Judges 6.33-40 {Un}Faithful Test

June 10, 2012 Series: Judges | {Un}Faithful (Part 1 of 2)

Topic: Old Testament

V. 33-35 Purity & Strength
33 Now all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East came together, and they crossed the Jordan and encamped in the Valley of Jezreel. 34 But the Spirit of the Lord clothed Gideon, and he sounded the trumpet, and the Abiezrites were called out to follow him. 35 And he sent messengers throughout all Manasseh, and they too were called out to follow him. And he sent messengers to Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, and they went up to meet them.

Last week, we were introduced to the judge of the month named GIDEON. Appearing as the Angel of the Lord, Jesus shows up and tells this unknown weakling of a wheat thrasher that he is a “might man of valor” AND that his mission is to save Israel from the Midianites—the ruthless mob that has literally eaten away their lives for seven years. And Gideon is reluctant to obey what God tells him to do because he can’t see beyond his problems what he believes God hasn’t done. The immense idol to Baal in his backyard has blinded him to the fact that his circumstances are not the problem, his broken relationship with God is. Before he can be strong for God, he, his family, and his land must be purified by God; so God gives Gideon peace through forgiveness. Throughout the book of Judges, we see God always moving first; the same is with Gideon. God initiates the call, God chooses the mission, God sacrifices for forgiveness, God restores the family, and God sends His Spirit to empower his people to accomplish the extraordinary.

Clothed with the Spirit
Gideon’s act of tearing down the family/city altar, though dangerous, hard, and unpopular, results in restoring Gideon’s family’s and his clan’s relationship with God. And that restoration leads to a transformation in their response to the mission of God. This time, when the Midianites, Amalekites, and the Ishmaelites swarm in for their annual harvest devastation festival, there is a different reaction. Instead of cowering in fear, instead of lying down in winepresses in the fetal position, instead running to their survivalist caves, Gideon boldly sounds the trumpet for war, he calls out his clan, and he sends messengers to call out the other tribes—he gathers an army. This is not the result of the enemy being weaker or of Gideon suddenly feeling a rush of self-esteem; this is the direct result of God clothing him with the Spirit of the LORD. Whether or not someone is reluctant or enthusiastic to obey God’s Word, is directly connected with the Spirit of God. 1Timothy 1.7 7 for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. Various threats or promises of reward might get someone excited to do something crazy for their own personal benefit; but getting someone excited about the mission of God, to fight, to risk, to die [with enthusiasm] comes from a deepening relationship with the Holy Spirit—the person we so often ignore.

V. 37-40 Gideon’s Tests
But then, inexplicably, a spirit-filled Gideon still needs reassurance. God calls Gideon, Gideon acts on his instructions, but Gideon still has a hard time believing that God will come through on his promises—even WITH the Spirit of God. Gideon’s faith seems very familiar to me, very normal, very real. There are many ways to look at Gideon’s actions here. A lot of commentators take a very negative view of what follows from here, claiming that Gideon is a coward or that he struggles with unbelief. Maybe. The picture we have is of a super-ordinary asked to do something radically difficult—to fight to save your marriage, to battle against an addiction, or to sacrifice for the kingdom of God. And the idea is inspiring. Gideon starts with great energy and momentum. He’s gathers an army of over 30,000, gives them an inspiring speech….are you ready!....yeah…..let’s fight….yeah!... then they all run off to fight the enemy with passion!. Then, as he comes into the valley, to edge of mission, the size of the enemy’s camp of several hundred thousand comes into view. UH-OH. Wow. They’re bigger than I thought. This is harder than I thought. This isn’t going to be easy. This is going to hurt. A little bit of doubt begins to creep in. You know what God said. You know that God is willing, but is he REALLY able to do this? Gideon saw Jesus face to face. Gideon has heard the voice of God the Father speak. Gideon is clothed with the Spirit of God. But he still needs reassurance. And so Gideon tests God.

