The Bible is deeply full of the stories of people…messy, imperfect, stubborn, sinful people. Aren’t you glad? Glad that we’re in good company, that our mistakes aren’t anything new to God, glad that He’s in the business of sticking it out with the broken ones? Aren’t you glad that we have their stories to read and to learn from?
Admittedly, we have a distinct advantage in that we get to read the whole story. We aren’t living through the uncertainty that they were (many of us are living through our own uncertainty, but we’ll get to that) and we get to see how God worked things out…all in the moments that it takes to read through a handful of verses.
But, let’s take a step back and put ourselves into the stories of some of the people in the Old Testament, and try to imagine what they didn’t know.
>>> Abraham didn’t know about the ram.
Genesis 22:1-3, 9-10
After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him…
When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son…
Let’s backtrack for a second. Isaac was Abraham and Sarah’s only son…and the Lord had promised Abraham that his offspring would be as numerous as the stars (Genesis 15:5) and that he would be a father of nations (Genesis 17:6). Then, God does the seemingly most absurd thing in the world – He tells Abraham to kill Isaac. Abraham’s hope for the future, the fulfillment of God’s promise to him…and God tells him to sacrifice.
It floors me that Abraham doesn’t question or debate – he simply and immediately obeys.
But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”
The Lord provided.
>>> Ruth didn’t know about Boaz.
Ruth 1:1-11, 14-18
In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.
Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.”…then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.
But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more.
A bit of history: Ruth was from Moab…a pagan civilization marked by polytheist beliefs, human sacrifices, and sexual immorality. Those were her people. Until she decided to follow Naomi back to Judah, and become a Christian.
She knows she has no hope of a husband (she’s about to be an despised outcast…not exactly what a good Israelite guy wants to bring home), no job, a bitter mother-in-law, and no other friends or family. And yet – Ruth obeys the Lord.
She goes to work in a nearby field, gleaning the leftover bits of grain in order to feed Naomi and herself. (the field just so happens to belong to a man named Boaz, who just so happens to be a relative of Elimelech, and Ruth just so happens to catch his attention…)
I’m going to skip some stuff and rush ahead 😉
So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. And he went in to her, and the Lord gave her conception, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.”
The Lord provided.
>>> Job didn’t know about the last five verses of the book.
Job 1:1-3, 6-12
There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east.
Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
Satan then systematically destroys Job’s children, his wealth/property, and his health. Job gets stuck with three debbie-downer “friends” and a nagging wife, and spends the next forty-two chapters in the depths of depression and lamenting.
Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.
I will say to God, Do not condemn me; let me know why you contend against me. Does it seem good to you to oppress, to despise the work of your hands and favor the designs of the wicked?
Terrors are turned upon me; my honor is pursued as by the wind, and my prosperity has passed away like a cloud. And now my soul is poured out within me; days of affliction have taken hold of me. The night racks my bones, and the pain that gnaws me takes no rest.
In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.
Job was obedient.
The Lord has some strong words for Job in Chapters 38-41, and Job quickly repents of his lack of understanding. And then? The most miraculous words to close up this book…
And the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning. And he had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 yoke of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys. He had also seven sons and three daughters. And he called the name of the first daughter Jemimah, and the name of the second Keziah, and the name of the third Keren-happuch. And in all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters. And their father gave them an inheritance among their brothers. And after this Job lived 140 years, and saw his sons, and his sons’ sons, four generations. And Job died, an old man, and full of days.
The Lord provided.
>>> Daniel didn’t know that the lions’ mouths would be shut.
Daniel 1:1, 3-7, 8
In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it…Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank…Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah.
But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank.
While Daniel was serving in King Nebuchadnezzar’s court, he gained skill and wisdom, and became a faithful friend to the King because he could interpret dreams. The King favored him, and Daniel was elevated in position until he basically is running the whole kingdom. This (obviously) ticks off the other royal officials, and they begin to conspire against Daniel in order to kill him. They trick the King to sign an order that demands anyone who doesn’t bow down to him be put to death.
Daniel 6:10-17, 19-24
When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.
Even though he knew what the consequences would be if he prayed to the Lord, Daniel obeyed.
Then these men came by agreement and found Daniel making petition and plea before his God. Then they came near and said before the king, concerning the injunction, “O king! Did you not sign an injunction, that anyone who makes petition to any god or man within thirty days except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions?”…they answered and said before the king, “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or the injunction you have signed, but makes his petition three times a day.”
Then the king, when he heard these words, was much distressed and set his mind to deliver Daniel. And he labored till the sun went down to rescue him. Then these men came by agreement to the king and said to the king, “Know, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no injunction or ordinance that the king establishes can be changed.”
Then the king commanded, and Daniel was brought and cast into the den of lions. The king declared to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you!” And a stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel…
Then, at break of day, the king arose and went in haste to the den of lions. As he came near to the den where Daniel was, he cried out in a tone of anguish. The king declared to Daniel, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?” Then Daniel said to the king, “O king, live forever! My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not harmed me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no harm.” Then the king was exceedingly glad, and commanded that Daniel be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. And the king commanded, and those men who had maliciously accused Daniel were brought and cast into the den of lions—they, their children, and their wives. And before they reached the bottom of the den, the lions overpowered them and broke all their bones in pieces.
The Lord provided.
Every one of these people leaned on God’s leading, even when it didn’t make sense…and God always provided for them.
Whatever you’re going through, whatever uncertainty you’re facing…know that you don’t know what God has planned. Like springtime follows winter, the frost eventually melts and the flowers eventually bloom. It’s hardly ever on our timetable (the best comes after death, anyways!) or in ways we would expect, but God is faithful to provide. Our job? Be obedient to what He has called us to, even if it hurts and even if it doesn’t make sense.
What uncertainty are you facing right now? How can I be praying for you?