You’ve heard the songs celebrating God as Jehovah Jireh, my provider, the one gives me everything I need? Did you realize it’s not a name for God, but the name of a place?
Yir’ěh is from the Hebrew word rā·ʾā(h) — to see. It can have the sense of seeing to something (so providing). Most English Bibles translate it as “the Lord will provide” since YHWH provided the ram for Abraham. But there’s much more going on here. The Common English Bible captures the broader sense of the Hebrew word:
Genesis 22:14 (CEB)
Abraham named that place “the Lord sees.” That is the reason people today say, “On this mountain the Lord is seen.”
Abraham has named other places where he built altars, but there’s something special about this name: centuries later as the Genesis story was being compiled, the name still held relevance. What might this name have meant to Israel?
Abraham built many altars as monuments to YHWH’s kingly authority, but we’ve heard nothing about Abraham offering a sacrifice. In fact, the only burnt offering so far was the one Noah offered when he emerged from the ark (Genesis 8:20). Since then, Abraham has received a new covenant, and now he has received the heir. For the first time, the sovereign requests for a burnt offering: he specifies where and what.
YHWH chose the mountain; Abraham made the journey. YHWH chose the offering; Abraham didn’t hold back. Abraham’s willingness shows that he understands and submits to YHWH’s sovereign authority.
At the last moment, YHWH stays Abraham’s hand. Just as he provided Isaac to Abraham in the first place, he now provides an alternative—a ram to be sacrificed in Isaac’s place. Abraham sees more than a ram: he sees YHWH in this place.
Seeing is a key verb throughout this story:
- After days of travelling, Abraham looked up and saw the place God had indicated (22:4).
- When Isaac asked about the sacrifice, Abraham’s cryptic reply was that God would see [select] the lamb he wanted for a burnt offering (22:8).
- When YHWH’s messenger stayed his hand, Abraham looked up and saw, and look: a ram right there (22:13)!
The place is significant, because God chose the place of sacrifice. The seeing is significant, because God sees Abraham’s heart and sees to his needs. Abraham sees God seeing him and seeing to him. God and Abraham meet—see each other—in the place of sacrifice.
That was the experience of Abraham’s descendants too. For them “the mountain of YHWH” (22:14) meant Mount Zion. If any of them were tempted to avoid travelling several days to give up something of significant cost, they needed to hear that this is the place where they see YHWH. He who provided the gift for them to offer will see them on this mountain. They echoed Abraham’s sentiments. He named the mountain, “YHWH sees” and Israel echoed his proclamation: “On YHWH’s mountain it is seen” (22:14).
In this way, Abraham is depicted the forerunner of Israel, the people who honoured YHWH as their sovereign, and maintained relationship with him through daily sacrifice. Like Abraham, they must sacrifice what God commanded, and they must do so at the place God chose. In doing so, they see (show regard for) YHWH, and their sovereign sees (gives audience to) them.
The sacrificial system functioned for Israel as it did for Abraham. It confirmed their covenant relationship with YHWH, and his sworn commitment to restore his reign over the nations through them (22:15-18).
Christians no longer offer sacrifices, because our heavenly sovereign has been seen in a new way. The Lamb, the Son, the sacrifice, at the place God chose: he has seen to us, providing what we needed, and we have seen the heavenly ruler in the one who laid aside his power and gave his life for us. The testimony of those who were there is that they did see him again—alive! Enthroned. Reigning. In him we see the one who sees us.
Jehovah Jireh was the place where YHWH saw his people and they saw him.
What others are saying
Jeffrey J. Niehaus, “Covenant and Narrative, God and Time,” in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 53:3 (2010): 549 (emphasis added):
Yahweh Yireh. In Gen 22:14, we read, “So Abraham called that place The Lord Will provide (Heb. ירְאֶה | יְהוָה). And to this day it is said, ‘On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided’ ” (niv; Heb. יֵרָאֶה). The Niphal of the verb, translated “it will be provided,” is also used often of theophanies, “He appeared/will appear,” and that translation possibility should not, as it seems to me, be excluded here. On the basis of this possibility, an alternate translation of the verse could be: “So Abraham called that place One Will See The Lord. And to this day it is said, ‘On the mountain of the Lord he [i.e. the Lord] will appear.’ ”
Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 16–50, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, 1998), 111:
“In the mount of the Lord he may be seen.” Here the same root, ראה “see, provide,” is used in the niphal, which is regularly used of the Lord appearing to men (cf. 12:7; 17:1; 18:1), thus making a link backward with Abraham’s past experience and forward to Israel’s future experiences on the mountain of God (Exod 3:1–2, 16; Lev 9:4, 6, etc.).
Though 22:14b is ambiguous, Jewish literature has tended to understand it as YHWH being seen on Zion. Examples:
And Abraham called the name of that place “The Lord Saw” (Κύριος εἶδεν), so that they might say today, “On the mountain the Lord was seen” (Κύριος ὤφθη).
And Abraham called that place “The Lord has seen,” so that it is said “in the mountain the Lord has seen.” It is Mount Zion.
Talmud (b. Pesah. 8:1, I.21.A):
But we shall not be like Abraham, in whose regard ‘mountain’ is written: as it is said to this day, in the mountain where the Lord is seen’ (Gen. 22:14).
Read Genesis 22:13-24.