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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Prayers in the Bible: Gideon prays for guidance

One of the best known examples of looking for God's guidance, in the Bible, is the story of Gideon. Here's part of it:
Judges 6:36 Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have spoken, 37 behold, I will put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor; if there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then shall I know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have spoken.”

38 It was so; for he rose up early on the next day, and pressed the fleece together, and wrung the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water.

39 Gideon said to God, “Don’t let your anger be kindled against me, and I will speak but this once. Please let me make a trial just this once with the fleece. Let it now be dry only on the fleece, and on all the ground let there be dew.”

40 God did so that night: for it was dry on the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground.
(Quotations from the World English Bible, which is public domain.)

Note that Gideon prayed. He spoke to God, twice. And he asked God, basically, either if God knew what should be done, or, more charitably, if he had understood God correctly. It seems to me that the most important part of this story is that God didn't zap Gideon for his doubt, or for not paying close enough attention. He answered Gideon both times, with, apparently, a small miracle in each case.

The story is even more remarkable when we remember how God spoke to Gideon in the first place, and that God wasn't done speaking to him. Here's how God spoke to Gideon at first:
Judges 6:11 The angel of Yahweh came, and sat under the oak which was in Ophrah, that pertained to Joash the Abiezrite: and his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites. 12 The angel of Yahweh appeared to him, and said to him, “Yahweh is with you, you mighty man of valor!”

13 Gideon said to him, “Oh, my lord, if Yahweh is with us, why then has all this happened to us? Where are all his wondrous works which our fathers told us of, saying, ‘Didn’t Yahweh bring us up from Egypt?’ But now Yahweh has cast us off, and delivered us into the hand of Midian.”

14 Yahweh looked at him, and said, “Go in this your might, and save Israel from the hand of Midian. Haven’t I sent you?”

15 He said to him, “O Lord, how shall I save Israel? Behold, my family is the poorest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.”

16 Yahweh said to him, “Surely I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.”

17 He said to him, “If now I have found favor in your sight, then show me a sign that it is you who talk with me. 18 Please don’t go away, until I come to you, and bring out my present, and lay it before you.”

He said, “I will wait until you come back.”

19 Gideon went in, and prepared a young goat, and unleavened cakes of an ephah of meal. He put the meat in a basket and he put the broth in a pot, and brought it out to him under the oak, and presented it.

20 The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened cakes, and lay them on this rock, and pour out the broth.”

He did so. 21 Then the angel of Yahweh stretched out the end of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the meat and the unleavened cakes; and fire went up out of the rock, and consumed the meat and the unleavened cakes; and the angel of Yahweh departed out of his sight.

22 Gideon saw that he was the angel of Yahweh; and Gideon said, “Alas, Lord Yahweh! Because I have seen the angel of Yahweh face to face!”

23 Yahweh said to him, “Peace be to you! Don’t be afraid. You shall not die.”

In verse 14, Gideon got a clear command to lead the Israelites. It was accompanied by at least three miracles. God (or an angel) appeared to him, and spoke to him, in the first place. Second, Gideon asked for a sign, and was given one. Third, the angel miraculously disappeared. In spite of all of this, Gideon still wasn't convinced. That's why he made the requests about the fleece. That makes five miracles.

Actually, it seems that Gideon still wasn't sure. In a later passage, God showed him yet another miracle, shortly before he actually led the attack on the Midianites. The point seems to be that, even with people who are hard to convince, God does answer prayer for guidance. It also seems to be true that God doesn't despise honest (or maybe even somewhat dishonest) doubt. Probably the biggest miracle of the entire story is that Gideon, a man who didn't really want to do this, actually did lead the Israelites against the army of Midian, rather than running back home to the farm.

Here is a discussion of another case of honest doubt. These two aren't the only ones in the Bible.

This post is part of a series on prayers in the Bible. The previous one is here.


atlibertytosay said...

Thanks for this interpretation of this series of passages.

It's an interesting observation that some people blindly accept, some people accept after some proof or divine inspiration, while others must see the miraculous in order to accept something.

Yet still; there are those that will NEVER accept something.

I think being able to accept something on faith comes with maturity - not just of the mind or body, but of the spirit.

To me; the only ways to mature in spirit, mood, or even personality is to study the word of god (The Bible) and share the word with others (via church, Christian gathering, writings for others to read)

Again, thanks for this- very interesting.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, atlibertytosay!

Yes, God is patient, and, apparently, is willing to pursue us in different ways, depending on our personalities.