Now the Ephraimites asked Gideon, “Why have you treated us like this? Why didn’t you call us when you went to fight Midian?” And they challenged him vigorously. But he answered them, “What have I accomplished compared to you? Aren’t the gleanings of Ephraim’s grapes better than the full grape harvest of Abiezer? God gave Oreb and Zeeb, the Midianite leaders, into your hands. What was I able to do compared to you?” At this, their resentment against him subsided. Gideon and his three hundred men, exhausted yet keeping up the pursuit, came to the Jordan and crossed it. He said to the men of Sukkoth, “Give my troops some bread; they are worn out, and I am still pursuing Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian.” But the officials of Sukkoth said, “Do you already have the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna in your possession? Why should we give bread to your troops?” Then Gideon replied, “Just for that, when the Lord has given Zebah and Zalmunna into my hand, I will tear your flesh with desert thorns and briers.” From there he went up to Peniel and made the same request of them, but they answered as the men of Sukkoth had. So he said to the men of Peniel, “When I return in triumph, I will tear down this tower. – Judges 8:1-9
Gideon and his men were in hot pursuit of the Midianite army. Their plan, after crossing the Jordan River, was to get food from some of the Israelite tribes, people who should have been their ally. Unless I am mistaken these are the same Israelites who lived in the region of Deborah and Joshua. Perhaps they felt like they had a special relationship with God. When Gideon came with his 300 men, victorious over the Midianites with the help of God, they might have felt a little bit jealous. Gideon’s response seems a bit harsh — he felt like the Israelites were treating him and his men badly and he was really angry. He planned to come back and take his revenge (which we learn in the subsequent passages he does).
I can’t help but feel that this verse, and the Israelites souls, are riddled with pronouns like me, my, mine, and I. It seems that everyone is concerned most about themselves and what they will get in terms of glory, including Gideon. I do not think this was God’s idea when He asked the Israelites to cross over into the Promised Land. The focus of the Israelites is clearly not on following God unconditionally.
Gideon would have more reason than most to know and trust God. He seems to have quickly forgotten God showing up in the dew on the fleece and subsequently helping him win the battle with far fewer men than would be earthly possible. Rather than taking pride in the amazing work God has done it seems that Gideon and others are quick to do the very thing God was trying to prevent by reducing Gideon’s army. They were taking the glory for the victory. C.S. Lewis has some interesting insights into the spiritual dynamic here:Evil begins, in a universe where all was good, from free will, which was permitted because it makes possible the greatest good of all. The corruption of the first sinner consists not in choosing some evil thing (there are no evil things for him to choose) but in preferring a lesser good (himself) before a greater (God). The Fall is, in fact, Pride. The possibility of this wrong preference is inherent in the very fact of having, or being, a self at all. But though freedom is real it is not infinite. Every choice reduces a little one’s freedom to choose the next time. There therefore comes a time when the creature is fully built, irrevocably attached either to God or to itself. This irrevocableness is what we call Heaven or Hell. Every conscious agent is finally committed in the long run: i.e., it rises above freedom into willed, but henceforth unalterable, union with God, or else sinks below freedom into the black fire of self-imprisonment. That is why the universe (as even the physicists now admit) has a real history, a fifth act with a finale in which the good characters “live happily ever after” and the bad ones are cast out. At least that is how I see it. – From The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume II
Gideon’s fundamental weakness, or sin, was pride, even in the midst of chasing after an army God had given into his hands. I am also familiar with pride. It was one of the first renovation projects God started in my life when I first became a Christian – a process that continues today. God is still tearing out walls, rewiring, and trying to refurbish this part of my life. There are times when I feel like this blog is merely a way to perpetuate my pride, and other times when I feel like I maintain the proper posture and perspective. When I remember to pause and pray for those sharing in this journey by reading, “liking” a post, or posting a comment I feel like I am faithfully following God and passing the Meribah Test.
Prayer: God help us to cling to You more tightly than we cling to our own pride.