Did a Faithless Gideon Use a Fleece to Test God’s Will? (Judges 6)
Written by Miles V. Van Pelt |
Tuesday, April 25, 2023
Gideon’s questions in Judges 6:13 set the stage for the Lord’s deliverance of Israel: “Please, my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’” In the tradition of the exodus, the Lord raises up a new Moses figure in Gideon and delivers his people from the hand of the enemy yet again.
Then Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said, 37behold, 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.” 38And 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. 39Then 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.” 40And God did so that night; and it was dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground there was dew.
Judges 6:11–24 records Gideon’s call to serve as Israel’s next judge. The angel of the Lord has arrived to call and commission Gideon to serve as the instrument through which the Lord will deliver his people from the Midianites. Gideon is identified by his father and clan from the tribe of Manasseh. The scene is the terebinth at Ophrah. A terebinth is a large tree, perhaps an oak. There Gideon is beating out wheat in a winepress in order to hide from the Midianites. The translation “to hide it” could also be rendered “to flee.” Gideon has fled in order to hide the wheat and himself from the Midianites.
As the account unfolds, it becomes clear that the calling of Gideon follows the pattern of the calling of Moses in Exodus 3. Just as the Lord saved Israel in Judges 4–5 in the pattern and likeness of the exodus and the crossing of the Red Sea, so now will he raise up Gideon in the pattern and likeness of the calling of Moses.
The Calls of Moses and Gideon
1. Reference to Midian (Moses—Ex. 3:1; Gideon—Judg. 6:11)
2. Angel of the Lord Appears (Moses—Ex. 3:2; Gideon—Judg. 6:11–12)
3. Promise of Divine Presence (Moses—Ex. 3:12; Gideon—Judg. 6:12, 16)
4. Deliverance from Egypt (Moses—Ex. 3:7–8; Gideon—Judg. 6:13)
5. Objection of the Person Called (Moses—Ex. 3:11; Gideon—Judg. 6:15)
6. Commission to Deliver (Moses—Ex. 3:10; Gideon—Judg. 6:16)
7. Confirming Sign (Moses—Ex. 3:12; Gideon—Judg. 6:17)
In verse 11 the angel of the Lord was described as sitting under the terebinth tree, perhaps watching Gideon from a distance. Now the angel manifests himself to Gideon and speaks with him. His opening speech comprises two parts. First he confirms the divine presence: “The Lord is with you.” This statement accords with the nature of the office of judge as described in Judges 2:18: “Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge.” Second, the angel delivers what is typically treated as a vocative expression describing Gideon: “O mighty man of valor.” It is perhaps better, however, to understand the second portion of this speech as an adverbial modifier, describing the manner in which the Lord has presented himself to Gideon. In other words, when the angel of the Lord appears to Gideon, he does so as a man of war ready to deliver Israel (cf. Josh. 5:13–15).
This interpretation is to be preferred for at least three reasons. First, in the previous verse Gideon is described as hiding from the Midianite army—not the activity of a mighty warrior. Second, in the accounts of deliverance recorded in Judges it is the Lord who gives the enemy into the hand of the judge and goes out to lead in battle as the divine warrior (e.g., Judg. 4:14–15; 5:4–5, 20–23). Third, the defeat of the Midianites in chapter 7 is achieved by the Lord alone in the presence of three hundred Israelites who never raise a sword (Judg. 7:22), so that Israel could not boast by saying, “My own hand has saved me” (Judg. 7:2).
Gideon answers the angel of the Lord by asking about the reality of the divine presence. “And Gideon said to him, ‘Please, my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.’” (Judg. 6:13). The Lord responds simply by commissioning Gideon. The author now refers to the angel of the Lord as Yahweh himself when he turns to Gideon. The commission comprises three parts. First is the statement that Gideon is to “go in this might of yours.” This statement is frequently misunderstood as referring to some inherent strength in Gideon, but nothing could be further from the truth. Given the context, the strength of Gideon is the promise of the divine presence that appears in verses 12 and 16, bracketing this statement. Gideon’s strength is the Lord himself (cf. Ex. 3:11–12; 2 Chron. 20:6). The second part of the commission is the promise of victory over Midian by Gideon though the strength of the Lord. The final part is a rhetorical question used to express certainty. In other words “Do not I send you?” is to be understood as “I have indeed sent you!”