In our Tuesday night Bible study last night we started on Gideon. The central question we discussed is how does one discern the will of God. In that context, what was the purpose of the two fleeces that Gideon put out?
It is a reasonably common teaching that one should "put out a fleece" when he wants to know what course of action God would have him take. Let's look at the Scriptures to see if this is a sound teaching.
To refresh our memories of the story, Israel had fallen into apostasy and God had sent the Mideanites to afflict them. In response to Israel's cry, the Angel of the Lord visited Gideon and instructed him to deliver the nation from Midean. Gideon offered bread and meat to the Angel who caused it to go up in flame. The Angel then instructed Gideon to replace the village's center of Baal worship with an altar to God. Gideon obeyed and then sent out a call for troops to Northern Israel. It is at this point that Gideon lays out the two fleeces.
Please note that by the time he lays out the fleeces, Gideon has had clear direction from God and has started to obey. He has torn down the idols and raised an army preparatory to attacking the Mideanites. It is unlikely that having come this far in obedience to God there is any chance that God will tell him to call the whole thing off. Nor is there any new information provided by the fleeces - new information will come later when God tells him to sneak down and spy on the enemy camp.
In fact, all of Gideon's instructions from God came via direct (presumably audible) communication.
So why the fleeces?
The obvious reason is to verify to the army that Gideon has been called by God. In other words Gideon did not put out the two fleeces to discern the will of God in the matter and those who would "put out a fleece" to determine God's will are improperly applying the Scripture.
Next, if not by fleece, then how?