Judges 8:27: Gideon's Idolatrous Ephod

Verse 27:[1] And Gideon (Judg. 17:5) made an ephod thereof, and put it in his city, even (Judg. 6:24) in Ophrah: and all Israel (Ps. 106:39) went thither a whoring after it: which thing became (Deut. 7:16) a snare unto Gideon, and to his house.


[And he made from it an Ephod] Question 1: What was an Ephod? Response: An Ephod is a sort of garment that covers the shoulders and goes around the chest; and its use was sacred, because it was always referred to the Divine worship (Menochius). Except in the case of sacred persons and things, we nowhere read that an Ephod was used (Bonfrerius). That it was the outermost High Priestly garment, is thought by Augustine, Theodoret, Carthusianus,[2] Justinianus,[3] Salian, and a number of others (Bonfrerius, thus Lyra, Estius, Serarius). Moreover, that this has regard to the High Priestly Ephod is proven from this, that this alone consists of gold and costly material, while the others were of pure and bright linen (Bonfrerius). In addition, by this ornament, which was proper to the High Priest, his other ornaments are understood (Lyra, Augustine in Estius). For the rest of the garments are understood under the Ephod as the primary garment, both here, and in Judges 17:5; 18:14, 18. Whence in Hosea 3:4 the Septuagint translate Ephod as ἱερατείαν, that is, a priesthood, and every priestly instrument (Lapide). Question 2: To what end did Gideon make this Ephod. Response 1: For a monument of victory (thus Munster, Vatablus, Drusius, Grotius, Junius, Martyr). But he made use of a sign less skillful and suitable: He could have written a song, or erected a column, etc. (Martyr). But he made the Ephod as a monument of victory, a victory which he sought by sacrifice;[4] and, so that, after he refused royal power, he might profess himself to be the religious minister of God, and to take upon his shoulders His commandments and the care of the people: For the Ephod was representing this (Lapide). Response 2: He made an Ephod, to consult God in it, not indeed through his own agency, but through the High Priest, who was dwelling not far from his city of Ophrah in Shiloh, and who was able to be called by him unto Ophrah (Lapide, Bonfrerius) (as the circumstance required). Moreover, that outside of the Tabernacle in whatever place God was able to be consulted by the Ephod, we said on Exodus 28; and so use was able to be made of the Ephod outside of the Tabernacle (Bonfrerius). Response 3: He appears to have made the Ephod so that the High Priest, clothed in it, might sacrifice for him and the people on the altar erected by him at the commandment of God in Ophrah. For, for what purpose is an altar, except that there might be sacrifices on it (Lapide)? Indeed, perhaps the power of sacrificing was divinely bestowed upon Gideon, just as upon Samuel, 1 Samuel 9:13, and Elijah, 1 Kings 18:30, although they were not of the stock of Aaron (Serarius). Question 3: Whether Gideon sinned in the making of this Ephod? Response 1: Some answer in the negative (thus Tostatus, Serarius, Lapide, Bonfrerius). For, 1. he is here said to have died in a good old age.[5] 2. He is set in the list of the saints, Hebrews 11. 3. While Gideon lived, by his leadership Israel served God, and afterwards defected (Lapide, Bonfrerius). Response 2: Others maintain that he sinned (thus Augustine, Martyr, Montanus, Malvenda). [Now, they place the sin in this:] Either, 1. that he fashioned the Ephod into an idol (Procopius in Bonfrerius). Or, 2. that he furnished for others an occasion of idolatry (certain interpreters in Bonfrerius); and that he did not oppose the people rushing headlong into idolatry (Martyr, Cajetan). Or, 3. that he made a High Priestly garment and other apparatus outside of the place of the Tabernacle (Augustine in Bonfrerius, Malvenda). He sinned through ignorance, and that from an imprudent and inordinate zeal for piety (Estius), since he desired to have Divine worship in his house, just as it was in Shiloh (Lyra); not considering that sacrifices were to be offered only in one place (Estius). Gideon was guilty ἐθελοθρησκεία, of will worship[6] (Broughton[7] in Serarius). He instituted worship of God not prescribed by His word (Martyr in Serarius). Or, 4. that he was regarding human glory, since he dedicated it, not in the Temple, but in his own city, whither many might flock in order to see it, whence both fame and advantage might arise for his fellow citizens and relatives (Montanus’ Commentary). And the following words indicate that Gideon sinned, and it happened to Gideon and to his house for ruin. Response 1: The progenitor and head of a family is wont by a figure of speech to be put for the entire family and posterity. Thus Gideon is taken in this place. Reply: But it is added, and to his house. Answer: That and is able to be exegetical, so that it might be the same as that is. Response 2: It could be said to be to Gideon also for ruin, because it just about destroyed his name and memory. Moreover, that is properly called מוֹקֵשׁ, a snare, or scandal, because, although it was done with good intention, contrary to intention it became an occasion of scandal and ruin (Bonfrerius). But the good intention of Gideon did not excuse his deed, granting that it had the appearance of piety: For a good intention was held by Peter, when he cut off the ear, etc., Matthew 26:51, 52; and by Paul, when he persecuted Christians; and the Jews, in Romans 10, had a zeal, but not according to knowledge (Martyr).


[All Israel committed whoredom] The Israelites practices immoral worship practices (Castalio).


