Copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers
(NOTE: This is the first in a series of blog posts I will be doing on some of the most commonly twisted and misinterpreted scriptures in the Bible.)
In Judges 6:36-40, Gideon put fleece on dry ground, and asked God for a sign: to make the morning dew fall on the fleece of wool while leaving the ground around it dry, and then a second sign on the second morning, by leaving the fleece dry and covering the ground in dew. God granted Gideon’s request. From this story, we get the expression “putting out the fleece.” For many people, this has come to indicate the practice of asking God for a sign to show them God’s will. They may pray for God to show them a “sign” before making a major decision like getting married or taking a job. Sometimes, they even ask for a specific fulfillment, as putting out their fleece. For example, a person may pray, “God, if you want me to marry this man, have him notice the emerald ring on my right hand.” Or they may pray, “God, if you want me to take the job, then when I go for the interview, have the boss wear a blue tie.”
The problem is, that this is a twisting of scripture, and totally unbiblical. Here’s why:
1. Gideon didn’t just ask for a coincidence, he asked for a miraculous sign. For dew to fall only on the fleece with the ground left dry, and then dew to fall only on the ground with the fleece left dry, is not a natural occurrence, and cannot happen by accident. It required a supernatural intervention from God. So what Gideon asked for cannot be compared with the common idea of asking for an interesting coincidence to happen to guide someone to God’s will.
2. Gideon was not asking for God’s will. He already knew that it was God’s will to fight for their independence from the Midianites. He was looking for reassurance of God’s power and presence. He said, “If You will deliver Israel by my hand, as You said [italics mine], I will put a fleece of wool here…” (Judges 6:36-37)
3. Gideon’s “test” (Judges 6:39) was a violation of Deuteronomy 6:16, where God commanded the Israelites not to put the Lord to a test. Jesus himself interpreted this as a command not to test God with signs, and Jesus refused the temptation to do so (Matthew 4:7). Apparently, Gideon realized that he was treading on dangerous ground, since he asked God not to be angry at him for making the request (Judges 6:39). The fact that God granted Gideon’s request only shows that God is sometimes gracious with us, even in our foolishness.
4. Jesus refused to grant signs, implying we should trust in Biblical revelation instead of mystical experiences. In Matthew 12:38-39, the scribes and Pharisees said, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” He replied, “An evil and adulterous generation demands a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” He went on to talk about how Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and came out, and likewise Jesus Himself will be in the earth three days and come out. So Jesus was pointing them to the scripture and to the events of the gospel, and saying, “Put your trust in this.”
5. All of this points to a rule of thumb for Bible interpretation: Don’t get truth from a descriptive passage of scripture; get truth from prescriptive scripture passages. For example, the Bible often describes people having multiple wives, but 1 Timothy 3:12 prescribes only one wife for deacons in the church. Judges 6:36-40 is descriptive; it describes what happened. That does not necessarily imply that it endorses Gideon’s behavior. Deuteronomy 6:16 is prescriptive; it specifically condemns putting God to a test.