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

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Anger: Only Fools Rush In (Ecclesiastes 7:9)

What lodges in the bosom of fools, according to Ecclesiastes 7:9? Anger

Ecclesiastes is a book of wisdom written by a teacher known as Qohelet (Ecclesiastes 1:1, 2, 12, 7:27, 12:8, 9, 10). In the context of discussing what is good for humans (Ecclesiastes 6:12), Qohelet advises:

Do not be eager in your heart to be angry,
For anger resides in the bosom of fools. (Ecclesiastes 7:9 NASB)
Anger is not to dwell in one’s bosom. Michael A. Eaton (b. 1942) defines:
Anger (Hebrew ka‘as) is anger tinged with exasperation and elsewhere indicates ‘indignation’ over idolatry (I Kings 15:30) or unmerited treatment (I Samuel 1:6, 16), ‘exasperation’ over an erring child (Proverbs 17:25) and ‘resentment’ of a nagging wife (Proverbs 27:3). In Ecclesiastes, it expresses the exasperation at the complexities of life (Ecclesiastes 1:18, 2:23), the bitter grief of bereavement (Ecclesiastes 7:3), and here the resentment roused by unjust persecution. It is stronger than Mitchell Dahood [1922-1982]’s ‘care’ or NAB discontent. If tolerated resentment makes its permanent home in the personality of the fool (cf. Hebrews 12:15), for bosom...indicates the innermost part of something (I Kings 22:35). (Eaton, Ecclesiastes (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries), 112)
Most commentators see a connection to the previous verse which calls for patience instead of pride (Ecclesiastes 7:8). James L. Crenshaw (b. 1934) connects:
Qohelet continues the thought of Ecclesiastes 7:8 by emphasizing the damaging effect of a quick temper. Knowing that anger generates strong resentment within the innermost being, the individual who possesses a patient spirit will not become angry without prolonged cause. The sages observed that fools take quick offense but prudent persons shrug off an insult (Proverbs 12:16)...According to Proverbs 14:3a, wisdom lodges in the mind of a person of understanding...This metaphor is more felicitous than the image of resentment resting (yānûah) in the bosom of fools, for anger is ever restless. (Crenshaw, Ecclesiastes: A Commentary (Old Testament Library), 137)
Iain Provan (b. 1957) interprets:
Qohelet advocates a patient attitude toward life. A wise person will not react immediately to circumstances but will take a longer term view, waiting to see the full measure of a matter before deciding how to respond. It is the fool who arrogantly or angrily makes an immediate response (cf. Proverbs 12:16, 14:29), giving speedy expression to the anger that has been nursed in his “lap” as if it were a young child in need of being kept warm...Anger directed at foolish behavior for the purposes of bringing the fool to his senses is a good thing. Anger as an indication of impatience and arrogance is itself a mark of the fool. (Provan, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (The NIV Application Commentary), 141)

As alluded, the speed with which one becomes angry is critical. This verse speaks to having a short fuse, flying off the handle, blowing one’s top, making a knee jerk reaction, etc. Daniel J. Treier (b. 1972) analyzes:

