(Genesis 22: 1-14 and Luke 12: 22-31)
Last week we began a new series that will follow through during the summer months. It’s entitled ‘Names of God’ – each week we’re focusing on a different name from the Bible and considering what glimpses it gives us of God’s character, what we can learn about God. Last week we began with Genesis 1, and the idea that God is our Creator – that he loves us and knows us and made us in His image for relationship and community with Himself and with each other.
Genesis 22: 1-14
This week we’re jumping ahead to Genesis 22 – the story of Abraham and Isaac, where God is revealed as Jehovah Jireh… which means the One who Provides.
Now ‘provisions’ isn’t a word we tend to use very often or think much about. It is a weightless word to us. We may use it loosely when we talk about stocking up on provisions before a road trip or camping holiday. We may use it to refer to unexpected upgrades in life – such as ‘God provided our church with the means for a new boiler’ or ‘God provided me with a new car’.
Some of us may remember times when God provided for specific needs. As a child, my family often struggled financially – and I can remember several times where anonymous gifts were delivered in unmarked envelopes through our letter box often just at the right time and for just the right amount. When things looked hopeless – God provided.
In these different ways, and circumstances, we recognise God’s provision, but very rarely do we depend on them.
When God introduces himself (the Bible is His word, after all) as Jehovah Jireh, meaning “the Lord will provide,” it’s not in the context of snacks for holidays or cars or money or bills.
It’s in the context of the most profound physical need a person can face – the loss of life.
In Genesis 22, we read the story of Abraham being commanded by God to take his son Isaac to Mount Moriah and sacrifice him.
Many years previously, God has promised Abraham that he would have more descendants than the stars in the sky.
However, Abraham’s wife Sarah was barren, and Abraham and Sarah were getting on in years, but even through this God gave them a son.
Isaac was conceived and born as a demonstration of God’s power. Isaac was a miraculous gift.
He was the promised child, whom God had promised to make into a great nation.
He was God’s provision, or so it seemed until God said to Abraham to lay Isaac on the altar and offer him as a sacrifice.
Now this is hard, difficult, a dangerous text for us to understand.
What was God playing at?
Why did God ask Abraham to do such a thing?
Why did Abraham agree to do it, with little protest?
Why did Isaac submit – he wouldn’t have been a young boy, but a young man who could have easily overpowered his one-hundred-plus-year-old father?
And what about Sarah, where was she in all of this?
Well this story raises some floundering questions…
and I wish I could give you some nice easy answers…
For centuries, readers of the Bible, scholars, artists, poets have struggled to hear and understand this text.
One thing I will say emphatically – God does not demand child sacrifice; indeed, God abhors it, as evidenced by the prophets.
What we do learn and can say with confidence, is that Abraham is obedient – an indication of his confidence and trust in God.
Now the original Hebrew prose is beautiful and succinct. Abraham does what God demands and sets out with his son.
Abraham doesn’t say much.
Isaac says even less, and one is left to imagine what they are thinking and feeling.
The narrator uses repetition to heighten the poignancy: “The two of them walked on together,” as the father and son walk together in silence on the third day (22:6). Together in purpose, together in love.
The narrator continually emphasizes the relationship between the two, as if we need to be reminded: “Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac.” “Isaac said to Abraham his father, “My father!” and he said, “Here I am, my son” (22:7).
“Here I am” — in Hebrew is tow words ‘hine ni.’ (hee-nay nee)
It’s the same word Abraham used to answer God’s call in verse 1: “Here I am.” Abraham is attentive to God, and equally attentive to his beloved son. Here I am.
And Isaac says, “See, we have fire, and wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” And Abraham, heart torn in two, says, “God will see to the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And, again, “The two of them walked on together” (22:7-8).
Whether Isaac knew what was going to happen is a matter that the rabbis debated. Perhaps he did not, which makes Abraham’s pain all that much more acute.
Perhaps he did, which makes Isaac, too, an example of great faith and obedience. The two of them walk on together, father and son, the son carrying the wood for his own sacrifice.
The first century rabbis, with no connection to Christianity but with ample experience of Roman executions, said of this detail: “Isaac carries the wood for the sacrifice like one who carries his own cross.”
They reach the place of sacrifice, and Abraham builds an altar. Again, as if we need to be reminded, the narrator emphasizes the relationship between father and son. “He bound his son Isaac … Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son” (22:9-10).
At that moment, the LORD calls to him with great urgency, “Abraham, Abraham!” And Abraham replies for the third and final time in the story, hine ni, “Here I am.”
