Born to be bad

There are some people that may make you wonder if they were just born to be bad. Whether it is their personality or circumstances that have caused them to act the way they do, it seems like they have a track record of getting into trouble. I understand the born to be bad syndrome because I am one of those people. Several people that have known me well have nicknamed me “trouble” and even I have thought at times that trouble should be my middle name.

One of my all-time favorite movies is “The Man from Snowy River.” Although the movie is about a young Australian man coming of age, one of the main characters is Jessica, the daughter of a widowed rancher. Having been raised without a mother, Jess is a little too strong willed for her father and in one scene, she runs away because he tells her he is going to send her away to college. An issue that is subtly dealt with in the movie is Jess’ parentage. Her father Harrison believes she may be the daughter of his brother Spur because they were both in love with Jess’ mother and competed for the right to marry her. The question that is never really answered is where did Jess’ wild nature come from? Was it a result of losing her mother, the influence of her strong willed father, or was she designed that way to handle the rugged lifestyle she experienced?

Abimelech, the son and successor of Gideon seems to fit into the category of a man that was born to be bad. He was born by a female slave of Gideon’s from Shechem, the town where Jacob’s daughter was raped. It appears that Abimelech lived with his mother in Shechem and was well known by the people there. He used this to his advantage by getting the people of Shechem to make him their king. Abimelech killed all of Gideon’s other sons except one, Jotham. Jotham confronted Abimelech and put a curse on him that was eventually applied to all the men of Shechem.

It says in Judges 9:56 “Thus God rendered the wickedness of Abimelech, which he did unto his father, in slaying his seventy brethren.” The word translated wickedness, ra‘ (rah) means bad (7451). It is derived from the word ra‘a‘ (rah – ah´) which means to spoil, literally by breaking into pieces or figuratively to make or be good for nothing (7489). So there seems to be a case for Abimelech having gone bad rather than being born that way. The interesting thing about this verse is that it says God rendered the wickedness of Abimelech. The word rendered, shûwb (shoob) means movement back to the point of departure, but it also refers to “the process called conversion or turning to God” (7725).

When my life got to the point where I could no longer stand it, things were so bad I was miserable and wanted to end my life, I turned to God. I don’t think I was born bad even though I know I had a sin nature from the start. Over time, I was affected by my circumstances and the people around me and learned that being bad was a way for me to even the score. Thank God I was converted and was brought back to the point of my departure.

No one’s perfect

Over and over in the Bible we are given examples of people who were used by God that either had made serious mistakes in their lives or had character flaws, I believe to remind us that no one is perfect. I’m the kind of person that strives toward perfection so I’m often disappointed when I read about someone who had achieved a great victory and then screws things up by doing something really stupid.

Gideon is no exception. Idol worship can take many forms and in Gideon’s case it took the form of an ephod which was meant to be worn by the high priest. It came to symbolize God’s direction of his people. The ephod can be thought of as a kind of personal GPS system. The ephod was supposed to be the instrument God used to direct his people, but eventually, the ephod came to be viewed as the source of direction instead of God.

“And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect” (Gen 12:1). The word translated perfect, tâmîym (taw – meem´) means complete or to be complete. From God’s perspective, perfection is getting the job done. When God instructed Abram to walk before him, he was basically saying, you do the moving, I’ll do the directing, and together we will reach the desired destination.

One of the drawbacks of using a GPS system is that you can become dependent on it and no longer think about what you are doing. I have gotten lost using my GPS system because I wasn’t aware that it was malfunctioning. I’ve learned that I need to pay attention and check what it’s telling me to do against my own knowledge and experience of the area I’m traveling to.

When God wants us to do something, he always tells us, either through his clear communication to us individually or in the Bible which is his general direction for everyone. If I have not received any instruction from him, then that means I am to just go about my daily business and wait until he reveals the next step I am to take.

Gideon may not have realized that God was done using him, that his job was complete. If Gideon would have just gone home after defeating the Midianites and lived the rest of his life as a normal, typical person would, he would have been credited with having lived a perfect life. But that is not what he did, he made an ephod and kept it close by so that he could consult it for direction instead of God, it became a sort of good luck charm that he thought would keep him out of trouble, “and all Israel went thither a whoring after it” (Judges 8:27).

Children of a king

Even though we may know most of what happened in our parents’ lives, we usually know less about our grandparents’ lives and very little about our great grandparents because they were not around to tell us about it. Imagine if you knew the details of your ancestors lives that lived hundreds of years ago. The Old Testament of the Bible contains the history of what happened in the lives of the Israelites thousands of years ago. There are detailed accounts of how they came to live in the land we know as Israel and the names of their family members have become well known to millions of people around the world.

More people know the names Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob than probably any other names of individuals that have ever lived because the details of their lives are recorded in the Bible. One of the advantages of knowing the history of your ancestors is being able to know where you fit into their story and how your life will be impacting the lives of relatives that are yet to be born. Some of the things you do may not seem important now, but they could literally be changing the course of history for many years to come.

