Putting Out the Fleece
It’s a fairly typical question. We are faced with one of those fork-in-the-road kinds of decisions and want to make the right one. Should I keep my job, accept a promotion, start my own business or take a whole new job in a whole new city? Someone close to me is sorting through those very options… so what should she do? Well, Yogi Berra once said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” But that isn't very helpful. Some might piously tell her, “You need to decide which one is God’s will and then do that.” Doesn't James tell us, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money… you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” (James 4:13-15). So do God’s will. OK, I'm all for that, but that isn't much more helpful that Yogi’s advice in choosing between alternative. How is one supposed to know what God’s will is?
Some try Gideon's technique in our reading for today. God comes to Gideon with a mission, but Gideon asks for a sign just to make sure this really is God's mission. So he puts out a fleece and asks, “If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand” (Judges 6:37). The next morning the ground was dry and Gideon was able to wring out a bowlful of water from the fleece. Pretty impressive, but Gideon is still unsure. So he asks for a double-blind test, "This time make the fleece dry and let the ground be covered with dew" (Judges 6:39). That is exactly what happens, and now Gideon is completely sure that God really wants him to take this new job as Israel's next judge.
Some Christians do the same thing. They “put out the fleece” and ask God for a sign just like Gideon. They come up with sometimes elaborate tests trying to convince themselves what is or is not God’s will for their lives—
"God, if you want me to take this job, let there be open parking spot in front."
"God, if I should buy a new car, then let the dealer have the 350 ZX in red."
"God, if You want us to move to Texas, let the Cubs sweep the Series"
Sure, those aren't exactly a fleece, but is this about what Gideon does to discover God's will? No, Gideon actually already knew God’s will because God came out and told him. What Gideon is doing is looking for confirmation to help his flagging faith… or maybe stalling while he finds a way out!
There are two problems with putting-out-the-fleece to ask God for a sign of what His will in making a tough decision. First, it is too easy for us to see the sign we want and ignore the ones we don’t like. In John 6, Jesus does a couple of pretty dramatic miracles showing his power over the law as of nature—he feeds the 5000 with a sack lunch and then He walks on the water. But then some enemies come to Him and ask, “What sign then will you give us?” (John 6:30). Well, how about feeding the 5000 and walking on water? Interpreting life events as a sign from God is always rather subjective and we tend to see in such signs what we want to see.
Didn’t I say there were TWO problems with putting-out-the-fleece? The second problem is that we are never to do so! Determining God’s will isn't some mysterious task that requires tea leaves. God doesn't have the details of your life mapped out to the nth degree and then require you to read the signs and put out the fleece to determine what that mysterious hidden will really is. No, God's will is that you trust Him. All through the Bible, when God had some very specific task for someone to do, He told them-- emphatically and dramatically.
- Did Moses puzzle over God's will? No, God spoke plainly from a burning bush; Moses puzzled over finding a good excuse not to follow what God plainly told him to do.
- Did Abraham wonder whether he need to leave Ur? No, God told him to leave; Abraham puzzled over the timing of how exactly God was going to keep His promise he had plainly made.
If God has a specific will for your life, He will tell you plainly. It is God's will that you be saved (John 6:40, 2 Peter 3:9), sanctified (1 Thess. 4:3-5), filled with his Spirit (Eph. 5:17-18) and serving others (2 Cor. 8:3-5). The details of how that works out is up to us as long as we put Him first. So stay in the job you have, take the promotion, start your business, or move to the distant city to take the new job and be faithful to Him, and that IS God’s will for you.
But what if you make a choice that blows up in your face? Trust God and be faithful. What if you decide that you could have been more successful if you had taken option #3 rather than #1, #2 or #4? Trust God and be faithful. God never says that what He wants from us is to be just as successful as we can be. No, what He wants is for us to be faithful.
Leave the fleece on the sheep where it can do some good... and obey God whatever your circumstance!