As Abraham and Isaac trudged up the hill to Mount Moriah to worship the Lord, Isaac asked his father a question. “And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (Gen. 22:7). Abraham’s answer exhibited a of deep faith in God. “And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burn offering: so they went both of them together” (Gen. 22:8). God did exactly as Abraham told Isaac. “And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son” (Gen. 22:13). Abraham named that place Jehovah-jireh which means “God will see to it,” or, “God will provide.”
When we study the subject of providence, we have reference to God’s provisions for man in general and for His people in particular. Providence is usually divided into two categories, General Providence and Special Providence. In this article, we will deal with both subjects very briefly.
General providence involves the care God has for all His creation. When God created the earth, He did not withdraw from His creation to let it fiend for itself. As Paul addressed the philosophers of his day about “the unknown God,” he told them that this God “hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find, him, though he be not far from every one of us: for in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are his offspring” (Acts 17:26-28). Notice, the apostle told his audience that God was not far from any one of them. He affirmed that they lived, and moved, and had their being because of the Almighty God.
There are many components of General Providence. First, it is God who allows man to wake up and live each day. According to the Hebrew penman, God upholds “all things by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3). If God desired for any man to perish from the earth, He could snuff out his life immediately. It is for this reason that we rise from our beds of slumber and give thanks to God for another day of life. The God of heaven also provides for man’s nourishment. In Acts 14:17, we are told: “Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and the fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.” God gives all men the ability to produce food for sustenance. The wicked and evil man enjoys the prosperity of the fruits and vegetables of the earth as much as the righteous man does. Man has no control over the amount of sunshine and the amount of rain that falls during the growing season. All have to depend upon God to provide it these things. And, provide He does. God also gives men their talents and abilities. Different men have different talents. Some have more talents than others. All, however, have talents that will enable them to contribute to their own well-being (cf. Matt. 25:14-15). God has also blessed us with doctors, nurses, scientific knowledge, and medications that provide healing for all. The most evil individuals among us can often go to the doctor and receive treatment that will allow him to recover from an illness. This healing is part of God’s general providence. God loves all of His creatures. His general providence does not include man alone. God cares for the animal kingdom as well. “Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them…” (Matt. 6:26).
Special Providence is a very interesting subject. In this area of the providence of God, He sheds special blessings upon His people. The Bible tells us that God’s eyes are always upon the righteous (Ps. 34:15). Too, the ears of the Lord are attentive to the cries of the righteous (1 Pet. 3:12). When He sees and hears that His people are in distress, He comes to their aid. There have been times in the past when the Special Providence of God was manifested in a miraculous manner. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image. They trusted God to deliver them. He did exactly that. They were thrown into the burning, fiery furnace, but they did not die. “Then these men were bound in their boats, their hosen, and their hats, and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace” (Dan. 3:21). When they did not burn up, Nebuchadnezzar called them forth from the furnace. “…Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, came forth of the midst of the fire. And the princes, governors, and captains, and the king’s counsellors, being gathered together, saw these men, upon whose bodies the fire had no power, nor was an hair of their heard singed, neither were their coats changed, nor the smell of fire had passed on them” (Dan. 3:26b-27). God blessed His faithful disciples. He provided salvation from the fire and heat of the oven of the king of Babylon.
God’s Special Providence can also work through non-miraculous means. Hannah wanted a son. In her grief, she poured out her soul to the throne of God, saying: “O Lord of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head” (1 Sam. 1:10). 1 Samuel 1:19 tells us that he Lord remembered Hannah. “Wherefore it came to pass when the time was come about after Hannah had conceived, that she bare a son, and called his name Samuel, saying, Because I have asked him of the Lord” (1 Sam. 1:20). There was no miracle performed on this occasion. Yet, Hannah was blessed with a son in answer to her prayers. Today, God provides for His people through natural means just as he provided for this handmaid of old.
There is another area of Special Providence that is exciting to consider. It involves the manner in which God brought to pass His wonderful scheme of redemption. We might refer to this as Redemptive Providence. Again, there were times when God performed miracles to bring His plans to fruition. Jesus was born of a virgin, which was definitely a miracle (Is. 7:14; Matt. 1:18-21). There were also times when God’s Redemptive Providence was fulfilled through natural law. Mary and Joseph were from Nazareth in Galilee. The prophets, however, had foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem in Judea (Mic. 5:1-2). There was no miracle that brought this couple to Bethlehem when Jesus was born. It was through a decree of Augustus Caesar that all the world should be taxed that it was done (Lk. 2:1-7). Man was lost in sin. God provided for the forgiveness of man’s sins through the death of Jesus on the cross. Hundreds of years passed and God slowly accomplished His purposes through His marvelous providence.
Providence is a study that is very intriguing. It involves God’s work in the lives of mankind in general and in the lives of His people in particular. There are times when His providence is evident and knowable. There are others times when we might have to say “perhaps” this was the hand of God (Phile. 15). Rest assured that God is not a passive deity. He is alive and active in our lives. He can provide for us. He can deliver us. And, he can save us in the end. Let’s thank God for His providential care and never doubt that He is working to promote our best interest in this world and in the world to come.
Victor preaches for the OceanSide congregation in Atlantic Beach, FL