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Gideon Gets Fleeced

Paul doesn’t want us to try ferreting out the secret will of God that he plans to do, but discern the revealed will of God that we ought to do. —John Piper, “What Is the Will of God…?” (2004)

“So You’ve Just Turned the Bible into a Ouija Board?”

A young girl places a key on the first page of the Book of Ruth.  She shuts the Bible and binds it closed with a ribbon, but she carefully leaves the top of the key exposed.  Then she puts her fingers into the keyhole and holds the Bible up in the air.  She begins to speak the names of possible suitors.  When the Bible spins or jerks or falls, she has discovered the name of her true love.  Folk custom prescribes a similar ritual for learning the identity of thieves or even finding hidden treasure.

These sorts of rituals are forms of divination.  Not far removed from them is the practice of throwing open a Bible and picking a verse at random from its pages.  This practice, no less than Bible-and-key divination, reduces the Bible to the level of the I Ching or a box of fortune cookies.  Some people try to use God in the same way,  treating Him like a magic 8-Ball.  Gideon had a different approach.

Throwing Out Fleeces

When Gideon was faced with the staggering responsibility of leading an army against God’s enemies, he stumbled a bit in his faith.  He asked God for a sign—twice in fact (Judg. 6:36ff).  First, Gideon threw out a fleece on his threshing floor and asked that the fleece be wet and the ground dry.  God heard his request.  Then Gideon asked for a reversal of the sign:  he asked that the next time the fleece be dry and the ground wet.  God granted him this sign as well.  Gideon believed God and began to organize his army.

Today well-meaning Christians will speak of “throwing out a fleece.”  They are faced with a choice:  This job or that?  Trade school or college?  Marriage or the mission field?  They pray and they consider, but the decision stills seems daunting.  So they throw out a fleece; that is, they ask God for a sign.  “If this is your will, then….”  The signs vary with human imagination.  “Let my mother make waffles instead of oatmeal.”  “Let a check for $800 show up in our mailbox this afternoon.”  “Let me see the word ‘India’ in letters six feet tall.”  All of this they justify, at least in part, by an appeal to Gideon.

But Gideon wasn’t trying to find God’s will.  He already knew it.  God had spoken to him very clearly and more than once (Judg. 6:12ff).  He had promised Gideon military victory over Midian and had received a peace offering and then a sacrifice from his hand.  He had clothed Gideon with His Spirit and moved him to assemble an army.  Gideon knew God’s will, and he had received multiple signs as encouragement.  So what was Gideon after here?

Baal vs. Yahweh

Gideon had grown up in a family that worshipped Baal.  Certainly, his family knew about Yahweh, His covenant, and His promises.  Gideon appealed to Yahweh’s great acts in Israel’s history.  But for Gideon’s family, as for so many in Israel, Yahweh had become remote.  He was “the wholly Other,” the absentee Landlord, the ineffable Observer—but nothing more.  Baal ran the universe.  That is to say, Nature as immanent process was what shaped human destiny, and beyond the forces of Nature, there could be no appeal.  Man might redirect, stimulate, or forestall Nature by the proper rite or ritual, but any such actions would themselves be wholly natural and so part of the process that was Baal.

Gideon was weak in faith.  He wanted to see that Yahweh could really outmatch Baal.  He wanted to know that God wasn’t limited by Nature, by natural laws or natural processes.  He wanted to see that Yahweh could, in fact, do miracles.  Now consider—a miracle is more than an odd event.  It is more than a disruption of natural processes.  As a religion, Baalism could allow for the strange and unexpected in Nature.  Rationalism and irrationalism could coexist here and there for a moment.  But the irrational had to be truly irrational:  for Baalism, the miraculous had to be the truly strange, incomprehensible, and unpredictable—a true hiccup in the fabric of reality.

But Yahweh’s miracles come upon prediction, with meaning and purpose.  For biblical faith, the God who does miracles is the God who runs the whole universe according to His eternal plan and sovereign purpose.  He is the one who makes the sun to shine and the winds to blow.  And if, for His own purposes, He should wish to blot out the sun or quiet the storm, He can and will.  No irrationality ever: only total, sovereign purpose.  Gideon knew all this; Gideon wanted to be encouraged with one more demonstration of the sovereignty of God.  And God, in patience and mercy, humored him.

