Book Review: Priscilla Shirer’s Gideon

Gideon is actually a Bible study, not a book per se.  But I’m reviewing it here because it has been a long, long time since any Bible study punched me in the gut the way that this one has.

Shirer herself has never particularly been on my radar. This isn’t out of a dislike or aversion to her work, but rather a simple shrugging indifference on my part. Introduced to her several years back,  I had read a few samples of her work and found them enjoyable – but it should say something for how they affected me at the time that I can’t remember anything about them now. So I came to Gideon largely because of my mother, who took to quoting chunks of the study on the phone to me because of how much she knew it’d relate to my life.

And boy, did it.

Gideon is two different things at once.  It is, first, a study of Gideon himself, which is valuable since Gideon tends to be one of those Biblical figures people know – but not one of the ones they really know.  Shirer does a wonderful job via sidebars and her “Digging Deeper” sections of sketching out the historical and spiritual context of what, precisely, was going on during the period in which the Bible focuses on Gideon.  The result for me, at least, was that I saw Gideon much more clearly: his worries, his need for reassurance, his flaws, the times he overstepped his bounds.  And through this lens we also get a glimpse of what’s going on with Israel at this point in time and how it relates to the greater cycle of their disobedience to and redemption by God.  If you’re curious about the history and politics and religion at play in the background, you’ll enjoy the chance to dive into it.

It’s easy to understand that Gideon destroyed an altar of Baal; it’s another thing entirely to realize it was his father’s altar he was tearing down and that transformation started not with a nation, but with Gideon’s own family.  It’s easy to focus on Gideon’s constant need for reassurance without marveling that God remained patient enough to constantly provide it.  And it’s easy to romanticize Gideon as the hero who led Israel for the Lord without also studying his downfall: his desires for vengeance, his return to idolatry, his arrogant self-perception.

But the second aspect of the Gideon study, in which Shirer uses Gideon as a jumping-off point for spiritual self-examination, was what resonated with me most strongly.  One of the strongest themes in this book is the contrast between what we want to offer to God and what God wants us to offer God – a concept with which I greatly struggle and one that Shirer wants us very much to confront.

What Shirer wants readers to grasp most from this study, I suspect, is that we can be used (if we permit God to use us) and that great things will be accomplished through us – but we first have to let go of our notions of what “great” looks like and what “accomplished” means.  She calls out readers for only wanting to glorify God in ways that they prefer, without taking the time to realize that God has His own distinct preferences in these matters.  And she points out how susceptible we can be to falling even at our moments of greatest triumph and achievement.

Moreover, Shirer is willing to call out our weaknesses where they stand.  I’ve read a thousand studies on how to avoid idolatry, but Shirer’s study of Gideon’s departure-from-and-eventual-return-to idolatry was not only affecting, but also helped me understand the concept of idolatry in a whole new way.  She is keen on forcing us to examine our lives, our families, and ourselves before we go parading out the door for glory, rightly pointing out that a lot of what keeps us from spiritual victory is already planted and growing in our hearts.

Words don’t really do justice to this study or how it affected me.  And I write this knowing that perhaps it won’t affect someone else the same way.  I think I was in the right place at the right time to hear what Shirer had to say, and for that reason Gideon was just invaluable to me.  If you are in that place, too – if you wonder why God hasn’t just gotten on with it, already, and why you’re wasting away not serving in the way you’re meant to serve, and why everything God has for you seems distant and difficult to reach – then this study will be an asset to you.  Grab it.

You can purchase Gideon here.

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