Yahweh Jireh - the Lord who Provides

In Genesis chapter 22 we read one of the most poignant stories in the Bible, the episode where God instructs Abraham to do sacrifice Isaac. The difficulty of these chapter occurs on at least three levels. First, this is morally difficult:  God always, everywhere forbids child sacrifice – it is one of the Canaanite practices he judges severely; how could God command something he forbids? Second, this is personally difficult; how could a father be willing to give up his son? Third, this is covenantally difficult: Isaac was the child of promise through whom God is bringing blessing to the world; how can the covenant be fulfilled if it is broken?

With this in mind, the 22nd chapter of Genesis is told by a master story-teller with hints in the beginning that things are going to work out well. Through it all, we see that God is the God who provides, that God always provides what we need, when we need it, that God is always on time, and that we experience God’s provision in the place of great sacrifice. We learn a lot about Abraham in this story, but in this brief reflection, I want to focus on what we learn about God.

1. The God Who Tests

v. 1: After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.”

Testing happens in the context of covenant: Abraham wasn’t just a guy, but someone through whom God had promised to bless the nations. Some Bible scholars estimate that Isaac’s age at this point was 15 or 20 years old. This would mean that this is approximately forty years after the initial time when God called Abraham in Genesis 12. God and Abraham have been walking together for some time, and Abraham knew God’s voice. As his covenantal partner, God speaks to Abraham personally, by name.

Multiple places in scripture confirm the benefit of tests. James tells us that ‘the testing of your faith produces steadfastness, and let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete’. The completeness God builds into use through testing is our confidence in God to walk with us through ever test.

One thing to notice is this: tests from God aren’t for his benefit, but ours: passing the test means we submit God’s promise to God’s will. Passing the test confirms to tour own hearts that we value God more than anything else.

2. The God Who Asks A Lot

v. 2: Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love …

This is simultaneously powerful and painful. The painful part is that God asks us for our very best. In this case, God asked Abraham to give up his most precious possession – his son. But notice that God calls Isaac his ‘son, your only son whom you love’. Remember, Abraham had another son named Ishmael, but he was not part of the covenant; it was through Isaac that God would bring blessing to the nations. Isaac is called the only son because he is the son of promise. In the NT, Jesus is called the monogenos, the ‘one of a kind’ or ‘one and only’ Son of God. It was through Isaac the one Son would come. So though Abraham – eventually – had many children, he had only one son of the covenant.

But this is what I want you to see: God asks for our best because He gives us his best (Jesus).  In case you’re struggling with how the formula works out, we win in that exchange.

3.The God who writes beautiful stories

v. 5:  I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.
v. 8: Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”

There are several key indicators in the story that it is going to have a happy ending. The very first verse tells us that ‘God tested Abraham’. We don’t know whether or not Abraham knew it was a test, but as readers, we are never meant to doubt the positive outcome.

This foreshadowing of a good ending occurs again in verses 5 and 8: in verse 5, Abraham declares that he and Isaac will ‘come again to you’. We’re going over there, we’re going to worship, and we’ll be back. In verse 8, in one of the powerful prophetic statements about God in scripture, Abraham affirms that God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering.

As we read through the story, we learn that Abraham and Isaac did come back, and God did provide a lamb for the sacrifice.

Here’s the point: God knows the script he has written; we can trust him with the end of the story. It may be difficult to trust God in the middle of the story because we don’t yet know all the details of the outcome. But this is why we have to trust: God has this thing!

4. The God Who Sees More

Was it with relief or dread that Abraham saw Mt. Moriah, the place where God called him to sacrifice Isaac? That they reached the location in three days indicates this was not too far away from where they had been living. It is about 45 miles as the crow flies from where Abraham was staying in Beersheeba to Mt. Moriah; that’s about a three day walk so it makes sense that they would see the place on the third day. The phrase on the third day is a key phrase in scripture that points to Jesus and the resurrection.

Mt. Moriah is the temple mount in Jerusalem; the place of this sacrifice is where Solomon built the temple. And it’s not far from another hill where another Lamb was offered. Abraham saw (v. 4): The word ‘saw’ is the same Hebrew root as ‘will provide’; Abraham did not yet see God’s provision, but it was on the way.

But this is what I want you to see: God sees more than we see: Abraham saw a place; God saw the most holy place. The most holy place was the inner sanctuary of the temple where the presence of God dwelt.  God was able to see through the corridors of time to the cross that would be on a hill near this hill. God saw, and God provided. GOD sees to the core of human need, to the core of Abraham’s situation, and provide.

5. The God who is worthy of sacrifice

v. 10: Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son.

Although I’ve read this story many times, as I come to verse 10, again, I find myself thinking, He’s really going to do it! How could he do it?

The author of Hebrews gives us insight into what Abraham was thinking: ‘He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back’ (Hebrews 11.19).

But for Abraham, God was worthy of whatever sacrifice Abraham was making. Even though Isaac was the child of promise, Abraham was willing to lay him on the alter. So here is a key point: sacrificing the promise of God to the will of God makes sense. Why? Because in the context of covenant, God has already give us his promise of a beautiful outcome. AND, God is the one who brings about his promise; if we can trust his will, how can we trust his promise? Thus, God’s promise is the context in which sacrifice makes sense.

6. The God Who Intervenes

vv. 11-12 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him …”

Finally, we meet the God who intervenes, and as always, God is right on time. But here is the key question: was there ever a moment that Isaac’s life was really in danger? No! God was writing the script; both his power and his knowledge were at work. Not only did God know what was going to happen, he had ordained. So Isaac was never in danger.

This is what we can say: Isaac was never safer than with Abraham on the altar: the safest place we can be is in the will of God.

7. The God Who Provides a Substitute

v. 13:  And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram.

If Abraham raising his knife to kill Isaac is the climax of the story, this is its denouement – it’s resolution. At just the right time God provided the thing that was necessary – a lamb to take Isaac’s place.

And again, God sees more than Abraham. Abraham saw a ram that saved Isaac; God saw a Lamb that saves the world. As the ram took Isaac’s place, Jesus takes our place. This is confirmed in key scriptures:
Christ died for our sins (I Corinthians 15.3); At the right time, Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5.6). As our substitute, Jesus took our place; as Isaac lives, so we live.

8. The God who provides

v. 14: So Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide” [Yahweh Yireh]; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”

God provides what we need when we need it, but more than our superficial needs, God meets our deepest needs. I would suggest that ‘On the mount of the Lord ’ = the place of submitting to God’s will. So here’s the point: When we put his will first, we can trust him to provide what we need.

But many of us might tend to jump from ‘Jehovah Jireh’ – the God who provides – to Philippians 4.19, ‘And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus’.  The context of the Philippians passage is that God provides for our material needs – and he does, and we can trust him to provide for our material needs.

But this is not the primary point of Genesis 22. Rather, if I had to summarise the point of this passage, I can think of no better scripture than John 3.16: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

God love, God gave, Jesus died as our substitute – we live!

9. Conclusion

There is a lot more packed into this passage than we touched on, but here are two key lessons. The Moral Lesson of this story is this: Be willing to sacrifice God’s promise for God’s will; by obeying Him, God confirms our faith; by trusting him, God provides his promise.

The Gospel Lesson of the story is this: God has given us a better substitute in Christ. God sees what we cannot see; not only does God act now in the context of his future plans, but he has acted in history in the context of our deepest need. Our deepest need is to be cleansed from sin and restored to relationship with him; He has provided a substitute to take our place: Jesus stepped in to bear the punishment that should have come to us so that we can share his life and with him in eternity.