The God Who Has Spoken

Gideon had access to the first six books of Scripture—the Torah and the Book of Joshua.  Nothing more had been written yet.  God still spoke through prophets and angels.  He still authenticated His inspired messengers by means of signs and wonders (cf. Mark 16:20; Heb. 2:4; 2 Cor. 12:12).  But even in Gideon’s day, these things weren’t everyday affairs (cf. 1 Sam. 3:1).  Special revelation was often a rare spiritual commodity. Today, however, we have the completed Bible, which, Paul says, is sufficient to equip the man of God “for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17).  In other words, Scripture teaches its own sufficiency.  The godly man doesn’t need signs and wonders to know the will of God:  he doesn’t need divination.  He only needs the Bible.

God’s Decreed Will

Some clarification is in order, though.  Sometimes the words “the will of God” can be confusing.  “God’s will” can mean two very different things.  “God’s will” may mean those things that God has decreed, the things He brings to pass through His sovereign control of the universe.  In this sense, it was God’s will that the Rome should rule the world; that Herod should be king of Judea; that Christ should be crucified.  Scripture says that God works “all things after the counsel of His own will” (Eph. 1:11).  God’s will, understood in this sense, can never be overruled, thwarted, or escaped.  God’s decreed will always comes to pass.

For the most part God’s decreed will is a secret to us.  There are some exceptions.  The unfulfilled prophecies in Scripture tell us—though often “through a glass darkly”—of God plans for the future.  And God has told us in Scripture that, while the Earth remains, planetary motion, organic development, and thermodynamic flow “will not cease” (Gen. 8:22).  He has told us that each of us will die—unless Jesus returns first (Heb. 9:27).  But for the most part, we discover God’s decreed will only as He brings it to pass, moment by moment, in history.  For example, a man will learn with certainty who he is going to marry the moment the woman says, “I do,” and not before.  There are, after all, runaway brides.

God’s Preceptive Will

“God’s will” can also mean God’s moral requirements—His precepts and commandments. God’s preceptive will is expressed in all of Scripture, and for this reason Scripture often speaks of itself as the law of God.  God’s law is comprehensive and contains no loopholes.  He has told us all that we need to know to be thoroughly equipped to “all good works” (2 Tim. 3:17).

In order to understand Scripture properly, however, we must read and study it diligently, pray faithfully for understanding, and seek guidance from pastors and teachers who have shown themselves wise and orthodox (2 Tim 2:15; Ps. 119:18; Eph. 4:11ff).  Still, in most cases, knowing God’s preceptive will is pretty easy.  Should I cheat on my wife?  Should I lie to my boss?  Should I abort my child?  Should I get drunk this weekend?  Scripture is very clear about all these things.  Whether or not we are willing to obey God’s word is another matter.  For we may disobey God’s will if we choose.  Of course, there will be consequences.  There are always consequences.

Fleeces Again?

But what if our choices are all equally within God’s revealed will?  What if they are all morally good?  Can we throw fleeces then?  At this point we’re asking to know the future.  We’re asking for inside information, for secrets God has kept to Himself (Deut. 29:29).  We’re trying to duck the hard responsibility of human choice.  God will have none of that.  Still, God’s word has instruction for us.  It tells us that we should:

  • Pray for wisdom.  God promises to give wisdom liberally to those who ask for it (James:1:5).
  • Examine our own motives.  We ought to have God’s glory as our chief priority (Matt. 6:33).
  • Obtain the information necessary to make a rational and informed decision (Prov. 13:16; 20:18).
  • Listen to the advice of those wiser or more experienced than we are (Prov. 11:14; 15:22).
  • Ask God to bless us and to keep us from trouble (Ps. 90:17; 108:12).

And at some point, we should seriously take into account our own preferences and tastes (Deut. 12:15).  Sometimes it’s really as simple as chocolate or vanilla.  But some people really don’t like vanilla, and that’s okay.

Conclusion

The word of God is our sufficient guide for knowing the will of God.  As the world economy continues to break apart, expect to see more magical solutions to problems from TV preachers and Christian book publishers. Don’t bite. We don’t need signs and wonders, omens, or more false predictions.  We need faith in what God has already spoken.  And if we find our faith weak, we ought to pray, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:24).  God is quick to answer.

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