Title: Judges 6. Gideon, part 19: At the moment of stepping into the unknown faith comes into conflict with flesh.
JDG 6:33 Then all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the sons of the east assembled themselves; and they crossed over and camped in the valley of Jezreel.
JDG 6:34 So the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon; and he blew a trumpet, and the Abiezrites were called together to follow him.
JDG 6:35 And he sent messengers throughout Manasseh, and they also were called together to follow him; and he sent messengers to Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, and they came up to meet them.
Gideon blows the shofar as a symbolic call to arms. It's not as if the whole country can hear it. Empowered by the Holy Spirit Gideon first calls his own clan, the Abiezrites, and they joined him. Secondly, he sent messengers out to his own tribe, Manasseh, and they joined him, and then another group of messengers out to Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali and they also joined him.
We should mention that Asher refused to join Barak in the last war against the Canaanites, but she does the right thing here.
Of those that have joined, the numbers are still small compared to the numbers of the Midianites and Amalekites; 135,000 to 32,000.
Gideon could not have known how many would join and he's got to be greatly encouraged. But from where he is on the edge of the valley, it would have been quite easy to send scouts to affirm the number of the enemy, and the report: he's outnumbered four to one.
We try and enter his mind because he is going to ask God for another sign. Whether the Spirit still clothes him or not, we do not know. Certainly we can understand his moment of apprehension, as we have understood his progression of faith. We would have to admit that he has improved in faith vastly. He has gone from denying that God is with Israel to now commanding an Israeli force against the enemy of God. Asking for one more sign as conformation couldn't hurt. God could just say no and to get going. I like that God is going to show him the sign before God sends 31,700 guys home. If Gideon only had his 300 at this time he probably would have asked for two signs.
Depending on the commentator, Gideon requirement of another sign right before the battle makes him a hero or a bum. Since God does not weigh in on evaluating his motivation, we will also refrain. We can certainly identify with him and I think that is the comfort to us.
We all waiver in faith at times directly prior to facing the trial. We will not get signs, but asking for assurance in prayer is never in bad taste or bad timing.
The great biblical historian Alfred Edersheim states that his request was not from unbelief or in weakness of faith, but that he was only seeking a pledge of God's presence. While I am a big fan of his work, I suspect some bias here. Why should Gideon doubt the presence of God when Adonai Himself told him more than once that He would be with him?
However, I do admire what Edersheim writes after that.
"Those hours in the history of God’s heroes, when, on the eve of a grand deed of the sublimest faith, the spirit wrestles with the flesh, are holy seasons, to which the superficial criticism of a glib profession, that has never borne the strain of utmost trial, cannot be applied without gross presumption." [Edersheim]
He is right in stating that those who defame Gideon for this request are those who have not faced the strain of the utmost trial. For those who have stood at the threshold of a mission for which God has called them and which requires the deepest and most trusting faith, have found that they wrestled within themselves, with their flesh that screams within them, to turn back. Those who haven't striven with God know nothing about it and they are full of empty words and opinions.
When in such hours the soul in its agony is seen to cast its burden upon the Lord, we feel that we stand on holy ground. It is like a stately ship in a terrific gale, every beam and timber strained to the utmost, but it continues on with no thought of turning back and righting itself at last, it safely reaches port. All the people at port see is an intact and safe ship entering to dock, while only those on board know just how close to disaster they had come.
Unlike the first sign, this one is of Gideon's own choosing.
He is still not the mighty man of valor that the Lord called him.
JDG 6:36 Then Gideon said to God, "If Thou wilt deliver Israel through me, as Thou hast spoken,
JDG 6:37 behold, I will put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then I will know that Thou wilt deliver Israel through me, as Thou hast spoken."
I [God] will be like the dew to Israel;
He will blossom like the lily,
And he will take root like the cedars of Lebanon.
Dew in the Scriptures is a symbol of the beneficent power of God. Fleece represents Israel and the ground the surrounding nations. Wet fleece = prosperous Israel; Dry ground = weak nations.
Dew is shown in the scripture as that which quickens, revives, and invigorates the objects of nature, when they have been parched by the burning heat of the sun's rays. It is equivalent to God's gracious gift of power to mankind.
