“FLEECING”

JUDGES 6:36-40

JANUARY 12, 2012

 

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             When John Wesley, the father of the Methodist church, was thirty-two years old, he was a bachelor missionary in the colony of Georgia.  While serving a church in Savannah, Georgia he met a young woman named Sophie Hopkey.  She was pretty, intelligent and Wesley fell in love with her.  Wesley, however, belonged to a group called “The Holy Club” and one of their ideals was that members remain single.  So Wesley was caught in a dilemma.  Was it the will of God for him to marry Sophie?  To find out, he and a friend named Charles Delamotte decided to draw lots.  On one piece of paper they wrote the word, “Marry.”  On another piece of paper they wrote, “Think not of it this year,” and a third piece of paper they wrote, “Think of it no more.”  Then they put the pieces of paper into a container.  Delamotte closed his eyes and drew out a piece of paper that read, “Think of it no more.”  Wesley took that to be the word of God and he was heartbroken.  He ended the courtship and not long after he sailed back to England.

            Shortly after his return to England Wesley developed a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  By the way, that’s common.  Many people in the church are what we could call “Inside-Outside” Christians.  That is, they are inside the church, but outside a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  Anyway after serving as a missionary to Georgia, Wesley developed a personal relationship with Christ, and he began his evangelistic ministry that eventually led to the beginning of the Methodist Church, and along the way he fell in love with another woman.  She was a widow, a Bible study teacher, named Grace Murray.  This time he used a different method for determining if Grace was the right woman for him.  He listed seven qualities he desired in a wife, and after determining that Grace met all seven qualities he wrote in his journal, he asked her to marry him. 

            Unfortunately, John’s brother, Charles, did not agree.  He believed that marriage would hamper John’s evangelistic work. So when Charles heard the news of the engagement, he jumped on his horse, galloped over to Grace’s home, and said to her, “Grace Murray, you have broken my heart.”  Then he fainted at her feet.  That shook Grace so severely, she married another man.  I don’t blame her.  I’m not sure I would want a brother-in-law like Charles.  Anyway, strike two for John.

            Finally, a year and a half later, at the age of forty-eight, John Wesley married a wealthy widow name Mary Vazeille.  They had no children and she left him fifteen years later, to which Wesley wryly reported in his journal, "I did not forsake her, I did not dismiss her, I will not recall her."

            All this raises some very interesting questions about how we determine if something is or is not the will of God for us.  Was Wesley right the first time when he used lots to determine if he should marry?  How about the second time, when he used logic, common sense by making a list of important character traits in a spouse?  This leads us to the question, how do we determine if something is the will of God?  Does God want me to marry this person?  Does God want me to take this job?   Does God want me to buy this house?  How do we determine the will of God in every day matters of life?  Do we look for some supernatural sign?  Do we put God to certain tests?  Do we simply use common sense?  Do we go with our gut?

            We will look at a passage this morning that finds Gideon, whom we met last week, wrestling with the same issue.  Before we read it through, let’s do a quick review.  Last week I introduced you to Gideon.  I referred to him as the Barney Fife of the Book of Judges.  He was the least likely person in the tribe of Manasseh to become a Judge, but God saw leadership potential in him, and chose Gideon for the task. 

            Since we left Gideon last week, he developed enough spunk to knock down the altar to the pagan god Baal in the city square.  Granted, he did it at night, under the cover of darkness, but he did it.  You can read about that episode in verses twenty-five through thirty-five. 

            Now we come to verse thirty-six in chapter six.  After that small act of courage, after knocking down the altar, Gideon is having second thoughts.  Doubt is getting the best of him once again.  He wonders if God is really in this, so he asks God for a sign.  Listen to the conversation.

 

            Then Gideon said to God, “In order to see whether you will deliver Israel by my hand, as you have said, “I am going to lay 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 deliver Israel by my hand, as you have said.”  And it was so.  When he rose early the next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water.  Then Gideon said to God, “Do not let your anger burn against me, let me speak one more time; let me, please, make trial with the fleece just once more; let it be dry only on the fleece and on all the ground let there be dew.”  And God did so that night.  It was dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground there was dew.

 

            Let me introduce you to a term that is sometimes used in Christian circles.  You may or may not have heard of it.  It’s the term “fleecing.”  What is fleecing?  Fleecing is seeking to learn the will of God by means of a pre-determined sign, a sign pre-determined by us.  It’s more than asking for guidance.  It’s asking to be guided in a particular way, a way of our choosing.

