2. The Society of the Judges
Shortly after the first establishment of the nation of Israel, there was a time known as the period of the judges. The period of the Judges spanned from the death of Joshua to the time of Samuel and the first national king. The summary at the end of the book stated that:
Judges 21:25.: In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes. NKJV
This suggests a way of life that was bordering on anarchy. Many would also suggest that this also aptly describes the current spiritual state of the western world. In this case, people also largely do what is right in their own eyes, and shun the idea of an authority having influence on their lives.
For the nation of Israel, the period of the Judges was very unstable. When there was no strong leader, the people looked inwardly for a source of moral standards. This resulted, among other things, in the establishment of idol worship.
One occurance of this is seen in Judges 6.
Judes 6:1.: Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD. So the LORD delivered them into the hand of Midian for seven years, 2. and the hand of Midian prevailed against Israel. Because of the Midianites, the children of Israel made for themselves the dens, the caves, and the strongholds which are in the mountains NKJV
The 40 years that has passed between the death of Sisera in Judges 5, and the time had been sufficient to forget of when the glory of God was evident. Even with our own information age, memories of significant events half a century ago are significantly dulled. By that time, the people were accustomed to their way of life, and the Baal worship was better accepted than that of the true God.
Later in this chapter, and angel of God appeared to a man called Gideon to save his people:
Judges 6:12.: And the Angel of the LORD appeared to him, and said to him, "The LORD is with you, you mighty man of valor!" 13. Gideon said to Him, "O my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, 'Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?' But now the LORD has forsaken us and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites." NKJV
Gideon had a faith, but could not understand why his people appeared to have been forsaken. This is like a follower of Christ wondering why the world it still so far from God. God gave Gideon a solution in the following verse:
Judegs 6:14.: Then the LORD turned to him and said, "Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have I not sent you?" 15. So he said to Him, "O my Lord, how can I save Israel? Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house." 16. And the LORD said to him, "Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man." NKJV
This may not have been the solution Gideon was wanting, as this required him to take the risk. He, as most people, would have preferred someone else to do it. Unfortunately everyone is a someone, and there are no “someone elses”.
Nevertheless, Gideon accepted this, but wanted to see a sign that it was really God speaking to him. He didn't want to be led by someone who didn't really have the power to do the work. God then gave him the sign, with a fire consuming an offering he made. Following this, instructions were given about how to start the defeat of the Midianites:
Judges 6:25.: Now it came to pass the same night that the LORD said to him, "Take your father's young bull, the second bull of seven years old, and tear down the altar of Baal that your father has, and cut down the wooden image that is beside it; 26. "and build an altar to the LORD your God on top of this rock in the proper arrangement, and take the second bull and offer a burnt sacrifice with the wood of the image which you shall cut down." NKJV
Some people would have balked at this commandment, because it wasn't the glorious action of leading the defeat of the Midianites. In fact the destruction of the alter was likely to create more enemies than glory. In fact he knew there would be opposition, so he did it by stealth,
Judges 6:27.: So Gideon took ten men from among his servants and did as the LORD had said to him. But because he feared his father's household and the men of the city too much to do it by day, he did it by night. NKJV
His society valued the idols, and destroying them was just not the “cool” thing to do. Gideon, however, had the vision to see a world outside the experience he had grown up to. This was a world where it was worth standing up for the God of Israel. The faith in the different world to come gave him the boldness to challenge the conventional ideas of Baal worship and submission to the foreign kings.
Why did people worship the gods? From a modern perspective, there is no sense in it at all. Very few modern cultures believe that any divine power can come from a wooden idol.
It is a silly thing to waste time worshipping a god made of wood or stone. It has little more purpose than shooting an imaginary animated object in a computer game. It cannot achieve anything productive. Similarly the rituals of idol worship have no productive end. In a modern context, the rituals have little more value than attending a sporting event or rock concert.
In some objective context, these actions are all worthless, yet still thousands, and indeed millions, of people are eager to do them. One might ask what it is that provokes people to do this. One reason is that they appeal to the less logical, or reasoned, aspects of a person's personality. In a general sense, the more important reason is that a love for these things is built up from the customs of the society. Ever since they were born, people saw that this was the way to act. It wasn't an easy thing to cut down the alter to Baal. It was bad enough for Gideon to live in fear of the foreign armies, but in challenging local customs, he was also in danger from his countrymen. This was not just about the threat of physical violence either. There was also the issue of his reputation and popularity amongst his peers. When reading about the significant acts in the Bible, it is easy to forget that the characters involved had their own lives to run in much the same way that we do. As humans, they intrinsically had the same everyday needs from their society that we do.
Consider the reaction of the people of the city:
Judges 6: 28.: And when the men of the city arose early in the morning, there was the altar of Baal, torn down; and the wooden image that was beside it was cut down, and the second bull was being offered on the altar which had been built. 29. So they said to one another, "Who has done this thing?" And when they had inquired and asked, they said, "Gideon the son of Joash has done this thing." 30. Then the men of the city said to Joash, "Bring out your son, that he may die, because he has torn down the altar of Baal, and because he has cut down the wooden image that was beside it." NKJV
It's hard to have friends and a good time in a society where this type of thing is happening. Gideon had to give up all intentions of this before he committed himself to following the directive of God.
In destroying the idols, Gideon had turned his focus away from his own society. His life plans weren't about things like enjoying a quiet weekend away from work. Instead his focus was on a different world. Even though the Israelites were suffering at the hands of Midian, they still had a lifestyle and their own world of existence. They had social events to attend, idols to worship and friends to associate with. In destroying the idols, Gideon's friend count is likely to have dropped significantly.
This, however, was not the primary concern of Gideon. He didn't see the world the same way as many of his fellow Israelites. Instead he had faith in a meaning beyond the present. It was for this reason that he was given a mention in Hebrews:
Hebrews 11:32.: And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: 33. who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, NKJV
The important point is that he didn't let his opinions and dreams to be constrained by the then present society. That would have left him feeling helpless about the salvation of Israel, and consoling himself in the pleasures and comfort of the idols. This was similar to the attitude of Moses as shown in Hebrews 11:
Heb 11:24.: By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; 25. Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; NKJV