Gideon is famous for testing God.
In the book of Judges, while Israel was under Moabite oppression, Gideon was frightened enough to hide in a winepress to beat out wheat. (I bet there was not much breeze for winnowing in there!) In the winepress, the Lord appointed Gideon as the man to save Israel.
Gideon was hard to convince, and came up with a two-stage test to see if this really was God’s command (Judges 6:36-40). First, while keeping the ground dry, please drench a fleece with water. Second, “let me test just once more with the fleece” (verse 39), please wet the ground while keeping the fleece dry. God came through both times.
Gideon’s test appears impertinent. Will man really test God? The tests mentioned so far in Judges are from God: the nations test Israel’s faithfulness to walking God’s way (see 2:21-22, 3:1-6).
The Lord seems to accommodate Gideon, with a touch of playfulness too. Once Gideon finally is convinced, he raises an army of 32,000. God then takes a two-stage approach to work on Gideon and the army. God uses water. And God calls this a test.
Notably, the Lord uses a different word for test. The testing of Judges 7:4 is the testing of metals – purifying and refining.
God says, “You who were scared and hid in a winepress, release all the soldiers who are scared.” And 22,000 soldiers wander home. God then says, “You who wanted proof from water, take only the soldiers who lap water like dogs.” And Gideon was left with 300 men.
Of course, the Lord uses Gideon and his tiny army to save his people. Their jars contained no water, but fire. The army gave up hiding to instead trumpet their opposition to Midian. (Read this part in Judges 7:15-22.)
What does the ‘testing’ show?
Gideon thought that he was testing God. But all along, it was God testing Gideon and Israel. Can a weak, scared man lead this people? Yes. Can a puny army defeat the oppressor? Of course.
Who tests whom? Do humans really put God to the test? Of course not. It’s God who tests and purifies and refines and saves his own people.