:30, "And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell." You can sin as much with one hand as you can with two: that is, unless that one hand was caught in a trap from which you are now free.
Have a great week!