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Give Me a Sign

Sermon passage: (Judges 6:33-7:18) Spoken on: March 9, 2009
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Pastor Wilson Tan
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Judges

Tags: Judges

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About Pastor Wilson Tan: Pastor Tan served as a youth executive at the Presbyterian Synod, and as a pastor in Jubilee Church. He continues to serve in church as a cell leader in zone ministry.

Sermon on Judges 6:33-7:18


What’s amazing about the story of Gideon is neither the miracles that God performs through him, nor the signs that God grants to him, but rather, it is about how God uses the weakest of the weak to accomplish the work of saving Israel. Gideon is not your typical hero with great character and personality. He is also not one with exceptional skill or talent. If there is one thing he is good at, it would be persistence in seeking assurance from God. Throughout his story, we see that he lacks confidence and faith in God’s promise. Time and time again, he had to ask God for signs.

Was Gideon right in asking God for signs? Pastor Siow Hwee raised this interesting question last week in his sermon. But is this passage really about Gideon asking for signs? Not really, in fact, you will be gravely mistaken to think that it is about Gideon determining the will of God. It is not. In Judges 6, the author gives us ample evidence that Gideon is well aware of God’s will – that He is with Gideon and He will save Israel from their enemies. God sent an angel to Gideon to tell him that he is a mighty warrior when he was hiding in the winepress (Judges 6:11-12). God also told Gideon that He is with him even though he gave the excuse that his clan, Manasseh is the weakest (Judges 6:14-16). God also assures Gideon of his divine identity through a sign of fire consuming the meat and bread (Judges 6:17-21). Gideon knows full well what is God’s will.

If he already knew of God’s promise, why still ask God for signs? This is a question about his character. Is he a man of cautious faith or of unbelief? Scholars are divided on this issue. Was he a man who knows God’s will but needed more assurance because he is a man of caution? Or was he a man who knows God’s will but did not fully believe until further confirmation? Both of these arguments can be justified in the passage. But from looking at the overall character study of Gideon, I would conclude that he is neither a man of total unbelief, nor necessarily a man of caution. He is simply a man of little faith.

The Spirit of the Lord frequently appears in the Book of Judges when it comes to calling and raising men to fight against God’s enemies. The author tells us that the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon and he went on to assemble an army, calling his fellow Israelite brothers to arms (Judges 6:34-35). If he did not know God’s will, he would not have called his fellow brothers to arms. In his prayer to God, he even acknowledges God’s promise. Gideon knows clearly what God’s will is but he just did not have the courage to take that leap of faith. He lacks the faith to act upon his knowledge. In another words, he knows but did not fully believe in God. You might be wondering, is there a difference between knowing and believing? Knowledge requires evidences and proofs and justification, while belief requires a certain leap of faith. This was Gideon’s Achilles’ heel, his lack of faith in God. But yet somehow, God did not give up on this anti-hero.

Throughout the passage, God repeatedly tells Gideon not to be afraid. You are not going to die. Fear is a big issue for Gideon. In the later verses; we learned that even after God told him that he is going to deliver [the Midianites] into his hands and if he is still afraid to attack, God will sent his servant Purah to go with him to spy on the Midianite camp. Oh boy, if you think Gideon was a coward before he went down to spy on their camp, imagine how he would have felt upon seeing the massive Midianite army. The author tells us that, “Their camels could no more be counted than the sand on the seashore” (v. 12).

God knows Gideon lacks faith. This was his greatest weakness as a warrior. And to encourage him further, God allowed Gideon to eavesdrop on a Midianite soldier who had a dream about the barley loaf smashing a tent. It struck with such force that the tent overturned and collapsed. The barley loaf represents the farmer while the tent represents nomads. Israel as a grain nation was the barley loaf while the tent represents the Midianite nomads. The dream was the last push Gideon needed to go into battle.

