“Then all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the children of the east were gathered together, and went over, and pitched in the valley of Jezreel.
But the spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet; and Abiezer was gathered after him. And he sent messengers throughout all Manasseh; who also was gathered after him: and he sent messengers unto Asher, and unto Zebulun, and unto Naphtali; and they came up to meet them.” (Judges 6:33-35)
The Amalekites were nomadic people mainly centered in the northern part of the Arab peninsula and north along the edge of Mesopotamia, in present day Iraq and Jordan. The Middianites claimed the area east of the Gulf of Aqaba and the Edomite kingdom, and were closely related to the Amalekites. After seven years of oppressing Israel they came together to finally crush Israel, crossing the Jordan and assembling in the valley of Jezreel in central Israel, part of the area now held by the Palestinians.
The Spirit of the Lord moved Gideon to make a concerted effort to repel the invaders, and he sounded a trumpet to gather the men of Abiezer and the surrounding area. He also sent messengers to each of the northern tribes asking for their help, and many came.
“And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said, 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. 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 6:36-38)
With an inexperienced and untrained army, and having no experience himself, Gideon was justifiably hesitant to take the small number of volunteers against such and overwhelming force without assurance that it was what God wanted. After all, it might well anger the Midianites instead and lead to even worse attacks on Israel if it failed.
As a sign he asked that a fleece placed on the ground be wet with dew while none would be detected on the ground. Under normal circumstances, the dew would wet everything equally. The next morning, the ground was completely dry while the fleece was wringing wet, as he discovered when he wrung it out over a bowl.
“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. And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground.” (Judges 6:39-40)
Recognizing that the dew might have not have evaporated off the fleece as fast ass it did off the ground, Gideon next asked that the opposite situation occur the next morning. If it did, there could be no question that it was God who had caused it. The following morning, the ground was soaked with dew, but the fleece was completely dry. It was clearly God’s will.
The idea of putting out a fleece is sometimes recommended by preachers today, and God did not forbid it, but it would be wise to consider how Gideon used it. The first thing we notice is that Gideon was basically sure what God wanted, and was just using the fleece to double check himself. He was not just randomly throwing out an idea.
Secondly, he made sure there was no way the result could happen naturally. While it could happen that more water would condense on the fleece, the results would always happen, by asking for the opposite the second night, he ensured that their could be no mistake.
Unfortunately, many today neglect these two points. Rather than using putting out a fleece to verify that what they have decided is the will of God, they make their decision based on the outcome. Secondly, they base the decision on some event that while unlikely, is still possible, such as requiring a 100% favorable vote before moving to a different church or taking a vote of confidence to decide whether to leave one.
Asking the people to make one’s decision for him is unfair, since he is the one who must do God’s will. God rarely reveals his will to others until we have made our commitment. God only revealed his will to Deborah after Barak had refused to go on his own. Furthermore, since most people prefer to not offend, they tend to vote for the person unless he has seriously offended them, so the vote is heavily weighted from the beginning. Since Satan works by influencing people’s minds, he may well be able to influence enough people to get the desired vote.
It is far better to ask physical events that would not naturally occur because they are far harder for Satan to manipulate.
“Then Jerubbaal, who is Gideon, and all the people that were with him, rose up early, and pitched beside the well of Harod: so that the host of the Midianites were on the north side of them, by the hill of Moreh, in the valley.” (Judges 7:1)
Convinced that it was God’s will, Gideon, also known as Jerubaal gathered his forces by the well of Harod, south of the Midianite camp by the hill Moreh, in the valley of Jezreel.