[Note: I write the following while preparing for Sabbath School last Sabbath. As it happened, I wound up not teaching my class that week because another teacher had prepared a class and class was canceled this Sabbath due to the congregational Bible study. As I result I have posted my thoughts of what I would have said for class. I hope it is enjoyable anyway.]
One of the quirks of the story of Gideon is that so much time in that story is spent on the beginnings of Gideon’s rise and on the aftermath of his death and the attempt of his unworthy son Abimelech to rule in his place. Not all stories in the Bible are told in this way, where the discussion is telescoped to cover two brief periods, and as might be expected given the general ironic sense of the Bible , the elements of those stories are told with a fair amount of irony. Being someone who appreciates irony a great deal, and who likes to examine what is not covered as well as what is covered in a given story, I figured it would be fairly straightforward to present a look at Gideon for the tweens of my Sabbath School class that would encourage them to ponder and reflect upon the ironies of scripture, and to ask questions of the material that they read not to challenge it, but rather to reflect upon what the scriptures tell us about how God views people, and what that means for us.
The first of these ironies takes place toward the beginning of the story of Gideon where God first meets up with Gideon. The situation is itself a bit tragicomic. Gideon is threshing his wheat in a winepress. This may not appear as funny to those who are aware of farming, but winepresses tend to be rather small but also far more secure than the open areas that were used for threshing floors. The fact that Gideon was threshing his wheat in a winepress meant that he was only trying to get a small amount of wheat and needed to be absolutely secure about it lest it be stolen. Yet when God greets him, God calls Gideon a mighty man of valor, although that might not be readily apparent. After all, in much of the story of Gideon, we do not see Gideon as a mighty man of valor. He is, after all, a fairly timid man, not that this is a bad thing. When told to get rid of an idol, He does so with his servants in the middle of the night. He constantly asks for reassurance and tests God twice with a fleece, something that is contrary to scripture and something that even Gideon recognizes as unwise. Even on the verge of the great battle that would cement his reputation he requires the reassurance of hearing about his victory being prophesied by some of the Midianites in their own camp. Even his ruthless pursuit of a couple of Midianite chiefs strikes the reader as being less than valorous and more petty and vengeful, and his punishment of Israelite towns appears even a bit spiteful. Even so, God considers Gideon a mighty man of valor, and this is itself a worthwhile point to remember.
The second irony I would like to explore is focused more on the consequences of Gideon’s time as judge. When offered the kingship after the victory against the Midianites, Gideon declined it, saying that neither shall he be king over Israel nor shall his sons be. Yet he made an ephod, which was a robe associated with leadership, and it became a snare to Israel. Not only that, but Gideon’s son Abimelech sought to become king after Gideon’s death after massacring his brothers. Abimelech means “my father is king,” and whether that was a name chosen by the foolish kinglet himself or by his father, it suggests that Gideon was not faithful to his promise not to consider himself kings or the progenitor of a dynasty. Instead, either he or someone else successfully managed to give the opinion that Gideon’s house was a royal one contrary to his own initial wishes and self-knowledge and contrary to the will of God. After all, the would-be dynasty ended in spectacular failure and the death of Abimelech at the hand of a woman, something that was immensely humiliating for him.
What are we to learn from this, aside from the fact that God has a taste for irony that is seldom if ever exceeded by our own even in our contemporary age where irony is greatly appreciated? For one, God sees us for who we are even where we do not know ourselves. God saw a mighty man of valor in Gideon even when he was not being particularly brave or courageous. Sometimes merely to follow God, however timidly or uncertainly, is to show great bravery in evil times. We are prone to be too hard on others for not being sufficiently brave, and too hard on ourselves when we are aware of our own fear and terror, our own nervousness and anxiety, for if Gideon can be a mighty man of valor there is nothing to stop us from being so as well in the eyes of God. Second, sometimes we would do better to maintain an awareness of our limitations. Gideon knew that God had meant him to be a judge, and not a king over Israel, and he was right to deny that he or his family would serve as kings over Israel, as it was not his place to claim such a title for himself or his family. Yet he was not successful in maintaining this refusal in the face of flattery, and so either he or his son got it in their heads that maybe they were to be kings after all, with tragic results including the slaughter of most of Gideon’s family and great destruction to cities like Shechem and Thebez. If we know we are not meant to be kings it is not enough merely to say that we will not lord it over others in the aftermath of our triumphs, but we must make it clear with our deeds as well, even in the face of flattering tongues that would seduce us to our ruin.
 See, for example: