Edited by Rev. John Adams, B.D.
By Rev. Thomas Whitelaw, D.D.
("The Lord will Provide").
Rationalistic interpreters will have it that the pathetic story of Abraham's trial, of Isaac's deliverance, and of Jehovah's goodness is only an interesting legend, with one or two valuable lessons embedded therein, but with no sort of reality attaching to it, — that Abraham and Isaac were not actually persons but merely ideal figures round which Hebrew tradition had cast the drapery of its own imagination. So long, however, as Joshua, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Nehemiah, or the Old Testament writers of these books, and Jesus, John, James, Matthew, Luke, and Paul in the New Testament, all looked upon the Father of the faithful as a historical Person, there is no reason to doubt that we are not dealing with fiction but with fact, and that the dramatis personæ were as real as were the places and scenes in which they appeared
It is generally agreed that the mount of sacrifice on which Isaac was practically offered — bound but not slain — was not Gerizim, overlooking the plain of Shechem, as Samaritan tradition believed (John iv. 20), but Moriah at Jerusalem, where Jehovah afterwards appeared to David, "where Solomon's Temple was subsequently built, and where in the fulness of the times Christ showed Himself as the Lord of the Temple, as the Son of David, as the Seed of Abraham, as the Messiah of Israel, as the Saviour of the world, as the Son of God.
Different interpretations have been put upon the words of. the text; as, e.g., "the Lord shall appear," with allusion to the divine interposition by which Isaac was saved; " the Lord shall see," in the sense of looking out and selecting the offerings that should afterwards be presented in the Temple; " the Lord shall provide," with a backward reference to the words of Abraham in verse 8, " My son, God will provide Himself a lamb for a burnt offering."
The last I regard as the best interpretation of the three, though the other two need not be entirely excluded. The words may be looked upon — first, as commemorative of Abraham's deliverance; next, as predictive of Christ's sacrifice; and lastly, as suggestive of God's goodness to mankind in general and to His people in particular,
1. A Commemoration.
This is the first instance recorded in Scripture of the naming of a place after a divine interposition or manifestation, though the practice was afterwards frequently observed, as by Jacob at Bethel and at Peniel, and by Moses at Rephidim. And if ever a place was worthy to be kept in remembrance by a special designation, that place was Mount Moriah. Not so much, however, in order to consecrate the spot or invest it with peculiar sanctity, as if discerning with the eye of faith the sacred uses to which in the distant future it should be put; nor merely to assist Abraham's own remembrance of the awful experiences through which he had passed on his journey to the mount and in his transactions there with his son and his God, — these things, one can imagine, would never pass from the patriarch's recollection, rather would be engraven on his memory as with an iron pen and lead in the rock for ever, — but to magnify the grace of God which had wrought out for him so marvellous a deliverance.
What a wonderful deliverance it was one can see, who recalls the three days* journey, of well-nigh fifty miles, from Beersheba on the borders of the Southern desert to Moriah, with a heart staggering under its heavy load of sorrow, with the prospect drawing every moment nearer of slaying his own son, — the only son of his mother and the son of his parents' old age, whom they had waited for for twenty-five years, and whom nearly as long they had cherished, — and slaying him, too, in compliance with an order from God; with a spirit torn and perplexed as it could not fail to be with doubt and anxiety as to whether God had really spoken to him, and, if he felt sure that God had spoken to him and commanded this tragic deed, with uncertainty as to his own ability to carry it through; and with a soul lacerated to the quick and bleeding in every pore with internal anguish through the constant presence of the lad who was dearer to him than life, and whose artless question, "Father, where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" must have pierced him through as with a two-edged sword.
Who can understand the greatness of that grief and the still more overwhelming horror of soul-darkness which descended on the patriarch when the mount was reached, when the altar was built, when the wood was laid in order, when Isaac was bound (doubtless with his own consent), and when the knife was uplifted by the father's hand to plunge it into the heart of his son?
Some alleviation of the patriarch's anguish has been sought in the consideration that in Canaan and the surrounding countries human sacrifices were then customary, and that it was no unusual thing for parents to devote their children as offerings to appease the anger or secure the favour of their gods. Hence it has been argued that Jehovah's demand would not excite in Abraham's mind the same horror as a similar demand would awaken in ours. Perhaps not. But even with this explanation the trial must have been severe almost beyond endurance, enough to make his spirit red.
