Some men are leaders, but do not know it. The best leaders are sometimes those who are reluctant to lead, and have no ambitions to be leaders. Moses is a good example of this. When the Lord called him to lead, he made all kinds of excuses. Ultimately, however, he was perhaps the greatest leader in the Old Testament. King Saul was an example that turned out badly in the end. Initially, he was reluctant to lead and thought himself unfit, but in the end he was arrogant and oppressive. Another good example of a reluctant leader is Gideon.
During a period of Midianite oppression, the Lord saw fit to chose one man to lead the children of Israel against their oppressors. This man was Gideon. His own estimation of his own qualifications did not match the Lord’s. He based his view of qualifications on wealth and station in life (Judges 6:15). The Lord had a loftier view of Gideon’s qualifications. The Lord called him a “mighty man of valour” (6:12). Even if this was mere encouragement to Gideon, as some commentators suggest, it was the truth. The Lord also said Gideon would go in “this thy might,” which, when all is put together, suggests Gideon had demonstrated his worthiness before.
Perhaps there were other exploits, unrecorded in the scriptures directly, but alluded to by these comments, which demonstrated Gideon’s valour. Gideon is certainly capable of mustering able men of war to fight the Midianites and Amalekites and the children of the east. He blew a trumpet and Abiezer, his own family, gathered to him (6:34). He sent messengers to Manasseh, his own tribe, along with the tribes of Asher, Zebulon and Naphtali, and they all responded to his call to throw off the yoke of the Midianites (6:35). Gideon was able to assemble 32,000 men to fight (7:3). Even this was a meager host against the 135,000 warriors from the east but the children of Israel felt willing and able under the leadership of Gideon (8:10).
Gideon had previously demonstrated his courage and obedience to God and his leadership qualities when he overthrew his father’s altar to Baal. The angel of the Lord had commanded Gideon to overthrow his father’s altar and cut down the grove that was by it. Even though he feared his father’s household and the men of the city, Gideon took ten men of his servants and, during the night, obeyed the commands of God (6:27). His father may have been only a nominal worshiper of Baal, for, when the men of the city came to kill Gideon, his father defended him. He argued that if Baal was real, he could defend himself (6:31). Good for Joash and good for Gideon!
Gideon also relied upon proof as the basis for his actions. When the angel first appeared, he asked “If God is with us, then why are we oppressed and where are His miracles?” (6:13). Gideon then requested a sign as proof that the angel was even talking to him (6:17). Even after Gideon had mustered his army, he asked for proof that God would save Israel by his hand (6:36,37). Once this was given, he again asked for more proof of the same (6:39,40). Finally, when Gideon had his men set, God gave him proof even before he asked, which he surely would have, that he was going to be successful in his battle (7:10-15).
Gideon’s asking for proof was neither a flaw in his character nor a weakness of his faith (Rom. 10:17; I Thess. 5:21) but it was evidence that Gideon was not aspiring to be a leader and became one only reluctantly. God desires to reason with us about our salvation (Is. 1:18). The Bible has been given to us so that we might have the evidence to strengthen our faith (John 20:30,31). The miracles of the Lord and His apostles were given so that we might have assurance that Jesus was approved of God and that His word is true (Acts 2:22-24; Heb. 2:1-4). Seeking evidence for what you believe, contrary to popular religious sentiment, is not wrong; indeed it is scriptural (John 20:27).
When the angel first appeared to Gideon and gave him this charge to save Israel, He assured him that “I will be with thee” (6:15). God told him, “Have not I sent thee?” (6:14). God wanted Gideon, and us, to understand that it was not Gideon’s hand that saved Israel, but the Lord’s. That is the reason the Lord whittled down the number of men who would be fighting against the children of the east. “The people that are with thee are too many,” the Lord said, “for Me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against Me, saying mine own hand hath saved me” (7:2). The Lord can save by many or by few because it is not the size of army but the depth of the faith and the sincerity of the reliance on God that matters.
Another proof that Gideon was a reluctant leader was his refusal to become Israel’s first king (8:23). However, from the gifts he was given, he made an ephod and placed it in his city, Ophrah. But this became a snare to Gideon and his house because all Israel left the Lord because of this ephod. Just how is not stated, but presumably through some form of idolatrous worship of it or some priesthood associated with it. When Gideon trusted in God he prevailed; when he trusted in himself, he failed. When God’s people rely on themselves, they always end up with trouble and sin. The lesson from Gideon is we need to trust in God.
Eric L. Padgett