Judges 6:39a “And Gideon said unto God, Let not thine anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once: let me prove, I pray thee, but this once with the fleece…”
Most of our posts on prayer have been on what we should do in prayer. This week’s confronts something we should not do in prayer.
I was attempting to break down our verse for today when I came across some insightful thoughts that I cannot improve upon from Gordon J. Keddie:
Hanging out a fleece” is some people’s way of saying they are looking for a sign to confirm the rightness of some proposed action. The original of this is, of course, Gideon’s famous fleece. God declares that Gideon is to deliver Israel from the oppression of the Midianites (v. 36). Gideon has already asked, and received, a sign (Ju. 6:17). Now he asks God again to confirm his promise by a miracle. He will lay out a fleece and the miracle will be that dew already asked, and received, a sign (Ju. 6:17). Now he asks God again to confirm his promise by a miracle. He will lay out a fleece and the miracle will be that dew appears on it even when the ground is dry (v. 37). This duly happens, but it is not enough for Gideon, who has the nerve to ask God to do the reverse and give him a dry fleece on dewy ground! Amazingly, God does what he asks! God gives him no fewer than three signs, and all without a single word (vv. 38–40). How gracious is our God!
Jesus is quite firm that seeking signs is not the right way to confirm God’s clearly stated promises.
Over the centuries sign-seeking had become something of an obsession among God’s people (Jn. 2:18; 1 Co. 1:22). It is “an evil generation” that keeps asking for signs, says Jesus. They should know that henceforth “no sign” would be given to them, “except the sign of Jonah the prophet.” This sign is clearly the resurrection of Jesus himself, so he is the once and for all “sign” (Lu. 11:29–32). Has this stopped Christians from looking for signs? Alas, no! Sometimes prayer and mere circumstances are used as if they were fleeces, and the conclusions drawn are invested with all the weight of divine revelation. Christians use language like “The Lord spoke to me,” or “God laid it on my heart,” as if their inner certainties were invested with a special sanction from heaven. It is true that God leads us through the unfolding circumstances of his providence and gives inner conviction about his will, as Scripture principle opens up our discernment of his already revealed will. A biblical “sign” was, however, a direct revelatory act of God confirming a special word-revelation already given. Jesus has also said that there will be no signs given after the sign of the resurrection!
Was Gideon right to seek a sign? Surely not!
He should have been content with the acceptance of his sacrifice. That was the standard way God affirmed his word in Old Testament times (Ju. 6:17; compare 1 Ki. 18). Asking for the fleece signs evidenced doubt and faltering faith, as does all sign-seeking. We are weak, of course, and God understands this—he remembers we are dust (Ps. 103:14). So it was gracious of God to give Gideon his signs. But it was not an endorsement of this method of discovering God’s will. There are indeed signs of God’s hand at work in all of his creation and providence, but they are common to all humanity. In this sense “the heavens declare his glory” and “day unto day utters speech” (Ps. 19:1–2). Creation is enough to point us to him and leave us without excuse (Rom. 1:20). However, we also need to grasp the once and final revelatory “sign”—namely, that Jesus “was delivered for our offenses and raised for our justification” (Ro. 4:25).
When we pray for guidance, we have no warrant to seek signs, whether fleeces or anything else.
Why? Because in Jesus we have the final sign. That is the sign we invoke when we ask him to answer prayer. He is risen. Therefore he is able to answer and is able to carry out his will. He is able to do in us and for us more than we can ask or think (Eph. 3:20), and able to give us peace in believing. We have no need to put him to any tests of his truthfulness (Deut. 6:16).
Don’t load down your prayers with unnecessary requests for additional signs. Remember what you just celebrated this past Easter and every Sunday before and after-the risen Savior. That ultimate sign is more than sufficient for those who pray properly!