WORD STUDY – JEHOVAH JIREH
Genesis 22:8,14: (8) “And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together. (14) 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.”
I sort of avoided doing studies on the names of God because it seems everyone and their mothers have done studies on the names of God and I figured there was nothing more for me to add. But I did one on this name because we say Jehovah Jireh so quick we never both to really examine the depths of that proverb. If I were to ask you what Jehovah Jireh means, most of you would immediately respond: “God provides.” This is entirely correct. In fact out of 24 modern English translations I have read this verse in 20 will render this as: “The Lord will provide.”
Here is what is odd about this. The verse says that the place was called Jehovah Jireh and then says that this has become a proverb “in the mount of the Lord it shall be seen.” Is not the proverb “In the mount of the Lord it shall be provided?” In fact the words: it shall be seen in Hebrew is Jireh. The word yireh (there is no J sound in the Semitic languages) in Hebrew actually means to be seen. Jehovah Jireh literally means YHWH will be seen. Yire’eh which is how the Masoretic text renders this is an absolutely fascinating word. Oh, yeah it means the Lord will provide. It is in a simple Qal imperfect form and could mean the Lord has and will continue to provide.
Here is where it get’s crazy. The Masoretes did not add the vowels until seven hundred years after the birth of Christ. Up to that time the original text in Hebrew provided only the consonants Yod, Resh, Aleph. There is an obvious a play on words here. Yireah as a root word means to reverence or be in awe. Actually it is often rendered as fear but fear in the sense that you so respect someone and so love someone that you are careful with your every word and action so as not to offend that person or wound their hearts. You will not see any renderings of the Lord fears because that is so easily misunderstood and requires an explanation. Since we love the idea of the Lord providing we just do not go into that word play. Yet, the Lord loves us so much he actually fears that he may offend us or wound our hearts. But I want to go into that word play even more to show you the depth of what you are saying when you say: “Jehovah Jireh.”
The actual root word which is has been assign by tradition and the context is ra’ah which means to see. But that is in the sense of seeing to understand, to experience to search out. Rabbi Samson Hirsch the 19th Century linguist and Hebrew master shows another play on ra’ah. You see this ra’ah is spelled Resh Aleph Hei, but there is another ra’ah which is spelled Resh Ayin Hei, they are both pronounced exactly the same and plays off of each other. The ra’ah with the Ayin is God providing and satisfying the need that he sees. Twenty of the twenty four translations I’ve read this verse in recognize this play on words based upon verse 8 where Abraham says that God will provide.
Oh but wait there is much more. Why was the name Jehovah or YHWH used and not Elohim. You see the Talmud teaches that Elohim is in a masculine form and when the word is used for God it is a reference to His masculine or Fatherly nature. He is the protector, the disciplinarian and the provider. It would seem that if we are consistent we should say Elohim Yireh not Jehovah Yireh. That is the beauty of this. Jehovah is in a feminine form and when that word is used by God it is a reference to the feminine nature of God, the life giver, the nurturer, the loving and caring part of God. It is the mother who brings life into the world and the mother risks her life to bring a child into the world. In fact before modern medicine it was not unusual for a mother to die in child birth. This is a hazard a man never has to face. Mothers could and do die bringing in new life. You catch the reason for Jehovah being the provider. This is particularly true to the context where God provided for the life of Isaac.
You see, this is more than God providing, it is also ra’ah, God searching and looking for ways to provide for us to nurture us. Ultimately, it is His Son giving His life for us so we may have new Life in Him.
Jehovah Jireh means that God is watching us very closely, searching for our needs and then providing for us when that need arises. It is God sending His Son to die for us to give us life in Him.