The vexation of Ecclesiastes 7:9 involves deep-seated “anger” and foolish nostalgia, preventing wise life in the present. Not being “quick in your spirit” to become angry indicates a degree of internalization. Moreover, speed is another part of the problem, so room may remain for legitimate dimensions of anger...After all, avoiding the love of money does not preclude all uses of money...Nevertheless, even if righteous anger is possible, James 1:19-20 echoes the call for slowness to anger, since “your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” The temptation is great to nourish anger so that one is ready to lash out at any moment. But the wise person is sufficiently realistic—even vexed rather than laughing (Ecclesiastes 7:3)—to take setbacks in appropriate stride, with a patient spirit (Ecclesiastes 7:8). (Treier, Proverbs & Ecclesiastes (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible), 186-187)
Philip Graham Ryken (b. 1966) also sees time as critical to interpreting the passage, but he feels the issue at hand is impatience with God:
One of the easiest ways to tell whether we really trust God’s timing or not is to see how angry we get when things do not go our way — the sin of exasperation. The Preacher gives us this command: “Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the bosom of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:9)...Here the Preacher-King has a particular kind of anger in mind — the rash anger that explodes whenever we think that something is not happening as quickly as it should. Usually we tell ourselves that we have a right to be angry. But Ecclesiastes sees our anger for what it is — sinful folly, spiritual immaturity, and an underlying mistrust of the sovereignty of God. As soon as we start to get impatient, we need to ask the Holy Spirit to keep us from the folly of rash anger. (Ryken, Ecclesiastes: Why Everything Matters (Preaching the Word), 158)
Anger is a choice. Though we often have little control over our circumstances we always have an option in how we respond to them. As such, R.J. Stepansky (b.1945) advises the reader to exercise restraint:
We cannot control...external stresses since we do not always get a choice. It is most important, however, that we control our personal emotions and stress levels to prevent anger and aggression that destroys the peace and harmony that God wants for us. Ecclesiastes tells us to control our emotions and not make hasty comments or take hasty actions that make us look the fool. (Stepansky, Thoughts on Leadership from a Higher Level: Leadership Lessons from the Bible, 16-17)
Millard Fuller (1935-2009) warns:
Anger comes to everyone. If you are alive, you will get angry. No doubt about it. It is okay to get angry, but anger is like fire. It has a huge potential for great damage if not kept under control...The teaching from not that you should never be angry, just slow to anger. (Fuller, Building Materials for Life, Volume III, 55)
Anger is not only negative when it births too quickly but also went it gets carried away, when it is allowed to rest in the bosom. T.D. Jakes (b. 1957) clarifies:
The sin blooms when anger is allowed to take root and overstay its usefulness or when that anger seduces us to take actions that should be beneath our best self. We are exhorted to not get angry quickly for “anger resteth in the bosom of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:9 KJV)...If your anger doesn’t take you to a place of peace and resolution, then it is a cancer cell waiting to embed itself in your soul and multiply destruction. (Jakes, Let It Go: Forgive So You Can Be Forgiven, 99)
Gary Chapman (b. 1938) pinpoints:
Solomon warned that “anger resides in the lap of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:9). The key word is resides; the fool lets the anger abide in him. The implication is that those who are wise will see that anger is quickly removed. Anger was designed to be a visitor, never a resident, in the human heart...Bitterness is the result of stored anger, and the Bible warns us against bitterness. (For example see Acts 8:23; Romans 3:14; Hebrews 12:15.) (Chapman, Anger: Handling a Powerful Emotion in a Healthy Way, 85)
When a person is easily enraged, it betrays foolishness. Charles F. Stanley (b. 1932) explains:
The Bible associates anger with foolish behavior. Why? Because the hot-tempered or quick-tempered person rarely has the discipline or takes the time to make wise, informed, rational decisions. The angry person is impetuous and acts instinctively. And, generally speaking, that kind of behavior has a far greater chance of being problematic and harmful than purposeful and helpful. (Stanley, Surviving in an Angry World: Finding Your Way to Personal Peace, 15)
Kerry M. Olitzky (b. 1954) concludes:
It is easy to get angry at so many things. It seems like the less important things are, the angrier we get about them. It makes no sense at all. And that is what this teaching us. He joins us in asking this basic question: Is it worth it? But he goes one step further. Kohelet argues that anger is a reflection of who we are—and those who anger quickly are fools. (Olitzky, Life’s Daily Blessings: Inspiring Reflections on Gratitude and Joy for Every Day, Based on Jewish, 118)
When have you been provoked to anger? How did you respond? How does the wise person respond to vexation? Who do you associate with being quick tempered? Where should anger reside? What should dwell in the bosom? Compare Ecclesiastes 7:3 and Ecclesiastes 7:9. Does Qohelet contradict himself?

Highly problematic is that only six verses earlier, Qohelet utilizes the same term for anger (ka‘as) and there, he prefers it to laughter (Ecclesiastes 7:3).

