Fleeces Then and Now
The idea of seeking God’s will by “putting out a fleece” is drawn from Judges 6. When Israel was oppressed by their enemies, Gideon asked for a sign that the Lord would raise him up as a deliverer. Gideon laid out a fleece and asked God to cover it with dew while keeping the rest of the ground dry, then laid out another fleece and asked God to keep it dry while covering the rest of the ground with dew (Judg. 6:36–40).
Today, some people put out “fleeces” of their own. They might say, “God, if you want me to accept this job offer, let it rain tomorrow.” Or, “God, if you want me to marry this person, let them wear a blue shirt tomorrow.” A careful reading of Judges 6 reveals why it is wrong for Christians to seek God’s will in this way. Judges 6 is not a story about how to seek God’s will; it’s a story about Gideon’s lack of faith. Gideon’s fleeces are an example of what not to do.
Gideon’s Weak Faith
First, God had already told Gideon that he would save Israel by his hand. The angel of the Lord had appeared to Gideon and said, “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor. … Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” (Judg. 6:12, 14). Gideon, however, doubted God: “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house” (Judg. 6:13, 15). When Gideon did begin to obey God’s call, he carried out God’s instructions at night, “because he was too afraid of his family and the men of the town to do it by day” (Judg. 6:27). From the beginning of the story, Gideon is depicted as resisting God’s call because of his insecurity and lack of faith.
Second, God had already granted Gideon’s request for a sign. Gideon told the angel, “show me a sign,” then watched as fire sprang up from a rock and consumed his offering (Judg. 6:17, 21). He knew that God had spoken to him (Judg. 6:22). Now, Gideon was asking for yet another sign to confirm what God had already spoken and confirmed. The story of the fleeces is given as further evidence of Gideon’s weak faith.
Gideon knew that it was wrong to test God by laying out fleeces, and he was afraid of God’s anger when he went ahead and tested God anyway.
Third, Gideon knew that it was wrong to test God by laying out fleeces, and he was afraid of God’s anger when he went ahead and tested God anyway. Testing God was forbidden in the law: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah” (Deuteronomy 6:16). At Massah, Israel had “tested the Lord by saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’” (Ex. 17:7). This is the very thing that Gideon had doubted: “if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us?” (Judg. 6:13).
When Gideon laid out his fleeces, he prayed, “Let not your anger burn against me: let me speak just once more. Please let me test just once more with the fleece” (Judg. 6:39). Gideon’s story closely parallels that of Moses, whom God gave signs because of his insecurity. When Moses continued to doubt, “the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses” (Ex. 4:14). Gideon didn’t want God to be angry with him as he was with Moses.
Finally, God’s patience with Gideon’s weak faith should not be read as God’s approval of Gideon’s actions. God graciously accommodated Gideon’s insecurity, and today God is still merciful with those who doubt. However, it is wrong for Christians to presume on God’s mercy and “put out fleeces.”
Towards A Mature Approach
Christians should avoid superstitious approaches to spirituality and seek to be mature in their thinking about God’s will. First and foremost, we need to stop thinking about “God’s will” as being primarily about what we are supposed to do in every situation. In Scripture, God’s will is focused on who he wants us to be. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thess. 4:3). “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). God’s will is, above all else, for us to be like Christ in word, thought, and deed.
Christians should avoid superstitious approaches to spirituality and seek to be mature in their thinking about God’s will.
Being like Christ means trusting God and growing in wisdom. And since we usually grow most through hardship, God allows us to struggle, suffer, and even make poor decisions. When someone is faced with a decision and puts out a fleece, they’re asking for an easy way out of this challenging but sanctifying process. Here are a few principles for seeking God’s leadership in your life:
- Begin by asking, “Am I already doing all that I know God wants me to do?” We aren’t in a position to be lead if we aren’t being obedient.
- Search the Scriptures and make sure that God hasn’t already clearly spoken on the matter. For example, you don’t need to seek God’s will about whether or not to sue a fellow believer, since God has made his will clear (1 Corinthians 6:1–8).
- Search the Scriptures for any principles that can be applied to the situation. For example, if you’re considering marriage, study everything the Bible says about what to look for in a spouse. The Book of Proverbs has wisdom for almost every life decision.
- Pray for wisdom and direction. God promises to lead his sheep/children (John 10:3–5; Romans 8:14), and to give wisdom to those who ask in faith (James 1:5). Seeking leadership from God is asking him to do what he has promised.
- Seek an abundance of godly counsel. Go to two or three (or more!) of the most mature, wise, and godly people that you know, share your situation, and seek their advice. Proverbs 11:14 is one of my favorite verses: “In an abundance of counselors there is safety.”
- Don’t rush ahead if you aren’t at peace or feel “checked” by the Holy Spirit. As a general rule, it’s better to stay put than to make a move when you don’t feel “clear.”
- Make a decision and trust in God’s sovereignty. God’s sovereignty is far greater than even your worst decisions. If your heart is sincere and you are pressing on to maturity in Christ, God is able to bring about his good purposes despite your missteps.
- Don’t assume that just because things turn out poorly, you are outside of “God’s perfect will.” For example, if you accept a job offer, only to find out that the job is hard and your coworkers are nasty, it would be wrong to assume that you made a mistake. Perhaps God put you there to lead one of your nasty coworkers to faith in his Son.
Putting out fleeces to find God’s will is not only a misunderstanding of Judges 6 but reflects a deeper misunderstanding about God’s purposes for his children. Focus on growing to maturity in Christ, trust the sovereign God to be your shepherd, and ditch the fleeces.