The Sacrifice of Isaac painted by Rembrandt, 1635, oil on canvas
"On the third day, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, 'Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you." --Genesis 22:4-5
As someone who has been teaching in university classrooms for over thirty years, I am often fascinated with the names of my students. I have watched certain names come into vogue and then all but disappear as their popularity fades away. It is also interesting to me to understand where certain names originate that parents give to their children. Some names seem to be chosen after great thought and others seem to be selected on the spur of the moment based on a cultural fad or a beloved celebrity. Some names, however, never go out of style and remain powerful for eternity. Specifically, I am talking about the names for God found in the Bible.
The word "Jehovah" is the Latinized version of the Hebrew word "Yahweh" ( or YHWH--no vowels used in Hebrew, the bane of my existence in Hebrew class in seminary!) Scholars call this four consonant appellation the Tetragrammaton. Every language has a set of verbs that grammarians call linking verbs: I am, he is, you are and so on. The word Yahweh is actually the linking verb "I am" in Hebrew. Using this word alone for the Lord highlights His eternal nature; there is no past and no future with the Lord--He is eternally present. Jesus declared His divinity, as described in the gospel of John, when he identified Himself, near the time of His death, as "I am who I am." (13:19) He was using the same Hebrew word here as the one used for the Lord throughout the Old Testament.
There is actually more than one Hebrew word for God in the Old Testament. When Yahweh or Jehovah is used, many Bibles will capitalize all four letters in the word LORD to signal the utilization of this particular name. If you are familiar with the Old Testament, you know that the word "Jehovah" or "I Am" is often used in conjunction with other Hebrew words to more specifically testify to an attribute of the Lord's character. That's why names are so important and should be chosen carefully; they often carry the power, in the Bible anyway, to display an aspect of a person's or God's nature or character.
In Genesis 22, Abraham is asked by God to sacrifice his only son Isaac as a offering to the Lord. I'm going to pass over the troublesome aspect of this story--the fact that the Lord would issue this command in the first place. Suffice it to say that sometimes the Lord will ask us to do something which on the surface appears confusing or inexplicable. Nevertheless, the Bible says that Abraham obeyed the Lord and raised the knife to kill his son and fulfill the Lord's commandment. At that moment, (rendered by Rembrandt in the painting above) an angel of the Lord stopped Abraham and drew his attention to a thicket where a ram was caught by its horns. Abraham gratefully substituted the animal for his son and carried out the blood sacrifice God required. Relieved that he did not have to kill Isaac, Abraham called the place where the ram was found "Jehovah Jireh," that is "The Lord Will Provide." Let's think about that name and that provision for a moment.
First, notice that the provision of the ram was unexpected. There was no indication before the very last minute how the Lord would save Isaac from certain death. The nature of the provision was a surprise. The verse at the beginning of this reflection indicates that Abraham believed that the Lord would rescue Isaac somehow and that both of them would return to their servants alive. Still, it is true that the manner in which the Lord meets our needs is often unanticipated. We need to be careful that we don't allow our natural cynicism or rationalism to cause us to doubt that the Lord will provide in some way for us in our moments of greatest need or trial. It is best to recall those times in the past when the Lord has come through for us; counting our past blessings becomes a foundation for present and future faith. Scriptural stories like this one will also encourage us to trust the Lord when all hope seems to be lost.
Second, the provision was right on time. In our sense of time, the Lord often seems to be late in supplying for our needs--or certainly waits until the very last minute. But, in retrospect, it is true that the Lord provides for us at just the appropriate moment--not too early and not too late. A great example of this can be found in the book of Joshua, chapter 3, verse 15. The Israelites are crossing the Jordan River into the land God has promised to give to them. The crossing is miraculous because the river is in flood stage; the people would normally be swept away by the strong current. The moment the priests who were leading the procession dipped their feet into the Jordan, the water from upstream stopped flowing. I suspect that the priests would have preferred that the water flow away and that the river bed be exposed (for sure footing) before they committed their feet to the swift moving river. But at the moment of greatest need, the point that the feet of the priests touched the water, God provided. Can we trust the Lord to come through for us at just the right moment?
Third, God's provision is always what is needed. It wouldn't have done Abraham much good if he had found a bushel basket of grain stuck in the thicket. God had called for him to offer a blood sacrifice. The ram was exactly what Abraham required at the point of his greatest need. Jesus encouraged his early disciples that, should they be arrested and brought to trial, they shouldn't worry about what to say. Jesus assured them that the Lord by His Spirit would provide the very words that they needed to declare. (Mark 13:11) Likewise, the fact that the Lord is Jehovah Jireh means that we can count on the perfect provision in the face of our greatest and most urgent challenge. Abraham chose to call Mount Horeb, the location of this amazing miracle of supply, "The Lord will provide." (Genesis 22:14) It is interesting to me that he chose the future tense for the verb--"will provide." It is almost as if Abraham is reminding himself and the rest of us that the most important provision in our lives is the next one--and we can count on God dispensing it. Each provision builds on the last to produce a monument of faith that will rise above the valley of doubt and fear, our own and that of others, establishing a memorial inviting others to trust in the Lord--and to glorify Him and His love for all of us.
Heavenly Father, thank You for providing for all of our needs in Christ Jesus! (Philippians 4:19) Help us to trust You when it is hard, nearly impossible, for us to do so. Teach us to live with daring faith that shines as a beacon of hope to the despairing ones around us. In Jesus' Name, Amen.