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Putting Out Fleeces

Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised — 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.” And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew — a bowlful of water. 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.” That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew. Judges 6.36-40.

It is astonishing, looking back, that “putting out a fleece” was such an acceptable way of seeking God’s guidance in the fellowship of Christians I belonged to in the mid-sixties. “I’m going to ask God to make there be three red cars parked in the street when I get back from work tonight, and if there are I’ll know he is happy for me to book the holiday in France I’ve been wondering about.”

But Gideon did it, didn’t he? And God went along with him. Yes, in his grace God did. But there was nothing commendable about Gideon’s “putting out a fleece” and it was certainly not the kind of behaviour that I or any other Christian should have thought of imitating. Even Gideon himself knew, when he put out the fleece for a second time, that he was running the risk of displeasing God — “Do not be angry with me …” And no wonder, for God had already assured him that victory would be his. When Gideon had asked the Lord how he, Gideon, could possibly save Israel, the Lord had told him, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together” (Judges 6.16).

So, far from being an act of faith, Gideon’s “putting out a fleece” was an act of unbelief. He condemns his action even as he takes it by saying “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised …” He was not persuaded that God was going to do what he had promised so he sought further reassurance by requiring God to jump through some arbitrary hoops that he was about to set up. Moses had said to the Israelites, “Do not test the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 6.16), but that is precisely what Gideon was doing. And the trouble with all such tests is that, unless the outcome is almost beyond the bounds of possibility, they don’t really prove anything anyway. A wool fleece placed on the ground overnight was always going to absorb the dew and retain it in a way that the ground would not, so Gideon had to reverse the test to try and be sure God was in the result!

So it always was in the sixties. Three red cars in the street? Yes — but it might be just a coincidence. Better make it twelve. But no — that would be almost impossible!

The truth is that God wants me to learn to listen to him, know him, love him and stay close to him … and then simply obey what I have heard him saying to me. And where I am not sure what to do I must first ask God for wisdom. “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1.5). Then I should listen for the voice of God as he speaks through Scripture and through the fellowship of the church, and after that I must simply let circumstances and the leanings of my own heart guide me. John says: “Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him” (1 John 3.21). A close walk with God and a quiet, untroubled heart are all that I need. And simply to trust and obey. There is no room for “putting out fleeces”.

When we walk with the Lord in the light of His word,
what a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will, He abides with us still,
and with all who will trust and obey.
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

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