1) The fleece oracle: Was it right for Gideon to ask God for a sign? (Judges 6:36-40) – God accommodates to humans

Was it right for Gideon to ask God for a sign? In many parts of the OT, various people in Israel have asked God for signs, some of whom were Israelites while others were not. For instance, when Abraham instructed his chief servant to go to his old country and choose a wife for his son, Isaac, the servant asked the God of Abraham for a sign. There are many more examples but I will not discuss them today. Instead, let’s talk a little about our obsession with signs.

Why are we so fond of asking what is God’s will for us? When has God’s will become so personal? In the Bible, God’s will is already very clear. Let’s ponder on this for a minute. What is God’s will in the Bible? Simply put, God’s will is to reconcile the world of sinners to Him through the blood of Jesus Christ. God’s will is always about the salvation of the world, first to Israel, and then to the Gentiles. It is never about a personal will for our lives. It is postmodern to turn God’s will into a subjective and personal direction from God. Gideon is not asking about God’s will? He is seeking further assurance of God’s promise. The question we ought to ask is, not “What is God’s will” but “How can I live God’s will in my life?”

As Christians, we are often eager to determine what is God’s will for us, believing that this is called “ferventness”. But underlining this “ferventness” lies a deep sense of irresponsibility. We do not want to make hard decisions and so we leave it to God. Let me explain. When we ask about God’s will, sometimes, it is because we do not want to take responsibility for our actions. In preparation for marriage, we often ask God if this person is the ONE for me, why? Does it mean that if the marriage fails apart, we are going to blame God for choosing this person for me? When we ask God for a sign, ask yourselves, why are you asking what you are asking? What are your motives? Are you asking because you are truly seeking or is it because you do not dare make certain decisions in life? We can ask for signs and miracles but it is wrong to expect results according to our self-centered desires. Our faith must ultimately resonate first with the will of God. And God’s will is already clearly spelled out in the Bible.

The fact that God answered his request exactly and according to everything Gideon had asked for is not a proof of its validity. It is God’s accommodation to us, humans. So many signs have already been given to him, but it was simply inadequate. But yet somehow God accommodates to the weakness of Gideon, his lack of faith, and relented to his requests for signs. This does not justify his asking of signs. But does this mean we can never ask for signs?

In some sense, asking God for a sign is like prayers and petitions. I believe it is ok to ask for signs if you are genuinely seeking. Check your motives, time and time again. Is it selfish desires or learning true obedience? In Luke 11:9-10, after Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, he said, “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” If there is something positive about Gideon here, may it be that, he is truly a seeker.

The question Gideon seeks is not, “What is God’s will?” But “how can I be sure that God will keep to His promise?” Even though, God’s will is fulfilled through a person, it is never personal. For Gideon, it is to lead an army against the Midianites but it is always for the sake of the nation. To accomplish this task, it was imperative for him to gain further assurance if God will save Israel by his hands as He has promised (Judges 6:36). This was of utmost concern for him, “Can I trust Yahweh to deliver us once again?” You must be wondering, “How many times does God need to show his faithfulness and power to this unbelieving bunch of Israelites? Historically, they remember God’s faithfulness, but time and time again, Israel is the unfaithful one! It is not that Gideon doubted God’s faithfulness, but he doubted Israel’s. Will these 32,00 men leave me in the middle of the fight? Will Israel turned away from God and surrender to their enemies once again? How can I be sure that you can keep Israel faithful?

Gideon, Jerub-Baal, the anti-hero in Judges, faces the same struggle we face everyday. Every time we sin, we repent, and ask God for forgiveness. Will YHWH forgive me one more time? When will YHWH’s patience run out? Could it be today? Let me ask God one more time to be sure. Then Gideon said to God, “Do not be angry with me. Let me make one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece. Not one but two signs! The first sign: to cause a certain fleece to be wet while the ground is dry. The second sign: to cause a certain fleece to be dry while the ground is wet. Our God is indeed a very patient and accommodating God. Judges 6:40 tells us specifically, “that night God did so.” God answered him with two more tests of His own.

