"It ain't over till it's over!" This statement attributed to baseball great Yogi Berra has proven true in many sporting events. The most recent Super Bowl comeback by the NE Patriots and the 1980 USA Olympic team's "Miracle on Ice" confirm it.
But great comebacks may not happen as often as we'd like to see. For all the great turnaround stories in life, many other people experience enduring disappointments.
I've lost interest in book and movies, even baseball games (and I love baseball) only to realize later that I gave up too early. A lot of people approach the Bible and all its stories the same way.
God's story of redemption is filled with many unexpected twists and turns, and His story isn't over till it ends—within each of our lives and throughout history.
The back story
A significant development in God's redemptive story begins with a man who is promised a son. This son would make him become the father of many generations. Abraham (also Abram), the father of Israel, would wait 25 years for this promised son.
But there's much more to the story that begins in Genesis 12. As with many intriguing stories, it has sub-plots, twists, deceit, a leading lady, villains, and battles, and much more, including a surprising climax.
This surprising climax gives us insight into how God would bring redemption for all of humanity and it's not at all what you'd expect. In fact, it's one of those surprising and gut-wrenching twists in the story.
An unexpected ask
Isaac, the promised son, was Abraham's treasured son, born to him at the ripe old age of 100 (Genesis 21:1-7). He had another son with another woman (Genesis 16 and Gen 21:9-21), but that's another story within Abraham's story.
When Isaac was at least a teenager or perhaps a young man, God asked Abraham to do something so shocking to us that many get stuck on it and miss the intent and purpose of the story. Here's the shocking ask of God—
Later God tested Abraham and called to him, “Abraham!” “Yes, here I am!” he answered.
God said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I will show you.” (Gen 22:1-2 GW)
It's important to read the whole story (Gen 22:1-14) in its whole context. The whole context includes a promise that follows the unfolding of this story with the shocking ask of God. But I'll get to that later.
Trust or blind obedience?
An important piece of context is the time and culture of Abraham. The sacrifice of children to the god Molech was common in those days and in that region of the world. Abraham was well aware of this. This was long before Moses and the Law that forbade such practices.
But there's something deeper in all of this. God made a personal covenant with Abraham regarding this promised son connected to the promised land. By this time, God reminded Abraham four times about this promise (Gen 12:1-3; 13:14-16; 15:4-6; 17:4-8).
Perhaps Abraham was puzzled by God's request but he trusted God implicitly. This was not blind obedience. We gain insight to this as Abraham and Isaac go to the mountain as instructed by God—
Then Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and gave it to his son Isaac. Abraham carried the burning coals and the knife. The two of them went on together.
Isaac spoke up and said, “Father?” “Yes, Son?” Abraham answered. Isaac asked, “We have the burning coals and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
Abraham answered, “God will provide a lamb for the burnt offering, Son.” The two of them went on together. (Gen 22:6-8 GW)
God will provide
Abraham's answer to Isaac remains a mystery as they proceed to the mountain for the sacrifice. Abraham built an altar out of rocks, laid the wood on it, tied up Isaac, and put him on the wood.
As Abraham grabbed the knife to slay his promised son, he's stopped by an angel of the Lord and more insight is given—
But the Messenger of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Yes?” he answered. “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you did not refuse to give me your son, your only son.” (Gen 22:11-12 GW)
The big picture and the greater story
If you're still hung up on why God would ask Abraham to sacrifice his son, I understand. But take a step back to see the bigger picture. Seeing the big picture reveals the greater story.
It was never God's intention for Abraham to kill Isaac. It was a test (Gen 22:1). It was an act of trust by Abraham (Heb 11:17-19). It was an illustration of when God would reverse the course of history through His own Son.
This story is a prophetic illustration of God's plan of redemption, as shared about in an earlier post. Redemption is about restoration, not just settling humanity's account with God because of sin. The illustration is seen in view of the life and death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
Some important parts of the bigger picture
- the mountain in the land of Moriah (Gen 22:2) represents Golgotha where Christ was crucified (Matt 27:33)
- Abraham saw the place on the third day of travel (Gen 22:4) just as Jesus looked beyond the shame of the cross to His resurrection on the third day (Matt 16:21; Heb 12:2)
- the men were told to stay behind (Gen 22:5) just as Jesus did with His disciples as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt 26:36)
- the wood that Isaac carried (Gen 22:6) is a picture of Jesus carrying His cross (John 19:16-17)
- Abraham's statement that God would provide a lamb (Gen 22:8) is echoed centuries later by John the Baptizer when he see Jesus, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29)
I realize it's hard to look past the shocking request of Abraham by God. This requires faith. Not an abstract belief but genuine personal trust in God (Heb 11:6).
We all have questions, even doubts when it comes to faith and trusting God. This is the nature of faith. It requires us to see beyond the obvious or at least, what others see or might believe.
The simple lesson for life application is to ask ourselves if we're willing to trust God with everything and everyone in our life. But there's more to it than that.
Not many of us are asked to sacrifice a son but God does ask us to trust Him. Not just hold a belief of trust but to trust Him day in and day out with our life.
This only develops as we know God in a deeper more personally intimate way and that depth of relationship requires time and a willingness to trust God. That's real faith, the kind Abraham had.
How much of your life are you willing to trust God with?