The Messy Saints – Gideon
I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the memorable quote we’ve often referenced by a young signer of the Barmen Declaration: “I’m not particularly devout—I only tried to be obedient to the Word of God from one experience to the next.” Whether happenstance or God’s initiation, many of the conversations I’ve had this week were asking in one way or another the core question: How can I know the will of God for me today? What does obedience look like today?
A phrase I grew up with is, “I’m laying out a fleece and waiting for God to tell me what to do.” The phrase comes from the story of Gideon in Judges 6-8. He was among the Israelite leaders known as “Judges”, who were “called” by God to step up in times of crisis, and with God’s divine help, fight off the invading hordes who were making life miserable for the Israelites during the twelfth and eleventh centuries B.C.
The Midianites were a nomadic people from the land East of the Dead Sea. For whatever reason, they’d traveled North, and for seven years terrorized the Israelites, causing them to flee from the fertile land of the Jezreel Valley into the surrounding mountains. The writer of Judges wanted to make it very clear that the Midianites were God’s punishment for the people of God failing to remain true in their worship. As feared in Moses’ farewell speech, when they entered the land under Joshua’s leadership, the temptation to bow down to the false gods of their gentile neighbors got the best of them.
Like so many people who received the “call of God”, Gideon was not so sure. He was a member of one of weakest Israelite tribes and the Midianites, with their weaponized camels, were a formidable foe. So…
Then Gideon said to God, “You say that you have decided to use me to rescue Israel. Well, I am putting some wool on the ground where we thresh the wheat. If in the morning there is dew only on the wool but not on the ground, then I will know that you are going to use me to rescue Israel.” That is exactly what happened. When Gideon got up early the next morning, he squeezed the wool and wrung enough dew out of it to fill a bowl with water. Then Gideon said to God, “Don’t be angry with me; let me speak just once more. Please let me make one more test with the wool. This time let the wool be dry, and the ground be wet.” That night God did that very thing. The next morning the wool was dry, but the ground was wet with dew. (Judges 6:36-40)
Easy-peasy. Gideon accepted his call, and while God did send him into battle with only three hundred warriors, the Israelites were victorious and the rest is history. In fact, his guerilla tactics are still studied today and the Israeli army is in the midst of a modernization they’ve called the “Gideon Plan”.
Years ago I would have left it at that…Gideon got his answer and did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. Now go, and do likewise. I can’t say that anymore. Knowing the will of God and responding to the call to action is, for me, much harder and messier in real time than it is in retrospect. The story of Gideon we have today was written hundreds of years after the actual events and can be told with clarity and conviction. I just don’t know if it was so clear for Gideon in the moment, fleece or no fleece. I do believe with all my heart that the God who called Gideon is the same God who calls to us today through the Spirit of the Living Christ, and requires of us a leap of faith into the uncertainty of the moment.
Our Presbyterian Confession of 1967 states: Life is a gift to be received with gratitude and a task to be pursued with courage. Discerning, then pursuing the call of God in our everyday lives is part of the courageous task of living in a messy world filled with difficult, and at times overwhelming decisions. I don’t know anyone who has literally put a fleece out and gotten answers like Gideon did. So how do we discern God’s will and call for this moment? What does it mean for us to “put our fleece out today”?
More on Sunday…until then this what I know…
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