Putting Out the Fleece
Perhaps you have heard the expression of putting out the fleece. It comes from the story of Gideon in the book of Judges chapter 6. Gideon was very weak in faith, and although God had promised to be with him and give him victory, Gideon was fearful and doubtful. Therefore Gideon requested that God give him a sign. Gideon told God that if He really would deliver Israel through Gideon then there would be dew on the fleece he would put out, but the ground would be dry. After God did this for him, Gideon asked Him to reverse it the next day—have the fleece dry and the ground wet. We know Gideon felt somewhat guilty about this “test” because in Judges 6:39 he said, “Do not let Thine anger burn against me…please let me make a test once more”. Gideon’s request was not born of faith, but of his doubts and fears.
I find this interesting that God patiently went along with Gideon testing Him because I remember several passages like Matthew 12:38 when the Pharisees requested a sign from Jesus, but Jesus chastised them. Jesus even said in Matt.4:7, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test”. In fact I cannot find anywhere in Scripture where it recommends testing God. Jesus actually commends those who believe without seeing in John 20:29.
On the other hand, if God was gracious enough to reveal His will through the test that Gideon gave him, would He not also grant my request to know His will if it were done in faith? Asking God for signs by Christians is more common than I ever imagined. I found this out years ago when I did a series on decision making and the will of God. My conclusion at the time was that everyone’s experience seemed to be very subjective, and that asking for signs should be limited to rare important events. My purpose here is not to debate this, but to examine why God chose to honor Gideon’s request and even more important—why did God choose Gideon at all since he was so weak in faith?
The Lowest of the Least
Consider what Gideon said about himself when the angel of the Lord appeared to him to tell him God had chosen him to deliver Israel, “my family is the least in the tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” Gideon was saying I am the lowest member of a family that is the lowest family in the lowest tribe of a nation that is beaten down and subjugated by a bunch of nomads like the Midianites. How can I possibly lead Israel? Why would you choose me?
I think this pessimistic doubting attitude is exactly why God chose Gideon, and also why God chose to be so patient with him. Keep in mind that the fleece was not the only proof God had to give him. In Judges 6:17 Gideon first asked for a sign when the angel first spoke to him. The angel then touched the meat and bread Gideon had laid out with his staff and fire sprang up and consumed it, then the angel vanished (6:21). Also, in Judges 7:10, Gideon was still afraid to fight so God told him, “if you are afraid to go (against them), go with your servant down into the camp and you will hear what they say..and it will strengthen you.” When Gideon slipped down into the Midianite camp, he heard them talking about dreams they were having which had them fearful of Gideon and expecting their own defeat. It was not until this point that Gideon finally had the faith and courage to obey God and lead his small force against Midian.
Why was Gideon assured of victory? Why did God choose such a sap to lead the sons of Israel? Why did God insist on Gideon having such a small army?
The Lord Is With You
The very first thing the angel said to Gideon gives us our first clue of why God chose Gideon. “The Lord is with you, O valiant warrior.” (6:12). Gideon was far from a valiant warrior, as he was hiding out in a wine press separating the wheat by hand to keep the enemy from stealing it from him. His answer to the angel revealed his pessimistic attitude and his lack of understanding, “if the Lord is with us, then why has all this happened to us? But now the Lord has abandoned us.”(6:13) Gideon failed to understand that their plight was a result of their disobedience and infidelity to the Lord. We find in Judges 2:11 that the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord and served pagan idols…thus they provoked the Lord to anger. God gave them into the hands of plunderers who plundered them, yet Gideon seemed surprised that it was all happening, as if they did not deserve it. In Judges 6:25 we find out that Gideon’s family had an altar to the pagan god Baal and also Asherah which were idols of the female fertility goddess.
Therefore our dilemma about why Gideon was chosen continues to build up. He is the ultimate pessimist, doubter, scaredy cat, unfaithful, and of no good reputation. Gideon reminds me of the guy who said, “I was going to buy a copy of the Power of Positive Thinking, and then I thought, what good would that do?”or “I feel much better now that I have given up hope.” He is like Woody Allen who said “Civilization stands at a crossroads. Down one road is despondency and despair, and down the other is total annihilation. Let us pray that we choose the right road.”
