Judges 6:36-40: Gideon's Fleece

Verse 36:[1] And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said…

Gideon said this in way of humble supplication, partly for the strengthening of his own faith, and partly for the greater encouragement of his soldiers in this great and strange attempt.

Verse 37:[2] (Ex. 4:3, 4, 6, 7) Behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said.

[I will place this fleece of wool on the threshing floor, etc., גִּזַּ֥ת הַצֶּ֖מֶר] A fleece of wool (Junius and Tremellius, similarly the Septuagint), although fleece and wool are the same thing. Thus Silius, On the Second Punic War[3] 15, …radiant fleece of white wool (Bonfrerius). Instead of fleece of wool, in other places you may find fleece of sheep, or of lambs. Which are added διακριτικῶς/diacritically (that is, for the sake of distinction); for גֵּז signifies both fleece and mown grass, as in Psalm 72:6;[4] Amos 7:1.[5] Moreover, the fleece is placed on the threshing floor to be imbued with dew, because at that time threshing floors were under the open heaven, not, as ours, enclosed under a roof. Hence those were open to every wind, Hosea 13:3 (Bochart’s Sacred Catalogue of Animals 1:2:49:548).

[And on all the earth] That is, which is around the fleece (Vatablus). Upon the whole earth of the threshing floor surrounding the fleece (Bonfrerius). Moreover, in the fleece he sought this sign; 1. Because this fleece he, as a shepherd of sheep, had ready to hand. 2. By the symbol of the fleece Gideon tacitly indicated that the Midianites sheered all crops and sprouts of Judah, just as this fleece had been sheered from a sheep; and that hence he asks that he might in turn, by the help of God, sheer the Midianites. Dew here signifies the grace of God, which Gideon asks to be sent down first upon the fleece, that is, himself, then upon the whole land, that is, his people (Lapide).

Upon all the earth beside, that is, upon all that spot of ground which adjoineth to and encompasseth the fleece.

Verse 38:[6] And it was so: for he rose up early on the morrow, and thrust the fleece together, and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water.

[He filled a conch/vessel with dew, הַסֵּפֶל] A ladle. By this word is understood, not the ladle of the Romans, that is, a small vessel; but a bowl with handles on both sides, or a jar, or a basin. The Greeks, Chaldean, and Syriac translate it basin; the Arabic, a jar; Jerome, a conch, that is, a vessel in the shape of a conch. These things pertain to the magnification of the miracle (Bochart’s Sacred Catalogue of Animals 1:2:49:549).

Verse 39:[7] And Gideon said unto God, (Gen. 18:33) Let not thine anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once: let me prove, I pray thee, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew.

[I pray that the fleece might be dry] The first miracle was not sufficient for him, because it is of the nature of fleece to attract moisture; and hence, he asks for another miracle, contrary to the first (Rabbi Levi in Bochart’s Sacred Catalogue of Animals 1:2:49:550).

[יְהִי־נָ֙א חֹ֤רֶב אֶל־הַגִּזָּה֙] Let there be, I pray, dryness to the fleece (Montanus), on the fleece (Munster, Tigurinus, Junius and Tremellius, Pagnine), upon the fleece (Septuagint, Jonathan, Syriac, Arabic). [To these אֶל/to is put in the place of עַל/upon.] Question: Whether Gideon sinned in asking for this sign? Response 1: Some deny this (thus Lapide, Bonfrerius, Lapide, Serarius, Montanus’ Commentary). For, 1. he is reckoned among the saints, and is commended on account of his faith, Hebrews 11 (Lapide, Bonfrerius). 2. He did not ask these signs out of unbelief (Lyra, Estius, Bonfrerius), because he had already previously been filled with the Divine Spirit, and, animated by the promises of God, had overturned the altar of Baal, etc., which was most perilous; and in verse 36 he acknowledges that God promised him victory. Add that he was on no occasion blamed for this, nor was God angry with him (Bonfrerius), but readily assented to both of his petitions (Lapide). Therefore, Gideon was able to ask for these signs, either, 1. so that he might remove even the involuntary motions of doubt (Serarius), and all occasion for doubt (Estius). 2. He was able to fear that the promise made to him was conditional, which God could retract on account of their sins; and so he asks a sign, whereby God might declare that He makes His promise certain and absolute (Bonfrerius). 3. Or he asked these things to confirm his companions, whom he had called forth to this war, and so that he might confirm for them his election and mission. The argument for this is that he asked these signs with the army already assembled (Cajetan in Bonfrerius). 4. He was moved by Divine inspiration to ask these signs. Thus Suarez[8] and Lessius;[9] and to me it is especially worthy of approval (Bonfrerius). Response 2: Others think that he sinned, if not mortally, at least venially (thus Tostatus) [as they say in the Roman style]. For, 1. he was certain of victory; therefore, it was sinful to doubt of it. 2. This action appears to have been held suspect by him, verse 39, let not thy wrath burn, etc., and he calls it a temptation (Bonfrerius). It is indeed to be acknowledged that Gideon did not immediately believe fully, but wavered initially; in which stat he asked that his faith might be confirmed by some sign. Gideon believed that God was able and willing to save Israel: but by a twofold sign he asks that his faith be enlarged, and that his zeal be more greatly aroused (Bochart’s Sacred Catalogue of Animals 1:2:49:550). Moreover, a fleece, dry and damp, aptly represents Israel, which was also formerly sprinkled with the dew of Divine doctrine, while the whole world was dry; and now is dry, while the rest of the world is moistened with it (Lightfoot).

