Is it OK to ask God for signs in prayer, like Gideon did long ago? If so, how do you do it? If not, how can you confirm God’s will?
“Fleece praying”, praying for God to provide a specific sign to confirm what He is commanding a person to do, is based on the story of Gideon, around 1100 BC (Judges 6:36-40). The story does not condemn Gideon for asking for such a sign but Gideon’s request for a second sign was accompanied by a phrase, “do not let Thine anger burn against me”, that suggested that the Lord might be displeased with him. The modern Christian must ask himself, “Is this what I should do in my prayers to the Lord, or not?” We will examine the Bible to discover the answer to that question.
Deuteronomy 6:16 warned the Israelites “not to put the Lord their God to the test (נסה nacah – to test, put to the test, prove), as you tested Him at Massah.” The story Moses referred to when writing this verse is found in Exodus 17. The people of Israel, having repeatedly seen God work mighty miracles to save them from Pharaoh and provide them food and water, grumbled against Him when they camped, at His command, at Rephidim, a place without water. They opposed their divinely appointed leader, Moses, and grumbled that he was going to kill them all through his negligence. Moses commanded them not to test (נסה nacah) the Lord.
Isaiah 7 provides another instance where the question of “testing the Lord” comes up. King Rezin of Aram and King Pekah of Israel had invaded Judah to force King Ahaz to join their alliance against Assyria. The prophet Isaiah told Ahaz to trust God to deliver Judah and even to ask Him for a sign (אות ‘owth – omen, miracle) to confirm what Isaiah was telling Ahaz to do. Ahaz disobeyed the prophet, replying “I will not ask, nor will I test (נסה nacah) the Lord.” As sanctimonious as that sounds, Isaiah then told Ahaz that he was testing the patience of God and promised that he would receive a sign from the Lord anyway.
We next see the issue come up during the temptation of Jesus (ἐκπειράζω ekpeirazō – to put to proof God’s character and power). Speaking in Greek, Jesus was quoting Deuteronomy 6:16.
Repeatedly throughout the Lord’s ministry, the Jewish leaders sought signs from Him to support His claims. In John 6, Jesus fed the 5,000, a spectacular miracle. Nonetheless, immediately afterward the Jewish leaders asked for a sign (σημεῖον sēmeion – portent, miracle) to prove His claim (John 6:30-31). In Matthew 12:39, Jesus rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for seeking signs (σημεῖον sēmeion), but then promised the greatest sign of all, His resurrection. All told, one wonders at their amazing refusal to believe, because throughout His earthly ministry He provided hundreds of signs. How like the Israelites at Massah! How like all of us today!
From this series of passages, we can reach important conclusions about whether or not “fleece praying” is appropriate for Christians today. First, there is a difference between “testing” God to confirm His will and “testing” Him in rebellion and lack of faith when He has spoken or acted. The former is what Gideon did; once God responded, he obeyed. It is also what Isaiah told Ahaz to request. The latter is what the Israelites at Massah did. Therefore, the biblical record suggests that “fleece praying” is good, not bad, and should be encouraged in every age. Every believer should pray specifically and expect God to answer and if they are unsure about the Lord’s will they should ask for a sign. This is not lack of faith but lack of clarity. Once God answers, however, they must obey. Failure to believe and obey when God has clearly spoken and acted, as we have seen throughout the Bible and into modern day, becomes נסה nacah, testing the Lord.