A key event in the life of Jacob was when he wrestled with God at Penuel the night before he was reunited with his brother Esau. It was at Penuel that Jacob’s name was changed to Israel and he received a special blessing; “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed” (Gen 32:28).

I’m pretty sure Gideon knew the significance of Penuel and chose to beat down the tower there to honor his great, great, great…grandfather Jacob. The interesting thing about Gideon’s stand at Penuel is that the victory he won after his arrival there seemed to be a turning point for him. His behavior was much more bold and courageous, perhaps as a tribute to or maybe even a result of Jacob’s blessing. In all, Gideon’s 300 soldiers defeated 135,000 Midianites. There is no way to account for the result except for divine intervention. The battle cry that was shouted as they entered the Midianite camp was “The sword of the LORD, and of Gideon” (Judges 7:18).

When Gideon’s conquest was completed, he confronted two kings of Midian named Zebah and Zalmunna. These two kings were directly responsible for the death of Gideon’s brothers who had probably fought against the Midianites in a previous war. The description of the men reveals that Gideon’s appearance had been transformed by his acts of courage. He was no longer the man who threshed wheat by the wine press to hide from the Midianites, but a leader, someone they respected. “Then said he unto Zebah and Zalmunna, What manner of men were they whom ye slew at Tabor? And they answered, as thou art, so were they; each one resembled the children of a king” (Judges 8:18).

A few good men

Most adults understand what it means to be under the influence of alcohol. It affects your judgment, your ability to function, what you say and do. Fear can have the same affect and when you are afraid it could be said that you are under the influence of fear.

Fear is a powerful emotion because it is hard to control and can make you do things you wouldn’t normally do. It can also stop you from doing things that you want to do, no matter how important they are to you.

Fear can be a strategic advantage to an enemy. I believe fear is the number one way the devil takes advantage of Christians and is used frequently to stop us from making progress in our walk with Christ. When we are under the influence of fear, we are like soldiers that are shaking in their boots, we can’t hear the commands of God and are looking for an escape route rather than concentrating on the battle plan.

When Gideon was given the assignment to engage the Midianites in warfare, the first thing God told him to do was weed out all the soldiers that were afraid to fight. Gideon’s troops were reduced from 22,000 to 10,000 after they were told, “Whosoever is fearful and afraid, let him return and depart early from Mount Gilead” (Judges 7:3). But, God didn’t stop there. The affect of fear can sometimes be subtle, we may not even be aware that we are under its influence. So, God used another method to determine who could be relied on in battle and who would most likely run if the going got tough.

So he brought down the people unto the water: and the LORD said unto Gideon, Everyone that lappeth of the water with his tongue, as a dog lappeth, him shalt thou set by himself…And the LORD said unto Gideon, By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you. (Judges 7:5-7)

God’s change agent

The primary responsibility of a change agent is to upset the status quo. A lot of times, bad practices are no more than superstitions that have become embedded in the culture. It worked once and so it became a lucky charm or a secret ritual that everyone followed and eventually relied on to get a certain outcome. I think the most superstitious people I have seen are athletes, especially in professional sports.

I don’t know much about pagan worship, but I believe it is mostly superstitions and rituals that have become a way of life and can be compared to going to church every week and expecting to become a better person because you do it consistently. Idol worshippers are very religious people, they don’t really care what they have to do as long as their worship brings about the desired result.

Gideon’s first assignment as God’s change agent was to “Take they father’s young bullock, even the second bullock of seven years old, and throw down the altar of Baal that thy father hath and cut down the grove that is by it. And build an altar unto the LORD thy God upon the top of this rock, in the ordered place, and take the second bullock, and offer a burnt sacrifice with the wood of the grove which thou shalt cut down” (Judges 6:25-26). This would definitely be perceived as an act of rebellion against his father and an offence to all the Baal worshippers in the area. Gideon knew his life would be in danger if he did what the LORD asked him to.

“Then Gideon took ten men of his servants, and did as the LORD had said unto him: and so it was, because he feared his father’s household, and the men of the city, that he could not do it by day, that he did it by night:” (Judges 6:27). Gideon was not a brave man or should I say a bold man. It took courage to do what the LORD asked him to, but he wasn’t ready to throw caution to the wind and publicly antagonize the enemies of God.

Gideon most likely feared his father’s household because they were numerous and strong. Gideon’s father may have been a leader in the town of Ophrah and because of his wealth was an example to others of how to get ahead in life. It’s possible that Joash was only faking his worship of Baal in order to gain an advantage with the Midianites. When the men of the city demanded that Joash turn his son over to them so that they could kill him, Joash responded, “if he be a god, let him plead for himself, because one hath cast down his altar” (Judges 6:31).