Stories from the Middle: Abraham and Isaac’s Climb

When we struggle in our trust with God, it’s helpful to look at times where God was faithful both to us in the past and in the Bible. However, it’s important for us to remember that even for many of the Bible’s greatest heroes, the waiting and trusting did not always come easy. This brings us to another “story from the middle.” An account we probably know well from Scripture, but we might overlook what it was like to actually be in the prolonged moment of waiting on God. In Genesis 22, God has given Abraham the desire of his heart, a son, the promised one which would bring about God’s covenant blessing, then God in turn test Abraham’s obedience by asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac.

This is a difficult passage, one that ultimately must be seen in the light of what God would do for us by giving his promised Son as a sacrifice. However symbolic this passage is, we can not forget it was also a literal account of a father and a son, and while we know how the story ends, Hebrews 11:19 tells us,  even Abraham was unaware of what God was going to do in the moment, he simply chose to listen, obey, and follow what God asked him to do. He remained faithful to his God in the face of one of the most difficult requests, he trusted that God knew what he was doing, despite being in the middle of what, I can only assume, was the most painstaking task of his life.

Genesis 22:3, says:

“Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.”

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This immediate action could be seen, that Abraham was quick to do what he was told, and I do not question that, but I think part of the motivation was if this is what I have to do, I have to get on with it, the longer I deliberate, the harder this will be. So, Abraham left with his son, his servants, and the wood for a sacrifice, but Isaac was confused, where was the animal for sacrifice?

“My father!, Behold, the fire, and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering.” Genesis 22:7

Can you imagine Abraham’s heart upon hearing this question? He had to know it was coming, and he responded in this way:

“God will provide for himself the lamb for a burned offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.

Here Abraham declares his trust in God, but Abraham still doesn’t know how it is going to work out. We know because we’ve heard the story all of our lives, but can you imagine step after step, mile after mile, Abraham was wondering, is this the step God intervenes? The middle is almost always the most unbearable part, not knowing how something is going to turn out making it that much worse. At every twist and turn as they ascended the mountain, “Is this the corner we will turn and there will be a lamb waiting?” I can not imagine what was going through Abrahams’s mind when they finally reached the place of sacrifice and found nothing waiting for them there.

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Yet, at this moment, Abraham didn’t stop. He kept trusting God, and somewhere along the way, Isaac went along for the ride.

“When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son.” Genesis 22:9-10

Here the story reaches its fever pitch, we want to look away, but this is not a movie, this is a real father, a real son, and a real knife. Abraham raises his hand still willing, but probably screaming on the inside, if not out loud, “How do I endure a moment like this? The New Testament tells us in Hebrews 11:19 that,

“He (Abraham) considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead.”

This shows that Abraham was committed in his trust of God, enough to go through with it all, never wavering that God could turn things around, but still, how hard it must have been for him, and even harder if the ending we knew was coming didn’t come.

“BUT, the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” and he said, “Here I am”

(Can you imagine the excitement and relief that must have been in his voice)

“He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anting to harm, for now, I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son from me. And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.” Genesis 22:11-13

So the story ends, a happy ending, both father and son return to the servants at the bottom of the hill, and it serves as an incredibly important foreshadowing to what God does for us in Jesus (It’s Holy week as I write this). But just for a moment put yourself in Abraham’s shoes, walking Isaac up the mountain, unaware of how it all ends, do we keep walking in trust, or do we turn and run the other way? Right now, we find ourselves in a moment where we can not turn and run to get out of the virus that is plaguing the whole world, we have no other option but to keep going step after step, turn after turn, just like Abraham we are in unknown territory with zero clues how it ends. BUT we have a God who is faithful, the God who was waiting at the mountain top, the God who had provided a ram hiding behind a rock until the moment God himself had ordained. The middle is the hard part but is always the part where faith and trust are the most important.

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Be encouraged in the middle, we don’t know how much more of the mountain we have to climb or what we will find when we get to the top, but we know who is with us on the journey, and He can be trusted.

Grace and peace to you.