The story of Gideon’s fleece is well known. For a long time I really didn’t understand it, because it seemed like Gideon was testing God. But I recently re-read the account, and noticed something new. While not exactly the same thing, Gideon’s initial encounter with the Lord provides interesting context for the later one.
Backing up a little, we find that the Israelites were in a tough place. They were being attacked by Midianites because of disobedience, and so cried out to the Lord. He sent a prophet who spoke of their sins. Judges 6:10 has God stating through the prophet that the Israelites “have not obeyed Me”. Because of their sin, God had given them into the hands of Midian for seven years (6:1).
To understand their sin better, we need to know that the literal Hebrew reads “you have not listened to My voice”. Right after being delivered from Egypt, God told the Israelites to carefully heed His voice (Ex. 15:26) . So in effect, Israel was disobeying one of God’s first and most basic commands to them. After all, one cannot love the Lord with all one’s heart, soul, and strength, and at the same time not listen to Him.
Following the account of the prophet’s message, Gideon is visited and given his commission. After the Lord speaks to him, Gideon asks for a sign, which he receives when he prepares a sacrifice and it is miraculously consumed by flame. The fleece events come later, but this episode gives us a clue into Gideon’s motives.
When God tells Gideon that he will defeat Midian, Gideon at first expresses doubt because of his own place in life. However, God explains that it will be possible because God Himself would be with him. This addresses Gideon’s concern, but then Gideon faces one more doubt. He wants to make sure that it is truly God speaking. In verse 6:17 Gideon says: “… show me a sign that it is You who speak with me”.
In effect, Gideon was asking to be assured that he was hearing God’s voice, and not something else. Gideon was testing his own perception, not God. Compare this to the prophet’s pronouncement against Israel as a whole, that they were not listening to God.
This paints a very clear contrast between Gideon’s faithfulness and Israel’s disobedience. While they were ignoring God, Gideon was doing everything he could to make sure he was hearing Him correctly. Once convinced that it was God speaking to him, Gideon wasted no time in obeying. The rest, as they say, is history.
Is there a lesson here? We can error in testing God and constantly asking for signs, if this is acting from unbelief like the Pharisees (Matt. 12:38-39). Allowing something else to take the place of a personal relationship with God in this way can become a form of idolatry. But it seems like a good idea to test the spirits and confirm what we hear personally. What do you think?