After the Lord threw the Midianites into confusion and had them fight against each other, Gideon pursued the surviving Midianites east of the Jordan River into the territory of Gad, where the Israelites in the cities of Penuel and Succoth refused to assist Gideon’s army (Judg. 7:19–8:9; see Josh. 13:24–28). Gideon eventually captured and killed Zebah and Zalmunna, kings of Midian, and then he punished Penuel and Succoth for their refusal to aid him (Judg. 8:10–21). These Israelite cities had sided with Israel’s enemies, so they were treated like Israel’s enemies, demonstrating the importance of maintaining one’s loyalty to the people of God.
Under the judgeship of Gideon, something of a revival took place. Altars to false gods were torn down and the enemies of the Lord were put to flight. This all happened despite Gideon’s own less-than-perfect faith (Judg. 6:1–8:21). Yet as the author of Judges warns us, we should not expect this seeming revival to have lasted (2:18–19). Indeed, the Israelites descended back into idolatry. This time, however, things were much worse. As today’s passage shows us, for the first time not only did the people fall into idolatry but so did Gideon.
After the defeat of Midian, the Israelites came asking that Gideon be king over them. However, Gideon refused the kingship in an apparent show of humility, claiming that only Yahweh could be their ruler (8:22–23). But this was not a true refusal, for in Judges 8:29–32, we see that Gideon had a son whom he named Abimelech, which means “my father is king.” Incredibly, the man who refused the throne over Israel gave his son a name indicating that he, the father, was king over Israel.
As if that false humility were not bad enough, Gideon also took the spoil that had been taken from the Midianites and used it to create an ephod (vv. 24–27a). Some commentators have argued that what Gideon made was a statue of a deity. Yet, there is no good reason to think what he created was any different from the ephod described in Exodus 28, which was worn by the high priest of Israel and contained the Urim and Thummim by which the priest discerned the will of God in ancient Israel. In any case, what he created led to a violation of the Lord’s command against idolatry, and even Gideon and his family got caught up in false worship (v. 27b; see Ex. 20:4–6).