How he was able to support himself under it the writer to the Hebrews tells us. It was by faith that he received strength to go through the ordeal. He believed, of course, that the sacrifice of Isaac was asked at his hands by Jehovah. But he also believed that God had promised that through Isaac he should have a numerous posterity and that in Isaac all the families of the earth should be blessed* How these things should be, or could be, if Isaac were put to death, doubtless he did not know. But his faith enabled him to believe that God knew and would not suffer His promise to be defeated — that either some way of escape would be found out at the last moment, or, if not, that God would raise up Isaac again from the dead. The last explanation is that adopted by the writer to the Hebrews.
And so he went through the dread transaction up to the last act, when his hand was stayed, a substitute was provided, — "a ram caught in a thicket,*' — Isaac was spared, and Abraham was delivered. It was to commemorate that deliverance and the grace of God in it that he named the place " Jehovah-Jireh, — the Lord will provide."
What a deliverance it was I How unexpected! — as most of God's deliverances are. In such an hour as they are not looked for they come — man's extremity being ever God's opportunity. And how dramatic! — in a way that not only startled the mind but struck the imagination: " Abraham! lay not thine hand upon the lad" Ah! there is no actor like God. When He steps upon the stage, all human actors are put into the shade. " There is none like unto the God of Jeshurun, who rideth upon the heavens for thy help, and in His excellency in the skies."
2. A Prediction.
I do not say on the part of Abraham or on the part of the writer of Genesis, but on the part of the Holy Ghost who inspired the words. I am one of those who regard this whole transaction as intended not merely to test Abraham's faith, but by means of it to, as it were, set up a finger-post, pointing away into the dim and distant future when not for Isaac only but for all Isaac's spiritual posterity God should provide a Lamb for a burnt offering, and in Isaac's seed all the families of the earth should be blessed.
I argue this from the various allusions to this transaction, direct and indirect, that are found in the New Testament.
One of these is the language of Christ or of John to Nicodemus when He said: "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him might not perish, but have eternal life' Another is that of Paul in the 8th of Romans, when he writes: " He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all' A third is that in the nth of Hebrews: " By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son; of whom it was said. That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure' A fourth is that in James, who asks: " Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?"
These several allusions to this passage in Abraham's history not only proceed on the assumption that what is recorded in Genesis was not a fiction but a fact, but that it had a profound spiritual significance, reaching beyond the trial of Abraham's faith, and typifying the sublime Transaction that lies at the foundation of God's great scheme of redemption, viz. the giving up of His only begotten Son that we might live through Him. So to speak, it was an object-lesson on the work of Christ for all who in after years might read the story. If Abraham was a type of the Old Testament saint and also of the New Testament believer, then as clearly Isaac prefigured the Church whose life was forfeit and under condemnation, and the ram the Lord Jesus Christ through whose substitution the Church has been delivered. " Behold the fire and the wood, " said Isaac; " but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? " The answer was: " My son, God will provide Himself a lamb for a burnt offering." John tells us that Jesus was " the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world "; Peter adding that He was " a Lamb without blemish and without spot'*
3. A Suggestion.
"Abraham called the name of the place Jehovah-Jireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen" (or " provided "). The meaning is that the name given to this place became a proverb, signifying that as Jehovah had provided for Abraham on Mount Moriah all that he required — a lamb for a burnt offering, strength for his heavy duty, deliverance from his danger, and a blessing for his obedience, so would all these be provided for Abraham's spiritual seed, first in the Hebrew Temple, concerning which it is said, " Blessed are they that dwell in Thy house," and afterwards in the Christian Church, as it is written, " My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by (or 'in') Christ Jesus." These words of Paul are the New Testament version of " Jehovah-Jireh." And the supplies which God provides for His people to-day are just the four things which He provided for Abraham.
(1) Propitiation for their guilt — a lamb for a burnt offering. Undoubtedly one of the lessons intended to be taught the patriarch by the trial to which he was subjected was that the favour of Jehovah could not be obtained or His anger averted by human or any other man -devised offerings, as the nations around and perhaps Abraham himself imagined, " Wherewithal shall I come before God, or bow myself before the Most High? " — then, as always, the cry of the human heart — "was usually followed up in Abraham's time and long after with the inquiry: " Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? " Abraham perhaps, like the nations around, reasoned that to offer his nearest and dearest would infallibly secure pardon. But God taught him by this terrible lesson not only that human sacrifices were not acceptable in His sight, but that acceptance could only be obtained by a sacrifice provided by God Himself. And this lesson stands for all to-day — that propitiation for sin cannot be made by any works or sacrifices of man, but only by the obedience unto death of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.
