I had a question regarding asking God for a sign in the Bible. I was reading an article on your sight about it (Should we ask for signs like Gideon did?). I'm curious about signs of a non-miraculous nature. Does God communicate with people like Jonathan in I Samuel 14:6-12?
"Then Jonathan said to the young man who was carrying his armor, "Come and let us cross over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; perhaps the LORD will work for us, for the LORD is not restrained to save by many or by few." His armor bearer said to him, "Do all that is in your heart; turn yourself, and here I am with you according to your desire." Then Jonathan said, "Behold, we will cross over to the men and reveal ourselves to them. "If they say to us, 'Wait until we come to you'; then we will stand in our place and not go up to them. "But if they say, 'Come up to us,' then we will go up, for the LORD has given them into our hands; and this shall be the sign to us." When both of them revealed themselves to the garrison of the Philistines, the Philistines said, "Behold, Hebrews are coming out of the holes where they have hidden themselves." So the men of the garrison hailed Jonathan and his armor bearer and said, "Come up to us and we will tell you something." And Jonathan said to his armor bearer, "Come up after me, for the LORD has given them into the hands of Israel"" (I Samuel 14:6-12).
First off, let's notice that Jonathan did not ask for a sign from God. He wasn't even certain that God would choose to aid him ("perhaps the LORD will work for us"). No message from God came directly to him to attack the Philistines. Instead, he proposed to his armor bearer that if they showed themselves to the Philistines and they invite them up then they would take that as a sign that God was with them. Being invited up would be an unlikely occurrence since they are at war. The normal response would be for the Philistines to shoot at the Israelites or raise an alarm.
The situation was somewhat similar to Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego when the king offered them a second chance to bow before his idol. "Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego replied to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up"" (Daniel 3:16-18). They also had no direct message from God, but they knew what God expected from them. They had no idea if God would rescue them or not, but the important thing was to obey God.
Jonathan knew that the Philistines needed to be driven from Israel. His father, King Saul, had raised an army to do so and Jonathan had lead the initial attack (I Samuel 13:2-4). We see Jonathan's confidence that the Philistines did not belong in the land of Israel when he referred to them as "the garrison of these uncircumcised." By this phrasing he is stating that the Philistines were not a part of God's covenant. God would not favor the Philistines unless God was seeking to punish Israel. However, Saul messed things up by not waiting for the prophet Samuel to bless the endeavor. The decision before Jonathan was not a personal matter. He wasn't trying to could gain glory by attacking the Philistines. Things were at a stand still and Jonathan hoped God would use him to make a difference. Hundreds of years earlier Joshua told of a promise by God. "One man of you shall chase a thousand, for the LORD your God is He who fights for you, as He promised you" (Joshua 23:10).
Jonathan could have been wrong. While Jonathan was uncertain whether God would aid him, he was certain that the two of them would defeat the Philistines if God did choose to aid them. So you could say that Jonathan, by putting his faith in the promise of God, was hoping against hope that God use him.
Why was Jonathan looking for a sign? Jonathan knew that their only hope was that God chose to helped them. If there was some indication in advance that God approved, then this would not be a foolhardy adventure by two brash young men. God would get total credit for the victory (I Samuel 14:23). The unlikely happened and the young Israelites were invited up to see "something."
Consider if Jonathan had not looked for an indication of God's approval. Then he would be putting God to the test by jumping into battle. If he lost, he would have been remembered as a rash man. If he had won, he would have been seen as a super hero. Receiving what he believed to be permission from God, changed this. His victory was not his own. God was glorified when He used to two young men who had one sword between them to throw the entire Philistine army into an uproar.
The case of Jonathan does demonstrate that God can and did use non-miraculous events as a sign. But again notice that Jonathan did not demand a sign from God -- he suggested to his armor bearer something they could look for as an indication of God's permission. What he was looking to do was something God had already indicated needed to be done. What Jonathan didn't know was whether he was the one who should do it or not. The event he pick was something that would not likely happen in the middle of a stand off in war.
This is unlike how many people look for signs: "If the next call is from her, then I know God wants me to marry her." If you are dating someone, you end up calling each other a lot. "If my home sells within a week, then I know God has a job waiting for me in another city." Depending on the market, homes can sell quickly. The "signs" are ordinary events and, since they are ordinary events, how can a person be certain that it was really God behind those events?
These type of signs found in daily events typically don't give God glory. Too often they become reasons to blame God. What happens if you marry someone and the marriage goes sour? Who do you hold responsible? "Well, God must have wanted to punish me." Instead of saying, "I wasn't a good husband." Or, "she wasn't a faithful wife." What happens when you move to a new city and are out of work for the next six months? Do you say God was responsible or that you made a poor choice? Think about whether the sign you are seeking is a way to avoid being responsible for a decision or to give God glory. And always realize that just because you want a sign, it does not mean God will necessarily answer.