The question is asked often about asking God for a sign regarding a decision that one is trying to make. In my sermon today, on Joshua chapters 3-4, the text says that God chose to give a sign to His people in order to assure them He was with them and would do all that He had promised. I gave a brief overview of some observations from other passages in the Bible where signs are mentioned. Here is a bit more information on the topic. The list of passages below is not exhaustive so if you’d like to add one to my list, you’re welcome to do so. Please reply and send me the passage you’d like to add.
First, some clarifications
I want to be clear about some things not being said here. God clearly gave signs to people in the Bible and since He is God is free to give signs any time and to anyone He chooses. It is not necessarily sinful to ask God for a sign, though according to Jesus, sometimes it is. This article is not intended to condemn anyone for their view on seeking signs but rather to cause us to think in a more thoroughly biblical way on the topic. I am growing in my understanding of the Scriptures and want to grow together with the broader body of Christ in this pursuit.
Some observations on signs in the Bible
- God gives signs only when He wants to.
- Some ask for a sign and God gives it.
- Some who ask don’t get them and are rebuked for asking.
- Signs are given for God-sized, kingdom reasons not small private, personal matters.
- God’s signs are obvious, supernatural, unexplainable and not normal occurrences.
- God’s signs always come with His interpretation attached; no one ever needs to interpret what God’s signs mean. He tells us what they mean.
Some warnings about seeking signs
- Those who ask for signs do so out of a heart of unbelief and doubt. It is not a mark of strong faith that should be pursued.
- Many asking for signs in the Bible did so ignoring what God had already shown them clearly.
- There is no biblical instruction that we should seek signs from God or how to seek signs.
Examples of people asking God for signs in the Bible:
- Gideon asked God for a sign, the fleece – Judges 6:36-40; God granted the sign twice to confirm what He had said to Gideon. Note that Gideon’s asking was not condemned by God but also that Gideon’s request was made out of fear and doubt not faith. God had already told Gideon what to do and that the outcome would be successful even sending an angel to deliver the message to him (Judges 6:11ff). Furthermore, Gideon threw out the fleece twice asking God for a sign and pleading with God not to be angry with him for asking (Judges 6:39).
- In Matthew 12:38ff the scribes and Pharisees asked Jesus for a sign to show His authority but He refused to give them a sign with cutting condemnation of their unbelief.
- In Matthew 16:1-4 the Pharisees and Sadducees asked for a sign but Jesus refused to give it again condemning them for their unbelief.
- In Mark 8:11ff the Pharisees asked for a sign but Jesus refused saying, “no sign will be given to this generation.”
- In Luke 11:16 people demanded a sign from Jesus to prove His authority but He refuses to give any sign in addition to the healings and miracles He already had been doing. Again, He condemns them for asking for a sign to confirm His identity and authority.
- In Genesis 15:8-17, Abraham asked God for a sign and God gave him an unmistakable dream and spoke to him confirming what God had already told him.
- In 2 Kings 20:8-11, King Hezekiah asked Isaiah for a sign from God that he would be healed as He had said (see v.5). God gave the sign of the sun / shadow moving backward ten steps to confirm what He had already said to Hezekiah.
- In Luke 1:18-20, Zacharias asked Gabriel for a sign to confirm God’s message that he would have a son. God gave the sign of deafness and muteness to confirm what He had already told Zacharias.
Examples of God giving signs to people in the Bible:
- God gave Moses the sign of the burning bush – In Exodus 3:1ff, God spoke to Moses from the burning bush. In this sign, God got Moses’ attention but more so it was God Himself speaking to Moses.
- God gave Moses signs for him and the Hebrews – In Exodus 4:3-5 God made his staff turn into a snake and back to a staff; and in Ex 4:6-7 God turned his hand leprous and back to healthy; and in 4:9 God gave him the sing of turning Nile River water to blood. These signs no doubt were affirming to Moses but they were given for the sake of the Hebrews who Moses thought would question his authority. So here, Moses didn’t ask directly for a sign but God gave them knowing his doubts.
- In Joshua 3-4 God gave a sign to all the people that He was with them and would bring them into the promised land to remove the wicked nations from the land. He stopped the flow of the Jordan River so they crossed on dry land. Then He commanded that a memorial be built to remind the people always of the sign God had given.
- In John 2:11 the Apostle John begins recording many signs Jesus performed to reveal Himself to His disciples to cause them to believe (see also 2:23, 3:2, 4:54, 6:2, etc.)
- In 1 Kings 13:3-5 Shemaiah announced the sign from God to Jeroboam that Josiah’s reforms would come about. The altar was split apart and the ashes poured out.
The whole idea of asking God for a sign shows us the longing we have for certainty about God’s will. This is a good thing. And this serves us well by pointing us to the gospel. The bottom line is this – it’s not a sign we really long for; it’s a person! That person is Jesus. He is the better and truer sign from God. The Son who was sent so that by faith in Him we become partakers in the divine nature and become one with God, Himself. Bottom line – don’t seek signs. Seek God Himself!