Yahweh-Yireh: God sees us. (And provides… but that’s a different idea.)

by K.W. Leslie, 28 July

Genesis 22.12.

My church’s musicians finally got round to learning “Jireh,” an Elevation Worship song which mixes together the ideas of God being “Jehovah Jireh” and “my grace is sufficient for thee.”

Kinda like the Don Moen’s old song “Jehovah Jireh” did. Here’s the Moen song:

Jehovah Jireh, my provider
His grace is sufficient for me, for me, for me
Jehovah Jireh, my provider
His grace is sufficient for me
My God shall supply all my needs
According to his riches in glory
He will give his angels charge over me
Jehovah Jireh cares for me, for me, for me
Jehovah Jireh cares for me

And he does! Anyway, y’notice Moen stitched together a couple different things from the scriptures: There’s the name “Jehovah Jireh.” There’s the “grace is sufficient” concept, which comes from when Paul complained to God about something he suffered from, and God’s response was, “I’m not curing that. I want you weak; it reveals my strength. So you’re just gonna have to settle for my grace.” That’s an extremely loose translation of 2 Corinthians 12.9, a verse that’s also heavily quoted out of context, but I’m not discussing that one today.

Oh, and the “supply all my needs” bit comes from Paul and Timothy’s statement to the Philippians at the close of their letter:

Philippians 4.19 KJV
But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.

Buncha provision scriptures. Moen’s trying to remind us of a biblical principle which Jesus expressed better in his Sermon on the Mount: Stop worrying. God provides way better than, thus far, you’ve been expecting him to… so stop underestimating your loving Father, stop stressing out, and let him provide.

Matthew 6.25-34 KJV
25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? 26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? 27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? 28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: 29 and yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? 31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? 32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. 33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. 34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

God provides. And a lot of Christians like to remember that—and love the Moen song—so they’ll call him “Jehovah Jireh.”

But here’s the problem: “My provider” is not what Jireh means. It means “seer.” God sees us.

The binding of Isaac.

There’s a rather well-known story in Genesis which tends to creep out a lot of pagans. Plus a number of Christians; particularly after we’ve read Søren Kierkegaard’s retelling of it. Jews call it “the binding of Isaac,” and it’s about when the LORD told Abraham to take his beloved son Isaac to Mt. Moriah and ritually sacrifice him.

Genesis 22.2 KJV
And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.

Yep. Absolutely out of character for God. It’d cause most of us Christians (honestly, me included) to respond, “Oh this so isn’t God; I rebuke you Satan; piss off.” God doesn’t do human sacrifice. Well, other than the once—and he deliberately became human so he could be the sacrifice. The rest of the time he utterly forbade it. It grosses him out.

Deuteronomy 12.31 KJV
Thou shalt not do so unto the LORD thy God: for every abomination to the LORD, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods.

No doubt Abraham had to make absolutely sure this was God telling him to do this. Once he did, he took Isaac and a few slaves and went to Moriah to do just that. Didn’t tell anyone what he was up to; didn’t tell Isaac either. In fact Isaac clearly wasn’t a willing participant in any of this, ’cause Abraham tied him up. Ge 22.9 Various preachers will claim Isaac loved his dad, trusted him, trusted God, and was totally on board with the plan to get sacrificed. That’s wishful thinking. You don’t have to tie up a willing sacrifice.

So at some point Abraham got the better of Isaac, and tied him up, and was about to slit his throat. Like you did with ritual sacrifices: You gathered the sacrifice’s blood, poured it all over the altar, then either burnt parts of the sacrifice and ate the rest (which wasn’t happening here), or burnt it entirely. Isaac’s either screaming his head off, “Don’t do this, you crazy old man!” or unconscious, and Abraham’s weeping like crazy—though the writer of Hebrews believed because of the LORD’s various promises about Isaac, he was gonna undo this death somehow. He 11.17-19 Somehow.

And just then the LORD’s angel interrupts. Good thing Abraham had good reflexes.

Genesis 22.12 KJV
And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.

