It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, even though God had told him, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.” Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. And in a sense, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead. [Hebrews 11:17-19 (NLT)]
Since Sunday school days, we’ve read the story of Isaac and Abraham and we know it has a happy ending. Abraham, however, didn’t know how the story would end when he set out for Mt. Moriah. A fifty mile journey, Abraham had three days during which he must have agonized over God’s command to sacrifice Isaac. Did he ask God, “Why?” Why would God finally provide the promised child and then take the blessing away? Did he ask God, “How?” How, once his son was dead, was he going to have those countless descendants? Did he ask God, “What next?” What would he tell Sarah when he returned home without their beloved son? True faith isn’t blind—it knows exactly what can happen but steps forward anyway and Abraham had seventy-two hours to agonize over the possible consequences of his actions. In his distress, he may even have been tempted to turn back home again.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego knew what happens to flesh in a fiery furnace, Daniel knew what hungry lions do to fresh meat, and James and Stephen knew that Christians were persecuted for sharing the gospel message. None knew whether they’d die or miraculously escape their fates and yet they all boldly acted in faith. If we’ve peeked ahead and know the story ends well, we’re simply being obedient and cooperative. It’s faith when we know full well what could happen but not what actually will. Faith trusts God’s promises. It knows that stepping out in obedience to Him means the story will end, not as we would write it, but as God wants it written.
Not knowing the outcome but knowing his God, Abraham faithfully obeyed God’s command. With great faith, Abraham told his servants both he and the boy would return after worshipping on the hill and, when Isaac asked why they had no lamb for their offering, Abraham assured him that God would provide. Still, Abraham had no way of knowing if his words would prove true. As father and son built an altar and piled wood on it, there must have been tears in Abraham’s eyes. How anxious he must have been as he tied up his son and laid him on the altar and what anguish he must have felt as he picked up his knife and brought it to his son’s neck. Yet, he continued in faith and demonstrated that he loved God more than his own flesh and blood.
Faith takes steps knowing that a loving God has given the command and trusting that whatever the ending, it is all in God’s plan. I’ve never been asked to exercise the kind of faith shown by Abraham and the rest of the Bible’s heroes and I pray I never have to do so. I wonder how my faith would stand up at the door of a fiery furnace, the mouth of a lion’s den, in front of a soldier’s sword, facing an angry mob of unbelievers, or if told to sacrifice one of my children. Would I trust God with the outcome or would my faith crumble? Father, forgive me, but I just don’t know.
Faith is not the belief that God will do what you want. It is the belief that God will do what is right. [Max Lucado]
I’ve read the last page of the Bible. It’s all going to turn out all right. [Billy Graham]