In what sense was Gideon a “valiant warrior” ? Only when God was with him building him up, giving him signs, reassuring him constantly could this be possible. How could a guy like Gideon defeat a large powerful army? Only when God gave the enemy terrible dreams which scared and demoralized them. Even then, Gideon’s men only blew trumpets and broke the pitchers—it was God who scared them, confused them, and caused them to fight each other in the darkness and confusion and panic. God had prepared Midian for defeat, all Gideon’s army had to do was show up and obey him. A weak leader with a tiny army and foolish weapons wiped out the “uncountable” Midianite horde only because God was with them, and this is the point. All glory and honor and praise went to The Lord God Almighty just as it should have been.
God had chosen the weakest leader and the weakest army in order to make it clear that it was God doing it. Don’t miss this point when you read how God chose his army in Judges 6:34-7:7. He called the Abiezrites, the men in his clan, and then all the tribes of Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali. 32,000 men came, but 22,000 were shaking and trembling in fear so he sent them home. Remember the scene in the Alamo when Travis drew the line in the sand and everyone stepped over? Well this was quite a bit different—everyone stepped backward. Next, God said, “The people are still too many”, not exactly what an army commander wants to hear. So God sent them down to the water to get a drink and told Gideon, “everyone that slurps the water must go home, but everyone that laps the water stays for your army.” This is how Gideon ended up with a 300 man army of “lappers”. What is this, the Three Stooges? Why did God do all this reducing, and what’s up with the lapping? The reason is found in 7:2, “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into your hands, lest Israel become boastful and say, ‘My power has delivered me.’ God had decided to do a miracle, and there was going to be no mistaking who was responsible for the “delivering”, either to them or us now. We know that the only way this weak leader with a strange tiny army and foolish weapons can win is if God intervenes and causes it to happen.
A Great Lesson in Divine Election and Man’s Free Will
This story gives us a great lesson in how the sovereignty of God and the free will of man work together. God chose the men, their only virtue is that they are lappers—which means they have no virtue at all. Nevertheless, the men did show up, they did believe God, and they were obedient to blow the trumpets and break the pitchers. God graciously rewarded their faith according to His sovereign will and purpose. Gideon’s pep talk before the battle was, “Arise, for the Lord has given the camp of Midian into your hands.” The 300 exercised their volitional choice and walked down the mountain to the enemy camp, but it was God’s plan and carried out by His power.
The Difference Between Gideon and the Pharisees
Earlier I referenced Matt.12 where Jesus chastised the Pharisees for asking for a sign, and refused to give them one. The difference is that they were unbelievers who were rejecting Jesus and challenging Him. The prohibition against testing God comes from Deut.6:16. In the wilderness Israel rebelled and demanded a sign to prove God. This demand was an indication of unbelief. Therefore both Jesus’ reply and Moses’ prohibition was directed at unbelievers. Gideon was a believer who needed reassurance. Putting out the fleece was an expression of his weakness and fear, not an arrogant demand for proof of God.
Application for Us
God uses people like Gideon OR US, which makes it clear Who is Sovereign and who really deserves worship and glory. Men want kings and heroes—great leaders to accomplish great personal deeds, but God is offering us something better. Like Gideon, we do not merit or deserve God’s grace, but we certainly need to recognize and respond to it.
Perhaps you find yourself in difficult circumstances like Gideon, maybe you think you’ve been given a raw deal, or that God has abandoned you, as Gideon said, “why has all this happened to us?” Appearances are deceiving, they thought they had a raw deal, that God had abandoned them, that 300 was way too small, but God had a better plan that would glorify Him and bless Gideon and Israel. Gideon was the least man of the least family of the least tribe in a defeated nation, yet God had a wonderful plan for his life and used him greatly. What might God do with you and I if we but Believe, show up and obey Him?
Charlie Taylor, definitely a Lapper