Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Lord Will Provide (Genesis 22:14)

What did Abraham call the place where he had gone to sacrifice Isaac? The Lord will provide (Genesis 22:14)

In one of the Bible’s most troublesome passages, near the end of his faith journey, God asks Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac (Genesis 22:1-2). Remarkably, Abraham complies, ascending a mountain to do the deed (Genesis 22:3-10). Before his hand can complete the act he is stopped by an angel (Genesis 22:11-12). His eyes are then averted to a ram in a thicket which will take his son’s place (Genesis 22:13). The grateful patriarch commemorates the event by naming the locale in honor of God’s provision (Genesis 22:14).

Abraham called the name of that place The LORD Will Provide, as it is said to this day, “In the mount of the LORD it will be provided.” (Genesis 22:14 NASB)
In christening the location, Abraham coins a phrase that was still proverbial at the time that Genesis was compiled.

Naming a site is a common response when one has experienced something so uncommon. Abraham himself had previously named Beersheeba (Genesis 21:31).

Gerhard Von Rad (1901-1971) informs:

The naming of the place, which Abraham now does, was an important matter for the ancients; for a place where God appeared in so special a fashion was consecrated for all future generations. Here God will receive the sacrifices and prayers of coming generations, i.e. the place becomes a cultic center. It is strange, to be sure, that the narrator is unable to supply the name of a better-known cultic center. He gives no place name at all, but only a pun which at one time undoubtedly explained a place name. (Von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary (Old Testament Library), 242)
As Von Rad suggests, most modern translations render the place name “The LORD Will Provide” (CEV, ESV, HCSB, NASB, NIV, NKJV, NRSV, RSV). The name is less awkward in Hebrew, which is why some translations retain the moniker Jehovah-jireh (ASV, KJV, NLT).

As is often the case, the name Jehovah-Jireh entails some ambiguity. The verb included in the appellation, ra’ah, is a key term in the Abraham narrative. Though “provide” is not inaccurate, it most commonly means “see”.

W. Sibley Towner (b. 1933) comments:

The name aptly sums up the moral of this story. As is so often the case with biblical names, the meaning assigned it in the story is only one of several possible interpretations. The same words also mean “Yahweh sees.” The popular or editorial explanation of the name that follows can also mean “On the mountain Yahweh is seen,” or “there is a vision.” Puns abound! (Towner, Genesis (Westminster Bible Companion), 188)
John H. Walton (b. 1952) deciphers:
The verb translated “provide” Genesis 22:8, 14 is simply the verb “to see.” This usage approximates one of the idiomatic uses of the verb “to see” that we also have in English. When we say “I will see to it that the report is done on time” we are using the verb “to see” to convey that the details will be taken care of. But the idiom also suggests by nuance a supervisory role rather than an active one. Hebrew uses the verb this way in Genesis 39:23, where the warden did not have to “see to” anything under Joseph’s care. Abraham is convinced that the Lord will work out all of the details (Genesis 22:8), and when he does, Abraham names the place accordingly “(Yahweh Yireh,” i.e. “The Lord will Provide”). (Walton, Genesis (The NIV Application Commentary), 511)
In light of this, the Message paraphrases the verb as “Sees-to-it”.

Similarly, theologian Karl Barth [1886-1968] linked the term to the Latin provideo, “to see before,” “to see to,” “to see about.” which connects “see” and “provide” (Church Dogmatics III, 3, pp. 3, 35). In fact, Barth draws upon this text as the foundation for his entire understanding of the doctrine of providence.

Bill T. Arnold (b. 1955) argues that the layered term ra’ah summarizes the entire episode:

