Signs & Fleeces

[Chapter 21 in “How God Guides.” For anyone beginning here, please note tht this is the 21st post and not the 1st. Looking for “signs and fleeces” is not where you begin with determining God’s will for your life. But it is a factor and something which should be addressed.]

Gideon doubted God’s promise to bring victory to him and his fellow Jews in their impending battle with their enemies, so he made a deal with him that he’d proceed to do his part if the Lord would prove his intent (and his ability) to do his (Judges 6). One night Gideon put some fleece on the ground and proposed that if in the morning the fleece was wet, and the surrounding area dry, he would do what God was asking him to do. The next morning it was evident that God had complied and made the fleece damp while leaving the ground dry. But still Gideon doubted, so he requested the reverse of the sign. Low and behold, the next morning the fleece was dry and the ground around it was wet!

When you hear someone say, “I put a fleece before the Lord,” it’s this story that inspired that idea. I’ve never heard of anyone who actually used a piece of wool, but it’s usually some sort of test to ascertain God’s will about something. But, I don’t generally recommend this practice per se.  First of all, the Bible records activities (like Gideon’s fleece) without actually endorsing them as normative, and it’s not a good idea to make an exception into a rule. Plus, Gideon didn’t do this because he doubted that it was God who had spoken to him, but he doubted what God had said. He wasn’t struggling with whether or not God was talking to him or whether or not he wanted to deliver Israel, but with whether or not he could deliver them (particularly by Gideon’s hand). In the technical sense, Gideon wasn’t so much looking for God’s direction, but a confirmation of his ability to keep his Word.

I don’t blame him for his lack of faith; when challenged to trust God for much smaller miracles I’m pretty skittish myself. But as a means of accessing divine guidance, to my mind, the “fleecing method” is generally inadvisable. It seems sort of like asking God to do tricks to prove his ability. If that’s true, then why did God comply with Gideon’s request? I don’t think it was because of Gideon’s method, but because of God’s mercy that he went along with his proposal. Plus, the fact was that the Jews needed help to defeat their enemy (they couldn’t do it alone), and God was inclined to give it, so he condescended to cooperate with Gideon’s test.

God can use anything he wants at any time to guide us (fleeces included), but that doesn’t mean he endorses this particular means as legitimate or that he’ll use it next time.  A young seminary student told his professor that he knew he was called to be a preacher because he saw a cloud formation that looked like the letters “PC” written in the sky.  He had been asking God for a sign of his intent to use him in this way, and he convinced himself that it stood for “Preach Christ.”  After the professor heard the young man give a sermon (decidedly unimpressed) he suggested that the clouds might actually be telling him to “Plant Corn!”  If you slip on a banana peel and land on a map of China, it doesn’t necessarily mean that God has called you to be a missionary there!

But I have to say that I think there’s quite a difference between fleeces and signs (i.e. Genesis 24:4 and I Samuel 14:8-10). Fleeces don’t seem to have any relevance to the decision on which you’re deliberating. It’s like basing a decision about your career or marriage partner on the quacking of ducks in a certain lake a certain number of times or lightning striking a particular place. To my mind these are pretty weak means of determining God’s will.  On the other hand, it might be legitimate to ask him for a sign when making a decision. “If you want me to sell my house, I’ll give it six months at such and such a price.” Or, “If I should pursue a career in this area, then please open doors to the college classes I need.”

God can use anything he wants at anytime

to guide us (fleeces included), but that doesn’t

mean he endorses this particular means as legitimate

or that he’ll use it next time. 

Sometimes God may give us a sign when we aren’t seeking one. (I wonder if he prefers it that way.) I had a couple of peculiar things happen when I was a young aspiring preacher. (I’ve since learned that there are only two kinds of preachers – aspiring and perspiring!) I was to give my very first “sermon” when I was 18 years old to the congregation among whom I had become a Christian. My plan was to speak about John the Baptist and how we need to emulate his mission to “prepare the way of the Lord.” Anyway, I was going to speak at the Sunday night service. (That was the one where the rookies would try out our wings, it being safer to loose us on a smaller percentage of the congregation. Also, those attendees tended to be more mature and gracious with the blunders and inaccuracies of the neophyte sermonizers.) I was sitting in my pew during the morning worship gathering thinking about my topic for the evening, and as I looked down, at my feet was a personal check laying on the floor. When I bent to pick it up and read it – and I’m not making this up – it was made out to “Saint John the Baptist!” Now you might chalk this up to coincidence, but that’s all this young preacher-in-training needed as a confidence boost!

The very next time I was loosed on a congregation while in college my topic was the life of Moses. A few days before the service, I had gone to the beach to prepare for my message. I was lying out on the warm Southern California sand reading about Moses, when I heard a faint cry from down the beach, “Moses… Moses!” Right then a cat ran across my bare back (when was the last time you saw a cat at the beach?), and a woman, chasing close behind calling out, “Moses, you bad cat. Come here!”  Come on – a cat named “Moses”?! I kid you not; it began to feel like I would never preach again without receiving some bizarre sign from God confirming my topic! I think he just wanted to prop me up in my frailty and make it clear to me (in admittedly wacky ways) that this preaching/teaching thing was something he was going to lead me in for many years to come (and he has)!

These were both signs from the Lord of the unsolicited type. I don’t recall asking God for any particular confirmation or signpost; I suppose he just gave them to me so I’d know I was on the right track – and probably so I’d have a story to tell. But he does seem to be more inclined to use such things at his own discretion rather than at our request and whim. My point is that he uses what he chooses to point us in the right direction, and is not above using signs, and sometimes, even fleeces to do just that!

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