Let it now be dry only upon the fleece, etc.: Which was more difficult and preternatural than the former instance, because if there be any moisture, such bodies as fleeces of wool are most likely to drink it up.

Verse 40:[10] And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground.

[1] Hebrew: וַיֹּ֥אמֶר גִּדְע֖וֹן אֶל־הָאֱלֹהִ֑ים אִם־יֶשְׁךָ֞ מוֹשִׁ֧יעַ בְּיָדִ֛י אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל כַּאֲשֶׁ֥ר דִּבַּֽרְתָּ׃

[2] Hebrew: הִנֵּ֣ה אָנֹכִ֗י מַצִּ֛יג אֶת־גִּזַּ֥ת הַצֶּ֖מֶר בַּגֹּ֑רֶן אִ֡ם טַל֩ יִהְיֶ֙ה עַֽל־הַגִּזָּ֜ה לְבַדָּ֗הּ וְעַל־כָּל־הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ חֹ֔רֶב וְיָדַעְתִּ֗י כִּֽי־תוֹשִׁ֧יעַ בְּיָדִ֛י אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל כַּאֲשֶׁ֥ר דִּבַּֽרְתָּ׃

[3] Silius Italicus de Secundo Bello Punico, in quo ad Codicis Modiani Fidem versus Spurii Ejecti Sunt, ac Legitimi qui Desuerunt hactenus, Substituti. Tiberius Catius Asconius Silius Italicus (c. 25- 101) was a Latin epic poet. His seventeen book poem on the Second Punic War is his only surviving work.

[4] Psalm 72:6: “He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass (עַל־גֵּז): as showers that water the earth.”

[5] Amos 7:1: “Thus hath the Lord God shewed unto me; and, behold, he formed grasshoppers in the beginning of the shooting up of the latter growth; and, lo, it was the latter growth after the king’s mowings (אַחַ֖ר גִּזֵּ֥י הַמֶּֽלֶךְ׃).”

[6] Hebrew: וַיְהִי־כֵ֕ן וַיַּשְׁכֵּם֙ מִֽמָּחֳרָ֔ת וַיָּ֖זַר אֶת־הַגִּזָּ֑ה וַיִּ֤מֶץ טַל֙ מִן־הַגִּזָּ֔ה מְל֥וֹא הַסֵּ֖פֶל מָֽיִם׃

[7] Hebrew: וַיֹּ֤אמֶר גִּדְעוֹן֙ אֶל־הָ֣אֱלֹהִ֔ים אַל־יִ֤חַר אַפְּךָ֙ בִּ֔י וַאֲדַבְּרָ֖ה אַ֣ךְ הַפָּ֑עַם אֲנַסֶּ֤ה נָּא־רַק־הַפַּ֙עַם֙ בַּגִּזָּ֔ה יְהִי־נָ֙א חֹ֤רֶב אֶל־הַגִּזָּה֙ לְבַדָּ֔הּ וְעַל־כָּל־הָאָ֖רֶץ יִֽהְיֶה־טָּֽל׃

[8] Francisco Suárez (1548-1617) was a Spanish Jesuit, esteemed by some to be the greatest scholastic philosopher-theologian since Thomas Aquinas. Suárez’s interests included international law, metaphysics, and theology. In the field of international law, he was a forerunner of Grotius, who speaks of him with the highest respect.

[9] Leonardus Lessius (1554-1623) was a Flemish Jesuit and moral theologian. He served as Professor of Theology at Leuven.

[10] Hebrew: וַיַּ֧עַשׂ אֱלֹהִ֛ים כֵּ֖ן בַּלַּ֣יְלָה הַה֑וּא וַיְהִי־חֹ֤רֶב אֶל־הַגִּזָּה֙ לְבַדָּ֔הּ וְעַל־כָּל־הָאָ֖רֶץ הָ֥יָה טָֽל׃

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Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.




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