Q.

Please comment on finding God’s will in a particular situation. Is it wrong to “put out the fleece” during these times? I’ve heard it is, but I’ve also heard of people doing this and the Lord helped them.

A.
First, we need to separate the idea of “putting out the fleece” from the matter of seeking the Lord’s will in a particular situation. People use this expression in a number of ways, so it means various things to various people. But, as we shall see, we should not think of “putting out the fleece” as a method of finding the Lord’s direction. We have better ways of discovering the Lord’s will.

During that turbulent time in Israel’s history when God raised up the judges to rule (Judg. 2:11–16; 17:6), the Israelites experienced a number of spiritual up-and-down periods. During one of the spiritual declines, God allowed the Midianites to oppress the Israelites to the extent that the children of God dwelt in dens, mountains, and caves (chap. 6). In desperation over their impoverished condition as a result, the Israelites cried to the Lord. The Lord heard their cry and selected the next deliverer, a man by the name of Gideon.

Gideon was threshing wheat when an angel of the Lord came to call him to serve. The Bible says that he was doing this by the winepress. Why would the writer bother to mention that fact? It was because winepresses in those days were placed at the bottom of a hill so that those carrying the heavy loads of grapes to the presses could walk downhill. In contrast, threshing wheat was best done in a high, open place where the wind could catch the chaff and blow it away. So Gideon was doing his work in a place that was hardly ideal. Why was he doing it there? It was so he could be secluded and avoid the eye of the enemies, the Midianites. Gideon may have had some plain old cowardice too.

Gideon, incidentally, is a perfect example of the person God chooses. He is a person who is well aware of his weaknesses, one who cannot understand how God could possibly use him. God has His eyes upon such a person because that person will know whatever God does through him will definitely be God’s work, not his own. Gideon’s initial response to the call to serve was a question of why the Lord had allowed the Midianites to do these terrible things (perhaps more a sign of discouragement than anger), followed by voicing self-doubts of his ability, based on his poor background, and so forth (Judg. 6:15). It is always amazing to see how perfectly God handles people. In this case He, knowing Gideon’s feelings of inadequacy, addressed him through the angel, “Thou mighty man of valour” (v. 12). One wonders what went through Gideon’s mind both then and later on as he may have pondered that salutation. Of course, God knew what was ahead for Gideon.

Gideon also requested a sign from Heaven, and this was granted. When Gideon presented an offering of a kid and unleavened cakes, the angel touched it, and it was consumed by fire (vv. 17–23).

Following this on the very same night, Gideon was to rid his father’s house of idols and set himself apart by offering a burnt offering. God commanded him to tear down the altar of Baal that was owned by his father and the grove near it and then offer the sacrifice of a seven-year bullock owned by his father. Gideon did all this, though in fear (vv. 25–27). He could have been killed for this act, too, showing the spiritual barrenness of the people, but his father interceded for him (vv. 28–31).

The next incident gives us the expression “putting out the fleece.” Note that Gideon had already received a sign from God. But now he asks for another. The Midianites have invaded Israel again, and Gideon is in the process of getting his army together. He asks God,

If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said, Behold, Twill 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 [ground] beside, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said (vv. 36, 37).

So was Gideon asking for direction from the Lord? Was he seeking God’s will? No. He had already gotten that. God had revealed His will to Gideon. Gideon was asking for more assurance. We have already seen evidences in the account of Gideon that he was what one might call a Doubting Thomas of the Old Testament. Yet God was exceedingly gracious. He actually granted another sign:

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 (v. 38).

As if that weren’t enough, Gideon asked for the opposite to happen as one more sign the following night:

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. And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground (vv. 39, 40).

Today people say they’re “putting out the fleece” if they pray something like this: “Dear Father, if such and such happens, I’ll know I am to do this and that, or go to such and such a place.” But the way to find God’s will is to meditate upon His Word (God’s will never goes contrary to it), to pray for the Lord to reveal His will by opening and closing doors, to determine not to let self influence the decision, and to seek godly counsel from spiritually mature and discerning people. Anything else might be nothing more than playing games with God. We don’t need magic in our spiritual walk. Again, Gideon already had the will of God expressed to him. “Putting out the fleece” added nothing to that knowledge.

Praise God for His mercy, grace, and longsuffering. In spite of his initial doubts, Gideon was used mightily of God in defeating the enemy, and he is listed in the “hall of faith” (Heb. 11:32).

Do you have feedback or a Bible question to submit? Send to nolson@garbc.org or mail to Norman A. Olson in care of the Baptist Bulletin, 1300 N. Meacham Rd., Schaumburg, IL 60173-4806.

Reprinted from the Baptist Bulletin (March 1990).
© 1990 Regular Baptist Press. All rights reserved.
Used by permission.