“I Saw A Sign”
A topical bible study on signs
by Jessica Winblad
This study attempts to answer the question: Is it biblical to ask God for a sign of something to come?
Gideon and the sign of the fleece.
So Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand as You have said—look I shall put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor; if there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the grounds, then I shall know that You will save Israel by my hand, as You have said.” And it was so. [...] Then Gideon said to God, “Do not be angry with me, but let me speak just once more: Let me test, I pray, just once more with the fleece –Judges 6:36-39
Similarities: Gideon hears God, but doubts what he heard and asks God for a sign to confirm God’s word to him.
Differences: Gideon was called by God to rescue the Israelites from the hand of the Midianites. “ Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites” (Jud 6:6) Gideon is from the weakest clan in Menasseh, and the least of the people in his father’s house and God calls him to defeat the Midianites. The beneficiary of his effort is the Israelites, not himself.
It is also interesting to note that he asks God not to be angry at him for testing Him one more time. When Jesus is in the wilderness for 40 days, one of the things he says to the tempter is “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God’” (Mt 4:7) which is a quote from Deu. 6:16 where it adds the additional bit “as you tempted the Lord in Massah”. What happened in Massah? That’s in Exodus (17:1-7) They are eating Manna from heaven, every day, but they start complaining and asking Moses to give them water and Moses asks them why they tempt the Lord. The hebrew word used for tempt is “נסה ” (nacah or “naw-saw”) is the exact same word translated “test” or “prove” in Judges 6:39. Strongs says this word is translated 20 times as prove, 12 times as tempt, and 4 times as other words.
At this point in Exodus is when Moses cries out to God that the people are about ready to stone him and God responds with the miracle of water coming out of the Rock and the place is named “Massah and Meribah” which mean temptation and strife/contention, named because “they tempted the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’” (Ex 17:17). In other words, they doubted whether the Lord was with them and providing for them, even though he was working visible miracles among them such as providing them food every single day. “God if you’re really with us, prove it” was their chief sin in Massah. They doubted God.
But going back to the signs, the Israelites over and over asked God for signs because they were filled with disbelief, they doubted God’s promises and needed some convincing that God was really among them and taking care of them. Nevermind all the ways God already was showing himself strong on their behalf. These Israelites who are complaining God isn’t among us because we have no water, are the same Israelites who haven’t had their shoes wear out in 40 years, who have found Manna every day.
Asking God for a sign could indicate a lack of faith.
In Matthew 12:38 and Matthew 16:1, the Pharisees and Scribes ask Jesus for a sign. In both cases, although the exact wording is different, Jesus gives the same response “No sign will be given except the sign of the prophet Jonah.”
What about Jonah? Jonah was called by God to go to Nineveh and preach the city would be overthrown. Jonah, in disobedience, fled on a boat to Tarshish instead, running from God’s call. Then this big storm comes, and they find it to be his fault, and throw him in the sea, in great fear and awe of God. Then a big fish swallows Jonah, and he prays in the belly of the whale and remembered the Lord, and then the Lord makes the fish vomit Jonah onto dry land, and this time Jonah is obedient to God’s calling to go preach in Nineveh and the people repent and God relents from his planned disaster. And then Jonah un-rightly gets angry at God’s mercy on the people of Nineveh.
But back to Matthew, Jesus calls the Scribes and Pharisees an “evil and adulterous generation” for asking for a sign (Mt 12:39), and compares Jesus to being greater than Jonah. “They repented at the preaching of Jonah, and indeed one greater than Jonah is here” (Mt 12:41). Implication? They should be repenting of their disbelief already, not asking Jesus for yet another sign, to prove himself.
Signs are not always from God
“For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the very elect.” (Mt. 24:24)
Even if we ask God for a sign, the enemy may attempt to use that request to deceive us. Matthew 24:24 implies that “false christs” and “false prophets” are capable of showing signs and wonders—things that look like miracles, things that look like indicators of Gods voice, but it may not be really God’s voice. We need discernment to recognize whether what we’re hearing is the voice of God or the voice of the enemy trying to deceive us.
