(Judg. 6:36-40) Should we offer “fleeces” to God?

CLAIM: The Bible teaches that we shouldn’t put God to the test (Deut. 6:16). However, Gideon tests God with this fleece. Are we allowed to put God to the test or not? A friend of ours would throw a “fleece” out in making decisions. For instance, he would want to take a girl out on a date. As he was driving down the road, he would pray, “God, if you want me to date this girl… have this traffic light turn GREEN… But if you don’t want me to date her… have it turn RED.” Are “fleeces” like this appropriate ways to discern God’s will?

RESPONSE: We think not. In fact, there are a number of reasons for not interpreting Gideon’s fleece in this way:

First, Gideon already knew God’s will. Gideon wasn’t trying to discern God will, because God had already made his will known (Judg. 6:14-16). Instead, Gideon was looking for encouragement regarding the will of God. Walter Kaiser writes, “He was responding to God’s call (vv. 14-16). Thus he was hesitant, but not unbelieving.”[1]

Second, Gideon was asking for something SUPERNATURAL—not COINCIDENTAL. The example of modern “fleeces” (e.g. green and red traffic lights) aren’t really asking God for something supernatural, as Gideon did. Under this modern approach, an “answer” could come about accidently. If super-spiritual believers really want to use this method for discerning God’s will, then they should ask for something supernatural—like asking the traffic light to turn bright purple or levitate off the ground!

Third, this story is DESCRIPTIVE—not necessarily PRESCRIPTIVE. If God wants to intervene supernaturally, this is his prerogative. But it shouldn’t be our expectation or demand. God supernaturally intervened in the life of Moses (Ex. 3), Saul (1 Sam. 9-10), David (1 Sam. 16:1-13), Paul (Acts 9), and many, many others. However, in each case, these people were not even asking for God to do so.

Now that we have the Holy Spirit, we shouldn’t offer fleeces or cast lots to understand God’s will. In fact, the last time we see the casting of lots is in Acts 1:26. However, once the Holy Spirit comes upon the church (Acts 2), we don’t see this practice every again used. Instead, we see God leading through debate (Acts 15:2, 7), the agreement of believers (Acts 13:2-3), and supernatural leading.

Was Gideon guilty of “testing” God? Doesn’t this contradict Deuteronomy 6?

This event seems different from testing God. Deuteronomy 6:16 reads, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested Him at Massah.” The Jews at Massah did not doubt God. Instead, they openly rebelled against Him. In fact, Jesus interpreted this verse in Deuteronomy to refer to Satan’s rebellion and unbelief (Mt. 4:6-7). Gideon was certainly doubting God, but he wasn’t in unbelief or rebellion. God is patient with doubt (Jude 22; Mk. 9:22-24), but he is angry with unbelief (Heb. 3:12; Lk. 1:18-20). Furthermore, while God does honor Gideon’s request, Gideon seems to sense that his request isn’t necessarily a good one. He says, “Do not let Your anger burn against me that I may speak once more” (v.39).

For more on this subject, see our earlier work “Trusting God with Big Decisions”.

[1] Kaiser, Walter C. More Hard Sayings of the Old Testament. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1992. 128.