As soon as Gideon died, the people of Israel turned again and whored after the Baals. (Judges 8:33)
Unfortunately, Gideon’s ending wasn’t positive. When the men of Israel asked him to rule over them following the victory over the Midianites, he said the right thing: “I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the Lord shall rule over you.” But while Gideon’s words were humble, his actions were not. After he rejected the throne, he lived like a king! He took many wives and had 70 sons. In fact, he named one of them (born by his concubine) “Abimelech,” which means “my father is king”. Worst of all, he set up a golden ephod in his city from the spoils of victory.
Gideon had overthrown the altar of Baal, but now raised an idol of his own. His heart was lifted up through his achievement (compare with 1 Cor 4:7; 10:12). The golden ephod represented an intrusion into the divinely prescribed ministry of the high priest, similar to the rebellion of Korah (Num 16:7, 10). Furthermore, Shiloh was the divinely decreed place of worship at that time in Israel’s history, not Ophrah. Gideon proudly displayed the golden ephod in his hometown as a religious symbol commemorating his victory. Soon it became a national object of worship, drawing the people’s attention away from the Lord and into idolatry.
Gideon started out as a servant, but then lived like a celebrity. He handled adversity better than success. In the extreme moment of battle he acted with faith and courage, but in the ordinary routine of life he did not honor the Lord. Instead of using the great victory over Midian for God’s glory, he used it for his own profit. In a sense, Israel continued serving the memory of Gideon after he died. By falling back into Baal worship, they indicated that money and success mattered most of all, which was sadly the example of Gideon’s later years.
Solomon wrote that the end of a thing is better than its beginning (Eccl. 7:8). But like Gideon, he left a mixed legacy after falling into pride and idolatry in his later days. It’s so important to end well! How we finish is more important than how we begin. Paul asked the Galatians, “You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?” (Gal. 5:7). He himself was faithful to the end, always pressing on and reaching forward (Phil. 3:12–14). Shortly before his death he could write, “I have fought the good fight [well won!], I have finished the race [well run!], I have kept the faith [well done!]” (2 Tim. 4:7).