“For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles or Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.” (2 Cor. 11:13-14)
Not all things that are spiritual are of God. Satan will try to present himself (deceptively) as looking like an angel of light. Therefore we have to be discerning as to whether a spiritual event is of God, or just looks like its of God; Satan’s deception is that he is God and you’re hearing God when you’re really hearing the enemy. And as Matthew 24:24 told us, the enemy attempts to deceive even the very elect, those called and chosen by God.
Deuteronomy 13:1 gives a strong warning about signs.
“If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods...and serve them’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer of dreams, for the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all of your soul....But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death because he has spoken in order to turn you away from the Lord your God...to entice you from the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk...” (Deu. 13:1-5)
What can we learn about signs from this passage? Sources of signs include prophets and dreams. However, it is clear in this passage that a sign from such a dream may or may not be one you should follow. The sign could be a distraction, it could be there to “entice” you away from the way the Lord wants you to walk, it could draw you away from God and towards Satan’s path (eg. make you focus on the flesh instead of God). It is quite clear in this passage that not every sign is to be followed and that there are both good and bad signs.
Asking for signs may really be seeking omens
An omen is by definition a prophetic sign (American Heritage Dictionary), a sign that indicates what is going to happen in the future. If we are asking God “is this going to come to pass, will you show me a sign?” we are probably seeking an omen, we want to know the future now. Biblically, this is an occult practice that is condemned and warned against.
In Deuteronomy 18:9-12 interpreting omens is considered an “abomination”. No uncertain words there.
Ezekiel 13 gives another warning, spoken specifically to the “prophets of Israel” who “prophesy out of their own heart” (13:1). In verse 8, God says “because you have spoken nonsense and envisioned lies, therefore I am indeed against you.” Prophesy means predicting the future. Verse 1 tells us that we can predict the future out of our own heart rather than out of God’s heart. In verse 2, God mourns those “foolish prophets who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing!” This does not mean that God never reveals the future, Daniel 2:28 does say that “there is a God in Heaven who reveals secrets”. However this verse gives us a warning that it is possible that seeing a sign or vision of things to come could be merely a figment of our imagination (envisioned lies), and not meaningful revealing of secrets. We need wisdom and discernment to differentiate.
“The prophets prophesy lies in my name. I have not sent them, commanded them, nor spoken to them; they prophesy to you a false vision, divination, a worthless thing, and the deceit of their heart.” (Jer 14:14)
Someone who is certain they have “heard God” can be deceived in their heart as Jeremiah tells us; what they heard could have been worthless, not the word of God that they thought it was.
The story of the slave girl with a “spirit of divination” (acts 16:16) should also be noted. In this example, her ability to foresee the future is associated with demonic power or possession. Demons, or fallen angels, follow Satan, and are deceitful and produce a fraudulent illusion. Anything that is spoken from a demonic spirit is not a reliable source. This goes back to that point that all things that are spiritual are not always of God. We have to be cautious that spiritual signs could potentially not be from God, they could be from demonic forces. Following demonic forces always leads on a path away from God and not toward God in the long run.
What ARE signs good for, biblically then?
In Exodus God gives the sign of the rod that casts into a snake and the leperous/non-leperous hand so that the Egyptians “may believe” (Ex. 4:8) Then in Exodus 7, God “multiplies” the signs in Egypt (7:3), including Aaron’s rod and the 10 plagues. God does this so that “the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord” (7:5) and reveal God’s power and authority over creation.
“My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout the generations that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you.” (Ex 31:13)
When Moses intercedes for the people in Numbers 14:1, right after the spies return from the promised land, and the people complain against him, God speaks to Moses “How long will they not believe Me, with all the signs which I have performed among them?” The signs were clearly to increase their faith and belief.
Signs can be warnings to follow God. In Numbers 26:10, the death of 250 men who contended against Moses “became a sign”.
Signs were also used for remembrance. For example, in Joshua 4, the Israelites were to take 12 stones from the Jordan, “that this may be a sign among you when your children ask” (4:6) that they crossed the Jordan on dry land. Most of God’s covenants with the people also had signs associated with them as a remembrance of the covenant. For example, in Genesis 9:12-13, God places his rainbow in the clouds as a “sign of the covenant” (9:17) never to destroy the whole earth by flood again.