‘We weren’t sure whether it was the Lord’s will, so we laid a fleece’. Mmmm. Good intention, not what that episode is about though.
I was in Judges 6 & 7 last Sunday. And so Gideon’s fleece cropped up. It’s surely one of the most wonderfully butchered pieces of scripture. It’s part of the ongoing narrative in which this judge is presented to us in somewhat unflattering terms. It a passage that’s been long cherished but much misunderstood by Christians. Here’s how the NIV translates it
36 Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised— 37 look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.” 38 And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew—a bowlful of water. 39 Then Gideon said to God, “Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece. This time make the fleece dry and the ground covered with dew.” 40 That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew.
This is not a positive move. Let’s be clear, Gideon is not looking for guidance. He’s not trying to discern God’s will. He knows what he’s supposed to do.
- The Midianite army have pitched up for their annual pillage.
- He’s been empowered by the Spirit.
- He’s summoned the army to Jezreel.
- Twice he says that he knows that God has promised to rescue Israel through him (36) & (37).
- And when he asks for the second sign he begs God not to be angry with him.
He knows what he’s supposed to be doing; he’s supposed to be leading the way in the battle for the kingdom of God.
And what he asks for isn’t a confirmatory sign, it’s a miraculous sign. He asks for the impossible in order to confirm what he knows he ought to be doing. It’s like asking ‘Lord if you want me to speak to my work colleagues about Christ will you send a Japanese Admiral to my front door at precisely 7.20am with a bunch of red roses addressed to my long deceased Grandmother’. [I think I got the Japanese Admiral bit from Adrian Plass].
We simply cannot justify using this as a model approach for guidance. Gideon’s looking for a way out. The fleece isn’t about discerning God’s will. It’s about trying to escape it. So let’s kick fleece laying into touch once and for all. Let’s do something sensible. Let’s make a prayerful decision in light of God’s revealed word no matter how demanding faithful obedience might be. That’s real godliness.