Many Christians encourage us to "put out the fleece," like Gideon did, when facing difficult decisions. Is this biblical?
I'm going with an emphatic "no" on that one. People spend more time looking for God's will than they spend doing God's will. Has God really been so silent that we must go looking for mystical signs of his plans for us?
Gideon's actions were not a sign of faith but a sign of unbelief. God had already told him what he was about to do: destroy the Midianites. When we look for still, small voices or intense urges or open doors we quickly neglect the things God has already said on the subject. The "still, small voice" that Elijah heard told him nothing new. It told him to get back to work where he should have been all the time. King David may have "felt led" to send for the bathing Bathsheba, but God had already made his will known in that regard from Mount Sinai. Yes, God did indulge Gideon when he put out his fleece, but does that make his story the Christian template for decision-making?
We are left with a couple of options:
- Gideon’s actions with the fleece are a biblical prescription for “finding God’s will.”
- Gideon’s actions are simply given to us as a historical record of a man’s theologically dubious means of expressing his lack of confidence in God.
If God has commanded, we need not ask for confirmation that he is able to keep his end of the deal if we obey. I know the Lord indulged such behavior in Gideon, Jacob ("take care of me and you get to be my God") and Thomas ("prove to me that the tomb is really empty"), but greatly rewarded people like the ark-bearers in the Jordan, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshech, Abednego and Peter for just jumping in at his command. Sometimes he acts in spite of our doubts, but I would not encourage people to doubt just because some people got away with it.
King David was also disobedient regarding Bathsheba and, from that union, God brought wise King Solomon. If God's blessing in the end legitimizes our sinful means, perhaps we should use David's example instead of Gideon's for decision-making. Maybe we could invent our own new cliché, reminiscent of the preservation of David’s kingly position. People struggling in marriage could testify in church that they are just “peeking over the wall” to find God's will for their marriage. That form of sinful unbelief could be the means God uses to save their marriage like he prospered David following the sin with Bathsheba. (Please note the tongue firmly planted in my cheek.)
The only circumstance I can remember where there is biblical encouragement for putting God to the test is when he invites us to obey first and then watch what he does (Malachi 3). I would call that “stepping into the river,” not “putting out the fleece.”