When we want to hear our Master’s voice, we all have to overcome competing influences, like the lyrics of “Breathing” by Lifehouse say, “I’m trying to identify the voices in my head; God, which one’s you?” We all need a filter to pick the right voices, or influences, that we base our lives on, and filter out anything that competes for our Master’s attention. The Bible recommends it, as 1 John 4:1 says “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” Proverbs tells us to make our ear attentive toward wisdom and to incline our heart to understanding, and to treat wisdom and understanding as more valuable than silver and treasures. But how do we do it?
Gideon from the book of Judges might also have related to Lifehouse’s lyrics. Gideon needed to filter out the voices, and probably the best-known part of his story is his use of a fleece to do that. During Gideon’s life, as recorded in the book of Judges, Israel was being oppressed by the Midianites, Amalekites, and others, who would wait until harvest then rob all the produce and livestock. The angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, saying he would use Gideon to “save Israel from the hand of Midian”, but Gideon doubted that it was God speaking, and said “show me a sign that it is you who speak with me.” Gideon may or may not have doubted that God was able to save Israel, but he certainly doubted whether this was really God talking. Therefore, Gideon needed to “test the spirits,” but how?
Gideon asked God for a sign, which God provided, giving Gideon confidence to break down an altar to Baal and destroy an Asherah. But Gideon asked God for more proof that it was truly Him speaking, and that He was calling Gideon to save Israel. This extra step was the sign of the fleece, which is worth quoting in full, from Judges 6:36-40.
“Then Gideon said to God, ‘If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said, behold, I am laying a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said.’ And it was so. When he rose early next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water. Then Gideon said to God, ‘Let not your anger burn against me; let me speak just once more. Please let me test just once more with the fleece. Please let it be dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground let there be dew.’ And God did so that night; and it was dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground there was dew.”
A quick survey of study Bibles on this passage brings these comments on Gideon’s “test” of God:
- “Even though the Spirit has come upon him, Gideon still struggles to trust the Lord.”
- “The gathering of the tribes should have been sufficient evidence of God’s presence with Gideon, but he wanted a sign that God would do what He had promised.”
- “Gideon’s desire for a second fleece sign evidenced his less than complete trust in God…He wanted to make certain that the first fleece sign was not merely a coincidence or the result of the natural absorption properties of a fleece.”
- “Unlike Gideon, we have God’s complete, revealed Word. If you want to have more of God’s guidance, don’t ask for signs; study the Bible”
It’s easy, even encouraged, to criticize Gideon for testing God but if we put ourselves in his place can we do any better, even with the whole Bible? Sometimes the Bible is clear, as in “you shall not murder,” but what about questions like, “what should I write next?” Or “how can I encourage a friend?”
Consider that if Gideon had not put out the fleece maybe his story would’ve stopped right there, with him wallowing in doubt. After all, Israel was being persecuted by a powerful enemy – why take any risks? However, not knowing with 100% certainty what God’s will is does not mean that doing nothing is the right answer. If we have a decision to make where the Bible doesn’t seem to provide explicit direction, do we just follow Yogi Berra’s sarcastic advice: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it”?
I can relate to Gideon because I needed a filter, a reason to take the time to “test the spirits,” because I rarely know for sure what God wants. Much of the time, I “go with the flow,” and think if I avoid the wrong “flow” I’ll be ok. I write often not because I’m disciplined, but because I’m not. Writing is a tangible way to build the spirit-testing filter into my routine, even if it sometimes looks no wiser than Gideon’s fleece. So, why publish publicly to anyone with an internet browser? Because I take it more seriously, working on filtering out voices that aren’t useful to me, and wouldn’t be useful to anyone else. A published blog takes more effort than not writing at all, which is the point, and it helps me move forward.
The Benefit of the Doubt
As I’ve written about Jeremiah and others, the Bible records openly the doubts of God’s people, because we all have a lot in common. Finding and trusting God’s voice is hard. If we criticize Gideon for demanding tests from God, are we really just criticizing ourselves and making it even harder? Our filters are also imperfect – does that mean we do nothing and get nowhere? Do we give up the call to “test the spirits,” leaving ourselves to “go with the flow” until we find a perfect method? Like Gideon, we are also prone to take the safe route, when offered what looks like a riskier alternative. To do something involves risk of not only doing the wrong thing, but also of being criticized for our methods. Doing nothing is sometimes the right answer, but it is also a choice, and we can’t always be clear why we choose it.
David sometimes encourages us to “wait for the Lord,” and he also wrote “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!” when he was feigning madness before Abimelech, a questionable decision. We learn about God by experiencing Him, by taking action or by waiting, taking a chance either way, but over time learning that obedience is always the best decision, and also that He catches us when we fall. We can’t be perfect in this world, but He wants us to try and He will help us grow.
Centuries ago, Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 11:4: “He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap.” He may well have written to me: “He who observes the trolls will not blog, and he who fears the comment section will not write.” Or to Gideon: “He who observes the Midianites will not save Israel.” We all begin our trip to eternity wherever God finds us, where we are not only sinners, but also have a lot to learn about focusing on God’s voice. What might we all be observing that’s keeping us from sowing the seed of the gospel God has given us? Sometimes it’s doubt in our filters, in our ability to know for sure.
When we’re afraid of being compared to Gideon and his fleece, know that he is listed in Hebrews 11:32 as a faithful hero, and was received in heaven as a good and faithful servant by the grace earned on the cross by Jesus. So, let’s take it easier on Gideon and give him the benefit of the doubt. We are all in this together, including the heroes of the Bible. It’s God’s faithfulness that matters and He will overcome all of our doubts.
In the meantime, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13a