2) The Reduction of Gideon’s Troops (Judges 7:1-8) - God often chooses the weakest of the weak to accomplish his work

The second part of the passage talks about God’s reduction of Gideon’s troops. What is the significance of this reduction? The author is trying to convey to the readers that just as God chose a weak and unlikely hero and leader in Gideon, similarly, God will also choose a small and weak army to fight the mighty Midianites. God wants to make it clear that it was God alone who had won the victory and not by human strength, so that Israel could not boast in their own strength, that, “My own hand has delivered me”.

Now it is God’s turn to test Gideon’s faith in Him. Just as Gideon asked God for two signs. God also made two tests to reduce his men. Against the odds, through two stages, God reduced Gideon’s 32,000 men to just a mere 300. The first test was a test of courage. God told Gideon to announce to the people that anyone who “trembles in fear may turn back” and return home. So, 22,000 men left, while 10,000 remained. This was very clear and straight-forward. In fact, because Gideon was lacking in courage, God used this test to encourage Gideon.

The second test is a little complicated and it could be described as a test of readiness. It took place at the water and God will personally sift the men out. Pastor Siow Hwee and I were discussing this issue at great length and he even demonstrated the different drinking positions of these men. He seems to have deep and personal experiences in understanding how a dog laps water from the stream. After considering several options, we finally agree that the dog lappers are the same group of people as those who lapped water with their hands to their mouths. So, the selection was between the lappers and the kneelers. The lappers were not prostrating down but possibly standing up. They would squat momentarily, scoop water up with their hands, stand up quickly and lap it from their hands like a dog.

In this standing position, they would be able to react quickly to any spotted enemies as compared to those who were kneeling down to drink. Those kneeling would have to get up from the ground before they are ready to fight. So, the second test was a test of readiness and alertness. The 300 men whom God picked were men of courage and alert. Isn’t it ironic that God chose the best of the best in the 32,000-strong army, but yet God chooses the weakest of weak in Gideon as their leader? Sounds unbelievable, isn’t it? Maybe, but this is the truth.

Conclusion and Application

In truth, here is a story about how God uses the imperfection of man to fulfill his perfect task. Like many before and after him, Moses and Jeremiah and countless others whom God has called to service, Gideon felt inadequate to do God’s task at hand. God has given this task to deliver Israel through Gideon but Gideon needed greater assurance thus he asked God for more signs. God will work in spite of and sometimes through our weaknesses. When the apostle Paul repeatedly complained to God about the thorn in his flesh that made him weak, the Lord replied, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). And this is also my life verse. God often chooses what was weak and despised in the world so that “no one might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor. 1:26-29). I believe firmly that God often chooses the weakest of the weak to accomplish God’s mission in the world. Just like how he chooses Gideon, the most timid and coward warrior who lacks faith and turns him into one mighty warrior to save Israel from the mighty Midianites.

We are no different from Gideon. We also often asked the same questions too. We often hear Christians ask, “What is God’s will?” Should I take this job or marry this girl? Should I buy this house or sell this car? And we hear many stories about how God answers their prayer and, because of their obedience, God has protected them from harm. I am in no way denying any of these claims. I do believe they are mostly true and that God answers our most impossible requests, for nothing is impossible for God. But please do not confuse God’s accommodation to us with an approval of our weaknesses. Let me say again, even though God answers our request for a sign does not make it right. Yet, paradoxically, this should not stop us from asking; no matter how ridiculous our requests may be. Eventually, I hope that in the process of our maturing as Christians, we will learn to ask the things of God and not things of this world.

I believe as humans, imperfect as we are, God accommodates to us. Sometimes, we may ask for wrong things but yet somehow God answers our feeble prayers. Sometimes, when we ask God for a sign, and even when the sign is right in front of us, we will often miss it. Sometimes, it is not about asking God for signs but recognizing the signs He has already placed in our lives. And I am positive that He has already placed many signs in our lives to guide us. Every sign carries a message, either of a place, a direction or a destination. Our obsession over signs and miracles sometimes overshadows the message which these signs point to. Sometimes, we are too caught up with our asking and miss the message of the sign. We look for signs, when we should be looking at where God wants to lead us to – that is, at the cross of Jesus.