It’s time to put this whole “putting out a fleece” madness to bed. The expression “putting out a fleece” comes from Judges 6:33-40 where Gideon requests God’s guarantee of victory through two tests. In the first test Gideon puts a fleece garment on the ground and asks God to miraculously cause dew to only collect on the garment, not on the rest of the ground. In the second test, Gideon reverses the test- now he asks for for fleece to be dry and the ground to be covered with dew.
Many Christians have taken this narrative as a positive and adopted the practice of “putting out a fleece”- testing God in order to determine his will. For example, in a dating relationship someone might say, “God, if they send me a card in the next 6 hours, then I’ll know you want me to marry them.” Yikes.
Let me be as clear as possible: putting out a fleece is not a positive. In fact, it is a sign of a lack of faith. Let’s set the record straight on a few aspects of Judges 6:33-40.
- Gideon was not asking God to reveal what he should do. God had already told Gideon what he should do by special revelation (Judges 6:14, 16).
- Gideon was trying to get a guarantee that the God who was speaking to him would grant him victory. This was a common practice in ANE cultures, but Gideon was seeking confirmation on his terms rather than God’s. In fact, Gideon’s test betrays a Canaanite theological perspective (see no. 3).
- Gideon was trying to get a guarantee that the God of Israel was greater than Baal. This the least known and yet most crucial piece of information regarding Judges 6:33-40. Baal was the Canaanite god of the storm (rain, lightning, etc.). In one Baal tale, his weakness results in a drought of both rain and dew. In fact, Baal’s daughter Talia is thought to be responsible for dew. Guess what the Hebrew word for dew in Judges 6:33-40 is? Tal. There is no doubt that Gideon here is testing God to see if he really is greater than Baal. Gideon (the one who fought with Baal in Judges 6:25-32) isn’t quite convinced that Baal isn’t the real deal yet. So the fleece tests are the result of Gideon’s Canaanite way of thinking, and his lack of faith in Yahweh, the God of Israel.
- Putting God to the test is sinful. In Deuteronomy 6:16 God says, “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.” In Judges 6:39 Gideon says, “Let not your anger burn against me; let me speak just once more. Please let me test just once more with the fleece.” Gideon even uses the same verb for testing found in Deut. 6:16. If we count Gideon’s request for a sign from God’s messenger Judges 6:17-18, he’s tested God three times so far.
So why does God put up with Gideon’s lack of faith? Why does he answer the tests? Why does he even offer a fourth sign later in Judges 7:8-14? The only answer to these questions is God’s covenant faithfulness, or his grace. His condescension to Gideon’s Canaanite worldview isn’t meant to condone testing God or demanding signs. Instead, God’s patience shown to Gideon highlights the greatness of his grace towards both Gideon and Israel. He essentially holds Gideon’s hand throughout the entire process, thus addressing his lack of faith, his faulty theology, and his fear.
Yes, God is patient with our lack of faith, our faulty theology, and our fear. But the message is not to imitate Gideon, but rather to learn about God and ourselves from his experience. This narrative encourages us to believe God without the extra drama. Once again in Judges, Othniel’s simple faith stands out when contrasted with Gideon (Judges 3:7-11). Let’s learn from Gideon’s experience. God is greater than any false God, he is able and willing to save, and he is motivated by his grace. Don’t test God. Believe him.