Chapter 18.2.d: Gideon Asks for Signs
37 Behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said.
38 And it was so: for he rose up early on the morrow, and thrust the fleece together, and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water.
39 And Gideon said unto God, Let not thine anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once: let me prove, I pray thee, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew.
40 And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground.
Gideon doubted God’s promise. Did God really want him to lead God’s army? What did he know about warfare? After all he was only an ordinary farmer; and there were others in the tribe who could do a much better job. So, before he led the attack, he asked God to give him two more signs.
37Behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said.--Judges 6.37 (KJV)
37 I'll place some wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the wool while all the ground is dry, then I'll know that you will rescue Israel through me, as you said.”--Judges 6.37 (GW)
On the eve of a perilous enterprise, he sought to fortify his mind with a fresh assurance of a divine call to lead the Jewish nation in battle against a far superior opponent. The miracle of the fleece was a very remarkable one -- especially, considering the abundant dews that fall in his country.
Behold, I will put a fleece of wool on the floor; on the floor where he was threshing, where the angel first appeared to him, and which lay exposed to the open air, so that the dew might easily fall upon it
and if the dew be on the fleece only; that is, upon the fleece and upon that spot of ground which lies underneath the fleece: that would be miraculous since the dew that falls from heaven in the night, should lie on both the floor and fleece till morning:
and it be dry upon all the earth beside; meaning not upon all the world, nor even upon all the land of Israel, but upon all the floor about the fleece: then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by my hand, as thou hast said; because the dew will be a token of divine favor; (Hosea 14:5) it would show that Gideon would be a recipient of it, while his enemies would be dry and desolate, and ruin and destruction would be their part.
Gideon was very bold, and God was very condescending. But probably the request itself was suggested by the Divine Spirit within him.
(Hosea 14:5) “I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon.” God promises to heal their backsliding (on which they were hooked, cf. 11:7a). God’s anger will be turned away from Israel because Israel will have repented (vs. 4). God promises to be as the dew unto Israel; and this will result in Israel’s growth as a lily, which was noted both for its beauty and productivity. In addition, Israel will put down roots like the cedars of Lebanon, which were known for their stability and durability.
38 And it was so: for he rose up early on the morrow, and thrust the fleece together, and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water.--Judges 6:37(KJV)
38 And that is what happened. The next morning Gideon got up early. He squeezed out a bowl full of water from the wool. Judges 6:37(GW)
And it was so—The Lord decided to work this miracle for the confirmation of Gideon’s faith, and for the encouragement of those that were with him; the fleece was wet with the dew of heaven, and all the ground about it dry:
for he rose up early in the morning; being eager to know whether his request would be granted or not, and the condition of the fleece:
and thrust the fleece together; to satisfy himself whether the dew had fallen on it, and if there was any moisture in it, which he would find out by squeezing it together:
and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water; so that it appeared that the dew had not only fallen on it, but it had absorbed a large quantity of it; the Targum calls it a flagon.
Adam Clarke's Commentary has the following to say “on the miracle of the fleece, dew, and dry ground, Origen, in his eighth homily on the book of Judges, has many curious and interesting thoughts; I shall insert the substance of the whole:—the fleece is the Jewish nation. The fleece covered with dew, while all around is dry, the Jewish nation favored with the law and the prophets. The fleece dry, the Jewish nation cast off for rejecting the Gospel. All around watered, the Gospel preached to the Gentiles. And they converted to God. The fleece on the threshing-floor, the Jewish people in the land of Judea, winnowed, purged, and fanned by the Gospel. The dew wrung out into the bowl, the doctrines of Christianity, extracted from the Jewish writings, shadowed forth by Christ's pouring water into a basin, and washing the disciples' feet. The pious father concludes that he has now wrung this water out of the fleece of the book of Judges, as he hopes by and by to do out of the fleece of the book of Kings, and out of the fleece of the book of Isaiah or Jeremiah; and he has received it into the basin of his heart, and there conceived its true sense; and is desirous to wash the feet of his brethren, that they may be able to walk in the way of the preparation of the Gospel of peace.—ORIGEN, Op. vol. ii., p. 475, edit. Benedict. All this to some will doubtless appear trifling; but it is not too much to say that scarcely any pious mind can consider the homily of this excellent man without drinking into a measure of the same spirit, so much sincerity, deep piety, and unction, appear throughout the whole: yet as I do not follow such practices, I cannot recommend them. Of dealers in such small wares, we have many that imitate Benjamin Keach, but few that come nigh to Origen.”
39 And Gideon said unto God, Let not thine anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once: let me prove, I pray thee, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew.--Judges 6:39 (KJV)
39 Then Gideon said to God, “Don't be angry with me. But let me ask one more thing. Let me make one more test with the wool. Let the wool be dry while all the ground is covered with dew.”--Judges 6:39 (GW)
The next day Gideon went back (and I am of the opinion that he intended to do this all along regardless of the outcome of the first test because if you put out a fleece in some places such as in California it would be damp, whereas the ground would be dry). He gave a two–way test that could not be refuted. He said, “Now, Lord, I will put out the fleece again. If You are really in this thing, put the dew around everywhere else and let the fleece remain dry.” I am glad he did it that way because, frankly, I would be skeptical enough to believe it “just happened” the first time. Or let us say that it was natural for it to happen one way, but it was supernatural for it to happen the other way. This man asked God to put dew on the fleece and then for God not to put dew on the fleece. How gracious God was to Gideon. We will find that God will gradually school this man until He brings him to the place where Gideon can see that there is nothing in him. Then God will use him to win a mighty battle.
