Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Son of the Promise

Beginning this past February I have had the unique opportunity to be the first male Bible study leader in our church's Ladies' Morning Out ministry on Thursday mornings.  Whether this distinction was afforded to me based on my exceptional teaching abilities or a perceived lack of masculinity on my part remains to be seen, although I like to think that it is the former rather than the latter.  Regardless, it has been my pleasure to lead a study on the names of God for the past seven Thursdays in a row, and I look forward to the coming seven Thursdays as we continue to study this fascinating and important topic.

The name of God I'll be leading the ladies through this week is a familiar one: Jehovah Jireh, or "The Lord Will Provide."  Most Christians (over the age of 30) are familiar with this name if for no other reason than because they have sung the song of the same name.

God first reveals himself as Jehovah Jireh to Abraham on Mount Moriah, after sparing Isaac from sacrifice and supplying the ram to die in his place.  Genesis 22.14 says that "...Abraham called the name of that place, 'The LORD will provide'; as it is said to this day, 'On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.'"

Quite a thing, I suspect, to be required to sacrifice your only son.  But Abraham trusted that God was Jehovah Jireh - that God would provide.  Therefore Abraham could give his son without thinking about the consequences, even if it meant his very life.  He was willing to give Isaac's life because he knew that God was Jehovah Jireh.

Now, I've heard many sermons about the emotional torment that Abraham must have been going through during this trip up the mountain.  People suppose that Abraham may have experienced doubt in God's providence and wisdom in the command to sacrifice his only son.  Or perhaps Abraham questioned God: "God, why are you doing this?  Do I really have to sacrifice my only son?  How could you ask me to do such a thing?"

So Abraham is seemingly left with two choices: obedience to God's command (begrudgingly as we might suppose it to have been), or the life of his son.  What a choice!  And we usually think that, although Abraham knew it would cost him everything, he would obey God, and trust that God was doing what was best, even though he didn't understand it.  After all, the Lord works in mysterious ways, right?

I don't think that was Abraham's frame of mind at all.  That is, I don't believe that Abraham was a begrudging or unwilling participant in this process.  Instead, I think that, when God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, that Abraham was a willing, and even glad participant, and it all has to do with how Abraham believed that God was Jehovah Jireh - The LORD Will Provide.  Abraham knew full well that when he came down from that mountain, it would be arm in arm with his son Isaac.  There was never a doubt in his mind.

It all started back in Genesis 12.1-3: Now the Lord said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you.  And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

Here we have a promise that God is making to Abraham.  The promise is that God will make him a great nation, and that his name will be great, and his lineage will be a blessing to all the earth.  Abraham is "only" 75 years old when God makes this promise.  Isaac wasn't even a twinkle in Abraham's eye yet, as he wouldn't be born for another 25 years, but the promise is there: Abraham will be a great nation.  And to be a great nation, you need descendants.  So here God is essentially promising Abraham that he will use his descendants to fulfill this promise.

And then in Genesis 17.15-21 we read a reiteration of God's promise to bless Abraham and the rest of the world through his descendants.  But things have changed.  Abraham is 25 years older, and he's already had a child, although not by his wife.  This has brought about its own set of challenges, but God remains faithful to his original promise to Abraham, even in spite of Abraham's insistence that it's not necessary.  By this time, Abraham believes he and his wife to be too old to bear children, and says to God, "Oh that Ishmael might live before you!"  Abraham essentially asks God to fulfill his promise to him through the son that he already has.  But this is not God's plan.  God will defy all odds and give a child to a centenarian and a nonagenarian.  Although Abraham has a son, it is not the son that God has promised.  Isaac will be the Son of the Promise. God will fulfill his promise through Isaac and through his descendants.

Then we get back to Genesis 22, with Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah, preparing for the sacrifice.  Remember, God has explicitly told Abraham on at least these two separate occasions that he would use his descendants - Isaac - to fulfill his promise and to bless the whole world - even though Abraham already had a son.  And here in Genesis 22 we see God telling Abraham to sacrifice this Son of the Promise - the one on whom God's faithfulness and reliability rests.

So how does Abraham feel when God tells him to sacrifice Isaac?  Many have speculated that he was torn apart by conflicting emotions.  I don't believe this to be the case at all.  Rather, I believe that Abraham was chomping at the proverbial bit to be obedient to God and get to Mount Moriah and get to work.  Why?  Not because he was excited at the prospect of killing his only son, but because he knew that God was Jehovah Jireh - The LORD Will Provide.

Consider Hebrews 11.17-19: By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, "Through Isaac shall your offspring be named."  He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.

Why was Abraham willing to sacrifice his son?  Not out of blind obedience.  But because he knew Jehovah Jireh.  And he knew that God was faithful.  If God allowed Isaac to die, as in permanently die, then God would be a liar and would not be able to keep his promise to Abraham.  This was certainly not going to happen, so the only option left is that God would deliver Isaac somehow.  Abraham believed that God was going to supernaturally divert his hand when he went to thrust the knife into Isaac's chest, or that God would provide a ram as a substitute, or even that God raise Isaac from the dead.  He may not have been sure how it was going to happen, but one thing Abraham was sure of: God would provide a way of escape for Isaac because Isaac was the fulfillment of God's promise.

In this sense, Abraham might have even been kind of excited when God told him to sacrifice his son, not because the prospect of killing his son was exciting, but because he knew that he was going to be able to see God work in a miraculous way, which is always cool.  I can picture Abraham receiving the word of the Lord, telling him to sacrifice his son, and Abraham replying confidently, "Let's do this."

God provides for his children, and he is always faithful.  Abraham believed that he could be obedient to God in whatever God told him to do because God is Jehovah Jireh.  Even if it mean killing his own son.  God would not break his promise.

May I, like Abraham, when led by God to do something that seems somewhat crazy, not respond in fear or doubt, but with a confident spirit of obedience.  After all, my God can raise the dead.

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