The muffled sounds of the camp echoed in his aching head. Thousands of men snored or kept watch under the heavy tent of night. More would come tomorrow. More who trusted that Gideon knew what he was doing. Under a twisted blanket, Gideon tried to slow his breathing, counting each breath as it expanded his chest. His weary leg twitched and he frowned without opening his eyes. All day long he had been too busy to think, but now that his body was at rest, his anxieties plowed deep furrows in his mind while his worries planted seeds of doubt.
Was he doing the right thing? What if he had misunderstood, or worse yet, had imagined everything? In the murkiness of elusive slumber, his imagination toyed with him, teasing him that he was delusional, or that it hadn't been the angel of the Lord speaking to him at all. His eyes snapped open at that thought. What if all these men were following him to their deaths?
He kicked off his blanket and pulled on his tunic. He tugged his fleece over his shoulders to ward off the chill. As he tied the belt around his waist, he heard a soft voice.
“Is everything all right?” Purah, his servant asked. In the feeble light of a dying fire, Gideon saw the young man had stretched himself across the doorway to the tent. He felt a mixture of gratefulness and guilt at his servant's faithfulness. Gideon was but the youngest son, his family the least in the tribe of Manasseh. Gideon scrubbed his hands over his face, dragging them back through his tangled hair.
“It's fine. I just need a breath of fresh air.”
Purah gave a silent nod and moved back to let Gideon pass.
Gideon ducked under the doorway and straightened under the starlight. The twinkling hosts of heaven felt close tonight, too close. They were like an army, surrounding his camp with their inescapable numbers. How many would Midian bring against him? The Midianites had been a swarm of locusts upon the land, their flocks claiming the best grazing, their men burning the fields and slaughtering any Israelite livestock they could get their hands on.
Gideon looked down at his bare feet, wiggling his toes against the packed dirt. Too little grain had been threshed here these past years, but if he was victorious . . . he let that thought hang. Deep longing burned his throat. He wanted relief from Midian so badly. He imagined what it would be like to sow seeds in confidence, to thresh his harvest in the open in a place like this instead of hiding in a wine press. Was it really possible? He drew a deep breath of the cool air. If only he could be sure.
Maybe he could be sure. His abdominal muscles tensed as he slowly drew his fleece off his shoulders and held it in front of him. He clutched it in both hands, the dim starlight illuminating the white wool.
He tipped his chin to the heavens as he whispered, “If you will deliver Israel through me as You have spoken, then show me a sign.” He spread the fleece on the packed dirt. “In the morning, if there is dew only on the fleece, and it is dry everywhere on the ground, then I will know that You will deliver Israel through me.”
As he stepped back, he shivered. Was he right to demand a sign? What would he do if God did not give him one? He stumbled back into the tent and collapsed on his mat, pulling the blanket over him as a shield against his stress.
His eyes snapped open. It was dawn. He rose and stepped out the door, pausing to run his palm over the goatshair cloth. It was dry as a bone. He stepped towards the fleece, ignoring the birdsong and the golden hues of the rising sun. The dirt beneath his feet was also dry as he knelt. He hesitated a moment, his fingers trembling, and then he reached out and picked up the fleece. As it sagged damply in his grip, his heart leaped with joy. He fetched a bowl and filled it with all the dew from the fleece. He wanted to shout for joy, God was with him!
He carried that promise with him throughout the day as he welcomed more men to the camp, set people to menial tasks like digging latrines and fetching clean water, and oversaw the more ominous preparations for battle.
He glanced up with surprise to see the sun dipping below the horizon. The resulting shadows raced across the hills and straight into his heart. All his day's work suddenly felt childish. What did he know of battle? What if everything he had commanded was wrong? Surely Midian was laughing at him right now.
His shoulders bowed beneath the weight of the lives of his countrymen, Gideon went back to his own tent. Purah brought him a bowl of stew and Gideon ate it methodically without tasting a bite. As the stars emerged and the camp quieted, Gideon again took up his fleece. He hesitated, but his fear won out.
“Do not let Your anger burn against me, but allow me to speak once more. Please let me make a test one more time with the fleece. This time, let fleece remain dry while dew covers all the ground.”
He went to bed, fretting over what he would do if God did not give him the sign he needed. The blazing flame from the touch of the angel's staff seared his mind, but the sign did not assuage his doubts. What if Gideon was mistaken? “I need to know, Lord," he pleaded in the darkness. "I need to know.”
Read this story for yourself in Judges 6:36-40
As much as I wish that my life looked like one continuous highlight reel, I am only human. I mess up again and again, stumbling over my same old faults. Thankfully, the men and women in the Bible aren't airbrushed heroes either. They have their own struggles and difficulties in keeping faith when things get hairy.
Gideon is known best for what he does after this story: Gideon the hero of faith who took a mere 300 men against a huge, well-supplied army, trusting that God would see them through. To read my creative retelling of Gideon's encounter with the Midianites, make sure you get a copy of 'As the Stars: 45 Bible Fiction Short Stories' available on Amazon in paperback and ebook!
Here we see the hero's weakness. Gideon has received orders from no less than the angel of the Lord himself. He's begun the task, but now he's doubting himself and his calling.
I know how he feels. Well, at least I know how it feels to be worried about making the wrong choice to the point of mental paralysis. There have been many times in my life I wished I could shake a spiritual equivalent of a Magic 8 ball! However, reading the Bible we see that God doesn't work at our demand, except in special moments of His own choosing.
If we are not supposed to lay out a fleece and ask for God to spell it out for us, what can we do?
We are blessed to have two things that the hero Gideon did not. We have the Bible available at our fingertips to help us wade through issues of morality, but also to give us wisdom, comfort, and inspiration. The second thing we have is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to guide us. When I feel weak and uncertain, like Gideon before the battle, it's usually because I haven't been spending enough time dwelling on God's glory and His ability to do the impossible.
It's important to remember that God was faithful to Gideon, even when Gideon was full of doubt. God doesn't wait for us to have it all together to work in our lives. In the gospels we often read how Jesus loved someone we might consider a total screw-up. If you're feeling more like doubting-Gideon that hero-Gideon today, I hope you know that God loves you in your doubt as well as in your moments of faith.