In the story of Gideon (Judges 6-8), near the end it talks about Gideon building an ephod out of the gold earrings from the spoils of the battle against the Midianites. What is an ephod, and why did gideon build one. Is it significant?
in early books of the bible, the ephod was a special piece of clothing that was made for Aaron the High priest to wear when he served the Lord (Exodus 28:5)
“They shall take the gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and the fine linen, 6 and they shall make the ephod of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen, artistically worked. 7
When I started to research this question, I realised that everyone pretty much agrees the ephod in Judges was not a clothing, like I had always thought!
So I cant tell you exactly what it was physically, but I can answer the 2nd part of your question and explain some significance.
It says in Judges 8:24
4 Then Gideon said to them, “I would like to make a request of you, that each of you would give me the earrings from his plunder.” For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.
This is extremely familiar scene. Think back to exodus as Moses goes up the mountain to get the 10 commandments. The people think he has been gone to long, and they ask Aaron the priest to make them an idol!
Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 2 And Aaron said to them, “Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. 4 And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf.
So the significance of the ephod in Judges, is that once again, God's people do not trust in him or give him glory for the things he has done for them, but they go astray and break his commandments by making for themselves idols and worshipping them.
Idol worship is a very very prominent theme of the Old Testament. and it was a problem the Israelites continually faced.
Gideon's ephod is well, an ephod. A priestly garment worn under the breastplate. Some translations "liberally" label it as an idol which I don't think is the case.
The bible doesn't specifically say what reason Gideon had in making the ephod. It could be one of a million reasons such as it being a remembrance to the victory they had. It could also be Gideon's way of uplifting his name and his family's considering he thinks of his family as the weakest and the least.
“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” Judges 6:15
I personally don't think that his purpose was one of worship as the bible never mentions him ever personally worshiping it.
I too think of a garment when the word "ephod" comes about. That said, I don't have a clear understanding of what this ephod Gideon speaks about that is then put in the city of Ophrah. You would think if it is placed somewhere that it is a replica of something rather than a garment.
Although, if you read a couple verses before the verse in question, you will see that Gideon rebuked the people for proposing he be worshiped for the victory of killing the kings. He made it clear that it was God whom they should worship. This tells me that his intentions of making this ephod was not to worship idols but maybe a way for the people to remember the victory.
The writer of the book of Judges certainly did not make it quite clear what Gideon's intentions were. He had just had a resounding victory against the Medianites. He made it clear to his people that they should look to God to be their ruler in Judges 8 verse 23 which is followed by the collection of the golden earrings from the 'prey/ spoils' that were used to make the ephod. While there is no indication that Gideon himself worshipped it, his intentions remain unclear and so is why it is described in verse 27 that it became a snare to his house. The fall then starts from verse 29 onwards. Could this be because of the mere fact that Gideon had built the ephod? or the fact that it was worshipped by the Israelites? or maybe that he failed to ask God before building it and hence it did not please God who could have seen ahead that it would be worshipped by the Israelites hence it was a snare?...,