This week we continue our exploration ‘behind the ranges’ – exploring the world of God and the depth that we can find in God. Again, it’s a word that I hope will speak to all who read it, but it is particularly for those who are very earnestly following God and searching for more of Him.
Today I want to look for a little at Mount Moriah. You will realize I’ve not been taking the theme in a chronological fashion, but rather as it has come to me – as I’ve felt God has shown to me. Mount Moriah speaks of the time that Abraham went up there to sacrifice Isaac. I thought to myself it’s one of the best-loved stories in the Bible – but then perhaps it’s not. It’s a very challenging story, though quite a comforting one because obviously Isaac is restored to Abraham unhurt.
Some time later, God tested Abraham’s faith. ‘Abraham!’ God called.
‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘Here I am.’
‘Take your son, your only son– yes, Isaac, whom you love so much– and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.’ (Genesis 22:1–2)
They go together to that mountain. Isaac observes that there is no sheep for the burnt offering, and Abraham says:
‘God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son.’ (v.8)
Abraham has told the servants who have travelled part of the way with them to stay with the donkey, and he says: ‘The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back.’ We know that God speaks to Abraham and tells him not to harm Isaac as he’s there on the altar. Then He says to Abraham: ‘Because you have done this and not withheld your son, I will bless you.’
It’s a very wonderful story. It’s a very comfortable one for us in some ways if we think we’ll get our Isaac back. But sometimes we don’t get Isaac back, and the sacrifice God asks, He keeps.
This episode in Abraham’s life comes to him as a very mature man of God: he’s not at the beginning. I think if we go to Mount Moriah before God calls us there it can be too much for us, but it’s a place that does speak to us of sacrifice and suffering, and this is a part of true discipleship of Jesus Christ. Some of you who are maturing and mature in God know that; we all know that. It is actually a privilege to be called to suffer in any way for the sake of Christ and because we are faithfully following Him. Christ Himself said: ‘You must take up your cross and follow Me,’ and we cannot cut that part out of discipleship. As a man who was called the friend of God, as one who loved and sought God, Abraham was further along that road that hopefully we are travelling, where we are seeking for the unexplored territory behind the ranges, seeking for more of God.
And there comes to us unmistakeably at times the sign that says: To Mount Moriah. Sometimes there is something to be given to God, but very often it is a part of ourselves, our own nature, that has to die, or has to be prepared to suffer. Or it may be as with Abraham, where it wasn’t his old nature suffering, but it was as he was being drawn into a very deep fellowship with God: because we can see that Mount Moriah is foreshadowing Calvary, and Abraham and Isaac foreshadow the Father and the Son walking up Calvary’s hill. We can see all that, and I don’t know how much was revealed to Abraham as he took these steps up that hill that God had said – a mountain that I will show you. Any mountain that God shows to us becomes a blessed mountain. But there is that in our inner being that shrinks away, and sometimes sees a road that to be faithful to God will involve suffering.
For Abraham there would be many strands, I think, in that suffering. There would be a very lonely and misunderstood road to walk. I don’t know if he told Sarah what he was preparing to do, but if so, I don’t think he would have had an easy time with her. The servants must have wondered; Isaac wondered. What did he feel? Did he begin to suspect? What did he feel when he was laid on the altar? Abraham had to trust God, and trust God that his son would trust him, Abraham, as a father. It was a lonely road, as the road of a pioneer often is. It was a rocky road, as the road up the mountain often is rocky, literally. But spiritually it can be a rocky road, and he had to walk every step. He didn’t know what was going to happen, though he believed that God could raise Isaac even from the dead. He wouldn’t understand why God was giving him this command.
But in the afterward and in the revelation that I think would come to him of Calvary he would understand more. His faith, we read, was tested, and so is ours. It wasn’t over in a moment for Abraham. It lasted some time, between the command and the ultimate deliverance. And so it does for us, the walk of faith, the learning of that faith, the acquiring of the gift of faith: it doesn’t happen in a moment, and it happens out there in the heat of the road and the difficulty of it.
It caused me to think of another story. I was by the seaside further down the coast for a day or two recently. On a very stormy day we were walking along the shore, and seeing the waves brought to me the story of Peter walking upon the water. I saw the connection with this incident in the life of Abraham walking a very rocky road. Peter and the disciples were alone in the Sea of Galilee when Christ was away praying in the hills. They were there by Christ’s command, but they
were in trouble, far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves. (Matthew 14:24)
Does it strike a chord? I know that is exactly how some of you are feeling just now, for various reasons. The wind has risen in your life, the waves are stormy, and it’s not like previous incidents when Christ said: Peace, be still, and in a moment everything was calm. And I saw more clearly than ever before why Peter had had to walk on the stormy water, why Christ was walking on the stormy waves as He came towards the boat where they were. The waves stayed stormy, and Peter came out and walked on the stormy water. He was afraid he was going to sink when he took his eyes off Christ and cried out for help, and immediately Christ saved him. But the waves were still stormy, the wind was still blowing, and they walked together on the stormy water till they came into the boat, and a calm came then.
And so for you and me. We have to learn that even when Christ is there with us the waves can still be very stormy, and our faith is being tested and tried. He wants us to strengthen and to keep walking, because the spiritual world can be quite tumultuous at times. Spiritual conflict is real, and so it doesn’t just vanish in a moment. We can be walking very carefully with God, but we are in the storm, and it doesn’t go away. But that is the key, isn’t it? He never leaves us alone in it. He has seen them there in the storm. He was watching Peter walk towards Him, and then they walked together.
As we take courage and come out of our quiet hiding place where we would stay out of trouble, we say: ‘Lord, I’ll be faithful to You whatever the cost. I’ll walk with integrity in my heart towards You; however misunderstood I am at times, I’ll do that. And the stormy waves might remain stormy, the spiritual world might stay very rocky, but You and I will walk together and You will not leave me, and together we will come ultimately to the safe harbour, where all grows quiet and is again at peace.’ Christ walked up Calvary’s hill, and He said: ‘I am not alone. Though you will all leave me, the Father Himself will be with Me.’ And He will be with us.
And so do we discover, not always in the quiet back parts of the desert, the revelation of God, but right out there on the stormy waves we discover the security of walking just with God and no other when the sea is stormy. Blessed Saviour! Do we truly want to find these deeps of God? Let Him take us by the road of His choosing. We will never regret it. We’ll enter in one day to the sanctuary of heaven, still leaning on our Beloved, whom we’ve learned to trust truly.
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