Tremper Longman III (b. 1952) identifies:

An immediate question of context arises when this verse is read in conjunction with Ecclesiastes 7:3. How can Quohelet prefer anger there but warn his listener away from it here? A common recourse is to assert that the word has two different senses. Note, for instance. R.N. Whybray [1923-1997]’s comment that “ka‘as used here in a different sense from that which is has in Ecclesiastes 7:3.” Michael Fox [b. 1940] puts a twist on this approach when he says that ka‘as means anger in both verses, but in the former it “is applied to the anger of reproof,” while in Ecclesiastes 7:9 it refers “to the anger one feels at unfortunate events that befall him. Neither verse is a statement about anger in all circumstances.”...Both of these are admirable attempts to harmonize Qohelet’s thought, but the text does not give any indication of these nuances of meaning. (Longman, The Book of Ecclesiastes (New International Commentary on the Old Testament), 188)
Craig G. Bartholomew (b. 1961) compares:
Patience and waiting are better than haughtiness. But this is complicated by Ecclesiastes 7:9. In Ecclesiastes 7:3 vexation is recommended above laughter, but here it lodges unpleasantly in the bosom of fools, so that patience is no help when it comes to vexation. Thus the truth of Ecclesiastes 7:8 is subtly undermined. (Bartholomew, Ecclesiastes (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms), 249)
In his book, Ambiguity in Ecclesiastes, Doug Ingram frames the problem:
The question arises again: Is it, or is it not, better to be angry? Are there times when anger is at least a relative “good,” even if at other times it should be avoided? Or is it perhaps rushing to anger that is warned against...? (Ingram, Ambiguity in Ecclesiastes, 219)
Daniel J. Treier (b. 1972) deciphers:
In Ecclesiastes 7:9 attention turns from pride back to anger or vexation, which often results. The same word, ka‘as, appears here as in Ecclesiastes 7:3, where it is commended. Whatever the nature of the wordplay, blatant contradiction in meaning is unlikely within the span of a few verses. The Sage...shows far too much evidence of literary sophistication to handle a problem so carelessly. Indeed, in Ecclesiastes 7:7-12 the Sage examines the flip side of several coins from Ecclesiastes 7:1-6. It is not that he affirms exact opposites, but he shades in contours of meaning. In what sense is “the day of death” better than “the day of birth,” given the apparent tragedy involved? In what sense is “vexation” better than “laughter”? And so forth. (Treier, Proverbs & Ecclesiastes (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible), 186)
Douglas B. Miller (b. 1955) finds an intentional paradox:
In tension with the sage’s earlier statement (Ecclesiastes 7:3; also cf. Ecclesiastes 11:10), not always a good thing (Ecclesiastes 7:9). Just as the point in Ecclesiastes 7:3 was the paradox that vexation can bring good, so it is also true that vexation does not always bring something good. In fact, fools (always negative examples in Ecclesiastes) are the ones who lodge vexation...within them (Ecclesiastes 7:9b; cf. Proverbs 12:16; Job 5:2). So vexation (ka‘as) is not always to be desired, and what is good may sometimes be bad. (Miller, Ecclesiastes (Believers Church Bible Commentary), 123)
When, if ever, is it appropriate to exhibit a quick temper? Do you control your anger or does your anger control you? What is an example of a positive expression of vexation? Do you have a personal policy as to how long you wait to give voice to your anger?

“Anybody can become angry - that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way - that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.” - Aristotle (384-322 BCE)

Monday, April 30, 2012

Andrew’s Contribution (John 6:8-9)

Which disciple brought the little boy with his lunch to Jesus? Andrew (John 6:8)

The feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle recorded in all four canonical gospels (Matthew 14:15-21; Mark 6:31-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:5-14). John, the final gospel written, offers a more intimate telling, including several details not mentioned in the Synoptic gospels’ relatively vague accounts (John 6:5-14). John records Philip calculating the cost of feeding the multitude (John 6:7) and adds that it was Andrew who interjects himself into the conversation to draw attention to an unnamed boy’s meager provisions (John 6:8-9).

One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?” (John 6:8-9 NASB)
That the disciples individual personalties are drawn out by the fourth evangelist is not surprising as John is the only gospel to particularize their roles. John gives speaking parts to individuals whereas the Synoptics speak more often of the collective “disciples”.

