This week’s Bible hero, Gideon, had no leadership potential whatsoever

September 5, 2014

for_everyoneThis Sunday I’m preaching on Gideon, that very cautious and reluctant Bible hero who led Israel in victory over the Midianites in Judges 6-8. While I was jotting down personal observations on the text, I wrote the following: “God saw some potential in Gideon that others, including Gideon himself, couldn’t see.”

Sounds nice, right? John Goldingay disagrees.

According to Goldingay, Gideon has no potential whatsoever. But that’s O.K. because this story proves that God needs nothing from us, except our reluctant consent to be used of God.

Is Goldingay right? Well, if I were given a choice between listening to me or listening to Goldingay, I’d go with Goldingay!

Here are his words about Gideon from his For Everyone commentary. When the angel of the Lord encounters Gideon, Gideon tells the angel that he wants to see some action on God’s part:

The good news is that he is about to get some. The bad news is that he is the means of God’s deliverance being put into effect. At one level, his incredulous response is quite reasonable. He has shown no more leadership ability than anyone else in his obscure family. As was the case with Moses, God determines to use someone who is a failure, without obvious potential and without religious insight, because God’s using someone does not depend on that person’s leadership qualities or spiritual insight. God designates Gideon a mighty warrior not because he has potential that no one has noticed but simply because that is the way God intends to use him.

Gideon’s requesting a sign is a further indication that he lacks spiritual insight. Yet even this does not make God decide to abandon him and get someone with more obvious potential (perhaps there was no one).[†]

John Goldingay, Joshua, Judges & Ruth for Everyone (Louisville, KY: WJK, 2011), 109.

2 Responses to “This week’s Bible hero, Gideon, had no leadership potential whatsoever”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    Probably you just finished your sermon, and I would rather be listening to one than being at the office! However, I don’t know that I can go with Goldingay on this one. It is true that none of us has ENOUGH potential to get the job done without God’s help. But I don’t believe the scriptures overall teach that we are “nothing” in the “equation” of getting things done. I recall Jesus saying, “Without me, you could do nothing.” But that is like saying, here is a midget before a ten-foot wall–he can’t over. Up comes Shaq and lifts the midget up. So now the midget can, what–scamper over. Without Shaq, he had no chance. But with Shaq, he still has to use his own initiative, strength, etc. I recognize that this is not the greatest of examples, but my point is, God knows we can’t accomplish things without his help, but he still looks to us to give what we have got to get the job done. The role call of the faithful says, “By faith, Abraham [etc.]” Jesus says, “Your faith has saved you.” Not, “my faith,” or “my action regardless of you,” but OUR faith. Without God as the OBJECT of that faith, the faith would accomplish nothing. But God is still looking to us to “add our faith” to the equation.

    But what about Gideon’s lack of faith? Jesus says faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains. Gideon was scared to death and needed a lot of reassurance, but he was still willing to “lead the charge” against the enemy with odds of 100 to 1 (or whatever). “Do you believe?” “Lord, I believe! Help thou mine unbelief!” If I needed any corroboration for my disagreement, I note Goldingay’s reference to Moses. Moses was undoubtedly the most educated of all the Israelites of his time. He cared about deliverance of his people from Egyptian bondage. But he was scared. He needed God’s rather intense prodding and reassurance. But, what? He went before Pharaoh and said, “Let my people go!” I don’t accept the argument that this was “all of God and none of Gideon or Moses.” They are listed in the role call! Why the role call? Is this God bragging on himself? “See what I did with all these nobodies”? I can’t read it that way. Even if we were to say, “Well, then, God for 99% and man 1%,” that’s okay. But it is primarily that 1% that God is looking for and wants to use.

    • brentwhite Says:

      I’m guessing Goldingay was using some hyperbole. The point remains that Gideon is far and away the least qualified judge in the book so far. To his credit, he ultimately answered the call, which is certainly something.


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