Have you ever heard of the phrase, “putting out a fleece”? The expression comes from today’s passage in Judges 6:33-40, where Gideon requests God’s guarantee of victory through two tests. In the first test, Gideon puts a fleece on the ground and asks God to miraculously cause dew to only collect on the garment, not on the rest of the ground. In the second test, Gideon reverses the test – he asks for the fleece to be dry and the ground to be covered with dew.
Some Christians have taken this narrative and adopted the practice of “putting out a fleece”, that is, testing God to determine his will. For example, in a dating relationship, someone might say, “God, if the person sends me a card in the next 24 hours, then I will know you want me to marry the person”. Don’t laugh about the naive attitude of those who tried to choose their partners; I have met people who ask God for signs when they choose their spouses.
Let me be clear here: putting out a fleece is not a positive way of showing our faith in God, but rather, the opposite. It is a sign of a lack of faith.
1) The Spirit of the Lord enable Gideon gathers an army
In verse 33 of today’s passage, we learn that the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern people have been joining forces to do their raids in the Valley of Jezreel. The meaning of Jezreel means “May God give seed”, relating to the beautiful farmland between Mount Carmel and the sea to the Jordan River. Jesus’ hometown, Nazareth, is located on the northern side of Jezreel. It is a land of prosperity and harvest. But now, the invaders are coming to loot the crops in the time of harvest. But now God called a farmer, Gideon to lead his people for battle.
In verse 34, we learn that “Then the Spirit of the LORD came on Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him. He sent messengers throughout Manasseh, calling them to arms, and also into Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali, so that they too went up to meet them.” By Gideon’s character and upbringing, it would be impossible for him to call people out for battle against the invaders. Still, we can see that it is the power of the Holy Spirit who came on Gideon, in the original text in Hebrew, “came on Gideon” is literally, “clothed Gideon”. The tone of the phrase describes the Holy Spirit is being worn like armour on Gideon. It’s like what God did to Othniel back in Judges 3, or the Holy Spirit rested on the seventy elders during the days of Moses in the Book of Numbers 11:25. This supernatural endowment gave him boldness and enabled him to successfully gather the troops. He blew a trumpet, which was an ancient weapon of Israel that signalled to call to holy war. With the power of the Holy Spirit, Gideon was enabled to call out four northern tribes of Israel to send an army to help him. That is one-third of the twelves tribes came to follow Gideon. It is God’s own doing, but not because of Gideon, not because of his faith or might.
You know what? God can use anyone to do mighty works and fulfil his purposes. When we think we are hopeless in overwhelming situations, God can use you to do what you think it was impossible. That is God’s power at work. Back in the Old Testament, only a very few chosen people that you will see that God sent his Spirit to land on someone. Whoever receives the Holy Spirit will do something under God’s guidance. But today, when you put your trust in Jesus Christ, believing that Jesus had died for your sin and raised again on the third day, you too have received this very same Holy Spirit that God has sent to Gideon. And I want to tell you that all of you who have the Holy Spirit of the Lord right now, and those of you who will be given the Holy Spirit in your future, are chosen by God just like Gideon was chosen by God. And when the Holy Spirit comes on you, God can use you too to do many big things. It is not because you read the Bible more or are better educated, or you have greater talents and gifts than the others, or if you are smarter or stronger among your peers. Whoever is chosen by God will receive His Spirit. And whoever receives his Holy Spirit will be used by God to do his will. When we do great things in the name of Christ, it is not because we are better gifted, but because God’s power is at work by using us as his instruments.
Look at Gideon’s character, he is not even 100% faithful to God but being hesitant. When he saw that God used him to call out the great number of people in arms, the overwhelming response did not encourage him to trust in God more. Rather, it brings him fearful and doubtful about his ability to lead an army.
God might not ask you to lead an army like the way he called Gideon, but the very same God is calling you today to do his will, no matter what kind of daunting task you might be facing. When God is with you, nothing can work against you. He will make the path smooth; he will make what seems to be impossible to be possible.
As it is written in the Scripture, Jesus said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)
Again, apostle Paul wrote in his Letter to the Philippians, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
A few weeks ago, many churches thought that the church might have to close down under the quarantine lockdown. At that time, many pastors thought that it was impossible to continue to do Sunday Worship, Youth Group, Kids church or attending KYCK conference from home. But it is by God’s grace and the power of the Spirit that we can continue to gather together online like this. None of us would imagine that it is possible in the first week of the lockdown. But now, this is the Lord’s might at work that it can be accomplished. We shall all give thanks to God for this because it is out of his generous provision that we can continue week by week. It is the mercy and power of God displayed in our weakness. For this, we should give thanks to God but not to doubt of our weakness and inability as Gideon did.
2) God condescended to Gideon’s doubtful heart in the test of wool fleece
Even though Gideon was empowered by the Spirit and encircled by thousands of soldiers, he reverted to being the “doubting Gideon”. Look at verse 36, “Gideon said to God, “If you save Israel by my hand as you have promised – look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.” And then God did as he said, but Gideon still doubts about God’s ability and ask him again to do the reverse. He asked God for another sign for assurance, by controlling the dew overnight so that the wool fleece gets dry and the ground gets wet. Gideon has tested the Lord with miracles again and again. He was not asking God to reveal what he should do because God has already met him and told him before. Gideon was trying to get a guarantee that the Lord Almighty, God of Israel was greater than Baal and God would grant him victory in battle. Putting God to the test is a sign of not trusting God totally.
