I have been reading Judges and I just got done reading about Gideon and two things strike me. The first is how many times he tests God. He has an awful lot of nerve testing God once but then multiple times. Why does God go along with this and yet the Bible says not to test God? Doesn't this show a lack of faith? What should we take away from this story?
LD from North Carolina
Testing God (Part 1)
You raise some very interesting points about Gideon. The time of the Judges for Israel were what I call the see-saw years. Back and forth they went; serving God for awhile and experiencing peace and prosperity and then swinging the other way; rebelling and serving other gods and being conquered. Then they would turn to God once more and start the cycle all over again.
Gideon was one of those Judges that God raised up but he was a reluctant one. He tried to talk God out of calling him by saying; "O my Lord, how can I save Israel? Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house." (Judges 6:15)
So the first thing to notice about Gideon is his humble spirit - or today someone might say he had an inferiority complex. This is important to the question of his testing God. You are right that the Bible says not to test God in Matthew 4:7; "It is written again, 'you shall not temp the Lord your God.'" Jesus was quoting this verse to Satan when he was being tempted in the wilderness.
He was referring back to a passage from Deuteronomy (Deut. 6:16) about a prior incident where Israel was contentious and rebellious and where they demanded that God give them water. They said; "Is the Lord among us or not?" (Exodus 17:7) That might sound okay to get hold of God and wrestle some blessings out of him but that is not the spirit in which they asked.
Gideon's spirit was not contentious or arrogant like theirs. Rather, Gideon was scared and terrified; if he was going to go and do such a monumental thing as save Israel from her enemies he absolutely HAD to know the directive came from God and not his own flesh. He was asking for confirmation. It is also wisdom for us today to seek confirmation of God's voice. We can't just listen to any voice which might be our own voice or the voice of the devil.
You are right that Gideon didn't stop with just one test. Wasn't that pretty nervy? No, because it was God who was calling Gideon to do things for him, not Gideon who was concocting a plan of his own. God knew that Gideon lacked courage and needed a strong dose of encouragement. He never minds encouraging us.
Next: Really now, where was Gideon's faith?
Gideon and Faith (Part 2)
I'm glad that God included the story of Gideon in the Bible. He strikes closer to home than some of the other mighty men and women of faith. He reminds me more of myself. Gideon reminds me of what Paul says to the Corinthians; "For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthians 12:10)
You ask if Gideon's numerous tests demonstrates weak faith. Probably - but it was enough faith to fulfill God's plans. For instance, God told Gideon to tear down an alter to a false god and build instead an alter to the Lord and sacrifice a bull on it. (God was preparing the people to return their hearts to him so he could deliver them.)
Well, Gideon obeyed but here's how: "But because he feared his father's household and the men of the city too much to do it by day, he did it by night." (Judges 6:27) He was afraid. I've heard before that when someone told Joyce Meyers that they were scared to do such and such she said; "Do it scared then." That's the ticket. Being scared shouldn't stop you from anything God directs or inspires. Gideon did it scared.
As time went along, Gideon gathered courage and faith. He knew that God had called him to deliver Israel from the Midianites. I believe a good example of how far he came is what he told his men to shout when he blew the trumpet. He told them to say; "The sword of the Lord and of Gideon!" (Judges 7:18) He was finally willing to attach his name to God's plans. He was overcoming fear and increasing faith.
Remember that faith can be very small - as small as a mustard seed. It is not the size of the seed that determines the ultimate outcome but the kind and quality of the seed. Let's always use whatever small portion of faith we have to take the next step…and then the next step.
Next: What can we learn from Gideon?
Lessons from Gideon (Part 3)
You ask what we can take away from the story of Gideon. One thing is the strong sense that God understands our weakness and infirmities and uses us in spite of those things. In the kingdom of this world; power, strength and independence are esteemed but in God's kingdom it is just the opposite. "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." (Psalm 34:18) We sometimes get so used to pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps that we need someone like Gideon to remind us of the truth.
Another lesson is the one I mentioned in Part 1 about how to handle fear. We can admit that we are afraid and still step forward in God's grace. Even in fear, courage is possible and victory is assured as long as we have truly tuned in to God's command and plan for us. Our faith can grow stronger in spite of fear as we trust God over our circumstances.
There is something else wonderful to take away from the story of Gideon. Do you realize that it is to Gideon that God revealed himself as Jehovah-Shalom, The Lord is Peace? That revelation was not just for Gideon, it is for every one of us today. Details of this lesson are in another article in Hannah's Cupboard which outlines the meanings of the names of God. (See Jehovah-Shalom for the complete story.)
Let's also not forget the thing that Gideon is so famous for: his fleeces. These are some of the tests you mentioned in your question. How appropriate is it for a Christian to use "fleeces" to test God? We shall explore that tomorrow.
Next: Should Christians follow Gideon's example and put fleeces before the Lord?
A Word about Fleeces (Part 4)
It is very popular for Christians to use fleeces. What are they? Gideon used a fleece of wool to test God in two ways. He used the "if this" "then that" system. He said to God; "If there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that You will save Israel by my hand, as You have said." (Judges 6:37)
After that happened he reversed it and asked God to please give him one more sign the opposite way. This time; "Let it now be dry only on the fleece, but on all the ground let there be dew." (Verse 39)
To most Christians today, a fleece is any sign that meets pre-arranged criteria. The goal is to find out God's will in some matter. For instance: if it rains tomorrow even though sunshine is forecast, I'll know I am supposed to move to Florida. Or, if I get a phone call from Ken before 10 AM I'll know he is interested in me more than a friend.
I raise these particular examples to show you some of the pitfalls of using fleeces this way. You see, maybe the weather forecast was wrong and it was going to rain tomorrow no matter what. And if you don't get the call from Ken until 11 AM and he's asking for a date do you have to say no based on the way the fleece turned out?
There are times when it is appropriate and called for to do something similar to what Gideon did. An example is if God initiates a command or plan in your life and you need to know for sure if it is really God. The Lord does not mind being tested when we humbly ask for wisdom and confirmation to truly be in the center of his will.
But be careful about the way you set up fleeces and use them very sparingly. Fleeces often represent a less mature walk with God. Some use them almost like a fortune teller. There are many more good solid ways to know the will of God in a matter. Always seek God's Word first because God will never direct you to a course outside his Word.