            Let me offer some modern-day examples of what that might look like.  Example one:  “I’m thinking about buying a new car.  I don’t know whether I should or not.  Lord, if you will send me $500 by tomorrow afternoon, that’s a sign between you and me, Lord. If you send me $500, then I’ll know it’s your will for me to buy a new car.”

            Example two:  our boss offers us a new job and we don’t know what to do. So we say, “Lord, if my boss calls me between 2:00 and 3:00 in the afternoon, then I will know it is your will for me to take this job.”

            Example three:  we are thinking about moving to another city.  We’ve got a decision to make. Should I move or not?  So you say, “Lord, I’m not sure what you want me to do, but if when I wake up tomorrow morning, and there are four inches of snow on the ground, I will know it is your will for me to move.”

            As we reflect the practice of fleecing for determining God’s will, let’s note three things about fleecing from our passage.  First, note that when Gideon put out his fleece, Gideon was not ignorant of God’s will.   It is important that we read verses 36 & 37 very carefully.  Listen to Gideon’s words once again.

 

            “In order to see whether you will deliver Israel by my hand, as you have said, “I am going to lay 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 deliver Israel by my hand, as you have said.”

 

            Twice, once in verse 36 and again in verse 37, Gideon mentions God’s will for him.  He was the one God was going to use to deliver Israel. Gideon already knew what God wanted him to do.  Here’s the point.  Gideon’s problem was not one of the knowledge of God’s will.  He already possessed that.  Rather Gideon’s problem was one of inadequacy.  We saw that in him last week.  He felt inferior, not up to the task and he had difficulty believing what God had said to him.  God had faith in Gideon.  Gideon did not have faith in Gideon.

            Second, note that when Gideon put out his fleece he had already received a sign from God.  Let’s look at the sign God gave him.  Chapter six, verse nineteen.

 

            So Gideon went to his house and prepared a kid, and unleavened cakes from an ephah of flour; the meat he put in a basket, and the broth he put in a pot, and brought them to him under the oak and presented them.  The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened cakes, and put them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And he did so.  Then the angel of the Lord reached out the tip of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the meat and the unleavened cakes; and fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened cakes; and the angel of the Lord vanished from his sight.  Then Gideon perceived that it was the angel of the Lord; and Gideon said, “Help me, Lord God!  For I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face.”

 

            This was the first sign Gideon received from God, the sign God chose to give to give Gideon.  The angel blow-torched a lamb and some unleavened cakes and vanished in thin air.  That probably would have done the trick for 99.9% of humankind.  That was a pretty terrific sign.  But it wasn’t enough for Gideon.  After tearing down the altar in the town square, he began to doubt once again and asked for additional signs.   

            Thirdly, and finally, the entire episode is a story of Gideon’s weak faith.  He gets up the next morning to see if there is dew on the fleece and sure enough there is, and the ground is dry around it, but that still doesn’t convince him.  And we get the sense that Gideon knows he is starting to skate on thin ice.  Verse thirty-nine.

 

            Do not let your anger burn against me, let me speak one more time; let me, please, make trial with the fleece just once more; let it be dry only on the fleece, and on all the ground let there be dew.”

 

            Amazingly, Gideon was nominated and elected to the bible’s Hall of Fame of Faith.  Gideon is listed in Hebrews eleven, and here’s how it reads.  Hebrews 11: 32,  “What more shall I say?  I do not have time to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah…”

            Gideon made the Old Testament Hall of Fame of Faith. He made the Hall, but I bet by a slim margin.  Yes, he was a man of faith, but he was a man of weak faith.  When we look at Gideon’s life, we don’t see a man of great robust faith.  We see a man of weak faith whom God used greatly.   That’s good for us because our faith is not what we always hope it would be.  We often fall short in the trust department, the faith department, but even so, God can use us as God used Gideon.

            Summing up, asking God to guide us is OK.  Putting out a fleece is not OK.  It’s OK to ask for a sign as long as we ask God to determine the sign.  And as we close let’s remember that God calls us to live by faith and not by sight, even if it’s Gideon-sized faith, mustard-seed size.  In other words, whenever we choose a course of action, we take a leap of faith.  Few times in life are we ever one-hundred percent sure. Thankfully, however, when we step out in faith we have an incredible safety net.   The Apostle Paul reminds us of it in his letter to the Romans.  He writes,  “God works all things for good for those who trust God, and are called according to God’s purposes.”  Like a mother duck with her ducklings, even when we miss God’s will, God nudges us back on track.