Most people know the story of Gideon. If you don’t, it is found in the Old Testament, in the Book of Judges chapters 6-8. The Book of Judges covers a very volatile period in the history of Israel. When Joshua, who had led the people into the Promised Land, died, he did not leave a successor. So the people floundered without leadership. They would fall away from God, and into the worship of all the false gods and idols of the people around them, as well as all kinds of immorality and injustice.
God would then respect their wishes and “hand them over” to these false gods, with the result that the neighboring peoples would attack and oppress them. When Israel tired of this situation, they would cry out to God, and He would raise up a deliverer who would call the people back to God and defeat their enemies. While the deliverer was alive, things would be fine. When he (or, in one case, she) died, the people would revert to their old ways.
Gideon was one such deliverer. He was called by God at a time when Israel was being heavily oppressed by the Midianites. At the time when God called him, he saw himself as nothing: the least member of the least tribe in Israel, hiding in a winepress to thresh his grain so that the Midianites would not come and take it.
God took him and raised him up to be one of the mightiest warriors in Israel’s history. He tore down the altars to the false god Baal and conquered the Midianites, bringing Israel into a forty year period of freedom.
Yet after all that, Gideon ended up leading the people back into the very idolatry from which he had brought them. The story is in Judges 8:23-27. Having acknowledged that God should be the ruler over the nation, rather than himself, Gideon took up a collection of gold earrings, which he melted down and made into an ephod.
An ephod was part of the priestly garments, and was meant to be used in the service of the Lord. Gideon, however, set this one up as an idol, and all Israel came to worship it.
To us it seems fairly obvious that this was just plain stupid. Yet I wonder how often we do the same thing. How often do we, having served the Lord and seen Him move in our lives and the lives of others, end up turning that very service into an idol which we worship instead of the Lord?