The Lord Will Provide

 
  Genesis 21:1-3; 22:1-14  
 

Before addressing this text, let’s fill in the spaces. How did we get to this place?

In Genesis 1, God creates a world in perfect balance—light and dark, air and water, sea and dry land, male and female. But before long, the first couple start to think that they can run their lives better than God can. They reach out to grasp ultimate knowledge—the domain of God alone.

Things quickly go downhill. The first murder occurs as their son Cain kills his brother Abel. Humans spread throughout the earth and, as they do they become more prideful, self-sufficient and violent. To the point where it says,

“The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled” (Genesis 6:5-6 NIV).

So, he attempts a do-over. He sends the great flood to destroy all mankind except Noah and his wife and his three sons and their wives. But, their descendants, too, follow the same pattern of pride and self-sufficiency. Before long they are saying, “We can make a name for ourselves by building a great tower to reach up to heaven” (cf. Genesis 11:4). And God comes down and confuses their language.

God has tried working with humanity as a whole and that has failed. Now God will try a different approach. He will reveal himself to one family and that one family will be his means of blessing all of humanity.

God speaks to Abraham (called Abram), an idol-worshipper from Ur, in the area we call Iraq today. He tells Abram to leave his home and his family and go to a place that God would show him. He promises Abram:

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:2-3).

Abram is seventy-five years old and his wife, Sarai, is sixty-five—well past the age of child-bearing, but God promises them a son. Years pass, and there are many struggles, but the promised son never arrives. At one point Abram begins to think that maybe God needs a little help fulfilling the promise. He takes Sarai’s servant, Hagar, and she conceives a son for Abram, Ishmael—the father of the Arab nations. But, God explains to Abram, the promise will not be fulfilled through this son, but through a son born to Sarai. At this time, God renames Abram Abraham and Sarai Sarah.

This promise comes when Abraham is ninety-nine and Sarah is eighty-nine. A year later, the promised son is born. They name him Isaac—Laughter—because, as Sarah says, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me” (vs. 6). A happy time, but soon things take a dark turn in chapter 22.

Let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room; this is a difficult passage. It’s the sort of story that people point to and say, “This is exactly why I am not a believer in this God of yours.” I mean, what kind of God commands a father to sacrifice his own son as a test of obedience?

It challenges everything we think we know about the character of God. How does this comport with the God of life that we saw just last week in Genesis 1? What are we to make of this? Is it okay to kill people if we think that’s what God wants us to do? (That’s what some people today think they hear God saying.) if a young couple came to me as a pastor and told me that they believed God was telling them to sacrifice their child, it would be my obligation to call Child Protective Services.

So, let me say right at the outset, we are not going to understand everything that God is up to. Isaiah 55:8-9:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

We come to a story like this and we conclude that God’s ways are not our ways—there’s mystery here. Maybe you have waited a long time for something in your life. And, finally, God provides that thing. You know the joy of that fulfillment. So, it’s hard to imagine the scene in Genesis 22:1-2.

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah” (22:1-2).

I imagine that Abraham is expecting to hear, “and take along a lamb and sacrifice it to me there”. Instead, what he heard must have chilled him to the bone, “Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

I don’t know about you, but if I heard that, I would wonder if it was really God I was hearing. I would think that maybe I was delusional, God doesn’t demand human sacrifice. But the thing is, the gods of the surrounding people often did demand human and even child-sacrifice and the Israelites even sometimes practiced it.

That’s why God speaks against it in Deuteronomy 12:31

31 You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.

So, though the idea of child sacrifice may seem shocking to us, it was not shocking to Abraham. However, I can’t help but imagine that he is greatly dismayed and confused. “Lord, this is just like the gods I left behind in Ur. I thought You were different!” But there is no record of Abraham raising any protest. The text says:

Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about (vs. 3).

