During the time of the Judges – the first rulers of Israel – the land was often invaded by the Midianites. These raiders from the south regularly stole livestock and destroyed crops. To deal with this situation, God sent an angel to visit Gideon the son of Joash. Greeting him as a “mighty warrior”, the angel announced that God had a mission for him – to rescue Israel from the invaders.
However, Gideon wasn’t entirely sure that he really was the man for the job. So he asked God to confirm his mission by a miraculous sign. He left a woollen fleece out overnight, asking God to provide assurance by keeping the ground dry from the dew while the fleece alone got wet.
After that actually did happen, Gideon then asked God to reverse the miracle the next night – a dry fleece on the wet ground. When that also occurred, Gideon accepted his mission and led a battalion of committed soldiers to defeat the Midianites.
In the medieval era, the story of the angel’s visit to Gideon was often paired with the gospel story of the angel Gabriel’s visit to the Virgin Mary. In both accounts, an angel greets both Gideon and Mary with the words “The Lord is with you”, shares news of salvation for Israel and informs each of them of their special role in achieving this. As a result of this comparison, Gideon’s miracle of the fleece became a symbol of the Virgin Birth. This is because both events showed that God could make the impossible possible.
This stained glass image of Gideon and his fleece is found in the Lady Chapel of Holy Rood, Watford. It dates to 1890 and was designed by John Francis Bentley. It forms part of a stained glass image of the Virgin surrounded by four Old Testament figures – Abraham, David, Jacob and Gideon – who each in some way foreshadowed aspects of her life. Gideon, in the Gothic Revival style, is depicted as a medieval soldier – although he also sports a rather natty moustache. Holding the fleece in his right hand, he is asking God for a miracle, saying (according to the Latin scroll) “then I shall know that you will deliver Israel by my hand, as you have said.”
See the full image:
Where to find this work of art
Holy Rood, Watford
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