Fleecing the Lord: A Short Meditation on Judges 6:36-40
What Is the Situation?
How often do we hear it? "I put out a fleece for the Lord to find out His will." This action is based on the text under consideration here, Judges 6:36-40. In context, the Lord has told Gideon that He will deliver the Israelites from the Midianite raiders who have been oppressing them for 7 years. When an angel calls him "mighty warrior" (6:12), we can almost see Gideon looking over first one shoulder and then the other, wondering who this guy is talking to. But the angel tells him that God will use him to deliver the people. Gideon argues with him (v.15) and then asks for a sign (v.17). The angel gives him a sign by consuming his sacrifice with miraculous fire (v.21). Gideon apparently concludes that this is enough to convince him, so he takes the next step.
The next step, according to the Lord's instructions, is to tear down the idols and altars to Baal and Asherah, build an altar to the Lord and offer a sacrifice on it. Gideon obeys, but at a price: the men of his town want to kill him for it, and only his father's quick talking rescues him. We're not told how Gideon reacted to the men's bloodthirst, but the fact that his father does all the talking suggests that Gideon was doing what he had been doing before the angel came to him: hiding in fear of his life.
After this, it's time for the big battle to throw off the yoke of Midian. While the enemy prepares for battle, Gideon, under the influence of the Lord's Spirit, summons Israel to battle them (v.34-35). When everyone is arrayed and set up for the big fight, we see the following exchange between Gideon and the Lord:
- Gideon prefaces his request with the statement "If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised."
- Gideon asks for another sign - the fleece to be wet in the morning while the ground around it is dry.
- The Lord grants his request: the fleece is full of dew while the ground is dry.
- Gideon asks for another variation of the sign: this time reverse it.
- The Lord grants his request: the ground is wet but the fleece is dry.
What's Really Happening Here?
As we examine this exchange in the context of Judges 6, we can see several things:
First, Gideon did not put the fleece out to determine God's will. He already knew what God's will was. He had been told by the angel, and he even subtly acknowledged it with the phrase "as you have promised." Gideon knew what God wanted him to do, yet he did the fleece thing anyway.
Second, The fleece was a sign of unbelief. Gideon had already received a miraculous sign from God to prove that He was going to give Gideon victory and deliver Israel. Yet, perhaps because of the response of his own townsmen, Gideon doubted. He had to have another sign. And then yet another. In other words, Gideon knew God's will but didn't believe it. "Putting out a fleece" was not a method of determining God's will, it was an act of faithlessness because Gideon didn't trust that God would do what He had already promised.
Third, the fleece was a request for a miraculous sign. It was not simply a request for events to go a certain way. Gideon wanted something to happen that was contrary to the usual pattern of nature, i.e. a miracle. It was not a request for a "sign" of the type "if my dog barks within the next half hour, then I'll know the answer." Gideon's request would be more along the lines of "if my duck meows, then I'll know the answer."
What Do We Learn From this?
The first thing we learn is that "putting out a fleece" is not a biblical method of discerning God's will. Gideon already knew God's will, he was merely second-guessing it. The second thing we learn is that, if you are determined to "put out a fleece" it must be a request for a miraculous sign. "If things work out so I can go to Africa, then I'll know God wants me to" is not a biblical fleece. The third and most important thing we learn, though, is that "putting out a fleece" is an act of doubt that indicates a serious lack of faith. As with Gideon, the Lord may honor the request ("If a Rwanda Airlines jumbo jet lands in my front yard and the pilot tells me to hop aboard..."), but He won't be happy that you asked. And you will have to face the fact that your faith isn't even the size of a mustard seed if you feel you have to do this.
God's will is a hot topic among Christians, and theories abound. But this is one theory that can and should go into File 13, because it is not a biblical method. My own view, for what it's worth, is that God's will is actually pretty simple to discern: act like a Christian! In non-moral matters such as career, where to live, what kind of car to drive and such, follow your heart with your eyes on the Lord so you provide all things honest before all. From there, it doesn't really matter. For full details, the best book ever written on the subject is Garry Friesen, Decision Making and the Will of God published by Multnomah Press. It is one of the most life-changing books you'll ever read, and you don't need a fleece to tell you it's right on the mark!
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