Abraham immediately noticed a ram nearby, which had been caught in the bushes, so he ritually sacrificed it instead, and named the altar יְהוָ֣ה יִרְאֶ֑ה/YHWH Yiréh (KJV “Jehovahjireh”—yes, it’s as one word). Since the LORD told Moses his forefathers didn’t know his name YHWH yet, Ex 6.3 it’s likely Abraham actually named the altar something more like אֱלֹהִים֙ יִרְאֶ֑ה/Elohím Yiréh, but by the time the author of Genesis recorded this, the altar on Moriah was now known as YHWH-Yiréh.

As I said, the story tends to creep people out, because it sounds like just the worst kind of test of Abraham’s faith. Shouldn’t God, who knows all, already know how much Abraham trusts him? Maybe Abraham himself didn’t realize how far his faith went, and needed the demo. Still, why this demo? Heck, why’d God have to put Isaac through this? Feels downright cruel, and Isaac might’ve suffered from years of PTSD as a result. I fully admit I don’t get it. But I also fully believe God is good: There were very good reasons, and I’m in no position to play armchair quarterback with God’s reasons.

“God sees.”

Which is it, “yiréh” or “jireh”? I’m going with “yiréh.” That’s how the Hebrew word is pronounced, so that’s how I transliterate it. Back when the King James Version was translated, English-speakers were still pronouncing their J’s the same way the Germans and Dutch did… so yes, “jireh” got it right too. But English evolves, y’know. “Yiréh” is accurate, but “jireh” is popular.

And no, YHWH-Yiréh does not mean “the LORD my provider.” It means “the LORD sees.” Says so right in the scriptures.

Genesis 22.14 KJV
And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovahjireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the LORD it shall be seen.

Yiréh is a verb tense of רָאָה/ra’ah, “sees.” It’s the very same verb used when God saw the stuff he created was good. Ge 1.31 God even uses the specific verb tense “yiréh” three times when he told Samuel people look at the outside, but he looks at the heart. 1Sa 16.7

But if you get out a more recent translation… it’s gonna say something very different from the King James. Check ’em out on Bible Gateway. That’ll confuse you. Today’s translators, for the most part, figure “the LORD sees” means something more like “the LORD sees to it,” or “the LORD provides.” And Orthodox Christians, following the lead of the Septuagint, figure it means “the LORD is seen,” or “the LORD appears.”

Which is it? Well, “sees.” Ask any native Hebrew-speaker. (But don’t ask Google Translate; it’ll tell you “fear” because it mixes up yiréh with יִרְאָה/yiráh, “fear”—which has different vowel-marks but is spelled exactly the same. And no, yiréh does not mean “fear.”)

Okay, to my point: Why’d Abraham give this altar this name? Because in Genesis 22.7 Isaac wanted to know why they weren’t taking a lamb to this sacrifice, and Abraham responded, “God [will] see to it.” Ge 22.8 (The KJV has “God will provide himself,” adding to the confusion.) Our takeaway is meant to be that God sees what’s going on and has everything figured out. Too many of us fixate on the provision part, and while God certainly does provide, the more important idea is God is here.

’Cause he is. And was when the binding of Isaac was going down: God saw what Abraham was up to, saw he was miserable about sacrificing Isaac, saw him about to do what he really didn’t wanna do, and intervened.

We can cut Don Moen and Elevation Worship some slack for not doing their homework, and other Christians from taking their interpretations from a pop song instead of bible. Too many bibles agree with them. The original text doesn’t really; “YHWH Yiréh” means “God sees.” The history which follows doesn’t agree with them either.

See, Mt. Moriah eventually became the place Solomon put the LORD’s temple, and the altar on Mt. Moriah eventually became the altar. Yep, the number-one central focal point of all Hebrew worship: The site where everybody, everybody, ritually sacrificed their animals and food to God. The saying, “In the mount of the LORD it shall be seen” applied to what went on in the temple… and really applies to everywhere we worship God. He sees us every time we authentically worship him.

Hopefully we’re paying attention in case he says something!