Fleeces: An Immature Way to Decide
We’ve all struggled with a decision we must make when God’s will is not immediately apparent. Which house should we buy, college should we attend, or person we should marry? With a different the sort of access to Divine decision-making than what Moses and Elijah experienced, Christians often look for creative methods to determine God’s will, and many look no further than Gideon in Judges 6:33-40. To summarize, God calls Gideon, one of Scripture’s most reluctant heroes, to first destroy the altars of Baal, and then to lead Israel in defeating the Midianites. Before he was to start putting together his army, Gideon begins second-guessing God’s plan and so he devises a test consisting of miracles to make sure he is on the right track. He lays a piece of fleece out and asks God to make only the fleece, and not the ground, wet with dew. God does as he asked, but Gideon is still not convinced, so he puts the fleece out and asks God to make the ground wet and the fleece dry, which God also does. Assured that he is on the right track, Gideon proceeds with the plan, and successfully takes on the Midianites. So, in that spirit, some modern Christians resort to similar tests to for God’s will, often in the form of “if X happens, then I know God’s will is Y” scenarios. Why not? After all, if it was good enough for Gideon, then it’s good enough for us, right? Well, maybe not so fast.
Context, Context, Context…
This is great place for me to remind you of the fact that context is king when understanding Scripture. The book of Judges is narrative literature, meaning that it records God’s dealing with His people without necessarily evaluating every specific character’s specific action. That means that using Judges as a blueprint for our prayer lives is problematic. God is the star of the Gideon account, not Gideon. God chooses the most unlikely character (Jg. 6:15), and a tiny little army just so there would be no questions about Who was responsible for the victory (7:2). The Gideon account’s historical and Biblical context places it well before the coming of the Holy Spirt, and the completion of Biblical revelation, and those factors have altered significantly how Christians seek out God’s will in the New Testament era. Context suggests that using Gideon as a model for prayer in New Testament Christianity is a huge stretch.
Gideon’s faith was not ideal.
Let’s face it, Gideon’s faith is hardly the model that we want for our own lives. Before the fleece situation, God had already sent a fireball from heaven that vaporized his sacrifice and the stone underneath it. I don’t know about you, but I think the huge blackened hole where my sacrifice used to would be confirmation enough. However, following that explosive miracle, he asks for not one, but two more confirmations from God. Gideon clearly has faith issues. We might sympathize and even relate with him, but that doesn’t mean we should imitate him.
Fleece laying is fundamentally unreliable.
If you’ve ever watched kids try to coerce permission out of parents, you can probably follow my thinking here. It comes in the form of the “if you don’t say no, I will assume that the answer is yes” scenario, when a parent isn’t forthcoming with a definitive answer. Even more than parents, God might have many different reasons for not giving us a clear answer when we ask. Maybe He wants us to work harder to discover the answer through Biblical thinking. Maybe He has already decided to reveal the answer a different way. Maybe the answer is already evident, but our hearts aren’t ready to submit. The possibilities are countless, and we can’t simply assume that if we pray hard, and give God an ultimatum, He has no choice but to give us a precise answer.
Fleece laying is often a disguise for our own selfish will.
While this is certainly not true in every case, often we inject uncertainty into a decision when the wisest course should be apparent. I don’t need to put out a fleece to know that it is not God’s will for me to abandon providing for my family to hitch hike across the across the country with my garage band, and follow my dream of becoming a successful Christian polka star. Sure, I can spiritualize it and talk about following my calling, and stepping out on faith, but deep down, I know that I am making an unwise decision that goes against sound, Biblical reasoning.
Fleece laying is often a disguise for immoral decisions
Things get especially dicey when people try to spiritualize clearly immoral decisions by asking God for a sign on something that His Word has already clarified. God will never lead you to do something that Scripture condemns, no matter how much you try to spiritualize that decision. We need to go to Scripture first, and stop asking for signs on issues that God’s Word has made abundantly clear.
Sometimes we just need to make a judgement call.
This might be the most controversial of my points, but I think it has Biblical merit. Suppose that I have done everything right. I have weighed the options, I have looked to Scripture, I have prayed, I have exercised sound wisdom, and God has seemingly given no clear answer. I know that I need the mini-van but the choice is between the red one or the blue one. It could be that I just need to exercise decisiveness, make the decision, and know that God controls the future. I may buy the blue one, and find out down the road that it is a lemon. Does that mean that I made the “wrong” choice? Not necessarily. Bad things happen to good people, and while God uses everything for His glory, not every success or failure can be traced to a decision we made. It might simply be God-permitted cause and effect outside of our control.
None of this means that God can’t use a fleece if He sees fit
God chose to use Gideon even though his faith was lacking. He chose to communicate through the fleeces, and He can do the same for ours if He so desires. However, I think there is a strong enough case to be made that at the very least, fleeces are not the optimal method for determining God’s will for our decisions given our position to Christ, the Cross, and the coming of the Holy Spirit. And, even if you’ve never made use of a “fleece,” I hope that you can see in this topic an illustration of how the way that we engage Scripture affects the way that we live as Christians. These are not merely academic questions, but differing approaches that have the potential to significantly alter the nature of our relationship to God and His will. Will we follow Spirit-led Scriptural reasoning, or our own subjectivity? I don’t need to put out a fleece to know the answer to that question.