(2) Strength for their duty — "by supplying the necessary faith. If ever man was called to a hard task, that man was Abraham. Without a confident persuasion that what he was about to do was a divine command, and that all would somehow come out right in the end, one fails to see how Abraham could have carried the transaction through. But God strengthened him with all might by His spirit in the inward man, and so enabled him to pass through the trial with success. Is it wrong to suggest that so God will do with His people still, when they are summoned to undertake tasks far beyond their natural strength? I think not. It is not unusual for God's people to be asked like Abraham to surrender their nearest and their dearest treasures, — wealth, health, fame, good name, parents or children, or even their own lives, — and to surrender these things at times and in circumstances which render such sacrifices almost impossible without losing faith in God, as e.g. to be plunged into poverty at the close of one's life when strength is too feeble to repair the loss, to part with an only child who is the sole source of one's support, to resign health just at the time when most needed to provide for one's family, to lose one's good name after striving throughout life to maintain a spotless reputation, to lie down and die when friends and loved ones need you to live. Hard duties all of these I But as God helped Abraham so will He help Abraham's spiritual descendants to perform them. By faith Abraham went through his task; and " all things are still possible to him that believeth."
(3) Deliverance from their danger. No doubt it passed the wit of Abraham to see how the peril in which he and Isaac were placed could be averted. That it would be averted he perhaps believed when he started on his journey, but as day after day passed and no voice sounded in his ear commanding him to retrace his steps, hope would grow gradually feebler, till, when he stood on Mount Moriah without any appearance of divine intervention, his heart must have sunk within him. When he slowly and sadly built up the altar, laying the wood in order and placing the fire underneath, when he turned to his son and explained the situation, when he bound that son and laid him on the altar, when as a last act he grasped the knife and raised it aloft, we can well imagine how his brain turned giddy and his spirit reeled in the madness of despair.
And yet all the while Jehovah had provided the required deliverance. On that very mountain, in a thicket close by, a ram had been caught by the horns, and all that was needed was to call the patriarch's attention to the substitute. This was done; and both Abraham and Isaac were delivered.
And so we can imagine him as saying to all his spiritual descendants, by the name he gave the place, Jehovah-Jireh: " Fear not! When you find yourself in extremity and hard pushed, God will provide. When all refuge fails, forget not that He is nigh. When human wisdom and strength have given out, call to mind that His wisdom is unsearchable and His arm indefatigable. Nil desperandum. Never despair, while God lives. In ways and by means unknown and unthought of. He can interpose and effect deliverance." Oftentimes since Abraham's day He has interposed on behalf of His people, as e.g. in the cases of Joseph, Moses, and Israel in Egypt; of Jerusalem when assailed by Sennacherib, of Samaria when threatened by a famine, of Christ when menaced by Herod, of the disciples on the Sea of Galilee, of Peter in the storm, and of Paul in the face of shipwreck. And outside of Scripture instances of similar unexpected help to good men in situations of peril might easily be cited — all showing how true it is that God will provide.
(4) Blessing for obedience is the fourth thing provided for God's people, as it was for Abraham.
While God never saves men on account of their works, He never leaves His faithful and obedient servants without a reward for their works. Abraham's trial was not intended to furnish him with a claim to recompense. Nevertheless, it was followed by a great and gracious blessing — "the deliverance of Isaac, and the promise regarding him. So was it with the patriarch Job, who was cast into the crucible of trial in order to prove the genuineness of his piety, and after passing through it successfully was rewarded with twice as much as he had before. So was it with Christ's apostles when they asked Him, " Lord! we have left all and followed Thee; what shall we have therefore? " and He answered, " Verily I say unto you. There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My sake and the gospel's, but he shall receive an hundredfold in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life." So God has provided a rich reward for them that obey Him. First, peace — "Great peace have their that love Thy law, and nothing shall offend them"; next, acceptance — "To obey is better than sacrifice," "To do good and to communicate forget not, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased "; and last, a crown of life to them that are faithful unto death — " Of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance, for ye serve the Lord Christ."