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BETWEEN A ROCK -AND A- HARD PLACE
By TONY EVANS
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2010 Anthony Evans
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAbraham and Isaac
A SPECIAL KIND OF TEST
HAVE YOU EVER RECEIVED mail that isn't addressed to you? You take it out of your mailbox and read that the address doesn't have your name on it. It just says "Occupant." You get that piece of mail by virtue of you being the "occupant" of that home. Trials are a lot like that. Just by virtue of being an occupant on this planet in a fallen world, we will face trials.
Of course, no one likes a trial. No one wakes up in the morning, stretches, and says, "Ah, what a beautiful day for a trial! I think I'd like to have a trial today!" That would be an unusual person who would do something like that. Yet no matter how much we want to avoid trials in our lives, trials are inevitable. No one is immune to trials.
Trials are adverse circumstances that God allows in our lives to both identify where we are spiritually as well as to prepare us for where He wants us to go. There is no escaping them. You are either in a trial now, you've just come out of a trial, or you are getting ready to go into a trial. Trials are unavoidable realities of life.
But even though we all have to experience them, we can take comfort in knowing that trials must first pass through God's hands before reaching us. Nothing comes our way without first having received His divine approval. And in order to get His divine approval, there must be a divine reason for Him to approve it.
There is. God allows trials and tests in our lives in order to reveal where we are along our spiritual journey, to correct us when necessary, and to strengthen us for the journey ahead.
PULLING OUT THE TRICK BAG
A good friend of mine is an assistant football coach for the University of Texas, and he'll call me during all hours of the day or night when he's facing one of these trials. He calls me to talk through his trial, or as he puts it, the "trick bag." In fact, he calls me so much about his "trick bags" that I've now nicknamed my friend "Trick bag," and I call him that every time I see him.
A trick bag is a catch-22. It's where you find yourself stuck between a rock and a hard place. Your back is up against the wall, and no matter how hard you try, there seems to be no visible solution. The only way to get out of your scenario would be illegitimately, because there is no valid way out.
When you are in a trick bag, you feel trapped, stuck, and tired of where w)u are. You either don't know what to do, or you don't know how to legitimately do what you feel you need to do. You are like Israel when they faced Pharaoh on one side and the Red Sea on the other, and certain death was upon them.
A trick bag is a lose-lose deal. If it were a clear win-lose deal, then you would know how to choose and where to turn. But what do you do when you're caught between a rock and a hard place? What option do you choose when both options are bad? Have you ever been in a situation where all of the ways that you turn to are problems, and you are just trying to find the least possible problem to choose as the solution?
I've been in situations like that and it's not fun. It's about as fun as huffing and puffing on that treadmill in my doctor's office during my annual physical exam. But one thing I've learned over the years is that God has a purpose for these times in our lives. Just like my doctor is not a mean man for putting my body through all of that stress, God is not a mean God when He decrees that we go through trials.
When God wants to reveal the real condition of your heart to empower you toward His plan for your future, He puts you in one of these kinds of trials. And when God puts you in a certain kind of trial, trick bag, catch-22, or between a rock and a hard place, He is getting ready to do something significant in your life. That's the conclusion of this book, and it comes at the beginning.
This is not the typical trial that is used to develop character and reveal flaws. This trick bag signifies that there is accelerated activity about to take place in your situation.
GOD'S BLESSING THROUGH ABRAHAM
The first trick bag that we're going to look at appears in Genesis 22. It's part of the story of Abraham and his son Isaac. Earlier God had made a covenant with Abraham-theologians call this binding agreement the Abrahamic covenant. Through this covenant, God promised that He would bless Abraham and that Abraham would also be a blessing to others.
Notice that God's covenant didn't stop at His blessing for Abraham. Rather, God's covenant went on to declare that others would be blessed through Abraham. A blessing in the Bible means to experience, enjoy, and extend the favor of God in your life.
Sometimes I get the impression that when we ask God to bless us, we forget the full definition of a blessing. We forget that God doesn't want us to be cul-de-sac Christians where all of our blessings end with us. God wants us to be a conduit Christian where all of our blessings extend through us to others.