D. Moody Smith (b. 1931) observes:

Some disciples (other than Peter) who are named play a larger role in John than in the Synoptics. This is particularly true of Thomas (John 11:16, 14:5, 20:24-28, 21:2), but also of Philip (John 1:43-48, 6:5, 7, 12:21-22, 14:8-9) and Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother (John 1:40, 41, 6:8, 12:22). (Smith, The Fourth Gospel in Four Dimensions: Judaism and Jesus, the Gospels and Scripture, 88)
The narrator unnecessarily reintroduces Andrew as a disciple and as Simon Peter’s brother (John 1:35-42). John repeats the information to emphasize the question and its source. John Painter (b. 1935) coments, “Andrew, who is again introduced as the brother of Simon Peter (John 6:8 and see John 1:40) to remind the reader of the initial quest of Andrew, shows a glimmer of comprehension (R. Alan Culpepper [b. 1946], Critical Readings of John 6 (Biblical Interpretation, 22), 62).”

Andrew’s and Philip’s responses accent the inadequacy of the supplies and the disciples’ inability to respond to such a severe situation. This increases the magnitude of feeding the multitude. Robert Kysar (b. 1934) notes, “Both Philip and Andrew offer statements of the extent of the human need. The little boy...and his tiny lunch pose dramatic contrast with the abundance of food produced by Jesus’ act (Kysar, John (Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament), 91).”

Evidently, a young boy was the only person known to the disciples wise enough to bring food to the desert. But he came prepared to feed himself, not an army. John accents the sparsity of the lad’s provisions. Kenneth O. Gangel (1935-2009) registers:

Andrew...found a boy carrying a lunch consisting of barley loaves and fish. Like Philip, Andrew had no idea what use that pittance would be. John’s record offers so many interesting observations, not the least of which is that the two fish Andrew found were definitely small. The word apsarion is used only by John, and it emphasizes the insignificance of these tiny sardines. (Gangel, John (Holman New Testament Commentary, 118-119)
Thomas L. Brodie (b. 1940) adds, “His five loaves are of barley—poor quality apparently. And the two fish are described as opsaria—another double diminutive.(Brodie, The Gospel According to John: A Literary and Theological Commentary, 262),”

Gary M. Burge (b. 1952) sees significance in the paucity:

Andrew...locates a young boy (paidarion) who can possibly help. This boy is carrying five barley loaves and two salted fish. Only John mentions that the bread is barley, which is a signal of the poverty of this crowd. Barley was considered the bread of the poor and this lad has five pieces of it—much like five round loaves of today’s pita bread. Luke 11:5 implies that three such pieces might make a meal for one person. These details are important because in II Kings 4:42-44 is another Old Testament miracle, where Elisha feeds a hundred men with twenty barley loaves and is assisted by a paidarion or young servant. As with the twelve baskets left after Jesus’ miracle, Elisha had baskets of food left over. (Burge, John (The NIV Application Commentary), 144)
The situation is so bleak that the disciples are reduced to commandeering a child’s lunch, an act we associate with school bullies. And even so, obtaining this donation amounts to asking for loose change to help reduce the national deficit.

Just how Andrew became acquainted with the boy or how he convinced him to part with his lunch is not stated. Leon Morris (1914-2006) speculates:

It is possible that his knowledge of the lad came as the result of a reconnaissance with a view to finding out what food resources could be mustered, for he definitely relates the boy’s supply (evidently provisions for his own personal use) to the needs of the multitude. Or the boy may have offered his food to Jesus. (Morris, The Gospel According to John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), 304)
Others have surmised that Andrew must have been a people person to have even acknowledged the lad. J. Ellsworth Kalas (b. 1928) boasts:
It was like Andrew, of course, to notice the small boy...Andrew was the kind of person a little boy could approach. While the other disciples were busy with bigger things, Andrew was chatting with a boy, patting him on the head, asking him where he had caught the fish—or did his mother buy them at market? A scruffy lad of no special promise, but Andrew—the brotherly type—visits with him and somewhat ridiculously thinks that his lunchbox will interest the Master. (Kalas, The Thirteen Apostles, 14)
Ancient commentator Theodore of Mopsuestia (350-428) suggests that Andrew is merely trying to clear his name, showing that he has no plans of hoarding the little food to which he has access:
Andrew said this so that they might not think he was hiding the food for his own use. Indeed, Andrew was right in observing that those five loaves were nearly nothing for that great crowd. And he had no other food. (Commentary on the Gospel of John (Ancient Christian Texts), 61)
Many have seen Andrew’s bringing the lad to Jesus’ attention as indicative of the disciple’s personality. He is presented three times in John’s gospel and each time he is depicted as bringing someone to Jesus (John 1:40-42, 6:8-9, 12:20-22).