[In it, אַחֲרָיו] [They render it variously.] After him (Syriac, Munster, Pagnine, Tigurinus, Montanus, Vatablus), understanding, Gideon, that is, with Gideon dead (Vatablus); after the death of him (Junius and Tremellius). Others: after it (Septuagint, Jonathan, Drusius, Dutch, English, Piscator), that is, the Ephod (Drusius): because of the Ephod (Castalio); on account of his idol (Arabic). In that, understanding, the Ephod, that is, it was a cause of idolatry (Vatablus). This was able to be done while Gideon was yet alive, and therefore it follows, it was to Gideon and to his house for a snare. Others gather out of verse 33 that this was done after his death [thus Grotius]; I do not know how solidly; for then they are said, not to have pursued the Ephod, but to have worshipped Baalim (Drusius). For, by this superstition (of the Ephod) they turned by degrees unto the worship of Baal. Gideon sinned, because, when he was seeing the backsliding of the people, he did not remove that monument, as afterwards Hezekiah did in the case of the brazen serpent[8] (Martyr). The people were turning the monument of victory unto the use of idolatry (Grotius). They were adoring that as an idol and a god (Lapide) they were attributing Divine honors to it (Piscator): or rather, they were misusing it for the worship of Baalim (Lapide, Junius, Bonfrerius); namely, that the priest sacrificed to Baal, clothed and adorned with this Ephod (Lapide, Bonfrerius): which circumstance, because of the excellence of that garment, and perhaps because of some reverence for that garment previously excited in the souls of men, marvelously increased the idolatry (Bonfrerius). The Devil rejoices if he might secretly foist his things upon God, and convert those things by which God is worshipped unto his own worship (Lapide).


[To Gideon] Which ought not to seem absurd, since holy men do slip into grevious sins, even indeed into idolatry; as it is known to have happened to Solomon[9] (Piscator).


Made an ephod thereof; not of all of it, for then it would have been too heavy for use; but of part of it, the rest being probably employed about other things agreeable and appertaining to it; which elsewhere are comprehended under the name of the ephod, as Judges 17:5; 18:14, 18; Hosea 3:4. Put it in his city; not as a monument of the victory, for such monuments were neither proper nor usual; but for religious use, for which alone the ephod was appointed. The case seems to be this, Gideon having by God’s command erected an altar in his own city, Ophrah, Judges 6:26, for an extraordinary time and occasion, thought it might be continued for ordinary use; and therefore as he intended to procure priests, so he designed to make priestly garments, and especially an ephod, which was the chief and most costly; which besides its use in sacred ministrations, was also the instrument by which the mind of God was inquired and discovered, 1 Samuel 23:6, 9; 30:7, which might seem necessary for the judge to have at hand, that he might consult with God upon all occasions. All Israel went thither a whoring after it; committing superstition or idolatry with it; or going thither to inquire the will of God; whereby they were drawn from the true ephod, instituted by God for this end, which was to be worn by the high priest only. A snare; an occasion of sin and ruin to him and his, as the next chapter showeth. Though Gideon was a good man, and did this with an honest mind, and a desire to set up religion in his own city and family; yet here seems to be many sins in it. 1. Superstition and will-worship, worshipping God by a device of his own, which was frequently and expressly forbidden. 2. Presumption, in wearing, or causing other priests to wear, this kind of ephod, which was peculiar to the high priest. 3. Transgression of a plain command, of worshipping God ordinarily but at one place, and one altar, Deuteronomy 12:5, 11, 14, and withdrawing people from that place to his. 4. Making a fearful schism or division among the people. 5. Laying a stumbling-block, or an occasion of superstition or idolatry, before that people, whom he knew to be too prone to it.

[1] Hebrew: וַיַּעַשׂ֩ אוֹת֙וֹ גִדְע֜וֹן לְאֵפ֗וֹד וַיַּצֵּ֙ג אוֹת֤וֹ בְעִירוֹ֙ בְּעָפְרָ֔ה וַיִּזְנ֧וּ כָֽל־יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל אַחֲרָ֖יו שָׁ֑ם וַיְהִ֛י לְגִדְע֥וֹן וּלְבֵית֖וֹ לְמוֹקֵֽשׁ׃


[2] Denis the Carthusian (1402-1471) was a Carthusian monk, theologian, and mystic, considered by some to be the last of the Schoolmen. He commented on the entire Bible.


[3] Agostino Guistiniani (1470-1536) was a learned Dominican and Bishop of Nebbio. He was the first to occupy a chair of Hebrew and Arabic at the University of Paris, and he devoted himself to the production of a Polyglot Bible. Guistiniani perished at sea in 1536, and only the Psalter portion of his polyglot was published; it included the Hebrew text, the Septuagint translation, the Chaldean paraphrase, an Arabic version, the Vulgate translation, a new Latin translation, a Latin translation of the Chaldean, and a collection of Patristic scholia.


[4] See Judges 6:18-27.


[5] Verse 32.


[6] Colossians 2:23: “Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship (ἐθελοθρησκείᾳ), and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.”


[7] Hugh Broughton (1549-1612) was an English divine, sympathetic to the Puritans. He developed an international reputation for his Hebrew scholarship.


[8] 2 Kings 18:4.


[9] 1 Kings 11:1-13.

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Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.

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