Provision In Desperate Times

Genesis 22

The Reverend Bryn MacPhail / May 23, 2004

We are gathered here today because we believe in God. I fear, however, that while we find it easy to believe in God, many of you find it very difficult to believe God. That is, you believe in a God who is out there somewhere, but you are not sure what He is doing or whether He has any interest or control over the circumstances of your life.

We shall soon see that the God of the Bible has not left anything to chance or fate. Not even the will of sinful human beings can thwart God's purposes. For this reason, King Solomon implores us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths” (Prov. 3:5, 6).

Beloved, the God we worship is in control. The God of the Bible has the ability to make our paths straight. When we examine the life of Abraham, we witness God working in powerful, and profound, ways as He leads Abraham in the way in which he should go .

We first read about Abraham, formerly named Abram, in the 11th chapter of Genesis. We learn that Abraham's homeland was Ur of the Chaldeans (11:28), and that his wife's name is Sarah (11:29). And, in order that we might understand the extraordinary nature of God's promises to Abraham, we are told, "Sarah was barren"(11:30).

Chapter 12 begins with the Lord speaking to Abraham, "Go forth from your country, and from your relatives, and from your father's house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great"(12:1,2).

From a human standpoint, this commissioning makes no sense. Ur was a flourishing port city and the land was luxuriant (Boice, Genesis, vol.2, 439). Why would Abraham want to leave the comforts of his homeland to travel across the Arabian Desert to an unknown, and presumably less desirable, land? What advantage could be gained by leaving behind friends and family? Yet, this is what God commanded, "so Abram went forth as the Lord had spoken to him"(12:4).

Keep in mind that Abraham is 75 years old at this point. Abraham and Sarah are beyond childbearing years, and they have no children. How could it be then, that Abraham would become a father of "a great nation"?

This commission makes no sense on the level of human reasoning. But this is the beauty of God's providence. God's providence does not always follow patterns of reasonableness and predictability. For this reason, there will be times when we need to lay aside what we think makes sense, in order to follow what God has said in His Word; there will be occasions which demand that we trust in the Lord with all our heart and that we stop leaning on our own understanding of the situation.

This past Monday I went golfing with a couple of colleagues. It was my first time golfing this season and I am ashamed to tell you that I spent a great deal of time in the sand traps. I should also tell you that I am quite an unimpressive golfer; I am relatively new to the game and, for this reason I often seek the advice of my friend and colleague, who is an experienced golfer. On one particular hole I was once again in a sand trap, but this time I was just 20 feet away from the flagstick. I asked my friend what I should do. He told me to take a full swing and hit behind the ball into the sand. This made no sense to me. I’m 20 feet from the hole; I can hit a ball a hundred yards with this club if I take a full swing. My friend persisted, ‘Take a full swing and hit behind the ball, into the sand.’

At that point, I needed to make a decision about whether I would trust my instinct or whether I would trust someone who knows better than I. Thankfully, I trusted the words of my friend, and I blasted safely out of the trap, leaving the ball close enough to the hole for an easy putt.

Now, the failure of this analogy is that God does not simply know more than us; He knows everything. The shortcoming of this analogy is that God doesn’t simply tell us what is best to do; He actually helps us to do that which He requires. Abraham obeyed, not because the commissioning made sense, but he obeyed because He believed God knew best, and that God had the power to do what He had promised.

In Genesis 15, however, we learn that Abraham, like most of us, experienced seasons of unbelief, "O Lord God, what will You give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus? . . . You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir"(15:2,3).

And what is God's response to Abraham's doubt? God repeats His promise, " (Abraham), this man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir"(15:4). The text then says that God brought Abraham outside and said to him, "Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them . . . So shall your descendents be"(15:5). What a gracious God we have! Knowing that our faith is weak, God graciously repeats His promise.

After Abraham hears the promise repeated, we read in verse 6, "And (Abraham) believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness"(15:6).

Do you see the significance of this statement? Abraham believed the Lord. There was no question that Abraham believed in the Lord--he had spoken with the Lord many times. Abraham had built altars to the Lord many times. The question was never, 'Did Abraham believe in the Lord?'; the question was, 'Did Abraham believe the Lord? Did Abraham believe that God would do what He promised?'.

We would be wise to consider the same. Sure, you believe in the Lord--that is why you are here this morning--but, do you believe the Lord? Do you trust the Lord with all your heart; do you trust Him to the degree that you are willing to set aside your own estimation of things in favour of what God has said in His Word?

For those of you who struggle with doubt, be comforted by the fact that Abraham, who "believed the Lord", also struggled with doubt. After 10 years of living in the land of Canaan, Abraham and Sarah became increasingly impatient for the fulfillment of God's promise. Still childless at 85 years of age, I am sure that Abraham's prayer would have sounded something like, 'Lord, what are you waiting for?! I've been on a senior's pension for 2 decades, most of my friends are sending their great grandchildren to the University of Jericho, and we are still waiting for the son you promised us 10 years ago!'.

Unwilling to wait any longer, we read that Sarah gave their maid, Hagar, to Abraham to be his wife (16:3). And, at the end of chapter 16 we read that when Abraham was 86 years old, Hagar bore Abraham a son, and they named him, Ishmael (16:15,16).

However, not even Abraham and Sarah's sin could prevent the Lord from fulfilling His promise. When Abraham was 99, the Lord appeared to him and said, "Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendents after him"(17:19).

In Genesis, chapter 21, Isaac is born (21:2). God promised Abraham a son, and God delivered on that promise. But I want you to note how much time has passed between God's initial promise and the fulfillment of that promise. Abraham and Sarah had to wait 25 years for the birth of Isaac!

After the birth of Isaac, Abraham must have rested for many years knowing that his life was unfolding just as the Lord said it would. That is, until that day when God made that terrifying request of Abraham, "Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah; and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you"(22:2).

Amazingly, we do not see any hesitation on the part of Abraham. We are told that he rose early the next morning, split some wood for the offering, and traveled to the appointed mountain. When they arrived, Abraham said to his servants, "Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you"(22:5).

And when Isaac asked where the lamb was for the offering, Abraham's response was, "God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering"(22:8). You know how the rest of the story goes: Abraham binds his son and lays him on the altar, and just as Abraham stretches out his hand to slay his son, the Lord orders him to stop. Then Abraham raises his eyes and notices behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; so Abraham takes the ram, and offers him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. And Abraham calls the name of the place Jehovah Jireh, which means, "The Lord Will Provide"(22:9-14).

If you were to only read the account of God testing Abraham, and Abraham readying to sacrifice his son, you might be tempted to conclude that God is cruel and that Abraham was crazy. But since we have just surveyed the previous ten chapters, we know better than that. God made a promise to Abraham to provide a son, and God fulfilled that promise 25 years later. This leads me to the conviction that, with the birth of Isaac, all doubt was removed from Abraham's mind.

I don't think Abraham was playing mind games with his servants when he said, “we will return to you” (Gen. 22:5). Abraham had seen, first hand, that nothing was too difficult for the Lord (18:14), and I think he truly expected the Lord to provide once more.

Many of you here today are waiting for the Lord to provide. If you are, the account of Abraham's life should encourage you. The testimony of Abraham is that God always delivers on a promise. Even in desperate times, even in times when we struggle to see our way through the darkness; even then, God will provide.

My prayer for you is that you, like Abraham, might know the blessing that comes from trusting the Lord with all your heart, and not leaning on your own understanding. Remember God’s promise: If you do this, He will make straight your paths. Amen.