Judges 6 – Watch the Chicken Eat

If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said. 

Judges 6:37

Is it okay to ask God for a sign?

For many of us, decision-making is hard. We list out the pros and cons, read a whole bunch of Osteen, and consult with trusted friends. But in the end, we still feel stuck.

History notes that for as long as people have believed in higher powers, they have sought the counsel of the gods for their decisions. This custom (broadly speaking, it’s called divination) involved running tests and consulting oracles to seek direction from the gods.

And you have to give the indecisive people of earth credit: They came up with some wild ways of doing this. A printout of Wikipedia’s article on forms of divination will run you sixteen pages. I’ll give you a couple of the highlights:

In the ancient world, some people sought will of the gods through alecteromancy. Alecteromancy was a means of seeking truth by watching roosters peck at grains. Chicken eats Grain A: Build the fort and fight. Chicken eats Grain B: Cross the river and run.  

Other folks perceived divine counsel in the reverberations of a gong. This practice was called chalcomancy. One guy whacks the cymbal, a priest interprets the pitch and frequency, and there you go: A simple way to decide your major in college.

It gets crazier. Another kind of divination is called margaritomancy. (I know that you think you know what this is. But it’s actually not about a $6.99 salted rim at Applebee’s.) Margaritomancy is the art of determining the plan for your life by studying bouncing pearls.

There’s even a form of divining the future through observing old shoes. It’s called scarpomancy. Can you imagine? 

Hey Bob! Welcome here to the office! So how did you decide to work here?

 Well Jim, I was kind of on the fence until I came across an old pair of Reeboks I’d been using to mow the lawn.  And you know, after staring at them for a couple of weeks, it just became clear to me that I should take this job.

These are funny, aren’t they? At the same time, are they any stranger than choosing your dinner venue by turning your fingers into rocks, papers, and scissors?  Are we that much more sophisticated for flipping a 25-cent coin in the air to watch for heads or tails?

So let’s address this theologically: Does divination work with the True God? Should Christians ever ask God for signs to confirm his will?

I’m fascinated by this question in part because the Bible seems to give different answers at different times. In the story quoted above, a timid Israelite named Gideon seeks help for a major career decision by laying out a wool fleece overnight. It works; God makes the fleece alternately wet and dry to prove that Gideon was the man to lead Israel’s army.

In Genesis 24, Abraham sends his servant Eliezer out to look for a wife for Abraham’s son Isaac. Finding himself without Wi-Fi to check Tinder, Eliezer asks God to point out the girl by having her water his camels. That requested is granted, too.

And check this out: In Isaiah chapter 7, God actually commands King Ahaz of Judah to ask God for a sign. When the king answers that he doesn’t want to test God, the prophet Isaiah puts him on blast.

These passages seem to suggest that God is fine with sign-seeking.

But that’s just one side of the ledger. On the other hand, we have this text – Matthew 12:38-40 – in which Jesus associates sign-seeking with faithlessness:

Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to [Jesus], “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

In Luke 23, sign-seeking by King Herod is portrayed negatively. And in 1 Corinthians 1, the Apostle Paul says that Jews ask for signs, but that Christians preach Christ crucified.

Hmm. So what do we do with all this? Is it a good idea to discern God’s will by seeking supernatural signs?

Without directly considering the propriety of dewy sheepskins or bouncing pearls, there are some things we can securely say about seeking God’s will:

Discovering God’s will has more to do with obedience than it does with divination.

In the main, pursuing God’s will isn’t about sign-seeking. It’s not a quest for some hidden code to the universe hidden in a goat’s liver. Doing God’s will is about trusting and following what God has already made known to his people. Consider 1 Thessalonians 5:14-18:

And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.  Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

What is the will of God for my life? Read the text: Exercise self-control. Worship. Be kind to other people. That’s what the desire of God is.

The pursuit of God’s will is not about any kind of -mancy. It’s about discipleship and obedience.

Don’t expect miracles to get you off the hook from doing something challenging.

This is an implication of the above: Because we have a clear view of God’s will for us, we shouldn’t seek out supernatural exemptions.

Many of us have a friend who operates this way: “Well, if God will send a blue and purple butterfly past my window at exactly 1:14 p.m. tomorrow, then I’ll know I should forgive my sister for burning the roast!” 

This reminds me of a well-worn preacher’s joke about a man who made a resolution to lose weight. He took his new diet seriously, even altering his driving route to avoid the local bakery.

One morning, however, he arrived at work carrying a gigantic box of donuts. “I thought you were on a diet,” a coworker said. “What’s with the rolls?

“Well, it’s a God thing.” he explained. “I accidentally drove by the bakery this morning and there in the window was a fresh batch of glazed twists. I sensed that this was more than coincidence, so I prayed, `Lord if you want me to have a box of donuts, let me find a parking place directly in front of the bakery.’

“Sure enough,” he continued, “on the eighth time around the block, there it was!”

Don’t set up silly tests and then conclude that God’s appropriate silence is a free pass to do whatever.

Biblical sign-seeking is regularly a public act.

Interestingly, when God does provides signs, the miracles often manifest in social gathering spaces. In the palace. At the threshing floor. By the city well.

I’m not suggesting that God doesn’t speak in the quiet privacy of human hearts – he absolutely does – but Scripture’s pattern suggests that more often, God provides confirmations in group settings.

How does this shape the way that we think about sign-seeking?  What kind of fleeces are there for groups of people to consider?

We should replace “if-then” bargaining with “because-now” faith.  

In other words, a lot of our sign-seeking goes like this:

If God will provide me a promotion…

If God will cause it to rain…

If God will bless us with a child…

If God will lead me to exactly the right song on the radio…

then I will take a chance on trusting him. If God will go first, then I’ll be prepared to respond. If-then.

This formula lays open how risk-averse we are. How worried. We are reluctant to step forward in confidence because we fear something. We don’t want to make the wrong choice and feel hurt or lose money or get embarrassed. So we demand proof of God’s power first.

If-then is the demand the Pharisees made in Matthew 12. If you’ll do a sign for us Jesus, then we will believe. Then we’ll act.

How Jesus responds to those Pharisees is so critical: I’m not going to give you on-demand magic tricks so that you’ll do what you already know you should do.

Instead, Jesus says “I will give you the sign of Jonah.”

Jonah’s sign – Jesus’ resurrection from the grave – is the greatest sign. The sign of signs. Jonah’s is the sign that can help you transcend any anxiety or worry. Because the sign of Jonah shows that God can overcome anything.

If God can provide victory after Jesus’ bitter and shameful death on the cross, then what, really, do we have to fear?

Because God can take the worst of all situations and turn it into the most incredible victory in human history, now we have confidence in all kinds of decisions.  God’s got it. God’s got you. God will provide.

Leave the chickens in the barn. Make a choice and trust him.

 

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