There is no indication of any conversation between Abraham and Isaac. Apparently, Isaac has no idea what’s happening. He probably thinks that they are going off to sacrifice to their God, as they had before.

And, wouldn’t you think that Abraham would have tried to negotiate with God? After all, he negotiated with God over the destruction of Sodom (Genesis 18). Why would he try to save the people of Sodom but not his own son?

The journey takes three days, during which we can only image the torture in Abraham’s soul as he thinks about what will happen when they reach the mountain. A torture that is made even more poignant when they are ascending the mountain—Isaac carrying the wood on his back, Abraham with the fire—an Isaac looks around then says,

“Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”  (vs. 7).

And we can hear the catch in Abraham’s voice as he replies,

God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (vs. 8).

That is trust. God will provide for what God asks of us. Earlier, when Abraham was negotiating with God over the destruction of Sodom, he had said, Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25). In other words, “Can I not expect that God will do the right thing?” I think that Abraham’s answer indicates that he is hoping that, when they get to the mountain, God will provide another way.

When they get to the mountain, Abraham builds the altar and arranges the wood on the altar. Then he binds Isaac. This is the reason the Jews refer to this as “the Binding of Isaac”—Adekah in Hebrew. We don’t know if Isaac struggled and tried to get away, but what a scene of terror as Abraham raises the knife and prepares to do what he believes God has commanded him to do.

And then, that saving word— “But . . .”

But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son” (vss. 11-12).

Looking up, Abraham sees a ram caught in a thicket. God has provided a substitute! Abraham offers the animal as a sacrifice instead of his son. And because God has provided, Abraham calls the place “Yahweh Yireh”—The Lord Will Provide. It gives rise to a saying, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

It begs a question: What will be provided?

Well, maybe the fulfillment of God’s prophecy to the Serpent in the Garden of Eden,

And I will put enmity
    between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
    and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15).

“The mountain of the Lord” – Mt. Moriah. Later the site of a threshing floor which David purchased and built an altar to the Lord (2 Samuel 24:24-25). It was on this same site that Solomon built his temple (2 Chronicles 3:1).

Over the centuries, thousands of animals had been sacrificed there. Until another Son climbed the mountain carrying wood on his back. But this time, God didn’t intervene. He allowed his Son to be killed as a sacrifice—the final sacrifice—for the sins of the world; for your sins and mine. Jesus, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

The writer of the book of Hebrews references this story,

17 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18 even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 19 Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death (11:17-19).

Such was Abraham’s faith in the trustworthiness of God that he believed that he would fulfill his promise even if it meant that he would have to raise Isaac up from the dead.

I love that name “The Lord Will Provide” – Yahweh Yireh. It can also be translated “The Lord will see to it” or “The Lord will be seen”. In this place of testing—the Lord will be seen.

Sometimes life seems like a test, doesn’t it? One thing after another come, hitting you left and right. And in those times the question comes, “What is God up to?” “What is the point of all this?”

I’m not one to interpret everything that happens as a direct act of God. Trouble, sickness, natural disasters—I don’t think they are necessarily God’s doing. A lot of stuff happens as a result of us living in a fallen world. It’s part of the “frustration” to which the world has been subjected to (Romans 8:19-21) because of the disobedience of Adam. God has given people free will, and some misuse that free-will to do horrible things. When those things happen, it can feel like a test.

The Bible doesn’t give us a lot of reasons why things happen. The Bible asks, “What now?” Now that this has happened, how will you respond? How can we glorify God in this situation? Do we trust God in the middle of it all? Do we look to see how God will be seen in this? Abraham looks up and sees God’s provision. Where do we see God in the middle of the trial?

Søren Kierkegaard, the Danish theologian, knew this story and loved it, even though it troubled him greatly. He wrote a book about it called, “Fear and Trembling”. He says about going through trials, “God sees in secret and knows the distress and counts the tears and forgets nothing.” And I would add: this same God will bring us through to the end. God will see to it, God will provide.