The Long Night
My wife and I were returning home on an evening in October. As we drove, we were both concerned about the five year-old son of our dear friends. Over a 24 hour period, Noah had become quite sick. Even as we were praying silently, we received word that the doctor had ordered a brain scan. In that one moment our hearts swung from concern to anxiety. Yes, we have been told by the Lord we cannot add a single hour to our lives by worrying. But that evening the Lord Jesus graciously bore with our limitations for he knew in his heart that we were indeed very worried.
What would your prayer be at such a moment? What if you were in the place of these parents? How would you get through this long night?
When Abraham left Haran he was 75 years old. At this point, God had already promised to make him into a great nation. But his son Isaac would not arrive until after a quarter century of waiting! Years later, Genesis 22 depicts the Lord asking Abraham for that very son as a sacrifice. In verse two the Lord makes his asking known. Verse three begins by stating, “Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac.” What is it that transpired between verse two and verse three? The answer is short and simple: a night. But the agony was neither short nor simple. If King Darius could neither eat nor sleep on the night when Daniel was put into the lion’s den, how much more was the agony of Abraham? This was arguably Abraham’s longest night ever. The night has its unique way of amplifying fears and anxieties. There in the long night, the shadows seem longer, the lights seem dimmer, and the enemy seems bigger. The psalmist spoke of one such night when he wrote, “I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears” (Psalm 6:6).
If you are facing your long night it may help to remember that you are not alone. Abraham went through his. Many of the prophets went through theirs. Most importantly, the Lord Jesus went through his at Gethsemane. In such moments we do well to remember that the night may be long, but it cannot be forever and that long nights have a unique way of unraveling treasures from the heart of God. As the psalmist wrote, “At night his song is with me” (42:8). Jeremiah, too, wrote in his Lamentations, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (3:22-23). By the ordinance of a loving God even the longest night of agony must make way for a new morning of hope. Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning (cf. Psalm 30:5).
Sadly, for our friends, their long night had only begun. Noah’s scan would reveal a mass near his brainstem and he would be scheduled for neurosurgery. Like Abraham their burden was both unexpected and unimaginable. As Abraham saddled his donkey that next morning a heavy burden was saddled to his heart. If only he could have snapped the cords that held this burden to him! Yet paradoxically, for him relief would come only after he allowed himself to be bound to this burden, for the cords were tied by the very hands of God.
Interestingly, in Genesis 22:5 Abraham says to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” Was he speaking the truth when he turned a singular into a plural? Should he not have said, “We will worship and then I will come back to you.”? Had not God asked him to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering on one of those mountains? Had he worked out some other human plan to save his son or was he deliberately creating a false impression in the minds of his servants? Was this only a father’s way of hiding from his beloved son the treacherous intent of his heart? Was Abraham a victim of his own wishful thinking as he found himself without hope on the dead-end road of his commitment? Or was there perhaps something more going on?
On the morning of Noah’s surgery, we played with him before the doctors would attempt to remove the mass. Our friends were given a new courage that morning, reflecting a special peace from God. After eight hours of successful surgery and a biopsy report that read “benign,” little Noah was brought out of the operating theatre. To everyone’s joy, he came out with his “hi-beam smile” and broke the silence when he whispered, “Daddy, let us go back home!” The long night had indeed given way to a new day of promise.
When Abraham said “we will return,” I believe he was not making a grammatical mistake. On the contrary, he was making a statement of faith--faith in the God who had given him Isaac and into whose hands he had placed him back. In the long night, our only legitimate way of escape comes from God who is faithful and who will not let us be tempted with more than we can bear (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:13). And God is indeed faithful! We never truly lose what we place in God’s hands.