“I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpation.”
And Jesus said to them, “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
Judas, Lot, Gideon. What do they have in common?
Lot was chronologically first. He was the nephew of Abraham and lived under the blessings and protection of being in the entourage of God’s chosen path of covenantal blessing. Lot is most notably remembered more for his wife, who literally became salt of the earth, but in the negative sense. Next is Gideon; temporary judge of Israel during the disobedient and chaotic years preceding the period of the kings. The most common recognition Christians give him is to do with a ‘fleece’ and how he selected an army of warriors to lead in radical odds of victory. Lastly, in this example, is Judas. The only name Americans know that would compete with this man for the title of betrayal would be Benedict Arnold.
So what is the one underlying, yet fundamental ‘thing’ that these men share? Deception. And as tempting as it might be to accentuate on possible deceptions that they attempted with others, the actual issue lies more pointedly in how they were deceived.
Staying the preceding order, Lot started in his travel to wealth and prestige when he was packed up in the family of Abram (later to be named ‘Abraham’) while living in Ur. As Abraham accumulated possessions and power, Lot became the beneficiary and likewise obtained property and position. But as his portfolio increased, so did his pride, as exhibited in Genesis 13:7, when he argued with fellow herdsman about ‘who owned what’. Lot was given the choice to move, and in his greed, took the choice land near the dangerous cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. However, through a chain of unrecorded events, it appears that living in the fertile land nearby was not good enough for Lot and his family, as he ultimately ends up directly in the city of Sodom. During a raid of local enemies, Lot and his family are taken captive. When Abraham hears of the kidnapping, he takes his private army and delivers Lot (et al) and restores his safety. However, as we see in the text, Lot takes his family right back into the pigpen of Sodom, and the city is no better for being saved by Abraham against the raiders. Most readers know the rest of the history. Abraham is visited by three heavenly figures who reveal their plans to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham advertently pleas for Lot and his family’s preservation (without mentioning names). The heavenly beings appear to honor this by sending Lot and family on their way with the stipulation to not look back at the destruction when it beings. Lot’s wife does not heed this command, and is subsequently turned into a ‘pillar of salt’.
Next is Gideon. This warrior is called to serve the Lord in Judges 6. Though initially unsure of his qualification to do so, he accepts the responsibility and begins to dismantle the altars of the foreign gods within the land. Then, upon his request to deliver Israel, Gideon presents a series of tests for the Lord’s will. The problem is, each time the Lord answers, Gideon wants another sign of approval. After he finally accepts God’s affirmation, he is next directed to reduce the number of his army to a measly 300 men. God was obviously not interested in men receiving glory for a victory, but for the people of Israel to see that it is Him who delivers. And even though Gideon appears somewhat ‘shaky’ in the faith department, he seems to hold true to God, even to the point when Israel calls on him, his son, and his grandson to rule over the people, because he tells them, “the Lord shall rule over you.” But shortly thereafter comes the fatal flaw. Gideon requests the warriors to contribute one gold earring each from the spoils of their victory – to which the people oblige; and then some. Then, as if standing in the shadow of the great sin at Mt. Sinai, Gideon had an ephod built out of the presented gold (which was highly unusual since they were commanded to weave it out of fabric in Exodus 28). “And all Israel played the harlot with it there, so that it became a snare to Gideon and his household.” This is the last information we are given concerning Gideon’s faith and leadership in God.
And of these 3 widely known individuals, perhaps the last is most renowned – Judas. Few people remotely familiar with the Scriptures do not know who Judas was and what he did. And though we are not given much detail on what constituted the man Judas prior to his calling, we are not led to believe him to be an evil man prior to his control of the ‘money box’. It appears that along the way in his walk with Christ, he fell to the temptation of the control of money, which ultimately led to his betrayal of Jesus and subsequent suicide.
Returning to the original question – what did these three men have in common? They were all slowly led down their paths to destruction. Though some appear to have descended quicker than others, nevertheless, the result was the same. And herein lies the salient point for our consideration: Satan and the realm of evil works as if they have all the time in the world. Think about it - we seldom ever get flipped on our ear overnight in deception. It’s usually a very gradual shift. This is at least of the viable reasons that Jesus makes reference to the ‘leaven’ of the Pharisees. Yeast is relatively slow to rise - even our modern ‘quick-rise’ version is not all that fast. Yet if there is just a small amount in the dough, it will spread and continue to expand until arrested. Likewise, evil acts as the deceptive yeast in our ‘spiritual dough’ (if you will). Slowly it creeps through and swells without us realizing what has taken place.
Lot was deceived into thinking he could leave the security of God’s people and live with in the middle of evil without being affected. Gideon was deceived into thinking he would never take the glory from God. Judas was deceived into justifying his theft as ‘caring for the poor’. All were slowly changed to destructive circumstances.
The only way to avoid this ‘leavening’ is to 1) place ourselves humbly in the light of spiritual accountability to others; and 2) honestly observe ourselves and ultimately ask, “Why am I doing what I am doing?” In other words, “How will this bring glory to Jesus Christ?”
We might be tempted to look at these three men and shake our heads in tragic disappointment, thinking of the vast wasted potential. Looking through the lens of Scripture and observing ourselves and one another is the call of the church – the body of Christ – to preserve each other in this walk of endurance. Though the change away from God can be subtle, so as not to be noticed, repentance is just the opposite. Quick. Sure. About - face. Just like that. No weaning and no excuses. Now that’s reality gospel.
Keep the Faith (Galatians 3:23),