11. Uncertainties of Provision (1)

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 11. Uncertainties of Provision (1)  

Gen 22:14   So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide.

Present Day: I write this particular study (for those who might come across it in the years ahead) in the early months of 2020, the year we suspect will go down in history as either the Year of the Great Coronavirus Pandemic, or the Year of the Great Coronavirus Panic. If I had written about God’s provision a few months ago, I guess most Christian readers would have read it with a big yawn. After all, we live in an age of immense abundance and so have no fears of running short. That was a few months ago. Since then we have seen reports of panic buying in both the UK and the USA, so much so, and creating so much government concern, that we even saw the American President on television at a press conference appealing to his people not to panic-buy.

Abraham: It is the incident involving Abraham going to sacrifice the miraculous child of promise, Isaac, that provokes the first reference to God being a provider. In his case it was simply the provision of a ram to use instead of his son, prefiguring Jesus being our lamb who is offered instead of us. But a Provider is one who supplies something to meet a need, whether it be Jesus to replace us at the Great Judgment or simply physical needs being met to preserve and continue life. It is the latter we will consider in this study.

Manna: It is the need of Israel in the wilderness on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land that has the Lord providing in a most incredible way with this miraculous “bread from heaven” (Gen 16:4), that appeared as ‘thin flakes like frost’, (v.14) “white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey.” (v.31)  I called it miraculous because

– it appeared every morning, except on the Sabbath,

– if you collected too much of it, the excess went off the next day,

– on the sixth day you collected twice as much to cover the Sabbath – which didn’t go off!

– it continued coming for forty years until they went to enter the Land.

It was supposed to have been a provision for a month or so until they entered the Land but when they refused and ended up wandering the desert it continued for the next forty years. No doubt, as they had herds of cattle and sheep they sometimes supplemented it with meat but it was God’s basic provision for them throughout that time.

Joseph: Special provision is meeting needs in special times of need and so the onset of a famine would be such a time. I suspect we rarely think of the story of Joseph in Genesis as a story about provision, but it is 100% that. God knows that in a couple of decades a famine is going to strike the whole of what we refer to as the Middle East. The story of Joseph is the story of God choosing a man who will be open to His prophetic leading and come up with divinely inspired wisdom so that in seven good years of abundance, cereal is saved in large quantities in order to feed the nations in seven years of famine. Whether we say God caused the famine or God simply knew it would happen, is really irrelevant. The key issue is that He provided for the world through His wisdom, a multiple provision if you like:

– the amazing circumstances that brought Joseph to power, that a number of times involved ‘the favour of the Lord’ opening the way up for him,

– the gift of interpretation of dreams that opened the door into the palace,

– the gift of wisdom to know how to handle the revelatory dreams,

– seven years of great abundance,

– grace and insight to understand God’s purposes and deal kindly with his brothers.

Elijah: During another such time,  through the life of Elijah, we see multiple examples of the Lord’s provision:

  1. Famine ushered in by the word of the Lord through Elijah (1 Kings 17:1)
  2. The famine would not have taken hold when the Lord tells Elijah that He will provide for him by ravens bringing food (1 Kings 17:4-6) while he lived in seclusion to the east of the Jordan
  3. When his supply of water there runs out the Lord instructs him to go north of Israel to Sidon where a widow will provide for him (1 Kings 17:7-10)
  4. She has run out of flour and oil but the Lord miraculously provides for her, and him! (v.12-16)
  5. A while later her son dies and Elijah restores him (v.17-24)
  6. In dealing with the prophets of Baal (v.19-41) fire consumes Elijah’s offering
  7. When it is all over, by Elijah’s word the rain comes (v.41,45)
  8. When Elijah flees Jezebel’s wrath, the Lord sends an angelic provider (1 Kings 19:5-8)
  9. The Lord also provides him with a successor (1 Kings 19:16)
  10. Yet he still brings a convicting word from the Lord to Ahab that brings him to repentance (1 Kings 21:17-29)
  11. Later Elijah challenges Ahaziah’s messengers about his unbelief (2 Kings 1:3-5)
  12. Again and again he receives protection against arrest (2 Kings 1:9-15)
  13. He gets a word condemning the king who dies (2 Kings 1:16,17)
  14. God sends a chariot of fire to take him home (2 Kings 2:11)

Summary: So how, in what situations full of uncertainty above, did God provide for Elijah, thus bringing certainty by His provision?

  1. a) Prophetic words changing the circumstances (1 – famine, 7 – rain)
  2. b) Prophetic words to individuals (10 – Ahab, 11,13 – Ahaziah)
  3. c) Miraculous provision of food (2 – ravens, 8 – an angel)
  4. d) General guidance (2 – go east, 3 – go north)
  5. e) Fire from heaven (6 – against false prophets, 12 – against arrest)
  6. f) Other miracles (4 – flour and oil, 5 – raising dead)
  7. g) Ongoing (9 – a successor, 14 – transport to heaven)

A combination that we might boil down to revelation (prophecy etc.) and miracles (power).

And So?  I remember the testimony of a man of God who was crying out to God, “Where is the God of Elijah?” and back from heaven came the challenge, “Where are the Elijahs?” The reality is that we may add a further list to clarify the point of this series, the uncertainties coming through the threats or spiritual apostasy that Elijah faced:

– unbelief in the nation and in kings, false prophets,

– threats brought by those rulers and spiritual deceivers, and threats to his very existence,

– the uncertainties of living in times of famine and personal shortage,

– the uncertainties of his role as a prophet.

