This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
KHMER ROUGE LEADERS SENTENCED FOR CRIMES AFAINST HUMANITY
2 Then the Israelites said to Gideon, ‘Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also; for you have delivered us out of the hand of Midian.’ 23Gideon said to them, ‘I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you.’ 24Then Gideon said to them, ‘Let me make a request of you; each of you give me an ear-ring he has taken as booty.’ (For the enemy* had golden ear-rings, because they were Ishmaelites.) 25‘We will willingly give them,’ they answered. So they spread a garment, and each threw into it an ear-ring he had taken as booty. 26The weight of the golden ear-rings that he requested was one thousand seven hundred shekels of gold (apart from the crescents and the pendants and the purple garments worn by the kings of Midian, and the collars that were on the necks of their camels). 27Gideon made an ephod of it and put it in his town, in Ophrah; and all Israel prostituted themselves to it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family. 28So Midian was subdued before the Israelites, and they lifted up their heads no more. So the land had rest for forty years in the days of Gideon.
29 Jerubbaal son of Joash went to live in his own house. 30Now Gideon had seventy sons, his own offspring, for he had many wives. 31His concubine who was in Shechem also bore him a son, and he named him Abimelech. 32Then Gideon son of Joash died at a good old age, and was buried in the tomb of his father Joash at Ophrah of the Abiezrites.
33 As soon as Gideon died, the Israelites relapsed and prostituted themselves with the Baals, making Baal-berith their god. 34The Israelites did not remember the Lord their God, who had rescued them from the hand of all their enemies on every side; 35and they did not exhibit loyalty to the house of Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) in return for all the good that he had done to Israel.
In subsequent holy war stories it becomes a rule that no booty should be taken. If it is God’s victory no warrior should benefit. That is not explicit here but nevertheless Gideon’s desire for booty and honour leads to idolatry. The narrative uses the prophet’s sarcastic word for idolatry, “played the prostitute”, because Israel is seen as the bride of Jahweh her God. The double name of the hero is interesting: it is said to mean one who strives with Baal, but in fact means “May Baal strive” (for the man who bears this name.) Doubtless Gideon’s original name comes form his family’s worship of Baal. Perhaps the storyteller means the reader to suspect that Gideon is not 100% turned away from Baal. The editors of Israel’s history described a process of cyclical idolatry and conversion by leader or prophet.
Any inclination to see this as irrelevant to modern concerns should be resisted. Idolatry is always easy and a nice mixture of God worship and idol worship is quite tempting for many Christian believers. I’ve known people who worship wealth, status, power, work, success, sex, food, cars, land, family-all of course in moderation. I’ve been known to worship my own easy living from time to time. The Old Testament sees any displacement of the one God as the cardinal sin which brings other evils in its wake. Luther said, “It’s the allegiance of the heart that makes God or idol.”
Many modern societies have brought themselves close to ruin by their worship of what they call, “the market”, but is in fact the naked power of capitalist accumulation. People may be ready enough to see that this kind of idolatry might be wrong but have lost all fear that it might be utterly destructive. The response of God to idolatry is sometimes said to be “wrath” but is in fact the lack of God’s wisdom in the affairs of the idolatrous nation or person. “God handed them over to Midian” (Judhes 6:1) means that no leader or prophet is inspired to call the people to God’s way and they fall victim to a neighbouring tribe.
</em>Of course the Biblical authors think that God rewards faithfulness and punishes idolatry in this world. I see no evidence of that, but I do see that faithfulness may lead people towards justice, peace and fruitfulness; whereas idolatry may lead to injustice, violence and sterility. For this reason I consider that theology is one of the most important disciplines for post-modern society, and that critical theology which names and exposes the idols that destroy life, is an essential survival skill.