V. 36-40 A real example
Then Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said, 37 behold, I am laying a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said.” 38 And it was so. When he rose early next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water. 39 Then Gideon said to God, “Let not your anger burn against me; let me speak just once more. Please let me test just once more with the fleece. Please let it be dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground let there be dew.” 40 And God did so that night; and it was dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground there was dew.

So what we have here is Gideon testing God. This text is not written to give us some kind of formula to figure out God’s will for my life. Unsure whether God will actually do what he says, he lays out a piece of wool on a threshing floor—flattened area exposed to the elements. He asks God to confirm what he has already said by having the wool soaked with water in the morning but having the ground around it all dry. God fulfills his request. And though Gideon had said, “If you do this…then I shall know,” he still needs some reassurance so he request a reversal of the same miracle—make the ground wet and the fleece dry.

Let us begin by reminding ourselves that the theme of Judges is that, “everyone did what was right in their own eyes”…even the heroes. That is why we must be careful about following the examples in attitude or action of these guys. It is important to view Gideon’s story as a description of an unfaithful man, living in an unfaithful world, working out of his relationship with a faithful God—his actions are not a prescription to follow. Essentially, each of these deliverer’s fall short and point us to the one deliverer who didn’t fall short, the one who didn’t sin, the one who appeared weak but was strong, the one who didn’t test God but perfectly listened and obeyed God’s covenant and saved His people. Gideon’s weakness leads us to Jesus. Now whether nor not Gideon is cowardly and unfaithful in his actions, I’m not sure because the Bible doesn’t say. I think there are some things that are WRONG with laying out a fleece like this, and some things that are quite RIGHT. When all is said and done, we must fight the temptation to become man-centered in our interpretation; because this text is less about giving us a picture of ourselves and more about giving us a picture of our God.

What is WRONG with laying out a fleece?
We have to talk about laying out a fleece because the idea has been misused by our culture—with good intentions but bad theology. The phrase, “laying out a fleece” has been employed by believers and non-believers throughout history as way of discerning God’s will. Usually, the “fleece” is used when someone has to make a difficult decision, whether that is between two desirable options, different levels of risk, etc. In an effort to discern what God would have them do, they lay out a fleece or “test” God in all kinds of creative ways. Most people don’t literally use a “fleece”, or even ask for a miraculous sign, as much as they “test” God using logic and wisdom. And usually, and often wrongly, conclude that the path God wants is the one that proves easier, better, or otherwise more fulfilling for me. If you spend any time listening to God, you’ll find he usually tells you things that are both counter-cultural and counter-intuitive. In other words, if you only hear God telling you things you want to do or things that the culture loves, you probably need new fleece. There can be several things wrong with laying out a fleece:

First, there is there is the wrong idea out there that God has a secret plan for our lives; one that He has not revealed to us but is holding us accountable to figure out. And we need to do that BEFORE we make any decision. This kind of approach to God’s Will results in a life full of fear and uncertainty. In terms of our decision making, big and small, God’s Will is not a puzzle we must figure out or a target to be hit or missed. While it is important to ask God for wisdom, it can be paralyzing if we believe there is some sort of hidden direction that can be easily missed by every little decision we make.

Second, having a relationship with God like this is like having a relationship with a magic-eight ball. Pastor Kevin DeYoung rightly says, “God is not a Magic 8-ball we shake up and peer into whenever we have a decision to make. He is a good God who gives us brains, shows us the way of obedience, and invites us to take risks with Him. We know God has a plan for our lives. That’s wonderful. The problem is, we think He’s going to tell us the wonderful plan before it unfolds.” (Just Do Something, p. 26). There is a reason that, in his conversation with Gideon, God tells Gideon he already has everything he needed to obey.

Third, when we test God with a “fleece”, I have found is rare that we are testing what he has already said. Usually we are trying to get some kind of divine approval for what our hearts (good or bad) want. The key to understanding what Gideon's fleece is all about is in Judges 6:36, where Gideon tells God: "If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised-" Gideon knows God's will—it is not a secret. We know God’s Will; it is in the Bible; it is not a secret. (But he doesn’t tell me who to marry, what job to take, where to eat after church…perhaps he doesn’t care).