JDG 6:38 And it was so. When he arose early the next morning and squeezed the fleece, he drained the dew from the fleece, a bowl full of water.
Gideon, in a deeper moment of weakness, likely imagined that this might have occurred naturally. Remember, his faith is weak at this moment due to the impending battle. In the morning sun, water would have evaporated from the ground before it did from the wool. This is not a good or tenable conclusion since God agreed to the sign and the wool contained an entire bowl full of water, but Gideon wants assurance, and God is going to give it. So Gideon reverses his request. If the ground is still wet but the fleece is dry then the laws of the earth have definitely been violated and it is a sign from God.
JDG 6:39 Then Gideon said to God, "Do not let Thine anger burn against me that I may speak once more; please let me make a test once more with the fleece, let it now be dry only on the fleece, and let there be dew on all the ground."
JDG 6:40 And God did so that night; for it was dry only on the fleece, and dew was on all the ground.
He obviously knows that this request is pushing it. It reminds us of Abraham asking God to spare Sodom. He is so desperately in need of assurance that he's willing to risk making God angry. God is gracious and gives him, and us, just what he needs.
Ground wet = nations are powerful and oppressing Israel.
Dry fleece = Israel is weak and oppressed.
Whether Gideon knew that he was creating such imagery is not important. What is important is that Israel came into the Promised Land as a strong and prosperous people who were feared by the surrounding nations and then due to their forsaking God in favor of idolatry, the roles had switched.
The woolen fleece represented the nation of Israel in its condition at that time, when God had given power to the foe that was devastating its land, and had withdrawn His blessing from Israel.
Israel was like that fleece of wool, spread on the wide extent of the nations. The wet fleece represented the fact that the lovingkindness of God would once again restore Israel to peace and prosperity.
So, should we put out the fleece? Some people use this as justification for using tests to determine the will of God. First off, Gideon already knew the will of God. He was looking for assurance that God was with him.
Putting out the fleece was a sign of Gideon's weak faith. It does not justify testing God in order to discover His will.
It is the mark of an immature believer who had trouble believing what God had already told him. We do not find the Lord asking for a sign in the Garden of Gethsemane, but rather, on the threshold of the greatest achievement in history, when He would make Himself weak before men, He firmly states: “Your will Father, not Mine.”
Gideon's prayer for a sign did not arise from want of faith in the divine assurance of a victory, but sprang from the weakness of the flesh, which crippled the strength of the spirit's faith, and often made the servants of God so anxious and despondent, that God had to come to the relief of their weakness by the manifestation of His miraculous power. Gideon knew himself and his own strength, and was well aware that his human strength was not sufficient for the conquest of the foe. But as the Lord had promised him His aid, he wished to make sure of that aid through the desired sign.
It’s not as though he had no faith. After talking with the angel of the Lord he has had faith, albeit weak, but God can work with weak.
At the moment of stepping into the unknown, our faith will begin to fall below our inner conflict with the flesh. The flesh fears all unknowns.
"From all these things, the fact that he had seen and heard the angel of Jehovah, and that he had been taught by fire out of the rock, by the disappearance of the angel, by the vision of the night, and by the words addressed to him there, Gideon did indeed believe that God both could and would deliver Israel through his instrumentality; but this faith was not placed above or away from the conflict of the flesh by which it was tested. And it is not strange that it rose to its greatest height when the work of deliverance was about to be performed. Wherefore Gideon with his faith sought for a sign from God against the more vehement struggle of the flesh, in order that his faith might be the more confirmed, and might resist the opposing flesh with the great force. And this petition for a sign was combined with prayers for the strengthening of his faith." - [Schmidt]
The fates of nations are ultimately in God's hands.
From the mouth of infants and nursing babes Thou hast established strength, Because of Thine adversaries,
To make the enemy and the revengeful cease.
But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that He had done [casting out the merchants from the temple and then healing the blind and the lame], and the children who were crying out in the temple and saying, "Hosanna to the Son of David," they became indignant, and said to Him, "Do You hear what these are saying?" And Jesus said to them, "Yes; have you never read, 'Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babes Thou hast prepared praise for Thyself'?"