Thursday, May 15, 2014

Meaning in the Two Signs of the Fleece


34 But the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet; and Abi-ezer was gathered after him.
35 And he sent messengers throughout all Manasseh; who also was gathered after him: and he sent messengers unto Asher, and unto Zebulun, and unto Naphtali; and they came up to meet them. 
36 ¶And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said,
37 Behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said.
38 And it was so: for he rose up early on the morrow, and thrust the fleece together, and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water.
39 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; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew.
40 And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground. (Judges 6:34-40)

Before Gideon can lead the people he has gathered to fight the Midianiates, he asks for a sign from the Lord.  He asks that a fleece left outside be found to have dew on it and the surrounding ground be dry.  The Lord does the sign as he asks.  Then Gideon asks for another sign with great fear of offending the Lord—that the Lord will have the fleece be dry and the ground wet.  The Lord does this sign also.

We might be inclined to come down on Gideon for unbelief here, especially because he asks for two signs in a row.  A lot of Christian commentators say it is a sign of unbelief.  However, I don’t think so because after this, Gideon is pretty firm, and signs don’t help someone who doesn’t already have a modicum of faith.  Signs follow those who believe, so we can deduce that Gideon believed already, but needed some help in some way.  Consider that he has already summoned an army of Israelites; if he hadn’t believed, he wouldn’t have done that.

If you look at his reason for his request, you’ll see what is going through his head.  “If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said” (v36, emphasis added).  The thing Gideon wasn’t sure about was that the Lord had chosen him to do this.  He must have looked at the men of this army he gathered and no doubt he saw all types of men who seemed much better qualified to lead than him—the muscular type, the commanding type, the fearless type, the cunning type, the charismatic type, nearly every type you can think of—and wondered what could possibly be the reason the Lord chose him to save Israel rather than anyone else.

The thing that is really odd is the sign Gideon asks for. Fleece on the ground and dew?  Really?  Why that?  Why not rust on a sword or horns on a ram or leaves on a tree?  This leads me to think there was a specific reason Gideon requested the signs with fleece and ground and dew, so he had to think it through and derive meaning from them.

We have to understand first that dew would ordinarily end up on both the ground and the fleece. 

Gideon’s first request is that the dew would only be on the fleece and not the ground.  This sign is about the Lord’s ability to select what gets something that ordinarily would be everywhere.  It is also about ability to control conditions that are outside human control.  I think Gideon hopes to read from this sign that just as the Lord can select to give dew to the fleece and nothing else, the Lord can select to give Gideon the ability to lead Israel to victory instead of anyone else.  He also hopes to see that the Lord can control conditions that no man or army could control and give Israel that promised victory.  I think the Lord saw that Gideon wanted this and blessed him with this miracle.  It isn’t for kicks, it is meant to teach Gideon these principles.

So what about the second sign?  What might Gideon have hoped to learn from having the dew on the ground instead and not on the fleece?  I think this sign is about reversals and the Lord’s power to quickly change conditions to the exact opposite of what they were.  I think Gideon hoped to see in this sign the Lord’s ability to reverse conditions for the Israelites in a dramatic way—taking them from under the oppression of the Midianites to a position of victory and dominion. 

We see Gideon was worried the Lord would misinterpret his request for the second sign, but the Lord knew his heart and answered him with this sign as well because of its teaching purpose.

The lesson I get from this story is that anyone can ask for a sign, but it takes someone with faith to think up and ask for a sign that can teach them.

How might we ask for signs like Gideon? 
1.     We must be in the process of obeying. 
2.     Ask for something impossible. 
3.     The impossible thing you ask has to be something designed to teach you the principles you know the Lord would want you to learn.