Laying out a fleece isn’t necessarily sinful…until it is. Most of the time, laying out a fleece and hoping for signs or tingles is, quite frankly, a lazy man’s sure fire way to do nothing (or the wrong thing). If you want to know what to do—read your Bible. Don’t read it looking for answers to your questions, but use it to find what questions you should be asking. And instead of using it to test what you’ve already decide to do, read it to test your own motivations, hopes, and plans.

What is RIGHT about laying out a fleece?
But relative to Gideon, I am not convinced that everything is wrong about what he does here—as it relates to our attitudes. Though many commentators speak of Gideon as a unbelieving coward, the book of Hebrews describes Gideon as a man of faith. Hebrews 11.32-34 32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. I wonderif we might consider a different view than that of a man struggling with unbelief. Perhaps, Gideon is set forth as a VERY real example of someone interacting with God when things look bad or feel impossible.

And instead of simply doubting that God could do it, perhaps he is just a fearful child of God who wants His Father to reassure him everything is going to be ok. And rightly, he turns to God. Twice. And when you believe that God is more than an eight-ball or a divine vending machine, you’ll find yourself turning to him not just to get what you want—but to get Him. As Christians, we must continue to remind ourselves that God is a person, and our relationship with him is personal. Gideon might be a man struggling with unbelief, but he is also a man who wants to be certain of his ongoing relationship with God. He talks to him, listens to him, asks him questions, and makes requests. He wants a constant relationship with God.

Or, better yet, let’s not consider how Gideon relates to God, but how God reacts to Him. He doesn’t condemn him, he draws near to Him. Gideon not only wants to be near to God, God wants to be near to Gideon. In many ways, God tells him it is ok to be scared, as long as you turn to me in your fear. When we’re fearful we often fight God or run away from Him. God wants us to turn to Him, to believe that he is there; he won’t reject us because he is patient, kind, and loving. And more than anything, God is humble and not ashamed to stoop down and reassure us in our fears…even if we ask twice.

What is God’s final sign?
So what are we to do when God says GO and we’re scared to do it? We begin by listening to God. There remains a lot of confusion about what exactly to do because people have simply failed to read all that God has spoken in His Word. So after you read your Bible, praying for understanding, and go. Do not wait for a sign. Why? Jesus said it is evil. A sign has already been given by Jesus.

Luke 11.29-32 29 When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. 30 For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. 31 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. 32 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.

What was the sign of Jonah? Jonah was one of the great prophets of Israel and he had been called out by God to preach to an Assyrian city named Nineveh and to proclaim its pending doom. Jonah fled on a ship to Tarshish, however, and when a great storm began to rock the boat he was thrown overboard and swallowed by a large fish. After three days in the fish, however, he was puked up alive on the coast of Ninevah and went into the city.

Jonah pictures the gospel, specifically, the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. This sign calms all of our fears that come with following Jesus wherever he leads. Like Gideon most of us know that battle God is calling us individually to, but if we’re “normal” we will need reassurance. Our reassurance doesn’t come from emotional rushes, lighting flashes, or water-soaked fleece. We need only one sign—the resurrection. This sign shows us that not only that God is willing to save, but he is able to do what he says. The resurrection of Jesus proved that he was greater than our biggest enemies—sin, Satan, and death—and has freed us from the paralysis of fear and empowered us to fight.

Our fight is one of faith in Jesus not ourselves. We fight to trust, not to ‘win’ . We fight to believe it IS ok, not that it is going to be ok. We fight to believe in what is done, not fight to do.

More in Judges | {Un}Faithful (Part 1 of 2)

July 1, 2012

Judges 9:1-57 {Un}Faithful Rule

June 24, 2012

Judges 8.1-35 {Un}Faithful Zeal

June 17, 2012

Judges 7.1-24 Faithful Odds