“As for God, His way is perfect …”
As for God, His way is perfect; the word of the Lord is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in Him. (2 Samuel 22:31)
God’s ways are perfect, but they are often inscrutable.
In the book of Genesis we read about Abraham and Sarah, who longed for a child for many years, but Sarah was barren. Later in their lives God promised Sarah she would bear a child, but she was so old that the promise made her laugh. It seemed impossible. But God told them they would have a child, and so they did. Isaac. That little boy was the fulfilment of the promise God had given them.
Years later, God tells Abraham that he must take Isaac and sacrifice him on an altar before the Lord. If it is the first time you are hearing this story, you must be thinking: huh?? You can imagine Abraham justifiably clinging to his son, and saying: ‘No, Lord, this is ridiculous! You promised me Isaac and then gave him to me. No way I’m giving him up!’ Astonishingly though Abraham obeyed without a fight. I cannot begin to imagine the absolute confusion and heartbreak that he must have felt when he got up the next morning to take Isaac to the place the Lord had told him he must go to kill him. This was a man who trusted God.
The marvellous, amazing, beautiful thing is that God did indeed have a plan all along. Just as Abraham raised the knife to kill Isaac, God stopped him and provided a substitutive ram for the sacrifice. And He said to Abraham: “Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son”. (Note the rhetoric that stresses that God is aware that this was not about Abraham giving up just any promise – he was prepared to give up “his son, his only son”, meaning the promise that meant the most to him.)
Later God says: “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, I will surely bless you … because you have obeyed me.” Abraham had to go through this baffling, heart-rending ordeal for a reason: God wanted to know that Abraham feared Him so that He could use him even more as someone through whom to reveal His glory.
If God has told you to make a sacrifice that breaks your heart and seems counter to the promises He has made you, perhaps it is because He is testing or refining you prior to revealing His even bigger plans for your life? I find that thought humbly and exciting. There was then, and still always is, a reason why God does what he does, even when we cannot see or even imagine what that reason might be. The seeming craziness of Abraham’s story unfolds to reveal the superior wisdom and plan of God.
It is also important to recognise that Abraham had not known that God would step in at the last moment. While he did not in the end actually have to make the sacrifice – because God had already seen what it was that he wanted: Abraham had a heart of obedience and trust (and it is always the heart of a man that interests God) – Abraham was prepared to make it. When God tells us to sacrifice something, He is looking to see that we have obedient hearts, but sometimes He may also want us to actually go through with ‘killing’ that thing we cherish, and it is possible that the reason for this may not be clear at the time, or even for the longest time to come.
Abraham did not see the promise fulfilled of his seed being as countless as grains of sand; only after his death was that promise fulfilled. We see in the Bible that sometimes God’s plans span generations, even millennia. You may, along with me, be brought to a place at some point where you have to ask yourself: if I never in this life know why He has chosen to do certain things, is my conviction of His righteous character enough for me to still entrust my everything to Him? I have learned that surrender means submitting to ways we do not always understand, but can trust are nonetheless perfect.
After God stopped Abraham from killing Isaac, and had given him the ram to sacrifice, it is written: “So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, ‘On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.’” When we position ourselves in the places to which we have been directed, making the sacrifices we have been told to make, we will see the provision of the Lord for our lives, and find that He is “a shield for all who take refuge in him”.