The dictum itself, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided,” introduces the passive of “see,” and is therefore more likely “On the mount of Yahweh, he/it is seen.” In other words, a word play is introduced at this point in the narrative, playing on the active voice “provides” and the passive “be seen,” albeit using the same Hebrew verb. Moreover, this passive “be seen” is the term used several times in Genesis for “appear” in divine disclosure at times when God makes himself known in revelatory communications...Thus this well-known maxim in the narrator’s days was something like “On Yahweh’s mount He appears,” or “He is revealed.” Perhaps this connection in Genesis 22:14 hints at the meaning of the entire bizarre episode in Genesis 22:1-19, in that God’s provision is also God’s self-disclosure. God is revealed in his act of providing. The mount of Yahweh’s revelation is the spot where he providentially provided for the ancestral family and the continuation of the promised line. (Arnold, Genesis (New Cambridge Bible Commentary), 207-208)
There is further ambiguity in the expression associated with the name as the subject of the verb is unclear. Robert Alter (b. 1935) explains:
The place-name means “the Lord sees.” The phrase at the end means literally either “he sees” or “he will be seen,” depending on how the verb is vocalized...It is also not clear whether it is God or the person who comes to the Mount who sees/is seen. (Alter, Genesis: Translation and Commentary, 106)
Rabbi Benno Jacob (1862-1945) sees profundity in the vagueness:
On the mount of the Lord it will be seen. There everything is revealed. “God sees” is the essence of religion. To see God is the deepest longing of a soul that is kindred to God...It will be seen; the subject is intentionally not mentioned. Everything stands revealed there; both the character of the man who goes there as well as the essence of the divine. (Benno, Genesis: The First Book of the Bible: Augmented Edition, 146-47)
The location continued to have significance. Moriah would serve as the future the site of the temple (II Chronicles 3:1) and quite possibly the crucifixion. John Goldingay (b. 1942) chronicles:
This mountain is located in the area of Moriah. While we do not know the actual origin of the name, it resembles words for “seeing,” so the name itself would remind people that this is the place where God “saw” in that connection. And if Moriah or “Yahweh’s mountain” is the mountain where the temple was, this is the place that people know as one where they and their needs are seen and attended to. Outside of the context, one might translate the phrase as denoting that “On Yahweh’s mountain he is seen.” This is where God appears, where you can meet with God. (Goldingay, Genesis for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 17-50, 52)
Allen P. Ross (b. 1943) sees the phrase Jehovah-jireh as foundational to Israel’s theology:
This is the basis of a truth often repeated in the Old Testament: the Lord was to be worshiped in His holy mountain by the nation...The Lord would see the needs of those who came before him and would meet their needs. Thus in providing for them He would be “seen”. (Ross, Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis, 65)
The name harkens back to an earlier conversation between Abraham and his confused son as they made their trek up the mountain (Genesis 22:7-8). When asked about the absence of an animal to be sacrificed, Abraham cryptically responds, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son (Genesis 22:8 NASB).”

Nahum M. Sarna (1923-2005) notes:

This incident reminds Abraham of his reply to Isaac’s question (Genesis 22:7ff). He had foretold better than he realized at the time. In accordance with patriarchal practice, the site of a revelation becomes sacred and receives a name somehow reminiscent of the occasion. (Sarna, Genesis (JPS Torah Commentary), 154)

Kenneth A. Mathews (b. 1950) interprets:

Genesis 22:13-14 mirror[s] the earlier dialogue of father and son concerning the sacrificial victim (Genesis 22:7-8). The timely presence of the entangled ram answers the boy’s earlier perplexity, “Where is the lamb” (Genesis 22:7). Abraham interprets the appearance of the animal according to his response in Genesis 22:8, “God will provide” [’ēlohîm yir’eh], in naming the place “The LORD will provide” (yahweh yir’eh, Genesis 22:14). The opportune moment of the suddenly seen substitute implies the obvious–the Lord is responsible for the appearance of the surprising ram. (Mathews, New American Commentary: Genesis 11:27-50:26, 297)
Gordon Wenham (b. 1943) concludes, “Whether his ‘God will provide’ (Genesis 22:8) should be taken as hope, prayer, or prophecy makes no difference...he has proved that the Lord does provide (Wenham, Genesis 16-50 (Word Biblical Commentary, 111).”

There is debate regarding the tone in Abraham’s voice when he designates the name. Claus Westermann (1909-2000) hears jubilation:

“It is part of the ancient grandeur of the passage that no cry of joy is heard”...But this is to misunderstand the plain and simple meaning of Genesis 22:14a: ראה’ הוה’ sings the praise of God. When Abraham gives this name to the place where the narrative has taken place, he includes in it his reaction to what he has experienced. Herman Gunkel [1862-1932] alone among commentators has understood this: “Abraham remembers with gratitude what he had said to his child in his hour of deepest anguish.” The author is not thinking of a place that can be determined geographically. The name is his expression of joy at his release from the depths of anguish; the praise of God in the Old Testament is a cry of joy directed to God. Genesis 22:8 confirms that...lament is turned about. (Westermann, Genesis 12-36: A Continental Commentary, 362)
R. Kent Hughes (b. 1942) agrees:
In ecstasy “Abraham called the name of that place, ‘The Lord will provide’...His initially ambiguous, “God will provide” (Genesis 22:8) had now been fulfilled more perfectly than he had ever dreamed. Abraham’s declaration of faith — “God will provide” — as he and Isaac ascended toward sacrifice had now become the story’s end. We see that the God who tests is also the God who provides — the Tester is the Provider. Both truths are actual fact, but they must be appropriated by faith. When God tests you, he will provide for you. (Hughes, Genesis: Beginning and Blessing (Preaching the Word), 304)
Even at this late stage, Abraham is making fresh discoveries about God’s character. Abraham ascends the mountain thinking that it was to be a place of death and descends it confident that God provides. Though commonly taken for granted, this is one of the great revelations of Scripture and it has inspired worship for centuries. For instance, the famed hymn writer John Newton (1725-1807) used the verse as a refrain for his hymn “The Lord Provides”, still found in the Primitive Baptist Hymnal (#440).

