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Gideon’s Fleece: Discerning or Disobedient?

During a time of oppression at the hand of Midian, the Lord calls Gideon to save Israel (Judg. 6:11). The angel of the Lord tells Gideon that he’s a mighty warrior and that the Lord is with him (6:12), but Gideon scoffs: if God is here, why are we experiencing such oppression (6:1–6, 13)? Gideon’s blames God, rather than acknowledging Israel’s disobedience (6:7–10). Though Gideon knows of God’s mighty works (Judg. 6:13), he can’t see beyond his present crisis and personal weakness.

Gideon requests a sign of confirmation—which is granted—and he presents an elaborate offering, which the angel then consumes with fire before disappearing (6:17–21). Gideon, realizing who this figure was, fears (6:22), but God grants him peace (6:23).

Gideon, however, remains hesitant regarding his calling, seeking additional signs: a wet fleece surrounded by dry ground, and then the reverse (6:36–40). It’s tempting to paint this as Gideon’s attempt to discern God’s will, but the twice-repeated phrase “as you have said” (6:36, 37) makes clear that Gideon isn’t confused about his mission. He doesn’t lack discernment or direction. The problem is he doesn’t personally know the Lord or trust his character. 

Understanding God’s Promises

God is faithful and trustworthy. He keeps his promises. If God has said something, we don’t need to seek signs or put him to the test. What God has said, he will do.

God promised Adam and Eve that one of their descendants would crush the head of the serpent, and it has happened.

He promised the eight who emerged from the ark that he would never flood the earth again in order to destroy all of creation, and he has not.

He promised a son to an elderly Abraham and Sarah, and they had Isaac.

If we know the Lord, we know him to be true to his word. We don’t need to ask for more signs that he’ll do what he has promised to do.

He promised King David that one of his descendants would rule and reign over God’s people forever, and he has.

He promised that his Holy One wouldn’t see corruption in the grave, and Jesus rose from the dead.

He has promised that those who look to Jesus the Messiah for salvation will join him in his eternal kingdom, and we will.

If we know the Lord, we know him to be true to his word. We don’t need to ask for more signs that he’ll do what he’s promised. There are, however, two big words of caution when it comes to trusting God to do what he has said. 

1. What God Really Said

First, we must know what he really said. The serpent’s question to Eve in the garden isn’t always a bad one to ask: “Did God really say?”

Permit an illustration. At times in my years of teaching, students have come to me in distress because of relationship woes. Suzy was dating Johnny, and she thought they’d get married, but he broke up with her. On more than one such occasion, in the course of our conversation the young lady before me would find her way to Jeremiah 29:11—“For I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”—and conclude she should hold to that promise that God would bring Johnny around and they’d get back together. But did God really say that? No. While God certainly had plans for this young lady’s hope and future, there was no promise he’d restore this romantic relationship!

We must take care not to create situations in which we make God seem like he has failed to keep his word—when instead we’ve not accurately heard his word. We need to be careful not to tell ourselves or others that God has promised something that, in fact, he hasn’t.

We must take care to not create situations in which we make God seem like he has failed to keep his word—when instead we’ve not accurately heard his word.

2. Every Promise Mine?

There’s a popular statement that claims, “Every promise in the Book is mine.” One Bible I own has an appendix meant to guide people to a biblical promise to respond to their need. Need courage? Turn to Proverbs 3:5–6. Stressed? Psalm 55:22. Discouraged? Joshua 1:9.

Although claiming the promises of God sounds pious, it’s also potentially fraught with difficulty. After all, some of the promises in the Bible weren’t given directly to us. God promises Abraham that he’ll have descendants as numerous as the stars (Gen. 15:5), but when my husband and I were facing infertility issues and then seeking to grow our family through adoption, that didn’t mean I could claim that passage as God’s confirmation that he’d give us a child. That was Abraham’s promise, not mine. I can learn from it. It’s an inspired and profitable part of Scripture. But I can’t claim it as my own.

Promise-Keeping God

Let’s learn and remember the promises God has really made, and let’s discern to whom they actually apply.

But let’s not test God by putting out any fleeces of our own. Rather, let’s thank him for the promises that he has already kept, and let’s trust him for the ones that haven’t yet come to pass.

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