William Barclay (1907-1978) deduces:

Andrew is characteristically the man who was always introducing others to Jesus...It was Andrew’s great joy to bring others to Jesus. He stands out as the man whose one desire was to share the glory. He is the man with the missionary heart...Andrew is our great example in that he could not keep Jesus to himself. (Barclay, The Gospel of John, Volume 1, 105)
Greg Laurie (b. 1952) exclaims:
How we need more Andrews today! Every time we read of him in Scripture, he’s bringing someone to Jesus...If we had more Andrews, we would have more Simon Peters–one person bringing another to Jesus. So simple. So effective. So neglected. (Laurie, Breakfast with Jesus, 261)
Do you consider supernatural solutions to your problems? Do you take note of children? Why does Andrew bring the lad to Jesus? Who have you brought to Jesus? Who could you? Do we have an obligation to follow Andrew’s example? Is Andrew’s interjection an act of faith or doubt?

There is a natural comparison between Andrew and Philip. Both were from Bethsaida (John 1:44) which may account for why they appear together three times in John’s gospel (John 1:40-44, 6:5-9, 12:21-22). Philip calculates the demand (John 6:7) while Andrew evaluates the supply (John 6:9). Andrew works part to whole; Philip whole to part. Neither factor Jesus heavily in their analysis.

Herman N. Ridderbos (1909-2007) notes:

He [Philip] gets support from Andrew (with whom he is also linked in John 12:21ff; 1:44), who, without bothering himself about imagined amounts of money, limits himself to the actual supply of bread on hand: five loaves, and two (dried) fish. But what could one do with that, given so many mouths? (Ridderbos, The Gospel According to John: A Theological Commentary, 211)

Andrew, like, Philip, responds in natural terms which naturally leads to despondency. Gerald L. Borchert (b. 1932) critiques:

Andrew, the helper, tried to solve the problem in another way. He began immediately to search for picnic resources in that barren place, but his search also ended in failure, according to his thinking. All he found was a boy in the crowd who had a lunch with barley loaves (the bread of the poor) and two small fish (emphasis on small, John 6:9). Andrew’s answer was also hopelessness. (Borchert, John 1-11 (New American Commentary), 253)
Despite being with Jesus from the beginning, Andrew and Philip have not yet developed a theology of abundance. They do not consider that Jesus could solve their predicament. Francis J. Moloney (b.1940) assesses:
Andrew joins Philip in pointing to the paucity of their supplies: a lad is at hand with five barley loaves and two fish (John 6:8-9). Andrew and Philip have been with Jesus from the first days of the Gospel (John 1:43), but they have not learned from their master’s attempt to draw them beyond the limitations of their expectations (John 1:35-51), in this case the need for a large sum of money to buy quantities of bread. (Moloney, The Gospel of John (Sacra Pagina), 197)
Though they respond similarly, Andrew leaves looking better than Philip, at least making Jesus an offer. Merrill C. Tenney (1904-1985) explains:
The barest sketch of Philip and Andrew was given, yet it revealed the temper and faith of the men...Philip was a statistical pessimist...Andrew was an ingenious optimist. Philip’s information was given in answer to a question; Andrew’s was volunteered. Philip produced figures to show what could not be done; Andrew brought food, hoping that something might be done. His faith was wavering, for he added to his offer, “but what are these among so many?” (John 6:9)—but he had faith. Though rather quiet he must have had winning ways. Any man who can persuade a small boy to relinquish his lunch possesses a forceful character. (Tenney, John: Gospel of Belief, 113)
In some ways, Philip serves as a foil to Andrew. R. Alan Culpepper (b. 1946) observes, “As in John 1 an 12, Andrew is Philip’s companion and comes off better than Philip (Culpepper, The Gospel and Letters of John (Interpreting Biblical Texts Series), 156).”

