Judges 8:23, "And Gideon said unto them, I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: the LORD shall rule over you."
This morning, mankind follows predictable patterns. Two old clichés about history manifest themselves often: 1. The only thing that man learns from history is that he does not learn anything from history and 2. A man who does not learn from history is doomed to repeat it. Considering the spectrum of human history, patterns emerge that indeed show mankind suffering the same kinds of slips and stumbles that have been going on since the beginning. Indeed, John summed it up well as the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. (I John 2:16) I was once asked why the devil's devices remained so constant. The answer is painfully simple. He uses the same devices due to their great success rate. He has no need to modify or hone his practice as it is already very successful on the battlefield. In the realm of Christ's Kingdom, nothing is more saddening than repeated problems that are so clearly spelled out in Scripture. For example, I may be hard pressed to know how to handle a specific situation that has no clear right and/or wrong path, but ground like the one before us is cut and dry in the Scriptures.
In our study verse, we see a glimpse of a New Testament problem through an Old Testament shadow. Many of the prophets, judges, and rulers of the Old Testament were shadows at times to New Testament ministers. Much like the children of Israel were an example of what not to do (I Corinthians 10:1-13), prophets of old could sometimes fit that bill as well. This verse comes towards the tail end of the account of Gideon, who had judged Israel in a mighty way through a great deliverance by the Lord. Due to his fame and popularity, the people were more than willing to make him a king for generations to come. Flattering indeed! However, our verse shows an honorable statement by this man of faith that he would not submit to such a circumstance. We know that Gideon is a great man of faith from his actions in the book of Judges and Paul mentioning him in the lineup in Hebrews 11. Still, even great men of faith with a proper mindset can fall and/or allow others to stumble as well.
Gideon's statement correlates to the same problem that Paul addressed in I Corinthians 1. When Israel of old or the church of today sees a great man in their midst who has been blessed mightily of the Lord, they sometimes want to elevate that man above his warranted position. Gideon was no more worthy of rule then than ministers are worthy of worship today. Both can be blessed powerfully by God, and the giver of the power is worthy of worship rather than the object power is bestowed upon. The problem is the same that Samuel lamented a few generations later. When Israel wanted a king, God told him that they had not rejected Samuel's guidance. Rather, they had rejected God's kingship! When people follow a minister today, they are rejecting God's kingship, and here, Gideon desired that such an event not happen. He spoke for himself and tried to speak for generations to come as well.
To make my next point from Gideon's story where the heart of our thoughts are, please kind reader allow some personal reflection. It has been my observation through the years that preacher worship carries many faces. Sometimes the man is worshipped, and he enjoys it to the point of open support. Sometimes the man is worshipped, and though he shies away from it, he still allows it to happen anyway. Sometimes the man is worshipped, and it adversely affects his children to the point of trying to either "carry a legacy" or outright rejection of the church due to the hypocrisy seen. Being a minister now and the son of a minister growing up, I have seen all kinds of misconceptions about ministers. The bottom line is this: we are men of like passions who carry around the same nature and problems that our hearers do. We neither live in ivory towers, nor are we somehow "above things" as some like to think. I knew my natural father as well as anyone, and I know that he struggled with misconceptions about himself and personal struggles within himself. My wife can testify that I struggle with misconceptions about myself and personal struggles within myself. All that said, what is the point?
Notice Gideon's faithful words. He will not do it. He will not allow his successors to be a part of it. What happened? Reading the next few verses, we see that though Gideon's mouth said one thing, his steps said something else. As the spoils of war, he created an ephod from golden earrings which became a snare and idol to the people. They worshipped it because of the man who created it. (Verses 24-27) So, though Gideon was not willing to be their ruler in name, he created something that basically did the same thing. Notice the end result in Verse 27. It became a problem not only to Israel but also a snare to Gideon and his house! The problem multiplied and grew. The next chapter shows just how profound this problem was. Gideon's heirs were killed due to the bloodlust of one son (Abimelech) who desired to rule openly. The snare came about because even though Gideon did not openly pursue rule, it happened anyway through his allowance in his actions in other ways.
Leaving Gideon's life, how would this translate today? Any minister worth his salt would plainly declare that he has no desire to rule like a king over God's people. He has no desire that his children be idolized or even lionized by the church as the "heir apparent" to his ministry. My brother and I had no conception that we would be ministers even though dad was. Good hearted Old Baptists were convinced of it, but God putting us in the ministry was not because of those claims but rather in spite of them. However, though ministers today do not desire such ends, can they be somewhat unwittingly brought about? Indeed they can! Though men may not actively pursue worship, their actions condone it. Kind reader, again I ask that you bear long with me as subjects like this are not pleasant but very needful.
Men may promote an eventual snare to the church and their house by outstaying their usefulness or profitability at a certain church. The church begins looking to the man more than the word of God. It is the classic "my pastor believes it and so I do too" mentality. Friends, if your pastor believes it and it is Bible, hold on to it. If you pastor believes it and it is not Bible, throw out the pastor. The word is more important than the man. Men may become an eventual snare to the church and their house by overlooking the obvious warning signs of overpraise. Peter was insistent when Cornelius bowed down to stand up. (Acts 10) Though we may not see cases quite that severe, men today still bow down mentally to other men because of who they are. If we perceive that someone has that level of adoration of us, we need to nip it immediately as ignoring it may not neutralize it. After Gideon made his ephod, it should have been immediately apparent that it needed to be destroyed due to its affect. Men today sometimes need the wisdom to know what to destroy before it becomes a snare to their whole house and others.
Other examples could be employed, but let us move on to the minister's "house." I have seen both extremes. My father was - at times - both overly criticized and overly praised. He was deserving of neither. Yet, such happens. He was faithful to shoulder through the critiques and hinder the praise when he became aware of it. Though I do not feel overly jaded from the criticism that he endured nor overly puffed up from the praise that he received, I have seen minister's children turn from the church completely from what they saw. One young lady who left the church years ago and is the daughter of a minister told me, "I saw how dad was treated. People acted like he was some sort of god. I saw him at home. He was a man. He made mistakes, and I didn't want any part of a people that put their trust in something that even I knew better." Sad business! On the other hand, a young man who left the church years ago and is the son of a minister told me, "I saw how dad was treated. It was unfair. He gave them his heart, and they stomped on it. I don't want to be part of such a mean group." Sad business! Whole houses can be swallowed up when ministers are viewed improperly.
Without going further into examples or personal reflection, here is the reality. We have one Perfect, Just, and Loving King! He rules over us and does so in righteousness. He holds all the keys and has all the food. All our help and answers come directly from His hand. Though He has appointed men to serve Him in the capacity of service His people, He is the giver, and He should be the receiver of all our praise. Men today should not only declare themselves unworthy of worship but also nip the actions that they may take that allow it to happen. Even angels refused worship from the hand of John in Revelation. If celestial creatures that have seen His glory cannot be praised, how much more a man here on earth that is hindered by the flesh? Whether or not my sons end up ministers is immaterial to me, and my hope for both my sons and daughters is that they see me as a loving father and faithful pastor that they would not be ashamed to follow in the same way that I pursue. Furthermore, my hope is that nothing that I do provides opportunity for the church to go off into a form of idolatry that would be a snare to me personally or adversely affect my house. We have the greatest situation available on earth: a place near to the heart of God where we can feel His presence in a sacred way. Let us not hinder those opportunities through the vanity of the flesh and our own carnal thinking. When I come to the house of God, I want to see the King not some man. When I worship, I want to worship the King and not some man. We will praise the King only when we die and go to heaven, let us praise the King only while we live here.