I love the Bible. Often I’ll read a chapter or two before bed. If I wake up in the middle of the night I’ll recite Psalms. If I’m having a rough day I’ll cling to a verse or two. There is deep, deep comfort in the words of Scripture.
But there’s one chapter that I never liked. That horrified me. That I’d rather have forgotten and never heard of again.
The heading in the NIV sounds so innocent: “The Testing of Abraham.”
“God Commands Human Sacrifice” was the title in my head.
I’ve heard a few sermons on Genesis 22. I’ve heard about the great faith of Abraham. I’ve heard about the foreshadowing of Jesus’ death. I’ve heard about God’s goodness in providing a lamb. I’ve heard about Isaac’s submission. I’ve even heard about Abraham’s agony. But I’ve never heard a word on Isaac’s horror.
Can you imagine? Your father, a godly man, an honorable man, a man who treasures you like no other–he invites you to travel with him to worship. You travel, father and son, first with servants and donkeys, later on foot. Something seems a little strange. You ask about it. Where’s the animal to be sacrificed? This godly man, he says God will provide. And you walk on.
You’re carrying the wood. The wood for worshiping God. You get to the top of the mountain and gather stones. You join your father in building a place of worship. It’s a transition into manhood, a moment of special connection to your father and to his god. And then–
You’re tied tight with ropes, laying helpless on the altar you built. The wood you carried surrounds you. About to be burned. And your father, the man you trusted and followed–he stands over you with a knife. Because God said to.
“The Testing of Abraham”
Hours later you walk down the mountain, retrace those steps. If you were ever a child those days are gone. How do you trust again? How do you not?
From that event come two words. They’re words we use lightly. They’re words we connect to money and cars and jobs and clothes. They’re words that slip off our tongue with little thought.
Jehovah Jireh. God will provide.
How many times have I heard those words?
You need food? Jehovah Jireh. You’re out of work? Jehovah Jireh. You have bills pouring in? Jehovah Jireh. Amen and amen. I love that truth! I love those words!
But wait! They come from this unbearable story? This moment of horror!?
“Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”
“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“The fire and the wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”
Hours later, horrors later, Abraham names the mountain Jehovah Jireh, The LORD Will Provide (verse 14). A lamb replaces a man. It is the first time we hear those words.
Jehovah Jireh isn’t about cars and clothes and houses and jobs. Jehovah Jireh is about horrible sacrifice. Jehovah Jireh is about the end of human sacrifice. Jehovah Jireh is about the ultimate sacrifice.
Nearly two millenia later another Isaac would lay bound, surrounded by the wood he’d carried up the mountain. In agony he would cry to his father, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?!” This time there would be no lamb to take his place. This time he is the lamb, he is Jehovah Jireh.
Some years later another man would reflect on Jehovah Jireh and this second Isaac, and he would exclaim, “If God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) This is Jehovah Jireh.