In the last decade or so, we got rid of a seldom-used item from our car: a road map.
Much to the chagrin of my dad and, I’m sure, many others from his generation, we felt we no longer needed a physical map in the car. Granted, we all have maps on our phones, the relic known as the paper map seems to be lost in the annals of history.
For my family, the first choice when planning a road trip is GPS with voice directions.
Turn LEFT in 500 metres.
Take the next exit in 1 kilometre.
It’s hard to beat the accuracy and clarity involved in hearing a voice spell out exactly what you need to do to reach your destination. But…
What happens when that voice stops working?
Well, if you are anything like my dad, you have three or four Rand McNally’s (paper maps for those too young to catch the reference) sitting in the glove box.
Planning a road trip with a paper map takes more time and effort than typing in your destination and pressing enter, and there is always the possibility that you could read the map wrong, but the map contains everything you need in order to reach your destination. A worst-case scenario would involve a catastrophic technology failure (both cell phones stop working), with zero Rand McNally’s on hand. At this point, all we have for guidance is our own shoddy sense of direction.
Unfortunately, for Gideon, this is where he finds himself in Judges 8. Gideon repeatedly failed to trust God’s voice and, ultimately, becomes convinced of victory through the voice of a man (Judges 7:13-15). Although the GPS was giving good directions, Gideon was skeptical of its accuracy.
Then, God’s voice goes silent.
God’s audible voice is not heard for the rest of the Gideon narrative. Maybe this was an act of grace on God’s part to prevent Gideon from descending further into skepticism or judgment for his lack of belief, but, in any case, God’s voice is no longer heard.
At this point, our instinct would be to start looking for a map, hoping one escaped the deep clean and has been hiding under a seat or behind the spare tire for the last 10 years. In Gideon’s case, he was quite aware of a map made available by God in the form of the Law. In fact, he even references the great acts God performed in the Exodus (Judges 6:13). While God’s audible voice had gone silent, he didn’t leave Gideon without His Word. God’s Word, just like the map, is true whether or not we choose to follow it. Had Gideon studied the map in greater detail, he would have remembered the Second Commandment forbidding idol creation and idol worship. He would have recalled the fallout of the golden calf scandal in Exodus 32 and steered clear (double pun) of a golden ephod. Without God’s word, either audibly or through the Law, Gideon fell prey to the pattern revealed throughout Judges and “did what was right in his own eyes”.
The results are predictable.
Without the GPS telling us when to turn or the road map to give us direction, we get lost. The revenge-fuelled killing spree Gideon embarks on in Judges 8 is a wrong turn. The creation of a golden ephod is a missed off-ramp. By the time Gideon names his son Abimelech in Judges 8:31, the road he was supposed to be on is no longer in sight.
To his credit, Gideon did pass on the Israelites’ offer to make him their king and rightly declared the throne to be God’s. And, if I’m being honest, there are more times than I’d like to admit when I act like Gideon – skeptical of God’s voice in my life, choosing my own path rather than the one laid out by God. Ultimately, Gideon’s name ended up in Hebrews 11 as a testament to the faith he showed, which is good news for us.
After we’ve turned off the GPS, thrown out the map, and run out of fuel trying to make it on our own, God sends a tow truck at his own expense to come pick us up on the side of the road.
Guess whose name is on the tow truck driver’s shirt…