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Testing God: Putting Out a Fleece

fleece

And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said, Behold, I will 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 beside, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said. 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. 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. (Judges 6:36-40)

Let me give you a bit of context. The Israelites, those oft-sinning followers of Jehovah, disobeyed God and he punished them severely for their sins:

And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD: and the LORD delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years. And the hand of Midian prevailed against Israel: and because of the Midianites the children of Israel made them the dens which are in the mountains, and caves, and strong holds. And so it was, when Israel had sown, that the Midianites came up, and the Amalekites, and the children of the east, even they came up against them; And they encamped against them, and destroyed the increase of the earth, till thou come unto Gaza, and left no sustenance for Israel, neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass. For they came up with their cattle and their tents, and they came as grasshoppers for multitude; for both they and their camels were without number: and they entered into the land to destroy it. And Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites; and the children of Israel cried unto the LORD. (Judges 6:1-6)

Jehovah impoverished the Israelites because of their sins. Modern-day followers of the Christian God must really be living right because they are definitely not impoverished.

For seven years, Jehovah pummeled his followers with the judgment stick. At the end of the seven years, the Israelites cried out to God and he sent a prophet to ask them if they had had enough of his judgment.

After the prophet left, an angel came to an Israelite named Gideon. The angel and Gideon had a conversation:

Angel: The LORD is with thee, thou mighty man of valour.

Gideon: Oh my Lord, if the LORD be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt? but now the LORD hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites. 

Angel (or Lord): Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?

Gideon: Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house. 

Angel (or Lord): And the LORD said unto him, Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man.

Gideon: If now I have found grace in thy sight, then shew me a sign that thou talkest with me. 

God gave Gideon the sign he requested and he went forth to be a messenger for God, for a while.

It seems that Gideon’s skeptical side kept getting in the way. He wanted to make sure it really was Jehovah speaking to him, so Gideon asked God to prove to him he really was God.

Gideon put a fleece of wool on the floor. He said if the fleece was wet in the morning and it had not rained (or dew covered the ground) outside he would believe what God had said.

Sure enough, the fleece was wet in the morning. Did Gideon believe God? Nope. Skeptical Gideon asked for more evidence.

Gideon reversed the fleece experiment. He said if the fleece was dry in the morning and there was dew on the ground outside, he would believe what God had said.

Sure enough, the fleece was dry in the morning.

God allowed Gideon to test him multiple times (read Judges 7 to see more of Gideon’s God tests). Evidently, Gideon had a faith that required authentication and proof.

In the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement I grew up in, putting out a fleece was common practice. Putting out a fleece was a way of “testing” God or finding out the “will of God.”

Like casting lots and drawing straws, Christians use putting out a fleece as a way to make decisions. In 1979, I was looking for a job, so I applied for a restaurant management job with a company in Findlay, Ohio. They told me they had an interest in me working for them and they would get back with me with their final decision. At the time, we were living in Montpelier, Ohio. We were thinking about moving to Newark, Ohio, the central Ohio community where Polly’s parents lived. What should we do? Restaurant manager in Findlay or move to Newark?

So, I put out a fleece. I prayed, “God if you want me to take the restaurant manager job then have the company call me by ____________. If they don’t call, I will take that as a NO from you.”

The call didn’t come, so we packed everything up and moved to Newark. The funny thing? The restaurant company called a day or two AFTER the fleece deadline and offered me a good-paying job. I stood by what I had divined through putting out the fleece.

Silly, I know.

Christians often use this kind of thinking without even recognizing it. Such and such will happen in their life and they take that as “proof” that God is moving and working in their life. I have heard countless prayers where a person said “I was praying for _________________ and sure enough God came through. What an awesome God we serve!”

Never mind that there are multiple explanations for _________________ happening. Even when unexplainable things happen, why is it assumed that it is God making things happen? Unexplained things are just that — unexplained.

Sadly, many Christians wait for God to work, move, come through, or bless them. As a result, they are robbed of the ability to make decisions on their own. Unless they can “sense” God working, they refuse to make a decision. Or they make a horrible decision because they have a feeling they call “God.”

For the non-Christian, reason, common sense, experience, and advice from others, is usually sufficient for making a decision. Sometimes, when it is necessary to make a quick decision, we have to “go with our gut.” Going with our gut, however, is not the same as going with God (article on Psychology Today about this subject).

How about you? Do you have any “putting out a fleece” stories to share?

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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12 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Troy

    I’ve never heard this one. Laying out fleece seems amusing to the uninitiated. It seems to contradict Deuteronomy 18:10-12 which specifically prohibits practicing divination fortune telling and interpreting omens.

  2. Avatar
    Jim

    As as Christian, I’ve never considered a fleece to be a sign of a mature person / believer. I know some pastors that have stated similar views.