It is when Abraham reaches a place of total surrender that he receives provision. Jim Logan (b. 1958) sees a spiritual principle, not a coincidence:

After God tests us, He often reveals aspects of His character we would have never known if we hadn’t gone through the test. Just ask Abraham. If Abraham had failed the test in the offering of Isaac on Mount Moriah, he would have never known God as Jehovah Jireh. (Logan, Reclaiming Surrendered Ground: Protecting Your Family from Spiritual Attacks, 168)
Many have taken heart in this provision. Elmer L. Towns (b. 1932) and Charles Billingsley (b. 1970) relay:
The China Inland Mission was the first great Faith Foreign Mission Board. Some of the greatest and godliest missionaries evangelized inland China without a guaranteed salary, trusting God to supply all their financial needs. Over the door to their headquarters in England was written their motto, “Jehovah-jireh.” (Towns and Billingsley, God Laughs: & 42 More Surprising Facts about God That Will Change Your Life, 74)
When has God surprised you by providing an alternative you did not foresee? Do you believe that God will provide for you? What about cases, like that of Jepthah’s daughter (Judges 11:1-40), when God does not provide a substitute? What is the “it” that will be seen? What tone do you hear in Abraham’s voice when he names Jehovah-jireh? Who or what is your residence named after? Can you think of any locations named for divine encounters?

Abraham shows faith throughout his ordeal. This is especially seen in how he commemorates the location. Victor P. Hamilton (b. 1941) commends:

Appropriately Abraham names this place Yahweh-yireh, “Yahweh sees (or provides).” He does not call this site “Abraham-shama” (“Abraham obeyed”). The name does not draw any attention to Abraham’s role in the story. Thus his part in the story is not memorialized; rather, it is subordinated to that of Yahweh. The name highlights only the beneficent actions of Yahweh. The reader will come away from this story more impressed with God’s faithfulness than Abraham’s compliance...This emphasis is borne out by the fact that the following phrase, and even today it is said, lifts the event out of Abraham’s time and projects it into the time of the narrator. Thus the phrase gives to the entire narrative a certain timelessness. It witnesses to the gracious provisions of God. (Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 18-50 (New International Commentary on the Old Testament Series), 113-114)
Abraham’s affirmation that God meets the needs of those who trust is profound and the faith required to make it rivals the faith necessary to scale the mountain. Walter Brueggemann (b. 1933) expounds:
The narrative begins with the testing by God [Genesis 22:1]. But the narrative ends with God providing. That statement may be taken for granted. But it is no less problematic. It is no less an act of radical faith on the part of Abraham to concede the last statement than to accept the first statement. To assert that God provides requires a faith as intense as does the conviction that God tests. It affirms that God, only God and none other, is the source of life. Abraham’s enigmatic statement (Genesis 22:8) and the conclusion (Genesis 22:14) confess that the alternate ram did not appear by accident, by nature, or by good fortune (Genesis 22:13). They mean, rather, that the same God who set the test in sovereignty is the one who resolved the test in graciousness. In a world beset by humanism, scientism, and naturalism, the claim that God alone provides is as scandalous as the claim that he tests. (Brueggemann, Genesis (Interpretation : A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching), 191)
Which act demonstrates more faith: the willingness to perform the act or the confession after the reprieve? How would you have responded to this crisis after it was over? Who receives more glory for your successes, you or God? What location would you dub the Lord Will Provide? As God’s hands and feet, what can you be providing in the Lord’s name?

“Depend upon it. God’s work, done in God's way, will never lack God’s supplies.” - J. Hudson Taylor (1832-1905) quoted by Mary Geraldine (Guinness) Taylor (1865-1949), The Story of the China Inland Mission, Volume 1, p. 238

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