The story of Gideon from Judges 6-7 portrays a man who used a fleece, a literal sheepskin, as an aide in obeying God’s direction. Many Christians take away from that account the idea that testing God through a set of circumstances is an appropriate method for discerning His will. In this short work we will compare Gideon’s actions with those of Eliezer (Genesis 24) and capture some observations.
Gideon was reluctant to obey God’s call and argued with the angel of the Lord who delivered God’s message that Gideon was the one to deliver Israel from Midianite oppression. Gideon’s rebuttal included these points.
- The Lord can’t be with us or the Midianites would not be in control.
- God’s miracles happened in a past generation.
- God has turned his back on us.
- My family is insignificant.
- I am the youngest in my family.
- You have obviously made a mistake.
God worked to build Gideon’s confidence and prepare him for the task ahead through baby steps. God is merciful and understands our individual make-up better than we do ourselves.
The LORD is like a father to His children, tender and compassionate to those who fear Him. For He knows how weak we are; He remembers we are only dust. Psalm 103:13-14 (NLT)
As the Midianites allied with the Amalekites and crossed into Israel, Gideon faced a crisis of faith. Had God really called him to defeat the overwhelming enemy? Would God really accompany Gideon in the battle as he had promised (Judges 6:16)? In those crisis moments our questions propelled by melting faith can take us deep into the territory of doubt, and that’s where Gideon found himself.
This is the context for Gideon’s widely-touted fleece experiment (Judges 6:36-40). He did not use the fleece to determine God’s will. Gideon already knew God’s will. God had spelled it out in person. Gideon sought confirmation, a boost for his sagging faith. On the second leg of the experiment Gideon recognized that his unbelief and lack of faith placed him on dangerous ground and asked specifically (Judges 6:39), “Do not let Your anger burn against me…”
God graciously complied with the terms of Gideon’s fleece experiments then immediately took the man to another crisis point where only faith could take Gideon further. God reduced Gideon’s army from 32,000 to 10,000 and then to 300! With that tiny army and with impressive battle tactics Gideon routed the Midianites just as God promised.
Contrast Gideon’s launch with that of Eliezer who accepted Abraham’s charge to secure a bride for Isaac. One man drug his feet and made excuses while another made preparations, used what knowledge and wisdom he possessed, and embarked on the mission.
In Genesis 24 we find Abraham’s oldest servant, not identified by name but likely Eliezer, making a specific prayer request. The weighty decision of choosing a bride for Isaac exceeded Eliezer’s abilities. Though the man had prepared for the journey he had reached a crisis point and needed guidance. He wanted the choice of Isaac’s bride to be in God’s hands and asked God to direct the proceedings in a way that removed uncertainty. Eliezer’s request came from faith not doubt. He was confident in God’s power to do the miraculous.
He said, “O LORD, the God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today, and show lovingkindness to my master Abraham. Behold, I am standing by the spring, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water; now may it be that the girl to whom I say, ‘Please let down your jar so that I may drink,’ and who answers, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels also’—may she be the one whom You have appointed for Your servant Isaac; and by this I will know that You have shown lovingkindness to my master.” Genesis 24:12-14 NASB
Eliezer recognized the hardships of nomadic life. Isaac needed a bride with a strong work ethic and a positive spirit who might work alongside him in the face of adversity. How does one identify such a woman in short order? Eliezer had an idea. The camel count in Eliezer’s caravan was ten, and a thirsty camel might drink 30 gallons of water in a short time. By the terms of Eliezer’s request to God the prospective bride would be offering to tote 300 gallons of water from the well to water the camels. At 8.3 pounds per gallon, the lady would be moving over a ton of water (2490 pounds) one jar at a time! Her actions would go above and beyond the demands of hospitality and would reflect both her kindness and her serving heart.
Eliezer asked God for direction that could not be misinterpreted.
Is this a pattern to follow in finding God’s will? Should we make such requests of God?
Often we want to use God as the heavenly answer generator much like Mattel’s Magic 8 Ball®. We want to ask a question, perhaps toss out a list of circumstances God must align, and then we expect God to answer. Truthfully that practice has little to do with discerning God’s will and often demonstrates our weak faith. Eliezer lived his faith in this story, and his request was made expectantly, after he had done all in his power to be prepared and ready for the answer. His was not a test of God, but an unwavering acknowledgement of God’s unlimited power.
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