After Gideon’s victory over the Midianites, the Israelites asked him to become their king, but he refused, saying, “The Lord will rule over you.” He did, though, ask them to give him a share of the plunder. He turned the gold into an “ephod”—although it’s uncertain exactly what that was in this case, it was obviously used for idolatrous purposes. It thus became a spiritual “snare” to Gideon, his family, and the entire nation (Judg. 8:22–27).
In this passage, the writer of Judges alludes to the golden calf episode from today’s reading. This famous story happened shortly after the ratification of the covenant, so the Israelites couldn’t claim ignorance or forgetfulness. It took little more than a month for them to go directly against their vows of faithfulness and obedience.
It was about as bad as it could be. The Israelites grumbled against God and Moses. Aaron failed as a leader, later blaming the people and making the absurd excuse of unintentionality (vv. 22–24). They created and worshiped an idol, violating the first and second commandments. Their idolatry even included “revelry,” a euphemism for sexual immorality (v. 6). The influence of this national sin would echo through the years, even as far as the divided kingdom (1 Kings 12:26–33).
All this angered the Lord to the point where He threatened to destroy them and instead make a great nation out of Moses. Moses interceded on their behalf, however, and God relented (vv. 7–14). When Moses saw the situation for himself, he was righteously angry (v. 19). Breaking the tablets demonstrated that the nation had broken God’s covenant. When the Levites rallied to his call and struck down idolaters throughout the camp, they earned for themselves God’s blessing (v. 29).
Is anything holding you back from discipleship? The Levites’ actions showed they valued the Lord above all relationships. Jesus taught this hard truth as well: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).