But in this event, we can see God’s mercy and patience in his holy character. Gideon’s problem was a very low view of God’s revelation and God’s power, or maybe he is still in fear because of an exaggerated view of the enemy’s strength.
When I look into this passage, I question if we are all like Gideon sometimes? God has shown us that he is with us. We know that from the Scripture that God will never forsake us, and he will never leave us till the end of the age. God will be with his people forever when Christ returns. The Lord might have already revealed to us what he wants us to be, where are we heading, yet, we doubt if Jesus is really with us in front of lots of uncertainty, just like Gideon. We might question our ability, doubting God’s power, or having a hard time taking God at his Word. But still, God called and encouraged Gideon to deliver his people. In this story, God’s longsuffering with Israel was illustrated in his tolerant with Gideon. Our God is very patient and kind to Israel his covenant people because he loves them. It is out of God’s love for his people that he showed the miraculous signs to Gideon again and again.
Sometimes we may have found the courage to renounce the world. The daring to call others of God’s people to identify with us, but we have not yet seen the confidence to be very sure that we are on the right track. But should we ask God for a sign like Gideon did? Setting up tests for God and ask for a miracle or two is not usually a good way of seeking guidance. We are not encouraging you to ask God to show you some out-of-nature miraculous signs like a lucky charm. We don’t need to ask for a miracle to decide to have a go or not in every big decision you make in life. But the proper question is, to ask what God is doing with his people. In Corinthians 5:7, Scripture urges us to “live by faith, not by sight.” The important thing about guidance from God is not the method but the fact. As Christians, we are expected to trust that as we make decisions based on what God has already said in the Scripture. So God is guiding us; we are not expected to demand that God will show us how God is guiding us, by telling us what decisions to make.
But we may take Gideon’s as a special case. Here the Lord our God is winning over a reluctant leader who really is ‘different, modest and shy’, and who needs to have his confidence built up step by step by a patient, loving, but determined God. The Lord may or may not make a supernatural sign for you as he did for Gideon. However, he is still patiently and lovingly building you up by faith, so that you will live in His way of godliness under His care and guidance.
3) God is glorified when our weaknesses reveal his strength
So what can we learn from Gideon’s story? We learn to stand up against the enemy within us. The enemy is the inadequacy of our faith, and to use every means we can to encourage ourselves in the greatness and goodwill of our Lord. God will prepare you from who you are as he met you. And he will change you to live and act and think more and more like Jesus. Like the way, he changed Gideon from a timid and shy farmer to be a great military leader.
What’s more, is that God has given us guidance in his training manual for a living – that is the Bible. We do not need to wonder how we are to live, but instead, we are to learn to live by following the principles found in his Word.
When we do God’s work in God’s way, he goes before us and makes our paths straight. As it is written in the Scripture: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
From time to time, God stoops to our weaknesses, but it is unwise to presume on God’s longsuffering of our doubt and distrust.
When there is trouble in life, deal with the sin in our own backyard, and then turn it into an altar that glorifies God. But don’t blame God when things go wrong look for other causes.
We need to follow God’s guidance, step by step. He will shape us into the person he wants us to be. And God shapes people with His Words, so reading God’s Word is essential. We have to rely on God’s Word and live by it. Not just gaining knowledge but, rather, practically live by the Scripture. It is our blueprint for constructing a new life in Christ, and that makes a difference. Following the Bible in obedience is much easier than being like Gideon to ask for miracles and signs to determine your future.
Jesus said in the Gospel, “As the crowds were increasing, He began to say, “This generation is a wicked generation; it seeks for a sign, and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah.” (Luke 11:29)
The sign of Jonah is that people in Nineveh mourned and repented when God sent prophet Jonah to announce the doom of the pagan city. In the same way in this end times, Jesus will bring many who did not know him to come to faith, believing in him and believing in God his Father in repentance.
When we see a non-believer come to know Christ, we know that The Holy Spirit is at work. It is the sign that God reveals to us about his plan for us: to tell people about the Good News of Jesus Christ and to bring people to Him.
Don’t worry about our lack of ability or lack of gift, or lack of faith to do God’s will. It is under God’s plan that he uses ordinary people to accomplish his will. And when God reveals His strength in our weaknesses, Our God is glorified. So that is what we should aim for in life: to glorify God in everything under Him.
So let us now take this moment to be quiet, and reflect our lives, is there anything in our lives not trusting God’s power and his plans for us? Is there anything that we have to repent for and renew our faith to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ?
Let us pray and say sorry to God together:
“O Merciful Lord, forgive us when we listen more to the world than to your command. Thank you for your guidance, your protection, your patience, and your power. We rejoice to know that our lives can make an eternal difference, because when we are weak, then—empowered by your Spirit—we are strong. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.”