Now, looking back at verses 34 and 35, we see that the men that volunteered for his army had come to him from everywhere. When a trumpet is blown in Israel, it means war. And frankly, friend, he was the last man you would want to gather around. He certainly was not a man prepared to lead them into battle. So God begins to move in this man’s life in a definite way, as we shall see in chapter 7.
And Gideon said unto God, “Let not thine anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once: let me prove, I pray thee, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew.”
On the ground —the second trial went more against nature than the former did, because if there was any moisture at all, such things as fleeces of wool are likely to drink it up.
And Gideon said unto God; in the same way as before, and on the morning when he had been favored with the sight of the above miracle: let not thine anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once; he was conscious of the fact that it showed him to be very presumptuous, after he had been indulged with such a indisputable sign to confirm his faith; but as it was not so much on his own account as others, and promising to ask no more favors of this kind, he hoped his boldness would not be resented:
let me prove, l pray thee, but this once with the fleece; one more time with it, and not to try the power of God, of which he had no doubt, but the will of God, whether it was the good pleasure of God to save Israel by his hand, and whether now was the time for it:
let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew; which might seem to be a greater miracle, and a more acceptable miracle than the former, and less liable to result in quibbling and objections; since it might be argued, that a fleece of wool naturally attracts and drinks up moisture; therefore, for the fleece to be dry, and the ground all around it wet, would be a sure sign and ample evidence of the wonderful imposition of the power and providence of God, in directing the fall of the dew on the one, and not on the other.
(Judges 6.34; NKJV) "But the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon; then he blew the trumpet, and the Abiezrites gathered behind him." The Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon—He was endued with preternatural courage and wisdom—Adam Clarke's Commentary
(Judges 6.35; NKJV) "And he sent messengers throughout all Manasseh, who also gathered behind him. He also sent messengers to Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali; and they came up to meet them."
40 And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground.--Judges 6:40 (NKJV)
40 During the night, God did what Gideon asked. The wool was dry, but all the ground was covered with dew.--Judges 6:40 (GW)
Before Gideon went into battle, he desired a pledge of victory from God. The first pledge came when dew fell on his fleece of wool but not on the ground around it. The second came the following night, when the dew fell on ... the ground but not on the fleece.
And God did so that night: the night following Gideon’s request, during the season in which the dew falls. See how tender God is, even with the weak; and how ready to condescend to their infirmities! These signs were very expressive. They are going to engage the Midianites. Could God distinguish between a small fleece of Israel, and the vast floor of Midian? Yes, by this token it appears that he can. Is Gideon desirous, that the dew of divine grace might descend on himself in particular? He sees the fleece wet with dew, to assure him of it. Does he desire, that God will be as the dew to all Israel? Behold all the ground is wet.
for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground; and this might signify, that not only Gideon, would partake of the divine favor, but all the Israelites, would share in the salvation fashioned by him. Many Bible scholars observe, that all this is a symbol of the different status of the Jews and Gentiles under the different dispensations; that under the former dispensation only the Jews partook of the divine favor, and of the blessings of grace, and enjoyed the words and ordinances with which they were watered, when the Gentiles all around them were like a barren wilderness; so, under the Gospel dispensation, the Gentiles share the above benefits to a greater degree, while the Jews are entirely deprived of them.
Gideon’s fleece is often misunderstood by Christians. There are two things about this incident that we should keep in mind: Gideon was not looking to the fleece for guidance but for confirmation. God had already told him what he was to do. Gideon was just seeking assurance of success. People who talk about putting out a fleece (See Article 6.5) to find the will of the Lord in a certain matter are misapplying the passage. Secondly, Gideon had asked for a supernatural sign, not a natural one. Naturally speaking, what Gideon asked for would never have happened without the direct intervention of God. Today people use things as a “fleece” that could happen naturally, without divine intervention. This, too, is a wrong way to use the story. What we see here is God condescending to a man of weak faith to assure him of victory. God can, and does, give such assurances today in answer to prayer
This has often raised the question of the use of fleeces. The context of the entire story indicates that the fleece incident would have been unnecessary if Gideon had fully trusted the Lord. There is nothing in the New Testament to indicate that Christian believers ought to use signs and circumstances in attempting to discern the will of God (e.g., if it rains today I will know that I am not to go to church). Such a dependence on signs is the exact opposite of a clear exercise of true faith. God wants us to believe His Word and clearly act upon it.
The divine patience and condescension were wonderfully manifested in reversing the form of the miracle. Gideon himself seems to have been conscious of incurring the displeasure of God by his hesitancy and doubts; but He bears with the infirmities of His people.
Article 6.5: Putting Out the Fleece
The phrase Putting Out the Fleece is a familiar one in religious circles. It means asking God to guide us in making a decision by fulfilling some condition we lay down.
Putting Out the Fleece is not a biblical method for determining God’s will. Rather, it is an approach used by people like Gideon who lack the faith to trust God to do what He said He would do. Twice Gideon reminded God of what He had said (6.36-37). And twice Gideon asked God to reaffirm His promises with a miracle. The fact that God stooped to Gideon’s weakness only proves that He is a gracious God who understands how we are made—“Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies” (Ps. 103.14). Who are we to tell God what conditions He must meet, especially when He has already spoken to us with His Word? Putting Out the Fleece is not only an evidence of our unbelief, but it is also an evidence of our pride. "God has to do what I will tell Him to do before I will do what he tells me to do!"
There is nothing left for Gideon to do but to confront the enemy and trust God for the victory. “And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (1 John 5.4, NKJV).