I think the conclusion to all this about Elijah must be that he certainly was a somewhat scary guy to encounter, simply because God was so powerfully with him. The trouble about that is that it can disguise the uncertainties that he himself had, most clearly seen after Jezebel threatened him. If you were Elijah you certainly would have been able to look back at triumphs but that in no way detracts from the uncertainties that went with it.  But then serving God by faith is like that.

And Us? That leaves me pondering, is it a case of the greater the faith we have, the greater God can use us? I suppose the corollary to that must be if we have little faith, God will be restricted in using us. Ah, but Jesus said you only need faith the size of a mustard seed (i.e. tiny) to be able to move mountains! (Mt 17:20) Where does faith come from? By hearing (Rom 10:17) so the more we learn to listen – and then obey the little bit we’ve heard – the more we can be used by God. Awesome! Let’s go for it!

10. Surprising Provision

Lessons from the Nativity: 10:  Surprising Provision

Matt 2:11   On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh

We thought previously about surprises, for the Nativity story is full of them. The last one we considered was the greeting the young family received when they went to the Temple in Jerusalem to give thanks for the safe birth of baby Jesus. Now the above events may occur straight after that, which is at least forty days after the birth, or it  may be even later than that. The only clue we have is in the word ‘house’. We can only assume that they have found shelter with a family friend or even rented a house for a short while to carry them through the waiting period after the birth. It may be that as Joseph was a carpenter he earned money by performing carpentry services around Bethlehem, we just don’t know. All we know is that they appear to still be in Bethlehem when the camel train of the Magi, the ‘wise men’, turns up.

Now I don’t know if you have ever wondered just why they came? Yes, they were searchers and seekers and they followed a mysterious star and were then helped on their way by the officials in Jerusalem, and they said they had come to worship the king that had been born, but what was behind it? I would like to make a suggestion: they were God’s financial providers for this little family. They come bearing ‘treasures’.

Now we don’t know just how much of these three commodities they left with this little family but if they had come with a heart to worship this little king, it is unlikely that they would be skimpy in their giving. Now if you go looking in commentaries you will find that from the early church on scholars and teachers have focused on the symbolic meaning of these three sets of gifts and in so doing, I suggest, they miss the most significant thing – these are things of great value and as such could be sold off to provide finances for daily life. This little family is shortly going to have to escape to Egypt where they will have to live before returning later to Nazareth, and once they get back home they will need resources to set up home. Couldn’t Joseph’s carpentry skills be sufficient? Even asking the question suggest we are looking for minimal and forget we are dealing with a God of bounty, a God of generosity.

I was cured of my negative feelings about wealth by reading about Solomon and all the wealth he accumulated by the use of his God-given wisdom. Solomon was the peak of kingly ruler-ship in Israel; no subsequent king ever came near him, and it was God’s wisdom that enabled him to become what was undoubtedly the richest person in the world at that time. Read 1 Kings 10 and the visit of the Queen of Sheba who was almost overwhelmed by what she saw. Now this is not to take away words of caution found in the Bible about making money your god, and so we are to hold these things in balance and see that, according to the Law at least, when the people were living wholeheartedly for God, His promise to them in the blessings of Deut 28 was that The LORD will grant you abundant prosperity.” You cannot escape it, and perhaps we have much to learn here. To say we are a spiritual people and that physical blessings don’t apply, denies the Creator God who has given us all good things to enjoy.

No, the truth is that by these gifts brought from afar, God was leaving Joseph and Mary with resources which would keep them secure for many years to come. The Lord was looking after His Son.

Now even what I have written above may raise issues within you because in a Fallen World where one of the fruits of sin is low self-esteem, that low self-esteem is so often seen in the attitude of “Oh, I can’t do it, I’m no good,” and that produces  an outlook that fails to rise to potential. How many of us settle for being something less than is on the Lord’s heart for us? Even more, how many of us shy away from thoughts of comfortable provision in the material realm because we have been taught that it is ‘worldly’ to think like that. No it isn’t!  Consider the wonderful world God has given us, full of such incredible variety and He has given us five senses – taste, touch, smell, hearing and sight – all of which enable us to experience pleasure. Yes, seeking after these pleasures and putting them before the Lord is a recipe for disaster but when we put Him first, then surely according to His word, we may expect His blessing on our lives that enable us to enter into the enjoyments He has designed us to receive.

We said earlier that it was Solomon’s wisdom from God that enabled him to prosper.  Isn’t there a picture for us there?  Do we read James 1:5 – “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him,” – and immediately let our unbelief limit the outworking of that? There is of course the condition that follows that verse which speaks to our unbelief: “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord.” (v.6,7) So isn’t wisdom a provision of God, a gift enabling other things to follow? Have we become so saturated with the materialistic view of the world that “the Lord our provider” is limited to purely spiritual salvation that makes you a spiritual child of God. Heaven forbid! That is a worldly-cum-spiritual form of godlessness. We push God out of His material world, the world He designed, the world He created, all for our enjoyment.

The lesson of the Wise Men is that God will provide material provision. For some that material provision will be described as adequate or sufficient while for others it will be abundant. It is not to be our goal, God is, but He IS a provider if we let Him. Once we acknowledge that (and this may be a reason we hesitate over this) we see that there must be no limit to what we put under His direction, and so our very jobs, our careers, our very goals in life, may perhaps need to change, for these all come under the ambit of His wisdom and His provision if we will but let Him.