God said clearly to Abraham, "Look toward the heavens, and count the stars.... So shall your descendants be.... In you, all the families of the earth will be blessed" (Genesis 15:5; 12:3).
God said that He was not only going to bring His favor on Abraham but that His favor on Abraham would extend out to be a blessing on others as well. God never designs our blessings to stop with us, but our blessings should always extend to others.
GOD'S MIRACLE FOR ABRAHAM AND SARAH
God's covenant with Abraham would require a miracle just to get it going. Not only were Abraham and his wife, Sarah, advanced in years when God made the promise concerning his descendants, but it would be another twenty-five years before that promise was realized. So here we have an equation that starts with "old" and then adds twenty-five years to it.
By the time Sarah was told she would have a son, both Abraham and she were not only old but also starting to get cold. The early nineties is not typically considered to be the prime time of the married life, if you know what I mean. Even Sarah herself had a difficult time believing God's promise. "Sarah laughed to herself, saying 'After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?'" (Genesis 18:12). In other words, "Shop's closed. This is not going to happen."
But God is not limited by age or energy. That's the beauty of God. He is not limited by what our finite minds can understand or even by what our physical bodies can perform. And just as God had promised, Isaac was born to Sarah as the seed of Abraham's loins.
GOD'S AMAZING REQUEST OF ABRAHAM
A number of years later, God spoke to Abraham about his son. He did more than just speak to him, though. It actually says in Genesis 22 that God "tested" Abraham. God decided to put Abraham between a rock and a hard place-in a trick bag. He put him in a catch-22. We read:
Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." He said, "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." (vv. 1-2)
Hold up. We didn't just read that, did we? God didn't just ask Abraham to take his only son, the son whom he loves-the son of God's promise-and go kill him, did he? That's a pretty harsh request to ask someone to do. That's sticking Abraham, the man who followed God in faith all of those years, between a rock and a hard place.
God did ask Abraham. And now our brother Abe finds himself in the middle of a contradiction. In fact, Abraham is caught in a slew of contradictions.
Let me explain what I mean. The first kind of contradiction Abraham is in is a theological one. Get this: God had promised Abraham a son. God had said, in essence, "Abraham, I'm going to make your name great. I'm going to give you a son. He's going to have sons. They will have sons. And you will become a great nation." That was a promise. Take it to the bank. It was a promise from God.
Then, however, a few years later God says, in essence, "Abraham, kill that son."
I've seen a few tricky situations in my life but Abraham's trick bag tops them all. Because Abraham is now asking God, "How can my son Isaac become a great nation-as you promised me, God, if I kill him? He's young. He's not even married. He doesn't have any children. And you want me to kill him?"
To which God nods His head, yes.
WOULD GOD PLAY A TRICK ON YOU?
But this book isn't just about Abraham, although Abraham's story is an amazing backdrop on which to see God more clearly. This book is more personal; so for a moment let's bring our focus into the present. What about you? Have you ever felt like God is playing a trick on you? Have you ever felt like God isn't giving you any real options, like you are stuck between a rock and a hard place? Maybe God has given you something that you thought He had promised you, and then just as soon as He gave it to you, He asked you to give it back. Something you waited, prayed, and longed for sincerely. Something good, even spiritual.
It finally showed up in your life and then in your excitement, God said, "Okay, now give it back. Let it go." He asked that we return it ... or kill it.
When God does something like that, it is only because there is something greater on the other side of His request. But when we are in the middle of the contradictions, it is easy to forget that. Especially when there are multiple contradictions like with Abraham.
DID GOD CONTRADICT GOD?
Not only was it a trick bag for Abraham theologically because it contradicted something God had promised, but it was a trick bag theologically because it contradicted something God had previously said not to do. How could God, who said in Genesis 9:6, "Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man" now ask Abraham a mere thirteen chapters later to shed his son's blood? God seemingly contradicted His own request. God contradicted God. When God contradicts God-what do you do? That's a trick bag. (Did God really contradict God when he asked Abraham to sacrifice his son? We will answer this theological and ethical question in chapter 2.)
Have you ever been in a situation where it seems like what God told you in your yesterday contradicts what He is telling you in your today? Has God ever completely confused you, even though you thought you had heard Him correctly both times? I know I have been in situations like that. When this type of trial happens, it is good to remember Abraham.
