The Dangers and Inadequacy of Success

Tom Ascol
| Judges 8

Pastor Tom Ascol returns to the Book of Judges (8:1-35) to teach a message entitled The Dangers and Inadequacies of Success. We all recognize the tragedy in failure and work hard to avoid that. However, success comes with its own problems. Success sometimes has a price. Often God is given a position of less importance to successful individuals.

Chapter 8 puts forth a change in character in Gideon. Once humble and insignificant, he was used by God to rescue Israel. Gideon’s success provides a warning to Christians today. Five portions of the story offer five lessons. First, after Ephraim’s complaint, Gideon seems to diplomatically soothe their grievances. While diplomacy might be good (Proverbs 15:1), a closer look at Gideon’s response reveals a problem. He compares the exploits of the Ephraimites to his own exploits completely failing to give God the glory for the unbelievable victory of three hundred men over 120,000 Midianite warriors. Whatever success we may have is due ultimately to God’s grace. To claim success for ourselves sinfully diminishes God’s glory.

In the second vignette, Succoth and Penuel refuse help to Gideon. Despite the prospective victory, because the battle was not complete, these two towns “hedged their bets.” The lesson for modern Christians is not to fear possible outcomes but rather to make sure we are on the correct side of an issue. Even today, as non-biblical practices become more culturally acceptable, believers need to carefully discern biblical teaching and follow God’s plan rather than be concerned with social acceptance.

The capture of the two kings, in the third lesson shows Gideon acting from personal vengeance. There is no mention of God’s direction or will. We need to look to God for direction rather than living for self.

In the fourth vignette we find Gideon speaking rightly in turning down a kingship. However, his actions speak differently than his words. It is clear, from making of an ephod from spoils of war to the taking of a concubine, Gideon sought the status of a king. Discernment is needed when following a man. Actions must match words. Finally, in the fifth part of the narrative, we see the familiar pattern reemerge when Gideon dies. The “people of Israel turned again and whored after the Baals” (v. 33).

Chapters 6 and 7 show a mighty man of God doing works of faith (Hebrews 11:32) for the Lord. Indeed, Gideon is recalled in Hebrews 11 as a man of faith. Chapter 8, unfortunately, shows another side of Gideon, a side impacted by success. This success tempted Gideon to forget God, His grace and His work in Gideon’s life and in the nation of Israel. This success tempted Gideon to use God, rather than be used of God. Gideon set up a worship center and place of seeking God’s will in his hometown of Orphrah rather than at the Tabernacle as God had planned. Finally, this success was inadequate for Gideon and the nation. Gideon was not the savior everyone needed and the golden ephod he made became a snare for him and his family. What a horrible legacy to leave behind. Instead of pointing to the one true God and Savior Gideon lead his family to become ensnared.

It is only in Jesus Christ that we can find an acceptable King and a worthy Savior. No matter how successful, none of us can stand before a holy God without an acceptable Intercessor. We all need Jesus Christ.