    I was laid off 10 days ago for the second time in 15 months due to “budgetary reasons” (corporate speak, they were doing other things in removing a number of senior people). Another part of the corporation may rehire me back (a $1B company, so it has many divisions). I’ve also thought hard about going into my own engineering consulting business as I have people coming to me asking me to do fairly sophisticated analysis work for them.

    But I’m not using a fleece at all to determine this. I’ve looked at the possible income of consulting, what else I might easily find, how long my revenue pipeline would be, and what a new offer from my old company might entail. I’ve also talked to several people who are on their own, and they are evenly divided between Christian and non-Christian, seeking their advice, their thoughts and what criteria to use (it’s as much a personality/drive issue as it is a revenue issue). I expect God to teach me and guide me through this process, but in I rarely expect him to work outside of that. He certainly has the right to do so, and may so I am open if it happens, but it’s not how I expect to arrive at the decision.

  3. Avatar
    BJW

    Putting out a fleece is a superstitious idea. And yet, if someone believes God is guiding them, they look for signs. Funny how the signs go away when one ceases to believe that God is pointing out the direction.

  4. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    I guess it’s no coincidence that I gave up on bargaining with God (“putting out the fleece”) when I gave up evangelicalism but was still Christian. Even in evangelicalism I heard 2 different interpretations of the putting out the fleece story. One depicted Gideon as being careful. The other depicted Gideon as not having enough faith. So I wasnt sure which way we were supposed to go with that. It felt a lot better to just make my own decisions and accept the consequences.

  5. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    So true, Michael Smith Jr. My sentiments exactly, and I check my phone daily to read the newest postings. As for putting out fleeces, some preachers and their shows on radio(Salem Communications) promote doing it, others earn against the practice. Impossible to know who was right back then in 2002 when I did it, because I was being asked to do something I really, really didn’t want to do. At the ti.e, many shows were extolling the virtues of risk on others’ behalf-carrying one another’s burdens,radical serving,self-sacrice- with blessing and happy memories for the one who “stepped out in faith.” I’d told God that I’d only be willing to leave my small, cozy apartment if I got the signal that I should leave it, as I was being asked to stake out a criminal who was my former landlord’s enemy, building a case against said crooks. I said”make my place unlivable, because I don’t want to give it up.” Not long after, I had a dream that a waterfall flooded my kitchen, and it was coming from upstairs. Within a few days of that dream, the punk kid above me had a tantrum and tore his sink out from the wall. And water ran down in my kitchen doorway from that kid’s upstairs. He used steroids. So I told my friend I didn’t really want to stay on the property to watch that shyster. But I’d go if it didn’t take too long. What should have taken two weeks took three and one half years. Harrassed and almost killed while there, for my trouble. I got the goods on those people. Built the case. They killed my friend within the year he filed against them, and used their connections in real estate,law enforcement and politics to stay out of prison. My friend had a VERY checkered past, and they were blackmailing him,unbeknownst to me. I should have been told the whole story before wading into that mess. Supposedly God can tell someone to avoid hinky situations, so why not that one ?? I’d never do it today. But, I was so brainwashed that I was open to coincidence and suggestion then. Point being, people are guilted into doing things they shouldn’t. The promised happy American ending never came. Only injustice and carnage. 14 years later, I’m still damaged by that experience. And I have since found that these preachers will shout and demand YOU step out, while they never get their hands dirty carrying some middle-class or lesser, congregant’s burdens ! It’s all about one standard for them and another for you. All this in Los Los Angeles County, which has a permanent housing shortage, thanks to the real estate lobby and rotten politicians, and yes,the churches really benefit from the above so well. All this misery was preventable. I stupidly believed that God would make up for lack of money or power to take on bad people. I wished I let the chips fall, as it was doomed from the start,worthy cause or not. God won’t make up the deficit, regardless of what you hear in church or on radio. I’ll never be “me” again. I found out how real estate works,lol. And that movies like ” Gangster Squad”, “Chinatown,”and “L.A. Confidential” point out how unlivable,corrupt, and hopeless this place is–and Big Religion has a major role in this. At the other end of the Fundie spectrum(IFB)is Victory Outreach, and their connections to prison enforcers, mafias, and dirty cops, like the LAPD. Darrell Gates and his “God Squad allies,it goes on for miles. In this economy, you can see what Big Religion is doing to people.

  6. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    I have quite a litany. Some preachers and teachers encourage using fleeces and vows. Some warn not to. In my experience, you will get more than you bargained for, and live to regret it. Don’t do it, ever !

    • Avatar
      BJW

      There is no reason to do that. A rational adult examines the situation they are in, makes a list of pros and cons, and weighs all their options. God isn’t zinging people for using reason to make decisions. And I’m not an atheist either. Just a former Christian.

  7. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    Oh, trust me, I never think to bother with those now. And almost never that Salem Communications. Once in a blue moon for entertainment value.

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