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Twisted scripture: “Putting out the fleece”

Copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers

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(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.

 

Unusual church names

StrangerChurchSign
Copyright by Bob Rogers
Recently I heard about a church named “Church by the Side of the Road.” I’m sure there was a good reason to name the church that, but for some reason it conjured up pictures in my head of a church broken down and abandoned on the roadside.
I once served as pastor of Calhoun Baptist Church in Hot Coffee, Mississippi. Hot Coffee is the name of a rural community with two country stores and one church. I always thought it would be fun to change the name of the church to Hot Coffee Baptist Church, but I found out that I would be getting into hot water to suggest such a radical change. They might have decided to send me to Boiling Springs Baptist Church, which is in Soperton, Georgia.
Nevertheless, that experience caused me to pay attention to unusual church names.
A real tongue-twister from Mississippi is Eastabutchie Baptist Church. (Try saying that aloud really fast.) Saint James the Less Catholic Church in New Orleans has to be careful how they display their name on their sign, because they don’t want anybody to think they’re “Less Catholic.” I wonder if Spray United Methodist Church in Eden, North Carolina believes in more than just sprinkling. Cape Coral, Florida has a congregation named “Church Today.” Can you imagine the confusion when you ask a member, “Have you been to church today?”
Lots of churches are named “Unity” and “Harmony,” but in Miller’s Grove, Texas, they were honest enough to name the church Divide Baptist Church. I wonder if they split off from Petty United Methodist Church, which is also in Texas.

A member of North Spoon Baptist Church in Pearl River County, Mississippi, told me they chose their name “because there was already a South Fork.” Somewhere in Africa, there is a Wet Cow Manure Baptist Church. Apparently when the tribal chief asked what they should name it, the missionary told them to name it after something precious to them.
The state of Georgia, where I lived for years, is full of interesting church names. I’d love to visit Star of Bethlehem Baptist in Douglasville at Christmas, and I’d love to celebrate communion at Church of the Living Bread in Stone Mountain. I’m sure that Georgia New Seoul Baptist Church in Tucker is a Korean congregation, but I love the double-meaning.
Whispering Pines Baptist Church in Hephzibah sounds like a peaceful place to worship, and God’s Acre Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta must have the perfect location. I’ve always heard that there is no perfect church, but the folks might disagree at Ideal Baptist Church (located in Ideal, of course.)
Which reminds me that, while there is no perfect church, there is a church that is ideal for you, if you’ll just look around with an open mind and heart and seek a church that loves Jesus, loves the Bible, and loves people.

Church signs attempt Easter humor

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Easter is a happy time. After all, we’re celebrating Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, right? So it should be no surprise that during the Easter season, many churches try their hands at humor on their church signs. I say “try,” because some are failed attempts.
It seems that the Easter bunny is the favorite target of church marquees at Easter time. Some of the signs are cute, like this one:
“NO BUNNY LOVES YOU LIKE JESUS.”
Others are hopping mad at that pagan symbol, such as these:
“EVERY BUNNY KNOWS EASTER IS ALL ABOUT JESUS.”
“THE EASTER BUNNY DIDN’T RISE FROM THE DEAD.”
Then some are simply corny, like this one:
“HOW DOES THE EASTER BUNNY SAY ‘HAPPY EASTER’? HOPPY EASTER!”
My favorite bunny sign is this one:
“EVERY BUNNY IS LOVED BY JESUS”
Of course, church signs don’t just go after the bunny; they also remind us that Easter eggs don’t really relate to the resurrection, either. Read this one:
“EASTER IS MORE THAN SOMETHING TO DYE FOR.”
Then there are a few Easter messages directed at those who attend worship. Some are negative, like these:
“EASTER COMES ONCE A YEAR. HOW OFTEN DO YOU?”
“DON’T FORGET, JUDAS ALSO LEFT EARLY.”
Others are more positive, like this one:
“BEAT THE EASTER RUSH- COME TO CHURCH THIS SUNDAY.”
Personally, I think the best Easter humor is to focus on Jesus Himself. That’s why I like this one:
“YOU CAN’T KEEP A GOOD MAN DOWN. HAPPY EASTER.”