The central character of the book of Judges is also its’ anti-hero. Our Sunday School knowledge of Gideon leaves us with just two stories to reflect on: the fleece that becomes wet (or dry) as a sign from God, [hence the expression ‘laying a fleece’ when seeking discernment via a supernatural sign] and the peculiar story of how Gideon is used by God to defeat the oppressive Midianites with some shouts, some lights hidden under jars, and a mere 300 of his original fighting force of 32,000 people. But these stories alone give little handle on the character and destiny of Gideon.
By the time he ‘lays his fleece’ five things have already happened:
- Gideon has had an angelic encounter and specific commissioning as a mighty warrior.
- God has supernaturally set fire to his burnt offering through the angel
- Even when the angel disappears the LORD still spoke to Gideon directly with further encouragements and directions.
- He has experienced providential deliverance from a hate-mob
- He has had the Spirit of God ‘take possession of him’ with dramatic results, and this has caused a vast army of 32,000 men to gather around him.
Why lay the woollen fleece on the ground? Simply put he wanted God to prove something. First time round he wanted a fleece that was wet and the ground around it bone dry. Annoyingly this worked, so he tried again, but in case there was some scientific explanation for this minor miracle the second time he asked that the ground would be soaked and the fleece dry. You can almost hear the author laughing…
Angel – CHECK
Commissioning – CHECK
Fire for offering – CHECK
Divine voice – CHECK
Deliverance from mob – CHECK
Spirit of God – CHECK
Vast army gathers – CHECK
Wet wool – (hee hee) CHECK
Dry wool – (belly full of laughter) CHECK
And what did he want the Wet / Dry wool to prove? The very thing that God has already told him he would do through an actual angelic visitation, backed up with fire and then a divine voice from heaven.
So why does the wet and dry wool make it into our Sunday school books? What is it about Gideon that we love…
I think it’s that when we hear preachers say things like ‘Faith is spelt R.I.S.K.’ we want to say secretly – rather you than me mate. When Peter steps out of the boat to have a go at walking on water, we’re kinda cowering with the other disciples thinking, ‘Oh cr*p he’s gone and done it … I’m gonna have to do that now or they’ll think I’m a second rate disciple, unless – Oh wait – YES he is… he’s sinking – well thank goodness for that’.
There’s not much of the heroic in most of us either, and so asking for a sixth or seventh sign in a row about exactly the same thing God ahs already spoken about – well that sounds like a reasonable risk assessment to me.
Our Bishop, Paul Williams, came recently and told us an old John Wimber quote: There are three phases of a God-given vision:
In this moment Gideon was actually well on his way to stage 2 as he’d accumulated 32,000 men and received a divine guarantee of success – confirmed at least seven ways!
But unfortunately God hadn’t read Wimber.
God wanted to make the whole task stay at level 1 for a whole lot longer.
He wanted it to be impossible…
The reasons why would come clear later, but consider these back facts:
The Midianties had been terrorising the Israelites for seven years now. Gideon self-identified as the ‘least of the least’ –a no body from a nobody family, and an inconsequential tribe, used to cowering away from his technologically superior camel backed oppressors. The Midianites were like locusts swarming over the land and neither they nor their camels could be counted. They were the hit and run raiders that – and we need to understand this – that God had let terrorise the people of Israel these past seven years, because sometimes oppressive circumstances were the only way he could get their attention back to him from all the other useless things they kept on worshipping to try and manipulate successful harvest, fertility and other base things.
The Midianites had been horrific, but they were there under God’s permissive will.
When God decides that their time is up they have had it.
That’s what Gideon doesn’t get. He looks at his circumstances and asks (understandably) If you are with us why this mess we’re in – and where are all the miracles of days gone by we keep hearing about – I can’t see any evidence now…
We might say – I see Cancer in the family, decline in my church, public attacks on my faith in the media and the slaughter on the innocents by ISIS, and I read stories of Wesley and Whitefield – and I just can’t see it happening now…
If you are with us – why all this… ?
And so God gives him confirmation after confirmation and at the same time ups the anti…
ALERT LEVEL FOUR: IMPOSSIBLE TASK AHEAD…
Because in two dramatic culls he removes first the fearful and then the thirsty fighters from the army, leaving just 300 who lapped up water like a dog laps. Whether that means they just lay down and stuck their head in the water with reckless abandon – or whether they cautiously drew it to their mouth with their hands and lapped from their we do not know. What we do know is that there were just 300 of them who did it that way, and that’s how many God wanted in his team to defeat the Midianites. And Defeat them He did. Without the 300 stiking a single blow God routed the enemy – turning them on each other – because the divine time had come to reinstate his people.
And you may have thought that Gideon and all the people would start to learn who was Lord of History… but as we’ll see in next week’s post human memories are fickle, and enabling God to get glory for everything he does is one of the hardest vision statements to deliver on – as half the time we have no idea what he is doing or planning on doing anyway – and the other half of the time we need him to tell us seven times before we step out of the boat and walk on water…
The exception was the man Jesus. He did nothing apart from what he saw his Father in heaven doing… wouldn’t you like to be like that man?