Sometimes we don’t see God because we give up looking for him before we should. The verse quoted above from Isaiah has always been one of my favorites. It reminds us that even if God does not come through till the last minute, he will be there before it is too late. Isaiah’s words reflect a situation in which warriors defending their city are beaten back to the its very gates, but who are then given strength to turn the tide of battle right at their own doors. That's an “eleventh hour” rescue by an “eleventh hour” God!
Isaiah’s point is that we must not give up even if the battle goes on. We must not give up too soon. It’s a principle we see throughout the Bible. One of the most famous examples is seen in the story of King Saul, when Israel was under attack by the Philistines and the prophet Samuel told him to go to the area of Gilgal and to wait there seven days till Samuel arrived to offer sacrifices and ask God’s help (1 Samuel 10:8). But as time passed, Saul’s faith, like that of his men, began to falter:
“Saul remained at Gilgal, and all the troops with him were quaking with fear. He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul’s men began to scatter. So he said, “Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings.” And Saul offered up the burnt offering. Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived …” (1 Samuel 13:7-10).
The account indicates that Saul had not waited the full seven days as instructed, but waited only till the time was almost up – to the eleventh hour of the sixth day – which is when God’s representative Samuel arrived. Saul’s disobedience in being unwilling to wait past the eleventh hour, till the last minute (as well as usurping the position of the priests and prophets), cost him his kingship (1 Samuel 13:13-14).
We see many other examples of this principle of the arrival of God’s intervention at the eleventh hour in the Bible. It appears from God’s test of Abraham (Genesis 22:1-12) to Paul’s last minute rescue (Acts 21:31-36). There is nothing automatic about God’s intervention in situations, of course. He will intervene if it is his will, and he may intervene at any time if he chooses to do so. But the point is that once we have determined we will trust God for the outcome of any situation, we should not give up too soon.
As Christians we may sometimes get discouraged by events in our own lives and those of family and friends, let alone conditions throughout the world. But it is part of coming to see how God acts in our lives and in history itself to understand that God will indeed sometimes wait till the very last minute to intervene or to act in some way. But even if it is at the “eleventh hour,” if God acts, he never acts too late. More often than not, the question is not really one of “Will God act in time?” but “Will we give up too soon?”