Gideon is another Old Testament hero who makes into the Hebrews 11 faith hall of fame. He starts out with a very weak faith, but as we have often seen it is not the size of our faith that matters, but who we have put our faith in.
Judges 6 starts off another round of the Deuteronomic cycle – Israel are leaderless and sinning and God gives them over to their sin – leading to being oppressed by the Midianites v1-5. They wake up and begin to cry out to God v6 and so the Lord sends a prophet to put out the issue – their disobedience v8-10.
Then an angel of the Lord appears to Gideon – most commentators cite an angel of the Lord to be a Theophany – a pre-incarnation appearance of Christ. The angel speaks to Gideon, who is threshing wheat inside a winepress (threshing is normally done in a windy place so as the wheat is thrown upwards, the wind blows away the lighter chaff and the heavier wheat falls back to the ground). Threshing inside a winepress shows just how oppressed and fearful the Israelites have become.
“The Lord is with you, mighty man of valour” – the angel speaks to 2 of the 3 things we need in order to serve God effectively. We need His presence – the Lord is with you. We need to know our identity – God considers Gideon to be mighty man of valour. Gideon is just an ordinary guy – feeling insignificant v15 and needing a confirmatory sign that it is the Lord speaking v17 – The Lord burns his offering to give that sign. All good so far. Next the Lord tests Gideon’s valour with a small step – knock over a pagan idol statue and put an altar next to it at night. Gideon goes for it! And people find out. He’s passed the test. It was an easy one under cover of night, but he did it!
Gideon next receives the 3rd thing we need (after the presence of God and knowing our identity) he is clothed with the Holy Spirit. He is filled with the Spirit. That should be enough for him to get on with what God has called him to do.
Unfortunately, we get the next 5 verses of the fleece, which have been used out of all proportion to become a primary way many seek to know God’s will! In modern day Christianity people will often talk of laying a fleece to determine God’s will. It’s more than give me a confirmatory sign. It’s a bargain with God – if you do x (which has nothing to do with y), I will do y. People lay a fleece to determine God’s will. Gideon did not lay the fleece to determinewhat God’s will was. He laid a fleece to confirm it. He already knew what God wanted, he was just too scared to do it.
As he lays the fleece scenario out – he says to the Lord “as you have said” twice. He knows what God has said. He just wants God to confirm it again. Often narrative in the Bible has people doing things that can be good, bad or indifferent without comment and Scripture leaves us to work it out! Asking for the fleece was not good thing, as it showed he had weak faith, and was scared to do God’s will. The Lord had appeared to him, send His presence, given a sense of new identity and anointing of the Spirit and still Gideon isn’t sure. It’s arguably a bad thing, because the NT tells us anything not done in faith is sin Rom 14:23. Although the Lord does humour him and answer it. It’s definitely an indifferent thing – it’s not the best thing to do, it is not a model for us to follow, because it’s a sign of weak faith.
Laying a fleece happens once in Scripture and it’s not a model for determining what God’s will is if you are strong and mature in your faith. Gideon does it when he was feeling weak still and to confirm not determine God’s will.
Laying a fleece…
- Can lead to uncertainty and confusion – was it really God or coincidence? Gideon did it twice to make sure.
- Is close to manipulating God – it’s confining the Lord to a box.
- Puts the responsibility on God and destroys real faith and trust.
Challenging huh? Many of us have taken a small story which highlights Gideon’s weak faith and made it a model for guidance and determining God’s will. What God really wants us to do is pray, seek guidance (including signs if need be), use sanctified common sense (ie wisdom), make a choice, decide and step out in faith! Not only do something if God does some narrow arbitrary thing for us! This text is descriptive not prescriptive. It describes what Gideon does because He is scared and weak. It doesn’t prescribe a mature way to determine God’s will!
Marinate on that!