Because not only were there theological contradictions facing Abraham, but there was also an emotional contradiction. God was asking Abraham to sacrifice his son, whom he loves. "He said, 'Take now your son, your only son, whom you love ...'" (Genesis 22:2). I can only imagine that God included this personal information in this verse saying, "whom you love" because He wanted us to know that this son was extra special to Abraham.
This trial is a matter of the heart for Abraham. This request cuts deeply into the tenderest part of Abraham's own love. This is God saying, "I know how you feel about your son Isaac, Abraham. I know that you love him more than anything else on earth because he is your only son from Sarah. Not only is he your only son from Sarah, but he is also the son of promise-the son of your future. I know all of this, Abraham. In fact, it is because I know all of this that I want you to give him back."
Sure, there is another son, Ishmael (see Genesis 16). But Abraham doesn't love Ishmael the same way that he loves Isaac, because Isaac is the son of the promise. Isaac came from the womb of Sarah. Ishmael did not.
God says to Abraham, in essence, "I want the one you are really connected to and invested in. Sacrifice him, Abraham. Give him back, Abraham. Take the knife to him, Abraham."
Abraham is facing an emotional contradiction, a trick bag.
Not only do we have theological contradictions and an emotional contradiction, but Abraham also experiences social and familial contradictions. What is he going to tell Sarah? What about the neighbors? What are people going to say as they gather every morning around the well and fill up their jugs? Are they going to whisper, "Hey, did you hear that Abraham killed the son of his promise?" Are they going to say that Abraham lost his mind and sabotaged his own future? That is how it would have looked from their vantage point.
Abraham is in conflict on all sides, and not because of any sin that he had committed. He is in conflict because of God.
"Your son, Abraham, your only son whom you love-I want him," God says. "Sacrifice him."
And guess where God is asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac? On the altar. Back in the Bible days, the altar was like church. It was the place to worship through sacrifice.
It's nice to worship God when you're getting everything that you want and all of your prayers are being answered, but what about those times when He's asking you to give up what you want the most? Do you still go to church then? Do you still go to the altar?
DO WE SURRENDER ALL?
What about those times when God asks you to give back to Him what you once told him was His to have. According to Genesis 21:4, Abraham had circumcised Isaac. Circumcision was a sign of the covenant because the covenant was designed to be passed on through the family via the man. The male was circumcised to signify that he was passing on the program of God. So what Abraham had said to God when he circumcised Isaac was that he was committing Isaac to God.
It's one thing to say, "All I have is yours, God." It's another thing to mean it. As long as God is not asking us to give up what is dear to us, we're quick to say that we surrender all. But as soon as God wants it, we can become very territorial, protecting what we once had committed to Him.
Nearly everyone reading this book has been territorial toward God at one time or another. I'm guessing at some point you have found yourself in a spiritual conflict with God. You knew that God wanted you to give up something that seemed legitimate. God wanted you to turn over something that you thought He had given you to begin with: a dream, a relationship, a desire, an ambition, a job, a family member, health, finances, or home. You knew that God was asking you to sacrifice something on His altar, but you also knew how you felt about that sacrifice and how you felt about letting it go.
And it hurt.
God doesn't always ask us to sacrifice something as literal as what we are seeing with Abraham and his son. But He does test our hearts. And it does hurt. Maybe it's not our son that He's asking for. Maybe He's asking for us to remain single longer than we had hoped, or even married longer than we desire. Maybe He's asking us to put our career on the altar, a promotion, a dream, or even a relationship. Whatever it is, God knows how to pick the very thing that will test the deepest parts of our heart.
God does this because He knows that our words alone mean very little. Just like my doctor would be a fool to take my word for how I feel every summer when I visit him, God knows that our words are superficial at best, even with good intentions. Faith only gets tested when our feet move.
ABRAHAM TAKES ACTION
So how do Abraham's feet respond in the situation of a trick bag? They respond in an uncommon way. When we read Genesis 22:3, we see a verse jam-packed with action verbs: "So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him."
Excerpted from BETWEEN A ROCK -AND A- HARD PLACE by TONY EVANS Copyright © 2010 by Anthony Evans. Excerpted by permission.
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