Signs and Salvation
Gidon's initiation into leadership is described at length in Shofetim 6.1 This narrative is marked by Gidon's continuous requests for signs of Hashem's support. Thus, after a Divine messenger tells him that Hashem will deliver Israel through his hands, Gidon asks for and receives verification that he was indeed Divinely dispatched. However, this apparently does not satisfy him, and after gathering his troops, Gidon once again asks for a sign:
(לו) וַיֹּאמֶר גִּדְעוֹן אֶל הָאֱלֹהִים אִם יֶשְׁךָ מוֹשִׁיעַ בְּיָדִי אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתָּ. (לז) הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי מַצִּיג אֶת גִּזַּת הַצֶּמֶר בַּגֹּרֶן אִם טַל יִהְיֶה עַל הַגִּזָּה לְבַדָּהּ וְעַל כׇּל הָאָרֶץ חֹרֶב וְיָדַעְתִּי כִּי תוֹשִׁיעַ בְּיָדִי אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתָּ. (לח) וַיְהִי כֵן וַיַּשְׁכֵּם מִמׇּחֳרָת וַיָּזַר אֶת הַגִּזָּה וַיִּמֶץ טַל מִן הַגִּזָּה מְלוֹא הַסֵּפֶל מָיִם. (לט) וַיֹּאמֶר גִּדְעוֹן אֶל הָאֱלֹהִים אַל יִחַר אַפְּךָ בִּי וַאֲדַבְּרָה אַךְ הַפָּעַם אֲנַסֶּה נָּא רַק הַפַּעַם בַּגִּזָּה יְהִי נָא חֹרֶב אֶל הַגִּזָּה לְבַדָּהּ וְעַל כׇּל הָאָרֶץ יִהְיֶה טָּל.
(36) And Gideon said unto God: 'If Thou wilt save Israel by my hand, as Thou hast spoken, (37) behold, I will put a fleece of wool on the threshing-floor; if there be dew on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the ground, then shall I know that Thou wilt save Israel by my hand, as Thou hast spoken.' (38) And it was so; for he rose up early on the morrow, and pressed the fleece together, and wrung dew out of the fleece, a bowlful of water. (39) And Gideon said unto God: 'Let not Thine anger be kindled against me, and I will speak but this once: let me make trial, 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.'
Why did Gidon not trust in the angel's initial promise of salvation? Was he of such little faith that he needed to test Hashem yet again? And, finally, why did one experiment with the fleece not suffice? What did the second test add?
Hashem's Prerequisites for Battle
In tandem with Gidon's requests for signs, Hashem also has some of His own prerequisites for going to battle:
- Destroying idolatry – Hashem's first directive to Gidon is to destroy his father's altar to the Baal. This is the only story in Sefer Shofetim where the judge is actively instructed to combat the idolatry of the people. What does this say about the religious level of the nation in this time period as compared to its level in earlier stories? What might it say about Gidon himself?
- The water test – Hashem asks Gidon to reduce the size of his army so that Hashem's hand in the victory will be more obvious to the people. After having Gidon send home all of the weak at heart, Hashem then has Gidon separate those soldiers who kneel down to drink from the river from those who lap at the water like dogs. Only the latter are to join Gidon in battle. What is the significance of this test? Is it simply a means to quickly dismiss a large number of soldiers, or does it more fundamentally distinguish worthy fighters from others? Finally, does Hashem's test relate in any way to Gidon's various tests?
- "וְיֵשׁ י"י עִמָּנוּ" – In response to the angel's greeting, "God is with you", Gidon questions, "Is God really with us? Why then has all this befallen us? And where are all his wonders?" How is this reply to be understood? Is Gidon's tone accusatory, scornful, or simply disbelieving? What does it reflect about his faith in Hashem, and how does it relate to his constant requests for signs?
- Significance of fleece – Did Gidon have some reason for testing Hashem through the fleece and dew specifically? Was there meant to be some symbolism in these objects, or were they simply readily available items through which to request a supernatural sign?
- The Efod – After the victory, Gidon is asked to rule over the people. He refuses, and instead has the people set up an Efod from the spoils of battle. This later becomes a stumbling block for the nation as they begin to worship it. What was Gidon's original intention in setting up the monument? Was it intended for Hashem's honor or for Gidon's own glory?