Have you ever hesitated to ask God for something for fear He will think you are testing Him? I pondered this conundrum recently while reading the story of Gideon in the Old Testament. Gideon was an Israelite in a time when God’s people were living in oppression at the hands of the Midianites. After seven years, the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, telling him that God would help him lead an army to defeat the Midianites and bring the Israelites out of captivity.
Gideon then asked God to give him a physical sign of reassurance saying, “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised -- look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said” (Judges 6:36-37). God granted Gideon’s petition and the next morning the fleece was completely wet while the ground underneath remained dry.
As if God hadn’t been gracious enough at that point, Gideon had the boldness to go back and make a second appeal, saying, “Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece, but this time make the fleece dry and let the ground be covered with dew” (Judges 6:39). I paused at this point in the story thinking surely God was about to give Gideon a slap on the wrist for his lack of faith and presumptuous request. But the very next line simply records, “That night God did so” (Judges 6:40).
At first glance, I was dumbfounded by this passage, because when God initially gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments and instructions on how to live, He told them, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (Deuteronomy 6:16). Yet when Gideon asked God to give him not one but TWO tangible signs of reassurance, God did not rebuke or punish him for “testing” him, but instead graciously granted his prayer.
I dug further into this, reading several Biblical commentaries about whether or not Gideon displayed a lack of faith in this particular encounter with God. I read and reread the passage, looking for that one “aha” explanation that would clear it all up for me. I wound up even more confused. I couldn’t find a definitive answer on whether or not Gideon was testing God.
I was about to give up my desperate search, but then God revealed something new to me. I had been so zeroed in on Gideon’s fleece encounter, I had neglected to focus on the next part of the story.
In the very next passage, Gideon is preparing his men for battle against the Midianites. He had 32,000 men to begin with, but God instructed, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me’” (Judges 7:2). So God instructed Gideon to send home all the men who were afraid. Gideon obeyed, and 22,000 men left. God then told Gideon their numbers were still too large and gave him another direction on how to separate the soldiers. Gideon obeyed, and after this test, he was left with only 300 men. Because of Gideon’s obedience, God was able to bring the Israelites to a victory that no one could deny was to HIS credit, rather than the strength of their army. When faced with a seemingly impossible command to pare down his army, Gideon not once protested.
I realized after reading this second part of God and Gideon’s interaction that I had been asking the wrong questions. I was busy focusing on the aspects of the story we don’t know for certain while neglecting the things we do.
We do know that God is a good and faithful God (Psalm 107:1). We know His mercy never ends (Lamentations 3:22). We know that God knows everything we will ever do before we’ve ever lived (Psalm 139:16), and yet creates us anyway, knowing we will hurt and disappoint Him. We may not fully know how God felt about Gideon’s request, but we do know He granted it.
Pastor Georgie Kelsey recently preached a sermon titled “The Power of Love” highlighting that God IS love. It sounds so simple on the surface, but she revealed there is immeasurable power in this truth. 1 Corinthians 13:4 tells us, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.” God and love are interchangeable. He is patient and kind. He never changes.
Gideon was just another imperfect human called to follow an absolutely perfect God. I realized after seeing the story in full-scope that I had rushed to judge Gideon with a legalistic mindset, thinking he deserved some type of reprimand. And in a strange way, by looking for an answer as to why God hadn’t punished Gideon, I myself was testing God. In my search for an answer, God gave me the same grace He gave Gideon by reminding me that He and only He knows what is best. He had a personal relationship with Gideon and knew exactly what he needed, just as He does with me. Whether Gideon was right or wrong in his requests with the fleece didn’t matter, because God showed that His love was bigger. His mercy and His plans will always outweigh our weaknesses.