Andrew does show some initiative. In Mark’s gospel, Jesus puts out an APB for resources to feed his audience (Mark 6:38), but in John’s account, Andrew need not be asked. Andrew T. Lincoln (b. 1944) notes:

Whereas in Mark Jesus tells the disciples to find out how much food there is, here Andrew, also operating on the merely human level, locates a boy, a further addition to the Synoptic version, who has the five loaves and two fish and then draws the obvious despairing conclusion. (Lincoln, The Gospel According To Saint John (Black’s New Testament Commentary), 212)

Both faith and doubt are seen in Andrew’s response. Faith is seen in his initial statement and he would have come off marvelously well had he quit when he was ahead. But he apologetically adds, “but what are these for so many people?” (John 6:9 NASB). This lament reveals Andrew’s doubt.

Anne Graham Lotz (b. 1948) speculates that in the midst of Andrew’s doubts, his faith involuntarily bubbles to the surface:

Almost as soon as Philip came to the conclusion that it was humanly impossible to feed the crowd gathered on the hillside...Andrew...spoke up...(John 6:8-9). While Andrew seemed to agree with Philip about the impossibility of feeding so many, his approach to the need was more positive. Without even realizing it, his faith had found the key to the storehouse of God’s ample supply. When he offered Jesus a few loaves and fish, he was offering Jesus everything he had!...What do you have? Do you have a little bit of time? A little bit of love? A little bit of money? A little bit of faith? Don’t concentrate on what you lack, concentrate on what you have. Then give all of it to Jesus for His use. (Lotz, Just Give Me Jesus, 120)
Frederick Dale Bruner (b. 1932) concurs:
Andrew, by contrast, sees just a little hope and shows just a little faith by coming forward with a little boy and his little provisions...fora little while! And just a little faith is all that Jesus apparently, from all the Gospel reports, ever at first expects from anyone, and so it is all he ever minimally seeks from his always still-very-human disciples. (Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, 362)

Stephen Farris (b. 1951) instructs that though he demonstrates faith, Andrew need not be sainted for his performance in the desert:

Don’t make Andrew a hero of faith. He offers the fish and the loaves, but almost in the same breath he takes them back verbally, “But what are they among so many people?”...He doesn’t have very much faith. But not very much faith is not the same as no faith at all...He has the faith the size of a mustard seed. He has five loaves and two fish worth of faith. He has faith the size of a small boy’s lunch. That amount of faith, Jesus says, is able to move the mountain they’re sitting on. It may even be enough to feed five thousand. (David Fleer [b. 1953] and Dave Bland [b. 1953], “The Andrew Option”, Preaching John’s Gospel: The World It Imagines, 23)
Andrew contributes very little to the feeding of the 5.000 and what he offers, he gets from a small boy. He is only a middle man. Andrew brings Jesus much less than is needed. As do we. And like Andrew, though our offerings are not much, they can be significantly multiplied in the hands of Jesus.

N.T. Wright (b. 1948) reminds:

Philip doesn’t know what to do. Andrew doesn’t either, but he brings the boy and his bread and fish to Jesus’ attention. The point is obvious, but we perhaps need to be reminded of it: so often we ourselves have no idea what to do, but the starting point is always to bring what is there to the attention of Jesus. You can never tell what he’s going to do with it – though part of Christian faith is the expectation that he will do something we hadn’t thought of, something new and creative. (Wright, John for Everyone: Chapters 1-10, 73)
What do their responses to the food shortage say of Philip and Andrew? What is Andrew’s contribution? If Andrew had not brought the boy, how would Jesus have fed the multitude? What can you bring to Jesus’ table?

“How lovely to think that no one need wait a moment, we can start now, start slowly changing the world! How lovely that everyone, great and small, can make their contribution toward introducing justice straightaway... And you can always, always give something, even if it is only kindness!” - Anne Frank (1929-1945)