One can imagine that his tone now is one of unspeakable relief and hope.
The LORD speaks, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (22:12).
“Now I know” says God. This story does not subscribe to later notions of God’s perfect omniscience.
This is a genuine test, and Abraham is free to decide what he will do. God neither knows nor pre-ordains how Abraham will respond.
Reading this story with a heart of generosity, one could argue that God imposes this one-time test on Abraham because God has risked everything on this one man, and God needs to know if he is faithful.
Abraham and his descendants are the means by which God has chosen to bless the whole world (Genesis 12:3). And Abraham has not always proven up to the task (the wife-sister charade, Hagar and Ishmael). Now God needs to know whether Abraham is willing to give up the thing most precious to him in all the world for the sake of being faithful to the God who gave him that gift in the first place.
And Abraham passes this most excruciating of tests: “Now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”
Later in the Bible this story is referred to again. Hebrews 11 (17-19) tells us that Abraham acted in faith that God would raise Isaac. He obeyed in the belief that God would provide a miracle of some kind, and God did – a ram caught in a thicket as a substitute sacrifice.
As God provides this substitute sacrifice for Isaac, so Abraham named the place ‘the LORD will provide’ in Hebrew Jehovah Jireh. But this phrase can also mean ‘here the Lord shall be seen.’
Abraham wanted his descendants (physical and spiritual) and everyone who came to this place in the land of Israel to grasp the gracious character of God. To know his providence and to know his presence.
So God the provider, Jehovah Jireh, gave life. God saved the promised son from being a sacrifice. God preserved His promise to make Isaac a great nation.
Luke 22: 22-31
In Luke 12, our other reading today, we hear the words of Jesus to his disciples:
“Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap; they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?
27 “Consider how the wildflowers grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 So do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”
In these verses, Jesus shows one end of the spectrum of God’s provision.
He cares for the smallest and even the inanimate in his creation.
He clothes and feeds them. His eye is on them as treasured created things.
So why should we worry about His provision? Are we not image bearers, uniquely made to be God’s children?
He provides as a father ought – exactly those things that are best for His children without hesitation and always at the right time.
So, in Jesus’ teaching we see one side of God’s provision, but we also see it in Jesus’ mission here on earth.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Jesus came so that we might “have life and have it in abundance.” (John 10:10)
And this provision, this inestimable gift of His son, was more than kindness.
It was a rescue, a ransom, a debt paid, a punishment born as a substitute for the guilty – us.
The same God who smiles on the brilliance of wildflowers and feeds a baby sparrow sent His Son as the atoning sacrifice for sins already committed (Romans 3:25).
Jesus was the last and final sacrifice, the flawless lamb able to redeem all sinners and pay for all sins once for all time.
Jesus is God’s perfect and complete provision, the answer to every person’s deepest question and the fulfilment their deepest needs.
In Genesis Abraham’s only son was set to be sacrificed and was saved by God’s miraculous provision.
In the gospels God’s only Son was sacrificed as the miraculous provision for all people.
So today we can say Jehovah Jireh, The Lord will provide, The Lord will be seen… and be certain it is, was, and always will be true.
We can see it in the flowers and birds.
And we can see it at the cross – Jesus is God’s great provision In Jesus we see God.
Now as I draw to a close, I want to return us one last time to our text from Genesis.
Isaac was the most prized, special, precious son of Abraham.
Isaac was Abraham’s everything…his best…his joy… his hope, his world… the great promise.
And yet Abraham said to God, ‘Hine ni’ – Here I Am. (Hee-nay nee)
Abraham said, ‘God, Here I Am – do whatever it is, whatever you want from me. I surrender to you and your ways, whatever the cost and whatever the consequence.’
I wonder this morning what for you, what for me, is the ‘Isaac’ in our lives?
The most prized person or entity – the focus of our lives, the thing we hold dearly to?
Are you, am I willing to place our ‘Isaacs’ on the altar before God and give it completely over to him?
To surrender that person, that thing before God, trusting that God will provide; that God will be seen.
Heni ni – Here I Am
On your chairs this morning, you should have found a small piece of paper and a pencil.
I invite you now to make a note of those one or two things you’ve been thinking about…your ‘Isaacs’ and then when you come forwards for Communion later bring them with you and there will be a dish here in the middle for you to surrender and offer those things before God.
As we finish sharing the bread and wine, I will place those things on our Altar-table as an offering to God.