Have you ever heard someone say they were "putting out a fleece before God?" This is the story in the Bible they are referring to.
Let me give you a little more background...over a period of time after being delivered from Egypt, Israel had begun "doing evil in the sight of God." They began to worship Baal and other gods. As punishment God "gave them in to the hands of the Midianites" for 7 years. It was at this point that an angel of the Lord visited Gideon with this greeting in Judges 6:12 "The Lord is with you mighty warrior."
Gideon's response sounds very 21st century to me: "Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.” Aren't we so like that? We've gone and disobeyed God, then turn and blame him for the bad things in our lives.
There is much back and forth between Gideon and the angel resulting in Gideon's request for a sign which is given. But Gideon goes back to the "sign" well not once, but twice more as the scripture above notes. He knows he's pushing it. It's why he says "Do not be angry with me".
So why all this talk about fleeces? Because a few weeks ago, armed only with the knowledge that this story was in the Bible, I brought a huge doubt up to God for the 40 millionth time and threw in a "fleece" of my own. No, I didn't lay wool out in the backyard. I asked for something to be given to me that I thought would be extremely unlikely I would receive unless God was in it. It was a specific item that needed to come from a specific person.
In truth, I'd done this once before. In September of 2010. I knew I hadn't stacked the deck in my favor back then because as simple a request as it was, it went unfulfilled - just as I was afraid in my heart of hearts it would be. Then, about a month ago, a situation presented itself that reminded me of that earlier fleece. Because all this time later although some circumstances have changed, I still have the same question, I decided to lay the same fleece out. "Well, even Gideon did it twice" was my response to my cousin when she cautioned that I'd already done this exercise once without the answer I was hoping for.
In all honesty, I should have done a little more research on this before going forward. Going from memory, I thought Gideon's use of a fleece was more about his seeking wisdom and assurance that he was on the right track. What I now see more clearly is that it was about Gideon's lack of faith. We are told in Hebrews 11:1: "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." Gideon needed to see to believe. Similarly, in John 20:24 Thomas said “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” He was speaking of believing that Jesus had been resurrected. Jesus' response in verse 29 is "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
I needed concrete "proof" of what I hoped for. So what happened this time? I received the item. In spite of many circumstances that could have prevented it, I received it in a special way. Has this put my doubt to rest? I'm sorry to say, like Gideon, that one "sign" has led me to want further confirmation. After all, I didn't get a positive result the first time, so why should I trust the positive this time? Is it just what I want it to be? If possible, I may have even more questions now.
In a response to "Is it acceptable to 'lay out a fleece' before God in prayer", the web site gotquestions.org has this to say in part: "Still, Gideon asked for two more signs because of his own insecurity. In the same way, when we ask for a sign from God, even when He does provide it, it doesn’t give us the answer we crave because our unsure, wavering faith doubts that it was from God. That often leads us to ask for multiple signs, none of which give us the assurance we need, because the problem isn’t with God’s power, it’s with our own perception of it." Well, they certainly nailed my experience on the head.
Despite it all, I don't bring you this story as something negative. Whenever a lesson is learned, there is something good to be gained from it. In my case, I've been reminded about a number of things.
- Read and understand a passage of scripture before "using" it. The very least I should have done was go back over the story before going forward. It's similar to what Mom always said - think before you speak. In this case, understand before you act.
- We are not meant to have all the answers. If we did, there would be no need for faith. God provides what we need, when we need it and not before.
- There are promises in God's Word that we can stand on. Ps 84:11 says "For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless." and Ps 37:4 says "Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart." "No good thing" is not always what we want or wish for - it's what the Lord knows is best for us. And when we delight ourselves in Him, His desires for us become our desires for ourselves, and they are granted.